26 May 2024

High Bias:
The Distorted History of the Cassette Tape


High Bias

High Bias: The Distorted History of the Cassette Tape, by Marc Masters, was published last year, the sixtieth anniversary of the compact cassette. The first in-depth history of the subject, the book shows “how the cassette tape emerged—as a technological development, a marketed product, a cultural icon—and how things have changed because of the cassette tape.”

Masters covers the invention of the cassette by Lou Ottens for Philips in 1963, and the introduction of the Sony Walkman personal stereo in 1979. Ottens appeared in the documentary Cassette (directed by Zack Taylor, Georg Petzold, and Seth Smoot), and Masters draws on unused extracts from that film’s interviews with Ottens. The book also looks at the recent cassette comeback, a resurgence in sales similar to the vinyl revival, albeit on a much smaller scale.

Miniaturisation led to even smaller analogue cassette formats, the tiniest being the picocassette developed by Dictaphone. Compact cassettes were the highest-selling physical music format between 1984 and 1990, though they were overtaken by CDs in 1991. Two books, The Art of Sound by Terry Burrows and Analogue by Deyan Sudjic, are devoted to cassette decks, boomboxes, and other vintage audio equipment.

30 March 2024

The Celebration Tour in Rio


The Celebration Tour in Rio

Madonna will end her Celebration Tour, which began last year, with a concert on the beach at Copacabana in Rio on 4th May. The event, which is expected to be attended by more than a million people, will be broadcast live by the Brazilian TV channel Globo. (The Celebration Tour in Rio will be the first live TV transmission of a Madonna concert since HBO broadcast the Drowned World Tour in 2001.)

One of the highlights of the Celebration Tour came when Kylie Minogue joined Madonna on stage earlier this month to sing Can’t Get You Out of My Head. The set list was modified slightly at some venues: Madonna performed an a cappella version of Express Yourself on the American leg of the tour, she sang Sodade in Lisbon, and I Love New York in New York. On selected dates, she sang Frozen, Take a Bow, and a cover version of This Little Light of Mine. In Chicago, she performed This Used to Be My Playground live for the first time in her career.

26 March 2024

High Voltage x Speech Odd


High Voltage / Speech Odd
Watching You

Speech Odd’s second album is out now on cassette and CD (limited to fifty copies of each format), with an LP release to follow later this year (limited to 100 copies). The album is a collaboration with High Voltage, and each band has contributed four songs.

Advertisement, the standout track from Speech Odd, is about state propaganda: “lying to gain power... you must be punished by people!” High Voltage’s lyrics are even more political: their tracks criticise an unnamed leader who falsely compares himself to a Buddhist deity. Seek the Power is written from his perspective: “i seek the power (power to rule)” [sic], and No Perfect Man accuses him of “pretending to be god”.

Speech Odd’s debut album was Oddworld, and they have also released the EP Promo 2022 and the single Control. Their merchandise includes a Die mo cracy t-shirt released earlier this year, a reference to the massacre of pro-democracy protesters in 2010.

High Voltage released their EP Watching You on CD in 2019, with a cover photo of Prayut Chan-o-cha’s eyes. Its title track is a reworking of Every Breath You Take, with the lyrics adapted to comment on state surveillance: “Be careful of what you do / Thai junta is watching you”. The music video for Vicious Circle, another track on the EP, includes newsreel footage of the 6th October 1976 massacre. (Wee Viraporn’s paper sculpture Watch! also implied that Prayut was monitoring Thai citizens.)

24 February 2024

Star Wars IV:
A New Hope


Star Wars IV

Star Wars IV: A New Hope will be shown at Prince Mahidol Hall in Salaya on 30th and 31st March, accompanied by the Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra performing the classic score by John Williams. The film has been shown several times before in Bangkok: in 2014 and 2016 at Bangkok Open Air Cinema Club, in 2015 at Cinema Winehouse, and in 2019 at Bangkok Screening Room.

