Random bits of writing around the web

I’ve been doing a bit of writing for other blogs in the last couple of months. Now, you can enjoy them here.

A Rational Fear – Searching For My Favourite Bland…
A sort of rant talking about band names.

MAX – Live Review: John Fogerty
Just like it says on the box, on the website for the MAX channel.

The In Sound From Way Out – Cheer up Sleepy Jean and Goodbye Davy Jones
A personal goodbye to one of my faves.

The In Sound From Way Out – Nada Surf exclusive album stream – “The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy”
An introduction to the new Nada Surf album stream for EMI Australia’s blog.

The In Sound From Way Out – Blur at the Brit Awards
A quickly written piece after watching Blur at this year’s Brit Awards.

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Wk1: Internet Killed The Video Star: The future of Film Clips

OK Go in their "This Too Shall Pass" clip

The humble Film Clip has been left in the cold when people talk about the larger digital revolution. It’s music that has been the conversation for years, and film and TV are up next. But where does the Film Clip future lie?

In the DVD boom of the late 90s, many bands put out collections of their Film Clips. I own dozens of them – for many reasons.

– I wanted easy access to some of my favourite clips
– It was a way to see clips I’ve never seen before
– I want my favourite clips on DVD quality
– I just wanted to own everything my favourite bands did anyway.

But that was the late 90s, and the value of those Film Clip collection DVDs are plummeting. In the brave new digital world, do we really need them at all? Do I even need to keep the old ones I have?

The question of access is the first to become a non-issue, thanks to YouTube. But it’s not just YouTube – all video sites are using music clips as easy content to fill their servers.

Look at the otherside, the DVD. Does anyone really watch Film Clip collections from start to finish? If not, then after you’ve dug out the DVD, put it in the player and waited for it to load, you still have to navigate through a menu.

Having YouTube really puts the myth of access to rest. One click away, no menus, no waiting. My computer is also simply on more than my DVD player.

It comes back to cloud computing too. I don’t think these clips are going away. Even if YouTube falls, there are others. Film clips are not going away any time soon.

I also don’t see any record label putting up a paywall any time soon. They want their film clips seen.

Interesting the trajectory of how labels see the value of film clips. Damian Kulash Jr, of OK Go, nailed it in his New York Times piece from last year (link). In 2006, the viral hit of Here It Goes Again was a success for EMI. It was free advertising. In many ways, Film Clips have always been ads for a song or an album. Bands can’t play on every TV show, so they sent their videos on the road for them.

This led logically to MTV. MTV (back when it played clips) was essentially a series of ads for a series of bands. MTV didn’t pay for the clips – and made a bazillion dollars from them. So it’s interesting to hear CEO of Warner, Edgar Bronfman Jr, say that MTV made millions off the backs of the labels, and doesn’t want this repeated with YouTube. The danger – as he sees it (and others as well) – is creating another monster industry and missing out on any of the benefits.

So by 2010, a series of unsteady agreements were made with YouTube. Videos had ads, miniscule amounts of money exchanged hands and some videos were blocked altogether. The result was blocking the next big OK Go video – This Too Shall Pass. Free advertising for the band had turned into another way to make money.

It seems to be sliding back. I think it’s become quite clear that Film Clips are not a big money earner. iTunes have never been able to get any traction in selling them outright. Some money is passing hands from advertising revenue. And the number of people watching film clips on YouTube has taken on the most importance, yet again.

I think we can count on this trend continuing. Labels and bands never made money off Film Clips directly before. They are not going to be a cash cow now.

There’s also very few film clips I can’t see. Yes, there was a time when on-demand did not exist. And even my favourite bands, there were one or two obscure videos I never saw. Or I had a fuzzy VHS, taped off the telly. Then there are bands that never made it big in Australia (The Jayhawks and Sloan come to mind).

Now everything is up for grabs. Hundreds of thousands of Film Clips (and of course, even more live clips). We can safely assume having a DVD only clip is madness.

There’s not even an argument for having all of one band’s clips in one place. They are in one place – your computer screen. There are many DVDs in stores right now that can show you things you can’t see online. Film Clip Collections are not one of them.

