Spotify Picks Of The Year: The Noughties

Hard to believe, I know, but none of these covers was made using Photoshop.We're now at the halfway mark in this project to recreate all of my Pick Of The Year compilation CDs and cassettes as Spotify playlists - see also 1982-1989 and 1990-1999. And if there's one thing this exercise has taught me so far, it's that anyone who says streaming will eventually completely replace the physical ownership of music deserves a good slap. As you've probably noticed in the previous two articles (as well as the one that's due to follow shortly), most of these playlists are missing at least one song, if not more.

It's particularly noticeable here in the early years of the 21st century, largely thanks to my discovery of J-Pop in 2001. With a lot of Japanese music, it seems like nobody cares about granting the rights to stream it internationally. Things began to loosen up a few years ago, it's true - Ringo Shiina eventually made all of her records globally available, and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has released everything worldwide from the moment Pon Pon Pon went viral. But all too often, you end up with bizarre situations like the Vanilla Beans collection, VaniBest II, where the iTunes export version was been stripped back from 18 tracks to five, and the Spotify version restricted even further to two.

So there are a few Japanese songs on these compilations that I can't track down on Spotify. In addition to that, this was a decade when I picked up a lot of music in all sorts of contexts outside regular albums - downloads of mashups that were too copyright-infringing to go on regular sale, CDs only available at gigs, even one track given away with a book. None of those are available for streaming, as you can imagine. And most frustrating of all, it's impossible to predict when songs will be removed from Spotify, or indeed added to it. There's at least one track here that wasn't available when I first started assembling these playlists back in 2017, but subsequently showed up a month later because the album it came from had just got a tenth anniversary rerelease. (It's Glamur by Amiina, from 2007.) And that's happened a few times over in the three years since I last wrote about these playlists, either because of changes in rights ownership or because the rival streaming service set up by one particular artist died on its arse.

So, in short: these playlists may have gaps in them, but I'll try to warn you here what's missing, and link to my original track-by-track discussions of the compilations as well.

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Spotify Picks Of The Year: The Nineties

New feature for this decade: sleeve art! Well, sleeve design. Okay, pictures on the sleeves.In the second of a four-part series - and it pulled me up short when I realised that before too long, this could become a five-part series - anyway, I'm continuing my decade-by-decade run through my Pick Of The Year compilations, this time presenting the ones from the 1990s as almost completeish Spotify playlists.

There's a major difference between these ten compilations and the previous set from the 1980s. Those earlier ones were purely made for my own benefit. The ones in the nineties, however, fall into three groups. The cassettes I made from 1993 to 1997 were specifically targeted at my mate Lou, following a session in a pub once where he grumbled that he couldn't find any decent new music any more. The CDs burned in 1998 and 1999 were also primarily made for him, but I now also had a website where I could tell the world about these favourite songs, so I was aware that I had an even wider audience. That also applies to the CDs for 1990-1992, the three years when I didn't make compilations at the time, eventually bashing them out nearly two decades after the fact to fill in the gap.

These selections may be a little more self-conscious as a result - not deliberately so, I think, but I'm sure there was some influence in my track selections because of that. There's still plenty of stuff on these lists that I can be embarrassed about now, though, so don't you worry about that. As before, some of the tracks aren't available on Spotify (and some have dropped off it again since I last wrote a version of this page back in 2017), so I've indicated that where appropriate and included links to the original pages discussing the compilations in full. In short: not so much the nineties, more the ja danketies! (One of my favourite Chris Morris gags of the period, there.)

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Spotify Picks Of The Year: The Eighties

Just think, you could write this lot off completely with one big magnet.Some days, it terrifies me to realise just how anal I was as a teenager. But not today. Because it means I can tell you with absolute certainty that I spent December 14th-15th 1982 recording my first ever Pick Of The Year compilation. (It's written in biro on the cassette sleeves, along with the detail that it was recorded on an Amstrad 7090, the ghetto blaster that I'd bought earlier that year.)

Did I imagine at the time that NEARLY FORTY YEARS LATER, I'd still be making these compilations? Probably not. Still, here we are. Long-time readers may remember that around the 35th anniversary of those first tapes, I copied all of my Picks Of The Year to date onto a new medium: streaming Spotify playlists. Over the next few weeks, I'll be reposting those lists up here, decade by decade.

