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Pete Shelley RIP

On Thursday 6th of December, Pete Shelley passed away. He was 63 years old, and died due to a heart attack. Shelley was the frontman, guitarist and primary songwriter for the Manchester punk group, the Buzzcocks, a hugely seminal group at the forefront of the first-wave of UK punk rock. Pete also achieved some success as a solo musician with the popular single ‘Homosapien’. Whilst the Buzzcocks peers like The Clash and The Sex Pistols were overtly political, openly confrontational, and often nihilistic, Buzzcocks wrote songs about romance, growing up, teenage lust, homosexuality (Pete was openly bisexual), and relationships. They fused power pop with energetic punk, presenting a highly melodic sound with a clear emphasis on songwriting. Their unique take on the genre became massively influential to new wave and pop punk.

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The Buzzcocks are a very important band to me. They are one of my earliest musical memories and they subconsciously shaped my music taste. I remember my parents used to play a tape-rip of Singles Going Steady relatively often on car journeys, or they’d surface frequently on the numerous punk and new wave compilations they owned. Their tuneful and poppy sound was more distinct to me than the other groups; it was music you’d have stuck in your head for days afterwards. During my late primary school and early high school years, I began listening to pop punk, a genre Buzzcocks practically invented. Green Day were constantly on every audio device imaginable and albums like Dookie became favourites. Though my forays into punk and hardcore hadn’t properly begun, Buzzcocks subliminally tailored a musical mind-set of aggressive music with an emphasis on tight songwriting and melodious musicianship. In my mid-teens, punk became my go-to genre. The Clash were my favourite band, I listened to countless early punk groups, I discovered hardcore and early post-hardcore, and I began playing in punk bands. Buzzcocks were played often, and practically all of Singles Going Steady featured in my punk playlists. At University I discovered Joyce Manor, a group at the cutting edge of pop punk who perfectly channel aggression and sentiment into short and sweet punk songs. Sounds familiar, right? Both Green Day and Joyce Manor have posted tributes regarding the influence of Shelley on their music after the news of his death surfaced.

If you aren’t familiar with Shelley or the Buzzcocks, then please read on:

The Buzzcocks formed in 1975 in Bolton, Greater Manchester after Howard Devoto (later of Magazine), placed a classified ad in college asking for musicians to collaborate on a cover of The Velvet Underground’s 17 minute avant-rock epic ‘Sister Ray’. They began playing gigs at their college and beyond. In the February of 1976, the group travelled to see the Sex Pistols, and ended up booking them for a gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall. Despite only 150 people turning up, the gig is known as one of the most influential events in alternative music, with Mark E. Smith of The Fall, members of Joy Division, Tony Wilson, Kevin Cummins and Morrissey in attendance.

At the start of 1977, the Buzzcocks released the four track EP Spiral Scratch on their own label New Hormones. Spiral Scratch was a completely independent effort; they funded, recorded, produced, manufactured and distributed the release entirely by themselves. It was the beginning of DIY and independent music. Musically speaking, the EP was raw, repetitive, lively and anti-virtuoistic. It took just five hours to record and mix, and effectively established the minimalist manifesto of punk rock. The EP’s most celebrated track ‘Boredom’ features the infamous anti-solo, where Shelley repeats 2 notes for a total of 66 times. It was a declaration of punk’s “less is more approach”, as well as a jab at how overblown and pompous progressive rock had become. This record changed the world, demonstrating that anyone could start a band and get their music out there. It also allowed bands to experiment more; groups wouldn’t be forced to write a single or a radio friendly pop hit if they had no major label to answer to. It sold 16,000 copies and put Manchester and the North back on the musical map.

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The Buzzcocks went on to release three classic albums (Another Music in a Different Kitchen, Love Bites, and A Different Kind of Tension) and a string of ground-breaking singles. They toyed with desire and sexuality with the early single ‘Orgasm Addict’, wrote one of the best songs of all-time with ‘Ever Fallen In Love With Someone? (You Shouldn’t Have)’, broke the charts with ‘What Do I Get?’, and released the must-have compilation Singles Going Steady. The Buzzcocks were true originals, effectively creating both pop punk and indie rock.

Pete was taken too early, but the Buzzcocks’ legacy will live on forever in the sounds of punk, pop punk, and through any music released independently and with a DIY spirit.

Check out this playlist of my favourite Buzzcocks tracks below:

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A Beginner’s Guide to: OutKast

Each time I mention that OutKast are one of my favourite groups, usually it’s met with a response somewhere along the lines of “OutKast? Those one hit-wonders who did ‘Hey Ya’?”. Granted, ‘Hey Ya’ is an incredible slice of pop which reached dizzying heights of success, but there is far much more to the group than that. This article explores the importance and influence of OutKast, an analysis of each of their albums, their enduring influence and long-lasting appeal, and why they are not only one of the best hip hop groups of all-time, but one of the most important acts in music.

OutKast were formed in East Point, Georgia in 1991. The duo consisted of André ‘André 3000’ Benjamin and Antwon ‘Big Boi’ Patton. They met in high school, and soon started participating in rap battles and making music together. Soon enough, they had teamed up with the production squad Organized Noise and became the first hip hop act to be signed to Sony Records subsidiary LaFace records. With the strength and success of their debut single ‘Players Ball’ in 1993, and the release of Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik a year later, OutKast quickly became a driving force in hip hop, swiftly building a cult following with several high profile releases. Alongside acts such as The Geto Boys, 2 Live Crew, Goodie Mob and UGK, OutKast helped to bring Southern hip hop to mainstream prominence and demonstrated that it could be as critically and commercially successful as West and East coast rap.

