Monday, 24 May 2010

Yemen Feature For Vice V8N5

This is a piece that I wrote the intro for. My colleague Bruno Bayley conducted the interview which I re-produce here just because it's really interesting.


Yemen has never been the most peaceful corner of the Arab world. Situated in the southernmost tip of the Middle East, just across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia, it is the region’s poorest country. It is also one of the more heavily armed Arab nations: it is estimated that there are more than 60 million guns in a country with a population of 25 million. That’s two and a bit guns per person in case you can’t do the math.

The country’s only constant is civil war. Despite supposed unification in 1990, Yemen remains divided between the traditionalist north and the separatist south. But even by its own warring standards, things have been going a little bananas since 2004.

Yemen’s local squabbles, both separatist and sectarian, have, in fact, got so bad that they are threatening to destabalise the entire region. Everyone from Saudi Arabia to Iran, Egypt and Jordan have got involved and started lining up to back sides.

An ongoing conflict in the north of the country between Sunni Yemeni forces and Shiite Houthi insurgents has been bolstered by an independence movement in the south, led by rebel Yemen army militias disillusioned by the northern-based government. Among the leaders of the southern separatists is one Tarik al-Fadhli.

A veteran of the anti-Soviet jihad who fought alongside Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, al-Fadhli and his supporters have been accused of wanting to establish a separatist, extremist Islamic state in southern Yemen. Since allied clampdowns in Pakistan and Afghanistan, it has long been suspected that southern Yemen is a key training centre for Islamic militants.

That belief was confirmed on Christmas Day last year when it was revealed that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian who attempted to bring down a Northwest Airlines Airbus A330 over Detroit, received both his weapon and training from al-Qaeda cells operating in Yemen.

Publicly claiming responsibility for the attack, AQAP (al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula) asserted that it had been prompted by US air attacks on supposed militant targets in the region. This led to an escalation of western-masterminded attacks and AQAP retaliation recently culminating in the recent suicide attack on the British ambassador to Yemen in late April.

While the world’s media continues to train its sights on Afghanistan and Iraq, the US has silently opened up a third theatre in a war on terror that looks about as likely to end as their old favourite, the war on drugs. We decided to speak to Brian O’Neill to find out what’s up in a country with lots of guns, no natural resources and escalating wars both civil and international. Brian used to write and take pictures for the Yemen Observer so it’s safe to say that he knows more about the place than you.

VICE: How did you become so interested in Yemen? It’s not exactly a country that regularly features on A Place In The Sun.
Brian O’Neill:
I have always been interested in the Middle East, I studied in Cairo and even in the Arab world and the world of Arab scholars, Yemen was always this exotic backwater. A strange land. As a younger person that appealed to my sense of exotic adventurism. As I studied it more and looked at its political, demographic and economic trends and its history I began to realize that this country was going to become really important really soon. Its systems were falling apart, its institutions didn’t really hold and there was a growing threat of Al Qaeda. It seemed clear that this country was not going to stay anonymous for long.

The coverage of Yemen in mainstream media seems quick to condemn the place as going to hell in a handcart. Can it really be that bad?
In some ways, and this might be because I am a contrary bastard, I tend to think people are underplaying the story. Almost every economic, climatic and demographic problem that a country can face, Yemen is facing. 50% of the population are under the age of 15 so there will be a generation of young men growing up without jobs or opportunities. I think the story that is most important however, and one that the media is not concentrating on the way it should, is the impending water shortages. By 2020 the capital could well be out of water and within the next decade we could have millions of people without water.

How did this water crisis come about? We’re guessing it wasn’t a case of too many people leaving the sprinkler on.
There are a lot of natural factors, but the main cause is that in the 60s and 70s the UN got involved in the way that Yemen collected its water. Those methods mainly consisted of collecting rainwater and storing it. The UN said, “don’t do that, its not going to work” – even though it had worked for thousands of years – and instead encouraged themto tap into the underground water tables. This quickly became a matter of whoever was richest digging the deepest and draining water for their own use. The inherent corruption in Yemen combined with the good, but ultimately misplaced, intentions of improving water collection by the UN has drained the water tables much faster than anyone could have imagined.

Aside from a potential complete lack of H2O what are the other major issues being overlooked by the media?
The rebellion in the south for a start. Obviously the Christmas bomber got everyone focused on AL Qaeda, and they are extremely important globally, but they are not massively important in terms ofYemen itself. There are two domestic rebellions going on, one in the North and one in the South. The one in the North got more attention initially because when the world started looking at Yemen in the wake of the bombing attempt there was still open fighting going on, which is exciting for the media. In that war the President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, dubbed his last battle ‘Operation Scorched Earth’ which was exactly what it sounded like. There was carpet bombing, villages being razed and hundreds of thousands of refugees.

That doesn’t sound so good. How about in the South?
The Southern issue was more political than anything. Yemen used to be two separate countries until 1990: North Yemen and South Yemen. The North had been a democratic state and south a Marxist state. The two unified in 1990 because they were both broke. There was a lot of tension, and a civil war between the North and South in 1994 which the South lost. President Saleh used a lot of Jihadis in that war who had just returned from fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan and after they won he let the Jihadis sort of take over and rule the South.

So it became a little Jihadi colony?
Well, the people of the South were very much colonized and oppressed by their own countrymen. In 2007 there was a movement for more rights, but since then Saleh has cracked down again and it’s an open call for secession. It looks like they are lurching back towards civil war and that is the issue more than Al Qaeda. By focusing on Al Qaeda we are ignore the broader and more dangerous issues in Yemen. Our overriding interest has to be to keep Yemen from falling apart. By focusing on Al Qaeda we could actually accelerate Yemen’s breaking up and if the country breaks up it will become an incredible safe haven for Al Qaeda.

How deep has Al Qaeda sunk its tentacles into Yemen?
They are very involved in everyday Yemeni life but certainly not in the central government and mainstream of Yemeni politics. In fact they have pretty much declared open war on the central government. They have focused their efforts on infiltrating the tribal system on a local level by marrying into tribes and gaining local bases of support. Their numbers belie their strength. There are only 2-300 AL Qaeda in Yemen, but they are smart and patient and have been getting stronger over the past few years. It is interesting to contrast Al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula, with Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, al-Zarqawi’s group. Their goal was carnage, so it was inevitable that people in Iraq would turn against them, but Al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula has not really made any attacks in Yemen or on the Yemeni people. So, though people might not actively support them, or agree with everything they say, at least they aren’t killing anyone. Unlike the government, who are.

What sort of poverty levels are we talking about in Yemen?
It’s Sub-Saharan-esque. In almost every poverty and developmental standard it is usually in the bottom five or ten countries in the world. There are not a lot of jobs, the economy is mostly based on oil, and that is running out.

Everywhere seems to be running out of oil. Is Yemen’s case more pressing?
It’s more dire than most. They never had that much oil to begin with as they are stuck at the shit end of the peninsula. Most of the oil is concentrated in the South, so the political situation there makes it much harder for the central government to get any money from the oil. In Yemen, every issue ties into at least two or three other problems that make it harder to solve.

There are also problems with piracy right?
Yes, and it’s getting worse. For a while it was concentrated off Yemen’s Western coast, close to Somalia, but now we are seeing a lot more piracy around the South, near The Port of Aden. I think what is interesting is that Yemen is so much closer to Somalia than it is to the Arab heartland. We tend to see things too simply. We connect Yemen with the Middle East, but culturally it is far closer to Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Ethiopia. When you see similar paterns of piracy in Somalia and Yemen, it makes sense, crime often follows the same links as culture.

What form of piracy is this? Is it the kidnapping and ransom type you hear a lot about in Somalia?
It’s mostly for ransom. But then you have a lot of smuggling routes that follow the same lines as the piracy routes. I think the smuggling of arms and drugs is more of a threat than actual ransom piracy. Yemen is a hub for international crime. It is geographically ideally suited to smuggling arms into war zones in the horn of Africa, drugs up through Saudi Arabia and it’s a major route for arms supply to terrorist groups.

Is there any meaningful effort being made by the West or international organisations to try and avert any of these impending disasters.
There have been a lot of conferences and there is the Facebook group sounding ‘Friends of Yemen’ who have meetings and talk about helping. We will see if that actually comes to anything but historically these talks don’t.

If things were to continues as they currently are how long do you give Yemen before it becomes a totally failed state?
I would say it could very easily happen within a year.

Would a total collapse make the country and even better base for Al Qaeda operations?
The huge fear is that the autonomous tribes now have connections with Al Qaeda, and they can use their safe-havens, without any government interference, to strike abroad. Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula needs space, but also some structure, and Yemmen’s tribal havens can provide both. They have already shown themselves able to strike at the heart of Saudi Arabia, and the fear is that a Yemen that can no longer harass them would be a country where the Saudis, or even worse, the West, feels they need to intervene militarily. That would make Afghanistan look like a cakewalk.

Vice V8N5 Record Reviews

The Blackest Curse

10 Half a decade in the making, Dwid Van Hellion emerges from behind the shrouded myths to lay down a whole album’s worth of pure Holy Terror. If last year’s Walpurgisnacht EP got you excited then the first chords of opener “Process Of Illumination” will have you hooked. From there on in it’s a sheer masterclass from an unparalleled outfit that defy just about anything you’ve got. Rumour has it they may or may not be playing a certain pub at some point in the very near future so watch out for that.

Jimson Isolation

Black Helicopter
Don’t Fuck With The Apocalypse
Ecstatic Peace

8 We were bananas for this one before we even got past the Pettibon illustrated sleeve but once we actually got this thing in the CD player all manner of spiralling riffs spilled out and then we were even happier than when we saw the cover. Definitely a better signing than the guy who pretended to be Kurt Cobain in that Gus Van Sant movie Thurston.

Cosmopolitan Girl

Lair Of The Minotaur
Evil Power
The Grind House/Southern Lord

8 This is a record called ‘Evil Power’. It’s by a band called Lair Of The Minotaur. It features guest vocals by a guy called ‘General Diabolical Slaughter’ as well as tracks with titles like “Let’s Kill These Motherfuckers” and “Riders Of Skullhammer”. In other words it wouldn’t be all that hard to laugh at this album if it wasn’t so uncompromisingly raw and utterly great.

