Simian Substitute Site for June 2023: The Infinite Monkey Theorem

The Infinite Monkey TheoremMONTH END PROCESSING FOR MAY 2023

Books: How would you like Werner Herzog to read a bedtime story to you? And it's a story you're probably already familiar with - that of Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese soldier who was discovered on an island in the Philippines in the mid-1970s, still fighting World War 2 and unaware that it had finished three decades ago. You'd imagine somebody could make a film about that, and somebody did - coincidentally, it's available to watch for free on the Channel 4 site until June 23rd or thereabouts. But rather than filming it, Herzog has made it the basis of his first novel. The Twilight World does a pretty good job of getting inside the head of Onoda, and imagining the mental leaps he had to make to convince himself that the war was still on. Episodically constructed from lots of short chapters, it feels ideal as a bedtime audiobook. The problem, surprisingly, is Herzog's own reading. The weary monotone we've come to love in short bursts of documentary voiceovers, interviews and unexpected acting jobs doesn't really work at this extended length - Herzog is determined not to do any voices, so character dialogue and description all merge confusingly into one. Even his idiosyncratic pronunciations lose their appeal after a while: each chapter is titled by its location, and the whole point of the book is that Onoda is in the same location for thirty years, so eventually you get tired of hearing Herzog saying 'Lubaaaaaang'. I didn't think I'd be saying this when I bought the audiobook, but it might be better with someone other than the author reading it.

Music: Ten more turnips from the tip, as Ian Dury said once. Links to videos for those of you who don't do Spotify, as usual.

  1. I'm a little disappointed that I missed ABC's big gigs last year, marking the 40th anniversary of the release of The Lexicon Of Love. The just-released live record of their homecoming Sheffield date shows that you shouldn't forget they were more than just a one-album band.
  2. I first stumbled across Superfly in 2008, hearing bits of her debut album in a Tokyo record shop and liking what I heard. I haven't really been paying attention for the last 15 years, but she's still got an ear for a classic pop pastiche almost as good as Martin Fry's.
  3. It's been a rough couple of years for Ruth Theodore, but after some health issues it looks like she's making a slow comeback. Nothing too strenuous so far: a greatest hits album with a couple of lovely new songs on it, this being one of them.
  4. Apparently the Japan Foundation brought Otoboke Beaver over to the UK a month or two ago, and I found out far too late that they're a band who make records that sound like this.
  5. Max Richter's Sleep reworked by Alva Noto to remove all that troubling aggression from the music? It's not a record I thought I needed, but I'm becoming rather fond of it.
  6. My tai chi teacher cheekily used the old Sparks song Balls to accompany one of our classes, and commented "you couldn't get a band like that these days, could you?" I had to point out that we didn't need to, because we still have Sparks.
  7. I'm still down a bit of a Pete & Bas rabbithole at the moment. This track's inspired a hundred or so reaction videos, which is odd because the official clip's a reaction video in its own right, with producer Fumez wigging out over what these ancient geezers are doing to his beats.
  8. I was looking at the current state of Italian pop music for reasons, and discovered that there's a band called Pinguini Tattici Nucleari, who've literally named themselves after the BrewDog beer Tactical Nuclear Penguin. So why not have them play at an AGM sometime?
  9. There's lots of fun for music fans in Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 3. For me, it's hard to top the line "Adrian Belew, both solo and his work with King Crimson." But EHAMIC's violent abuse of The Minute Waltz as an example of what music would sound like on an alternative Earth comes pretty close.
  10. One of my favourite pieces by Philip Glass is the final aria from his opera Satyagraha: this arrangement for three pianos by Arturo Stalteri brings out the countermelodies in a way the orchestral version simply can't manage.

Telly: On the day this post is going up, they're going to announce the cast of the next series of Taskmaster. The BBG and I went to a taping a month ago so we know who it's going to be, but we're not telling. But it's going to be a good five months until series 16 is aired: what do we do in the meantime? Thankfully, we've just discovered this wiki on Reddit which gives us the opportunity to explore Taskmasters Of Foreign Lands (with subtitles, too). First stop, Norway, where Kongen Befaler has been running for seven series now. The literal translation of the title is The King Commands, and the king in this case is Atle Antonsen (who it turns out I saw at LFF back in 2011), assisted by Olli Wermskog doing all the traditional admin. Series 1 is an interesting case, because three of the five comics in competition are people I know: the Ylvis brothers Bård and Vegard Ylvisåker, and their regular sidekick Calle Hellevang-Larsen. (Maria Stavang and Siri Kristiansen are the other two contestants.) It's a slow starter - in episode 1, it seemed as if every tiny nuance of the show needed to be spelled out for the audience - but by episode 2, competitiveness has kicked in, and some wildly imaginative responses to the tasks make it good fun to watch. As with the Australian version, the weak links are the presenters. Wermskog is too normal to be a Taskmaster assistant, missing the weird edge of the likes of Alex Horne and Paul Williams. (Back home, they've just announced a kids' version of the show with Mike Wozniak as assistant, which is perfect casting.) As for Antonsen, he's a little too traditional a grumpy comic for the leading role, and it turns out that grumpiness has worked against him - he was shitcanned from series 7 for being a bit of a racist. Curiously, though, his replacement as Taskmaster was Bård Ylvisåker, so I'll have to see how that works.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for June 2023: The Infinite Monkey Theorem" »

