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Aaaaaaand We’re Back!

5 Nov

metronomyWow, that took a while. Sorry for the 12-month outage chaps. Contrary to reports in the media I have not hung up my chopsticks for good, I just couldn’t locate my inner rant. I might well have left it in the back of a Hong Kong taxi to be honest. Well, now your friendly neighbourhood Noodle is back, with all the inevitability of an unloved season, and primed to explode over this city like hot porky broth on a ramen shop floor. (I’m going to be doing some jokes).

To kick things off, though, I found this little gem lurking in the bottom of my tatty porcelain noodle bowl of fun. An interview with arch electro-plinky plonkers Metronomy from back in 2008 – ie before they was as famous as they is now – replete with original line-up and arguably better songs. Stay tuned for original content coming soon…

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Metronomy is not a band to play by the rules. In fact, they don’t even know where the rule book is. And if they found it, they’d probably burn it, in a wooded area, next to a no-smoking sign. So it comes as no surprise to find these three deceptively well-spoken and civil young men having a cheeky fag in one of the numerous threadbare rooms inside Camden’s Koko. It’s a couple of hours before they’re on; the nth date on their never-ending tour to promote their unique brand of electro plinky-plonk, perfect pop harmonies, falsetto choruses and affected, meticulously choreographed dance moves.

Here at Canvas we don’t rate the more obscure bands for the sake of their obscurity, but Metronomy are different, we’ve decided; they pretty much provide our very own litmus test of friends and acquaintances. Heard of Metronomy? Yes? OK, thumbs up. Like them? Alright, you can be our friend for life. Which isn’t actually to say that Metronomy are obscure – songwriter and band founder Joseph Mount has remixed everyone from Kate Nash to Goldfrapp.

“It’s nice now because people are quite up for having their stuff remixed,” he says. “KD Lang wanted something quite radio-friendly, so I did what I thought was radio-friendly but it wasn’t really what she expected. Taking entertaining risks is good fun, it’s a nice way to while away a few hours.”

You might have already come across Metronomy in broadsheet articles heralding the so-called Nu Rave scene alongside Late of the Pier and Does it Offend You, Yeah? among others – but it’s about as cohesive a scene as anything invented by a Guardian journalist, ie not at all. “I guess you have to expect that,” muses Mount. “But it’s actually quite nice now because we have people interviewing us and they’re saying ‘ we don’t know how to describe your music’.”

So how do you describe Metronomy’s music? According to the MySpace page, the band hail everyone from Bowie to The Ramones as an influence. In their own words though, they rate Usher and Timberlake for their unique credit-crunch defying dancing skills, Timbers coming in for special praise by virtue of being “like Beatles-lite”, according to Mount. A cross between the Beatles and Nirvana is how they’d like to describe their own music though – ie a combination of Revolution # 9 and Polly, apparently.  Hmmn, maybe you should just go out and buy a record for yourself, or even better, see them live – their unique stage show involves rather large push button lights slung from each band member’s neck, being pushed on and off at regular intervals in time to the music, and statuesque posing behind their keyboards. If you’re very lucky there’ll also be a troupe of dancing girls behind doing a jig in time to the tunes. But don’t let this put you off, there’s a boyish playfulness – a knowing wink to the audience that this is all just a bit of a larf and not some art school pretentious wank – that means they can just about pull it off. But are they worried the gimmick will be a curse as more people discover “that band with the lights”?.

“I went though the paranoia that maybe we should change this idea but actually it’s brilliant – it’s a strong look,” says Mount. “I’d argue that there’s not that many other bands that have something so visual linked to them. So some people may catch us at a festival and not know who we are but remember the show and then stumble across our music a few weeks later.”

The music has evolved a lot since Mount wrote the first album in his bedroom – figuratively anyway. Recruiting school chums Oscar Cash and Gabriel Stebbing for the live shows has led to a more expansive, lyrical and, god forbid, radio-friendly sound. Tunes like Heartbreaker, Radio LADIO and Heart Rate Rapid featuring infectiously catchy choruses and little flourishes which marry perfectly to the band’s cheeky on stage antics.

“It’s been quite a gap between the first album and this and it’s been quite a natural progression, influenced by the fact that we’ve been playing live and me realising what Oscar and Gabriel are capable of … and what they can’t do,” says Mount. “When the first album was done, songs like Trick or Treatz were written by me but the reason I didn’t sing on them was because I wasn’t confident enough to sing like a girl … but that’s all changed now.”