Bloody Pussy

Riot Season

8 How has no doom band ever in the whole history of playing Sabbath riffs slower than Sabbath thought to call themselves Sloath before? I mean Sloth was good but Sloath? It’s perfect! I even doubled checked on and these chaps from the South Coast really are the only ones. Congratulations on the name there guys. These three 10-20 minute dirges on the CD you sent me aren’t too bad either.

Beezer Guttler

False Flag
Drag City

9 The concept of Ben Chasny, Sir Richard Bishop and the drummer-that-makes-all-other-drummers-look-plain-lazy aka Chris Corsano embarking on a project together was always going to be one that built expectation. False Flag however, easily vaults any expectation and thumbs its avant-free-form-indescribable-jazz nose at us for ever doubting it for a second.

Charlie Harper

Born Ruffians
Say It

5 The band who everyone found lots of nice things to say about first time around and whose song was in all those Orange ads are back and guess what? They are still about as interesting as having a conversation with a fermenting pot of crème fraiche. There’s absolutely nothing wrong here and that’s probably the problem.

Buster Bloodvessel

Holy Fuck
Young Turks

8 Wait a second. Did you hear that? A guitar! Yes, everyone’s favourite capering Canadian purveyors or euphoric, ramshackle dance music are back and they have added a Strat they probably found backstage at one of the 475 shows they play a year to the mix. Despite departures on the instrument front it’s business as usual in the main as looped, chirping keyboards build walls of melody and textured sound to the point you think your head might implode. More please.

Freeda Khalo

The Bride Screamed Bloody Muder

8 The whole having two drummers gag got a old a while back but luckily King Buzzo seems to have decided to go all weird again. If you like your Melvins closer to Bullhead than Nude With Boots then this is worth picking up. There is even a totally unhinged cover of The Who’s “My Generation” that goes on for about 8 minutes and is worth the price of admission alone.

Hung Bunny

Dead Meadow
The Three Kings

6 This release is the soundtrack part of a DVD for a film that looks like it was definitely conceived under the influence of too much marijuana and YouTube searching Jodorwsky clips. Trying to explain what goes on in said film is pretty pointless as we genuinely have no idea but if you like Dead Meadow, smoking marijuana or the films Jodorwsky of you will probably be in to these songs.

Perry Nutkins

Thee Oh Sees
Warm Slime
In The Red

8 Yet another near-perfect, frazzled, frayed, battered and blown out nugget of psyche-garage brilliance from one man garage rock jukebox John Dwyer. The title track goes on for a mind-warping 14 odd minutes but elsewhere it’s rip-snortin’, boot-stampin’ business as usual.

Alexis Petri-Dish

Male Bonding
Nothing Hurts
Sub Pop

8 After what seems like approximately 211 7” and 12” EP’s and splits Male Bonding finally release their debut long player on Sub Pop. Yep, you read that right, Sub Pop. If you aren’t familiar with the London three-piece’s kinetic Wipers-played-at-45-instead-of-33rpm punk then you’ve probably been sleeping under a boulder since 2008. Here’s a handy single disc to get you familiar.

Tommy Slammer

Perfume Genius

7 It’s amazing that anyone can hear this guys frail but wholly engrossing vocal and piano-led laments of pain and suffering above the furious tapping of fingers hitting keyboards to blog about the tough years which bore these ten sparing tracks but really, who gives a crap about another teen-years sob story when the tunes are this good? Just saying.

Peter Shilton

Festival Previews 2010

Written for the Vice Festival Guide.

September 3-5, The Garden, Petrčane, Croatia
Why Croatia remains unexplored by the marauding English holidaying hordes is beyond us. It’s cheap as chips, the food’s good, the weather is amazing and both the urban architecture and the countryside are mind blowingly stunning. As it is we’re pretty happy to keep Croatia to ourselves and share it with the slowly increasing number of Stag Do’s that seem to represent the only other form of English tourism in the area. Stop Making Sense may be the undoing of keeping Croatia a guarded secret though offering as it does a great lineup if you are into dancing lots (Carl Craig, Theo Parrish, Matias Aguayo and Nathan Fake) and a great backdrop (it’s by the seaside). Get there before everyone else does by heading over to and getting yourself a ticket for just £80 for the whole weekend.

July 15-18, Henham Park, Suffolk
The festival that was born to be mild goes from strength to strength. Constantly pigeon-holed as a fun for the whole family affair if you have a hunt around behind the poetry tents and stand up shows Latitude has some teeth. The xx, The Horrors, The Big Pink and hot tips Egyptian Hip hop and Active Child are all worth a look with Belle & Sebastian, Vampire Weekend and Florence & The Machine proving to be the big draws. Latitude has in fact proved such a hit with all-comers that there is not a single ticket to be had via legitimate means so you won’t get any of them at but you will be able to find out anything else Latitude-related.

September 9-12, Robin Hill County Park, Isle of Wight
Crazy costume ahoy! It’s only Rob Da Bank’s insanely popular late season Isle of Wight shindig. If the summer months have passed you by without of a weekend spent in tents with no running water then Bestival is a good bet. The line-up is as diverse as ever: LCD Soundsytem, Roxy Music, Richie Hawtin, The Wailers, Vitalic, Joy Orbison and Todd Edwards all feature and if you plan on dressing up the theme is “Fantasy” so you can basically go wild. There are a handful of tickets left at £160 each for the weekend and you get them and find out everything else you need to know at

May 29-31, Various venues, Bristol, Nottingham and Manchester
What started as Camden Crawl-style affair across a handful of venues in Nottingham a few years ago now engulfs a phalanx of bars, clubs and pubs in probably the three best cities for live music in the country that aren’t London. Dot To Dot tends to plump for the exciting and new and there’s now deviation from that manifesto with this years line-up seeing turns from Chapel Club, Yuck, Washed Out and Jamie Woon with Beach House, Wild Beasts and The Mystery Jets in the headline slots. Tickets are a snip at £30 and you can get those and more information over at

July 16-18, Victoria Park, London
Lovebox now sprawls over a whole mid-July weekend of dance-orientated shenanigans handily located in popular London summer spot Victoria Park. Dizee Rascal, Chase & Status, Roxy Music, Grace Jones and Hot Chip hog the limelight with plenty of things to keep you dancing from Chromeo to Booka Shade and Joy Orbison and MJ Cole representing the improbably healthy state of UK garage music in 2010. All of that and you can probably pop home for tea if it all gets a bit much. Tickets for one day are £45, two days is £80 and it’s £99 for all three. You can get a hold of those and find out more at

June 17-19, Various Locations, Barcelona
The gilded swan of electronic music gatherings, Sonar has amassed an almost statesman like reputation that can easily mislead. Take away the more refined than thou aesthetic and it is basically a load of the best DJ’s and produces on the planet all shoved into one of the best cities to throw a party in the world. Sounds like a good combo? That’s because it is. It is basically not humanly possible not to have fun at Sonar. There things that are worth seeing are too numerous to mention here but if we were you we’d be excited about Zomby, Roska, Jackmaster, Wooky and perhaps worthy of the flight alone: a rare appearance by Detroit City’s finest: Kenny Dixon Jr aka Moodymann. Tickets are 155 euros and you can get those and all other info at

August 28-29, Daresbury, Cheshire
Probably the closest you’ll get to a spirit of ’88 M25 outdoor rave with overtones of being trapped in the Cirque de Soleil on acid anywhere in the festival season. One for the committed hedonist, Creamfields doesn’t let up on the bpm’s so if high-octane dance floats your raving boat then this one is for you. Several dance music titans will be making the trip to a field near Runcorn for your dancing pleasure this year including Tiesto, Armin Van Buuren, David Guetta and Sven Vath. Joker, High Contrast and Erol Alkan are of interest elsewhere. A weekend ticket including camping comes in at £100 and ‘hospitality camping’ tickets (whatever that means) are £185. Those and whatever else you need to know at

August 10-14, Gamlebyen, Oslo, Norway
If you are considering getting out of the UK in order to get your festival fill Oya offers some pretty stunning Norwegian countryside and a line-up that puts most of the UK’s grandstanding events to shame. Pavement, M.I.A., The Stooges, a solo turn from Outkast guy Big Boi, LCD Soundystem, The Specials and Fucked Up will all be there. Book your flights early enough and getting out there will be cheap enough to make all the terrifyingly expensive booze you’ll drink worthwhile. Tickets cost a scary sounding 1940 NOK and you can get those and further information at

July 8-11, Petrovaradin Fortress, Novi Sad, Serbia
Exit takes place in a 13th century medieval Hungarian fortress overlooking the river Danube in Serbia. Which sure beats Clapham Common or that park somewhere outside Leeds that Google Map can never find in terms of a location. Throw in appearances from acts as varied as hardcore survivors Bad Brains, disco-punk pioneers LCD Soundsytem and Chilean techno magi Ricardo Villalobos and a four day ticket for just £85 if you book before June and you have a very attractive excuse to explore Serbia for the first time. Find out all things Exit-related at

September 4-5, Hainault Forest, Essex
Every year more festivals shift their dates further into what can realistically be described as ‘autumn’ to avoid doing battle with sixty million competing events in the busy June-August period. If you are attending a September festival though it’s nice to have the option of sodding the tent off and hopping on the Central Line back home to your own bed if the rain comes. Offset offers just that option. A discerning lineup that takes in punk-funk vets Liquid Liquid, krautrock royalty Cluster and a heap of bands that blogs have told you to like so may times that they already seem like part of the furniture (Telepathe, These New Puritans, Male Bonding) make Offset a safe bet if you live within the M25. Tickets are £65 for the weekend including camping, £55 if you plan on going home to sleep and £29 per day. Get them and all other info at