People don’t watch film clips on TV anymore. Not first, and sometimes not ever. It’s an era of YouTube, and watching videos on little frames on our computer screens. NPR’s Neda Ulaby compared watching the ‘Thriller’ clip on a small screen to trying to take in Spartacus on an iPhone. Even the film clips themselves are changing.

It is yet another reason to not watch film clips on the home entertainment system. Single Ladies. The great OK Go videos. They are made for the medium of the internet. It’s also the first place people go to. Videos premiere on websites – and are passed virally.

It brings in a question of DVD fidelity. Do we care? For years, a small but vocal group decried digital music for it’s lack of sound quality. Millions of people chose to ignore this and love music anyway. Then music started being made for digital (see Soulja Boy).

And so, if film clips are being made for the internet – who cares about DVDs?

The final point is the biggest one – ownership. People are still skeptical of cloud computing – and I am too. But I am willing to forsake Film Clip collections for the internet version. Here’s why:

Cloud computing as scary security concerns. From fear that servers-might-crash-and-I-lose-my-stuff to I-don’t-want-a-company-to-know-that-much-about-me. I think both those things fail for Film Clips. I don’t care if YouTube can track the clips I watch. And I don’t think I’ll have trouble finding clips on the internet ever, even if YouTube crashes.

And those old DVDs are awful. They may have seemed nice at the time, but they usually offer no extra features. Even attachment to artwork is out the window. Most of them were just rehashes of existing artwork. Blur’s was just a reshaped version of their Best Of, and I have that artwork on a nice big vinyl record.

I think the ultimate test is this – if I didn’t own that Blur DVD already, and someone offered to give it to me for free, I’d probably say no.

The Film Clip collection is dead, I think that’s certain. But it’s death may be a sign of bigger things to come. As bandwidth and storage space increases, where does it lead for the Film and TV industry? That’s the next big war, and maybe the first battle has already been fought and won.

Damian Kulash Jr Op-Ed piece in New York Times – http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/20/opinion/20kulash.html

Edgar Bronfman Jr discussing the “MTV of the internet” – http://paidcontent.org/article/419-goldman-sachs-communacopia-edgar-bronfman-ceo-warner-music-group

NPR article about the changing art of the film clip, Neda Ulaby – http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=99880324

30 for 30: Notting Hill

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.

9. NOTTING HILL

Portobello Markets, Notting Hill

Portobello Markets, Notting Hill

I lived around Notting Hill for 3 years. I was going to write a piece about London herself, but it’s West London and the Notting Hill surrounds that I will always remember.

I am currently not living there. After 3 years, I decided to move on. Most of friends have gone, and I wanted to try something different. I don’t regret it, but it’s not the best decision I’ve ever made. I miss it a lot.

Notting Hill is held together by Portobello Road – a long and winding road that goes from south to north. On the weekends it’s one of the best, busiest markets in the world. At nights it’s full of great pubs, restaurants and cinemas. At other times, it’s just a collection of flats, supermarkets and cafes. It’s a different thing at different times.

By luck, my job is in West London, so I tried to find a place to live near work. I found it in Ladbroke Grove, the next suburb up from Notting Hill, at the end of Portobello Road. From here, most mornings I would walk past the markets, and if it was a weekend I would soak in the shops and the atmosphere.

The place, even when packed with thousands of people, feels like home to me.

Portobello markets is the highlight. A million Saturday mornings spent going through it’s shops, and eating it’s paella. There were great record shops – the indie/famous Rough Trade, the 60s old school vinyl fanatics Minus Zero, and the soul/reggae shop Honest Jon (part owned by Damon Albarn).

For food, there are plenty of market stalls. Fantastic paella (with a slightly scary loud lady), excellent falafel rolls, nasty but sometimes necessary spicy German sausage to a little alleyway where some woman roasts a pig on a spit every Saturday. There’s always new ones too – I saw a Ghanan place the other day.

There’s plenty of sit down places too – the Electric, expensive and posh Italian at Osteria Basilico or Essenza, the best Thai in London at Market Thai. The Sausage And Mash Café is great for a hangover a50s chic décor, or the hidden away courtyard at Lazy Daisy. I have eaten myself mad on this street.

The shame is, there is no good coffee. London coffee is dodgy at best, so for a while I tried to support Progresso, a fair trade barista. But the coffee was so bad I had to spit it out, and I started going to Starbucks.