Why am I reposting a series of pages I first published here in 2017? Well, three reasons. First of all, Spotify have completely changed the HTML embed code for their playlists, so the pages needed updating to include that anyway. Secondly, I can finally complete the page dedicated to playlists for the Tenties, to include the lists for 2018 and 2019. And thirdly, the world of streaming is a ridiculously fluid one, if you’ll pardon the pun. Tracks that were missing from the playlists three years ago are now available: but also, tracks that were available three years ago have now been withdrawn by the artists and/or record companies. The latter is a particular bugbear of mine, and is why I keep yelling at young people in the street that physical media will never die.

So these pages will never be definitively completed: much the same as their YouTube equivalents, the Spotify playlists are always going to have holes in them, and those holes will change every so often. But I'll highlight what the missing tracks are currently for each year, and there'll be links to the full track listing and description as well. So with that caveat in mind, welcome to my favourite songs of the Eighties, with the other decades to follow shortly. Don't judge me.

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Simian Substitute Site for December 2020: Christmas Monkey Bread

Christmas Monkey BreadMONTH END PROCESSING FOR NOVEMBER 2020

Comedy: November, predictably, has seen us all locked back in our homes looking for online things to do. Well, I say all: Daniel Kitson, equally predictably, had other ideas. Dot. Dot. Dot. is another one of those Kitson shows built around a slightly ludicrous set of constraints: for the whole of November he toured theatres around the country, performing nightly to empty auditoriums, and broadcasting the results in a series of pay-per-view livestreams where the maximum number of attendees was capped at the capacity of the theatre he was in on that day. It'll come as no surprise that this is a show specifically about the pickle we currently find ourselves in: over the course of 90 minutes, armed only with a huge collection of Post-It notes, Kitson tells a series of stories about how he coped during the first six months of the pandemic. It helps that he's found himself in many of the same situations that we have, though it's slightly distracting that most of his friends are people from the comedy circuit you end up trying to guess from first name references. ("I met up with my old friend Ivor... I haven't known him for that long, he's in his late 60s.") It's a lovely souvenir of a peculiar half-year, and you've missed all the performances on the tour (including a sold-out one at the Union Chapel tonight): hopefully he'll find some way of doing something else with the show, as it deserves to have a wider audience than the usual Kitsonheads.

Food & Drink: Regular readers will know that there are regularly occurring milestones in this site's year, and the one for November is usually Collabfest - the annual binge in which 80-odd BrewDog bars each get together with a local brewer to make a beer, and then as many of those beers as possible are released into all the bars over a single weekend. You'd think that all the bars in England being shut this month would have put a crimp in that plan, but you'd be ignoring the tenacity of BrewDog's management and staff: over a period of five days, they took the kegged Collabfest beers, filled 30,000 cans with them, and sold them all to punters via mail order. The kegs left over were sent to the various bars, who canned them up on demand for delivery to home drinkers by courier. So over Collabfest weekend The Belated Birthday Girl and I sampled 20 beers, and as usual drunkenly documented them on Moblog as we went: follow the links to read about the collaborations with the bars in (deep breath) Brighton, Manchester, Tallinn, Castlegate, Tower Hill, Shepherd's Bush, Brussels, Glasgow, Newcastle, Southampton, Sheffield, Dublin, Nice, Seven Dials, Lothian Road, Old Street, Carlisle, Le Marais, Sodermalm and Swansea. (I'd also recommend that you take a look at the Collabfest online beer tasting, which is possibly the best attempt I've seen at doing one of these things virtually.) We might fit in a few more yet, as there's still some beer left in those kegs in the bars, and they're still delivering. But twenty should do for now, I think.

Music: Let's define 'lockdown gig' as meaning 'a live musical performance filmed in an empty auditorium for subsequent transmission across the internet.' That way, the sweeping statement I'm about to make doesn't need to include Grace Petrie, whose livestream from her house in aid of Bush Hall was the most blissfully energetic online show I've seen this year. Put that aside, and there are three lockdown gigs that have made 2020 that bit more bearable. Nick Cave's Idiot Prayer, featuring him, a piano and nobody else in the middle of a deserted Alexandra Palace: Jarv Is... Live From The Centre Of The Earth, with Cocker and co performing his album from inside a beautifully lit cave: and now, Roisin Murphy's Roisin Machine, a one-off show presented via Mixcloud this month. If Nick and Jarvis were aiming for stylish minimalism in their staging, Roisin has gone completely in the opposite direction: occupying a giant warehouse, her set includes multiple costume changes, massive video screens, a dancer and an excellent four-piece live band. She's a full-on disco diva these days, and the set covers her whole range from a percussion-only version of Jealousy to a surprisingly effective acoustic reworking of Moloko classic Familiar Feeling. Unlike Cave and Cocker, who were planning brief cinema releases of their shows in November before the shit hit the fan again, Murphy has no plans to make this one available in any other form following its one-day-only transmission - "it is what it is," she says - so it's simultaneously disappointing and useful that this link was still working at the time of writing.

