Broken Social Scene (Esplanade, Singapore, 9 March 2008)

I’m sure I must have been to duller gigs in my life than Broken Social Scene, but perhaps unsurprisingly, I can’t remember any of them now. In hindsight, it’s ridiculous that I’d been hoping the Esplanade sound system or a large live ensemble would help me appreciate the band’s songs better – at least on my iPod I could always just concentrate on my book and relegate them to aural wallpaper but now, here I was, trapped in an expensive concert seat with no other alternative for entertainment or distinctive musical ideas except Alec’s gentle snores beside me. I later found out Jacob and Pearlyn had walked out halfway, and realized for the second time that sometimes I really have to stop being so damn Singaporean about Getting My Money’s Worth, and just cut my losses and leave.

Perhaps some BSS fan might read this and my previous post on the topic and conclude that there was never any possibility I would enjoy the gig, because I was prejudiced against it from the outset. In fact, I was hoping against hope that like for Tortoise and Jaga Jazzist, I would go in actively disliking their music and emerge wild-eyed, reeling and evangelical. It’s possible my error of judgement here was equating BSS with the other two bands, because I find BSS’s music so pedestrian that I can’t even summon up active dislike for it, just complete indifference.

I don’t mean to enlist other people’s opinions in support of my own, but I enjoyed emptysignifier’s text-messages of outrage too much not to share them. (Again, emptysignifier attended the gig with an open mind, as a self-proclaimed “gigslut” just checking the band out. Although he has been on the receiving end of my music snobbery many times, he pays me no mind whatsoever, which is great.) I’ve received 4 instalments so far, starting immediately after the gig and even extending until yesterday! (Just provide RSS feed already lah!) Some excerpts:

  • “…for a band with a name like Broken Social Scene, they played more like a United National Front!…Why play a 2-chord rock song on FOUR guitars?!?!”
  • “While u rubbished them from the outset, I thought they were at least an erudite, intellectual band making introspective, eclectic, atmospheric music. But they’re really a rent-a-rock-band!”
  • “I mean, what’s with the woman and the trumpet? She had it hooked up to an uber cool utility belt of FX pedals, which was totally set up for consciousness-expanding sounds, but no matter what she did it still sounded like a goddamn trumpet!”
  • “…the ending was a fucking NDP warm-up cheering session!”
  • “Kevin Drew is the poor man’s Wayne Coyne!”

Even on a personal level and totally disregarding music, this gig = FAIL for me. I actually started the gig in a positive frame of mind about the band, because I thought their introductory joke about the members who weren’t present – including “Mas Selamat Kastari, who didn’t turn up for rehearsal” – was quite funny. Unfortunately, they then frittered away my goodwill over the course of the evening with a number of patronising comments (Matt, who attended the gig with an open mind since he’d never heard of them, and whose said mind I am incapable of poisoning with my music snobbery anyway, dealt with these pretty well in his account) and too many self-led cheerleading “OK EVERYONE CHEER FOR 60 SECONDS!!” sessions. For what blessedly turned out to be the very last one, after sitting in pained silence for the entire gig I finally reached the end of my tether and participated enthusiastically in the noisemaking by bawling “YOU SUCK! SHUT UP! FUCK OFF!”

Words Of Mutilation

I’ve always pipe-dreamed about making some foray into freelance music writing, but I usually bring myself quickly back to reality by reminding myself that good music writing is damn difficult. I’m rarely satisfied with any of the writing I do here to begin with, and that’s already about music that stands out to me. So I worry that if I had to churn out something about music I was indifferent to, simply because I was getting paid to do it, the end product would be dismal.

I really hope the same reasons were at play for some of the bad writing I’m about to “showcase” – a rather bitchy thing to do, I know, but what are blogs for if not for occasionally venting the impotent fury that would bemuse and bore everyone else around you?

From Juice magazine, I’m not sure which edition (I photographed the offending text and threw away the rest), Pavan Shamdasani reviews a Pixies tribute album. Here’s the full text of the review:

“This is odd. There’s a considerable chance that you’ve never heard of The Pixies. They were never a mainstream band, and most of their popularity appeared years after their break-up, when Kurt Cobain admitted to ripping off their stop/start dynamics. So to put out a tribute album for a band that has no casualties, was never that celebrated and was still touring up till last year is a strange occurrence. And even stranger are the cover choices – a male emo singer extolling the pleasures of a big, black cock on “Gigantic”? A clubby remix of lovesick stalker-ballad “Hey”? A Mogwai noisefest on “Gouge Away”? A psychedelic journey through muffled vocals and drunken horns in “Where Is My Mind?” OK, maybe the last one makes sense, but still, this is by and large a terribly incompetent compilation that pays little tribute to what made The Pixies so special.”

