Simian Substitute Site For April 2020: Monkey Wellbeing

Monkey WellbeingMONTH END PROCESSING FOR MARCH 2020

Art: So, everything's still fucked, then. Which makes March 2020 a very awkward month about which to write a list of artistic highlights. Still, I'll have a go, even though I've barely been out of the house since the 14th. It all started off so well on the 1st, when a bunch of Spank's Pals accompanied me to Dulwich Picture Gallery to see an exhibition of British Surrealism. It's a pleasingly broad selection of works, mainly focussed on the early years of the movement, but prepared to suggest names like Lewis Carroll as their forebears. The inevitable biggies are represented, along with plenty of people you haven't heard of: I'm particularly taken by the artist - I think it was Conroy Maddox, but couldn't swear to it - who took a pile of his 1960s paintings and redated them as 1930s purely as a prank on art historians. The DPG are hoping that the exhibition will continue once (if) normal service has been resumed: in the meantime, the British Surrealism webpage obligingly contains a stream of the audio guide to whet your appetite.

Movies: Technically, the last film I saw before the UK went into lockdown was The Invisible Man, which benefitted from a properly up-for-it Saturday night audience, all the way up to the young woman who yelled 'oh my days' whenever something surprising happened, which was often. But a few days earlier I caught another film on a one-night-only engagement: a concert movie snappily entitled Nick Mason's Saucerful Of Secrets: Live At The Roundhouse. Saucerful Of Secrets is a Pink Floyd tribute band with a twist - well, two twists. The first is that they only cover the band's music from 1967 to 1972, stopping just before the point where The Dark Side Of The Moon made them superstars: the second is that Pink Floyd's actual drummer is in the band. Visually, they're an odd bunch, dressed like five fund managers jamming on a Saturday afternoon: but musically is where it counts. The freak-out sections of the Floyd's psychedelic era are here a little too calculated for my liking, missing the buzz of genuine insanity that Syd Barrett brought to the band during his time there. But the songs are beautifully played, and it's nice to hear them again. Best of all, Mason doesn't look like a man who's going out on the road again in his seventies to top up his pension: he's having a tremendous amount of fun, and it shows. You won't see the film in cinemas again, while the home video and live album releases the screening was meant to promote appear to have slipped from April to September. Have a clip to make up for the disappointment.


Music: On the subject of live music, the last time I was in a room with loads of people watching a band getting loud and sweaty was Kodo: Legacy at the Royal Festival Hall. They've been bringing their traditional Japanese drums to London since the early eighties, and I've been seeing them here since the late eighties: by now, I know what to expect. Legacy is a little more retrospective than usual, taking some of Kodo's classic pieces - the lopsided swing of Miyake, or the whisper-to-a-scream onslaught of Monochrome - and letting a new generation of drummers loose on them. John Peel always used to describe The Fall as "always different, always the same," and that's how I'm happy to think about Kodo. Their European tour is over now, but while they're in lockdown they're amusing themselves with weekly live streams from their rehearsal studio, albeit ones which fail to maintain social distancing between the band members.

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Life As We Know It v2.0

Cartoon by Giles Pilbrow from the current Private EyeThe last time I posted on here was three weeks ago. Buried towards the end of a paragraph about Norwegian Slow TV is the humorous suggestion that real-time footage of a nine-day Arctic expedition will give you something to watch if you've got to stay in the house for a couple of weeks. LOL!

And now everybody's staying in the house for a couple of weeks.

Welcome to Life As We Know It v2.0. I think we all preferred the old version, didn't we?

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Simian Substitute Site For March 2020: Monkey Business

Monkey BusinessMONTH END PROCESSING FOR FEBRUARY 2020

Movies: Hooray for the Japan Foundation, and the splendid work they do in making Japanese cinema (as well as other culture from the country) available to us in the UK. At the moment they're taking their Touring Film Programme around Britain again, and one of the massively overdue posts you can expect to see here eventually is a review of half a dozen or so of the films in that package. But they also do the odd free screening, like one that took place in London last month of Ten Years Japan. It's part of a franchise that started in Hong Kong in 2015 with Ten Years, in which five young HK filmmakers joined forces for a portmanteau film speculating on what the territory would look like in 2025. Their conclusions ended up very much on the dystopian side, and if anything ten years seems to have been a bit of an underestimate. It's interesting to compare and contrast the HK and Japanese approaches to futurism. The Hong Kong version, for reasons of budget or otherwise, looks like contemporary HK but with the existing social issues allowed to run unchecked for a decade. The Japanese version is more like science fiction, with several of the stories driven by new technology: for example, a chip implanted in kids to make them behave, or a no-fuss euthanasia patch for the elderly. The comparisons being made in some quarters with Black Mirror are a bit of a stretch, partly because the stories don't spiral off into ridiculousness at any point, partly because they're frequently happy to meander off into an open ending. Anyway, that trailer link up there will take you to a rental copy on YouTube if you'd like to explore further.