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OutKast broke free of the constraints of hip hop, and the perceptions of what the genre could and should aspire to. Just as important as alternative rap innovators such as A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots, Beastie Boys and De La Soul, OutKast managed to create a unique and original style which sent shockwaves through America and beyond. Though André  and Big Boi are polar opposites in terms of style, technique, musical influences, and personality, they manage to jump-off and perfectly complement each other as performers, rappers, musicians and producers. Big Boi’s rapping style is heavier and more aggressive in tone and timbre, and is often more frenetic than the smoother and more relaxed tenor of André. Lyrically, André is more abstract and figurative than Patton who habitually ‘tells it like it is’ in typical Southern fashion. Big Boi’s into his hard-hitting funk, soul and early hip hop, whilst André  idolises Prince and adores psychedelic music. This bizarre combination allowed for a unique artistic vision to flourish, and OutKast created a new and cutting edge sound which relied primarily on live instrumentation instead of direct sampling. Smooth funk basslines underpin Southern soul vocal hooks and brass instrumentation, and embellishments of electronic soundscapes and spacey psychedelia characterise OutKast’s productions.

Under the influence from a range of popular culture topics, OutKast created heavily conceptual pieces of work in both their music and performance, often adopting different fashions and personas upon each touring cycle and stream of music videos. Whether it be posturing as pimps and extra-terrestrials in their early work, or discussing socio-political ideals and creating soundtracks and starring in accompanying films, the music is just one element of the complex and inimitable OutKast. Excluding the soundtrack piece Idlewild here’s a rundown of each of their studio albums:

 

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Southernplayalisticcadillacmuzik (1994)

Featuring a G-funk influenced sound, funk and soul elements, and live and organic production techniques of Organized Noize, Southernplayalisticcadillacmuzik gave the world their first taste of Outkast; a sound which was defined by heavy yet irresistible bass licks, tongue-twisting wordplay and smooth, melodic sung hooks. The social commentary regarding pimp and drug culture is rife; the group even hustled to generate funds to record, a surprising thought considering the pair were both in high school. Their debut proclamation became one of the first Southern hip hop albums to gain commercial success, and began to generate acclaim despite 1994 being a very strong year in rap with high profile releases from Nas, Beastie Boys, Common, and Gravediggaz. The lead single ‘Player’s Ball’ sold half a million copies, and the group were invited by The Notorious B.I.G. to support him on tour. However, this triumph was just the beginning for Outkast…

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ATLiens (1996)

ATLiens is my personal favourite OutKast album. As the title suggests, ATLiens sounds out of this world. Defined by alien soundscapes, riddled with incredibly technical rapping and multifaceted lingo, and complete with interstellar instrumentation and newfound experimentations in production and composition, this album is an ideal starting point into OutKast’s straight-up hip hop work. It’s a tranquil trip into sci-fi conceptualism, with the psychedelic production and instrumentation offering a completely absorbing and immersive listening experience. Motivated by the naysayers of their Southern sound, Big Boi and André utilised their own recording studio to grow as artists by brushing up on their production and instrument playing skills. Their efforts began to show immediately in their music; OutKast created a labour of love which served as both a musically consistent and conceptually cohesive record which is entirely deserving of its classic status.

Aquemini (1998)

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The title Aquemini stems from a portmanteau of the members Zodiac star signs, indicating that despite the duo being vastly dissimilar in terms of their musicality, vocal diction and personality, that it’s the two parts of the individual that fashion the whole to create OutKast. Aquemini mixes the eclecticism and experimentation of ATLiens with the hardcore rap of Southernplayalisticcadillacmuzik to create a record which assembles all shades of black Southern American music to a march of forward thinking hip hop. OutKast successfully merged East Coast rap with Southern hip hop in the Raekwon guesting ‘Skew It On The Bar-B’, reintroduced the hood elements in ‘Return of the ‘G’’, borrowed the spacey psych of ATLiens in the records title track, and created their magnum opus in the Curtis Mayfield worship of ‘SpottieOttieDopaliscious’.  With its sprawling, eclectic sound and colossal variety of themes, instrumentation and moods, it’s no wonder that Aquemini is considered OutKast’s greatest achievement.

Stankonia (2000)

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At the turn of the 21st Century, OutKast had some things to say about the state of America and the rest of the world. A glance at the album art and track-list immediately infers their political intent; with songs such as ‘Gasoline Dreams’ and ‘B.O.B.’ (‘Bombs Over Baghdad’) alongside the cover which sees the duo posturing in front of a black and white American flag, Stankonia was their biggest statement yet. It seemed impossible that the duo could top the quality and scope of Aquemini, but Outkast upped the experimentation, employing a huge variety of genres, range of tones, topics and pacing. Stankonia is the duo’s ‘heaviest’ and widescreen sounding record, thanks to its incorporation of faster tempos, distorted guitar instrumentation, and influence from genres as far afield as drum & bass, psychedelic rock and P-funk.

Speakerboxxx / The Love Below (2003)

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Speakerboxxx / The Love Below is the eleven-times platinum record shook the world. There was a time where you could switch over to any radio station and it was guaranteed that ‘Hey Ya’, ‘I Like The Way You Move’ or ‘Roses’ would be playing; it was absolutely massive and completely inescapable. Interestingly, this double album comprises of a side from each of the members. Characteristically, Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx disc is a funky take on Southern rap, whilst André’s The Love Below features folk, psychedelia, pop and R&B. It’s a sprawling and highly eclectic affair which showcases the influences and musical mind-set of each member over its two-hour runtime. Its ambitious scope and interpretation of various subgenres and flavours of mood is comparable to The BeatlesWhite Album or Prince’s Sign O’ The Times. This is possibly the biggest album of our generation.