  • There’s a considerable chance that you’ve never heard of The Pixies. Way to start off a review, dude – with a big dose of condescension for your readers!
  • …most of their popularity appeared… Popularity does not “appear” fully formed from Zeus’s head, it is “gained” or “garnered”.
  • So to put out a tribute album for a band that has no casualties, was never that celebrated and was still touring up till last year is a strange occurrence. Where do I even begin? 1) Ferry disasters have casualties. Bands do not. 2) A huge number of tribute albums are made for people who are live and kicking. Google this if you need proof. 3) It is either misleading or ignorant to describe a band who broke up acrimoniously in 1993 and didn’t reform until 2004 as “still touring up till last year”. 4) The act of putting out an album cannot be described as a strange “occurrence”. It may be a strange “move” or an odd “decision”, but it is not an “occurrence”.
  • And even stranger are the cover choices – a male emo singer extolling the pleasures of a big, black cock on “Gigantic”? Because male emo singers aren’t allowed to enjoy big black cocks, clearly.
  • A clubby remix of lovesick stalker-ballad “Hey”? A Mogwai noisefest on “Gouge Away”? A psychedelic journey through muffled vocals and drunken horns in “Where Is My Mind?” OK, maybe the last one makes sense, but still, this is by and large a terribly incompetent compilation that pays little tribute to what made The Pixies so special. What’s so self-evidently wrong with any of the cover choices described? Why do they pay little tribute to what made The Pixies so special? And given that the writer starts off the review by assuming most of his readers don’t even know the band, how on earth are they now supposed to understand this conclusion if he doesn’t throw them any frickin’ bone machines?

Thou Shalt Not Say Anything About Anything

The following unspoken rules characterise most of the conversations I have had with the law students who have surrounded me since my return to Singapore. (Though obviously there are exceptions, who should know who they are.)

  • If asked what you did over the weekend (which is rare) it is acceptable to state the title of the movie you watched, or the club you went to. But be so bold as to actually venture an opinion of the activity you participated that goes beyond “Yah, not bad lah, quite fun” and all of a sudden you’re the weird one, because no one actually gives a shit what you think, especially when you do weird things that they’ve never heard of or considered doing.
  • Personal information beyond the most mundane facts eg. “I have a cat” or the most trite statements “It’s important to try and still have a life even though we’re working” is unnecessarily revelatory and must be kept top secret. If someone is asking you about yourself, answer in monosyllables. Perhaps they have an ulterior motive. If they continue to try to draw you out (the flaming cheek!) answer in banalities to bore them into submission.
  • Never give in. These upstarts must learn.

I am getting more socially awkward among these people by the day, because I don’t know how to behave. In England I behaved as confidently and talkatively as I felt like being on a given day. I met my best friend within freshers’ week, and within a month he told me things about himself he had never dared to confide in any other friend. In my public debating debut at the UCL Debating Society, I argued for the legalization of hardcore pornography, accused the other side of wanking under the table instead of listening to my team’s case, and rejected one guy’s incessant points of information by telling him he’d ejaculated quite enough. The club embraced me. In the pub, I let on that I was a practising Catholic. The club still embraced me. Throughout my time there I was an oddity, Chinese and female and Catholic in a club that was predominantly white and male and degenerate, but I never felt it.

But what worked so well for me in England seems to be anathema here, in my “homeland” where I should feel anything but an oddity. Confidence is overconfidence. Chattiness is met by reticence and suspicion. Before I went to England, I knew all this. I dealt with it by acting shyer than I really was, which seemed to make other people more comfortable with me. Since returning to Singapore, I’ve reverted to that old strategy, and I try to follow the rules when I actually know what they are, but it terrifies me. I don’t want to wake up one day and realize that I have become my disguise.

I really want to believe that all these people have great personalities which they just choose to keep hidden. Perhaps they have Personality Parties on the weekend, where they let it all hang out, and then button their stuffed shirts up for the week ahead, and I just haven’t been invited to these parties. Perhaps every dull statement made is actually code for “On the weekend I had a threesome and one of us was a goat.” But if so, why stay locked in this vicious cycle of conversational nothingness, where I say nothing because I think they’re boring and they say nothing because they think I’m boring?

Some days I wish I just had Tourette’s syndrome. That’d be a great excuse to break the fucking ice.

Junior Senior Whatever

What the hell does it matter that Junior is straight and Senior is gay, and why does it seem impossible to read anything ever written about the band without this fact mentioned? Is it meant to be special in some way that a gay person and a straight person are friends, and work together? For all I care, Junior could be the president of Hitler Youth and Senior could be a one-legged homosexual Jewish gypsy, and this still wouldn’t be enough to compensate for the fact that their music is shit.