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London Film Festival 1989-2020: An Index

Because Films Inspire... some sort of hideous trainspotter impulse, apparentlyI started going to the London Film Festival in 1989, and I've been there every year since. Thanks to a combination of Spank Gold articles (after-the-fact writeups of the 1989-1997 festivals), reposts (pieces written for the old site between 1998 and 2005) and live blogging (since 2006), I've got a record of every single film I've seen at those Festivals.

Trying to pick your way through all of those is obviously going to be hellish, hence the index below. Similar to the equivalent index I've assembled for the Edinburgh Festival, each year links to the relevant piece on that particular LFF, including a roughly chronological list of what I saw (plus, of course, any additional films reviewed by Spank's Pals). As a bonus, you get a thumbnail-sized history of programme cover designs.

This will be updated each year after the LFF, so most of the time this page should be resident at the top of the LFF folder on the site. Have yourselves a good old browse through, and try not to think too hard about how much the tickets for all this lot have cost me over the last couple of decades.

[updated 25/11/2020 to include 2020 reviews]

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Spank Gold Volumes 7a/8a/9a: The Furlough Trilogy (digital edition)

Two ashtrays, two cinemas, and some dick in a hatOnce more for the people who weren't listening (or more accurately chose not to).

Between 2009 and 2010, I wrote six books: collections of Edinburgh reviews, London Film Festival reviews and travel pieces, all taken from this website and covering the period 1989-2009. I liked the idea of having a physical copy of all this stuff I'd written, sitting on my bookshelf, and possibly other people's bookshelves too (yeah, right). But even back in 2010 e-readers were growing in popularity, so I grudgingly created a series of digital editions of the six books, using the laziest method possible (i.e. taking the PDFs used to make the print versions and selling them as is).

Jump forward to 2020, and that six week period during April and May when I was on furlough from work. By then I'd racked up another decade's worth of content on the site, and it seemed reasonable to use this free time to assemble a few more books. They've all been on sale for a while now - another Edinburgh collection, and two more sets of LFF reviews. And if you haven't bought them yet because you don't do paper, then I'm afraid that I have some bad news for you.

Yes, it's time to fire up your electronic devices and pay a fiver apiece (bargain!) for the digital editions of the three books in the Furlough Trilogy. (Or pay more to have them on lovely lumpy paper.) Full details below.

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Edinburgh Festival 1989-2020: An Index

A hair salon, Edinburgh, 2005. Do you see what they did there? I admit it, the Edinburgh Festival coverage on this site is all over the place - a combination of REPOST pages written for the old site and ported over to here, SPANK GOLD pages written years after the event, and pages that were actually blogged live from Edinburgh as they happened. Anyone just diving into the Edinburgh folder will probably have a hard time working out where to find stuff.

Until now!

What follows is a set of links to the writeups of all the Edinburgh Festivals I've attended since 1989, plus a couple where Spank's Pals went up without me. (Which means nowt for 1993, 1997 or 2000, so don't look for them.) For each year I've included a vaguely chronological list of all the shows that are mentioned in the entry by name. I'm now having a minor freakout at just how many shows that is, but that's not your problem.

The plan is to update this index after every Festival, so this page will mostly remain at the top of the Edinburgh folder. If that's how you got here in the first place, welcome: feel free to browse through the pages linked to below. And if you like the reviews, maybe you'd like to pay me some money to own them in book form? See bottom of page for links.

(Updated September 15th 2020 to include 2020 reviews, such as they were)

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Spank's LFF Diary: The Wrap Party 2020

The LFF programme cover that never was (extrapolated from an advert published in Sight & Sound)As is traditional, let's start with the numbers and the programme categories...

