Author Archives: Alex

Music of 2016

Been a while, but as in previous blogs it seemed time I actually wrote a bit about the music I listen to, for posterity at least. It’s been a funny old year but bothering to try and listen to new music hasn’t half helped.

My self imposed rules this year are:

  1. No order of importance, but make it vaguely listenable as a mixtape end to end
  2. No more than one track per artist, unless they use a cunning disguise
  3. Try and pick a less obvious track, or not the one that originally grabbed me

The net result is that the list is long, so feel free to skim and make snap judgements with at best incidental relevance to the music at hand. You can also avoid reading me doing the old “dancing about architecture” below by using the playlist at Spotify or on YouTube.

Metronomy – Night Owl

Metronomy does Chillwave? Summer 08 is that usual pleasing retro and Joseph Mount may have lost his band and run off to Paris, but seemingly the sound remains.

Islands – The Joke

A crowdfunded album, well, pair of albums indeed from Islands this year. The Joke is from the better of the two, Taste (despite the art work above!). Yes, that is a Morricone-esque flourish in there but it’s the lyric “While the world burns, we just warm our feet” that makes this a 2016 song to linger in the mind.

Haley Bonar – Skynz

I got tired of all of my music and tuned back into 6music around about September and at that time Stupid Face burrowed deep into me. It was the drums first, which are also a bit odd here in a damn pleasing fashion. Bonar’s album Impossible Dream is I think rather brilliant, and the regretful tone and (it must be said) utterly amazing drumming snared me. In a time of Brexit and Trump a song bemoaning complacency from a millennial is right on the money, isn’t it?

The Avalanches – Subways

There was no way the second album from The Avalanches would be anything but a disappointment. But to be able to get even one track that approaches the effort they put into the first album was enough for me, in retrospect. Album never quite grabbed me, but I’m minded to give it a listen free of any expectation.

The Moulettes – Pufferfish Love

The Moulettes’ Preternatural pitched up as a concept album and shows a lot of effort going into their sound as well. The science all checks out here, as it’s based on how the puffer fish mates. I will have to snag them for a pint and see if I can get them to make an album about cycling research. Make that two pints.

Cavern of Anti-Matter – I’m the Unknown

Gane and Dilworth of Stereolab here along with Holger Zapf on synth, but I am just in love with the experimentation here. Which reminds me of Sterolab a lot. There’s even a whole album but I somehow got enough from the mini-EP this was on that I never reached it.

Mogwai – U-235

From the soundtrack album to Atomic, a film marking 60 years since Hiroshima released late in 2015. I found myself thinking as I watched going “gosh, this is getting a bit like Pye Corner Audio” and then chastised myself for not listening to more Mogwai.

Pye Corner Audio – Ganzfeld Effect

A firm favourite of mine for many years </hipster credential seeking> Pye Corner Audio seems to have started becoming a fixture on the soundtrack of Adam Curtis documentaries. Not a bad home for him. His two albums on Ghost Box have I think been the best that label has been able to release and also the most cohesive in his discography.

Head Technician – Zones (listen at Bleep)

Sounding suspiciously similar to Pye Corner Audio, as if he was another name for the same artist Head Technician made a lurid vinyl version of his Zones cassette and managed to improve on perfection. There’s definitely something in the art of fictional creators that helps define some of the Ghost Box / Hauntology kind of scene (that desperately needs a name as simple as chillwave, still). Utterly pretentious twaddle, so of course I love it.

John Carpenter – Utopian Facade

Well, maybe the whole Ghost Box etc. thing should be known as Carpenterism? I’d missed John Carpenter’s first album of Lost Themes in 2015, but found both it and the sequel this year (Vortex was really good on the first). It is astonishing he’d never managed to release music in his own form until now.

The Pattern Forms – Black Rain

Ghost Box does Chillwave. Sort of. Or maybe they’re just going more John Foxx. Or is it Italo Disco? I don’t know, I haven’t scratched my chin enough but it’s good stuff with a surprising number of shifts through the song especially when the beat comes in the first time. But maybe it’s more Friendly Fires does The Advisory Circle as that’s the actual collaboration. Maybe we need a whole indie roster to pair up with the Ghost Box artists for a special album? Alright, maybe I need that.

