The first time I encountered Oxford’s A Silent Film I was in the middle of nowhere, hungover as fuck and wishing I’d brought some wellies to the rain drenched 2000 Trees festival. Back then, with a swimmy head and a leathery tongue, they were just the right kind of band to grace the stage with their simple and melodic tunes that took more than a fair share of hints from the likes of Coldplay and Keane, whilst holding it all together with an integrity saving dollop of Radiohead inspiration. Continue reading Album Review: A Silent Film – The City That Sleeps
“You guys aren’t into hip hop. I got one question – where’s the love?”
– Jay-Z, before ‘Heart of the City‘
Ok, so as I start this article I’m currently watching Jay-Z answer all his critics on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury 2008. Sticking his middle finger up to Noel Gallagher by opening with the iconoclastic Wonderwall, throwing AC/DC riffs into his set, and a dose of the likes of Prodigy for good effect.
The idea of live hip-hop is one that I don’t really understand the appeal in. A single man doing karaoke to a mix tape? I do that enough in my bedroom thanks. But having settled down to watch Jay-Z headline the Pyramid stage I was bewildered by the combination of rapper, live band and CD mix.
They said it couldn’t be done. Glastonbury belongs to guitars and rock, none of this hip hop stuff they said. Maybe they were scared? A black man taking the main stage at the most prestigious music festival the UK has to offer the world is a bold statement, like it or not. I wouldn’t put it past the mainstream press to hold their reservations not only down to the music, but to the colour of a man’s skin.
But with all this pressure mounting on his back, Jay-Z has come blasting out of the stage and has, for the most part, put on an amazing show. It just goes to prove that despite the ‘haters’, hip hop can be just as fascinatingly exciting a live show to watch as Radiohead. At the start of his set the predominantly white, probably middle class crowd cheered Oasis‘ name as Jay-Z ripped into Wonderwall. But it was Jay-Z’s name being chanted at the end of his enthusiastic and high octane set, certainly a damn more exciting sight to behold than Coldplay.
I’m going to leave it at that – I think bringing hip-hop to Glastonbury was a great idea, and Jay-Z was just the right ambassador for the genre in it’s moment in the spotlight. Articulate, confident and most importantly, incredibly talented, his show should silence any critics. Except for Zane Lowe, who is impossible to shut up. One day Lowe, one day…
The three members of rock group Planet Brain remain some of the most enigmatic musicians I’ve met. My first encounter with the band, hailing all the way from Italy, was at a splendid show put on by Function Records at our Student Union in Farnham playing alongside Shield Your Eyes and Munroe Effect, a long way from home for Marcello, Nicola and Claudio.
I find it quite difficult to really state what intrigued me the most. Be it the etheral atmosphere of their music (which captured an entire audience who had probably never even heard of an Italian band) in complete awe, the sheer confidence of their performance in a completely foreign country, or the frankly terrifying facial grimaces made by drummer Claudio Larese Casanova (yep, that’s his real name) as he gave every last drop of sweat, and probably a bit of blood into his performance.
It was hard to leave after seeing that without thinking that these three Italians had found a pretty special sound, so I spoke to guitarist and singer Marcello Batelli to find out a little bit more about the band.
You recently made a little trip around the UK, playing 5 gigs in 7 days. How did you feel that went? How did it compare to playing shows around Italy, where people are more likely to have heard of you? How did you find the experience of playing on foreign soil to that of playing back at home? Would you come back?
It was amazing. We had such a great time. It’s always a good challenge playing in front of people you don’t know, trying to get in touch with them. But doing that miles away from home, in a foreign country, was probably the best challenge we’ve ever had. Not only because in the UK there’s a different ‘culture’ and attention on rock and indie music, but also because there was a different excitement between us on stage that made every gig special. We hope to come back soon for a longer tour, maybe next year.
How are you finding the whole band experience? Is it a dream come true to be playing in other countries?
In a way, it is. We would love to play more around Europe. We spent all the time in UK telling ourselves “unbelievable, we’re here”, all the weeks before the tour thinking “how would it be?”, and when we came back to Italy we were just saying “when will we be back?”…and then everything happened so fast that…yes, it could be something similar to a dream.
How did you feel British listeners took to your music, considering the popularity of ‘indie’ music here?
That was the most unbelievable part I think. We were really surprised that lots of people liked our shows and came after the sets to talk to us or buy the album. They didn’t care if we were Italians, or if we play a different kind of music from the bands they expected to play that night. They also didn’t mind to classify us as ‘pop’, ’emo’ or ‘alternative’. What happened was: we came on stage practically unknown, played our songs that no-one knew, in a country that we don’t know, and got nice feedback from the people. That’s magic!
If you were forced to describe your music to someone who had never heard it before, how would you do so?
I’ve never been good at this. I used to start making comparisons, but it always leads to mistakes. Generally, I would say we are a three-piece band, guitar/voice, bass, drums, and we play rock, but then, if I am asked to, I can add some details about the melodic side of our music, the psychedelic and 70s/90s stuff, the emotional and spontaneous compositive process, the improvisation and the feelings above all.
Those who have heard you have drawn comparisons to a little band called Radiohead. How does it make you feel to have such a comparison put upon you?
