Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Valentina Magaletti-drummer extraordinaire!

Photo by Cris Andina.

In the 2003 film 'School of Rock' someone is asked to name 'two great (female) drummers', the answer comes back Sheila E and Meg White (1), fair enough but in an updated version that answer should include Valentina Magaletti. Valentina was drummer on Blackest Ever Black releases; Raime and Moin. She also played and recorded with Shit and Shine and is drummer with London psych band The Oscillation and Tomaga. After a recent gig in Hackney she agreed to an interview.

Q. When you play live (with The Oscillation) you look like someone who is in their element, doing what you love-how did you get into drumming and develop as a drummer? On your 'Facebook' page it says you studied Law in Italy, do you run these two activities alongside each other or are you a full time musician?
VM. I am a full time musician. I enjoyed studying and I am very happy about my qualifications, they might come handy when we'll need to sue Bon Jovi or someone like that for copyrights infringement!

Q. You play in, and with, quite a range of bands. Do these different collaborations change the way you have to play and interact with the other musicians?
VM. I guess I have my own drum style which I try to adapt to different musical adventures.
Interacting with other musicians is the most important part of my job.You never stop learning and sharing which is the essence of what music should entail. 
Q. Tomaga's second album 'Futura Grotesk' is out soon, how does the recording process evolve? Is it the capturing of improvisation or is it more structured? Do you find playing live or recording more satisfying?
VM. Futura Grotesk is the first studio album.We only had a cassette called "Sleepy Jazz for Tired Cats" before this but it sold out in few weeks. Tom and I have different approaches when it comes to recording. I am very intuitive and I base most of my work on improvisation. Mine is like a rhythmic and dynamic stream of conciousness.

On the other hand, Tom likes planning and scheming. He loves structures and he did a fantastic job editing most of our sessions that subsequently made it onto the album tracks. I find both recording and playing live very satisfying in different ways. 
Q. Tomaga's music is experimental and instrumental, would you see it as the musical equivalent of abstract art, the transposing of ideas and concepts, experiences and emotions into another form?(2)

VM. I won't be calling or defining what we are doing "art". It is a mere expression of how we feel transposed into frequencies, pulses and drones.
Q. A few years ago two TV pundits were sacked in the UK for saying that women were incapable of being soccer lines people due to being women! Do you come across that sort of attitude in the music world, that women are suited to/incapable of certain things due to their sex?

VM. That sort of attitude doesn't interest me or affect me in the slightest. In the Western world women have no limitations as to what they can or can't do. I only think it is a shame there aren't as many female drummers as there should be!
Q. Social theorists suggest that gender is something we are socialised into rather than it expressing 'nature', that gender is from the outside in. Do you think women are finding more freedom to explore and express themselves or are gender stereotypes still very constraining?

VM. It is a complex question. It entails an elaboration of what is meant by gender. Physical attributes shouldn't be a limitation to freedom of expression. You are the only one imposing limits on yourself. If you feel like expressing yourself playing the drums or any other instrument you should simply go for it and avoid frustration.
Q. Often in music and wider society women are presented for men's gratification. What role models and cultural resources have you drawn on or do you see around that can help women resist a sexist, patriarchal culture?
VM. I don't have any role models and my cultural resource is my extensive record collection. I am not interested in sexist or patriachal culture, it is a laughable matter as far as my possibly privileged and open minded background is concerned.
Q. Who has inspired you both musically and more generally? A while ago you posted an article about a female drummer Viola Smith. Could you elaborate? 
VM. Viola Smith was a great drummer and an inspiring woman. I guess her success was mainly due to the fact thst she was one of the first woman to play drums in an orchestra. Her set up was fab! She used temple blocks mounted on the kick drum which is something I am currently thinking of doing. She is into happiness, drums and wine- a winning combo!
There are so many great musicians and drummers who I worship. I am a big fan of Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Billy Higgins, Steve Nobles, Charles Hayward etc.
Q. Which current musicians and bands interest and excite you?

VM.  My musical taste is very eccentric. I listen to pretty much everything that is violent and beautiful. Some examples of stuff that I love are The Necks, the thing, Charles Cohen, Silver Apples (who we are currently touring with),The Heliocentrics, Gnod, Shit and Shine. Alessandro Alessandroni, Terry Riley, Steve Lacey, Delia Derbishire, Stereolab, Man from Uranus etc etc....

Much thanks to Valentina for the interview.

(1) IMDb 'School of Rock' 2003 'Quotes'

(2) Hands in the Dark website.