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OutKast released their last effort before their hiatus in 2006, the ambitious Idlewild, a soundtrack to the film which the duo wrote and starred in. Though the critical and commercial response was muted, it still exhibited the group were out there pushing boundaries. To come hot off the heels of one of the most successful albums of all-time with a film and accompanying soundtrack is a bold statement to say the least.

During their fourteen year career, OutKast managed to push the boundaries of rap with each album release, sending shockwaves through the music scene with an influence which can still be heard today. Listen to Kendrick Lamar and tell me that André 3000 isn’t one of his biggest influences; good kid, m.A.A.d city is basically serves as the West Coast’s answer to Aquemini. There’s a huge amount of influence of OutKast in modern Southern rappers such as the likes of Isaiah Rashad, Big K.R.I.T. and CunninLynguists, who probably wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Dre and Antwon. Detroit’s madcap MC Danny Brown declares OutKast as a major influence, even lifting some lines from ‘B.O.B’ in ‘Today’ and stating “If you don’t know five OutKast songs, then we have a problem / If you don’t know where you come from, you can’t know where you’re going” in response to Lil Yachty’s inability to name five songs by Biggie or Tupac.

Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that trap rap is the most prevalent form of hip hop around today, and is one of the most popular and discussed genres in popular music. OutKast and their peers put the South on the map, and their gritty portrayals of urban life in Atlanta can be seen as precursors to trap music. Their debut discussed themes of living in some of the most crime-ridden and deprived areas of America, discussing topics including hustling, cooking crack and pimping in Atlanta. In ‘SpottieOttieDopalicous’, Big Boi discusses the hopelessness of youth unemployment and being confined in the trap lifestyle due to previous minor convictions; “The United Parcel Service and the people at the post office didn’t call you back because you had cloudy piss, So now you back at the trap just that, trapped”. OutKast and their peers who created the Southern/Atlanta sound opened the door for early trap artists such as T.I., Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy. Basically, the current hip hop climate may have never even come to light if it wasn’t for OutKast.

The question is, will OutKast ever end their hiatus? Will they tour or do a few festival dates? Will they record new music together? Can we expect a new album? The answer to all these is ‘probably not’. Big Boi’s got his solo career, and Dre tends to stay out of the spotlight, occasionally featuring in a film or lending a guest appearance to a track. Until then, let’s just revisit OutKast and their phenomenal body of work.

 

Wu-Tang Clan and A Tribe Called Quest’s Classic Albums Turn 25 Today!

Two hip hop classics celebrate their 25th anniversaries today! Wu-Tang Clan released their iconic debut Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), and A Tribe Called Quest gave us Midnight Marauders. These New York groups helped to shift attention to the East Coast after Dr. Dre and co’s G-funk ruled the airwaves for a significant while. Wu-Tang are one of the most legendary rap groups of all-time, and 36 Chambers is often ranked as the greatest hip hop LP ever. It gave us their iconic kung-fu mysticism, gritty portrayals of New York street life, RZA’s dusty, cinematic production, and an onslaught of some of the most talented MCs ever to grace the mic. Shortly after this release, the Clan pursued their quest for world domination with a slew of highly regarded solo releases from Ghostface Killah, GZA, Method Man, O.D.B., and Raekwon. A Tribe Called Quest’s third outing did the impossible; they managed to match the quality of its predecessor The Low End Theory thanks to Q-Tip’s lush, jazzy production, Phife Dawg’s improved bars, and top-notch tracks like ‘Award Tour’, ‘Electric Relaxation’ and ‘Steve Biko (Stir It Up)’. It’s incredible to think that two of the most influential and acclaimed albums from their genre were released on the same day!

The Imitation Game: Album Art Spoofing Album Art

Last month saw the release of Eminem‘s Kamikaze. Whilst the album was largely panned by music fans and critics alike, it did have a pretty cool album cover. The album art was a reference and homage to the Beastie Boys‘ debut album Licensed to Ill, an obvious point of influence to Eminem as the Beastie’s were the first white rap act to truly break through. This cover got me thinking, what other album art spoofs, parodies or pays homage to other record sleeves. Here are a selection of the best, enjoy!

Pictured on the left is the original, the right features the spoof.

Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill and Eminem’s Kamikaze 

The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Frank Zappa‘s We’re Only In It For The Money

Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality and Electric Wizard’s Legalise Drugs and Murder / Murder & Madness (Single)

Elvis Presley’s Self-Titled Debut and The Clash‘s London Calling

The Kinks’ The Kinks Kontroversy and Sleater-Kinney’s Dig Me Out

The Beach Boys’ Pet SoundsandTurbonegro’s Ass Cobra

Leonard Cohen’s The Best of Leonard Cohen and Ween’s The Pod

The Velvet Underground’s The Velvet Underground & Nico and The Dandy Warhol’s Welcome to the Monkey House 

The Beatles’ Meet the Beatles and The Residents Meet the Residents 

Elvis Presley’s 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong and The Fall’s 50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong 

Classics Volume 8: Spacemen 3 – The Perfect Prescription (1987)

Around three years ago, I set up this website. Its namesake stems from Spacemen 3’s seminal 1987 album The Perfect Prescription. It’s a piece of work I will always have fond memories of; I bought it on record at the height of my obsession with psychedelic music whilst studying during my final Summer at University. It was one of my very first vinyl purchases and it kickstarted my love affair with the physical format. The reissue houses a plain white record, and ever since I’ve been enticed to coloured vinyl. Whilst assessing suitable names for a site which would often focus on psychedelia, I knew naming it after one of my favourite LP’s would be the appropriate choice.