VHS Glitch – Chrome Death

Discovered courtesy of the excellent Project Moonbase podcast (though I can’t remember if it was the Stranger Tunes or the Escape edition of their imaginary 80s universe). VHS Glitch is a frighteningly prolific man in Japan. Maybe it’s just really 80s there. Chrome Death actually is a retro game as well, but I’ve yet to give it a try. Maybe once I finish Portal, as that’s become quite retro for me to still be playing anyway…

Trentemoller – Circuits

I really have fallen into a hole of retro sounding music haven’t I? Oh well. This should be the soundtrack to some kind of continuation in the Lotus series of driving games for the Amiga perhaps. Or some kind of really amazing scrolling shoot-em-up.

Concretism – Normal Service Will Be Resumed

In a rare event, a friend suggested I should be listening to Concretism and I actually hadn’t come across him yet. I love the relaxed approach to a retro electronic sound here. The title is perfect and you can feel this being the moment of a slightly classier intermission in some regularly programming. At first I feared this artist was being too contrived in doing the retro aesthetic but I actually think they’ve just mastered it in a subtly different way.

SHXCXCHCXSH – SsSs

The album cover looked pleasing so I gave this a try. It’s incredible – crunchy loops a bit like Boards of Canada (sampling them even?) but with a really hard edge. The guys behind it are beautifully obtuse but I fear for the day when I discover there’s a Pete Waterman style svengali behind all of this stuff I seem to like so much.

Steve Hauschildt – Strands

Oh, this was about the album cover as well. Someone should really tell all the vinyl heads that little thumbnails on websites do in fact sell albums (after a quick preview listen). What got me about this is that now even 90s targeting retro is doing that analogue distortion thing – which is weird. I guess we just want it to sound like fading memories rather than fading cassettes.

DJ Shadow – Bergschrund (feat Nils Frahm)

I would take a whole album of Nils Frahm and DJ Shadow. This just works obscenely well – beats underneath, distorted spacey electronic over the top and a nifty breakdown.

Clarke:Hartnoll – The Echoes

Vince Clarke and Phil Hartnoll produce what you’d sort of expect though some have said it sounds more Orbital than Erasure. It is bloody good, but they do need to get a bit better at sharing their work online. All I can do is embed the lead single, but it is quite good as well:

Teleman – Superglue

Yes, don’t worry I am still weak and feeble when it comes to resisting indie when it involves lost and confused lovelorn men and a bit of fragile guitar and a synth. And especially when it’s Thomas Sanders late of Tap Tap and Pete and the Pirates. Pity he’ll never top Codeine, though.

David Thomas Broughton – Plunge of the Dagger

David Thomas Broughton is as the documentary about him made plain, a rather ambiguous and prolific character. But screw that, it’s his experimental nature I love and Crippling Lack was a lot of interesting experimentation and collaboration. Luke Drozd’s spoken contributions here crack me up every time, especially the mid-way “When I am dead, I will sleep forever. It will be amazing! I won’t have to get up or anything. I can’t. fucking. wait.”. It’s an indulgent nine and a half minutes, but I bloody love it.

Meursault – The Fix Is In

Meursault are back. That’s about all that matters, really. Annoyingly I can’t make you skip to The Fix Is In which stuck in my head most, but the Simple is Good EP works better end to end anyway.

The Strokes – OBLIVIUS

I tried arguing myself out of including this on the grounds that it’s The Strokes and it’s a bit derivative and something like that, but screw it. I actually like this more than anything else they’ve done. Is it good enough to click through from the embed due to daft restrictions in playback? Probably, at least for the first 30 seconds. The daft lyric video style suits this rather well.

Justice – Safe and Sound

Lyric videos are clearly the in thing. Maybe it’s a karaoke thing. Anyway, it’s a video with a cross in it, and more frenchy electro fun.

