Tuesday, 31 March 2009

'Laziness is the mother of invention'

The Journal of Popular Noise is a semi-annual audio magazine founded in late 2007 and inspired by 'the traditions of pop music, printed periodicals, and the delight of a finely crafted artifact'.

The Journal contains bespoke recordings on 7" vinyl by musicians and collaborators such as: Climax Golden Twins, Past Lives (former Blood Brothers), Pontious Pilots, Copy, Dutch Dub, Na + Jenko, Bora Yoon + Ben Frost and will soon include Andrew W.K amongst its list of contributors.

I was fortunate enough to not only pick up one of these brilliantly crafted packages from New York recently but also to get a interview with The Journal's founder and NYC Parsons School of Design graduate, Byron Kalet.

-The JPN began as a project at University, what was the original stimulus for the project?

As it was my final project at Parsons, I was trying to make it a culmination of everything I liked making. The assignment was totally open so I just tried to fit everything into one project. I had been trying to focus on sound design and publication design so it seemed like the natural thing to do.

-Your background's in design but do you have any history in creating music zines etc?

I had never really thought about making a music zine in the tradition of DIY punk zines before. I was in bands all throughout my teens and early twenties, so I was very involved with music but I wasn't that interested design or magazines back then. I liked making everything else though, t-shirts, stickers, flyers, record art, and all that. I guess I saw it as more of an outlet for the literary people in the punk scene who weren't musicians. I already had so much going on that I didn't feel the need to mine that territory, plus it was pretty well worn territory before I even got into that stuff. I've definitely drawn on some of the ethos in terms of a means of production but aesthetically I've made a conscious decision to avoid that connection.

Issues 4-6

-How do you go about approaching bands for the project, is there a selection process?

When I first got started, I just asked my friends who I grew up playing with if they would be interested in being a part of this ridiculous idea I had. I expected everyone to blow me off but what happened was quite the opposite. I ended up with more music than I could publish, which I think pissed some people off. I eventually put it all out there though. I just happen to be lucky enough that my friends are amazing musicians and artists. Now I'm expanding into working with people I haven't met before. I think that there is an editorial voice within the people I choose to work with, but its sort of serendipitous. We also have a list of dream contributors, maybe we'll be able to get someday.

-For the recordings you set down certain guidelines for the artists to follow, how receptive are they to these suggestions? Did you find that some followed them and others strayed away from your intentions?

Well the biggest surprise is how excited people are about having constraints. I thought that no one would want to have someone tell them how to write a song. It's sort of like the cliched scene of the bigwigs at the record label trying to inhibit an artist expression so they can squeeze a hit song out of them. But in my case, everyone is really eager to comply! I don't understand it. I guess for most of them it's just something they've never done - it's a new challenge so it's fun. And obviously not motivated by finances. A few people have strayed from the format but I like that too. I imagine some kid in front of his stereo racking his brain trying to figure how how some crazy thing fits the format when it's actually off in some another world.

-Do the guidelines vary from issue to issue, do you play about with the rules at all?

I keep them the same in every edition. I think this one of the most interesting parts of the series. My favourite moment is when iI get a new recording in from someone and I get to see how they interpreted the rules. Every new record makes all the ones before it more interesting. Does that make sense?

-The layout of the magazine is something that people always seem respond positively to, how did it come about, who designed it?

I designed that also, although I feel like I can't take too much credit for it. Basically, the packaging came about because it was the only way I could figure out how to put 3 records together in a sleeve without having to cut or glue anything. Laziness is the mother of invention. Once I had that worked out, I just used the die-lines to dictate the typographic grid. It all kinda fell into place. I did draw a new typeface for the titles, which was based on the main text typeface - Avenir. I wanted a super thin sans-serif that would be really unique and graphically identify The JPN.

-Rather than tapes or Cds The JPN uses vinyl only, what do you prefer about it?

Well, I've written a lot about this topic. Basically, vinyl records are such an elegantly simple way of listening to sounds. Since vinyl records were invented we've seen a wide variety of other methods try to replace them, but nobody seems to be able to top it. One of the main tenets of the Journal is to create a really powerful physical relationship with music and vinyl is just the best way to do it. Same story with the letterpress printing, I don't want people to see this thing as a nostalgic throw back. The methods of production are just what I consider to be the best way to achieve my goals.

-What have been your favourite releases or songs so far?