July 31, Victoria Park, London
Let’s face it, if you live in London, the sun is shining and you can’t face being rammed like a KFC battery hen into London Fields you’ll probably be in Victoria Park anyway. As well as all of the Park’s usual, slightly grubby charm, for one Saturday a year only you also get one of the most well thought out one day festivals in the country. The line up is, as ever, great with appearances from established older guys like The Fall and Andrew Weatherall as well as young whippersnappers that everyone is getting excited about such as Yuck and James Blake plus it’s all happening, quite literally, in most of your back gardens. Tickets are £39.83 after all the booking fee nonsense and you can get those and find out more at

July 25-18, Benicassim, Spain
Sweaty, lobster-coloured English people ahoy! It’s only Benicassim time again! So many English people make the trip to the East Coast of Spain for this European heavyweight every year that if you Google the thing the English fans guide to the festival beats the official festival site. Fact. Still, if you like following the herd and you want to roll a sunny week away into seeing a bunch of bands then you could do worse. Ian Brown and Kasabian should keep the Stella and sunburn brigade happy but dig a little deeper and you’ll come across jj, Lindstrom, Dirty Projectors and a rare appearance by the reformed Public Image Limited. If you are seriously considering going take our advice and get an air-conditioned apartment. You’ll thank us later. Tickets are £172.50 including camping and you can get those and further info over at

August 13-15, DeMontfort Hall, Leicester
Flying the flag for Midlands festivals this one seems to grow exponentially at a pretty alarming rate every year. Maybe one day in the future it will bulge to so many stages that you’ll be able to walk from Reading up to Leeds via Summer Sundae. While the main stage seems pre-occupied with folk this year, featuring turns from Seasick Steve and Mumford & Sons, have a look further down the bill and you get Caribou’s glitchtronica, grime from Skepta and interesting pop from The Invisible. Basically all things to all men. In a good way. For a reasonable £105 you get entry and camping and you can make that happen and find out more at

May 27-29, Parc Del Forum, Barcelona
Imagine an ATP but instead of staying in a Butlins you are staying in a nice apartment of the Ramblas in one of the hands-down best cities in Europe. Yep, Primavera is pretty good. So good in fact that ATP nullified our analogy back there by actually setting up shop with their own stage so you don’t even have to imagine that you are at an ATP, you will be at an ATP. Kind of. Oh, and it gets our seal of approval as they gave us a stage too. The list of bands that you will actually want to see as opposed to miss accidentally-on-purpose goes on forever but highlights include: Atlas Sound, The Black Lips, Sian Alice Group, The Clean, Shellac, Mission Of Burma and some guys called Pavement. Tickets are 180 euros but go get them quick at as this one actually sells out.

August 27-29, Richfield Avenue, Reading and Bramham Park, Leeds
If you want to see the re-formed Libertines, Klaxons’ return to festival duty or whatever the fuck Axl Rose is now calling Guns N’ Roses this summer then you’ll have to bite the bullet and make it to Reading or Leeds. Sadly the days of Leeds descending into a good bit of arson, rioting and looting by the Sunday seem to have come to an end so it’s more a case of whichever is closer and whether you got a ticket in time or not. Beware if you think you already have one of the now sold out weekend tickets as the festival has been targeted heavily by ticket scammers this year. To find out if your ticket is real or not or get a day pass for £75 head over to or

July 9-11, Balado, Kinross-shire, Scotland and Punchestown Racecourse, County Kildare, Ireland
The Celtic answer to Reading and Leeds offers similarly safe line-up options but with the added bonus of lashings more booze and bad behaviour as standard. The Scots and Irish simply know how to have more fun than the English. Sorry, it’s a fact. I am English so I’m allowed to speak these words of truth and you’ll just have to deal with it. Have a root around below the Eminem/Muse/Kasabian sized headliners and Yeasayer, Black Mountain and a resurgent The Coral as well a solid dance lineup including Erol Alkan, Sven Vath and Richie Hawtin doing his Plastikman thing all make a trip north worth your while. Oxygen tickets are 224 euros including camping but you’ll have to resort to ingenuity to get yourself into T at this stage as it is completely sold out. All information can be found at and

October 22-24, The Custard Factory, Birmingham
Shockingly, Supersonic is already in its eighth year. It seems like just the other day the girls behind astute Birmingham bookers Capsule came up with the idea of shunting a bunch of their excellent shows together into a single weekend. If you have a beard, subscribe to The Wire and/or Terrorizer, haunt the Southern Lord blog or simply possess good taste in music then Supersonic is well worth your attention. The reformed Swans are the only act yet to be announced but what more do you need? Weekend tickets will set you back £75 and you can get those and more line-up information as it surfaces at

June 23-27, Worthy Farm, Pilton, Glastonbury
The labrynthine ticketing application/initial sale/refund/resale nightmare that seems to get more confusing with every year that passes. However, we can now safely say that unless you have a ticket already or are willing to risk almost certainly getting ripped off by eBay scammers then the golden passes to Michael Eavis’ annual mudbath are now officially all gone. If you do have a way of getting in then you will be able to bear witness to lots and lots of solo artists playing the main stage. Seriously go look at the lineup: Snoop, Shakira, Ray Davies, Stevie Wonder, Slash, Willie Nelson, Femi Kuti, Norah Jones, Paloma Faith. The list goes on… What happened? Are they allergic to bands all of a sudden? You know what to expect elsewhere and you’d probably just as well stay at home and watch it on TV as the BBC seems to mistake this yearly pop music event in a field for some form of world shattering current affairs dropping literally everything else in their schedules to bring you 24 hour coverage in multiple angles and possibly 3D across every channel they possess. No tickets but lots of information at

June 11-13, Donnington Park, Midlands
The Ronseal of rock festivals lumbers ever onwards. Not straying too far from the tried and tested riffs and leather formula this years edition of what was once known as The Monsters Of Rock sees a host of veterans return to Castle Donnington. Aerosmith, Motorhead, AC/DC, Saxon, Megadeath and even Billy Idol all make appearances on the main stage while Napalm Death, Suicidal Tendencies and Dillinger Escape Plan crop up elsewhere. Weekend tickets including five nights worth of camping will set you back £180. We’re not sure why you would need to stay for five nights but a trip to might explain that and anything else you wanted to know about the festival.

August 28-29, Clapham Common, London
For the final bank holiday weekend of the year South West London cottaging hotspot Clapham Common transforms into a ginormous dance arena. Formerly known as Get Loaded In The Park the event now stretches over two days as opposed to one and sees headline sets from household name DJ’s John Digweed, Judge Jules, Paul Oakenfold, Carl Cox and Zoe Ball’s husband. Elsewhere more interesting propositions such as bass envelope pushers Skream & Benga and SBTRKT and French disco don Vitalic make the whole thing worthy of your attention. Weekend tickets are £85 and you can get those and find out more at

July 22-25, Huntingdon Mill Field, Peterborough
If the characters in an Enid Blyton novel ever found themselves in the here and now and had to go to a festival it would probably be the Secret Garden Party. All leafy, whimsical, anti-branding and well manicured the Peterborough three dayer continues to draw a loyal following all of whom extol its virtues like it’s the second coming in festival form. Highlights include a live Gorillaz performance, a rare UK appearance by Mercury Rev and up and coming blue-eyed soul guy Othello Woolf. Head over to to get hold of weekend tickets for £149.50 including camping.

August 20-22, Glanusk Park, Brecon Beacons, Wales
The festival that banks on rustic charm and a cultivated sense of pastoral rootsiness, Green Man continues to gently woo the mature end of the festival-going spectrum with grandstanding sets from Doves, Billy Bragg, Tindersticks, The Flaming Lips and Joanna Newosm. Meanwhile, our favourite tear-jerking troubador Cass McCombs, Welsh hardcore hopefuls Islet and the much talked about Egyptian Hip Hop keep things interesting on the smaller stages. Tickets are £120 including camping and they are available from

August 1, Victoria Park, London
The Field Day for little people is so much fun that lots of big people try to get in every year masquerading as parents. True story. With a lineup as here and now as it is borderline pathologically diverse ranging from Lightspeed Champion to Donae’o to Is Tropical it’s easy to see why. If you are younger than 18 and live in London you probably already have a ticket but just in case you don’t they are only £29.50 and can be got at

July 23-25, Hill Farm, Steventon, Oxford
What began as DIY anti-festival with secret line-ups 13 years ago now takes in an Oxford version of SXSW called OX4, Wood, a folk-y sister festival and, as of this year, a Truck America in upstate New York. Not bad going for a couple of brothers who insist on minimal corporate presence and giving most of what they make to charity. Now that they tell people who’s playing in advance we can reveal that there will be sets from Fucked Up, Teenage Fanclub and Mercury Rev with dancing duties handled by DJ Zinc. Tickets are only £80 and you can get those and find out more at

June 11-13, Seaclose Park, Newport, Isle Of Wight
Back when Dylan made an appearance at the Isle Of Wight in 1969 in the middle of his reclusive Woodstock period the festival was one of the first of its kind. It’s probably a safe bet that if you’d asked Bob whether he thought a Beatle would be headlining the same festival 41 years later he would probably mumble something cryptic and incomprehensible but underneath all that we’re betting he’d be surprised. Paul McCartney takes on the Sunday with Jay-Z and The Strokes headlining the Friday and the Saturday respectively. The rest of the bill is equally heavy on big names with Blondie, Spandau Ballet and even Pink all making the trip to Newport. Tickets for a weekend on the Isle Of Wight will set you back £150. Find those and further information at

July 24, Shoreditch Park, London
Sean Mclusky’s 1234 one-dayer swaggers into its third year. Within spitting distance of the bars that many of the people reading this will be drinking in anyway.1234 takes place on a patch of green next to City Road that optimistically calls itself Shoreditch Park. You could probably guess the lineup with your eyes closed but that is no bad thing. These New Puritans, Veronica Falls, Dum Dum Girls and up and coming anarcho-punks Flats are all playing and the after party options will be numerous. Tickets are only £15 if you get them now from

September 10-12, Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset
This one could be the festival manifestation of Captain America’s much missed Virgin radio Americana shows. They seem to somehow get Wilco to headline every year and it’s beards and acoustic guitars aplenty elsewhere too with appearances from Iron & Wine, The Mountain Goats and The Felice Brothers all turning up to strum and holler. There is also a cinema stage curated by Little White Lies in case you get bored of the bands. Tickets are £130 for the weekend including camping. You can purchase those and find out what else is happening at

Monday, 19 April 2010

Vice V8n3 Interview

An interview from the Vice annual Fashion issue.