Pet Shop Boys – The Pop Kids

“Remember those days, the early 90s” this starts and we’re off into a strange half-imagined half-true (or is it alternative fact?) based story of a pair of boys meeting and sharing a love of music. Delightful stuff.

Barry Hyde – Monster Again

Remember those days, the early 00s? Well, The Futureheads are over, but Barry Hyde has recorded a solo album. Part of the Malody Suite and illustrated above with a rather cute little animation this is Barry working through material that could once have been a Futureheads vampire musical (that and more in this Guardian interview) into a heartfelt use of his (still!) stunning voice to let out the demons within. It’s stripped back, it’s simple and it bloody works. Monster Again is only part of a wider whole, but it reminds me a lot of what I loved in The Futureheads – sparse lyrics delivered strongly working far better than any endless series of verses and choruses.

Field Music – How Should I Know If You’ve Changed?

Also in Sunderland, Field Music keep going. and Commontime was a really bright sounding selection of songs that made this XTC fan quite happy for relatively obvious reasons.

Clark – Omni Vignette

Actually a Clark soundtrack album, but it all works remarkably well. Omni Vignette is at about 2:30 in this, and it’s just Clark mixing a very simple piano line, but it’s cracking.

Aphex Twin – 2X202-ST5

New Aphex Twin, hurrah. At least he’s not naming the songs after computer viruses this time or taking the piss and just releasing a song based on a picture of himself. On the other hand, I have to share the video for a different song from the Cheetah EP because it’s all that’s online. Oh well.

Of course, what’s also remarkable is that this is a video from a 12 year old fan in Ireland who also made this piece of brilliance.

Helen Love – Thank You Polystyrene

Poly Styrene was a bloody wonder. Helen Love are a bloody wonder. Mike Read is a bloody wonder. My love of this song is inevitable and I have nothing more to say.

Let’s Eat Grandma – Eat Shiitake Mushrooms

If it was still the late 00s and I was still going to something like the Brainlove all-dayers this is the kind of thing I’d have seen then wondered what happened to it (come in Octagon Court, your time is up!). However, it’s 2016 and I’m an old man so I heard about a strange pair of young women from Norfolk by listening to NPR’s best of 2016. It’s purposely young and experimental, probably tries to do too much and tries too hard, but that’s what I like. So, never mind. The YouTube video has complaints it was overhyped but reading that six months later when you just got hooked by one odd song seems a bit off. I hope they at least get enough pop stardom to afford mudguards for their bikes.

Mathew Bourne – Alex

Using a specially altered Moog, this is remarkably lovely and it is in no way a coincidence that I wound up picking a track from the album that matched my name.

If you made it to the end well done. Too many men in there, alas. But 2017 appears to be starting with me listening to female helmed electronica so maybe I’ll adjust course.

Cycling on Main Roads – we need changes, not compromise.

One. Two. Three. Four. Four people cycling on main roads in London. Four deaths. The first two in a single day last week, and two more in the past two days makes four cycling deaths in just over a week in London. Five in the UK as a whole. I’d written this post as a draft before the first, and each time another died I wasn’t sure what to write. These aren’t just numbers, these are people with families and friends touched by immeasurable shock and sorrow. The fact that four deaths should happen in so short a space of time is to an extent a random outcome of the dangers on our roads. That said, our roads should not be this random, chaotic and dangerous.

There were near misses in the past week as well, with combinations of luck and bystanders intervening saving lives not once, not twice, but three times. And then there are the incidents that don’t make the news including one close to home on King Street in Hammersmith. I’d expect all of these to likely be classed as KSIs, as they involved either a death or a serious injury. I suspect my merely being run over on Hammersmith Gyratory and receiving road rash on my face was a ‘slight injury’, for at least my life wasn’t in danger (the measure of a KSI) – or was it? Had I landed a lane either side I would have been swiftly run over, but I digress.

My face after a slight accident.

My face after a slight accident.

Each of the collisions I’ve linked from the last week have taken place on a main road. Many in the centre of a city where by far the majority of people are not using motor vehicles for transport. Three of them have take place along the Cycle Superhighways. On those and many others we have roads where space has been reallocated since the 90s as part of providing bus priority and tram schemes.

We have spent decades trying to use paint, training and advertising to encourage more people to cycle. However there is no comprehensive programme, plan or standard with which roads are to be designed which cycle campaigners can say delivers safety. London, and the rest of the UK needs to urgently reassess the way in which space upon main roads is allocated.

Why should we alter our main roads for cyclists? Even this morning as LBC (London’s Biggest Conversation, a radio station) tried to discuss cycle and pedestrian safety they and their callers showed again that whilst the idea of segregation or “going dutch” is reaching beyond the cycling community the wider ideas have not been understood. It is hard not to get angry that whilst they talked up the danger, their presenter confessed he hadn’t researched how bus drivers are trained. This meant he relied on the view of a single recently trained driver who phoned in. Though by far the most bizarre moment came as in a discussion of bus safety with Leon Daniels where a figure was quoted for KSIs per kilometre and he took him to task for using the metric system. Thankfully then the hour of LBC my radio alarm had inadvertently given me was up and the radio switched off.

What are we seeking? Well, the idea behind “Love London, Go Dutch” and now Space4Cycling is relatively straightforward. It is to remind ourselves that the layout and structure of our roads, our cities and communities is not fixed. We have seen many changes in London but in most cities over the years. Some have favoured buses, some the private motor car, and in places like Edinburgh we see the issues already from trams (as yet not in passenger service) being added to a city with a modest cycling level. We have no problem as a country, or cities in changing our roads but what we haven’t done is any comprehensive programme to handle that for cycling.

As a campaigner it’s always hard to know where to begin, but let’s take the main roads, and look at the history of superhighways to understand where we are, and where we could be. Superhighway – what do we mean? Looking at the diversity of treatments in London it is easy to conclude that the ‘Superhighway’ is only branding beneath which modest changes have been made. That said, no interventions on main roads for cycling in London have had a higher budget than the superhighways. 

The TfL programme for Superhighways first became public near the end of Ken Livingstone’s second term in early February 2008. The plan then was for one in place by 2010 with five in total by 2012. Here’s a video of Ken launching bike hire and cycle superhighways. You may spot Jenny Jones in the background who at the time was Deputy Mayor of London.

Watch this video on YouTube.

At that time Ken spoke of “dedicated routes for cyclists, where they won’t be in competition with Heavy Goods Vehicles” i.e. segregation in some form “linking up suburban town centres” which is rather like the mini-holland programme underway now and that “for every person who cycles in London there’s another seven who’ve got a bike at home they don’t use” a statistic probably still fairly similar now five years on. I can’t embed it, but there’s a longer version of the launch here, in it the presenter questions Ken Livingstone and asks if the routes will be consistent for long journeys though dangerous junctions. Ken was very clear that you needed funding of £500m to do exactly that. He noted that boroughs would have to be brought on board. The explicit problem there being that responsibility for the roads is split between local authorities and TfL. The implicit problem being that London isn’t a city state and must work within the Department for Transport rules.

Ken then lost the election to Boris Johnson, in May 2008. Amusingly, as so often in British politics the colour of the hire bikes changed and went from “a distinctive London bright red bike” under Ken Livingstone to blue under Boris Johnson. TfL say the colour used on superhighways was chosen primarly for wayfinding reasons, as in this FOI request states. Through Boris’s first term the hire bikes were a pretty rapid and clear change in cycling in the centre of London, the superhighways meanwhile terminated before they reached the centre of town. Ken’s view of this approach was not particularly favourable.

Watch this video on YouTube.

He wondered about the cycle hire scheme and said of it that they “don’t know where that went wrong”, and that the cost was excessive. Boris would insist that due to his inability to get advertising around the bike hire as in other cities.

Watch this video on YouTube.