I have to say I think they're all outstanding. Most of these artists are old friends of mine and I've heard every record they've done. The records they've done for the Journal have to be some of their best work. A few stand out, Past Lives (issue 7) are one of the most amazing new bands out of Seattle. Linda & Ron's Dad (issue 12) made their entire record out of David Bowie samples, which came out amazing. And Dutch Dub's record (issue 2) is also an old fav, he ties the whole issue together with a narrative sailor theme. It's like a tiny opera, so cool. I feel like the issues that are most successful are the ones where people bring another concept or element to it.

-What music have you been enjoying recently?

Most of what I'm listening to at the moment is 70's German Krautrock, Electronic, and Prog. I have a good friend who has been compiling all the best jams for me. Beyond that I've been into Blank Dogs, who are a really scrappy sounding lo-fi band out of Brooklyn, sort of in the same vain as Wavves and other bands like that. I've been really digging the last Matmos record (would love to have them contribute to the JPN).

Issue 1-3

-The way JPN works is somewhat akin to a record label, do you ever think you'll go down that path?

Yeah, actually I co-released the debut record from Truckasauras with Seattle label fourthcity and I'm about to release an EP from another Seattle band called Flexions. Both bands had contributed to the Journal in the past under different names and it seemed like a natural progression to continue that relationship.

-JPN is reaching its 2nd birthday this year, how long you plan on keeping it going? What's changed in the time that you've been running it?

I'm trying to keep this thing going for as long as I can. But that remains to be seen. It still seems to be gaining momentum and I think the spring/summer edition is going to really kick it up a notch. Its going to be an all spoken word edition featuring Andrew W.K., Ian Svenonius, Walker & Cantrell. I just got the Andrew WK record this morning and it is insane. Couldn't be more excited about it. I think the biggest change is that we're more confident in what were doing! At first it was like this little thing i was making in my living room but before I knew it we've been able to reach people from Japan to Australia. It's a really great feeling to know that you're a part of something that people from all over are enjoying and as excited about as I am.

The Journal of Popular Noise can be found online at popularnoise.net.

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Friday, 27 March 2009

The 90s

What the hell is wrong with Kate Moss's voice?

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Sunday, 15 March 2009

"Thanks, thanks a lot"

Probably missing the boat on this one by about 30 days but I'll paddle along anyway. The video above is of Joaquin Phoenix appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman last month. The painfully funny and curt interview generated quite the stir at the time - even prompting this dire little skit by Ben Stiller at the Oscars.

Less unimaginative parodies, however, have been made of the interview Phoenix conducted on the same day with Katey Rich of
Cinemablend.com. In it he speaks candidly (and more importantly clearly) about his move to hip hop and his dissaffection with acting.

There something about Phoenix that makes him such an endearingly tragic character, despite the media's (I say the media's, I of course mean EVERYONES) incredulous speculation over his new vocation he seems completely earnest about it, even slightly losing his temper with the interviewer for second guessing him.

Maybe it's his involvement with The Children of God or the death of his brother, but even generic I'm-a-celebrity-get-me-out-of-here comments such as:

"In some ways I wish that I wasn't a public figure, I wish that I didn't have expectations"

Just completely slay me every time. Heartbreaking stuff.

Click here for interview in full

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Friday, 6 March 2009


Launched in 2002 with the tiniest of budgets, P-Rock was a independant digital music channel set up by two South Londoners. It's playlist consisted of mostly pop-punk, ska, skate punk, emo as well as some hardcore, and as a result proved a unexpected success at the time averaging out at 600,000 viewers a week.

The channel, run by a small team of staff with no previous experience in television, differed greatly from other music stations: just one type of specialist rock music, no presenters, only one type of regular 'show' (a weekly countdown) and little to no advertising - a factor that would lead to the channel being taken off air numerous times, eventually for good in November 2003.

I asked one of the co-founders, Mark Shipman, about this saccharine anomaly in my teenage viewing schedule. Shipman who is now respected economist and soon to be celebrating his 47th birthday, has
published books, holds seminars, advises banks and other institutions as well as infrequently appearing on television as a guest expert. Still pretty punk rock though.

-What were your first memories of the punk scene in the 70's, how did you get involved? What were your favourite releases/clubnights?

I remember just how scared everyone was of the punk movement. The “establishment” genuinely thought this was anarchy and they were very worried. Being a teenager and part of such a movement was a real buzz. Having had to grow up with Gary Glitter and The Wombles, punk was a breath of fresh air. During the 70’s, although I lived very near Bromley, I wasn’t part of the Bromley Contingent although I knew one or two of them. To be honest, I was just into the music and went to gigs like most people. My favourite bands at the time were Generation X, UK Subs, Pistols, Buzzcocks, The Damned and a couple of local bands (Rodney & The Failures and Fucking Useless) who never made a record.

