After an award ceremony held at the Edinburgh International Festival Centre, The Hub, on 30 March, the Edinburgh Branches of the National Union of Journalists are delighted to announce the winner of the first-ever Jan Fairley Award, 2015, along with four other young journalists warmly commended by the judges. The awards were presented by Jan Fairley’s daughter, Fran Platt, and Joyce McMillan, Chair of Edinburgh Freelance Branch; other guests included award judges Claire Sawers and Simon Barrow, Edinburgh International Festival director Fergus Linehan, and Jan Fairley’s dear friend Galo Ceron, who played two pieces of Jan’s favourite guitar music.
The Winner (pictured above with Fran Platt, Joyce McMillan, Claire Sawers and Kay Smith):
ALAN BETT, books editor of The Skinny.
Alan Bett’s winning interview with Chinese writer Jung Chang will be published in the Saturday Magazine section of The Scotsman, on 25 April 2015, as part of the celebration of the award.
Click on these links to read Alan Bett’s winning pieces, including an interview with Korean writer Bong Joon-Ho.
ARUSA QURESHI writer for Edinburgh University Writers’ Bloc website (pictured below), and DAISY LAFARGE, writer for the New Statesman and Aesthetica online magazine.
Scroll to the the bottom of this post to read Arusa Qureshi on subjects including women d-j’s and “female” electronic music, and click on these links to read Daisy Lafarge on Marina Abramovic, Lana Del Rey and Heather Phillipson.
CATHLEEN O’GRADY, writer for The Skinny and GSA Magazine, and ROBERT BETT, writer for The Student.
Click on these links to read Cathleen O’Grady on subjects including the reinvention of the patron in the age of crowdfunding, and Robert Bett on the Gamergate controversy.
Arusa Qureshi: If Everyone And Their Mother Can DJ, What Makes You Special? (August 17, 2013)
The recent announcement that Paris Hilton would be heading to Ibiza for a month long DJ residency is shocking and ludicrous to many. What could the socialite and heiress whose net worth is somewhere around 100 million dollars possibly have to contribute to the world of music? Her first foray into the music industry with debut album Paris wasn’t exactly ground-breaking. In fact, many would call it uninspired and contrived, apparent by its lack of positive acclaim. But this latest news regarding her residency at Amnesia Ibiza shouldn’t really be that surprising at all.
It really does seem as though today an unprecedented number of people can claim to be a DJ of some description, and we all know at least one. Especially being at University, learning how to DJ for some is the answer to overcoming that awkward pre-teen shyness that has a strong possibility of continuing into the realms of student life. Once upon a time, it wasn’t so easy. The rapid development of music technology has allowed for the simplification of the process involved in fulfilling the act of DJing.
In the beginning there was Thomas Edison, who invented the first device for recording and playing back sound. Eventually, there were gramophones which morphed into turntables which in turn led to the art of DJing, creating music by manipulating music, using (at its simplest) a pair of turntables and a mixer. There is a difference between just mixing tunes and being a true performer and the difference seems to lie in the flair and use of specialised skills that come with the likes of turntabilism, reinterpreting the records to create something unique. It was the work of the DJs of the 70s and 80s that really gave birth to the modern DJ and what we associate the term with today. With the use of inventor Rudy Bozak’s CMA-10-2DL mixer, DJs were finally able to mix between two records fluently. And thus came the act of beatmatching, seamlessly transitioning from one tune to the next by aligning tempos of multiple tracks. DJs were set apart by their fluidity and general abilities when it came to using turntables. The equipment that followed included the Technics SL-1200 turntables which even to this day is considered industry standard gear, the Roland TB-303, a bass synthesizer with built-in sequencer and of course the invention of the CDJ in the 90s, which is a compact disc turntable that works like a record player, allowing for analogue control of music from CDs.
Nowadays the scene is being taken over by modern technology with the birth of ‘laptop DJs’ often made taboo by veteran DJs. With software such as Traktor and Serato taking centre stage in the business, many laptop DJs repeatedly receive flack for their less traditional means. And this is where the issue lies. Anyone with a little practice can download Traktor, put two tracks together and press the sync button and bam. They’re DJing. But are they really?
