By Dan Clarke Mar.4.2009
In: Commentary, Concerts, Other, Production, Recommended

Tony Allen - Master Drummer

Tony Allen

It’s hard not to be a little overcome in the presence of afrobeat originator Tony Allen.

After all, Brian Eno has described him as “perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived.” Since the early sixties he’s been a pioneering force in contemporary African music, and his influence can be heard across a broad spectrum of musical styles. I asked Tony what first inspired him to pick up the drum sticks.

“I wanted to create my own style of music. God gave me a gift, and I followed my own path.”

He pauses to reflect for a moment, and adds “I always wanted to be different than other drummers, that’s why I’ve never tried to do anything else than afrobeat.”

Afrobeat was borne of an aim to provide social commentary on the inequalities inherent in African society. As a part of Fela Kuti’s Africa ’70, Allen was a foundational force in its development. He is quick to note that the problems afrobeat confronts are not exclusive to the continent, and in fact much of the drive behind the movement was motivated by struggles overseas.

“The social problems are not concentrated in Africa. Don’t forget that Fela had to go to the USA in 1969, meeting with the US black people to start to realize his Africanism.. As soon as we came back from the states, he started his fight against the governments and the dictature.”

A thoughtful expression crosses his faces as he muses “One sometimes has to move away from his own country to be completely aware of his home.”

Rather than adopt the same style of protest that his American contemporaries were developing, Allen states that he was always drawn to create something unique.

“I always wanted to sound different than U.S. jazz or hip hop artists. I hoped that maybe this alternative music vision would be able to effect someting in our society.”

With such a long history, I ask Tony whether he feels afrobeat might have lost some of its political urgency. I wonder whether it is still as politically charged.

“As long as African people will suffer of many diseases, there will always be artists fighting for them.”

His influence on popular music cannot be understated. The past twenty years have seen him collaborate with many big name artists. It would seem he has a soft spot for Blur and Gorillaz front man Damon Albarn.

(As Albarn does for him. The 2000 Blur single ‘Music Is My Radar’ is a tribute to Allen, the song ending with Albarn repeating the phrase “Tony Allen got me dancing.”)

“My aim has always been to fuse afrobeat with other styles of music and to spread it all over the world. I love to experience my drumming with others, like my different collaborations with Damon Albarn.”

His work with Albarn has included drumming on The Good, The Bad and The Queen album  released in 2007, and he assures me there will be more to come from the pair, among other works.

“I am currently working with Damon Albarn on a new album project with other guests. I am also involved in Africa Express, a series of events promoting African music. We’ve had some hectic shows at Glastonbury, Liverpool, Lagos and Kinshasa, and there’s more to come in 2009.”

The world of music has changed a lot since Allen first taught himself to drum, but he remains optimistic about the industry as a whole. Whatever some might say about music losing some of its soul, it remains essential to him.

“It is vital for me. I don’t care what people may say about it.”

Allen shows no signs of retiring as time goes on, with his many collaborations in the works as well as a new album ready for release.

“My new album “Secret agent” will be released next June under World Circuit Records. But I won’t play my new album in this Australian tour.. next time for sure!”

Allen tours Australia in March. For info, head over here.

Musicfeeds - Tighter than a nun’s schedule!

By Stuart McPhee Jan.14.2009
In: Production, Recommended
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Oasis: Taking It To The Streets

oasisPart canny marketing idea and part musical goodwill (surprising considering Liam Gallagher is involved), last September Oasis decided to preview four songs from their then upcoming album ‘Dig Out Your Soul’.

How did they do it? Liam, Andy and Gem went to New York, recruited a wide variety of subway musicians, taught them the songs and had them play the new material in their own unique way to the public.

Chronicled in HD by video makers The Malloys, Dig Out Your Soul In The Streets is a great mini-documentary showing the universal passion for music, radical interpretations of rock tunes and a humbled bunch of lads from Manchester.

Well almost.