30 January 2024

Metropolis


Metropolis

Fritz Lang’s silent masterpiece Metropolis will be shown at the Three Layer cafe in Bangkok on 3rd February, accompanied by live music performed by Kachisak Sa-artsri. The film will be introduced by Phassarawin Kulsomboon, director of Khon Boys (เด็กโขน).

Metropolis was previously shown at Bangkok Screening Room in 2019, and at Cinema Winehouse in 2018. It has been shown twice at the World Film Festival of Bangkok, in 2003 (with a live orchestra) and in 2014.

23 October 2023

Finally Enough Love:
50 Number Ones



Madonna released her dance remix album Finally Enough Love last year. An expanded version, Finally Enough Love: 50 Number Ones, was released a few months later as a CD triple album and a six-disc vinyl box set. The album features fifty tracks, including forty-nine of the fifty number ones Madonna has achieved on Billboard’s dance club songs chart. The title is a line from the lyrics to I Don’t Search I Find, from the Madame X album, and the text on the cover has been cut-and-pasted from Billboard’s website. Unfortunately, most of the tracks are edited versions, so this isn’t a definitive collection of Madonna remixes. (The full-length remixes are available on her back catalogue of 12" singles and maxi CDs, Justify My Love being a personal favourite.)

Of the fifty chart toppers, forty-nine were singles, the one exception being Madonna’s previous dance remix album, You Can Dance, as the entire album was counted as one entry on the dance club songs chart. 50 Number Ones features two tracks from You Can DanceEverybody and Physical Attraction—but one of the forty-nine singles, Causing a Commotion, is missing. This is odd, because it did reach number one on the dance club songs chart, and it’s clearly a song that Madonna still likes, as she sang it a cappella during yesterday’s performance of The Celebration Tour.

The 50 Number Ones track list is: Holiday, Like a Virgin, Material Girl, Into the Groove, Open Your Heart, Everybody, Physical Attraction, Like a Prayer, Express Yourself, Keep It Together, Vogue, Justify My Love, Erotica, Deeper and Deeper, Fever, Secret, Bedtime Story, Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, Frozen, Ray of Light, Nothing Really Matters, Beautiful Stranger, American Pie, Music, Don’t Tell Me, What It Feels Like for a Girl, Impressive Instant, Die Another Day, American Life, Hollywood, Me Against the Music, Nothing Fails, Love Profusion, Hung Up, Sorry, Get Together, Jump, 4 Minutes, Give It 2 Me, Celebration, Give Me All Your Lovin’, Girl Gone Wild, Turn Up the Radio, Living for Love, Ghosttown, Bitch I’m Madonna, Medellín, I Rise, Crave, and I Don’t Search I Find.

15 October 2023

The Celebration Tour



“I’m gonna tell you the story of my life, but I’m gonna do it through music and dance, so I hope you enjoy it.”
— Madonna

The Celebration Tour, Madonna’s eleventh world tour, began last night in London. (The show was originally scheduled to open on 27th July, but was postponed after the singer developed a severe bacterial infection.) Madonna will be performing in Europe, the US, Canada, and Mexico, with the final concert being held on 24th April 2024.

Unlike Madonna’s previous tours, which have all promoted individual album releases, The Celebration Tour is her first greatest hits or retrospective tour. The title comes from her 2009 compilation album Celebration. It’s also her first tour without a live band, as the music and backing vocals are all prerecorded. With almost thirty songs performed live, a platform suspended above the crowd, and a spectacular lighting rig, it’s Madonna’s most elaborate live show, after the relative intimacy of the Madame X Tour.

The tour is effectively an autobiography, conceived after Madonna cancelled plans to write and direct a biopic about herself. Montages of clips from Madonna’s music videos, extracts from Truth or Dare, newspaper headlines, and archive photos—including some from the Sex book—provide an audio-visual collage of her forty-year career. She wears an updated version of her notorious Blond Ambition World Tour conical bra, designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier, while she performs Vogue, Human Nature, and Crazy for You.