Being a DJ isn’t just about standing in front of a crowd of clubbers, putting together and mixing songs and getting people to dance. A true DJ is a musician. A true DJ spends more hours than anyone can fathom to hone their craft. If a DJ performs with a laptop that doesn’t automatically mean they have no talent or that they are faking, simply the barrier to entry is much lower than in the past. A lot of producers’ talents lie in the composition of songs and for this reason, perhaps there is nothing wrong with performing a set on a laptop. But those that take advantage of this lower barrier so that they can stand in front of said crowd of people to push just a handful of buttons and the occasional irritating sound effects, rather than using it as a tool to create a unique performance; those are the ones that give DJs a bad name. Being a DJ isn’t just about your skills at mixing songs or playing to crowds. The best DJs know their music inside out and through dedicating a ridiculous amount of time to studying and exploring, these DJs are the ones that turn it into their art-form. Benji B, critically acclaimed Radio One presenter and curator of the highly successful Deviation London nightclub, in an interview with Breaks Magazine said that he goes through 3 days’ worth of music a week in order to find just 2 hours of gems to perfect his sets. To me, that sounds exactly right. A good DJ will forever be looking for new and incredible music and this certainly takes time, energy and patience. So whilst anyone can download Traktor, it takes a good DJ to find those two perfect tracks to sync. Not everyone can put in the aforementioned time, energy and patience. In a nutshell, it’s real dedication.
California’s DJ Shadow, considered a pioneer in the development of instrumental hip-hop, was given legendary status in 1996 following the release of his debut Endtroducing… which was the first album to be constructed entirely from samples (according to the Guinness World Records). In late 2012, an unfortunate incident took place at Miami Nightclub Mansion. Whilst busy playing his decks, he was approached by a promoter and subsequently had to stop as his music was considered “too future”. He later famously wrote on Twitter; “I don’t care if I get kicked out of every rich kid club on the planet. I will never sacrifice my integrity as a DJ…ever”. And that is exactly what makes DJ Shadow incredible, besides his extraordinary talent. His refusal to sacrifice his integrity and pander to the wants of a crowd dumbed down by commercial DJs is what sets him apart. Yes, pleasing a crowd is part of the job, but for DJ Shadow, his music comes first and so it should.
I had the opportunity to see DJ Shadow at Fabric in London in July, as part of his ‘All Basses Covered Tour’. Often seen as one of the most exciting live DJs in the world, DJ Shadow succeeds in communicating his music to the audience in a unique and interesting way that takes his set a step further than many regular DJs. At the beginning of his set, he took the mic in his hands and announced to the crowd that what they would be seeing that night would be “all live, no laptops, no hard drives, just a foot pedal looper, records and drum pads”. The crowd went mental and he launched into a manic techno heavy gem. The majority of his set was made up of improvisations, including an awesome drum interlude which saw him take to his drum pads with the type of zeal reserved for rock stars. Through live sampling records, employing turntablism techniques to create an original music performance, he uses the talents he wowed the world with in Entroducing… By introducing an element of risk to his craft not usually seen in electronic music performance, he sets himself apart. And then there was his famous “Organ Donor” which lit up every single person in the room. I can say that it left an impression on me, illuminating what is achievable. Seeing him perform his set was like examining the brain and inner workings of a great composer or an accomplished musician. But that is exactly what DJ Shadow is: a highly accomplished musician who epitomises what it is to be a DJ.