* School of Rock, 2003,  Paramount Pictures Corp.



    Friday, 10 October 2014

    UKIP-an easy ride?

    Like many on the Left I was very troubled and puzzled by the UK Independence Party’s (UKIP) strong showing in the Local and European elections and then alarmed again by their doing so well in the 9-10-14 by-elections. Were these protest votes against the big three Parties, an anti (political) establishment message, an anti-EU or anti-immigration vote?
    UKIP’s policies in 2010 included attacks on welfare provision, more prison places, privatisation of parts of the National Health Service, a driving down of immigration and increasing military spending by 40% (1); nothing very alternative there! The UKIP candidate in the Clacton by-election had previously been the Tory MP so not exactly an anti-establishment vote!
    Why would a party that is roughly equivalent to the right wing of the Tories appeal to so many, even (apparently) to people with a habit of voting Labour?
    In the ‘i’ newspaper of 26 May 14 Ian Burrell argued that UKIP had done so well despite the antipathy of the media towards them, that UKIP “enjoyed it’s remarkable success at the European and local elections without the backing of a single national newspaper”(2). Burrell then went on to cite The Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph as printing negative comments about voting for UKIP (2).
    Burrell in effect distances the media from UKIP’s success representing them as in opposition to each other. But this is misleading. The reason UKIP is doing relatively well at elections is that it is a party political representation of the right wing propaganda that people have been exposing themselves to on a daily basis day after day for years. UKIP is the reactionary xenophobic columns of right-wing daily tabloids come to life, it is an embodiment of the fears and prejudices that people have read and internalised.
    When people hear UKIP leader Nigel Farage they hear someone repeating back to them the views that have become their own; his blokey reactionary persona is a personification of the culture of the tabloids, teetering on the edge of xenophobia, framing immigrants as ‘the other’. It is little wonder that UKIP is doing so well, all the ground work has been done for them by the media, all they have to do is key into the messages that people have read and internalised!
    Gramsci wrote about ‘cultural hegemony’ (4) and at the moment UKIP is exploiting the hegemonic discourse within UK culture, a reasonably easy thing to do  as the media have done all the foot work for them. The encouraging thing for the Left is that despite this cultural hegemony a recent poll showed that most of the public are to the left of Labour on important issues supporting nationalisation of railways and energy companies (3), and despite a real lack of coverage The Green Party, the most overtly Left wing in the mainstream, came in 4th in the recent European election.
    Obviously supporting state nationalisation of key industries is a long way from anarchism but it does show that despite 40 years of neoliberal economics and narrative many people still have an intuitive desire for social justice and greater equality. People know that they are living in a political economy that is shaped to serve the interests of the elite. Unfortunately they have been led to look for alternatives and solutions in wrong places.
    The Situationists wrote about ‘the spectacle’: the seamless representation of life and society from a capitalist perspective that we are surrounded by and immersed in with alternative narratives pushed ever further into the margins.
    The question for anarchists and others on the Left is how to overcome the cultural hegemony that UKIP have keyed into; how to disrupt the top down narrative of neoliberal capitalism and alert people to alternative ways of organising society.
    (1) Booth, R. (7-3-13) ‘What would a Ukip Britain look like’, The Guardian (online).
    (2) Burrell, I. (26-5-14) ‘Media on Monday: Broadcasters and newspapers are not the king-makers they once were’, p.41, i newspaper issue 1091.
    (3) Assinder, N. (5-11-13) ‘Public Far to the Left of Labour Party Finds Poll’, International Business Times (online).
    (4) Thomas, M. (ed)(2012) ‘Antonio Gramsci: Working-Class Revolutionary’, Workers’ Liberty, London.

    Tuesday, 7 October 2014

    The Restarts: An interview.

    Photo by Joschi Herczeg.

    After coming across the video for 'Drone Attack' online I made contact with left wing punk band The Restarts to see if they would be interested in doing an interview, founder member and bass player Kieran agreed and here it is! 

    Q. Where would you place The Restarts politically? You started in the mid 1990's have your politics changed over time?

    • Restarts have always sat firmly left of centre, anti racist, non nationalist and pro equality. Basically anything that is pro human rights and against bigotry. We have had several line up changes over the last 18 years but our political standing has stayed pretty much the same, if not more resolute. We don’t really have an agenda, we aren’t politicians but rather fuel creative anger from issues that affect us. Different topics get flagged up locally and internationally which forces people to look at them and address them. With the recognition of civil partnership in the UK folks were forced to have an opinion on the matter, where as before I felt the whole gay issue was relatively overlooked in punk rock. In a way it becoming a national debate has had a positive impact against homophobia within the scene. We like to support that.