So what’s the ultimate goal for the band? Can they or do they want to reconcile their unique sound and growing band of followers with the mainstream and super stardom? Well, their aspirations are typically modest; Gabriel wants a Saturday morning kids TV slot, apparently, while Oscar would just like it “if a few more people heard of us because we deserve it”.

“It would be a shame if we were dropped by our label because people didn’t pick up on it quickly enough,” adds Mount. “It would just be nice if more people got it, although we’d have to do fucking badly to get dropped by our label.”

So look out for the new album in September kids – “driving music” perfect for 45 minutes in the car, according to Mount. Or better still, catch them at one of numerous London and festival appearances over the summer – you won’t be disappointed, although they might be if you don’t bother coming, and so will we. Not angry, just disappointed.

Kenny G’s Wrong Walk: the Rise and Fall of the Saxophone Revolution

24 Oct

kenny gHong Kong’s noble, determined pro-democracy movement was dealt a potentially fatal body blow this week when easy listening sax legend Kenny G cruelly withdrew his support.

Mr G had seemed pretty sympathetic to the protesters’ calls for universal suffrage when he posed for photos with some of the locals and tweeted a selfie in front of a pro-democracy banner.

With those ever semi-permed shoulder length locks and gaily tossed cashmere sweater, G cut an almost Christ-like presence in Admiralty. In the photo his two fingers are raised as if to say “peace be with you all, my funny little Asian friends”.

Then all hell broke loose.

You see, Kenny’s a bit of a big deal in China, where they absolutely bloody love him. He played four gigs there last month and his easy listening classic Going Home is played – very much like Auld Lang Syne in Japan – as a Pavlovian cue to shoppers and bar go-ers that a venue is shutting for the day/night.

His caché is in fact so strong with Middle Kingdomers that Chinese Marxist thought refers to opium as “the Kenny G of the masses”.

A Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman was forced to denounce G’s apparent love-in with the Hong Kong protesters with the following statement:

“Kenny G’s musical works are widely popular in China, but China’s position on the illegal Occupy Central activities in Hong Kong is very clear. We hope that foreign governments and individuals speak and act cautiously and not support Occupy Central and other illegal activities in any form.”

Rather than grasp this opportunity to stand up and become a figure-head for a movement striving to achieve that basic human right of universal suffrage, he deleted the tweet and posted this bullshit to Facebook:

“Some fans took my picture and it’s unfair that I am being used by anyone to say that I am showing support for the demonstrators. I am not supporting the demonstrators as I don’t really know anything about the situation and my impromptu visit to the site was just part of an innocent walk around Hong Kong. I love China and love coming here to perform for over 25 years. I only wanted to share my wish for peace for Hong Kong and for all of China.”

You looked destiny in the face, you had a chance to make history G, and what did you do? You went and listened to your publicist. The Hoff – who single handedly tore down the Berlin Wall remember – would be ashamed of you.

So there we go. Before it even had a chance to flourish into something intense and irresistible, very much like a Kenny G ballad, the Saxophone Revolution had been cruelly ended. Amen.

Turn off X-Factor love, Hong Kong’s got something to say

2 Oct

HK protestsA few years ago I walked out onto the balcony of my newly purchased flat in SE17 on a wonderfully balmy summer’s evening, glass of chilled Chablis in hand … and watched the London riots unfold beneath me. A few years later all I can do is watch frustrated on TV as a far more worthy, honourable and well-ordered mass of people decide to make themselves heard, on the streets of Hong Kong.

I’ve no doubt that back in 2011 those images of be-hoodied chavs storming Foot Locker on the Walworth Road (but leaving M&S alone, thank the Lord) were beamed gleefully into homes by China’s Communist Party mouth-and-eyepiece CCTV. “Look at what democracy gets you,” I imagine the state-run broadcaster saying, “mob rule – anarchy!”.

The truth is that democracy is a kind of mob rule, but not in the way that unfolded during the London riots. It’s more like an elective dictatorship where the people in power pander not to the majority but to the minority of curtain twitching, Daily Express-reading xenophobes or lobotomised Family-Bucket-in-front-of-X-Factor charvers who live in marginal electoral seats.

But whatever its flaws, democracy’s better than the alternative, as presented by the People’s Republic of Middle Kingdomland. So when Hong Kong was recently told by Old Man China that it would not be allowed the universal suffrage practiced by virtually every democratic country on the planet, but a special version in which all candidates are effectively chosen by Beijing, it decided to do something. And fair bloody play.