Simian Substitute Site for May 2023: Monkey, May I?


Books: This is a first for our audiobook-of-the-month slot, I think – while we've been making our way through the latest one, it's been announced that its TV rights have just been sold to Working Title. So at some time over the next couple of years you may get to see a telly series entitled People Hacker, based on the memoirs of Jenny Radcliffe. Subtitled Confessions Of A Burglar For Hire, it's Radcliffe's story of how she became the physical equivalent of an ethical hacker: someone who uses social engineering techniques to blag her way into organisations, in order to test out their security for them. She describes her childhood in Liverpool, and the sense of mischief that led her into pushing at the boundaries of where you were allowed to go: but rather than taking those instincts over to the dark side, she began to develop her skills into a business where she could make legit money. The book is a series of case studies, told in a cheerfully anecdotal style, but always finishing off with a 'but seriously...' section pointing out the lessons learned by her clients on how to avoid security breaches - the implication being that these are lessons we should be learning, too. If they can get that balance right in the TV adaptation, and not just turn it into some sort of generic Hot Chick Breaks Into Buildings thriller, it could be quite the thing.

Food & Drink: A quick recap. In the years 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019, The BBG and I made an annual pilgrimage to Aberdeen to attend BrewDog's Annual General Meeting, held in the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre. We always knew that 2019 was going to be the last AGM at that venue, as it was closing down: however, the decision on where to hold it next got delayed by other factors, with the 2020 and 2021 AGMs being held online, to varying degrees of success. In 2022 they experimented with making it an outdoor event, which had a whole new set of problems of its own. But they couldn't go back to an indoor event: the AGM has always cost BrewDog a shedload of money even in the good times, and the AECC's replacement was now demanding extortionate hire fees. So what to do for 2023? James Watt gave us a heads-up at the launch of the Wandsworth bar: this year, the AGM would effectively be distributed across the bars instead of being held in one place, with guest musicians in each location and a company update broadcast from the brewery in Aberdeen. When he announced this, I speculated whether BrewDog's tech was up to the task, assuming that they'd have video feeds from the bars checking in on each other, like they did for the 2020 online meeting. But that's not what happened. Each bar effectively just did its own thing, with no reference to any of the others: the one common element was the business talk, which we only found out quite late in the day was pre-recorded (the clue was when James Watt turned up at the Waterloo bar an hour before he was due to speak from Aberdeen). It didn't help that at Waterloo, the sound for this one thing the whole day was technically built around was atrocious - given that it was pre-recorded, maybe they should have considered subtitles. The resulting event was as fun as a typical bar launch, but no more than that - there was no sense of being part of a bigger community, which is what the AGM was always really about. Still, they've admitted it was an experiment - let's hope they come up with a better plan next year.

Music: Well, I promised you another Audio Lair last month, didn’t I? YouTube links are, as ever, provided for the Spotify sceptics.