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“Are Your Dreams At Night 3 Sizes Too Big?”

Spacemen 3 formed in Rugby, Warwickshire in 1982; one of the least rock’n’roll places conceivable in the UK. They started as a two-piece consisting of Jason Pierce and Peter Kember, and nicknamed with the space-age aliases of ‘J. Spaceman’ and ‘Sonic Boom’ respectively, the group seemed destined for stardom. This glory however, did not transpire. The group suffered financial difficulties, in-group fighting, and substance abuse issues throughout their colourful career, yet despite the turmoil, they managed to achieve cult success and continue to influence to this day. The Spacemen 3 sound is both forward-thinking and retro, combining the sounds of classic rock and punk with newfound sonic resonances and experimentation. Rather than taking the customary route into psychedelia of breezy pop and West Coast melodies, Spacemen 3 instead opted for the droning soundscapes of synth-punkers Suicide, the raw power of MC5 and The Stooges (pun intended), the inebriated art rock of The Velvet Underground, and the primitive psych rock of The Thirteenth Floor Elevators, all whilst embracing krautrock, soul, avant-garde jazz, R&B and blues rock into a unique concoction of sound. Spacemen 3 have also been labelled as space rock, as key players in the neo-psychedelia genre, and as a huge influence to shoegaze.

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“One chord best, two chords cool, three chords okay, four chords average.”

With their sophomore album The Perfect Prescription, Spacemen 3 came into their own both musically and conceptually, offering an increasingly relaxed take on the coarse garage-psych which they became notorious for on their 1986 debut titled Sound of Confusion. The Perfect Prescription details the highs and lows of a drug trip, with the music becoming gradually more blissful and symphonic until its peak until the comedown ensues. The group were notorious for being a ‘druggy band’; they utilised slogans including “Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To” on their merchandise, and often referenced drug-taking and drug related experiences (ranging from cannabis to psychedelics and even opioids) in their music and interviews with the mainstream music press. The album features a repetitive yet kaleidoscopic psych-rock sound, where mid-tempo, fuzz-driven guitar musings meet spiritual gospel, euphoric ambient and meditative vocals.

Spacemen 3 introduce their manifesto in the opening track ‘Take Me to the Other Side’, as if they were calling on the dealer, the drug, or tripping partner to take them on a journey to reach a heady state of euphoria whilst expanding their consciousness. The riffs are huge and clattering, the percussion crashes and rings, and Jason shouts in his typical strained fashion. One of the heavier tracks on the LP, ‘Take Me to the Other Side’ celebrates the initial excitement of the administration and come-up in a strident manner, guaranteeing the listener will stay for the whole trip that The Perfect Prescription holds.

‘Walkin’ with Jesus’ allows blissful euphoria to seep into the record; a stark contrast to the blaring opener. Organs interweave with relaxed vocals, leading into melodic bass riffs and strummed acoustics. “Here it comes/The sound of confusion” Jason hums, referencing the title of the previous Spacemen release. Exercising similar lines and lyrical motifs is a practice Jason often employs throughout his work with the 3 and Spiritualized. Though the narrator describes some doubts of the drug-induced journey, the peaceful sound creates the impression of the beginning of a euphoric trip.

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For All The Fucked Up Children Of The World We Give You Spacemen 3

Lifting the main riff from Lou Reed’s epic ‘Street Hassle’, the third chapter of The Perfect Prescription gives the impression of a more intoxicated track from Reed’s Velvet’s, as sparse guitar fragments meet relaxed spoken word. Spacemen 3 were never afraid to show their influences on their sleeve, and constantly reference and pay homage to their musical heroes and key inspirations. The next track highlights this; a cover of experimental rock/improv group The Red Krayola. The longest track on the LP ‘Transparent Radiation (Flashback)/Ecstasy Symphony’ features a psychedelic take on the classical suite, where cellos and violins mimic a suite, and droning synths melt into the effortless guitar licks and heavenly strings. ‘Feel So Good’ signals the climax of the trip. The tender track is both comforting and reassuring, with affectionate call and response vocals between Peter and Jason, and humming brass instrumentation which sit low in the mix.

Seeped in wah-wah effects and noisy, fuzzy, heavy rock riffs, the sixth track ‘Things’ll Never Be the Same’ indicates that the high has faded and the comedown is about to set in. The following track ‘Come Down Easy’ details uncertainties surrounding the narrator’s trip; is he enjoying the end of his chemical journey or is the comedown becoming crueller? Our protagonist eases, telling himself that he’s “going to make it”, and the relaxed blues rock backdrop implies he’s secure. However, the tranquil unwind is soon reversed in the concluding track ‘Call the Doctor’. The character panics, deeming he is experiencing a fatal overdose. Though the Spacemen often revel in and celebrate drug use, the final act highlights the dismal side of drug use; the fun always has to end, and the climax is typically followed by a cheerless and clouded state.

The Perfect Prescription is the definitive neo-psychedelic record. It contributed just as much as it appropriated from traditional rock and psychedelia, and consigned them into the leagues of cult glory. They followed Prescription with two albums, Playing with Fire and Recurring, then broke up in 1990. Their unique sound is still being lifted to this day, with acts like Wooden Shjips, The Black Angels and Hookworms taking massive amounts of influence from their brand of cyclical psych rock.