We Want War

Mathew Stone & These New Puritans Talk About Fashion Music And Art

Mathew Stone is an artist who founded the !WOWOW! collective and has exhibited his work internationally. He is much loved by a fashion world which he has always shied away from preferring his work to stand alone and speak for itself.

These New Puritan’s are so loved by planet fashion that Hedi Slimane got them to soundtrack his 2007 Dior Homme Show and in the band’s drummer, George Barnett, found a young muse. George himself has gone on to model and design himself but the band have continued to shy away from a fashion world so in thrall to them preferring to let their music stand alone and speak for itself.

Are you beginning to see what we’ve done here? Mathew shot Jack and George Barnett, the band’s creative nucleus, exclusively for this issue.

Vice: So did you guys know each other before this photo was taken?
Mathew Stone:
We’d never met but I’d been into them since the first time I saw them play at DURR.. It was obvious that they had very strong ideas which many band’s don’t. Concepts like mixing archaism and futurism by playing weird old woodwind instruments on the same track they had synths all over the place immediately positioned them almost beyond time rather than being led by it.
George Barnett: Taking this photo was the first time that we had met Mathew and whatever pre-conceived notions of him being a hyper-pretentious art guy that some people might have they should forget about. He was just really nice and very creative. He actually seemed quite nervous when we turned up at his studio. The shoot was great though. We enjoyed working with Mathew so much and he had so many ideas that it looks like we’ll be making our next video with him.

Would you say that there is anything that your work has in common?
George Barnett
: Probably strong ideas immediately executed. When we turned up for the shoot he just had this red background ready and we got on with it. As a band we have ides that we go into the studio with and just record. We never jam. Jamming probably encapsulates everything I hate about music.
Mathew Stone: Yeah, the pursuit of strong, interesting ideas in their music was a definite motivation for me wanting to work with the band. Most bands are chickenshit, the first second someone tells them that if they do something in a certain way they will get more money they jump at it. I don’t think These New Puritans have ever done that. They have fought to be in place where they can do whatever they want and that in itself is admirable. I appreciate people who are committed to making things in that way.

You are both linked to fashion but don’t seem to let it lead the stuff you do.
George Barnett:
For me they are just fairly separate things.
Mathew Stone: The band have made music for Hedi Slimane’s catwalk shows and George fronts campaigns for people like Lanvin as a model so they are always going to be linked to fashion but they do seem to see the two things as very separate pursuits. Similarly, while I am interested in clothes and think that fashion is just as vital a creative pursuit as any other form I have never shot fashion photography as I have never been interested in selling clothes or being a part of the industry itself. I think that the people that are able to successfully operate within the confines of the fashion world without being creatively compromised are the people to be celebrated though and the band certainly fulfil that criteria.

Vice V8n4 Record Reviews

The Black Keys

5 This is one of those records that is being touted as “the album they always wanted make”. What does that even mean? That you never wanted to make the other five? Those just happened to slip out by mistake there? Hollow pre-release rhetoric plus the presence of Danger Mouse equals mid-career crisis.

Perry Nutkins

The Bastard Noise/The Endless Blockade
The Red List
20 Buck Spin

9 Where would you guys be without us telling you to go buy a Bastard Noise-related record every thirty days or so huh? There are, in fact, lots of reasons to purchase this latest missive from Eric Wood’s ongoing adventure in sonic destruction. First up the Bastard Noise side features Danny Walker on live drums. Yep, that’s Danny Walker who used to play in Phobia, so you should already know how brutal it’s going to sound. On top of that you get Toronto’s Endless Blockade weighing in with three tracks, two of which are up at the 15 minute mark each so don’t go mentioning powerviolence around those guys. Yet, another essential skull release.

Bustah Nut

Broken Social Scene
Forgiveness Rock Record

5 If someone had left the gas on while cooking a vegan bean-curd soup during the recording of this record and simultaneously lit up a limp, hemp paper rollie they would have literally wiped out a whole musical genre. This album features guys and gals from Metric, The Sea & Cake, Feist, Stars, The Weakerthans and even one of the dudes from Death From Above 1979. Yep, just think: one little spark and kaboom! No more whinging aboot feelings over too many instruments than is strictly required to play pop music ever again. In fact scratch that disaster fantasy. The tribute album is too much to even bear thinking aboot.

Barry Shandling


5 These guys got the whole nowhere-one-day-huger-than-a-really-huge-thing-the-next treatment courtesy of the golden handshake of hype: a fawning Pitchfork write up. However, the name of the guy who catapulted Harlem and their so-so lo-fi pop from obscurity to ubiquity is probably of greater note than the band’s music: Roque Strew. What kind of a name is that? He must be a robot. This adds further evidence to my theory that Pitchfork is not a website created by humans but a piece of software that causes indie-record buying impulses in weak-willed, hormonal teenagers transmitted orally via lightbeams.

Professor Y

Elephant 9
Walk The Nile
Rune Gammofon

8 Woah. This is like some mythical long-lost bootleg tape of an improvised session that Klaus Dinger and Rick Wakeman never had. Equal parts motorik stoicism and unhinged keyboard pomp that sails mighty close to being awful but somehow never deviates from being wholly engrossing.

Mont Cowbell

Trash Kit
Trash Kit
Upset The Rhythm

7 I still haven’t actually seen these guys play yet which, seeing as I live in London where they seem to play daily and twice a day at weekends, is quite an achievement. Listening to this stark debut though they can at least feel confident that they have blown any lo-fi competition they have clean out of the water by sounding so stripped back that sounds like Trash Kit’s instruments consist of a dustbin and some shoestrings stretched over an old box. Some lovely harmonies bring the whole mess together rescuing it all from the scrap heap in a touchingly DIY manner.

Billy Bunter

Chris Leo’s Vague Angels
The Sunny Day I Caught Tintarella Di Luna For A Picnic At The Cemetary
Expect Candy Records

8 OK, lets get clear up the three elephants currently stampeding around the room. 1) Yes, this is Ted Leo’s brother, 2) yes, that album title is pretty nauseatingly convoluted and 3) yes, that sleeve is equally sickeningly twee. Despite all of these facts being true I unequivocally love this record to bits simply for existing. Native Nod, The Van Pelt and The Lapse make up a body of work so perfect in my book that they allow the person who made them license to do whatever he damn likes. Chris Leo could drive a tricycle naked up and down outside my grandparent’s retirement home every day from here ‘till eternity and I’d still buy his records and love every second of them.

Sultan Of Sentiment

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
The Brutalist Bricks

7 Not often you get two separate albums by a pair of brothers reviewed in the same column. Well this is your lucky month. Here is Chris Leo’s slightly better known and equally nasally imposing brother Ted’s latest offering with his backing outfit The Pharmacists. It ploughs similar thoughtful, indie-rock-with-big-words territory as Chris’s Vague Angels record and even though he was in Citizen’s Arrest I was never a huge Chisel fan so this get’s a point less. Sorry Ted.

Puzzle Head

Roky Erikson & Okkervil River
True Love Casts Out All Evil
Chemikal Underground Records

8 Call me a cynic but I can’t help thinking that, excited-as-a-seven-year-old-on-his-birthday that this even came out at all as I am, this would have been better if po-faced Americana types Okkervil River weren’t involved. I mean, Roky has trunk-loads of heartbreak, loss, pain, hard times and a whole heap of crazy of his own to draw on, what does he need these young whippersnappers around for?

Dr Doom


8 Walls may just, unwittingly, represent the future. Guy from Allez-Allez enjoys remixing guy from Banjo Or Freakout’s track so much that they temporarily ditch their respective previous bands to make a blissed out synth-pop mini-masterpiece on Kompakt. Remixing whole bands to create new bands might be the way to go if the results are always this good. Feel free to give up the day jobs guys.

Wolf Gang

The Radio Dept.
Clinging To A Scheme

8 Somewhere, most probably hidden away at the bottom of a cupboard, is the only cardigan I still own. I haven’t worn it in a very long time but it is a comfortable, familiar piece of clothing upon which is pinned a small, red Radio Dept. badge. I haven’t worn a badge in a long time either. Listening to this considered, gentle tear-jerker of an album made me want to go dig out that cardigan, dust it off and wear it, and the little red badge, with pride.

Roger Haley

Monster Head Room
Souterrain Transmissions

8 Thirteen cuts of woozy slacker-pop with just the right amount of psyche and good-times surf harmonies to make Monster Head Room a sure-fire, slow-burner hit for the summer. Trust us, come August you’ll love this as much as we do already.

Like Move

Happy Birthday
Happy Birthday
Sub Pop

7 I set out to hate this. Honestly. I mean, look at the band name, the eponymous album title and the beyond irritating artwork. All of these things screamed bad right at me. Then I got sent an actual physical copy of the album in the post and flipped over the puke-inducing front sleeve to discover a bunch of fun sketches and doodles on the back. This swayed me in to actually putting the thing on and whaddayaknow? Perfectly formed nuggets of Raspberries style power-pop! Let that be a lesson to you PR’s: send out real records and not MP3 download links before your stupid bands sell themselves short with their stupid artwork before their (occasionally great) music even gets a listen.

Jerry Lonely

Grey Oceans

6 Crikey. The Casady sisters always looked a little fruity but on the cover of this one they’ve gone hog-wild with the kooky. They could be one of those Terrorizer bands that look like they are made up of guys who wouldn’t even get cast as extras for the last Mortiis video. And the music isn’t a whole heap better. Remember girls: there used to be a “folk” at the end of the “freak” back in 2006.
Alex Petri-Dish

Damian Jurado
Saint Bartlett
Secretly Canadian

8 Where once Jurado’s songs were stark, painful snapshots of love and loss set to bare acoustic guitar accompanied by a plaintive, haunting voice you now get stark, painful snapshots of love and loss set to a full band and accompanied by a plaintive, haunting voice. As chillingly brilliant and worthy of compare to Molina and Oldham as he ever was.