  1. I also promised you additional misery from Lankum, who are currently responsible for my favourite album of 2023 so far. Sadly, they went for the title False Lankum, and not Songs For Swinging Lovers
  2. If you’re looking to write off an entire afternoon in an internet rabbit hole, try investigating Sindhu World, a corner shop-based record label whose entire roster is made up of drill rappers aged 70 and over. Before too long, you’ll be intimately acquainted with Pete & Bas, The Northern Boys and all their mates, a Wu-Tang style collective known as The Snooker Team. Sorry, Spotifiers, but this one really needs the video to do it justice. And while you're there, you can check out all the reaction videos and the conspiracy theories too...
  3. Interesting times for Black Country, New Road, as they try to reinvent themselves in the wake of vocalist Isaac Wood’s departure. Sneakily, their first release since then is a live album featuring what will presumably be the only recorded versions of their first post-Isaac songs. As such, you can hear them trying out a few different directions in which the band could go: this is one of them.
  4. I always get worried when Spotify’s algorithm recommends stuff to me that turns out to be really good. See Lankum above, and also multi-instrumentalist Pascal Bideau, known to his friends as Akusmi. I’ve no idea what genre you could say this fits into, I just know that the point where the contrapuntal noodling transforms itself into a dance groove is ridiculously satisfying.
  5. The stars of our recent trip to Hull, Trueman And The Indoor League, whose gig turns out to have been the main promotional push for what is only their second single. The Pulp influence is particularly strong on this one: if Jarvis was still a young man, he’d kill for a song title like Boomers In The Area.
  6. It’s easiest to just quote from Jah Wobble’s Bandcamp page for his new album The Bus Routes Of South London. “I travelled around South London (mainly south west London), recording on my iPad pro. I would always try to secure a seat on the top deck at the very front of the bus. I would then ‘fill in‘ these musical sketches later on. I also would take lots of photos as I travelled around. On one occasion a bloke asked me if I ‘was Jah Wobble'. I confirmed that I was. He asked me if I was working on anything new. I said 'yes, right this minute now you mention it', and then played a top line in, on the iPad. I asked him what he thought. He said he liked it and promised to buy it.”
  7. It was only a couple of years ago that I learned that when The Housemartins comically described themselves as “the fourth best band in Hull,” they knew exactly who the other three were: the slightly obscure Red Guitars, the really obscure Gargoyles and the bleedin’ obvious Everything But The Girl. It's good to have the latter back after all those years away.
  8. Chris Hawkins' pre-breakfast show on 6 Music is still one of the ways I stumble across new music, particularly in that 6.45-7.00am slot where I'm still waking up and obviously vulnerable. Hence the presence here of Audiobooks, whose new single appears to be made up almost entirely of hooks, or at least sounds that way when you're half asleep. 
  9. Foreshadowing: I should have a bit more to say about the work of composer Anna Meredith in a couple of months time. Meanwhile, here's The Ligeti Quartet tackling one of her more challenging electronic pieces on olde-worlde instruments (with, possibly, some modern jiggery-pokery in the background). I think this version actually works better than the original - the absolutely brutal cross-rhythms that evolve as it goes on sound more impressive when played by people rather than machines.
  10. I'm reluctant to think of a film made in 1981 as being an old movie that requires restoration. Nevertheless, that's what they've done with the 2 Tone concert movie Dance Craze, and the spectacular results - having had a brief run in cinemas in March - are now available to watch on Blu-ray and DVD. They've also produced a tie-in special edition of the soundtrack album, featuring takes that haven't been released on record before, like the end titles version of this song by The Specials. It's a moderately shambolic rendition, but if you watch the (aggressively un-restored) video you'll see why the band is on the verge of collapse throughout.

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BrewDogging #84: Hull

How significant is it that the second half of the Drink Beer Plant Trees neon sign has been somehow decommissioned for the Hull bar?Previously, on BrewDogging: back in January, things seemed to be calming down after a rash of bar closures. We started off 2023 with the opening of a swish new bar in Wandsworth - an event that impressed fan favourite Old Lag, as he noted that BrewDog now had a solid presence in South London what with this bar, Clapham Junction and Brixton.

We haven't had the heart to tell Old Lag that just a few weeks later, both the Clapham Junction and Brixton bars were closed with no warning, along with the one in Leicester. As usual, their social media and internet presence were wiped almost immediately, not only removing the chance for anyone to say goodbye but almost, to a degree, removing them from history. I can appreciate that a clean break works better for the business, but on a human level it seems a bit wrong.

Still, we'll keep on trying to visit as many of the bars as we can while they're open, because the BrewDogging project gives us opportunities for all sorts of experiences that we wouldn't normally have. For example, the whole train of thought which started with BrewDog opening a bar in Hull about a year ago, and ended with us being forced to buy a DVD about the abolition of slavery because it was Easter.

Let's take this slowly.

Continue reading "BrewDogging #84: Hull" »

Simian Substitute Site for April 2023: Prank Monkey Records


Movies: Ever since Charles Gant took his weekly box office reports out of the Guardian and put them behind a paywall at the Telegraph for more money, I’ve lost touch with how well movies are performing in the cinemas. Probably just as well, because whenever I find out specifics about UK box office performance it just gets me cross. Take, for example, Rye Lane, an utterly delightful romcom that struggled in its opening weekend to make as much money as Cocaine friggin' Bear did in its fourth. It deserves to be more widely seen: it’s a perfect depiction of those times early in a relationship where you’re just hanging out together, and the world seems like an utterly surreal place (aided by the use of some of the most ridiculously wide lenses you can imagine, as if the whole universe is bending itself around the couple). Granted, it probably plays better with a London audience, and a South London one in particular. If you get the chance, go for the wholly immersive experience of watching the film in Rye Lane’s own real-life cinema the Peckhamplex, and then follow it up with the none-more-Peckham experience of dinner at a terrific spaghetti restaurant with only three tables where the owner live-streams himself cooking every night.

