[Sound and Vision]: We Are The Best!

we-are-the-best-640 “What’s a chord?”

A punk prayer.

After a lengthy detour into experimental narratives and Christian allegories, Swedish filmmaker Lukas Moodysson has returned to the effusive coming-of-age dramas of his early years in We Are The Best! (Vi Är Bäst!), based on wife Coco Moodysson’s comic book Never Goodnight.

Stockholm. 1982. Punk is dead. Or at least, that’s what everyone keeps on telling Klara and Bobo, two punk-obsessed best friends who are shunned at their high school. While boys are either listening to Joy Division or playing denim-clad rock and girls are dancing to The Human League, opinionated Klara (Mira Grosin) and mild-mannered Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) are more interested in spiking their hair, creating dioramas of disaster zones and gossiping over punk fanzines. Reacting to their dislike of P.E. lessons and in an effort to annoy local rockers, the overly-macho named Iron Fist, the girls pick up bass and drums at their youth centre and write the song, ‘Hate The Sport’. The problem is neither of them know how to play. At all.

That’s where Hedvig, played by Liv LeMoyne, comes in, whom Klara and Bobo spot performing a classical guitar piece at the end of term talent show. More than her evident ability to play her instrument though, the girls are impressed by Hedvig’s resolve to continue playing undeterred by the heckles and jeers from the audience. She is a year older and, unlike Bobo and Klara, a devout Christian, but she is also an outsider and this forms the basis of an unlikely friendship as the girls introduce her to punk music and she brings actual melody to the band. Together they navigate the uncertain terrain of pre-adolescent life, cutting Hedvig’s hair (to hilarious consequences), crashing their first party (to embarrassing consequences), fighting over a boy in a neighbouring punk band and inciting a riotous crowd at a youth centre Christmas showcase along the way.


A panel from Coco Moodysson’s original Never Goodnight

While this is just the bare bones of the story, what really brings We Are The Best! to life and sets it apart is its balanced mood and attention to detail. Moodysson catches everything with fly-on-the-wall type voyeurism, insinuating the personal dissatisfactions of adult life and the difficulties of being a high-schooler without ever hitting you over the head with it. You genuinely empathise with the punk trio and it is their childlike motivations and unwillingness to be ignored which makes We Are The Best! so funny and charming.

This is not a film about snotty punk rebellion, but more about the joy and liberation found in starting up your first band and the strong bonds formed when you do things your way. People may tell them how to look, how to behave and how to play, but Klara, Bobo and Hedvig do things their way and that is what truly makes them The Best.

We Are The Best! is in cinemas now.


[Artist Spotlight]: Eels

eels_large“The road that I’ve been taking heading for a dead end, but it’s not too late to turn around”

Yesterday, Eels issued their eleventh album of close-to-the-bone pop, The Cautionary Tales Of Mark Oliver Everett. In recent years Eels have had a prolific outpouring averaging an album a year, and this may have something to do with Eels main man Mark Oliver Everett having lain old bones to rest with 2005’s life-encompassing album Blinking Lights & Revelations, the autobiography Things The Grandchildren Should Know and a BBC documentary on his physicist father who died when Everett was nineteen. But, with the direct and counselling title of their latest record it seems that Everett still has some things on his mind.

Songwriting sessions for Cautionary Tales actually started before the recording of last year’s Wonderful, Glorious, with Eels members gathered to make a highly personal record. The sessions were shelved though, with Everett citing the reason as the songs “made me uncomfortable… but not uncomfortable enough”. He reveals “If I’m not uncomfortable, It’s not real enough. I needed to dig a little deeper.” And deep he did go, with intimate lyrics looking back on a life misspent and addressing a pining heart, echoing the bruised airs of Tom Waits. “I grew up very fast in some ways, and very slow in others,” Everett says. “These are some of the trials and errors.”

