Das Ignorant

That embarrassing moment when, while reading an article on Indian oligarchs, you congratulate yourself on knowing who Mukesh Ambani is, feeling gratified that you have not fallen as far out of touch with current affairs since your debating days as you sometimes fear – and then you realize it’s because you heard his name in a Das Racist song.

Losing My Edge

At my weekly West Coast Swing social dance, a song came on that I didn’t know. It had a minimalistic Neptunes-esque beat with one of those high reverby synth sounds that has been hot for quite a while now (like in Beez In The Trap and Look At Me Now), and started with a rapped verse that reminded me instantly of Wait (The Whisper Song).

So I walked over to the person who had compiled the playlist and asked, “Hey, what’s this? It’s pretty good!”

Justin Bieber.”


Party In The NWA

We usually listen to pop radio while cooking dinner, because cheese makes everything taste better. *rimshot* The following conversation ensued tonight when Party In The USA started playing:

Me: I still love that Jessie J wrote this. Except I don’t think it makes sense that Miley Cyrus is singing this instead of her. 

Alec: Well, for Miley it’s about moving to LA from Nashville.

Me: I know, but still.

(We continue chopping vegetables as the song plays.)

Me: And see, this part about the Jay-Z song doesn’t fit with coming to LA. Jay-Z is East Coast!

Alec: It’s possible you’re overthinking this.

(Just so you don’t leave thinking that was two minutes of your life you’ll never get back, I highly recommend the Saffron Pasta Salad and Curried Red Lentil Soup with Dried Cherries and Cilantro we made while engaging in this and other similarly profound conversation.) 

Uncle After Hours (Bridge Cafe Project, Singapore Arts Festival)

Uncles breaking out into song and dance in an ice cream café? The Bridge Café Project in the Singapore Arts Festival Village is one of those concepts that had me from hello. We dropped by on Saturday evening for dessert and some new dance moves for Alec, and were as charmed as we had expected to be. But I didn’t write this entry to tell you about the experience the ArtsFest intended us to have, but rather the unexpected delight that we happened to encounter later on – a collateral benefit, you could call it – when art left the Festival Village and seeped into life.

You should visit the Bridge Café Project yourself to enjoy the full 3D uncle experience, but if you can’t, there’s a video here. In case it isn’t already clear from the video, the appeal of the experience doesn’t lie in the finesse of their performances but in their unbridled enthusiasm. 

Dancing Bridge Cafe Project Uncles, Singapore Arts Festival

When the uncles aren’t performing, they are exceptionally snazzy café waiters.

Bridge Cafe Project Uncle, Singapore Arts Festival

But wait, you say – this entry wasn’t supposed to be about the café itself, but about some nebulous arty thing that happened afterwards! Get to it!

This is where I introduce you to my favourite Bridge Café Project uncle.

Bridge Cafe Project Uncle, Singapore Arts Festival

I don’t have any better photos of him because I was using a manual focus Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 58/1.4 lens with my Nex and let’s just say manually focusing on vigorous dancing uncles is not part of my photography skill set yet. But I hope it’s at least clear that he seems lovely.

After our ice cream we strolled through the flea market area of the Festival Village, and Favourite Uncle just happened to be at one of the stalls, playing a woodblock. Because he could, I suppose.

Later, we watched the kickass musicianship of Soumik Datta and Bernhard Schimpelsberger at the main stage, and once that was done we decided it was time to head home. A now-familiar figure stood at the bus stop, presumably on his own way home now that his duties at the café had ended for the night.

I don’t know if he knew I was filming him. While it would be reasonable to assume that anyone who signs up to burst into song and dance every twenty minutes in an ice cream café is unlikely to be a shrinking violet, he was not (here, or in the café) conspicuously extroverted or attention-seeking. He stood at the side of the bus stop facing away from the few other people there, not seeming particularly interested in the world beyond the umbrella and his fingertip. I wanted to tell him I had enjoyed his performance in the café, but because of this slight detachment I sensed from him, and my own shyness, I didn’t.

Our bus came and we got on. Favourite Uncle didn’t. Without wishing him too much of a delay before his bus arrived, I hope a few more people got to experience their own little moments of unlooked-for joy before he headed home for a well-deserved rest.