Music: It’s been a while since we’ve done one of these, hasn’t it? Limiting myself to tunes that have been released since the beginning of the year, I could easily have assembled a playlist of twenty songs or more. Still, a format is a format, so here’s what was left when I hammered it down to ten. That just means you’ll probably get another ten next month, though. As ever, YouTube links are provided for the benefit of non-Spotifiers.

  1. Riot Jazz Brass Band were one of our big live discoveries last year, and it’s a pleasure to learn they’ve got lots of new music on the way, starting with this blast of a lead single.
  2. Robert Ellis, meanwhile, is a live discovery from this year, as part of The BBG’s 2023 project to go to gigs by people we’ve never heard of. We can talk more about how that's going later in the year.
  3. Typically, when an old song is recycled for a TV show or film, it’s fed through the John Lewis filter and made mushier and blander. Interestingly, when Kate Miller-Heidke and Marcus Bridge reworked Kate’s old song for TV show Last King Of The Cross, they went in the opposite direction. Australians, eh?
  4. After a long period of their most interesting tunes being their most melancholic, it’s nice to see Kae Tempest (with Future Utopia) on something that feels like a proper banger.
  5. It’s cool to see an old geezer like Peter Gabriel exploiting the benefits of streaming with his current run of singles. Each one is being released in two distinct versions: a Bright Side mix by Mark ‘Spike’ Stent (generally more detailed and subtle), and a Dark Side mix by Tchad Blake (generally more up-front and dynamic). You wouldn’t buy all these versions, but you’re happy enough listening to them and picking out the differences.
  6. Young Fathers continue to go from strength to strength, and it’s frustrating that all their recent London shows have clashed with other plans of mine. Really must get to see them again at some point soon.
  7. The Go! Team continue their run of alternating meh albums with great ones. Although I don’t understand how their previous record Get Up Sequences Part 1 was so-so, and yet their new one Get Up Sequences Part 2 is so great - shouldn't the titles suggest that they're roughly the same?
  8. Massive Attack’s original version of this track was always a favourite of mine, long before I realised it was also a TV show theme tune. Well, now Netflix has The Loofah Movie, a slightly overblown reworking of the show, and inevitably it comes with a slightly overblown reworking of that theme. Luckily, POST and Ghostpoet are just the people to pull it off without embarrassing themselves.
  9. I was pointed in the direction of Lankum by the Spotify algorithm, which seems to think that massively downbeat folk music with added slabs of atonal noise might appeal to me. Dammit, they’re right. Although it was a tough call whether I included the one about the ship that was sunk by God as punishment for the evil of its captain, or the one about the teenage girl who hanged herself for love. (I guess you’ll hear the other one next month.)
  10. We finish off with a collaboration between Because Of Art and Antony Szmierek. I’m totally unaware of the former, but the latter’s been appearing repeatedly on my radar with his Streets-like spoken word pieces. This particular track leans into that influence hugely, with a short story about a night out clubbing, albeit one with a happier ending than Mike Skinner would give you.

Theatre: There’s a rumour going round that I don’t like musicals. This seems to date back to an early post on the site, when Mamma Mia! was reviewed as follows: ‘firebomb the theatre, piss on the ashes, shoot the survivors through the head’. Hopefully it’s become clear since then that what I don’t like are bad musicals. Guys and Dolls, by pretty much any criterion you care to name, is a great musical: and the current production at London’s Bridge Theatre elevates it to the level of spectacular. The Bridge has developed a reputation over the last couple of years for immersive productions, sticking the audience in the same space as the play and making them follow the action around. Nicholas Hytner's production (with the aid of designer Bunny Christie) takes this idea to the extreme, putting the audience and cast in a pit in the centre of the theatre and using hydraulic platforms to create various impromptu elevated stages where the action takes place. You can choose to watch all this from seats surrounding the pit, or get into the play itself, watching out for the ushers dressed as New York cops herding audience members out of the way of the next bit of floor space that's about to rise by six feet. Even without the immersive component, this is one hell of a production, fixing some of the common casting problems this musical has - Marisha Wallace gives us a Miss Adelaide who's sassy rather than ditzy, and Andrew Richardson is a Sky Masterson with an genuinely good singing voice. (Yeah, I'm looking at you, Ewan McGregor back in 2005. And possibly Brando, too.) It's running till the beginning of September 2023: we've already seen it once in the seats, we're going again before the end of the run to take our chances with the cops.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for April 2023: Prank Monkey Records" »