Spacemen 3 remain key players in today’s music scene. Peter Kember recently produced Beach House’s latest LP 7, which is set to top many Album of the Year lists. He’s recorded and toured with Animal Collective’s Panda Bear, and he produced MGMT’s sophomore effort Congratulations.  Jason Pierce went on to form Spiritualized, who achieved far more success than the 3, gaining massive amounts of critical acclaim for albums such as the 1997 classic Ladies and Gentlemen We’re Floating In Space. Spiritualized released their eighth studio album last week titled And Nothing Hurt. The ex-members of Spacemen 3 aren’t going away anytime soon, and fans of alternative and psychedelic music should celebrate this and revisit their finest work; The Perfect Prescription.

Festival Essentials

It’s the height of the festival season, and if you’re lucky enough to be attending one then it’s crucial you don’t forget to pack these essential items! Packing for a festival can be tricky; it’s important to prepare for the worst, yet limited storage space, prohibited items, and the amount you’ll be able to carry should all be taken into account. It’s crucial to not overpack as you’ll struggle to even make it to the campsite, yet there are many essentials which simply cannot be forgotten. Here are the items you should bring, alongside some practical food and drink ideas.

Essential Items

  • Tickets – You’d be surprised how many people forget to bring their tickets or lose them as they haven’t taken precautions to secure them properly. Triple check before you set off, and store them in a safe location when travelling to the event.
  • Tent (+ pegs and mallet) – Tent shopping can be tricky, especially on a budget. It’s important to get one that will withstand the unpredictable British weather, and one that will suit the needs of yourself and anyone sharing a tent with you. Tents can have separate “rooms”, such as individual bedrooms and an entrance lobby. You can get one-man tents if you’re staying alone, or one which will suit the whole family. Don’t forget your tent pegs and mallet to secure them properly!
  • Roll mat – An essential item which can aid in preventing back ache and prevent the coldness of the earth penetrating the tent. A good night’s sleep is critical at a festival; you’ll need rest to keep your spirits and energy up through the fun-filled days and nights.
  • Sleeping bags/duvet/pillows – A decent sleeping bag is essential to stave off the cold.
  • Waterproof jacket and a thick jumper – For the erratic weather and cold nights.
  • Sun Cream/After Sun – There’s nothing worse than getting burnt at a festival. It can ruin your weekend. Pack a high factor sun cream, and make sure it’s a relatively new bottle as sun cream loses its potency overtime. After sun should be packed as burning may occur.
  • Baby wipes – One of the most crucial items on the list, baby wipes are your go to for cleaning your hands before and after handling food, and washing your body in the morning.
  • Toilet roll
  • Torch – A cheap torch should allow you to find your items with ease. They’re also useful for bathroom trips in the pitch black; you don’t want to wake a fellow festival-goer by tripping over their tent pegs!
  • Cash – You’ll need this as the majority of food and booze stalls won’t accept card transactions.
  • Plastic bags/bin bags – Be a responsible attendee and dispose of your litter properly. It keeps ticket prices lower and gives the environment a helping hand. They’re also useful for storing used/dirty clothes.
  • Clothes – It’s important not to overpack, however practical and weather appropriate clothing is crucial at a festival. Shorts, t-shirts and vests are all good shouts, as are comfortable and loose clothes like joggers and flannel shirts. Don’t forget a cap, a woolly hat, and sunglasses. Denim takes ages to dry, so avoid jeans if you can.
  • Wellies or hiking boots
  • Towel – Essential for drying off if it rains, or after a shower.
  • Rucksack/suitcase – To store and transport all your belongings.
  • Wallet, phone, phone charger (+adapter), ID, keys, cards – These are usually essential items to take anywhere anyway, however you’ll need a phone to contact your mates or for emergencies, an ID for booze (some festivals may need ID to check you’re who you say you are on your ticket), and your card will be useful to withdraw cash if needs be. Remember to write your address and a contact number on your belongings just in case you lose them.
  • Camping chairs – After hours of standing up/dancing, you’re going to need a comfortable place to sit down and regain your energy.
  • Hand sanitiser – Festivals aren’t known for being the cleanest places on Earth, but taking precautions like using hand sanitiser will be essential before and after handling food or using the bathroom.
  • Paracetamol and plasters – For hangovers, headaches, and if you get a nasty cut.
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant – No one enjoys the idea of standing around thousands of people who haven’t been washed for three days, but you can help by packing deodorant and toothpaste. Try the travel-size items to save on space and weight.
  • Tape – In case you need to seal a rip or hole in your tent
  • Earplugs – To avoid tinnitus and hearing damage when watching live music, or for aiding in a good night’s sleep in noisy campsites
  • Gas stove and disposable BBQs – Most festivals are very strict on these items, make sure you check if the festival you’re attending allows them!
  • Lighter/matches – For lighting gas stoves, BBQs, fires and cigarettes.
  • Cutlery/plates/cups – For your food and drink. Can use disposable items.
  • Cool box with freezer blocks – Storing food in a cool and hygienic manner.

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Food and Drink

Food is another tricky aspect to think about when planning a festival. You need to consider hygiene, storage space, weight, and if the items can be transported without easily damaging; the last thing you want is for a box of raw eggs to break all over the only clothes you’ve packed for the weekend. Here are some practical ideas for food which are cheap, filling, low-risk, ready-to-eat and easy to transport.