So to conclude, perhaps it’s not easy to say that just everyone can DJ. Paris Hilton may succeed in pulling crowds due to celebrity status and PR skills but the likes of DJ Shadow and Benji B achieve this through their talent and the originality of their performance. They’re not just commercial monkeys pushing buttons. I’m no DJ myself; I just don’t have enough hours in the day to be able to put time into learning the craft. Even if I downloaded Traktor and had a go at it, I would never be happy with just learning how to press a button on a laptop. If I was to learn how to DJ, I’d want to do it properly. I have a number of DJ friends who are still learning but they have three very important qualities down: determination, enthusiasm and a keen ear for good music. Half of the battle for a DJ is having the ability to select the right type of music. There surely is no such thing as a good DJ without this fundamental quality. And the truth is, the majority of a crowd in a club will not care whether a DJ is using a laptop or CDJ’s, as long as they can dance and have a great time. If a DJs track selection isn’t adequate though, they will lose the whole crowd. And ultimately, what is a DJ without the crowd?
Arusa Qureshi: Female is Not a Genre (4 July 2013)
Woman have been involved in electronic music for a lot longer than you may think. In fact, electronic music wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for the pioneering efforts of a select few. But are these efforts given the appreciation they deserve?
One such example of a pioneer in the genre is Delia Derbyshire, who through her work with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop created music and sound for a significant number of TV and radio programmes. Her most famous creation was her 1963 theme tune for the Doctor Who series which, although a reworking of a score by Ron Grainer, was still one of the first television themes to be produced by entirely electronic means. Her career is more than impressive, primarily due to her compositions being well ahead of their time. Perhaps the most fascinating of her catalogue would be an untitled track which features her voice at the start. The track opens with her gently stating: “Forget about this, it’s for interest only.” But the best thing about the track is that it could easily be a piece of techno, heard in a club or on any dance label right now.
Fast forward to the 21st century and you have the likes of Ellen Alien, Eclair Fifi, Laurel Halo and Ikonika making waves. Electronic music has come a long way, but has the male-orientated mind-set really changed? Many people have written, blogged, complained and generally ranted about the lack of females in the electronic music scene. And yes, it is male-dominated like many genres are. But more and more, woman seem to be pushing through that boundary and proving to the world that they, like the men before them, have earned their place at the top. The recent announcement that Eclair Fifi would be joining BBC Radio One for the ‘In New DJs We Trust’ show, replacing Jackmaster is huge. Not only does it highlight the fact that she has gained the respect she rightfully deserves, it gives other up-and-coming female DJs a glimmer of hope. You see, one of the main issues that woman seem to face in the electronic music scene is a lack of respect. When any female DJ is seen performing on Boiler Room, which for those who don’t know is described as “the world’s leading underground music show”, the comments are often obscene. From misogynistic and sexist to outright rude, men just can’t handle seeing the opposite sex on stage, And then there’s the craziness that female DJs have to go through playing gigs, even at world renowned venues. They’ll often tell you “it’s something you get used to” but why should they have to get used to being called disgusting names and being propositioned in the worst possible ways? Of course, this doesn’t happen on every occasion and to every female DJ but it does seem as though they have to work a lot harder to earn any respect than their male counter-parts.
Many people will claim that in the past few years, women have exceeded all expectations, topping a countless number of best-of lists and changing the electronic music scene for the better. You will have seen a number of articles and posts online about the “top 10 new female DJs” and “best up-and-coming female producers” but there is a massive problem with this. The word “female”. Why do women have to be separated from men when it comes to music? It happens in every genre, not just the electronic genre. It’s terrific that women are getting attention for their abundant talents and being put in a positive light, proving that the scene can handle a shift in dynamics. But it’s not enough. Using the word “female” just diminishes what many women are yearning to achieve: a sense of equality in a scene that hasn’t always accepted them. A DJ or musician or producer’s talents should not be singled out due to their gender, nor should it be influenced by meaningless factors like appearance.
Observing the scene as a keen listener, misogyny certainly exists towards lovers of the music as well as the composers. For some reason, being a female means that you absolutely cannot have a vast enough knowledge of the electronic music scene. I’m sure many woman will agree that the number of times their opinions, comments or observations on not just electronic music, but any genre of music have been shut down is too great to number. Until this mentality within the electronic music scene changes, the scene itself will remain exclusively male-dominated. Of course, no offence to those who actively root for us females and do everything to encourage a change in the mentality towards female DJs and producers. But more must follow suit for a significant change to occur.