While Wonderful, Glorious revelled in effusive, scuzzy rock, Cautionary Tales focuses on wistful, meditative tunes centred on Everett’s gruff vocals and sparse guitar, augmented by Eels’s sprinklings of orchestration. And although much of the album can be preoccupied with “Who-said-what” and “What-did-I-do?” moments, ‘Mistakes Of My Youth’ is a self-effacing and open-hearted moment of understanding that floats on lazy rhythms and uplifting string arrangements. Standing at the crossroads between the past and the future, where self-acceptance is key to moving in the right direction, the song is a cathartic and comforting moment on a collection of songs dedicated to the ones that got away. Things The Grandchildren Should Know Pt. 2? Possibly…

The Cautionary Tales Of Mark Oliver Everett is available now through E Works/Vagrant and can be streamed in full on Soundcloud.

[On The Record]: Crowdfunding – The Future Of Music?


Crowdfunding, to give a dusty and prosaic definition, is where a project (artistic, journalistic, political etc.) is funded through the collective donations from individual backers. It seems that everyone is at it these days on varying platforms such as PledgemusicIndieGoGo, and Kickstarter, the latter of which is probably the most prominent. While crowdfunding has become a lot more popular and efficient with the advent of the internet, the idea has actually been around since the 17th century. In fact, if it hadn’t been for a crowdfunding scheme set up by Joseph Pulitzer then the Statue of Liberty may not have seen the light of day. When the committee in charge of the statue’s construction came up dangerously short on the funds necessary to complete the project, the american public raised $100,000 (the equivalent of $2.3 million today) over a period of six months, ensuring the statue’s completion. Although that’s probably quite a dated example, it’s a pretty good indication of what crowdfunding can achieve and that it can be a positive means of saving worthy projects from the scrap heap. Hercules Moments contributor and Dæmons man David Officer successfully funded his Fram EP through Kickstarter recently and said “Crowdfunding platforms are a very empowering way for small artists and creatives to do big projects when money is thin on the ground”.

However, crowdfunding has become the subject of some controversy recently, such as Amanda Palmer allegedly misusing funds raised on Kickstarter or Zach Braff acquiring studio backing for his crowdfunded independent film. I’m not going to waste time by explaining the Amanda Palmer controversy as it has been written about by pretty much everyone and their dog in great detail, but I think it is a prime example of the negativity surrounding crowdfunding platforms and the backlash that can occur when communications break down where money is concerned (If you wish to find out more I suggest looking here and here). Most of the controversy stemming from these issues comes down to backers feeling deceived or that their money has been misused. So how reliable is crowdfunding, and is there more to it than the optimistic “Art of Asking”?

There are quite a few immediately apparent positives to crowdfunding. For one thing, it allows the artist greater creative freedom than they may otherwise have if a label or a studio is involved. For instance, in deals with some industry moguls the artist may be beholden to their wishes, such as altering the project to suit the investors at the expense of the artist’s vision. Matthew Young of Song, By Toad points out that “If an artist wants to release what they want and when they want, then they need to either make sure that their label is flexible and understanding (which many are) or fund it themselves, and this is a good way to do it”. Through crowdfunding artists are able to set their own agenda and the input offered by backers is usually welcome as part of a prior understanding between artist and supporter. And at the end of the day, for any artist with a modicum of integrity, the people who support them will always be the ones they ultimately have to answer to.

Crowdfunding platforms also allow artists to reach out to a larger body of possible investors and get creative projects completed which may not have been funded otherwise. For example, Tim Courtney, another Hercules Moments contributor and member of Katerwaul, who recently successfully funded a film through Kickstarter, explains that acquiring funding from bodies such as Creative Scotland is not always easy: “I’ve seen a lot of my talented friends and peers not get work on these development shorts like Digicult etc. due to a ‘lack of experience’. I know my own career is faltering as a director because I’ve not shown I can handle a bigger budget, but how do you get those bigger budgets if the one means our country has of giving it to you won’t take the risk on you?”. Against such catch-22 situations, crowdfunding projects can help level the playing field by giving artists that chance. Furthermore, this also puts some control in the hands of the supporter as well, where the only projects you back are the ones YOU choose, rather than your taxes being funnelled into a project you have no interest or say in, as happens with some funding committees. So essentially it’s a win-win situation, where your money goes directly to the artistic projects you feel deserve it rather than the umpteenth season of a high-rating show, while the artist is able to pursue a project that may not attract funding elsewhere. Not to mention the increased interaction and cooperation between artist and supporter that crowdfunding fosters, as Lloyd of Olive Grove Records notes: “Knowing you did your bit to help a band that you love genuinely means a lot, especially at the end of the day when you’re sitting with a tangible product in your hand”.