Saint Huck

Televison Personalities
A Memory Is Better Than Nothing
Rocket Girl

8 Is Dan Treacy the original Pete Doherty? Or does that honour belong to Peter Perret? Who gives a crap. The TVPs always have, and on the strength of this latest set, always will have the knack of turning whatever drama Dan has boiling on the backburner into pure pop joy. So forget all the noise and go buy this record to help pay your dues to a minor modern British institution.

Dorian Gay

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Vice Singles 01.02.84

Perfume Genius
Mr Petersen

8 More fragile sounding than the bones of that creepy comic book collector guy that Samuel L. Jackson plays in Unbreakable. If they were music. Bad analogy right there but you get the idea. Mike Hadreas makes songs so taught and emotionally charged that as you listen to them you actually get scared that they are about to shatter into little shards of sadness and fade out into the wash of fuzz he swaddles his tracks in.

Butch Bunter

So So Modern

7 Wow. Just listening to this on totally knackered me out. Having as many things going on in a single song as these guys manage to cram in could very easily end up sounding like a total disasterous mess. Thankfully these guys successfully channel the spirit of vintage Q & Not U with added wobbly synths. Which is a good thing in case you’re lost.

Cap’n Krunch

'Zine Scene

This is something that I did for the Red Bull Music Academy's daily newspaper The Daily Note. You can find it online here.

‘Zine Scene

The internet is, in many ways, a perfect digital manifestation of many of the core characteristics that defined the DIY punk scene that spawned ‘zine culture in the late 1970’s.

The copy and paste, staple and glue approach to producing ‘zines which gave them such a coherent aesthetic is wholly and immediately available to anyone with an internet connection. The ability to say virtually anything without being censored and the sheer amount of information that is freely available online coupled with the ability to copy chunks of text and paste them elsewhere or screengrab an image from one website and place it on another has allowed blogs to become the online equivalent of ‘zines.

Special interest blogs have become small, cottage industries populated by passionate individuals discovering and passing on information very much in the tradition of pioneering ‘zines such as Sniffin’ Glue or Maximum Rock & Roll.
While online blogs and websites allow immediate and inexpensive exchange of musical knowledge at hitherto unimaginable speed they are yet to render the humble ‘zine redundant. Scratch below the digital surface and you’ll soon find a vibrant world of small-run, print ‘zines catering for people who still like to be able to hold, touch and smell an actual physical artifact and for whom reading about new and interesting music on a screen will never be wholly satisfying. After all, when was the last time you read Pitchfork while taking a crap?

Punk was the movement which birthed the ‘zine and a massive percentage of contemporary ‘zines continue to be concerned with punk music and culture. However, great though those ‘zines are, they are merely the tip of a massively varied iceberg. The focus of this paper has dictated that we look mainly at music related ‘zines but go to just about any ‘zine fair or symposium ( is a great place to start investigating where they happen) and you will encounter ‘zines that deal with art, comics, literature, poetry, oversized vegetables and shoelaces. I am not making the last two up. I own ‘zines on both topics. Here are a few of the best ‘zines dealing with music currently in print.


Australia might not be the first place that springs to mind when you think of hardcore and punk rock but Distort is easily one of the best ‘zines currently chronicling the genre. It is an A4 sized, black and white stapled affair crammed with carefully selected fliers, photographs, reviews and columns that run the gamut from classic punk and first wave hardcore right through to what is happening right now. Issue 24 covered everyone from Rocky Erikson & The Aliens to Cold Sweat. With a wonderfully anachronistic adherance to the physical distribution of music most issues come with a cover mounted 7”. Watch out for the next issue which will come complete with a 7” by excellent Aussie powerviolence types Extortion. All information can be found at


Once the novelty of getting hold of a ‘zine which isn’t pre-occupied with punk or hardcore has worn off allow Feral Debris to quietly inform you about band after band you have never even heard of. If you try and claim to be a huge Simply Saucer fan you’ll have to forgive me for not believing you for a second. The ‘zine also has a regular poetry section and comes with a free CDR consisting of tracks by artists featured in that issue so if you are after a free compilation of acts like Moss, Jandek and Wooden Sjips: look no further! For musings on strange sounds check out


OK, so Yeti might not technically be a ‘zine due to it’s sheer size and glossy cover but take a peak inside and sure enough Mike McGonal’s sporadically released labour of love is indeed mainly black and white. So I am including it as a ‘zine. If you are interested in everything from indie-rock to avant-garde power-electronics to strange sounds from sub-Saharan Africa then Yeti is for you. Past issues have included conversations with folks like Will Oldham and Pat Gubler from PG Six, illustrations by German surrealist artist Unica Zurn, drawings from Kyle Field from Little Wings, a comprehensive feature on Blind Willie Johnson and a Western Saharan travelogue by Hisham Mayet from the excellent Sublime Frequencies label. You should by now be wanting to purchase a copy at


Again straying away from the default ‘zine fodder of punk-rock, Woofah concerns itself with all things bass related from a uniquely UK perspective. Whether it’s charting the latest offshoots of the constantly morphing UK Garage/dubstep/whatever-you-call-it continuum via interviews with folks like Untold or the Hessle Audio gang, continuing to champion grime that isn’t made by Calvin Harris with features on the Newham Generals or re-examining UK bass music’s roots with features on dancehall mainstay Tippa Irie, hardcore and jungle dons Shut Up & Dance or legendary Leeds soundsystem Irration Steppas, Woofah has consistently proved that informed, considered and informative journalism continues to exist outside of the internet and mainstream monthly music titles. Head on over to for more information.


Run by a Northen misanthrope whose MySpace name happens to be ‘Nathan Awesome Rape’ this handsome ‘zine is consitently stunningly presented with screened woodcuts on heavy-duty card and text on recycled stock. Throw in interviews and features on The Shitty Limits, Eyehategod, Pagan Altar and Pulling Teeth and even rarities such as an unpublished interview with J.P. Morrow from 1997 conducted by a young John Gilbert from Red County War Ensemble and you have one of the most thoughtful and engrossing ‘zines covering heavy and warped metal out there. More can be discovered on The Hidden Hand at


“Fododio e xerocado’ translates as ‘fucked up and photocopied” which is a very accurate portrayl of what you will find between the covers of this ‘zine: a heaving motherload of images of kids going wild at shows as well as shots of the bands who are whipping them into such a state. While the guys behind the publication may be based in Brazil this doesn’t seem to act as a barrier to making their coverage truly global with photographs of shows by bands you’ve never heard of in Brazil and Portugal to spot-you-and-your-mates shots of Fucked Up at The Barfly in London. Find out more at


A ‘zine that comes out of Leeds and is unafraid to mix articles on ‘The Women Of Hollyoaks’ with pieces on great current bands such as Leeds residents Mob Rules or an extended discussion with Oxbow frontman, MMA champion and general hellraiser-for-hire Eugene Robinson. One of the most fun and varied ‘zines to come out of the UK in a good while. Buy actual real life issues of the ‘zine and find out more at


When not fronting excellent garage punks The Sceptres or putting on some of the most consistently great DIY shows in London with her Big Takeover nights Bryony Beynon somehow finds time to put out an informative, coruscating and bilious A5 black and white ‘zine called Modern Hate Vibe. On top of bits on bands you should like such as Ironclad and Cold Ones you also get convincing columns on why you should listen to Poison Idea and what you could be learning from the Wu Tang manual right now instead of reading this. Fun for all the family at

Monday, 15 February 2010

Vice Singles Reviews 15.02.10

3 Titans
Daptone Records/Dunham Records

0 Wow, these three minutes actually manages to be less fun than sitting in bumper to bumper to traffic with nothing to but the Shipping News or back to back repeats of Sue Perkins doing Just A Minute to listen to for 8 straight hours. Think three 7 year olds rhyming about how they won’t ever drop out of school and will get straight A’s forever on an episode of Sesame Street from the late 70’s and you’re not a million miles off.

Busta Nut

Los Campesinos
Romance Is Boring

2 Despite now being friends with avant-indie types like James Stewart out of Xiu Xiu and whatsisname from Paranthetical Girls these guys are still basically still the same shoutalong indie band now with added weird guitar pedals and less jangle. Strip the effects away and the chorus could be by just about any band played before 11pm and the inevitable endless Smiths and Libertines records start rolling out at your local indie disco. Plus the girl sounds exactly like the guy from Placebo.

Perry Nutkins


1 I almost feel sorry for Creed that Nickleback took their AOR rock and sub-Pearl Jam stadium rock template and ended up selling a bazillion more records than the original purveyors of the totally banal rock-ballad. Can you even remember what that big Creed single was? No, me either.

Brian Blessed

Vice Singles Reviews 08.02.10

Way To LA
Claremont 56

8 Something of a supergroup featuring as it does Holger Czukay, Ursa Major, Paul 'Mudd' Murphy and Benjamin Smith this rumbles along like krautrock via a night-class at Blaxplotation bassline school. The way to LA must be a long road as both sides of this 10” feature the theme of getting to the City Of Angeles. The A side is making it there in the Day and the B side features trying to get there at night.

Barry Bawler

The Macabees (feat. Roots Manuva)
Empty Vessels

6 By some miracle this is nowhere near the dogs dinner the lineup threatens. If anything it’s closer to those spaced out jams that Rodney used to spit over back in the days when his tracks only turned up on things like Kitz’s seminal Countryman LP.

Basher Bishop

You Know I’m No Good/Shakin All Over
Wanda Jackson
Third Man

8 This was kind of a no brainer. Jack White producing a raockabilly legend for his boutique vinyl label. How was it ever not going to be great.

Billy Bunter

NME Radar Piece: Trash Talk

A beer crate comes sailing from the cramped Camden Barfly stage hitting a crowd member squarely in the head. Neither the band on stage nor the seething, surging crowd that are bordering on all-out riot miss a beat. Flying beer crates, and an ability to whip audiences into scenes of cultish adoration and violent chaos within the space of a few chords have become second nature to Californian hardcore malcontents Trash Talk.