    Q. You are based in London and on your website you mention being involved in the squat scene early on-how have you seen the Tories' attacks on squatting affecting people?
    • Yes when I first moved to London everyone I knew squatted. The squatting community encompassed a large demographic of folks from punks, anarchists, travellers, crusties and activists. All of which you would see at free festies, squat gigs, and rave parties (when combined with live music stages). Now a days I don’t know many people that squat, of course there still is people at it, but they are usually younger folk who don’t mind being evicted every 6 months. The big push by the Tories against squatting was an unnecessary campaign, a show of muscle flexing to drive home their right wing position. It is almost like if they do something that appears left wing (approving gay marriage) they then will match it with a campaign to keep the old school Tories on board - attack the great unwashed squatters and at the same time make homelessness illegal (shutting down soup kitchens in Westminster etc).

    Q. You're a band that tours the UK and Europe, what would your take be on how people are feeling and responding to neoliberal austerity being imposed across Europe?
    • In general it sows the seeds of resentment and inequality, alone seeing the audacity of Bank CEO's still receiving 6 figure bonuses while the tax paying public absorbs the debt leaves people feeling a sense of outrage. We take to the streets and protest but within days we will be distracted by some other sensational new story and then it just becomes last weeks news! It is incredible but somehow by opening up all these channels of communication it has left the average citizen SO distracted we have trouble holding on to one thought for more than a minute! 
    •  The most common complaint we hear about on the road is a stronger police force clamping down on any form of activism. The erosion of civil liberties and of course places like the USA seems to be just an endless catalogue of the worst examples of police brutality with little or no repercussions. Totally sickening to watch!

    Q. The Restarts have had a few personnel changes-have those shifts in collaboration effected your music and lyrics?
    • We have always had a 3 way input, lyrically but usually falls within the confines of our left of centre standpoint. With new members they will bring in their particular influences and ideas. One of our latest songs Independentzia speaks about Basque independence. Robin our guitarist wrote it as he and his Basque girlfriend Itxi visit quite often and have an understanding of the injustice going on over there. So we do change our platform from time to time. Musically we started out thrashy and fast and then had a pull towards steady paced 77 style rock’n’roll with some ska elements thrown in. Since Darragh’s departure we now seem to be steering back towards getting faster again (fighting against the were getting “old, fat and slow” tag!).
    • We also like I have some fun songs to allow people to have a fun night out when going to a gig - it can’t all be dreadful bleak musings of the end of the world! We are also aware of not coming across as preachy or above people. punk rock is like an on going conversation… and so should the gigs be. 

    Q. You have been involved in the' punk scene' since the mid 1990s's. As a band who sing about social issues have there been any changes in that scene that encourage/discourage you?
    • I personally get encouraged when I see the new generation of punks taking action and getting involved. You can see the influence of bands and their ideologies on young kids who have taken up the mantle of organising gigs, protests, action groups etc. Some of our best gigs have been set up by teenagers who are very young but super motivated. Sometimes its good to take a chance on the new kids rather than stick with the older established organisers.

    Q. You have spent 20 years in activism and stimulating others to thought-how have you avoided becoming jaded or cynical?
    • I dunno, I think it is all too easy to become jaded and drop out. I feel a responsibility to the younger punks. Playing live we get the benefit of performing for an appreciative audience, so it is a positive exchange. In my personal life I have moved into facilitating  music workshops for rehabilitation for vulnerable adults, prisoners and young offenders. This reinforces my beliefs that Punk rock and music CAN be a force for change. Not just a teen age fad that you grow out of when its time to get a ‘real job’. I am employed by an organisation called Good Vibrations that uses Gamelan (Indonesian bronze percussion) to help build key life skills. We have also recently started a “Rock School” workshop at Behtlem Royal hospital dealing with music tech and playing more traditional western instruments. It is very empowering work especially when you see direct results in peoples well being.