* Laugh: 0
* Journey: 6
* Dare: 7
* Create: 5
* Love: 4
* Cult: 1
* Debate: 6
* Family: 1
* Treasures: 3
* Experimenta: 1
* Shorts: 20
* Expanded: 5
* Events: 4

The shorts make it difficult to make a proper comparison with previous years - normally they'd be clumped into programmes, here we ended up picking and choosing from several collections. But in terms of feature films, we saw 34 in total: 26 online, 8 in cinemas. That's the same number of features as last year, before we add on all the shorts, VR gubbins and live events.

Remember how we thought a couple of months ago that there wouldn't be a 2020 London Film Festival? Looking a bit silly now, aren't we?

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Simian Substitute Site for November 2020: The Long Island Rhesus Monkey Escape

The Long Island Rhesus Monkey EscapeMONTH END PROCESSING FOR OCTOBER 2020

Movies: We were late in joining the Train To Busan train, and I'm not quite sure why. I knew that it was out there in 2016, and even namechecked it at the start of a piece I wrote for MostlyFilm about the London Korean Film Festival - but as that article required me to watch 10 Korean films back to back, maybe I just didn't have time to watch another one. Anyway, thanks to a Blu-ray present from The BBG, we eventually got to see it, and even rode the train ourselves, albeit in the wrong direction. And now there's a follow-up with the slightly unwieldy title Train To Busan Presents: Peninsula, which (like its predecessor) got a quick preview run in UK cinemas for Halloween. Four years after the zombpocalypse depicted in the first film, most of the surviving inhabitants of Korea have fled to other countries like Hong Kong. This film focusses on a group of refugees who've decided to go back to Incheon, as part of a triad operation to recover a van full of cash. As such, it's not a direct sequel at all, more of a standalone story set in the same universe: tonally, it's like going from Alien to Aliens, where the first one is a no-frills horror movie and the second is more of an action thriller. We've got used to the cartoony depiction of massive swarms of zombies in these movies, where they become more of an exercise in fluid dynamics than anything else, as they cascade off high buildings or surge in waves over the ground. If there's a problem with Peninsula, it's that its car stunts - of which there are many - are rendered in CGI with the same lack of realism, with the vehicles bouncing along like they used to in 1920s animated films. But somehow, the breakneck pacing and the story get you over these niggles, and the result is ridiculously entertaining. Peninsula should have been getting a short release in cinemas from November 6th, but I guess that won't be happening now: expect to see it on home video from November 30th.

Music: One thing that I didn't do this month was buy a 24-disc CD box set. In my defence, I already owned 11 of them. Venus, Folly, Cupid And Time: Thirty Years Of The Divine Comedy is, as its name suggests, Neil Hannon's attempt to gather his entire musical career inside six sides of cardboard. The eleven Divine Comedy albums have been remastered and each paired up with a second disc of demos, outtakes, b-sides and other detritus: and then there's a final double disc called Juveneilia with even older and rarer material, including the real first Divine Comedy album Fanfare For The Comic Muse which Hannon subsequently withdrew out of shame. To be honest, there doesn't seem to be enough good material here to justify the cost of the full box set. There are highlights, sure: some lovely instrumental mixes of the band's prettiest backing tracks, a collection of Eurovision classics, and the b-side version of Europe By Train that ended up on a film soundtrack. But the demos and sketches leading up to finished songs just show how much you miss the decorative touches that make a Divine Comedy record what it is. Still, thanks to Spotify, you can fillet out those nine and a half hours of bonus material for your own purposes without paying a fortune for it. Well, I have, anyway.


Telly: If you thought I was late getting onto the Train To Busan train, wait till you hear about me and Taskmaster. Again, I was aware of it: I'd stumbled across the odd episode on Dave while channel-hopping, and I'd actively tracked down a couple of clips from the Norwegian version when I found out that Ylvis had been contestants on it. But I'm old-fashioned enough that it took a move of the show from Dave to Channel 4 before I'd considered actually watching a whole series from beginning to end. Three episodes in, it's become a regular injection of joy into the week, and dammit we all need that right now. It helps that for this tenth season, there's a careful balance of contestants: relative newcomers Daisy May Cooper and Mawaan Rizwan, regular TV favourites Johnny Vegas and Katherine Parkinson, and oldtimer Richard Herring who's utterly transparent in his desire to win the thing. That's the sort of detail that justifies watching a whole series, as you start imposing your own character arcs on the five series regulars and seeing them develop from week to week. I'm in for the duration, anyway.

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