While all of the bands’ members have served in hardcore outfits across the Bay Area neither Trash Talk’s hometown nor influences are cut and dried. “We come from all over California and despite none of us living in Sacramento it is still home for the band” says guitarist Garrett Stevenson, “and although we’ve all played in punk acts before if you took a ride with us in the van you’d realise we aren’t a bunch of hardcore purists. Lee (Spielman, vocals) might be playing some nasty hardcore one minute and Sam (Bossan, drums) will play some Lady GaGa the next, then Spencer (Pollard, drums) will play some avant-garde stuff and I’ll probably be dropping some soul or hip-hop”.

Tales of multiple shows at both CMJ and SXSW last year are already legend and the band will happily play anywhere with whoever they can. “Getting to play one show is awesome but to be able to play five or six shows in a day and have people turn up and go nuts is mind-blowing”.

As to the band getting crowds a little too excited Garrett isn’t convinced it’s a bad thing, “people are just having a good time and letting off steam at our shows. Sound & Fury last year might have got a bit much though. We drove there in a U-Haul, parked up and played out of the back of it. There were people kicking all of our stuff over and stage diving in to guitar amps. But it was still really fun.”

The bands’ third album, Eyes & Nines, due this autumn, was recorded with Joby J. Ford of The Bronx. “This time around we sat down and really thought about the songs. Some of them are over two minutes long!” enthuses Garrett and for a band whose catalogue includes titles such as “Just Die” you can expect another dollop of misanthropy. “I think we have the same issues that most people have in the world today. We just choose to vocalise them and people identify with that”.

A band that spends “eleven months a year” on the road inevitably have their share of Black Flag-esque road tales. “The time we were driving out of Cali to go record our second record with Steve Albini sticks out. We got pulled over and locked up for having some stuff in the van we shouldn’t have. We were sitting there thinking, “shit, we’re gonna miss recording with Steve Albini because we’re in jail”.

Jail terms notwithstanding, you’d be a fool to miss Trash Talk’s live onslaught when they return to Britain later this year. Just mind the flying beer crates.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Vice Singles Reviews 02.11.09


7 While hardly scaling the heights of Hunting High & Low or Soundrel Days A-HA’s epitaph of a final album, Foot Of The Mountain, contains enough grand synth-pop to be worth checking out. Plus a band deciding that they are going to split and then sticking to their guns is pretty rare and in these less than dignified times.

Perry Nutkins

Wet Dog
Lower Leg

9 If I could still afford to by lots of records purely on the strength of sleeve quality alone this would be on the top of my stack. Or high up in my Boomkat basket or wherever it is that you buy records online these days. The fact that the tune is a nice, shouty bass lead piece of post-punk perfection doesn’t hurt either.

Strap’em Jones

Paulo Nutini
Pencil Full Of Lead

0 Every morning I wake up to Magic FM. My girlfriend loves the station’s ability to play the same 12 songs incessantly all of which are so inoffensive that they might as well be the aural equivalent of a nice neutral wallpaper: there but hardly noticeable. Nutini has recently made it on to the playlist though and ruins the whole effect by nestling like a poisoned morning-after vomit stain amongst the so-boring it’s OK Tracy Chapman and Wings beige music. Thanks for single-handedly spoiling my morning Nutini.

Billy Bunter

Vice Singles Reviews 09.11.09

Poison Lips

10 Second 12’”from Pascal Arbez-Nicola’s future-disco classic of an LP Flashmob. Ticks all the bleeding edge synth and crushingly well produced beat boxes that you’d expect with added pre-orgasmic breathy female vocal for good measure. The man can do no wrong.

Ellis D

Boy Of Girl
Hot Chocolate Boy
Off The Unceratin

7 Sadly not a gender inverted 2 step garage response to Shanks & Bigfoot’s “Sweet Like Chocolate” but a whole different kettle of enjoyable nonetheless. Fragile, female voxed synth pop by what I am pretty sure used to be a band called Moon Unit. Luckily this duo’s tunes are better than their choice of band names.

Norris Da Boss

Pearl Jam
Got Some/Just Breathe

2 As a kid of about 12 or 13 I had a tape with VS on one side and Vitalogy on the other. Walking back and forth to school was made approximately one million times more enjoyable by that single tape so I have always felt a huge sense of obligation to Vedder, Stone Gossard and the other three. Obligation or not though bad is just bad plain and simple.

Mother Love Phone

Vice Singles Reviews 16.11.09

Ali Love
Diminishing Returns
Back Yard

0 This guy is still alive?

Billy Bunter

Frightened Rabbit
Swim Until You Can't See Land
Fat Cat

2 Could there possibly be a more irritating name for a limp, insipid, jangly indie band that make music that probably came out of a machine set to “incidental music for Zooey Deschanel movie in which mis-matched girl and boy fall in love despite inherent differences”?The only thing that sucks worse than the name is the tunes so it’s loose loose.

Justin Fashanu

Mariachi El Bronx

7 I never really got the big deal with The Bronx. They just sound like beefy, polished hardcore for people whose only exposure to punk was via Grand Theft Auto games to me. That said their new Mariachi incarnation slayed our Vice Presents party last month so what do I know?

Perry Nutkins

Vice Singles Reviews 20.11.09

The Bitters
East General

10 A new 7” from the unstoppable Ben Cook aka Young Governor aka one of the hardest working men in the business of making punk rock songs that are good for your ears. After serving time with No Warning, Violent Minds and Criminally Insane Ben sold his soul to Mike Haliechuck and now plays guitar in Fucked Up. Seeing as Mike and Josh ‘Concenration Camp’ Zucker were already playing guitars in that band Ben must be real good for them to be bothered with a third six string guy. On top of playing sixty bajillion shows that last for twenty hours at a time a year with Fucked Up Ben also finds time to record solo as Young Governer, with the Marvelous Darlings, in a band called the Roomates that I’ve not even heard and with The Bitters who may just be the pick of the bunch. Slacker, sun-kissed, lo-fi, pop-punk anthems all lovingly churned out by Ben and Aerin Fogel. Perfect.

Jelly Bi-Afro

Invasion VS Shackleton
Wizards In Dub
This Is Music

9 If a Shackleton is good enough to warrant a remix by elusive minimal godhead Ricardo Villalobos the a Shackleton remix must be a bit like being refixed by Jesus. Except Invasion would probably be more into crucifying Jesus upside down in a cave on Mars. Either way Shackleton takes apart the bits that make Invasion’s unlikely soul/doom formula great and makes it even better.

Will Bevan

Mayfair Set
Young One
Captured Tracks/Woodsist

8 You know the bit in record reviews where it goes “this sounds like Dum Dum Girls meets Blank Dogs” that you skip to to actually find out what the thing sounds like? Well this actually is the Dum Dum Girls meeting Blank Dogs. There you go.

Anna Bananna

Vice Singles Reviews 26.10.09

Enter Shikari

(1)0 While not quite as far it into the sonic insaniverese as that bastion of total absurdity that was “Zzzonked” (their last nail in the coffin of ‘post-hardcore’ in case you missed it pop pickers) which sounded like Limp Bizkit covering The Vengaboys this one definitely sees the band reach their lyrical zenith. To wit, the first two verses:

I'm gonna paste you up, cover you in wallpaper
Screw shelves into you and call you a wall
Thats all you are to me trying to keep people inside, inside your sordid little house. This is not white abode.

You can have skirtingboard shoes and plug sockets on your knees
I'll hang a painting on your lip
And put tinsel 'round it at Christmas

Billy Bunter

Dim Mak

0 Listening to farty electro-house synths spluttering up and down goves me 2004 flashbacks that make me so glad that sanity won the battle and no one actually listens to this tripe anymore other than people in luminous New Era caps that still thing that Egg is the jump off on a Friday night. Not even Nore can save this abomination.

Teddy Sheringham

J’adore Hardcore

10 This post-modern masterpiece of rabble rousing hedonism is everything that Enter Shikari should dream of being but will never manage. It somehow rips off “Dup Dup” by Mickie Krause, Planet Funk's "Chase the Sun" AND The Pitcher's "I Just Can't Stop” and transform them into a stone cold euro-rave classic. I’m shit you not. Scooter are the sound of genius.

Hans-Peter Goodies

Vice v8n1 Band Piece: Shrinebuilder

Sonic Titans From Beyond

Shrinebuilder Think Supergroup Is A Dirty Word

Supergroup. The word alone is enough to make you shudder. I got a little pukey just typing it out right there. Bouncy castle size egos, nonsensical concepts and consistently awful records are all that has ever come from the meeting of supposedly great musical minds. Velvet Revolver, Audioslave, Zwan, A Perfect Circle, Fantomas. Do we need to hammer this point home any further? Ok, The Travelling Wilburys.

One look at the Shrinebulder lineup though and the rule didn’t seem to matter so much anymore. Between them the four members of this band have served in Sleep, OM, Neurosis, The Melvins, The Obsessed, Spirit Caravan and The Hidden Hand. Oh, and Saint Vitus. In case you are not familiar with these names then you are reading the wrong magazine. Yep, between them Scott “Wino” Weinrich, Al Cisneros, Scott Kelly and Dale Crover have had a hand in a bunch of records that make up a large portion of what most people who like slow, heavy music have listened to over the last quarter of a century.

It was obvious from the outset that this wasn’t exactly going to be Humble Pie but the five tracks that make up Shrinebuilder’s self-titled debut album are so untouchably brilliant that they blew even the expectations of those with sky high hopes to eensy weensy teeny weeny smithereens. It’s basically a masterpiece. Put this magazine down and go and buy it now.

Seeing as all four of the guys in Shrinebuilder play in lots of other bands and live in different cities it was always going to be a chore getting them all together for an interview but we were lucky enough to get Scott Kelly on a the phone for a few minutes so we were happier than pigs in shit anyway. Turns out Scott is a man of few words but they are all good ones so heed them.

Vice: Hello Scott, so how did what basically amounts to every teenage stoner rock fans wank fantasy doom band come together?
Scott Kelly (guitars): Well, originally it was something that Al and Wino had talked about. I think they had actually been talking about it for a long time and I’ve known Al for years so he just asked me if I wanted to play guitar on the record. It wasn’t like I was going to say no to being in a band with Wino.