Crowdfunding illustration

So what’s the big deal, why all the fuss? Well, the snag with this approach is that the backer’s money is not always insured and delivery of the final product is not always guaranteed. In some cases projects fail for a number of reasons (ranging from bad luck to poor choices), leaving backers a long way down the line unable to get their money back and without the products or incentives promised to them. Out of interest, I backed the Pixies visual history book on Kickstarter to get a feel for how much the backer actually knows about what they’re getting into. Straight away a disclaimer came up stating: “Kickstarter does not guarantee projects or investigate a creator’s ability to complete their project. It is the responsibility of the project creator to complete their project as promised, and the claims of this project are theirs alone. If this project is successfully funded, your card will be charged on Thursday Jun 6, 11:59 PM EDT, along with all the other backers of this project”. Whether these disclaimers and failsafe features are a recent addition or have been in place all along, I am not sure, but from my experience it was instantly clear to me what the score was.

And this is not dissimilar to the way the music business, and indeed any venture that requires financial backing, operates already. Artists mock up a proposition for what their project is and what the costs are likely to be, then present it to potential backers. The only difference here is that the backers can be individuals from all over the world rather than just companies and entrepreneurs. While it is obviously disappointing to not receive the goods promised, that’s ultimately the risk you take in any investment and emphasises that crowdfunding is not a market service where you ‘buy’ incentives.  And this is what such disappointments often boil down to: supporters are not used to being investors, so naturally when projects fall through they behave like customers who have not received a paid for product. However, that is not the agreement they entered into when backing, and I feel this is something people will need to come to terms with as time goes on.

In some cases, such as the aforementioned Braff/Palmer projects, backers may not feel their money has been used correctly or worse, that they were deliberately deceived when backing. This is obviously a very serious matter, but it seems to me that it ultimately comes down to the transparency of the individual project. Many projects will be created with this transparency in mind so that the backer is sufficiently informed, as David did with his project: “Because of the nature of the funding, it’s open to a lot of scrutiny and you have to be honest and upfront. You need to do your research and be confident in your figures”. Crowdfunding by and large operates on a ‘buyer beware’ policy, that is, if you are suspicious of where your money is going, then you invest at your own risk. The other main criticism leveled at crowdfunding is that it is essentially a form of begging and that it is unfair to ask fans for financial support. After all, if plenty of other artists have managed to finance themselves and if fans already buy the albums, what right does an artist have to ask for direct financial support from them? “I’ve heard people moaning about the price of a Reward with a CD or Vinyl etc. or that it’s people asking the fans to fund a project that they’re going to have to fork out on again,” Tim says “To this all I can say is its a marketing problem. I don’t think the genuine artists on Kickstarter are ripping people off”. Essentially, there is a stigma attached because people believe it to be the soft option or associate it with laziness. However, this is far from the case. Often the artist will have done the actual creative legwork already (recording, filming, sourcing artwork etc.), and is looking for the funds necessary to see the project through to completion in its final stages. As David aptly asserts, “It’s not a replacement for hard work, saving up or any other business led strategy. This isn’t about creating businesses, but fulfilling creative projects”. Similarly Tim explains, “I never claim to be an expert, but the one piece of advice I can give to people is that you need to REALLY plan and research your project and other successful projects. It took us over a month of planning to put it together before going live with it, and it worked”. Despite negative perceptions, it is clear that going down this route is not merely a case of waiting for a handout (well, in the majority of cases hopefully).