Simian Substitute Site for March 2023: Wales Ape & Monkey Sanctuary

Wales Ape & Monkey SanctuaryMONTH END PROCESSING FOR FEBRUARY 2023

Books: It was a surprise to look through the new release audiobooks this month and find that one of them was With Nails: The Film Diaries Of Richard E Grant, read by the author. It’s a surprise because I bought that book almost three decades ago, and it’s taken Grant that long to finally sit down in a studio and read it out loud. I’m assuming that his recent experience of recording the audiobook of his 2022 memoir A Pocketful Of Happiness gave him a taste for the medium. I had a memory of the book being a good fun read when it first came out in the nineties, and for large parts of it that’s true: we follow Grant from his debut in Withnail & I to Pret A Porter a decade later, as he marvels at his good fortune while still being detached enough to have a wryly cynical view of the movie business. However, I’d totally forgotten about the darker passages in his diaries: the story of the stillbirth of his first child is astonishingly intense (his emotional reading is a large part of that), and it takes a while for the book to get back to the amusing on-set anecdotes. But as a document of the first decade of a film actor’s career, it can’t be beat: although the thirty year gap between publication and recording must have given an awkward edge to him reading his tales of hanging out with Kevin Spacey.

Telly: I mentioned while we were in Edinburgh last year that The BBG and I had become fans of the New Zealand version of Taskmaster, which copies the framework and design of the UK show but has slowly developed its own distinct personality over the course of three seasons. As a result, we’ve become a lot more aware of the New Zealand comedy circuit, and the ridiculously small number of people in it. As proof of this, there’s currently a primetime show on NZ’s channel Three called Guy Montgomery’s Guy Mont Spelling Bee, whose cast appears to be made up almost entirely of Taskmaster NZ alumni (plus at least one person we saw at the Edinburgh improv show Snort). Like our own No More Jockeys, it originated as an online game that a bunch of comedians used during lockdown to amuse themselves and anyone else watching. Unlike Jockeys, though, Montgomery has managed to turn it into a working format for an entertaining TV show, even though its premise is literally ‘watching comedians trying to spell difficult words’. Elsewhere in the Antipodes, they’re a few episodes into the first ever season of Taskmaster Australia. It’s still at the bedding-in stage: Taskmaster Tom Gleeson is a little too Light Entertainment for the role, assistant Tom Cashman is enjoying himself a bit too much, and the audience laugh track has been doctored to sound positively inhuman. But some of the tasks have been absolute corkers, to the extent that – as with New Zealand – we can probably expect a few of them to be stolen for the UK version in a year or two.

Theatre: The first time I saw Richard Hawley, I wasn’t entirely impressed, but I warmed to him hugely over time. So as soon as I heard about Standing At The Sky’s Edge – a musical based around Hawley’s songs – I leapt at the chance to see it. Somehow, it wasn’t until a day or two before my visit to the National Theatre that a horrifying thought struck me: what if it turns out to be Mamma Mia! but with added references to Henderson’s Relish? Happily, this isn’t one of those jukebox shows where the plotting is jerry-built out of random lines from the songs, as long as you don’t count the scene where Open Up Your Door is sung by someone standing outside a door. Chris Bush’s book is generally a lot smarter than that, brilliantly structured around a single flat in Sheffield’s Park Hill estate, and interweaving the stories of three sets of people who’ve lived in it at different times. The young couple who moved in in the sixties, convinced that the steel industry would keep them going through thick and thin: the family of Liberian refugees who came over in the late eighties: and the newly-single woman taking advantage of the estate's 21st century gentrification. So it’s definitely not Mamma Mia!, but what we get instead is two shows battling it out for space on the same stage. An Our Friends In The North-style social history of Britain from 1960 to 2020, with some lovely echoes across its three timelines: and what amounts to a Richard Hawley ballet, with his songs proving surprisingly amenable to a Broadway-style makeover, and Lynne Page's spectacular choreography frequently involving the entire 21-strong cast. The frustrating thing is that both of these shows are great, but it just feels like we’re constantly flipping between one and the other: if the two could have fitted together better, this could have been magnificent. Still, I’m happy to settle for great. It’s running at the National until March 25th.

Continue reading "Simian Substitute Site for March 2023: Wales Ape & Monkey Sanctuary" »