Music: We're two months into the new year, so it's probably time for another one of those roundups of recent records that have grabbed my attention.

  1. Anna Meredith - God bless 6Music's Chris Hawkins for continuing to fill his pre-7.30am programme with the sort of music that was quite definitely not meant to be listened to that early in the morning, such as this sustained panic attack in audio form.
  2. Joe Jackson - I was convinced that Jackson had written his own lyrics for this classic instrumental, but apparently there have been words for it going as far back as the days of Sarah Vaughan.
  3. Ringo Shiina - With a solo single and a surprise reformation of her band Tokyo Jihen in the first two months of the year, it looks like 2020's going to be a busy one for her.
  4. Stormzy - A point of view that's seldom expressed in all the press coverage: his diction's very good, isn't it?
  5. Everything Everything - It's that 'fat child in a pushchair' song again, but beefed up with a small orchestra in a live rendition recorded at Festival No 6 in 2018.
  6. Ghostpoet - One of my guilty pleasures on Twitter is watching Ghostpoet get into arguments with anyone who tries to assign a genre to him. So let's play it safe: this is a new Ghostpoet record.
  7. Gil Scott Heron - Whenever I hear the word 're-imagining' I reach for my book of misattributed Hermann Goering quotes, but Makaya McCraven's jazz reconstruction of Scott-Heron's final album sounds just lovely to me.
  8. Pet Shop Boys - As I said during last month's Simian post, there are plenty of songs on their new album that are better than Monkey Business. Today, this is the one I think is the best.
  9. Joe Gideon - With Gideon's first solo album, I felt the songs were a little weak, and didn't really appreciate them until I'd seen them performed live. This time round, I saw him live first and then bought the new album on the way out of the gig. Problem solved.
  10. Citizen Bravo et al - Wrapping up as we started, albeit with a less abrasive discovery from the Chris Hawkins show, as a collection of Scottish indiepopstars record their favourite songs by the genius that was Ivor Cutler.


Telly: Back in the days of Europe's Best Website, I was partly responsible for an article discussing Slow TV, a series of programmes made by the Norwegian state broadcaster NRK in which long slow-moving things were shown on telly in real time. At the start of February, they broadcast their longest, slowest-moving one to date. Svalbard Minute By Minute was NRK's celebration of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Svalbard Treaty: they chose to mark it with a nine-and-a-quarter-day-long as-live broadcast of an Arctic expedition around Spitsbergen, the largest of the Svalbard islands. They filmed it back last summer, to maximise the amount of daylight available: and they intercut it with everything from one-take explorations of the engine room to drone footage of the ship shot from every possible angle. It was streamed over the Internet for everyone in the world to watch, and became an utterly delightful thing to dip into for the first nine days of the month. What, you missed it? Not to worry: all 13,320 minutes of it is currently archived on the NRK website for anyone who's interested. Also available: gargantuan Spotify playlists of each day's background music, which is probably more Norwegian pop than you've heard in your lifetime to date. So if you end up isolated in the house for a couple of weeks because of COVID-19, at least now you've got something to keep you occupied.

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BrewDogging #70: AF Old Street

Getting the white balance right was always going to be tricky on this one.Somewhere in the backlog of site content that's been building up since the start of 2020 is a pair of posts relating to what happened during January. Specifically, The Belated Birthday Girl's decision to go both dry and vegan for the first month of the year, and my decision to tag along in order to see what it was like. (That decision was also influenced by my desire to avoid awkward social situations where she's forced to sip on glasses of water while I'm chugging egg nog by the bucketful.)

One of those posts is going to focus on the vegan side of things, and will note how targeted a demographic I felt in early January, as everyone from McDonald's on up suddenly announced new vegan lines on sale. The other one - this one, in fact - is just looking at how we managed to avoid booze for a month. And once again, there was a big push in various quarters to provide new products for the newly alcohol free. You've probably guessed one of them by now.

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BrewDogging #69: St Pauli

That blue and red glow near the bottom of this tower block? That's BrewDog St Pauli. You can ignore everything above that, for now.You can almost imagine the board meeting at BrewDog plc. One of their execs is doing a PowerPoint presentation, pointing out that since they took over the former Stone brewery in Berlin there’s been a notable upswing in sales in Germany. It’s probably about time they opened another bar in the country. Maybe in Hamburg, perhaps?

Offscreen, we hear a quiet rhythm being beaten on the boardroom table, gradually increasing in volume: three beats, then a pause, then repeated. And as the camera turns towards James Watt and Martin Dickie at the other end of the table, we hear the vocal chant that accompanies their banging.

“Ree-per-bahn! REE-PER-BAHN! REE-PER-BAHN!

This (wholly imagined) chain of events will ultimately lead to The Belated Birthday Girl and me spending our first ever Christmas Day in a BrewDog bar: specifically one located in the St Pauli district of Hamburg, at the top end of the naughtiest street in Europe. Coincidentally, it’s the 69th bar we’ve visited. I thought this next sentence would more or less write itself, but it’s harder than it looks.

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