Added by Musik Arbeiter Dave on 21-Jun-17
This is the extended version of the review I did for Electronic Sound Magazine. This original version is here.
I’ve been somewhat pre-occupied of late, adrift in an electronic world of burnished chrome and circuit boards, accompanied by synthetic beats and vocoded vocals.
Daydreaming, I'm suddenly thrown back in time. It’s seven o’clock on a Thursday night in 1975 because that’s when the BBC's late and much lamented Tomorrow’s World takes to the air. It’s a heady melange of gizmos and gadgets and all manner of strange and wonderful ideas, and nothing ever works as it's supposed to, which is part of its charm. And this evening is no exception. Tonight, the programme features a weird bunch of Germans who make and play their own musical instruments out of bits of abandoned radio sets and discarded electronics. 'They got rid of their last proper musical instrument, a violin, last year' opines the commentator. 'Next year, they say they'll get rid of the keyboards too, and replace them with contacts built into their lapels.'
And I am hooked. Completely.
This is why I do what I do. Kraftwerk.
One Friday morning, a lifetime ago, I bunked off work, painfully bleating 'I don’t feel very well' to an unbelieving world. Truthfully, nobody in the office bought that miserable whinge for one femtosecond. They knew I wasn’t going to the GP’s surgery. They knew I was going to stand in a queue for tickets to see Kraftwerk. Deadlines? Schmedlines.
But that was a lifetime ago.
We arrive at the venue early. Parking around the Sage in Gateshead isn't always easy. Two balding men in their late fifties pull up in the Disabled bay next to us. One of them feigns an unconvincing limp as he hobbles towards the stage door. We'll come back to this guy in a couple of seconds.
A longish queue snakes down the steps and into the main car park but at least its moving quickly. A few less-than-subtle comments are fired off in our direction because Jenny and I are wearing our Musik-Arbeiter outfits, all red and black and polished leather, which seemed like a good idea at the time but, with hindsight...
Extra security is on hand, where serious men with serious beards check our bags and photo IDs in an attempt to eliminate the problem of ticket touts and deranged bombers. Once inside, there’s a bit of confusion over the need for the 3D glasses, with some of our fellow punters fussing over their apparent lack of futuristic styling. Strange.
Standing in the foyer, I can see the guy with the limp hovering outside... except that he doesn't seem to have a limp anymore. Indeed, he seems fairly athletic in his earnest attempts to avoid the house security. Yes, you guessed it. This guy with the limp is a ticket-tout and he doesn't seem to be having much luck getting rid of his expensive tickets. In fact, I don't think he's going to succeed at all because security have him tagged.
This is our first visit to the Main Hall at The Sage. We’re off to one side, in a box with decent leg room although we’re also at a slight angle to the stage, which pretty much guarantees a stiff neck tomorrow. The main seating area looks hopelessly cramped.
There’s a low drone playing, accompanied by some flickering, pixelated graphics across the main curtain.
Eventually, the lights go down, the music starts and Kraftwerk take to the stage accompanied by a huge roar from the audience. The ever-impassive Mr. Hutter smiles, albeit briefly.
The opening piece is a version of Numbers backed by some of the best 3D images I’ve ever seen. Shimmering green waves of rapidly shifting number sequences remind you of The Matrix, except that Kraftwerk did it first and they did it thirty five years ago.
Numbers gives way to Computer World and the melancholic Computer Love – that beautifully sombre poem to love and isolation in a digital utopia. The audience erupts over the opening chords of The Model with Hutter’s impassioned vocals still suggesting a level of infatuation on a par with your average Mylie Cyrus fanboy.
Kraftwerk move in quick succession through their back catalogue. Tour de France and the accompanying video projection are just mesmerising. It’s the same with Autobahn.
There’s a break. The band leave the stage but are quickly replaced by their synthetic avatars. We are the Robots blasts forth. Robots is definitely one of the highlights, another being Spacelab, which was similarly breathtaking.