  • Cereal bars/cake bars/squares – Inexpensive and substantial. Can be topped with spreads to give you a burst of energy and to fill you up even more.
  • Protein bars
  • Peanut butter, jam and chocolate spread –These are essential as they’re easy to transport, they’re high in protein and calories, can be spread on an assortment of things, and go down a treat if you’re bringing the kids along.
  • Bread/bagels – Opt for bread that won’t get crushed during transportation.
  • Pringles – The packaging means the contents won’t turn into shards of crisp dust before you even enter the site.
  • Biscuits – Avoid chocolate biscuits as they will melt.
  • Brioche, croissants etc – Filling and easy to transport. Usually they keep for ages.
  • Nuts – Filling and cheap.
  • Cold pasta/Cous Cous – Easy to transport, very filling, and can be made into hundreds of different types of flavours. Consume within the first day or two as they may make you ill if they’re stewing in a hot tent all day.
  • Cheese and onion rolls etc – To be eaten on the first day.
  • Hummus and falafel with wraps/flatbread – Makes for a filling daytime snack or light tea.
  • Fruit juice
  • Spirits – Vodka is usually the first choice for a festival spirit as it mixes with almost anything and is more pleasant than most liquors when consumed lukewarm. Make sure you empty a water bottle to store the alcohol, as glass is almost always prohibited at festivals.
  • Fizzy drinks/mixer – Essential if you’re packing spirits.
  • Marshmallows – For a quick energy boost or a campfire treat. It’s pretty difficult to squish these too.
  • Tupperware
  • Veggie meat/meat – For a filling evening meal if you don’t fancy a dodgy burger van hotdog and/or want to save money. A useful tip to save time is to cook off your meat products and freeze them. They’ll be defrosted by the time the festival reaches its second or third day, and will require a minimal amount of cooking time. Additionally, you don’t have to worry about meat juices leaking all over your clothes or other food.
  • Halloumi – A filling and rich snack. Can be cooked beforehand and frozen, and used on sandwiches.
  • Chewing gum
  • Crackers/pretzels etc
  • Fruit and vegetables – Avoid fruits and veg that bruise or break easily.
  • Cereal and UHT milk/milk substitute 
  • Tea bags and coffee
  • Instant noodles
  • Tinned items such as soup and baked beans
  • LAGER – Probably the most important thing on the list.

Use this list before your prep and enjoy your festival!

Now Playing: Portishead – Third (2008)

After purchasing Portishead‘s iconic debut album Dummy this week, I decided to revisit the Bristol trip hop act. Their 2008 album Third is currently playing, and it’s a departure from their beat driven, hip hop influenced music. Instead the group opt for a dark, experimental rock sound. Third features hints of industrial, post-punk and krautrock, and is possibly their darkest album to date. We haven’t heard anything from Portishead since this highly acclaimed album, and who knows if we’ll ever hear any new music from them again; we can only hope it’s as good as the three albums they’ve released so far.

A Beginner’s Guide to: Madlib

Otis Jackson Jr., aka Madlib, is one of the most prolific, diverse, interesting and exciting musicians hip hop has ever seen. Self-described as a “DJ first, producer second, and MC last”, the Californian musician utilises a diverse array of genres, styles, and temperaments into his unique method of musical composition, a method which usually employs experimentation, improvisation, and sampling from niche artists and subgenres from across the globe. Madlib is hip hop personified; his awareness of the genre’s history and musical background is unparalleled, and his ability to flip rare and unknown records into unforgettable beats is incomparable. The crate-digging extraordinaire has his roots in the more traditional forms of hip hop, however his love for dub reggae, avant-garde jazz, traditional Brazilian and African music, psychedelia, and film soundtracks have been constantly demonstrated throughout his illustrious career.

Inspiring in his creativity, Madlib has one of the most difficult discographies to tackle in contemporary music. Not only has he released hundreds of albums, singles, EPs, DJ mixes, compilations, remixes, mixtapes and collaborative efforts, he’s done so under numerous pseudonyms and alter-ego’s which range from fictional jazz groups to curious cartoon characters. Dizzying in weight and stature, Madlib’s music requires some thought before tackling. This article aims to shed some light on Madlib’s rich career, providing a breakdown into respective outlets of Madlib’s musical mindsets, groups and characters; his jazzier side, the classics, the ideal entry points, and the underappreciated records.

There’s also a Spotify playlist at the end of this article.

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Madvillain – Madvillainy (2004)

Madvillainy is a collaboration between two of alternative hip hop’s most cherished figures; Madlib and the cult masked MC MF DOOM. It’s the highest profile release of either artist, and is recognised as being one of hip hop’s crowning achievements. The partnership makes perfect sense as both musicians are in tune with conceptual weirdness, conscious of jazz’s central influence on hip hop, and they both possess an ability to crate-dig for obscure records to sample and skew beyond recognition. Madvillainy is the ideal starting point into the world of Madlib, yet repeated listens are crucial to acclimatise to his challenging and unique sound. An instrumental version is available and definitely worth a listen, as is 2008’s rework/remix Madvillainy 2: The Madlib Remix.

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Quasimoto – The Unseen (2000)

Quasimoto is the animated alter-ego of Madlib; a giant yellow anteater looking entity who’s known for his deviant and anti-social behaviour. He also sports a shrill voice which originated from Madlib’s personal aversion to his Barry White resembling voice. The pitch shifted vocals sound as if Madlib has huffed a huge canister of helium, a technique in sound manipulation which offers a bizarre, almost psychedelic sensation when rapped over the experimental beats. Quasimoto’s The Unseen was Madlib’s first taste of major critical and commercial acclaim, and proved hip hop could be just as weird, original and quirky as any other genre out there.

The Unseen is essential, however Quas’ high-pitched vocals may be an acquired taste for some. If you liked this record, then check out Quasimoto’s other work such as the follow-up, The Further Adventures of Lord Quas, his most recent LP Yessir Whatever, and the Astronaut EP.