The full set list is: Nothing Really Matters, Everybody, Into the Groove, Burning Up, Open Your Heart, Holiday, Live to Tell, Like a Prayer, Erotica, Justify My Love, Hung Up, Bad Girl, Vogue, Human Nature, Crazy for You, Die Another Day, Don’t Tell Me, a cover version of Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, La Isla Bonita, Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, Bedtime Story, Ray of Light, Rain, Bitch I’m Madonna, and Celebration (featuring the chorus from Music). On the opening night, she also sang an a capella version of Little Star

Other songs—In This Life, The Beast Within, and I Don’t Search I Find—appear as prerecorded interludes. There is also a prerecorded version of Like a Virgin, in a medley with Michael Jackson performing Billie Jean. (Madonna previously sang a Like a Virgin and Billie Jean medley on The Virgin Tour.) In light of the credible child abuse allegations made against Jackson, lyrics like “Touched for the very first time” make the medley particularly inappropriate.

Madonna’s previous world tours are Who’s That Girl, Blond Ambition, The Girlie Show, Drowned World, Reinvention, Confessions, Sticky and Sweet, MDNA, Rebel Heart, and Madame X. The Virgin Tour was performed only in the US and Canada.

27 August 2023

Madame X:
Music from the Theater Experience


Madame X: Music from the Theater Experience Madame X: Music from the Theater Experience

Madonna’s Madame X Tour will be released on vinyl as a triple album on 22nd September. The album cover is reminiscent of Madonna’s Erotica album, and the back cover recreates a shot from the Erotica music video. A limited-edition picture-disc version is also available, with a cover showing Madonna’s eyes closed, as if in ecstasy.

This is the first release of the Madame X Tour on any physical format, as it was previously available only on digital streaming platforms. The digital version was titled Madame X: Music from the Theater Xperience, and the vinyl album has almost the same title, but it uses the conventional spelling of Experience.

The album track listing is: God Control, Dark Ballet, Human Nature (followed by an a cappella version of Express Yourself), Vogue, I Don’t Search I Find, American Life, Batuka, Fado Pechincha, Killers Who Are Partying, Crazy, Welcome to My Fado Club (incorporating La Isla Bonita), Extreme Occident, Rescue Me (a pre-recorded spoken interlude), Medellín, Frozen, Come Alive, Future, Like a Prayer, I Rise, Sodade, and Crave. The final two tracks were not included in the previous digital version.

19 August 2023

Pura Luka Vega



Filipino drag artist Pura Luka Vega is facing criminal charges after dressing as Jesus and singing Ama Namin, a Tagalog translation of the Lord’s Prayer. Vega posted a video of the performance on X (the new name for Twitter) on 9th July; the clip went viral, and the artist has since deleted it. Senators in the Philippines have condemned the video as blasphemous, and police are investigating complaints that it violates article 201 of the country’s penal code, which prohibits public indecency.

Artist Mideo Cruz faced the same charge in 2011, when his installation Poleteismo (‘polytheism’) was shown at the Kulo (‘boil’) exhibition in Manila, though he was ultimately vindicated by the Supreme Court in 2013. Kittredge Cherry’s book Art That Dares discusses previous examples of gay and feminine depictions of Christ.

04 August 2023

“Giorgia Meloni... Fascista!”
(‘Giorgia Meloni... Fascist!’)



Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is suing Brian Molko, lead singer of the British rock band Placebo, for defamation after he called her a fascist at a concert in Italy last month. During the performance, Molko said: “Giorgia Meloni—pezzo di merda! Fascista! Razzista! Vaffanculo!” (‘Giorgia Meloni—piece of shit! Fascist! Racist! Go fuck yourself!’).

After the concert, at Sonic Park Stupinigi in Nichelino on 11th July, local police investigated Molko for defaming a public institution (namely, the office of the Prime Minister). Meloni has now filed a personal lawsuit against Molko, accusing him of libel. (More than a decade ago, Madonna was sued by French politician Marine Le Pen after depicting her as a Nazi at a concert.)