Check it out: Oasis – Dig Out Your Soul In The Streets

By Jye Smith Nov.18.2008
In: Concerts, Production
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Big Day Out 2009: Side Shows Announced

All the 2009 Big Day Out Side Shows Have Been Announced:

SYDNEY – Saturday 24 January – THE METRO (plus WOLF & CUB)
MELBOURNE – Thursday 29 January – THE HI FI BAR (plus WOLF & CUB)

BRISBANE – Wednesday 21 January – THE TIVOLI
MELBOURNE – Sunday 25 January – THE PALACE

SYDNEY – Sunday 25 January – THE METRO (plus THE CORPS)
MELBOURNE – Wednesday 28 January – BILLBOARD (plus BULLDOG SPIRIT)

BRISBANE – Tuesday 20 January – RIVERSTAGE (previously announced)
SYDNEY – Saturday 24 January – HORDERN PAVILION (previously announced)
MELBOURNE – Thursday 29 January – PALACE

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By Jye Smith Nov.13.2008
In: Album Reviews, Production

Metallica: Lars Ulrich - " get it sound loud"

A colleague at worked passed this over – “Lars Ulrich Defends Sound Quality Of Metallica’s Death Magnetic“.  Sure, everyone can have a whinge about the quality of an album’s sound – that’s not new – but what astounded me was the shear lack of audio knowledge that Ulrich has. It was this next line that got me:

“But I’ve been listening to it the last couple of days in my car, and it sounds … smokin’.”

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By Jye Smith Oct.28.2008
In: Production

Alternate Guitar Tunings

Alternative guitar tunings are something that takes a little patience and learning, but also requires making sure you have the optimum hardware set up. So here are my thoughts on what string gauges to use.

When my guitar (Ibanez MMM1 – a 28″ scale baritone)  arrived it came strung with baritone gauge strings (14-68, high to low) and tuned in standard Bb. After tuning it up to drop b (std c#, with the bottom string 1 full step down) I needed to find a new string gauge, as the high tension really affected dexterity in both my fretboard and picking.

So, for those of you playing at home: this is for a 28″ scale baritone guitar. I’m able to get away with using thinner strings because the tension has been increased over the full length of the neck.

B: 60
F#: 49
B: 38
E: 24
G#: 16
C: 12

By Jye Smith Oct.8.2008
In: Opinion, Production

The Best of 2008 Hip-Hop Vocoder (Key-Specific Auto-Tune)

As we near the end of of 2008, it’s been very clear that the use of key-specific autotune or the Vocoder effect has been a huge hit, and at the forefront of it all has been T-Pain.  Whether you like him or not, I think the following comments are fair:

  • T-Pain has the vocoder on too strong, and his voice ‘wobbles’ at the end of notes, rather than a nice crisp finish
  • He’s delivered something relatively traditional (see California Love or One More Time) and repositioned it with main stream audience.

As previously discussed, auto-tune has a lot of stigma attached, but when used well, it can be a really interesting and colourful effect.  Although it might be hiding T-Pain’s real talent.

So here are the biggest hits for 2008 featuring the vocoder effect, including T-Pain’s new video “Can’t Believe It” — the first innovative hip hop clip I’ve seen in a long time.

By Jye Smith Sep.24.2008
In: Commentary, Production
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Kirk Hammett (Metallica) and his guitars

The wavecaster has my vote by far — even if he is as high as a kite when he’s talking about it, he appears to like it too.

By Nathanael Boehm Sep.22.2008
In: Other, Production

My band's first gig

First of all a big thanks to Jye for inviting me to contribute to The Music Blogs and it’s been awesome to see how popular the blog has been since being formally launched only a few weeks ago.

My name is Nathanael and I’m a 25-year-old Canberra musician. Well, my main job is as a web designer and team leader in government but you’re probably not really interested in that. I play the drums, percussion, keyboard/piano and bass guitar.

Tastes in music range from Darkane, Static-X and Disturbed, Trivium, Dream Theater and Tool through Metalheadz, Goldie / Rufige Kru, Andy C and Limewax through to Nick Warren, John Digweed, Basement Jaxx, Juno Reactor, Daft Punk, Francois K, Paul Mac and to Living End, Coheed and Cambria, The Mars Volta, The Prodigy, Cog, Pendulum, Moloko, The Presets, Muse, Massive Attack … and heaps more. So pretty diverse.