What’s it like waking up and thinking: “Holy crap, I’m in a band with Wino!” ?
Well, we’d kind of moved in similar circles for a long time but we’d never actually met so it was strange to finally meet him but it was great making the record if that is what you mean. We did it very fast in very few takes and there was a real energy in the room that you can hear on the record. It was something I’ve never quite experienced before and I’ve made quite a few records.

How do you feel about people describing Shrinebuilder as a supergroup?
We don’t use that word.

Circle Jams

Shinebuilder’s self-titled debut album is available on Neurot Recordings right now.

Vice v8n1 Record Reviews

Olafur Arnalds
Dyad 1909
Erased Tapes

9 Olafur Arnalds is in fact an Icelandic composer prone to an output that borders on the R. Stevie Moore side of prolific. If Arnalds’ stuff wasn’t so bonkers-ly eclectic and consistently brilliant the rate at which it turns up would be plain annoying but this Sergei Diaghilev-inspired seven song score for award wining British choreographer Wayne McGregor is as good as anything else I’ve heard this month. Or this year for that matter.

Perry Nutkins

The Bastard Noise
Thumbprint Press

9 Eric Wood’s dogged sonic crusade continues. This CD documents a Bastard Noise live excursion recorded at Atmosphere in Osaka during their Japanese tour, which saw dates with fellow angrier-than-thou noisemongers Corrupted and Unholy Grave. The show consists of a single unrelenting and profoundly disturbing wave of wailing, clunking and screeching that lasts for almost 40 minutes. It is guaranteed to have your girlfriend questioning how anyone could ever call this stuff music and it is titled “Overtures For A Planet Destroyed”.

Pissed Happy Child


8 Have you noticed how Liars records always need a hook? There was the first one where everyone was like “hey look! Karen O’s boyfriend made a record! Even the guys she fucks are creative!”. Then there was the witches one and the last one was self-titled so that had the automatic “this record is just us trying to be us” thing going on. Apparently Sisterworld has something to do with the band moving to LA and becoming obsessed with how people define themselves as individuals in such a morosely homogenised city. Maybe everyone should just forget about punchy one-line summaries and focus on the fact that everything these guys touch turns to gold.

Whippy Milk-Shake

Saxon Shore
It Doesn’t Matter
Broken Factory

8 In a just world Saxon Shore would be as big as former drummer J. Tillman’s other band. That’s Fleet Foxes btw. Or at least as popular as Explosions In The Sky who they make look rank amateurs at the whole really-quiet-then-really-loud game. Maybe they should send their albums to Sir David. Twining epic post-rock with polar bears lounging on melting icebergs worked for Sigur Ros right?

Raymond White

Mordant Music
Mordant Music

8 While the broadsheets, monthly glossies and guitar-centric blogs continue to salivate over post-dubstep (what does that even mean?) it might be a good time to point out that that whole sound has already been handily pre-packaged and co-opted into a new line of Fabric mix CD’s for easy mass consumption. If you want something genuinely strange and exciting that retains the ghost of a two-step beat then you could do worse than throw your lot in with Baron Mordant and his truly of-kilter productions.

Marcus Thatcher

Bass Clef
May The Bridges I Burn Light The Way
Blank Tapes

8 After a barren period for bass music long players (the Silkie and 2562 albums aside) we get sent two odd-ball gems in one month. Along with the Mordant mini masterpiece reviewed elsewhere you might as well pick this one up as well to help restore your faith in UK bass and beats. You’re hardly likely to get Theremin’s, cowbells or the Hackney Memorial Free Jazz Marching Band playing brass on the latest Rusko 12” are you?

Custard Cream Chucker

20-Buck Spin
9 This is technically a reissue but unless you were one of the 200 people who managed to get a copy of the Wild Power vinyl pressing this CD will be your first chance to get a hold of these seven tracks of Pentagram and St Vitus worship so we’ll treat it as a new release. Hope that’s OK? Instead of getting all hot and flustered about Bass Brian from Lightning Bolt playing drums on this album just try putting the record on, staring at whatever that winged and horned thing is on the sleeve and enjoy some true metal.

Ball Scraper

Pyramids With Nadja
Pyramids With Nadja
Hydra Head Records

5 What do you do once you’ve shoegazed yourself into a corner and your post-metal is making even yourself yawn? Buddy up with another band that are having the same problem and hope for the best! The results sadly do not demonstrate this course of action as wholly sound.

James Plot-King

Opiate Sun
Caldo Verde

8 Jesu consistently continues to be the best thing that Broadrick’s touched. Warped, shimmering patina’s of crackling noise and lurching stabs of volume that catch you off guard all topped with a vocal that sounds like it’s being phoned in by Orpheus as he descends.

God’s Flesh

Spin Spin The Dogs
Leave Me In Leicester
Gringo Records

8 British guitar music’s best kept worst secret. A bit like witnessing human birth, a Spin Spin The Dogs live performance is simultaneously disturbing and engrossing. The band somehow manages to make a virtue of sounding like four people playing four very different songs. No mean feat. With the arrival of mythic London avant-garde musician Luke Younger on guitar to complement Dean Hinks’ Seinfeld inspired bass lines, John Wilson’s staccato drums and unhinged front man Vincent Larkin’s bizarre ramblings only a fool would bet against their imminent world domination.

Gypsy Billy

The Soft Pack
The Soft Pack

8 We interviewed these guys in the magazine way back when they used to be called The Muslims. That name proved a little bit of a hot topic so now they’re named after a brand of dildo instead. I scratched my noggin for a good few minutes trying to rustle up a funny dildo analogy or metaphor but came up blank. Sorry about that. Who needs dildo gags when your record sounds like the prefect puzzle of Jonathan Richman fronting the Velvets with nagging Replacements hooks smattered all over the place for good measure though huh?

Sterling Moss

…And Then We Saw Land
Full Time Hobby

4 There’s something far too optimistic and smug about folktronica. Maybe it’s something to do with fusing bucolic and traditional music with forward thinking electronic instrumentation but it’s always seemed like the aural equivalent of owning a Prius to me.

Jam 69

Frightened Rabbit
The Winter Of Mixed Drinks
Fat Cat

3 Someone is forever playing this band on the office stereo then not owning up to it. I guess that says it all. Indulgent, schmaltz stuffed indie that you should be ashamed to own up to liking in public.

Kelis Alimony

Built To Spill
There Is No Enemy
ATP Records

8 If you can’t figure out what the hell Dan Bejar is singing about on the last Destroyer record, you find the guy from Modest Mouse’s vocal like nails down a chalk board and you want to sock the guy from the Mountain Goats for making ever album he puts out like a Catholic act of confession then don’t worry: you are not alone. Just listen to Built To Spill. The faultless indie-rock band that make a Pavement reunion seem utterly pointless.

Peter Shilton

Vice v8n1 Literary Reviews

Edired bu Johan Kugelberg

Sure there have probably been lots of books published about The Velvet Underground. Possibly hundreds. Maybe even thousands. Wait a second, let me look on Amazon. There you go, 2,869 results. That’s a lot of books about one band from New York right there but if there was ever an act worthy of getting eulogized betwixt a pair of heavy duty covers on glossy paper to highlight just how mind-boggalingly good they were then the Velvets get our vote. And, if you are going to buy just one book about the band it might as well be a huge, chunky one with an exhaustive amount of unpublished interviews, images and ephemera that you can leave in your loo and then time how long people spend in there oohing and ahing over it.

Jake Saltiel
Self Published

Jake Saltiel lived for much of the 80’s in squats around Ladbroke Grove with various anarchists, criminals and drug addicts before winding up in Hong Kong and India where he found many other individuals of a similar bent. The body of the book is made up of a mix of snatches of prose and dialogue plonked next to italicized musings. It’s a bit like that guy in the wheelchair in Oz who breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience occasionally with lyrical bits of philosophy that offer a bit a meta-narrative. Don’t worry though, there’s still plenty of talk of Molotov cocktails and railing against the system, Old Bill and whatever else is at hand at any given time to make it worth a read.

Johnny Ryan

Johnny Ryan is our favourite person who makes comics in the whole wide world. That should be abundantly obvious purely by dint of the fact that we get him to draw a page at the back of the magazine each and every month. I am not going to lie, when we are putting the mag together every month it is Johnny’s page that I take a look at before anything else just so that I can giggle uncontrollably like a three year old for five minutes straight. Our blind faith in everything he touches turning to gold aside you really should go and pick up Prison Pit. You may remember Nick Gazin talking to Johnny about the book in the Moments Like This Never Last issue a couple of months back and Nick knows more about funny books than most people so heed him when he tells you that it’s the best thing Johnny has ever put his name to. It’s a violent, brutal and often truly disgusting black and white romp around what looks like the face of a moon inhabited by barbarian, wrestling aliens with regenerating heads and worms with cunts for faces. Sold? You should be.


Distort is a punk and hardcore ‘zine that comes out of Australia. We actually got sent issues 22 and 23 as well AS ISSUE 24 in a bundle and they were all totally great but #24 is basically a scrap book issue with a tonne of great cuttings from punk pillar to post. It is all photocopied and stuck on the page just like ‘zines are actually meant to be and ends up being like a proper paper version of that Fucked Up & Photocopied book that everyone went bananas for last year. You get fliers, interviews, reviews, photos and letters from the early 80’s through to right now, from Rocky Erikson & The Aliens to Cold Sweat. Distort is one of, if not the, best paper punk ‘zines that has come through our letter box in an age and issue 25 comes with an Extortion 7” in case you needed any more of an incentive to subscribe.

Edited by Jacques Boyreau

While coffee table books eulogizing the lost art of the 12” sleeve as a palette for creativity and oddity are a dime a dozen this may be the first book to pull together sleeves from the arguably odder world of home videos. Fantagraphics have really gone to town ferreting out films you are almost guaranteed never to have seen or heard of including Tentacle (a pre-cursor to Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus), The Toolbox Murders (“bit by bit he carved a nightmare!”) and Stunt Rock (concerning a stunt man who plays guitar in a rock band). As well as scanning in the back of the sleeves as well as the front so you get the blurbs which are often stranger than the covers (“Home safety can be fun with Gary Coleman!”) the whole thing is packaged in a slip-case VHS sized sleeve. It’s a shame Christmas has already been and gone as this would make a bullet-proof gift for anyone with taste.