30 July 2023

Rock Home Town



The lead singer of the Chinese rock band 暴力香槟 (‘violent champagne’) has been arrested in Shijiazhuang for ‘immoral behaviour’ after briefly dropping his shorts during a gig at Xiandan Livehouse on 22nd July. The crowd at the Rock Home Town festival encouraged him to go further, shouting: “Drop your pants!” (Earlier this year, a Chinese comedian was detained after using a People’s Liberation Army slogan as a punchline.)

10 June 2023

Paranoïa, Angels, True Love


Paranoia, Angels, True Love

Paranoïa, Angels, True Love, the new album from Christine and the Queens, was released yesterday. Madonna appears on three tracks—Angels Crying in My Bed, I Met an Angel, and Lick the Light Out—as an ethereal narrator known as Big Eye. The experimental concept album is available on LP and CD in a three-disc set, though a single-disc version (without I Met an Angel) has also been released.

Madonna also appears with Sam Smith on their new single Vulgar (released on the same day as Paranoïa, Angels, True Love), and she is featured on The Weeknd’s new single Popular. Previously, she appeared on a remix of Dua Lipa’s single Levitating, in the music video for Ariana Grande’s single God Is a Woman, on Maluma’s album 11:11, on Quavo’s album Quavo Huncho, on Annie Lennox’s album Songs of Mass Destruction, and on Britney Spears’ album In the Zone. She also collaborated with Saucy Santana on their single Material Gworrllllllll!

09 June 2023

Vulgar


Vulgar

Vulgar, the new single from Sam Smith and Madonna, was released on streaming platforms today. The song’s main theme—reappropriating ‘vulgar’ as a badge of pride, and not caring what anyone thinks—is hard to argue with. But if Smith and Madonna are trying to provoke, they’ve surely failed: “Do you know how to spell my name? / B-I-T-C-H / Go fuck yourself” feels like a rehash of Bitch I’m Madonna.

Madonna fares slightly better than Smith, with more namechecks in the lyrics (as she had in Into the Hollywood Groove, her collaboration with Missy Elliot). There’s also a callback to one of her biggest hits: “Let’s get into the groove”. Perhaps the best thing about the project is the cover photo, with Smith and Madonna’s initials (S&M, geddit?) and two corsets.

Vulgar is Madonna’s third collaboration this month: she also appears on new albums by The Weeknd and Christine and the Queens. Previously, she appeared on a remix of Dua Lipa’s Levitating, in the music video for Ariana Grande’s God Is a Woman, on Maluma’s album 11:11, on Quavo’s album Quavo Huncho, on Annie Lennox’s album Songs of Mass Destruction, and on Britney Spears’ album In the Zone. She also collaborated with Saucy Santana for the single Material Gworrllllllll!

03 June 2023

Popular


The Idol Vol. 1

The Weeknd’s single Popular, featuring Madonna and Playboi Carti, was released on streaming platforms yesterday. Madonna sings a powerful verse about life in the limelight: “Spent my whole life runnin’ from your flashin’ lights... You can’t take my soul without a fuckin’ fight”. The lyrics echo those of Joan of Arc from her Rebel Heart album: “Each time they take a photograph / I lose a part I can’t get back”.

Popular was recorded for the HBO drama series The Idol, and is Madonna’s third musical collaboration this month. She has also released a duet with Sam Smith (Vulgar), and she appears on three tracks on the Christine and the Queens album Paranoïa, Angels, True Love. A CD soundtrack of The Idol was scheduled for release, though it has now been cancelled.

Previously, Madonna also appeared on a remix of Dua Lipa’s single Levitating, on Maluma’s album 11:11, on Quavo’s album Quavo Huncho, on Annie Lennox’s album Songs of Mass Destruction, and on Britney Spears’ album In the Zone. She also performed a monologue in the music video for Ariana Grande’s single God Is a Woman, and collaborated with Saucy Santana on their single Material Gworrllllllll!