Too big, maybe, or just too quick and useless. Radiohead had deeply influenced the music of our last decade and many bands took inspiration from them, Planet Brain too. Comparisons are often taken in a negative way, as they seem to subtract the personality of an emerging band. But I don’t feel there is anything wrong with them, even when we get compared to a bigger band we dislike. Once you are aware of your influences and you like what you do, you don’t have to care about comparisons. Anyway, to be compared to Radiohead is a honor.
Why did you make the decision to sing most of your vocals on the new album in English, as opposed to Italian?
Simple as it is, I always listened to English music, and it is more natural for me to hear English lyrics on a song than Italian ones.
One song title on your new release, Compromises and Carnivals, has me very intrigued: Gash Discipline. Could you explain where that name came from?
I think that Shane or Steve from Lebatol invented that title. When we supported them, during their short Italian tour in 2005, we played that song live twice, but we still didn’t have a title. I remember they liked that song since our first soundcheck, and a few days later they came out with that “Gash Discipline” idea. I thought it was great, and so perfect for the mood of the rhythm and the vocals, that we decided to call it that.
Recording an album can be a long and arduous process. During the recording of Compromises and Carnivals what did you take inspiration and encouragment from?
It was, definitely! We recorded guitars and vocals in our own little studio, and it was longer and harder than recording in a professional studio. But the atmosphere was more relaxed, and this helped us a lot. We’d been listening to many bands during the recordings, I remember we told the engineer we loved the drums sound of Porcupine Tree, but that was just to achieve the best sound we could. There wasn’t a single band we focused on or took inspiration from, actually. We tried to work on the album as a whole, to preserve the concept of an ‘album’ instead of the concept of a simple compilation of songs.
You may or may not have heard about it, but there is a lot of talk within the music world concerning the fall of recording companies and the traditional structure, what with massive artists now experimenting with free online downloads for example. How has your own relationship with Function Records been?
The market is flexible and has its own rises and falls. I was just reading an article a few days ago about “the long tail”. In a few words, within the global market, major labels sell more but in a short time, by sudden ways or odd strategies. Indie labels sell and earn less, obviously, but constantly. They represent the “long tail” of the music market, what keeps it alive and flowing, not bumping. Our relationship with Function Records is a friendship, before a partnership, and it developed slowly in the past 2/3 years. I think that they ‘believe’ in what we do as Planet Brain, and that’s more important than anything else.
What are your plans as a group for the immediate future?
We are rehearsing and recording new songs at the moment. We would love to have some stuff out next year, maybe an EP, and to play live as much as we can.
What was your favourite album release of 2007? And are there any bands, perhaps from Italy, who you would encourage readers to check out for 2008?
Hard to answer! I would probably say ‘Frames’ by Oceansize for 2007. But I also loved ‘Heima’ by Sigur Ros, especially the film. And for 2008…I don’t know, really. All the majors will be closed by that time, we will have 400 GigaByte iPods, just to listen to the first minute of each song! But I’m optimistic.
Thanks for taking the time out to talk Marcello. I wish you guys the best of luck and hope to see you back in the UK soon.
Cheers Mike! All the best Ciao!
I really recommend you purchase Planet Brain’s debut album ‘Comprimises and Carnivals’. It’s a fantastic sounding album, and one that shows a lot of promise for the group. You can get it from iTunes, Emusic, mTraks, Audio Lunchbox or direct via Function Records.
What to begin with? Well, there’s always the popular topic of Radiohead, who after releasing In Rainbows to the world have been in the public eye more than the government, which I guess for them must be some small victory, but I think at this point the majority of people have grown fed up with the bombardement, so I’m going to avoid that metaphorical elephant.
Instead, I’m going to take a look at another musical giant, Pink Floyd, a band that have been in my ears for a very long time. Having a father who’s Pink Floyd collection consists of every studio album and every bootleg, every live show and released single, often multiple times over, there’s a certain inevitability that I have a great deal of respect for these now aging rockers (that and no decent christmas presents for years because the old man spends all his money on rare Japanese versions of the ‘Dark Side of the Moon’). However, having been disbanded so long, I can’t help but laugh when I found out yet another box is about to be released by publisher EMI. As if the overelaborate opulence of ‘Shine On’ wasn’t quite extravagant enough (or perhaps didn’t rake in enough money) or the re-release of the first album ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn‘ to coincide with the much publicised death of original vocalist Syd Barret didn’t sell quite well enough, the cash cow is being raped once again for evey last penny out of its worn, tired udders. So, for around a mere £149.99 you too can be the owner of every Pink Floyd album. Probably again.
It baffles me. It really does. Here we are, just about near the end of 2007, where the music industry is fighting a war against music piracy and rapidly declining record sales and here, the big wigs at EMI, such as Guy Hands (who was absolutely lambasted by Thom Yorke in this months interview with the Observer Music Monthly) have decided the best way to combat these problems is to re-release the same old shit, with a different packet for a quick buck.
Time will tell when the recording industries wake up and smell the ashes of a failing market tactic. Downloads are (unfortunately) getting more and more popular among casual music listeners and piracy will never be stopped. It’s been no secret that Radiohead’s recent experiment has proven that there is another way of thinking within the industry. Next year is sure to be the year we see massive changes in how the business works. I look forward to seeing it crumble.