Mallacoota/Genoa gig by NathanaelBI toyed with solo house music production for a little while but that just didn’t work for me so I’m sticking with instruments for now and my latest band I joined only 4 weeks ago as drummer had their first gig on Saturday evening 4.5 hours away down in Genoa near Mallacoota across the NSW/VIC border.

Nothing overly big – just a 50th birthday party that half the town was invited to attend. Big bonfire, lots of drinking and dancing. I ended up getting roped into playing with two other bands during the night. Really good time – absolutely loved the gig and enjoyed the evening.

Luckily it ended up I didn’t have to take my drumkit all the way down to Mallacoota for the gig as a kit was provided by one of the other bands; but one thing I learned some years ago is that it always helps if you at least have your own cymbals. It’s like taking your own pillow when you travel … if you do that (I don’t but I understand why you might). So I took my cymbals including a Pearl PPS-37 clamp bracket for mounting my splash off the cymbal stand, rubber bands, key and obviously drum sticks. Also can’t hurt to take tape – my old “Hondo” drumkit was held together with nothing but sticky tape! At the very least it can come in handy to tape snares to the resonant skin of a snare drum when the snare clamp fails as they inevitably do with age.

Also another tip is make sure you get a foldback! You need it just as much as the guys up the front and you’re probably going to need your own dedicated wedge. Speaking of which, you really do trust the sound engineer with your life or at least your health. I had a cable or connection go bad on a foldback I had on a gig once and the sound nearly deafened me. I couldn’t hear out of my left ear for the rest of the performance.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to learn more than just how to play your instrument if you want to get into live performances and recording or get into a band. You need to learn how to play with other people, to fit in and complement … and if you’re a drummer then how to set the pace and feel. Understand music theory so you can explain what’s wrong when you realise something isn’t working. Know microphones, leads, connections, speakers, amplification, effects, sound theory, mixing and equalisation. Expand your repertoire beyond your signature beat or riff and learn how to play ideas rather than notes. Understand what it means to make a beat more “airy” or make a riff feel “reggae”.

Anyway – that was my weekend; hopefully some useful advice too.

Nathanael Boehm

By Nathanael Boehm Sep.8.2008
In: Production

Zoom H2 handheld audio recording

I had been keen on getting a Zoom H4 when the Zoom H2 was announced last year. The feature list, size and price was too good to pass on so I pre-ordered one from the USA and got it months before it landed here on shelves in Australia.

Zoom H2 handheld audio recording device

Absolutely brilliant device – four mics that provide 120° front and 90° stereo coverage – you can even record all four mics on independent channels, stereo or even mono mix-down. Range of compression effects with straight-to-mp3 recording with a full set of bitrates or you can record as WAV – although that tends to take up space on the removable flash storage pretty quickly which you can then download to your computer via a standard USB cable.

I’ve used mine for recording loud rock jam sessions in garages through to voice podcasts – so the three different gain options are handy. Comes with a sock, screw-in handle and base which is also the same thread as a camera so you can mount it on a tripod.

Uses AA batteries and if you want to use rechargeables make sure you change the battery type setting so the unit calculates remaining power correctly!

Nathanael Boehm

By Jye Smith Jul.16.2008
In: Production
Comments Off on iPhone 3G and iPod Touch

Even though I’m still actually waiting for my iPhone 3G to arrive, one application (of many to come, I’m sure) has me very excited – Mashable! recently uncovered that is now available for download (pictures included).

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By Jye Smith Mar.22.2007
In: Production
1 comment

Found My Zen

My review of Creative Zen Vision:M

The boy who dies with the most toys, wins. After using an Ipod standard (20gb) for 18mnths I decided it was time to upgrade. After browsing many different review sites not only did I find that was the easiest to navigate, but it also gave the most objective opinion over various levels of technical depths. So if you want the nuts and bolts or just an outline of the features – it covers as much or as little as you want.

In the end I chose the Creative Zen Vision:M. Even now as I’m writing this, I’m looking forward to jumping on the bus for an episode of Family Guy in very sharp detail (the 2.5-inch LCD has a resolution of 320×240 pixels and displays a fucking 256,000 colours, compared to only 65,000 colours on the video iPod), and perhaps not looking forward to the breath of some young punk who decides he needs to LOL – that’s right, I said it – while peering over my shoulder.

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