28 May 2023

This Is Not a Drill



German police have launched an investigation into Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, who is currently performing a solo world tour, This Is Not a Drill. A Berlin police spokesman accused him of wearing a costume “capable of approving, glorifying or justifying the violent and arbitrary rule of the Nazi regime in a manner that violates the dignity of the victims and thereby disrupts public peace”.

After the show’s interval, Waters returns to the stage wearing a black trenchcoat with a red armband depicting two crossed hammers. The same logo also appears on banners hanging from the roof, in the style of a Nazi rally, as Waters performs the songs In the Flesh and Run Like Hell. (It was first used in Pink Floyd’s film The Wall.)

Waters performed at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin on 17th and 18th May, and has also played at other German cities (Hamburg on 7th May, Cologne on 9th May, Munich on 21st May, and Frankfurt today). Displaying Nazi-inspired insignia is illegal in Germany, though Waters insists that he was parodying Nazism rather than endorsing it.

Madonna’s use of Nazi imagery at a concert also led to a legal challenge. In 2012, fascist French politician Marine Le Pen sued her for defamation after she superimposed a swastika onto a photograph of Le Pen’s face during her MDNA Tour. In an uncharacteristic act of self-censorship, Madonna replaced the swastika with a question mark at her next French concert in Nice.

20 May 2023

No Reason


No Reason

Tattoo Colour’s single No Reason (เผด็จเกิร์ล), released in 2017, was one of the first records to satirise the junta after the 2014 coup. In 2018, Rap Against Dictatorship inspired a wave of anti-government protest songs that continues to this day, though No Reason predates them all. The single was taken from Tattoo Colour’s album สัตว์จริง (‘real animal’), and the CD cover shows the group giving a three-finger salute as an anti-coup protest.

The music video for the song, directed by Nittakarn Kaewpyasawad and Tanis Pintong, includes various coded references to the military and the monarchy. A book titled “44 RULES” refers to article 44 of the interim constitution, which gave Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha absolute power. One of the book’s rules is “ADJUST YOUR ATTITUDE”, a reference to the military’s euphemistic term for its arbitrary detention policy. A wall calendar shows the date as 20th May, which was the day in 2014 when Prayut unconstitutionally declared martial law. Five men appear in the video, and martial law prohibits political gatherings of five or more people. Most provocatively, a flashcard reading “วันเกิดหมาเธอ” (‘her dog’s birthday’) refers to a notorious leaked video.

No Reason No Reason
No Reason No Reason

In the years since No Reason and สัตว์จริง, there have been more than two dozen songs and albums commenting on Thai politics, including three released this month: Bigboat’s This Is Thailand (ที่นี่ประเทศไทย), Elevenfinger’s Free My Friends (ปล่อยเพื่อนกู), and Rap Against Dictatorship’s I’m the One Who Gets to Decide (คนที่ตัดสินใจคือฉันเอง). Rap Against Dictatorship’s prolific output also includes the singles My Country Has (ประเทศกูมี), Sunflower (ดอกทานตะวัน), Homeland (บ้านเกิดเมืองนอน), Burning Sky (ไฟไหม้ฟ้า), Budget (งบประมาณ), กอ เอ๋ย กอ กราบ (‘k is for krap’), Reform (ปฏิรูป), Ta Lu Fah (ทะลุฟ้า), and 16 ปีแล้วไอ้สัส (‘it’s been 16 years, ai sat’). There have also been albums from The Commoner, Pisitakun Kuantalaeng (in 2020 and 2022), Speech Odd, Elevenfinger, and t_047; and singles from The Commoner, Elevenfinger, Badmixy, View from the Bus Tour, Milli and Youngohm, Getsunover and Three Man Down, and Paeng Surachet.

11 May 2023

Oddworld


Oddworld Control

Thai punk band Speech Odd’s debut album Oddworld was released earlier this year. The lyrics include comments made by King Rama X on royal walkabouts: the track Speech King quotes his answer to a reporter’s question—“Thailand is the land of compromise”—and Thank You quotes his words to a prominent royalist: “กล้ามาก เก่งมาก ขอบใจ” (‘very brave, very good, thank you’). Fucx Coup [sic] begins with a sample of Prayut Chan-o-cha announcing the 2014 coup.