From Delia Derbyshire to Eclair Fifi and everyone in between, no further proof is needed for the contribution that woman have made towards electronic music. Attitudes have certainly developed over time but thus far, much more needs to be done. Stop the unnecessary, scathing sexism, stop treating us like thoughtless and opinion-less morons but most of all, stop using “female” as a genre within itself. Once these steps are taken, perhaps women will be taken seriously and treated as equals in the world of electronic music.
Arusa Qureshi: Sub Pop Records: 25 Years of Awesome (September 7, 2013)
This summer marked the 25th anniversary of legendary Seattle-based label, Sub Pop Records. Back in 1988 when founders Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman quit their day jobs and bagged some office space to have a go at “world domination” as they put it, no one, not even the pair themselves actually thought they would see it past 5 years let alone 25. Fast forward 25 years and Sub Pop is still considered one of greatest labels in the world, having been through waves of good and bad.
It all started with the release of Soundgarden’s debut EP Screaming Life, which brought Poneman and Pavitt together in 1987. Following this, the pair went on to sign a number of local Seattle bands, including Mudhoney, Tad and of course, Nirvana. It was Nirvana’s debut album Bleach that began to generate real buzz amongst indie circles, with the grunge scene slowly beginning to take shape. But unfortunately, rumours of the label’s money woes had been spreading fast and with layoffs beginning in 1991, the Sub Pop crew was whittled down from 25 to just 5. Nirvana, in a way both saved and ruined the label with their second release Nevermind. With the album being released on DGC Records, Sub Pop received a buyout on the band’s contract plus a certain percentage of royalties from future releases. Nirvana quickly became the biggest band in the world and things were temporarily looking up for Sub Pop. However, with grunge becoming a household name due to Nirvana’s stratospheric success, not only were small indie labels like Sub Pop now looking to sign new talent from the genre, major labels were doing the same. And with bands demanding high advances, how could indie labels possibly compete with the might of major labels? By 1993, Mudhoney were the only grunge band left on Sub Pop.
Following a business deal with Warner Bros. in 1995, 49% of Sub Pop was given to Warners which did indeed lead to financial stability. Nevertheless, a number of changes had to be made which were new to the small label and these ultimately led to big mistakes which pulled the label back into financial doom and gloom. Things were looking very uncertain by the late 1990s. However, as the millennium arrived, the music industry on the whole found itself struggling to cope with the advancement of digital downloads. Not only were Sub Pop facing heavy waters, so too were major labels. The only solution for Sub Pop was so go back to that original mission of world domination that is to go back to square one and once again bring new and exciting music to the forefront. Enter The Shins.
The New Mexico indie-rock heroes brought a whole new wave of music to Sub Pop. Their 2001 release Oh, Inverted World changed everything for the label and not only because it sold well. The band, led by James Mercer, brought a new sound to the table that everyone had absolute confidence in. But it was Zach Braff that had a lot to do with the band’s increased success. When the actor, famous for his role on Scrubs, completed his directorial-debut Garden State, it became an indie mega-hit, with the soundtrack of songs chosen by Zach Braff going on to win numerous awards. But it was one particular scene in the film that changed everything for the band and indeed, for Sub Pop. In the scene, Natalie Portman’s character passes Zach Braff’s character a set of headphones, telling him “you gotta hear this one song, it’ll change your life; I swear.” And that song was The Shins’ ‘New Slang’. It was exactly what the label needed and the perfect publicity that any band could ever ask for.
With The Shins’ success came a whole host of new signings as more and more bands wanted to be associated with the newly-popular and newly-cool, reinvented Sub Pop. These signings included The Postal Service, Iron & Wine, Band Of Horses and Fleet Foxes to name but a few. Sub Pop became the label for a genre of music basically the opposite of grunge, something they had been living in the shadow of for too long. Now, the label is bigger than ever as it continues to discover some of the best new music around, putting out releases which inevitably go on to do extremely well. At 25 years, the label has been through near extinction many times but today, there doesn’t seem to be any chance of Sub Pop dying out. With people of all ages appreciating their diverse catalogue of artists, regularly attending shows worldwide, buying records, merchandise, digital downloads etc., the label can expect to be around for a lot longer than 25 years.