Regardless, this meant a lot of cycling money was spent on proving hire bikes rather than providing safe routes.

London Cycle Superhighway map Version 3 - 02.06.10 Speaking of safe routes, the superhighways saw slow progress. The rough plan as it emerged in Boris’s first term was to have a ‘clock face’ of routes with numbering roughly in clock style. You can see the borough boundaries on the map here, on the ground some of the lengths of road used by TfL for the superhighways were under their control, and some weren’t. The first pair of pilot routes (CS3 and CS7) were delivered in 2011, and at the time that it was being delivered Jenny Jones AM reviewed the in progress Cycle Superhighway 7 near Oval.

Watch this video on YouTube.

Jenny stands next to the nearly finished Superhighway 7 and says (2m5s in): “i think it’s obviously going to have to be improved before the launch … I just don’t know what’s going to happen up here at the traffic lights where the cyclists have got to move over to the right, into the traffic.” But what happened? this. CS7 layout at launch at junction north of Oval Blue paint in the bus lane, but as the cyclists need to go straight on they simply see blue paint disappear from one lane then appear in another, and have to negotiate over to follow it. However, as they have joined a lane which is both a lane for going ahead and left they come into conflict with left turning traffic. This was observed in action, as seen in 2012.

Watch this video on YouTube.

These are not issues that can be overcome I feel by training, hi-viz or lights. The issue is the design of the road. TfL under Boris was changing the design of roads, but it was too timid in the changes it made. Some of that was the wider framework they operated under within the UK, but they didn’t do much to challenge it.

Superhighway 2 was also delivered to a very poor standard. I won’t rehash the arguments of how poor that was, as I think the example I’ve given of Superhighway 7 shows the kind of failings that occur when you rely on blue paint to provide cyclists with safety and priority. It was Superhighway 2 that proved to cause the biggest trouble for the programme. In the space of three weeks in late 2011 there were two deaths near Bow Roundabout.

Campaigners who had been concerned at the quality of the superhighway programme have naturally campaigned before and since these and other deaths. TfL meanwhile has reacted slowly, first offering changes at Bow Roundabout, then agreeing with the London Cycle Campaign on changes at Aldgate. Then in tragic timing first launching plans to rework existing superhighways the day after a death on Superhighway 2 and holding a conference on cycling on the same day as the death in Croydon. It barely needs pointed out, but action from the Mayor has come slowly and clearly should have come sooner. Even now TfL are launching extensions to CS2 they remain unhappy with,
that they don’t see as perfect
, and little wonder why. To be effective the Superhighways and all other delivered routes need first to be adequate for the task in hand by being continuous and safe through whatever transitions in style of provision may be necessary. But also they must plan to ensure they update and improve what they deliver regularly. That is part of what the Netherlands does so well, beyond the high basic standard to which they deliver all cycling infrastructure. The job doesn’t end on the day you open a superhighway or improvements to it, it merely continues.

Now, the latest plans build on proposals made in the Mayor’s Cycling Vision which did represent the start of a step forward. Since the launch of the vision there have been extensive trials at the Transport Research Laboratory, a large scale project to rework the London Cycle Design Standards and discussions with boroughs on various plans. The problem is that as much as there has been progress, many boroughs are still being resistant especially at the political level. Standards are still being reworked and action is needed now. Whilst TfL must try to balance competing demands it continues to appear that cycling is not yet being designed into their plans, and plans risk being watered down. At some point in the near future the Department for Transport must decide upon the way forward after the trials TfL has funded, and which interventions will be approved. We risk further compromises and the while we are paying dearly for the time wasted in Boris Johnson’s first term. It’s a terrible situation, but I have no sympathy for Boris Johnson as he is currently in a situation he was repeatedly warned of. That said, we must not overlook the veto that the Department for Transport effectively has and has had on tackling safety in London.

City Hall admits the Department for Transport has not yet signed up to the new cycle junctions. @itvlondon — Simon Harris (@simonharrisitv) November 6, 2013

Compromises in London and elsewhere feel to me to have had two effects:

  1. Placing those cycling on main roads at a higher risk than otherwise.
  2. Depressing the cycling rate by making it less attractive.