Don’t Call it A Comeback, I’ve Been Here For Years

From The Blogging Cycle – Back To The Beginning (found via another good take on the subject, Are Personal Blogs Making A Comeback?):

I’ve noticed an interesting shift in blogging. In short, there’s a trend moving away from hyper-focused niche blogs, back to what I’d call “personality” blogs. It makes me think of when I started writing online in 2000, and I like it.

As someone who also started writing online in 2000, I have often wondered, in observing the massive changes to the blogosphere over the years, whether I should jettison this blog and start a new one which focuses on just one of my various interests (and doesn’t do weird non-SEOptimized things like quoting LL Cool J for its post titles). As pitiful as it sounds to say this about something that’s been a part of my life for the past 12 years, the days when it had many regular readers and active commenters seem long past and I have a feeling hardly anyone would notice its disappearance. But each time I consider the idea seriously, something in me can neither bear to abandon something that I’ve truly loved creating, nor change its essential premise.

I unfortunately doubt the purported comeback of the personal blog will do very much for the fortunes of this particular personal blog, unless there just happen to be hordes of people roving the Internet in search of that one other person who also loves Sonic Youth, roasted chickpeas, lindy hop and tiny zoological museums containing walrus penis bones (just taking a cross-section of the most recent 2 pages of content). But it is nice to know I am not alone in my attachment to the idea of a blog which is simply intended to reflect the personality of its writer, without simultaneously attempting to shoehorn that personality into a “personal brand” for monetization.

Collected Tweets

Twitter link flotsam from the past few weeks. Follow @syntaxfreeblog if you want to get these when they’re funkyfresh!

Schizophrenia Is Taking Me Home

In typical music snob fashion, I disdain SPIN’s views on music unless they affirm my own. And in naming my two favourite members of my favourite band (i.e. Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo from Sonic Youth) as joint number 1s of their “100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time” list, together with my favourite Sonic Youth album (which is not actually Daydream Nation) as the high water mark of their guitar work, and my favourite song on that album as their “Most Heroic Moment”…well, let’s just say the last time someone’s views coincided so much with my own, we were exchanging vows on our wedding day. (This is not to say that Alec’s views generally coincide with mine, because that would suggest he is more obsessed with Simon Cowell than is healthy. But I’d say we were pretty much in agreement on stuff like vows and shit on our wedding day.)

If you will bear with my fanwank a little longer, this is a nice opportunity to meander into a little story about seeing Thurston Moore (i.e. one half of the Greatest Guitarists Of All Time winners) live in London last year. I previously described the wonderful luck that allowed me to attend that gig at all. As always seems to happen to me in London, this was not the last serendipitous musical moment I was to enjoy there, and the extent to which this was all Sonic Youth related is kinda ridiculous.

Earlier in my trip I’d been to the fantastic Gerhard Richter exhibition at the Tate Modern. The only reason an art doofus like me even knew who Gerhard Richter was, of course, was that Sonic Youth had used one of his Candle paintings for the cover of Daydream Nation, and I’ve basically been longing for a print of that painting ever since the age of 14. So I went to the exhibition, loved it, and bought the print.


So far, so freakin’ awesome. There was just one problem. Given that I was frequently changing accommodation to crash on different friends’ couches, a 100 cm by 100 cm poster stored in a large protective tube was rather unwieldy to schlep around London with the rest of my luggage. While standing in crowded trains with this monstrous protuberance wedged between my legs to save space I couldn’t help but feel like some train perv with a massive boner, and after various instances of dropping or nearly dropping it while digging out Oyster card and suchlike, I did begin to question the wisdom of going through all this just for the sake of a poster of a giant fucking candle.

So how did I resolve this problem? The same way I resolve most of my problems in London: I imposed on Russ. Which is how, just after dropping the huge poster off at his workplace (for him to hold on to until I was leaving London), I was wandering around Shoreditch with no particular agenda other than to indulge in one of my I-love-East-London reveries, and suddenly this materialized in my rose-tinted, Lomofied, heavily vignetted sights.

ATP Pop-Up Shop

(ATP, for anyone who isn’t a music nerd, is a music festival I love, firstly because its lineups are far more interesting to me than those for more famous festivals like Glasto or Coachella, and secondly because attending it doesn’t require you to sleep in a tent. Sonic Youth are pretty regular features at ATP festivals, as are many other favourite artists of mine. So basically a shop like this, to me, is like Famous Amos to the Cookie Monster.)