Despite all of the technological trappings and the carefully disguised digital mysteries hidden behind the dull grey instrument risers, this music has soul. It has energy. It also possesses a gleeful, tongue-in-cheek humanity because Kraftwerk are clearly enjoying themselves. This isn’t four uber-serious computer geeks perched behind laptops earnestly miming to a backing tape. There are mistakes – fluffed notes, missed cues and timing glitches. I positively warm to this lack of precision in Kraftwerk’s machine-like subroutine. Is this a tiny chink in their shiny, metal exterior? Are Kraftwerk human after all?
Yes, they are, and all the better for it.
We leave the hall in a daze. En route to the exit, we bump into friends from our University days, Jane and Mitch, friends we didn't even know were Kraftwerk fans at all.
Outside in the car park I see flashguns popping. On instinct, I grab the first paper thing that comes to hand – my copy of Electronic Sound magazine, the one with Kraftwerk on the front cover. I head over to the stage door and suddenly find myself face to face with Mr. Ralf Hutter. Like an eager-beaver teenage fan-boy, I stuff the magazine under his nose. I haven’t seen this issue yet? says Mr. Hutter as he signs the front cover.
This is one issue that is getting framed and hung on a wall.
Added by Captain Dave on 21-Jun-17
For once, I have some rather good news to report.
A couple of weeks ago, I was approached by Electronic Sound Magazine, who asked me to write a brief 500 word review of the Kraftwerk concert at the Sage in Gateshead on 14th June. I managed to hack my original 1000+ word document down to the required size and sent it off with a couple of selfies the following morning. The review was published in Friday 16th June and I was both pleased with the way it came out and also pleased to be back in print. And now that the ES version has been available for a couple of days, I can upload my original along with said selfies.
Meeting Ralf Hutter was a genuine pleasure. I have to admit that he looked more than a little bewildered at first. Probably the sight of Jenny, a big, bouncy Amazonian-type female wearing her MusikArbeiter uniform bounding up to him made the guy a little nervous. She scares me, frankly.
Next, we scored for two unpublished pieces on Scott Raymond's 30th Anniversary Special of his Secret Music Show which goes out on WKVR in the North East USA. I'm especially pleased with this because Scott has been a long-time supporter. He was there right at the start of this adventure, kept us going, kept us pushing forwards with small words of encouragement. I value Scott's support enormously.
A couple of weeks ago, I was still wrestling with a new video editing package (DaVinci Resolve, if you're interested) and, as a test, I bolted together a load of found-footage from a local fun fair shoot I was a small part of six years ago. These were mostly clips which I'd swept up off the cutting room floor and were destined for the Great Garbage Bin in the Sky. I used one of my tracks, The Art of Falling, which has a nice, modern Indy-rock feel to it as backing. The end result looked pretty good, from my perspective. I was happy with it. It's no great work of art but does the job.
Once finished, I offered the film to the fun fair people over at The Hoppings and they gave it their stamp of approval but, strangely, elected not to use it so. I have no idea why. In my humble opinion, it's better than the video they did go with but then I'm biased.
Anyway, I dropped the film on a couple of Facebook fan pages and more or less forgot about it.
Eventually, the film came to the attention of our local newspaper, the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, who offered to host it as part of their Hoppings promotion special. The film went live on Friday after and, by close of play on Friday night, over 11000 people had watched at least a small part of the video. Finally, the SkinMechanix name has started to get around a bit. I'm pleased.
Finally, I received a small Royalty cheque from CD Baby last night. They're all small these days because streaming payments are scandalously low. That's an understatement. They're criminally low. I am pretty sure that this will come to head in the next year or so and things will get ugly between artists and the likes of Spotify, Rumblesfish et al but that's another discussion for another day.
Now, this payment did seem a little higher than normal. Not by much, $25 in fact. But $25 equates to a hell of a lot of streaming and, once I'd managed to login to the CD-Baby site, I was able to find out where these additional sales had come from. It was down to a Rumblefish sale of … wait for it… 44950 plays. Huh? Yeah, 44950 downloads for the whole of Ion's "Future Forever". Wow. That's a lot of downloads.