To celebrate their silver jubilee, Sub Pop held a free, all ages event on July 13 in Seattle’s Georgetown neighbourhood where a whole host of bands performed, including Mudhoney and Pissed Jeans. I may be a bit late writing this article but nonetheless, as a belated commemoration of Sub Pop’s 25th anniversary, here are a few of Sub Pop’s newest signings that I think everyone should take notice of. Furthermore, what these signings ultimately prove is that the label has still got it, whatever “it” may be.
Hailing from Los Angeles, the experimental punk duo No Age were signed to Sub Pop in 2007 following a whole stream of positive reviews of their debut EP Weirdo Rippers. Their first full-length Nouns was similarly highly praised, featuring on many “best of” lists in 2008. It is perhaps less experimental and more thoughtfully put together than Weirdo Rippers to the dismay of many hardcore fans but the expansive, hazy quality is still there with that familiar thick distortion making a number of welcome appearances. ‘Eraser’ is an optimistic sounding number, which begins fairly chirpy, but as the lyrics enter this soon changes into a frenzied, angst-ridden rant. Their most recent album An Object is a step away from the dream-punk style the duo are known for. It’s still highly experimental with fragments of minimalism all over but the main difference between this album and the rest is that it’s unpredictable. And that unpredictability highlights musical growth, showing exactly why Sub Pop had faith in them in the first place.
THEESatisfaction are Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White, a duo combining neo-soul, hip-hop and jazz to create a mellow, luscious but powerful sound. The duo had guest appearances on label-mates Shabazz Palaces’ 2011 critically acclaimed debut Black Up and after hearing their outstanding performances, Sub Pop agreed to sign them that same year. Their debut album awE NaturalE was released just last year, with mostly glowing reviews. It’s the soul and seduction in Harris-White’s voice and the conviction in Irons’ rapping that bring out the best in their funk infused, hypnotic R&B. They call themselves “the queens of the stoned-age”, highlighting the importance they place on good vibes in their music. The album’s up-tempo ‘QueenS’ sums it up pretty nicely: “Whatever you do, don’t funk with my groove”.
Daniel Martin Moore
The Kentucky born singer-songwriter sent Sub Pop an unsolicited demo back in 2008 and on the merit of that demo alone, the label signed him and agreed to release Stray Age, his debut full-length. Moore has a very gentle, soothing vocal style which is matched perfectly by his acoustic folksy guitar. ‘It’s You’, the stunning second track on Stray Age, is heart-breaking with fantastic arrangements of piano, guitar and percussion, not to mention the solo violin which makes an appearance. In 2011, Moore released a gospel album entitled In The Cool Of The Day, which was inspired by an old Steinway piano he played at a studio. Made up of originals and covers of songs he had heard growing up in Kentucky, the album is a testament to how aptly Moore is able to adapt his voice to different styles of music. Instrumentally, the album is well put together with uncomplicated arrangements creating a sombre feel overall. Daniel Martin Moore is ultimately a great example of an old soul in a young body.
Dum Dum Girls
Beginning as the project of singer-songwriter Dee Dee Penny, who was signed by Sub Pop in 2009, the now four-piece girl-group have a very riot grrrl vibe to them. They combine elements of 1960s pop into female-punk, with the type of maturity that you wouldn’t necessarily expect. Their latest album Only In Dreams, released in 2011, initially brings to mind a mix between The Shangri-La’s and Mazzy Star but with a kind of brash twist. The instrumental arrangements are fairly simple but this allows for the amplification of Dee Dee’s vocals, which are highly impressive. The album is very playful overall but then there’s that extra fragment of confidence perhaps from their punk influences which prevents it from being too cutesy. Their brand of fuzzy, reverberated pop is infectious to say the least but also hints at their potential longevity as an all-female group.