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Jaylib – Champion Sound (2003)

It goes without saying that Madlib and J Dilla are two of the greatest beatmakers in the history of hip hop, and Champion Sound saw two musicians of virtuoso calibre and a matching musical mindset creating a full-length LP together. It became one of the most exciting friendships in music as they pushed each other to new feats of innovation and creativity, swapping ideas and techniques incessantly until Jay Dee’s untimely death in 2006. Half of the songs are produced by Madlib and feature Dilla on vocals, and the other half are produced by J Dilla and feature Madlib on vocals, providing a novel take on the producer and MC interaction. Sure, neither Dilla or Madlib will be ranked in anyone’s top-ten rappers list, but this is music made by themselves, for themselves. Champion Sound features some of the best beats created by these two, so for that reason, it makes the cut. Madlib would later pay tribute to Dilla on the fifth and sixth Beat Konducta releases.

‘The Red’ is under a different version/beat on the reissue (and Spotify) due to sample clearance lawsuits, so listen to this original version below instead as its beat is too good to be missed.

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MadlibShades of Blue: Madlib Invades Blue Note (2003)

Madlib is infamous for his adoration of jazz, and Shades of Blue is a perfect example of his imaginative application of the genre to his work, and his ability to flip jazz samples with ease into cohesive scenes. The celebrated label Blue Note gave Madlib admission to their entire catalogue, and Madlib was like a kid in a sweet shop after being granted access to thousands of records which span the eras, history, and subgenres of jazz. The track ‘Mystic Bounce’ will be familiar to A Tribe Called Quest fans as the same sample (Ronnie Foster’s ‘Mystic Brew’) was exercised in ‘Electric Relaxation’ from Midnight Marauders. The album is largely instrumental, and dwells in chill vibes; revelling in the snug middle ground between jazz and hip hop. Shades of Blue is essential as it provides a great deal of insight into how jazz influences Madlib’s sound and his musical approach, and serves as an ideal precursor before exploring his work in Yesterday’s New Quintet.

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Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata (2014)

Piñata is another highly regarded collaboration, albeit a much more unlikely one; Gibbs is known for his trap and gangsta rap work, whereas Madlib is recognised as a purveyor of alternative and esoteric sounds. Piñata is a solid album, and it’s one of Madlib’s best in recent memory thanks to its sublime production, striking beats and exceptionally selected guest spots. Blurring the line between hardcore hip hop and experimental rap in a similar manner to celebrated 2010s acts such as Danny Brown, Earl Sweatshirt, Vince Staples and Run the Jewels, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib crafted a record which confirmed that Madlib can still smash it out the park in the 2010s.

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Lootpack – Soundpieces: Da Antidote! (1999)

The Lootpack were a group consisting of Madlib, DJ Romes and Wildchild. They released their underground cult classic debut Soundpieces: Da Antidote! on Stones Throw records in 1999. The album kickstarted Madlib’s career and established his working relationship with Stones Throw label owner Peanut Butter Wolf (who The Lootpack and Quasimoto had previously worked with on ‘Styles, Crew, Flows, Beats’ on Wolf’s debut Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton). The group had initially lent a guest appearance to Tha Alkaholiks’ ‘21 and Over’ which featured the first beat Madlib ever put to record. Though Lootpack were from California, Soundpieces sounded more like classic East Coast boom bap and jazz rap than the West’s hard funk rhythms; evidently a statement of intent for Madlib’s following efforts and entire career.

Medicine Show Series (2010)

The thirteen-part Medicine Show series saw Madlib attempting to write, record, and release a new album each month (plus some leftover cuts). Remixes, beat tapes, mixtapes, original productions, and DJ mixes feature in a series which highlights Madlib’s broad music taste and influences. The collection can be found in its entirety in The Brick boxset, but here is a selection of the best and most interesting cuts:

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Madlib Medicine Show: No. 4 – 420 Chalice All-Stars

An incredible cocktail of lively dancehall, heavy roots reggae, and deep dub, 420 Chalice All-Stars is a tribute to both Madlib’s favourite herb and celebrated dub musician Lee “Scratch” Perry. The mix is incredibly fun and has a huge amount of replay value, featuring an assortment of Jamaican classics and obscure singles from revered labels such as Trojan, thus it’s appropriate for both reggae newcomers and seasoned dub aficionadas alike. Chalice All-Stars is definitely the strongest release from the Medicine Show series, and it serves as a much better introduction to Madlib’s reggae side than the patchy Blunted in the Bomb Shelter compilation. So, stick the record on, turn up the bass, and take a hypnotic trip into the mountains and bustling streets of Jamaica with your tour guide Madlib.

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Medicine Show: No. 2 – Flight to Brazil

Brazil has an incredibly rich musical history and has been one of the most successful exporters of music in the South American continent. Ever-innovative in creating genres and combining disparate musical styles, Brazil has given the world Samba, Música Popular Brasileira, and Bossa Nova to name just a few. During the 1960s psychedelia explosion, Brazil embraced the hippie movement, employing traditional rhythms and melody to the guitar-driven kaleidoscopic sounds of Western psychedelic rock and pop. The genre became known as Tropicalia; a movement which encompassed reactionary politics, artistic expression, and experimentation in music. On Flight to Brazil, Madlib has clearly done his homework, exploring these genres in depth and successfully incorporating familiar tracks with deep, niche cuts. The whole record materialises as a colourful journey into otherworldly pop and exotic psychedelia, with funky samba rhythms, swung bossa nova beats and cheery melodies being celebrated throughout. Flight to Brazil was a hugely enjoyable listening experience and left me craving the music of celebrated Brazilian artists such as Os Mutantes, Gal Costa and João Gilberto.