When was the last time you saw such an ordered, polite and tidy mass protest? These are the students I once mocked on this blog for having absolutely nothing going on. Live with parents, study way too hard, have no fun. Well, they’ve finally found a cause – something to get excited about. And it’s spine tinglingly good to see them camped out in Causeway Bay, Mong Kok, Central, trying to hold their ineffectual leaders to account, saying that, “actually, we do have a voice”. The government, the police force – which lobbed 80 cans of tear gas in the crowd early on only to realise that they looked like total dicks for doing so and were ordered back – and business leaders look increasingly out of touch, and desperate.

You’ve had your fun now…

With not a single iota of irony, various vested interests tell the media it’s in Hong Kong’s best interests, best commercial interests, if everyone just heads home and allows business to continue as usual. Well, one thing, it is continuing as usual, by all accounts. And two, the only reason your business is around at all, you tai-pan twat, and not a co-opted state-owned enterprise by now is because of the openness and democratic values that founded this frigging place. The government claims that the protests, which are coming up to a whole week now, have  caused “increasingly serious impacts on people’s livelihood”. Well, no actually; according to pollution indicators in Hong Kong I’ve seen, blockading the roads has actually done the air quality a whole heap of good.

The Party, by the way has gone MENTAL, by all accounts, but as of yet has done it in private. This, after all, is the Hong Kong which has been graciously allowed to keep its civil liberties, its unfettered access to the internet and its Rule of Law (nominally, although I hear the judiciary has been packed with pro-Beijing loyalists since ’97) . How’s that for gratitude?

Time for tanks?

The truth is Xi Jinping is in a very tricky position here. He’s a hardliner in the Deng Xiaoping mode with his tough stance on corruption and aggressive South China Sea policies. But he can’t send the tanks in a la Tiananmen Square. These are different times and the world would react far less passively, especially as it would prove that for all the soft power plays and the human rights speak, the Party is as brutal and single-mindedly power-lusty as it always has been. What’s more, according to this excellent article in The Economist, despite all the talk of Hong Kong’s diminished importance economically for China, it’s actually still more vital than it ever has been, maybe more so.

For all China’s apparent strength, its leaders are constantly in fear of revolution, so it will want this little skirmish ended asap before news filters across the border. But how to do it without whipping up more anti-China fervour, whilst not executing a face losing climb-down over electoral rules? Sacking HK’s ineffectual CEO CY Leung would go some way to appeasement, but won’t satisfy the hardcore. No, I reckon Beijing will sit it out and hope that eventually the students will go back to school, pressured by parents worried about their grades.

If they don’t, expect to see some pockets of covertly state-sponsored violence and anti-social behaviour suddenly and incongruously erupting in various areas. That’s all the police need to step in and then it all escalates. Then and only then will world leaders finally be able to breathe a sigh of relief that Big Brother is back in charge – denouncing the “violent” protesters who have befouled the good name of democracy as they do it.

Democracy?  Judging by the turnout at the last UK general election, we’re pretty close to forgetting the meaning of the word.

 

Hong Kong says goodbye to its dreams, JLaw says ta-ra to her dignity

5 Sep

jlawI’m a bit depressed.

It’s not because August in the UK was a steaming turd of a month. A grey, miserable, disappointing four weeks of anti-climax and ennui. Not even because on the other side of the world friends cavorted on junk boats under cyan skies and swam in seas the temperature of bathwater. Nope.

It was my 37th birthday at the end of August. The beginning of my late 30s. The downward spiral. The end of days. If Alex James did actually say he celebrated his 20s with booze, his 30s with drugs and his 40s with good food then he’s got it wrong, because I managed all three that weekend. Yet even this failed to disguise the very real fact that I was getting older. A lackadaisical approach to facial hygiene meant my beard grew a little (it only ever grows a little, the shit) and presented me with a little gaggle of white follicles. In plain sight they were, mugging me right off.

My Dad, who has a wonderfully anachronistic way of speaking sometimes, narrowed his eyes and asked me if I was “pursuing a beard”. Pursuing a beard? As if I’d just jumped breathlessly into the back of a cab and asked the driver to follow the car in front…the one with my beard in it. No father, I am not actively pursuing a beard, but I’m rapidly chasing down old age. It didn’t help that I fucked my back and got followed on Instagram by my 14 year-old-nephew in the same birthday weekend.