-How did you go about setting up the channel initially? What were the protocols like to get it on air?

Setting the channel up was hard work. We had to jump through a number of hoops with Sky and the music collection/copyright agencies. What made it harder were we were just a couple of South London geezers as opposed to some suited corporate outfit. It took us a long time to be taken seriously.

UK acts that would normally never get any airtime on other stations found an audience on P-rock. Jesse James (here with 'Shoes') show off two of the main themes that these British bands usually shared: a cheaply made video and love of ska.

-How many people were involved in the running of the channel? How hands on was the process?

The channel was set up by two people, myself and my good mate Lol Pryor. It was Lol who had idea for the channel. Just before we went live, we recruited a third person, Russell Aldrich (former Epitaph Europe Records head of marketing).

-The channel and website came about before the days of mainstream broadband, youtube and viral videos, would you have been able to do p-rock online if it was created nowadays?

Yes, I think it would be a lot easier to do on-line!

-Was it simpler to have a channel run entirely by fan votes rather than the way that every other music station does/did things?

P-rock used a computer software package (similar to the one used by the other channels at the time) to record the phone votes and then adjust the play list. This was the easiest way for us to operate, especially as there was only three of us running the channel.

Millencolin - Fox (Epitaph Records))

-P-rock's playlist consisted of mostly American bands, mostly playing skate punk or ska, mostly on American labels, did you have any connection to these bands or was it a case of enjoying what was being selected and popular at the time?

When we began to turn the idea of a music channel into P-rock, most labels never even returned our calls. Therefore, we could only play the videos we were sent. The American labels got the idea better than most and in particular Epitaph were very helpful. Hence the American dominated play list.

-P-rock were quite liberal in the videos they played in terms of adult content, did you care much that you were showing 18+ videos?

We always-pixilated videos to be shown after the 9pm watershed. I remember spending hours on an editing machine taking out tits, dicks and such like. That said, we know a couple got under the radar, but it didn’t do too much harm to the channels reputation.

-At what point did P-rock no longer seem financially viable?

Running a satellite channel is a very expensive business; the monthly broadcast fee to Sky just to use a satellite was over £40k a month. Our plan was to have enough funds to cover the channels operating costs until the advertisers come in. We anticipated this would take a few months.

However, the problem actually came from the channels success. Within just two weeks of launchinh and with a marketing budget of only £2k, we were receiving 50% of Kerrang TV viewing figs and it was similar for MTV2. This obviously pissed off the owners of these channels, who we believe then operated, a cartel on us with advertisers.

No reasonably large advertiser would place an ad on p-rock because they wouldn’t be allowed to have ads on the other 11 music channels run by the two big corporates. At that point, we knew our days were numbered. Our viewers loved the fact there were hardly any adverts but as a channel we couldn’t live on thin air and the revenue from phone votes was just too small. Something had to give and in the end we ran out of money.

I'd like to think that other people have as fond memories as... wait what I am talking about. This song is still fantastic, Home Grown -You're Not Alone

-Odds are probably against you getting recognised in the street but do you ever think about the legacy that P-Rock left?

Now and again I read or get sent something about P-rock and it does make me feel proud. When you think that two blokes, who knew absolutely nothing about TV other than watching it, had an idea, wrote it on the back of a fag packet and then turned it into the fastest growing music channel in Europe, I’m very proud. Also, to have influenced as many people as it did is a nice legacy.

-What advice would you give to someone trying to set up an independent channel in 2009?

My advice to anyone thinking of setting up a channel - start with a large fortune and expect to have a small one at the end. The journey is great but it’s not a cheap one.

Looking back, P-Rock can seem
incredibly dated and of its time. Yet with the effect that it had, in shaping the musical tastes and ears of countless impressionable youths across the country and also in providing hours upon hours of sheer joy and entertainment to hundreds of thousands, the channel and its creators should be remembered with warmth and fondness rather than the embarrassment and shame that you would associate with other teenage escapades, like not any reading books and liking Static X.

Mark Shipman can be found online at trendfollewer.com

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Thursday, 5 March 2009

Looga, Barooga

Chris Pell is an illustrator and student currently living in Brighton, he creates intricately detailed and irresistibly grotesque drawings and videos. I interviewed him recently and asked some questions here and there, read and enjoy -

-TLL: You've been drawing now for years, how would you say your style has developed? 