The band’s music is available on a wide variety of physical formats. Oddworld was released on cassette, CD, and vinyl. Their single Control was issued on a 3.5" floppy disk, and its cover is an illustration of anti-coup protester Nuamthong Praiwan crashing his taxi into a tank. Their Promo 2022 EP is on cassette and 5" vinyl.

09 May 2023

I’m the One Who Gets to Decide


Rap Against Dictatorship

Rap Against Dictatorship’s single 250 Bootlickers (250 สอพลอ)—criticising the 250 subservient senators appointed by the junta—was released two days before Thailand’s 2019 election, and now their new single I’m the One Who Gets to Decide (คนที่ตัดสินใจคือฉันเอง) has dropped six days before the next election. The song encourages people to vote and make their voice count, reminding us that the choice we make at the ballot box is entirely our own. (They’re preaching to the choir here, because many young people are already politically engaged.)

In the music video for the single, directed by Skanbombomb, the band play candidates for the fictional Rhyme Reform Party appearing on a political talk show. Their previous singles include My Country Has (ประเทศกูมี), Sunflower (ดอกทานตะวัน), Homeland (บ้านเกิดเมืองนอน), Burning Sky (ไฟไหม้ฟ้า), Budget (งบประมาณ), กอ เอ๋ย กอ กราบ (‘k is for krap’), Reform (ปฏิรูป), Ta Lu Fah (ทะลุฟ้า), and 16 ปีแล้วไอ้สัส (‘it’s been 16 years, ai sat’).

Free My Friends


Free My Friends

Of the many Thai musicians releasing songs commenting on politics, the military, and the monarchy, the rapper Elevenfinger is definitely the most uncompromising. On his track Thalugaz (ทะลุเเก๊ซ), he leads a crowd in the same chant that resulted in charges against Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan. His new single Free My Friends (ปล่อยเพื่อนกู), released yesterday, is so excoriating that quoting from it would violate the lèse-majesté law. (The lyrics include insults in both Thai and English.) The video for the song, directed by Fook Yosthi, features murals—including a royal portrait by FD7—superimposed onto Chiang Mai’s city wall using CGI, and multilayered clips of riot police clashing with student protesters. The title refers to protesters jailed for lèse-majesté.

07 May 2023

This Is Thailand


This Is Thailand

Thai rappers Bigboat released the video to their new single This Is Thailand (ที่นี่ประเทศไทย) today. The video, directed by journalist Cod Satrusayang, begins with a TV set showing clips from the announcements of the 2014, 2006, and 1991 coups. The band perform in military uniforms, and the first line of the song addresses the coup leaders directly: “คุณรู้มั้ยว่าทำประเทศบอบช้ำไปตั้งเท่าไหร่” (‘don’t you know how much you’ve hurt the country?’). Other archive material includes footage of riot police clashing with student protesters on 16th October 2020.

This Is Thailand is partly a state-of-the-nation song, with lyrics such as “ที่นี่คือประเทศไทยมีอำนาศไว้ใช้กดขี่แต่ผู้คน” (‘this is Thailand, where power is used to oppress people’). It’s also a call-to-arms: “ใครเห็นด้วยจงยืนขึ้น ต่อสู้เพื่อเสรีท่าวันนี้เพื่อลูกหลาน” (‘whoever agrees, stand up today and fight for freedom for your children’). Ultimately, the message is: smash the system, as the video ends with a sledgehammer smashing the TV screen. Just as Rap Against Dictatorship’s 250 Bootlickers (250 สอพลอ) was released two days before the 2019 election, This Is Thailand has dropped a week before the 14th May election, when coup leader Prayut Chan-o-cha is again on the ballot. (Rap Against Dictatorship will release another single later this week.)