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Madlib Medicine Show: No. 3 – Beat Konducta In Africa

Beat Konducta In Africa is a 37-track instrumental album inspired by Africa and the continents rich musical history. Mad uses a variety of rhythms, moods and textures throughout, concocting an impressive beat tape by integrating genres as far-ranging as Afrobeat, psych, soul and funk from the 1970s era of his record collection. Beat Konducta In Africa triumphs in covering Africa’s multifaceted and multi-ethnic musical history as expansively as he can in just 79-minutes, creating a loose, funky and upbeat release with an impressive emphasis on percussion. The whole recording conjures up thoughts of Madlib digging through the crates in ancient record shops across Africa, and ultimately evokes thoughts of the similar musical approach of percussion-centric rhythm between African music and hip hop.

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Madlib Medicine Show: No. 6 – Brain Wreck Show

A paisley pastiche, the Brain Wreck Show is a collage of psychedelic, progressive, and garage rock. The content on show is suggestive of its title; Madlib plunges the depths of world psychedelia of the late 60s and early 70s to form an unusual DJ mix which sounds off-kilter, stoned, and cartoon-like. Approaching the compositions with multiple layers of sound, Brain Wreck is packed full of sound snippets, qualities of progressive and challenging avant-rock, and a notable comedic weirdness which recalls the work of Frank Zappa; one of Madlib’s key inspirations. Comparable to many of Otis’ mixes, the production and atmosphere of his sixth Medicine Show is alike the relaxed, resonating and intoxicated sounds of dub reggae. Though the Brain Wreck Show is challenging and polarising as it often sounds like a mish-mash of ideas and a collection of sound snippets, the mix is still definitely worth a listen as it features sounds rarely heard in hip hop.

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Various Artists – Yesterday’s Universe (2007)

Yesterday’s Universe is the ideal introduction to Madlib’s Yesterday’s New Quintet project and his other lesser-known jazz ventures. Yesterday’s New Quintet is a jazz group consisting of five fictional members named Otis Jackson Jr., Ahmad Miller, Joe McDuphrey, Monk Hughes, and Malik Flavors. Madlib’s jazz projects once again showcase his dizzying heights of creativity and feats of imagination, verifying he’s one of the most enigmatic and respectable producers in music.

The compilation served to commemorate the end of the Yesterday’s New Quintet project and to introduce fans to the individual members, new projects and newfound musical directions which eventually became affiliated with the jazz Medicine Show comps. The record features guest spots from instrumental hip hop / jazz funk musician Karriem Riggins and Ivan Conti, the latter of which would later appear on the 2008 Sujinho release by Jackson Conti, a collaboration which explored jazz fusion and samba.

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Mos Def – The Ecstatic (2009)

Madlib produced a quarter of The Ecstatic, employing samples he’d previously used in his collaboration with Guilty Simpson, Madvillainy 2, and the Indian inspired records from his Beat Konducta series. The Ecstatic sounds exotic and colourful throughout, with Mad’s cuts adding a cinematic elegance to the record, especially in the album’s highlight ‘Auditorium’. Madlib’s brother Oh No also features as a producer, a musician whose work is definitely worth checking out for fans of Mad and other similar beatmakers. Mos Def returned to form on his fourth LP, and the production and influence of Madlib and co. is the leading reason behind the improvement.

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Vol. 5-6: A Tribute To… (2009)

Three years after J Dilla’s death, Madlib released a tribute compilation to his late associate and friend. The record includes Vol. 5: Dil Cosby Suite and its follow-up Vol. 6: Dil Withers Suite into one manageable and listenable collection. Composing in a similar manner to Jay Dee’s classic swansong Donuts, Mad creates brief songs composed of heavy drum machine beats and hazy-eyed soul samples, all glazed with cavernous, dubby resonances. Once again, the sound is immediate and unconfined, with the comp sounding like a cohesive collage of beats. A Tribute To… is a must have for Dilla fans and those desiring a more straightforward instrumental hip hop album from Otis’ catalogue; either way it’s exciting to hear Madlib channel Dilla and pay his respects to one of the greatest producers hip hop has ever witnessed.

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Volumes 3-4: Beat Konducta in India (2007)

Madlib takes the listener on a tour into Bollywood here on Beat Konducta in India, a 34-track instrumental record which encompasses Indian pop, ragas, folk, and traditional Hindustani classical music. The overall sound of the collection is incredibly exotic, and therefore suitable to soundtrack scorching days and muggy summer nights. Beat Konducta in India is worth a listen alone to study Madlib’s ear for unorthodox samples, and is a must for anyone who’s enjoyed his more tropical releases.

Madlib has risen from his humble beginnings in underground hip hop collectives to producing for the biggest names in rap, remaining just as eclectic, fascinating and creative as when he first started recording music.

So what’s next for Madlib? Well, he’s currently working on the hotly anticipated follow-up to Piñata with Freddie Gibbs titled Bandana, which was actually set to be released last year, so let’s hope this isn’t one of them Detox­-like waits. Otis also recently announced that he would be working with Talib Kweli and Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) on a new Black Star record, an extremely exciting prospect considering their debut is one of rap’s most cherished records.

Here’s the best of the rest of Madlib related cuts:

Kanye WestNo More Parties in L.A. (2016)

Four Tet Great Day (2005)

Boiler Room set (2017)

Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton: This Is Stones Throw Records (2013)

Now Playing: Deserter’s Songs – Mercury Rev (1998)

Currently listening to Mercury Rev‘s classic album Deserter’s Songs, the neo-psychedelia acts fourth record.

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