It’s a toss up which is the more traumatic. Initially it was definitely the intense pain of twisting my lower vertebrae, but now that’s subsiding the long term misery of being bombarded with inane pictures of nephew #1 and his mates is starting to sink in. I daren’t even leave an angry comment in case I’m branded an old twat, a paedophile or, even worse, completely ignored like an elderly uncle at a wedding.

So to cheer myself up I thought I’d revive the Noodle, so to speak, and write about something funny that’s happening in China. Except there isn’t really anything funny happening ANYWHERE on the planet, least of all Hong Kong, where the people have finally, definitively been told by Beijing that they can’t elect their own leader. At the risk of sounding like a know-it-all here, what did they think was going to happen? CPC in failing-to-honour-international-agreement-betrays-its-own-to-stay-in-power shocker. Fuck knows what the nightly news is going to report on now. Public backlash over a new waste incineration plant? Another preventable death at the annual Cheung Chau Bun Festival?

It’s not as if things are any better abroad. ISIS* continues to build a terrifying new world order, Putin remains a massive dick, Scotland unfathomably seems to think it would actually like to just bugger off on its own somewhere like a spoilt child, and Dave Lee Travis continues to … well we’ll find out pretty soon. And then some poor old grannie gets beheaded in her back garden in Edmonton. Are we actually playing out our final days here? It does feel like we’re building towards the denouement of something. I might place a bet on who we get invaded by first: Russia, Islamic State militarists, or China.

Then, just when it all looks so horribly, soul numbingly bleak, the internet goes and bloody saves the day by serving me up pictures of JLaw’s snatch. At least it’s not all doom and gloom out there. And I was writing a story on the iCloud hack so I didn’t even need to feel guilty. The Pete Townsend defence in full force for you there.

So, to the Oscar-winning actress and her perfectly hairless foo-foo I say “thankyou ma’am”. Life will always find a way…

 

*incidentally this is the name of the cleaning company which services my block of flats. They either need to change their moniker or embrace it, perhaps with a new slogan like “declaring jihad on dirty windows since 1997”.

The Elephant that forgets: regenerating SE17

20 Jun

elephant posterIf my 20-year-old self could see me now … he’d probably spit at me, then shake my hand. And then ask for all of the Grand National and FA Cup winners for the next 16 years.

Sitting here with an ice cold beer on the balcony of my lovely little flat overlooking the Elephant I don’t think I’d blame him. This little corner of south-east London that I’ve lived in on and off since 1998 is finally changing into something befitting a Zone 1 neighbourhood in the greatest city on earth. According to the glossy Lend Lease posters there’ll be shiny new buildings, cinemas, market squares, tree lined boulevards – or roads as I like to call them – and more artisan bakers than you can shake an organic French stick at.

Or there will when it’s finished, by which time I’ll probably have moved out to a larger place two buses and an uncomfortable train ride away – somewhere I can hang up all those Nepalese prayer flags and Laotian lampshades.

The Elephant and Castle. An actual elephant could build a castle in the time it has taken a series of ignorant local authorities to decide what to do with the area. Day after day I’d pass the “regeneration” office nearby to see bearded, middle-aged men and women (not all of the women, some had shaved) fiddling while the area sank deeper into a post-crash malaise. To their credit they must have got through a shitload of tea, sandwiches and Hob Nobs, which I’m sure has made a lasting, positive impact on the economy.

You see, now that it’s actually happening, I can’t really decide whether I want the Elephant to change. Couldn’t we have just prettied up the Heygate a bit, smoothed off the edges and renovated the decaying bits? Did we have to spend 20 years um-ing and ah-ing only to sell the land off to a property developer for a ridiculously low sum, on the proviso of “social housing” that doesn’t really do what it says on the tin?elephant regeneration

I couldn’t afford to live in the area if I was looking now. And I can barely afford to live further out as the knock-on effect of this insane house price inflation ripples out through London. That’s not really Elephant’s fault, of course. But it’s come to represent a lot of what’s bad with Britain today: its politicians, its vested interests, and its priorities. Number one on the agenda of any local council regeneration meeting: “Let’s get a fucking Starbucks in guys. Chop chop.”

Then I remember just how grim this area was in the late 90s. I mean, it had nuttin’ going on. Yes, there were fewer payday loans shops and Halal butchers, but the decaying husks of the local businesses that were once on those premises did little to brighten my student days. I think Elephant was the carpeted, mock Tudor-beamed pub capital of the world back then. My early evening stroll back from uni to the council estate flat I shared with two others was rarely a stroll, more like an anxious jog.

I’ve just seen a flat in that estate going for over half a million quid.

Nah, fair play to Elephant. It’s got to change. Like an elderly aunt bricked up in the attic of a stately home, it deserves to be give a bit of lippie and a change of clothes once in a while. There are already more students than nut jobs walking the streets outside, which is no bad thing in my book.

Let’s just hope the sandwich and Hob Nob vendors aren’t forced out of the area.

Return of the Noodle: a bigger playground

30 May

st paulsSo, I’m back. Sorry it’s taken so long. I’ve basically only just sobered up. Two-and-a-bit years in Hong Kong came to a fine finale in early May after a farewell party which ended in my apartment at midday. With a Glaswegian ‘small business’ owner and a random girl who looked like a woodland creature.

Clearing up I found a rolled up 20 dollar note filled with tarragon and a slice of cheese in a wok full of red wine. Standard. I’m not surprised the landlady took HK$800 off the bill, although that was technically to dispose of a £1,500 sofa because it was “dirty”. Gotta love landladies.

So here we are. London, bloody London. It’s just a bigger playground. And it’s all new and fresh and exciting. Like the first time I ever lived here 17 years ago. Except with more money. And no exams. Now, London may well be IMG_3222turning into a gentrified, airbrushed, oligarch’s paradise of chain restaurants, soulless bars and hipster twats, but I can’t get enough of it at the moment. You don’t know vested interests until you’ve seen a handful of property moguls and tai pans hold a city state of 7 million people hostage. London by contrast is a paragon of democratic accountability and multi-culturalism. And Edwardian beards.

The noise is everywhere. Of drunken sill people spilling out of pubs, laughing, joking. Or queuing to get into dingy cavernous basements where world class DJs have decided to play. The soundtrack is not endless car horns, and angry, shouty, humourless conversations. It’s not people running around making money with no time or inclination to enjoy it.

Yes I’m basking in a London honeymoon and I bloody love it. Everywhere the sky; bright and blue and pleased to see me. I swear there must be 200 words for “wet misery weather” in Cantonese. But the best thing about having London for a bride-to-be is that she’ll definitely go all the way.

hk

Goodbye HK friends

Hello again gentlemen!

Hello again gentlemen!

 

The best of times: bai bai Hong Kong

2 May

HK night viewRight, that’s it. I’ve had a jolly nice time in Hong Kong over the past two years but, just like Fat Pang, I must now make like a pot of Jasmine tea and leave. Hopefully my departure from this Special Administrative Region of China will be a tad smoother and less tear-sodden than that of the British colonialists who bid bai bai 17 years ago. It’ll certainly be less controversial:

Now I’ve read some pretty self-indulgent “leaving China” twaddle from various flacks and hacks since I’ve been here and I have no desire to add to it. So instead here’s an easy-to-digest list of highs and lows.

Love it when you move in and it seems so QUIET!

Hate it when your upstairs neighbour turns out to be a 15 year old girl who spends her evenings screaming at her family. Every freaking night. Oh, and now the bulldozers have started. Brilliant.

Love the MTR – anywhere in Hong Kong for around a quid.

Hate getting stuck behind someone standing on the escalator (wrong side) watching TV on their phone.

Love listening to my neighbours have extravagant noisy sex at 3am; hate it when she leaves at 3.05 with a packed bag and tears in her eyes. She just did that by the way. Poor girl.

Hate it when it looks like you’ll be late for an important meeting because there are no fucking seats on the mini bus.

Love it when, yup, you always get one and actually make it with several minutes to spare.

Hate it when you meet a lovely bunch of people a few weeks before the big off

Nah, there’s no positive here, unless they turn out to be annoying cunts

Hate not being able to see as far as Kowloon on what should be a normal, sunny day. Cheers Shenzhen, you dirty bugger.

Love being able to hike up the peak from my door in just 40 minutes.

Hate not being able to do it for three months straight because it’s still bloody raining.

Hate standing on Wyndham Street with generic house music raping my ears.

Love bunker rave-in-a-cave parties. Shhhhh.

Love  no frills Cantonese food at dirt cheap prices

Hate Greek restaurants serving pasta, Thai tapas and everything else in Soho. Oh and when that local family run Canto joint is forced to close and gets replaced by a poncy jewelry shop.

Hate being cooped up in my tiny flat with the mould and mosquitos.

Love jumping off a boat into sea as warm as bath water. With a Tsingtao in my hand. And a slice of lemon drizzle cake.

HK night view