Now, we shouldn’t either overlook the block that local councils represent to making change happen on London streets. Regular cyclists know the borough boundaries well, they’re where provision often ceases or suddenly declines in quality at present. This is still set to continue. A great example of this local to me is the Cycle Superhighway 9. This was/is set to run from Hyde Park to Hounslow. It has run into remarkable resistance in Kensington and Chelsea. Rather like with the Bow Roundabout there are few conceivable alternate routes.

[osm_map lat=”51.504″ long=”-0.203″ zoom=”14″ width=”600″ height=”450″ marker=”51.49922,-0.1977″ marker_name=”bicycling.png” type=”CycleMap”]

The map shows Kensington High Street and surrounds with local cycle facilities (mostly on street lanes) in blue. Note where they stop. The yellow cycle symbols are bike shops, other than those and bike parking bikes simply aren’t welcome. No cycling is permitted in Holland Park, and at its western edge it runs all the way from Holland Park Avenue to Kensington High Street. There isn’t a sensible alternative nearby to avoid Kensington High Street. Even if there were, the streets in the area are aligned in ways that mean even a prioritised route would inevitably be much slower than using the main roads for East-West journeys. The only conceivable solution to cycle safety is to deal with the main roads. The likely main flow is always going to be on the main roads here. Kensington High Street is inevitably where many people who cycle are, but cycling along Kensington High Street is a heightened and terrifying experience. It doesn’t need to be.

Watch this video on YouTube.

Cycling on Kensington High Street as it is now.

BYYWMaJIMAAln4O

Last week’s preview from TfL of a future North-South Superhighway

Like Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea objected to the use of blue paint in what they considered to be historic streets. Today’s mock-ups of the north-south superhighway give a rough idea of the kind of thing that TfL has proposed to Kensington and Chelsea in response, and sadly they have also objected to. It would involve a segregated track on one side of the road, with bus stops over that in lay-bys along with cycle parking and then a narrowed road on the far side. This removes a huge number of potential conflicts for cyclists and those that remain are clearer. For example, drivers turning off this road would enter a highlighted section for leaving the high street. It’s impossible to comment further without specific plans to review but that’s an idea of what concerted changes could achieve on Kensington High Street alone, and this is a route which would also need to address issues along miles of route from Hyde Park to Hounslow.

So how would I round up? I’ve been run over on London’s roads – twice. It has only deterred me but I know of few who regularly and happily cycle in my city. Fewer still by proportion in my country. I have seen for myself what a comprehensive network of cycle facilities looks like by visiting the Netherlands. It isn’t segregated lanes door to door, but it also isn’t just whacking down paint in the edge of the road or adding cyclists in conflicting directions to pedestrians at traffic lights. It is a network rather than a series of disjointed routes. It is about having a comprehensive plan and objective to make cycling as safe as possible, and then reaping rewards ranging from health to a more pleasant atmosphere whilst more directly controlling the more dangerous traffic. It doesn’t mean taking away anyone’s car, nor should it mean destroying the bus route you depend upon but it does mean finding a safe space in our roads where cycling is a genuine option, for all. But to explain that in detail is another post entirely and – I fear – quite a lot of video.

The London Cycling Campaign are organising a protest tonight at Bow Roundabout. They’re calling for changes to the roundabout there for both cyclists and pedestrians. The Bow Roundabout has seen inadequate and compromised changes before. It has now seen three deaths in two years, both before and with those changes. We need to get changes right, and avoid compromise.

White City Opportunity Area Framework – Space For Cycling?

WCOAPF_boundary_june2013_tcm21-181437

The White City Opportunity Area Framework is currently in a second phase of consultation, it covers the area above. Comments are to be made by Friday 2nd August 2013, you can email them to whitecityOAPFconsultation@lbhf.gov.uk, ensure that you note which sections you are responding to in your comments.

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