    Q. An overtly left wing, pro-gay, anti racist stance would be pretty normal in UK punk, at least in my limited experience. Is that true of European and American punk?
    • I would hate to think i am generalising but punk is such a vast entity that I think each continent you have mentioned can embody all different kinds of punk! What we as a band need to think about is which section of punk we are playing to? I know we span a lot of different categories. I can’t fully explain why but I have somewhat of an idea. We have been labelled in the past as “street punk”  “oi?” we also get called “Anarcho punk”, “thrash punk”, “DIY” and "Harcore punk”. What the hell does it all mean?? lol I actually think it is a good thing as it can bring different groups together. I love when someone tells me they hate our ska songs yet I see them dancing away into pit when we play them. I also like that mohicaned street punks show up who may not be into “political punk” yet let themselves be open to listening to what we have to say. I remember from being a young punk that we are all just carving our path in life and you should never write someone off for being into a certain style or genre of music. 
    • I think the European punk movement is very much centred around squat and youth centres and running your own autonomous spaces where as in America they are always struggling to find all ages venues due to their ridiculous liquor licenses (drinking age of 21). Doing bar shows in the States is like shooting yourself in the foot as teenagers can't get in. You are better off knocking drinking on the head and playing all ages gigs.
    • Politically America and Canada seems to be a healthy mixture of politically or socially driven punk, largely due to the great bands in the 80’s who paved the way. There also is an anti political sentiment usually harboured by previous bands falling out with each other over differences. Much like the divide in the UK during the 80’s which was Exploited, GBH vs Conflict, Crass etc. Meanwhile I grew up across the pond in Canada loving all the bands and only finding out about the divide by Exploited slagging off Crass on their ”On Stage” album. Then discovering Special Duties and their Bullshit Crass ep. It was very sad seeing North American punks importing this attitude and applying it to local scenes. Very counter productive.

    Q. Obviously the internet has changed how people access music, do you notice any other effects on how people 'relate' to a band?
    • Yes it is very interesting how todays independent music works! With online streaming and torrent downloading people can access everything they like and learn about new genres in a very short amount of time. I think it is a good thing, but again always leaves the artist at odds when it comes to trying to cover your costs. As an independent band we do alright. Having our music and tshirts available from our own webshop allows us to not only rely on what we can sell at shows but helps us out all year round, particularly helping out with rehearsal costs. 
    • Fans of music have much more of an insight as to what the bands get up to due to social networking and music sites for bands. In a way has levelled the playing field, knocking down a few of the barriers that come up with the inevitable "putting people on a pedestal” syndrome that music scenes tend to create. I think it is a positive step forward for independent music.
    People can find out about the Restarts at and on Facebook 

    Wednesday, 1 October 2014

    'Pride'-a catalyst?

    'Pride'-a catalyst?

    I recently went to see the film 'Pride' which is based on events in the mid 1980s when a group of Gay activists (LGSM) decided to raise money to help support the striking miners. Despite encountering reluctance from the miners they make contact with a small mining village in South Wales. The film explores the relational dynamics within the group, within the mining community and between the two as the village and then the wider mining community (generally) overcome their prejudice, eventually reciprocating the solidarity shown to them by the Lesbian and Gay community in London. I went to see the film in Leicester Square where at the end there was spontaneous applause. Afterwards I had a look on social media to see what other people thought of the film and someone had posted that it made them feel nostalgic for a time they hadn't known. While in no way wanting to question this person's experience or self diagnosis I wonder if they were really experiencing 'nostalgia'. Nostalgia is a looking back to something that 'was', it can easily be impotent. My own experience watching the film was that it evoked a sense of yearning; for community, for solidarity, for hope, for being able to live with a sense of purpose and in a way that makes a difference. These are the life experiences that we should all yearn for, what 'Pride' did so effectively was remind us of that.
    Mark Fisher in his book 'Ghosts of my Life' (1) writes about how we can be 'haunted' by a sense of what was, but also of what could have been, of lost possibilities and futures (2). This sense of being haunted and of alienation from, and frustration with, the lived present as so much less than we hoped for is something many of us experience but it is not something we should allow to dominate our thinking , emotions or view of what is possible. Rather this sense of 'hauntedness' should act as a catalyst propelling us into attempting to construct the sorts of community, relationships and positive activity that we feel the lack of.
    I suspect that is why 'Pride' has been such a powerful and inspiring film for people, it has reminded them of what is really important, of the value of what they are similarly experiencing or the need to find/build what they are missing. Our response to it should not be a sigh but a grateful recognition that it has rekindled the desire to experience the quality of communal, purposeful life, with all its up and downs, represented in the film.
    Each of us has to choose between replicating Bryan Adam's (dreadful) song 'Summer of '69' elevating the past as a 'golden age' or finding ways of transposing those feeling of hope and yearning that 'Pride' evoked into constructive action.

    (1) Fisher, M. (2014), 'Ghosts of my Life. Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures' Zero Books, Winchester.