So, is crowdfunding “the future of music”, as Amanda Palmer has touted in her Kickstarter campaign video?  Could crowdfunding pose a viable and sustainable alternative model to the label oligarchy which the current music industry is based on? Well, not really. “Labels bring a lot more than just funding to the table,” says Matthew. “They also bring contacts, a network of their own fans, extra bodies to work on the release, a reputation, and experience of releasing music. All of these things are hugely valuable and are not covered by crowd-funding. With a good manager or a couple of experienced, organised people within the band you might be able to make up for a lot of this, but not all”. Crowdfunding is really a tool for helping tip the balance in the artist’s favour, where support can come from the most unexpected places, as Tim found with his Sunsets and Silhouettes campaign: “One of the people who bought an Executive Producer reward lives in New Zealand with no affiliation to the cast or crew, and another from Germany. And the only reason they’ve given us £250 each is because they believe in our talent and the story. And that is overwhelming.” Meanwhile, when David got in touch with the Fram Museum in Oslo about his Polar expedition inspired project, they backed the project for £500. Furthermore, he has been invited over to play in front of the King of Norway and the Prime Minister, as well as collaborate with an Inuit Drum Dancer at the Museum’s Polar Festival: “The success of my Kickstarter means I’ve got a great story and a better chance of selling my vinyl now. More importantly, I got to create a piece of art I really believe in.” Both of their projects are well on the way to production now and may not have been possible, or as successful, without crowdfunding platforms. There may be a few bugs that need ironing out and and there is still some way to go, but crowdfunding is definitely changing the way we create and support art, and that is a very exciting thing.

– Originally published on Hercules Moments

[From The Cutting Room Floor]: The Beatles, Marvin Gaye and The Gaslight Anthem


Often, seeking out new music can feel like a treasure hunt (or sweeping a minefield, depending on how you look at it). And every now and then you will come across those completely unexpected diamonds-in-the-rough that appear in the form of B-sides, outtakes or bootlegged live cuts. Those happy moments where you stumble across something that stops you in your tracks and think ‘Why is this only a B-side?’. This feature is about digging out those deeper cuts that deserve more attention than mere relegation.

‘Don’t Let Me Down’ – The Beatles
I’m going straight for the jugular this week. Gracing the other side of the Get Back single, this should really qualify as a double A-Side. Written by John Lennon as an ego-free plea to Yoko Ono, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ is The Beatles at their most soulful, in my opinion. Lennon and McCartney’s hollering vocals channel Otis Redding, oozing with conviction alongside a Stax influenced keyboard that gives a soul-tinged vibe, while the intelligent countermelodies during the alternate verses and George Harrison’s slinky lead guitar gesture to the psychedelic leanings of their middle period. It was one of the songs played during The Beatles last public performance on the roof of Apple’s Saville Row headquarters on 30th January 1969 and remains a testament to the power and inventiveness of possibly the 20th century’s defining band.

‘I’m Going Home’ – Marvin Gaye
A studio outtake from the recording sessions for Gaye’s seminal soul masterpiece What’s Going On (read why it’s a masterpiece here), ‘I’m Going Home’ took fifteen years to surface until it was featured on 1986’s  Motown Remembers Marvin Gaye and served as a reminder to the talent which had been lost only two year’s previously. In many ways, ‘I’m Going Home’ condenses a lot of What’s Going On‘s narrative themes 0f family, urban strife and homecoming into five minutes, but musically it has a lot more in common with the emerging funk sound which Gaye would explore on his following albums Let’s Get It On and I Want You. Either way, it’s an irrepressibly catchy slice of funk which should not be missed.

‘She Loves You’ – The Gaslight Anthem
Not a Beatles cover, as I initially thought it to be. ‘She Loves You’ appeared on the flip side of their vinyl-only Tumbling Dice single (their last release with SideOneDummy) and is probably Brian Fallon’s most simple and direct love song. Backed by a simple guitar figure and a shuffling beat, Fallon achingly rhapsodises about rainy nights, broken love and the small certainties that pull us inexorably towards tomorrow, like flotsam and jetsam cast ashore on the tide.

What are your favourite B-sides and rarities? Let me know in the comments below.

[Artist Spotlight]: Antun Opic

antun opic1“I won’t bow, I won’t beg to your lack of respect / The big desert you spread in my head”

Peddling intelligent bluesy-folk with a gypsy jazz swing to it, Antun Opic has been creating rumblings over in Europe for a while now. After cutting his teeth in Munich street band Wildwuxx and getting his onstage education touring with punk-cabaret group Strom & Wasser, Opic decided to set off on his own, enlisting the help of acoustic bassist Horst Richard Fritscher and guitarist Tobias Kavelar (who actually used to teach Opic guitar). 

