music is math…


South Africa’s Farewell

As the World Cup final kicks off in Johannesburg, regardless of the result on the pitch, the tournament will certainly be remembered as one of the most interesting and vibrant off it.

From the FIFA World Cup Kick-Off Concert (featuring the likes of Tinariwen and Amadou & Mariam) to the record amounts of media coverage, the lively music of South Africa (and the continent beyond its borders) has been a welcome addition to the spectacle.

With the World Cup’s first venture onto African soil, South Africa’s culture and history have been on show alongside the football. Those who feared the tournament might not even have taken place have been proved wrong and the whole world has been treated to a truly special event.

In celebration of everything we have seen over the past month, here’s a Spotify playlist featuring everything from Hugh Masekela to the Mahotella Queens.

No musical tribute to this World Cup would be complete without K’naan’s ‘Wavin’ Flag’, a tune so good that it deserves a place in a playlist of South African music despite its singer being from Somalia.

Although it was a shame to see the home team go out early in the competition, South Africa have proved they are a country capable of hosting a modern global event on this sort of scale and, best of all, done it in their own spectacular style.


Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives

A few years ago I stumbled on an interesting BBC documentary following Mark Oliver Everett (better known as the singer and songwriter behind alt-rock band Eels) as he ventures into the life of the father he barely knew.

His father Hugh Everett III was, believe it or not, a brilliantly talented quantum physicist and author of the controversial many worlds interpretation. Everett was largely ignored by the eminent physicists of the day and he sadly died before his theory gained the recognition it has since attained.

While this was all very surprising to me, perhaps the most interesting story is that Mark too had little idea of his father’s brilliance. It is both an intensely interesting and personal documentary.

Sadly there is no DVD (in Europe at least). There is a petition going here, not that anyone will listen.

The Beauty of Electronic Music

When people are faced with terms such as ‘electronica’ and ‘IDM’, the general response will most likely be anything from a raised eyebrow to a look of complete bemusement.

Despite the adoption of synthesisers in pop music since the 1980s, purely electronic music has never been known for its accessibility. There’s something about programming drum loops that lacks the instant appeal of, say, a guitar solo or an uplifting chorus.

While Low by David Bowie and Radiohead’s output since Kid A have been both critical and commercial successes in spite of their experimental nature, they are often criticised for lacking the “anthemic” work these artists are capable of producing. The sad truth is that a lot of music fans find electronic sounds difficult to relate to.

Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood astutely points out that ‘a voice into a microphone onto a tape, onto your CD, through your speakers is all as illusory and fake as any synthesizer’. While for many people it is the voice (and its lyrics) that affects them, electronic music often has plenty of emotion to offer if the listener is willing to engage with it.

Instruments such as synthesisers and samplers give artists complete freedom when it comes to sound. Existing sounds can be manipulated and distorted or completely new sounds can be created, freeing musicians from the constraints of traditional instruments.

Boards of Canada perfectly demonstrate just what can be achieved with synthesisers and drum machines, somehow capturing a sense of nostalgia and futurism in one sound. Songs like ‘In a Beautiful Place…’ seem to recall distant childhood memories, while ‘Sixtyten’ reveals the duo’s darker and more sinister tendencies.

Their music is a sublime blend of eerily beautiful melodies and crackly hip hop beats, all topped off with some obscure samples and a hazy psychedelic sheen. Music Has the Right to Children is a record to get completely lost in, an hour long respite from reality that might even change the way you listen to music.

Aphex Twin’s videos have been scaring MTV viewers for a while now, but hidden in amongst the glitchy beats are beautifully desolate melodies reminiscent of 20th century composers such as Arvo Part or Satie.

The ever experimental Kieran Hebden has a more organic approach to his music, combining the organic sounds of harps and pianos with his trademark clattering beats. Through various projects, Hebden brings genres as varied as house and jazz together with creative vision to match the likes of Miles Davis.

With genres such as techno and dubstep taking more and more influences from their less dancefloor focused cousins, greater numbers of people are getting interested in dance music. With the likes of Burial, Moderat and Boxcutter, dance music is expanding its creative boundaries as tracks become more tailored to the needs of the listener rather than the DJ.

Spotify playlist coming soon…