Vice v7n12 Interview: Iain Banks

Another interview with a big hero of mine for the Vice annual Fiction Issue. Again a longer edit than the version that saw print.


But Iain Banks Still Likes a Drink a Can’t Stand Wars

Even if you’ve never read an Iain Banks novel and think you’ve never heard of the guy, you are familiar with him. You just don’t know that you are. He’s part of the fabric, part of the framework, part of the furniture. Although the belligerent Scot would never like to be considered in that ballpark, his place in the late 20th century order of things was established by his early work, such as The Wasp Factory and Consider Phlebas, his novel’s iconic design and the rate at which they appeared.

His ability to simultaneously forge a career as a successful and roundly applauded writer of both science fiction and books that didn’t have robots and spaceships in them remains unique amongst modern bookmen. His latest novel, Transition, is the first to marry his two disciplines between a single pair of covers and if you haven’t read Raw Spirit, his wild eulogy to his native Scotland’s whiskey industry, then you should stop reading this and go read that instead.

Vice: Let’s start with your latest novel. Transition has no “M” on its cover and despite a distinct lack of Culture, it contains elements that pitch it in “M” territory. Is the “M” gone forever to make way for a synergy of your science fiction and straight fiction work?
Iain Banks:
Nope, the “M” will be back next year, plastered firmly onto the cover of the new Culture novel. Probably. That is, it will be unless I, or my publishers, suddenly decide it really needs to be dropped. Having, with Transition, published what could certainly be seen as a science fiction novel with no “M”, it'd be even easier now to make that leap. I'm pretty sanguine about it; wouldn't bother me either way. As to Transition representing the future, again, no. As I say, it's back to the Culture, improbably spacious spaceships, sarcastic drones and exotic weaponry for the next project. I start writing the blighter in January. No title yet, but the plot is coming along very promisingly. Should be a cracker.

Much like the Culture of your "M" novels, Transition offers the reader a society that seems fairly utopian in the form of the Concern. What is it with the C's and seemingly idyllic societies with complex and often malevolent controlling elements?
No idea. Certainly, the thing with the C's is just coincidence. Anyway, I think there are more differences than similarities between the Culture and the Concern. The Culture is what you might call self-consciously utopian. Utopia is what it's aiming for—what it's continually attempting to exemplify within itself and to promote beyond its borders. It's profoundly and continually democratic and transparent, plus it's run, day-to-day, by the Minds, by ultra high-level AIs with very definite opinions about how a post-scarcity society ought to be run, basically so that those doing the running at all times smell impeccably of roses. The Concern is basically just another managerialist, semi-imperialist, top-down power system run by humans with all the usual human motivations and failings. It espouses liberal, progressive policies, but the reality is more about those in power using that power to keep that power. It just happens to have unparalleled access to other realities, and it has a secret agenda regarding alien intervention, or even contact.

Transition could be read as an attack on US foreign policy. It inverts our reality pitching the Christians as terrorists in an Asian-controlled world. It also dwells on torture, which could easily reflect Guantanamo.
Well, it wasn't meant to be, but I keep getting asked that question so maybe I'm going to have to start saying yes, it was. Let's just say I wasn't especially thinking of US foreign policy when I wrote it. The torture aspect is something I've been thinking about for a long time and finally decided I've got right, so for what it's worth, here's what I think: torture is always wrong, should always be banned and should never, ever be practised or tolerated—even at second hand, as it were by the state. If there is ever genuinely a situation where torturing somebody will directly save lives, and that happens extremely rarely, then the person who might be contemplating doing the torturing should know that they will subsequently be prosecuted and punished for it, even if they get a medal as well. That should concentrate the fuckers' minds. What it boils down to is that a society that condones torture to protect itself doesn't deserve to be protected in the first place.

You have dealt with the concepts of war and its religious justification in Look To Windward, which you also dedicated to Gulf War veterans. Complicity offered shadows of the Gulf conflict. 9/11 is dealt with in Dead Air and The Steep Approach To Garbadale could be read as commenting on the war on terror. Would it be safe to say that you feel pretty strongly about war on terror and the West's attitudes and approach towards it?
Yes, war exerts a certain grisly glamour, and the ways that societies justify wars to themselves fascinates me. Basically, though, I'm against them. If you're a person, don't start fights. If you're a state or a society, don't start wars. You have a right to defend yourself, but that's all. Probably most people would agree with both these statements, but then, in the real world, it gets more complicated. Anyway, for what it's worth I think that the war on terror is about as sensible—and about as winnable—as the war on drugs. Again, I wouldn't want to pile too much this-is-what-I-think responsibility onto Transition's shoulders, but I guess taken with the rest of the books you mention, plus the Culture novels in general, it marks out the fuzzy, arguably woolly, boundaries of my thoughts on the subject.

Within the sci-fi novels, the sceptre of war and the role of the state in leading society to war looms equally large. Despite being set in the utopian-ish world of the Culture, Consider Phlebas takes place in a time of war between the Culture and the Idrian Empire, and the inhabitants of the Culture are often controlled and manipulated. I’m thinking here of Guregh in The Player of Games or Zakalwe manipulating others in Use of Weapons. Special Circumstances have a creepy CIA air to them.
I think you'll find Special Circumstances would find it hard to suppress a snort of derision were the CIA and its activities to be dragged to their attention, but I know what you mean. I think it's made opaquely clear in Phlebas that the Culture agonises for decades over what to do about the Idirans and their programme of conquerance and occupation before finally going to war to stop them and even then, of course, the Peace Faction—forming a significant minority of the Culture—splits off, and nearly a millennium later still thinks of itself as the real Culture, as opposed to these tooled-up interferers everybody else in the galaxy calls the Culture. As for Gurgeh, well he does kind of put himself in harm's way when he messes with Contact and Special Circumstances and when he cheats during the course of a game. The thing is, he's in an extremely unusual situation, and I'd disagree with the notion that Culture citizens are often controlled and manipulated by the Minds. In fact, they almost never are except in the sort of vanishingly rare circumstances that attend Gurgeh and his predicament. Frankly, the average Mind would consider trying to manipulate an individual—Culture citizen or not—way beneath it, and I mean several very deep layers beneath it, deeply dishonourable! Seriously, it would be seen as potentially shamefully demeaning and utterly catastrophic for the only thing a Mind really values, which is its own good name and reputation. If, perish the thought, the individual involved ever found out, or—much, much worse—if any other Minds found out... one shivers to think. So, no, the Culture isn't meant to say too much about our own affairs except, perhaps, to point out how a genuinely benign power would conduct itself. In my opinion, anyway. Your mileage may differ...

You have a reputation for structural complexity, whether it is the unreliable narrators or multiple narrators of The Bridge or Walking On Glass, the parallel worlds that Transitionaries can move between in Transition or the alternate, simultaneously ascending and descending chapters in Use of Weapons. When you come to approach a new novel, is formal innovation and complexity a concern or does the narrative naturally dictate such courses of action?
It has to come from the narrative. Actually, in the case of Use of Weapons, it came from Ken MacLeod; he suggested the ascending/descending chapters idea and in doing so effectively rescued a manuscript I was going to treat as a lost cause and just forget about. Doing that sort of stuff for its own sake means you're just being self-indulgent, or trying to show off. It might look cool to some people but you'll lose more readers than you'll impress.

Alcohol and drugs recur frequently in your novels, from the Culture's drug glands to the lifestyle of Prentice McHoan in The Crow Road and Cameron Colley in Complicity. Transition’s Tarnsitionaries move between alternate dimensions via the injection of Septus and you detailed the world of whiskey in Raw Spirit. As an admitted indulger, did their presence in your work reflect their presence in your life? And now that you don’t indulge, will they disappear?
No, I still drink; I have a reputation as a champagne socialist to maintain, after all. Drugs seem to have lost their appeal. Could be just an age thing, though I still believe our drug laws are stupid, wrong-headed, irrational and almost certainly create net harm. I have tried writing while high, stoned, drunk, whatever, but it doesn't work. You might think it has worked at the time, but when you re-read sober, it's generally just embarrassing drivel. I suspect I'd still do coke now and again but a) my girlfriend is very anti-drugs and b) it's hard to justify, given the amount of violence associated with the manufacture and distribution of the stuff. By indulging you're sending money to some deeply unpleasant people. I miss it a little, but only a little. I guess having taken a few drugs over the years has had the effect of making me confident about writing about them, but I wouldn't want to overstate their importance in either my life or my work.

Your work rate is very high. In these uncertain financial times, do you think that more writers will have to take a more workmanlike approach to the craft of writing novels? You are releasing an abridged audio-book version of Transition on iTunes. Do you think that similar methods will become standard operating procedure?
Hmm. That might be an effect. Equally possibly, people—writers and readers—might turn to wild fantasy to escape the grimness of reality. I wouldn't claim to be an authority on the state of the novel, but it still looks pretty healthy to me and I think the idea it will somehow cease to be is just silly. Theatre didn't disappear when cinema came along and paintings didn't stop being painted because somebody invented the camera. The iTunes version of Transition is an interesting experiment, but not really that different from a standard CD audio book. I guess if it's judged to make money—either directly or by selling more copies of the CD audio or paper versions—then it will become standard procedure. The Sony eReader and the Kindle represent a more radical change; how those affect book buying will likely be profound.

What were the kind of things that set you on your way to creating the Sacrifice Poles in the early-80s?
Lots of influences—many of them literary, including a lot of science fiction novels and short stories, many not—Marx Brothers movies, The Goon Show, Monty Python and various films and TV, as you'd expect. My parents were always very loving and supportive and my extended family—especially on my dad's side—meant a lot. Plus I was lucky to have some very good English teachers—they made a difference too. The Sacrifice Poles? Frankly, I can't remember where they came from.