While Opic’s driving guitar and idiosyncratic vocals take centre stage, Kavelar’s fluid lead embellishments complement Opic’s gypsy rhythms in the same way Stéphane Grapelli’s slinky violin lines kept Django Reinhardt on his toes. Meanwhile, Fritscher’s mellifluous bass playing anchors their ramshackle grooves and together the trio evoke the musical raggedness of Tom Waits, fused with the wild-eyed conviction of The Birthday Party era Nick Cave.

Although he was born in Croatia, Opic was mostly raised in Germany with his family making regular trips to see his grandparents in Croatia, even during times of war. “Much of the sunny country I used to call home had suddenly turned into a political hot spot,” he says. “Today it is mostly a desolate place and people are traumatised”. As a result of his mixed upbringing Opic feels rootless, saying “I come from Croatia and Germany: A half breed. So, I don’t feel home anywhere.”

Perhaps that is why his songs are populated by wanderers and outsiders, the kind of Film Noir strays that Opic freely admits are “the ones you don’t want to know, actually”. Some, like the embittered snitch of ‘The Informer’ or the twisted enforcer of ‘Juanita Guerolita’ are vicious misfits. Meanwhile, others are just looking for a way out as on ‘Moses – Let My People Go’ which approaches traditional tales of exodus from a new perspective. This assortment of Brechtian characters comes partly from Opic’s love of theatre, but also from the distance that writing in another language affords him, as he reveals “I think and I speak in German, but when writing in English I step back and I can create a character which has nothing to do with myself”. 

After putting out an album of demos entitled You Can Spare A Dime on his own digital label Antuned, Opic released his first album proper, No Offense, in September of last year. Rather than hiring a producer the trio decided to record and produce the album themselves, allowing them to push each other further in what Fritscher describes as “a constant creative process”. The band have had considerable success in Europe, touring across Germany, France, Croatia, Slovenia and recently made their UK debut with a show in London last month. Although there are no further UK shows planned as of yet, it is a significant step toward Opic’s desire to bring his songs to an international audience and more are sure to follow soon (we hope!).

No Offense is available now through Antuned/Traaxx Music.

[Cover Me]: Richard Thompson, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and Tim Buckley

There are good covers, and there are bad covers. These are some I think belong in the former category.

Richard Thompson – ‘Oops!… I Did It Again’ (Originally by Britney Spears)
That right there was the sound of you double-taking. As part of his ambitious 2003 project 1,000 Years of Popular Music, which traced a common thread through music from 1068 all the way up to 2001, folk-rock luminary Richard Thompson closed with this Britney Spears mega-hit (though not without taking a slight detour to the 16th century towards the end). It’s clever, tongue-in-cheek and damn if it isn’t catchy!

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – ‘Tower of Song’ (Originally by Leonard Cohen)
It was a toss up between posting this and The Bad Seeds’ haunting cover of Johnny Cash’s ‘The Singer‘ from Kicking Against The Pricks, but for sheer full-tilt energy and originality I had to plump for this. Leonard Cohen has been Nick Cave’s mentor in many ways (the first Bad Seeds album even opens with a cover of Cohen’s ‘Avalanche‘), so it is not surprising for Cave to pay tribute to the man “gifted with a golden voice”. Rather than sticking to the blueprint though The Bad Seeds rip it up with a frantic race through almost every conceivable genre of the 20th century. The result is as if you were plummeting between the floors of the eponymous Tower of Song and hearing the noises made on different floors on the way down.

Tim Buckley – ‘Martha’ (Originally by Tom Waits)
This track is taken from Tim Buckley’s penultimate album Sefronia, and while much of the album is a mixed bag there is no doubting the grandness of his version of one of Tom Waits’s earliest heartbreakers. In fact, Waits’s Closing Time (the album the original appeared on) had only surfaced two months before Sefronia was released, and this says something for the immediate connection Buckley must have felt with ‘Martha’ to record it and really get where Waits was coming from. While musically Waits’s original is soused in the dissatisfactions of the present, Buckley’s sweet, string laden version brims with the optimism of a young love which the song’s Tom Frost hopes to rekindle with Martha. By being the first prominent artist to cover songs by the then largely unknown Waits, Buckley drew public attention to him and thereby helped him on his way to becoming one of the truly defining artists of the last fifty years. For that alone, this version of ‘Martha’ deserves attention and appreciation.