No, I totally agree. It's funny, I never really see my self change the way I work but in retrospect it has changed a lot. Studying in Brighton was the biggest influence, I stopped listening to certain types of music and got into others and just meeting other people around other courses introduced me to other influences. The whole sort of focus on human contortion and figurative work came from loving fantasy art I think. It's just so great, I grew up with a book of the works by Boris Vallejo, I kind of imagined illustration would be something like that until I came to uni and got my dreams shattered.

Flyer designed for Crystal Antlers show in Brighton

-You've had links with plenty of bands/musicians, being commissioned to do cover art and graphics, how did you get approached to draw these works and how do you go about the illustration., do you try and stick to the feel of the song/band or just create and see how it goes?

Bands would generally stumble across my page or a blog and sometimes ask for work but most of the time I would approach artists I really like and ask if we can work together. I was lucky with university that it gave me a chance to work with musicians like Joe Howe (Germlin, Ben Butler & Mousepad) and not worry about money or time because it allowed me to manipulate any piece of work into a self-initiated project. But yeah because I was contacting people like Joe I was able to generally do whatever I wanted, I think making the drawing or animation fit the music is generally the golden rule.

-Looking at your website recently, I have to ask who these commissioned photographs are for and what inspired the project?

As a matter of fact the two photographs were part of course project to re-design a chosen album cover. I chose Witch's self-titled album and worked with graphic designer Joe Porter to help set up each photograph. The music fitted quite well with what we had in mind and I was getting into the body paint stuff a lot. I'm hoping to use these images further and possibly make a music video of some sort in the near future.


-For an illustrative artist a website can be quite restricting, how do you choose to present your work to an audience/the viewer?

At the moment Chrispell.co.uk isn't what I want it to be, there's going to be a big re-vamp on the horizon with a much nicer interface. I agree it's difficult to properly show what you're about on a monitor screen, so I've got a few fingers in various pies trying to get my work out there. Generally for the internet though I've been setting up all kinds of accounts, flickr has been the most recent and also vimeo.

'Will to Power' - Print available for purchase

-Your work always seems so creative and eclectic, do you draw inspiration from any non-artistic influences?

I suppose it depends on what you mean by non-artistic. I like looking at anything really that's genuine, I try my best not to look at other illustrators, its like poison that is, can't get out of your head. I watch a lot of films and listen to a lot of music which both help me draw, I also like the internet. a lot. It's pretty bad but I like going on blog binges and youtube sprees, its amazing how much effort people put into things that never have any point. Like the other day I found myself searching "me singing..." and watching videos of people filming themselves singing, then watching people crit them over webcam.

-And whilst on the subject of influences what aural delights have you been surrounding yourself with recently?

Without namedropping I'm listening to a lot of hip hop recently like Big L and also bands like Abe Vigoda and Pavement but that's when I'm in a good mood, when somethings wrong like I'm skint or its raining I'll put on some wolves or hot cross.

Music Video created for Germlin

-You've been experimenting with videos, creating for bands and artists, why did you choose to branch out in this way? do you think you'll be continuing your work in this medium?

I'm not really sure, as I've said I'm looking to do a music video of some sort but in terms of my animations I think I'll come back to that. I started playing around with after effects when I wondered what it would be like to animate my drawings, it was fun but very time consuming. I'd usually take a few days on a drawing but it takes me weeks to do a small animation, a lot of drive gets lost and I find myself trudging along, drawing trees and mountains for ages. I make it sound like I don't enjoy it but I do though, nothings more satisfying than seeing your pictures move.

-Your current residence, Brighton always seems like such vibrant and busy city, how has living there affected your work and yourself?

Brighton is crazy, I grew up in Shepshed which was a small town near Loughborough, and came here after foundation not knowing anybody. Coming from such a dry, angry town to a tiny city full of art school kids was funny. I got used to it pretty fast but its like a little shielding bubble, you meet pretty much everyone who lives here and no one can misbehave otherwise everyone knows about it. It's a lively place though, a couple of years ago I co-started a club night called which is taking a lot more shape. It gives me the chance to vent any other work I want to do to use through club night flyers and posters.

Flyer designed for Angry Dance Party VI a clubnight Chris runs

-What have you got coming up in the future? You mentioned moving to New York, do you think you'll ever make it to there?

Wow I wish. It's been on my mind for the last year or so but I'd love to stay in America for a few months. Money seems to have issues with me (as opposed to the other way round). I think I may stay in Brighton for another year and maybe think about moving to the big grey LDN and hopefully get a job doing what I enjoy, drawing and taking fantasy pictures, then who knows, land of the free I think.

For more details as well as prints for sale, see chrispell.co.uk and for more images see his flickr

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