I'm pleased. I'm wearing my happy face. At long last, it feels like we're getting somewhere.
Added by David on 25-May-17
One question that comes around time and time again is this - Where do we go from here?
We have quite a decent back catalogue of old releases but not many new releases. We sold a lot of music licenses through our licensing activities with Shockwave and Magnatune but they're slowing down now and we've not been able to generate new licensing outlets for some time. I'm still mystified as to why certain music licensing operations (DeWolfe, AudioNetwork etc) won't even listen to our stuff even though we've sold hundreds of licenses. I suspect that competition in this area is huge and we're basically just minnows.
We've done numerous gigs, a few low profile events, but many decent, well publicised outings and yet we're still not making much headway in to the local scene.
Probably not a good idea to get me started on the whole European scene. We've headlined many, many sets at the Awakenings concerts and yet we're never, ever invited to play anything of any size on the continent, probably because we don't mix with the in-crowd the way we should if we want to get ahead. Worse, we're also massively overlooked by many of the UK organisers too although we're aware of some personal connections and financial arrangements which make certain gigs all but impossible for the time being.
In short, it just isn't happening. And it's difficult to justify ploughing so much money into this and other adventures when the returns are so low. So goes the business logic anyway.
But then... hang on a moment. Let's stop and think, shall we?
Is this all about money? Is this all about being noticed, about being lauded by your peers or building a stonking great fan base. It might be if this was all about money.
But it isn't.
This is about doing something that will last. This is about working at a set of skills, learning, developing, enjoying the process rather than the journey. That's the art side of my brain working its magic.
However, I am all too aware that without any proper releases then this really is just a vanity project, a self-indulgent yawn-fest, just a wannabe nobody anonymously banging away in a scruffy back bedroom making tunes that nobody will ever hear.
This isn't what this project is about.
So, to remedy this situation, we've extensively redesigned the Thinking Metal web pages in an attempt to make them more user-friendly and more mobile-friendly.
More so, I've also sketched out a vague release schedule which I'll refine over the next couple of weeks, and which will feature a small number of EPs, probably two or three, and then proper releases from both SkinMechanix and Ion.
We have two major gigs coming up in short order, Temple, which is a private concert for friends only, and the Ramones 4 gig in August. We'll be scheduling these releases around those events so... come back soon.
Added by David on 22-May-17
OmniSphere has been on my wish list for a few years but, nice though it looked on paper, it was always difficult to justify when so many other areas of the studio required urgent attention. For instance, many years ago, I decided that SKinMechanix would tend towards a more guitar-based sound and, as a result, I worked hard on getting exactly the right sound through exactly the right instruments. Except that it never quite worked. I was never, ever happy with overall tone or the balance of the guitars. Seasoned guitarists would insist that all I needed to do was practice, practice, practice and the tone would come so... I did... I genuinely practiced ... but it never quite happened.
And then I migrated to Logic Pro, which was a total God-send. Freedom at last. No more bloody Cubase.
I started adding new modules and sample libraries, new virtual instruments and updated real synths. I sorted the guitar with a sample library called Shreddage, which sounds very, very authentic to my ears.
And with Shreddage installed and SKinMechanix finally moving in the right direction, I started to put some pennies away towards OmniSphere.
And then the car packed up.
That was three months ago and, since then, we've had a thoroughly miserable experience as one thing after another went wrong with the bloody thing.
In the end, Jules just said "Go and get OmniSphere before all of our cash is wiped out on that sodding thing..." and, well, The Sphere is here.
How will it fit into the studio? Having pushed the guitars in the right direction, the next step is to get the rhythm section moving into a fusion of rock and ... weird shit for want of a better term.
So, we're off on another adventure and with Ramones 4 only a matter of months away, it's going to be a bit of a slog.
If you're looking for the previous version of the blog then have a look here although I have no idea how long this archive will remain in place...