There are, however, a lot of pubs. From north to south – The Fat Badger, right in the Caribbean end of Portobello with a big open front room and comfy sofas. The Market Bar – always too crowded but a couple of great front-facing seats for people watching. The Castle – small but lovely, bar staff are wankers but we met a great group of people dressed up once. First Floor – my favourite bar that’s in the markets, right next to Rough Trade, people spilling out everywhere, clunky revolving doors, a million great memories. The Duke Of Wellington – the old man bar where I ran once after a heartbreaking night, to head into a conversation about continents. The Portobello Star – chic, charming, small bar that’s recently been prettied up. The Earl Of Lonsdale – cheap and with a big beer garden, many nights were spent in here, meeting lots of people. But if I had to choose one, it’s the Sun In Splendour –first shop south on Portobello. Quirky, great beer garden, best food – and it’s where Monty Python would drink and write the Flying Circus.

And that to the stalls that sells comics, CDs, vintage suits, old paperbacks, antiques, Hugh Grant’s Travel Bookshop, Jesse’s Western for old cowboy shirts –  and more. Before I bore you with more details, just make a plan and visit it yourself.

Londoners are always fighting about what part of London is best. North vs South. East vs West. It gets kind of old. So I’m not going to go into why the West (where Notting Hill resides) is better than any other part of London. Except for one very important point.

Notting Hill is beautiful. Rows and rows of lovely terrace houses. Side street mews, and the wonderful All Saints Church just hidden away but over looking it all. It LOOKS like London from Paddington Bear cartoons. And, as with everything in my life, I usually go for the pretty.

As exciting as I find the place, people tell me I missed the golden days. The 50s brought with it an influx of Caribbean people – an influence that pervades the laid back, somewhat hippie culture of the area (and is best manifested in the yearly Notting Hill Carnival).

In the 60s, it was the home of Psychedelic rock. Pink Floyd, Cream and Hendrix all hung around there. Hendrix himself died in Notting Hill, in a hotel that is now a terrace building. The Electric, right in the middle of Portobello Road, was a famous avant garde cinema at the time.

Part of the reason for this was Notting Hill fell into disrepair. Large houses turned into artist slums. Leading well into the 70s, it was considered one of the worse areas of London. Clashes with police and the feeling of injustice led to Saint Joe Strummer, a local boy who created the Clash. In Strummer, I see all the great things about Portobello Rd and Notting Hill. An artistic life lived with passion. A mix of intellect and gut. World rhythms and white hot guitars. Politics and love intertwined. God, I love the Clash.

The 80s came Thatcher, and the slums and the bums were cleared out. Most of them were posers anyway, but the heart of the area stayed. Slowly it became neater, and the shops popped up. It became a buzzing part of new Britannia by the 90s – and was the home of Blur and Pulp. Jarvis Cocker wrote Common People about the influx of tourists and upper class types into the area.

Then came the Richard Curtis movie Notting Hill, which changed everything again. Now a worldwide postcard, Portobello was taken over by chain sneaker shops and expensive clothes. The danger has gone. It’s now one of the biggest tourist attractions in London.

But that Joe Strummer spirit is still there. The Portobello Film Festival isn anarchic and awesome. The street works together as a community. All peoples come together here, to dance, to kiss, to argue and to live.

A million memories flood my mind when I think of Portobello. Above and beyond the pubs – are the clubs. All of them mainly cool, and drinking spirits and dancing like a mad man to 70s funk. Be it Trailer Happiness or Notting Hill Arts Club. And walks home, buying more smokes, a bottle of water and sometimes instant noodles as well from the all night shops.

There were Sunday nights at the Coronet Cinema, mostly on my own, watching whatever indie film was on. The Hillgate, where Jay, Dan Ryan, Hampton and I ruled for months. The weird school where I took French lessons. I still get my haircuts from the South Americans on Golbourne Rd.

Many life changing scenes, both good and bad, occurred in Notting Hill. But that could be the amount of time I spent there. Many times I found myself walking down Portobello in the dead of night, and I have it all to myself. Friends made, girls kissed, girls lost, fights had, cans thrown, piss pissed, records bought, jokes told.

It’s where I think of when I think London. If any part of me is a Londoner, then I’m a West Londoner. Even if the whole place changes again, it will still be my London.