Random summer-based meanderings

Random summer-based meanderings:

  • If you’re fat, for God’s sake dress to suit your shape. Fat legs in short skirts are repulsive. I know some angry fat person is going to chew me out for this, and say everyone should be able to wear whatever the hell they want and comments like mine are exactly the sort that perpetuate unhealthy body images in women etc. but yo, I have a flat chest and a big arse, so I don’t wear cleavage-baring tops or hotpants, it’s that simple.
  • Why are people in Tube station lifts unable to understand the principles of proper lift-space distribution? The people who enter first are virtually lolling around on deckchairs while the people who enter last have to become intimately acquainted with each other’s bodily crevices. Not nice on a hot day.
  • Do you think I could rig up superhuge loudspeakers on hot-air balloons all over London and play Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger simultaneously on all of them just so everyone could experience its stereo perfection, and possibly it would stimulate the economy with its inspirational message or at the very least have everyone doing the robot? No? Cynics.

Dear Wankers

To certain unnamed but now viciously described users of the law library where I unfortunately spend my postgraduate days:

German guy with overly floppy hair and a weak face that somehow looks capable of cruelty (think Rolf from The Sound Of Music), you are not the life of the library party, and your need to let the whole room know you’re having a wonderfully entertaining conversation is really pathetic. Your lavender jumpers really don’t go with blindingly blond hair. Also, not only is eating in a library a bit out of order, eating loud food (apples, crisps) and punctuating your already loud conversations with crunches and lipsmacks truly takes the cake, pun not intended.

Girl who hangs adoringly around German guy, and has an accent distinctly from my part of the world (Singapore or Malaysia), you are obviously so blinded by his hair that you have forgotten the manners and library etiquette they most certainly teach us back home. Thankfully, you’re trying too hard to act demure and cute to add to his noise.

Thirtysomething-if-you’re-a-day woman who leisurely answers unsilenced mobile phone and jabbers away at top volume for prolonged conversations, I have no idea what planet you’re from, so I’m not even going to bother.

With utmost sincerity,
A fellow library user, who is hardly encouraged in researching her human rights essay by the fact that she keeps longing to bludgeon all of you to death, or at least chuck you in gulags.

[Just to clarify: the library I refer to in this post is not the UCL library where I was amused by graffitti. That one is largely populated by undergraduates, who may burble on a bit at times about how rat-arsed they got last Friday night, but generally focus their efforts on vandalism and falling asleep, which are silent preoccupations and therefore don’t annoy me. The one I use most of the time, and which I refer to in this post, is only for postgrads, academics and professionals, all of whom really should know better.]

For The Last Time, I Am Not In Fucking KCL!

Warning: rant ahead.

I spent two years in an excellent educational institution, and enjoyed it enough to contribute a heartfelt, albeit short and hastily written, article to a commemorative CD-ROM.

And what did they do? They (the alumni who produced the CD-ROM, not the school itself) changed the title of my article from its original Rafflesian Recall (which was admittedly not great either, but was meant as a reference to this annual activity where former Rafflesians come back and do nostalgic stuff) to the incredibly moronic The Hauntings Of A Rafflesian. They got my current university wrong – Raffles Nite Committee and whoever on it that thinks I’m from the Strand polytechnic also known as Kings’ College London, I’M NOT, AND YOU SHOULD HAVE CHECKED.

Let me say now that I know I’m overreacting. But here’s how it goes:

One. I can’t stand incompetence. This is incompetence. If you want to change the title, check with me. All it takes is a phone call. If you want to change it yourself, don’t arbitrarily choose something that bears little resemblance to what I wrote! I am not “haunted” by my Rafflesian memories. I am, however, quite likely to be “haunted” by this bloody cockup.

Two. Given that I sent the article from a UCL email address, it should be reasonably obvious where I go to school, no?

This is the second time someone’s assumed I’m from Kings, and affixed that institution to my name in something that large numbers of people will potentially read. The first time, Aaron, who is otherwise one of the most wonderful people ever and who should one day become Secretary-General of the UN and bring it respect and grace and effectiveness, put me down as being from Kings’ on a speaker bio list at a public debate.

I chose to go to University College London because it was founded on radical beliefs. Because it was the first university in the UK to admit women and black people. Because I wanted a multi-faculty university, so that meant LSE was out. Because Kings’ was founded by the Church of England, which I see as being founded on one man’s petulance rather than anything of real theological significance. Because far fewer Singaporeans go to UCL than Kings’, and I wanted to meet people from the rest of the world. And because as multi-faculty universities in England go, only Oxford and Cambridge are better, but they’re not in London, which stole my heart a couple of years ago in a way Oxford and Cambridge never could.

As I said earlier, I know I’m overreacting. But I just really hate being mistaken for a student of a university which I very deliberately chose not to go to.