I must have looked like the dramatic lemur upon spotting the sign, and then the OMG cat while exploring the shop. While I was very restrained in my shopping – lugging around a poster of a giant fucking candle can have this effect – I also noticed a poster on the wall advertising the Thurston Moore gig I would be attending on 2 December. And because I am a huge sap, I really really wanted that gig poster as a souvenir of both the first instance of serendipity I linked to earlier, and this second instance of just chancing upon my dream music nerd shop in the course of an errand involving a Sonic Youth poster. (Still with me? When the going gets tough, just imagine how much more stupefyingly boring this would be if I were telling it to you face-to-face!)

Gig posters like that are usually for advertising purposes and not for sale, so I shyly asked, feeling really awkward about the weirdness of my request, whether it might be at all possible for me to buy a copy of the poster. Most commendably, instead of calling psychiatric social services to come pick up this stammering, bug-eyed Stan, the kind shop attendant shrugged her shoulders, smiled, and said, “Just take it off the wall, you can have it.”

Cue embarrassing gushing in the vein of “OMG, you don’t know what this means to me and you just totally made my day!”, me lovingly removing the poster from the wall, rolling it up and holding it with more care than I held my degree scroll, and then me bouncing happily down Rivington Street while calling Russ on the phone and explaining that, um, I needed to meet him again to pass him another burden poster.

The story ends, predictably yet happily, with me seeing Thurston at the Union Chapel. The gig was everything I had hoped it would be.

Thurston Moore (Union Chapel, 2 Dec 2011)

Months later, the story I’ve dragged you through here remains one of the most treasured memories of my 1.5 month holiday. I don’t know if my convoluted tale strikes a chord with anyone other than me, and the poster I snagged from the ATP Pop-Up Shop isn’t really much to look at. But as an instant, soul-elevating reminder of a moment when multiple things that take up a fair bit of my heartspace (Sonic Youth, ATP, London and the awesome things that happen to me there) magically converged to make me the happiest or at least most mawkishly sentimental girl in East London, nothing holds a giant fucking candle to it.

Thurston Moore - gig flyer

Margrave Of The Marshes (John Peel’s Autobiography)

If you haven’t already heard, parts of John Peel’s record collection will soon become a virtual museum of sorts from now till the end of October 2012. John kept his collection meticulously catalogued and filed with cards he hand-typed on his old Olivetti typewriter, and each week for 26 weeks, users will get access to whatever music was on the first 100 filecards of a given letter of the alphabet, with 1 album highlighted for special attention. (Unfortunately, since access is through Spotify those of us in Singapore can’t actually be part of the fun.)

Alexis Petridis got a first peek into the collection, and wrote a charming article for The Guardian about what awaits us:

In one instance, the sheer obscurity of the music seems to have overwhelmed even Peel. There is a card that features no track listing at all, merely the dark summary “16 songs in Hungarian”.

In light of this, now seems a good time to share some favourite excerpts (I haven’t done that for so long!) from John’s autobiography Margrave Of The Marshes, which was half-written during his lifetime and finished posthumously by his wife Sheila. Funnily enough, I actually prefer the writing in Sheila’s half – the half written by John suggests he never met a comma he didn’t like. Nonetheless, the book is a wonderful read not just for music geeks but anyone who ever enjoyed John’s inimitable personality and radio presence – in my household, for example, Alec (who never listened to The John Peel Show but loved Home Truths) and I (who never listened to Home Truths but loved The John Peel Show) enjoyed it equally. 

The book opens with a quote from John, writing in Disc and Music Echo, 1969:

It is obvious that disc-jockeys, as a class, are essentially parasitic. We are, with lamentably few exceptions, neither creative nor productive. We have, however, manipulated the creations of others (records) to provide ourselves with reputations as arbiters of public taste. There is no more reason (nor no less) why I should be writing this column than you – however I am in this unmerited position and you’re not. I believe very much in radio as a medium of tragically unrealised possibilities and also in the music I play. Therefore accepting the falseness of my own precarious position I will do what I can, wherever I can, to publicise these good things I hear around me. These musicians have made you aware of, and appreciative of, their music – not J. Peel.

Read on for more excerpts from Margrave of the Marshes

Collected Tweets

I decided to add a little value to the @syntaxfreeblog Twitter account by tweeting here and there about stuff I’m enjoying, but I still like the idea of collating those here for the record rather than losing them forever in the Twitter swamp. Where possible, I might also rephrase them better than I could on Twitter, or add a little value here which I didn’t have space to mention there. Here are a bunch: