Monday, 30 December 2013

BITWIG COMING TO NAMM 2014

Some excellent news from German developers Bitwig in my mail box, who say that they are nearing the end of their Beta testing phase for their software and will be making a big announcement at NAMM 2014 coming up next month. Take a look at the email I received just before Christmas this year for more information.

Touted as a mix of Ableton and Logic with lots of their own ideas and features thrown in, Bitwig has always been an ambitious DAW project and several years later, it's exciting to hear that 1.0 is finally coming.

It's okay guys: I don't mind waiting until January for NAMM and you can bet I'm going to be looking out for all the news and pricing.

http://www.bitwig.com

Saturday, 28 December 2013

4 new Android music apps

It's been a while since I last took a look at some of the apps available for music making on the Android platform, so I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at what's new on the play store. One thing that has struck me was that a lot of the older apps have been updated and benefited from user feedback and there is a great deal more on offer. MIDI over USB has also started to creep in and I am sure that this will help legitimise the platform for music making. As before, i have only limited myself to free titles with URLs in an effort to see what's available.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Wunjo Keys Synth Shop

Fun fact: retail is not doing so well at the moment. You only need to take a look at the average high street to see the FOR LET signs, while the demise of brands like Borders and Woolworths are proof that event the bigger fish aren't immune to the whims of the economy. The same is true of music hardware shops, those very unique places that actually allow you to try out products before you buy them or god forbid ask a technical question and get some solutions you can take home instantly.

In writing this, I'm reminded of the demise of Turnkey on the Charing Cross road; a huge shop packed with different bits of gear that catered for professional and amateur guitarist, keyboard player, drummer or DJ. Sadly that place bit the bullet some time ago, their website only a grim reminder of what used to be a fantastic place to look around.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Volca Bass Review

Finally got one!!

After waiting since September for my Volca Bass to arrive from Wunjo, with unknown transport delays from Korg cited as the reasons why, I have finally got my hands on a unit after finding one on Gumtree. Found it on Sunday, picked it up on Monday and hooked it up to the rest of the gear.

Appearance-wise, the Volca Bass is similar in layout and keyboard size to the Volca Beats, featuring just one line of faux-keys. Bright red LEDs adorn the buttons and sequencer, while there are plenty of lovely flashing red filter pots that react as the synth is played, so there is plenty of visual feedback to enjoy. These also serve a useful purpose, as the three oscillator detune knobs indicate which oscillators are playing.

Of course, the silver finish on the knobs and panels is an over the top nod to the venerable TB-303 and putting all three Volcas together shows up the bass clearly from the group. I have found the Electribe style knobs quite fun and smooth to use despite feeling a little cheap, probably the cheapest feel of all three of them, though this is to be expected with the price of the unit.

I have to say that Korg have really outdone themselves with the Bass and there are a ton of neat features worth looking at.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Mopho SE promo video released


Veteran synthesiser guru Dave Smith of Dave Smith Instruments has just posted a lovely two minute expose on his company's new Mopho SE machine. From the looks of it, it seems to have been improved with a more subdued coat of paint to match their Mopho X4 and Prophet 14 machines rather than the yellow zebra effect of before and I would say it really works well. While I wouldn't buy a synth on appearance alone, it's a step in the right direction!

Additionally the SE is improved by including a larger sized keyboard, which is always welcome if you aim for live play, improved knobs and it sounds very much like the original Mopho. This video isn't really a great demonstration of exactly what the Mopho SE does but no doubt this comes with a few new tricks under the hood, but it's always nice to see Dave presenting something new.

I love the little poke at Arturia in particular: "nowadays even software companies are making analogue mono synths" and pointing out that the Mopho build quality is superior to "low cost products that are built overseas". For me, the US is technically overseas, but I understand his point: DSI are probably feeling the squeeze as low-cost options start to eat up their market share, which can only be a good thing. I'm sure if I came across a cheap DSI Mopho box I would snap one up!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Ebay madness

An interesting situation has just occurred that brings into question the idea of rarity. One of my dad's Ebay auctions has just ended, with a seemingly ordinary vinyl album by a British 70s Folk band reaching a final price of £1,377.99. God knows how he's going to get it shipped safely to the stupid lucky winner.

Of course, a fool is someone who doesn't understand the difference between price and value. As someone with a large CD collection I can understand the affection people have with physical records, but paying such a large amount of money for an out of date piece of media is quite unbelievable. This not even considering the huge debate of analogue vs digital media in terms of quality...

What do you think?

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Saturday Soundtracks: Chaos Engine


Another Bitmap Shooter gets added to my list of video game gems, this time the seminal classic Chaos Engine. 

Sunday, 24 November 2013

1,000th number one album

According to a recent report in the BBC, Lady Gaga's new offering has been given the accolade of the 999th number one album in the UK after her third release. This paves the way for the one thousandth number one album and a massive number of releases. It's also gratifying to see that the Beatles are right up the top with 174 weeks at the top of the album charts since records began.

I'd like to focus not on the act of reaching 999 number one albums or perhaps even 1,000, but the fact that there has been enough variation and interest in the popular music world to get to 1,000 entries. In particular, I'm definitely a fan of Boney M's Nightflight To Venus, which was highlighted in the article as the 200th UK number on album as it features on a number of mix tapes I picked up in the 90s. As for the others, it's a mixed bag but I don't think any of them ever set out to claim a certain place in pop history but to get sold and make money!


Source:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-24989044

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Saturday Soundtracks: Mortal Kombat Theme


It's unthinkable that I would have forgotten to mention this came at all in my video game music memories, with the opening title theme and music setting the scene for the excellent Mega Drive console port of the arcade beat 'em up classic. 

Thursday, 21 November 2013

RIP: Winamp

Ars Technica is running a lovely story on the rise and subsequent fall of Winamp in the wake of news that AOL (who own Nullsoft) are pulling the plug past 20th December this year. This is truly a sad day given the rich history that Winamp has had and that it is on its last legs.

Hand in hand with Gnutella and other peer to peer sites around the turn of the millennium, Winamp was one of the more widespread .mp3 players that most in the fledgeling music downloading scene would use. East to use, skin-able, built in codecs for loads of audio and video formats, great plugin support, Shoutcast Internet radio, sweet visualisers (Geiss was my favourite), media library functions and more, Winamp was very much a media Swiss army knife for the masses while its competition floundered. Real Player was only truly good for its own streaming formats and DivX had plugins for Winamp that rendered its own program useless. Let's not even mention Windows Media Player, with its clunky interface, dreadful codec support and media licencing setup for anything you played on it.

For me, the one thing that killed Winamp was iTunes. Suddenly, the iPod was everywhere and needed iTunes to run, so people migrated over to it. Sure, you can get third-party support for iPods on Winamp, but people want something that just works without messing around. Nullsoft's purchase by AOL and subsequent firing of its founder Justin Frankel (founder of the Reaper DAW) probably didn't help, but then again, I don't think AOL really knew what they were doing with Winamp either. 

Nowadays, VideoLan Client (VLC) has taken over the role of Winamp, with an emphasis on functionality and compatibility rather than interface tweaks. Foobar2K also deserves a mention if you are looking for a simple and elegant .mp3 player for low-power netbooks. Ultimately I haven't been back to Winamp in years but it still holds a place in my heart as my first .mp3 player in the early days of file sharing.

RIP Winamp

Arstechnica story:
http://arstechnica.com/business/2012/06/winamp-how-greatest-mp3-player-undid-itself/

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Saturday Soundtracks: TMNT Tournament Fighters


Part of the problem with doing posts reminiscing about video game music, is that eventually you have trouble remembering all the games and their music that you enjoyed back in the day after doing the really obvious stuff.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Little Bits vs Korg: Part 2

Now that the initial hubbub surrounding the announcement of the Korg Little Bits Synth kit has died down a bit, Little Bits' website has finally recovered from the surge in popularity and managed to post a whole new page dedicated their new kit.

Quick disclaimer to Little Bits: I'm using all your images and linking to your site as they are fantastic.

Source:
http://littlebits.cc/kits/synth-kit

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Microbrute Impressions

So having has a chance to get over all the hype and the slightly cheeky party crashing of the announcement, Arturia's new analogue synth the Microbrute is finally upon us. Now after the dust has settled, it's worth taking a quick look at the new bit of kit.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Little Bits vs Korg

Not content to sit on their laurels, no-nonsense synth makers Korg have once again hit on a cheap music making idea by partnering with US toy makers Little Bits for a bespoke kit of synth modules that can interface with each other...by magnets!

According to Synthtopia, the kit will come with enough pieces for a decent Monosynth, packing parts like an envelope generator, oscillator, mini keyboard and MS-20 filter to build with. I'm sure the intention is to build using more than one kit and make a phat little synth monster!

Sunday, 27 October 2013

RIP Lou Reed - 71

According to a Rolling Stone article, Velvet Underground front man Lou Reed has died with the cause of death unknown/unreleased as yet. A pioneer in the New York art scene, his work with Velvet Underground and plentiful solo work earned him recognition and fame - his album Transformer being the most accessible and popular.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Saturday Soundtrack: International Karate


A very well produced title back in the days of 1985/86 when the home video game revolution was in full swing and martial arts were experiencing another boom in popularity. From the opening titles and credits, you can tell that a lot of work has been put in to the animation, thought sadly the beat em up game play is still a basic, albeit button-mashingly joyful affair. Music occasionally stutters and its various parts get out of sync with each other to resync later on, but I think this is quite charming of a game that is nearly 30 years old. 

Fists as big as your hand!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Et tu, Microbrute?

It all starred innocently enough; an Arturia newsletter came in around the Sunday night with a link to some kind of teaser page hosted at their site. It wasn't until I had a look at some of the comments, most notably from Portishead's Adrian Udley, that I realised that these quotes were in relation to a new hardware synth to follow up on the Minibrute.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Volca Keys Review

As all signs from Korg seem to be pessimistic, it looks like the Volca Bass synthesiser won't be available to pick up and purchase until around mid to late October. One school of thought says that customer demand is the reason, while others report that a lost container of units aboard a shipping vessel are to blame. 

Either way, to salve my need to get twiddling, I found that despite the hype around the Volcas, plenty of shops in and around London's Denmark street had single units of the Volca Keys in stock. As I had recently received a tenancy deposit back, I was allowed to by the powers that be to buy one to hook up to my existing Volca Beats and get fiddling.

Updates

I haven't been keeping this blog as up to date as I should for a variety of annoying, real-life reasons. Sufficed to say I do have some things to talk about and will be trying to add these on the blog shortly and get updated.

Things to come include a thorough review of my Volca Keys, the return of the Saturday Soundtrack video games nostalgia-fest, new synth hardware and hopefully even some new music as well.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

30 Years of MIDI - NAMM 2013 Panel


An amazing lineup of six people on the NAMM 2013 panel, featuring a good collection of artists, technologists, keyboardists and more. Anyone starting to watch this panel should know at least one or more of these influential panelists, but this panel also includes the surprising inclusion of the late great George Duke.

Now that 30 years have passed, it's amazing to see that MIDI in its original format is still going strong and while it still continues to do what it was designed to do, there are definitely some limitations with the specification that need addressing. Judging from comments and conversations, there does seem to be a need to be able to implement better parameter control from synthesisers and other MIDI-enabled instruments. As Dave Smith points out at around the 18 minute mark, MIDI was developed and optimised with what was available in the 70s/80s and to work well for keyboard synthesisers specifically, though he appreciates that the demands of artists are growing.

A fascinating panel to watch and quite informative to the modern artist/engineer, not least for the combination of panelists that will never be eclipsed.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Korg Volca Beats - Review!

So much fun crammed into such a little box!
After much waiting after the NAMM 2013 announcement, I finally put down £240 to pre-order the Korg Volca Beats and Bass with a lovely little shop on Denmark street called Wunjo Keys (on the former site of London Pro Audio, more on Wunjo later on). Whilst sitting having a meal with my family in a rare moment of togetherness in our busy lives, I got a call to say that one of the Volcas had arrived and did I want to pick it up?

Well, what do you think I said?

SW4 2013 - reviews and photos

Lens flare = fuck yeah!
Another year and another very wet bank holiday weekend at Clapham Common - I've still the muddy trainers and jeans to prove it!

Congratulations to Lock n Loaded for 10 years of SW4 and of course, I was there to cover the weekend for Efestivals.

Some excellent performances this year, especially Knife Party (which I have a few videos of that I will have to upload), though the headliners weren't as good as Chase & Status / Skrillex in 2012.

Roll on 2014!

Review Day 1:

Review Day 2:

Photos:

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Amen brother


A bit of a history lesson for those who are interested in contemporary music history across a number of different musical genres. The narrator/creator also created a little documentary into the TB-303 and its impact and is worth having a look at as well.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Happy Birthday MIDI

The Register is carrying an excellent story today about the birth of MIDI - Musical Instrument Digital Interface - and makes for great reading from both an engineering and a musical standpoint.

Speaking as someone who has only just started using MIDI in hardware having only ever used software/all-in-one hardware, this has also demystified certain things for me!

Original Article here:
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/08/19/midi_spec_1_is_30_happy_birthday_musical_instrument_digital_interface/

Friday, 9 August 2013

Soundcloud Pro

I've finally taken the plunge and bought a year's worth of Soundcloud Pro - for less than £30 for 12 months of premium features, including loads of extra upload time, better stats and more profile options I can definitely say that it's money well spent.

One of my tracks Scandium was featured in a recent Secret Soundcloud mix and is getting some good reviews - definitely got to get networking and get more music posted. 

Soundcloud Link: 
http://www.soundcloud.com/southerntrax



Wednesday, 7 August 2013

RIP George Duke 1946 - 2013

More bad news on the airwaves, however this time around it's someone pretty close to my musical tastes. After suffering from chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, legendary keyboardist and Zappa player George Duke passed away on Monday this week, just one month after his last album was released to the world. It's a stroke of irony that this album was dedicated to his late wife who died last year (nearly a whole year ago), but it serves as a fond farewell to his fans.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Lovebox 2013 coverage



Well, it wouldn't be the summer if I didn't make the annual pilgrimage to Lovebox. After all, it's just a stone's throw from where I live at the moment and well worth checking out for a good variety of different acts and genres.

Another E-Festivals free ticket, it was great to be able to relax rather than run around like a mad man like I was at Hyde Park, especially in the heat, and it was fun to have the company of my photographer Lawrence over the weekend. Certainly have a new appreciation for Rudimental and John Newman, amongst others. Lovebox 2013 was great fun for the Friday and Saturday and I can't wait to see what's going on for next year.

Reviews are available as follows:

Day 1:
http://www.efestivals.co.uk/festivals/lovebox/2013/reviews-friday.shtml

Day 2:
http://www.efestivals.co.uk/festivals/lovebox/2013/reviews-saturday.shtml

Day 3:
http://www.efestivals.co.uk/festivals/lovebox/2013/reviews-sunday.shtml

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Saturday Soundtracks: Rolling Ronny


Another classic case of Atari ST square waves gone slightly over the top, Rolling Ronny is a side scrolling platformer with a distinctly British sense of humor. You are Ronny, a clown courier on roller skates, who has to deliver a package across town. However, in order to progress through each stage and get to the next level, you have to endure a set of zany enemies, jumping scenes and a time gauge - even then if you didn't collect enough coins you couldn't afford the bus journey to the next level and your game ended. So yes, it's not particularly forgiving, but the music certainly made up for this - a raucous mix of Atari ST blips and blops in a very childish manner that of course appealed to me as a pre-10 year old games player. See what you think!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

5 reasons why I love Play Music

I've been thinking a lot recently about music on mobile devices, especially as I am due a new phone in a couple of months, and I have come to the conclusion that my phone is pretty good as an MP3 player and content management system. To be quite honest, I've not had the time nor the effort to use the other features of my iPod Touch, such as the games or music making apps, to the point where my iPod Touch has actually ran out of power and I have not seen the point in charging it back up again as I am not going to use it.

While I've already got the majority of my music in MP3 format on my computer and arranged via iTunes, I've noticed a few changes in the Google Play store over the last few months that have made me do some testing of the service. And do you know what? It's pretty damned good! Here are my five reasons why I have come to love this service.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

British Summer Time Festival


In a shocking turn of events, Britain has finally experienced a summer worthy of the season. With Glastonbury distinctly not muddy and with the temperature climbing, Hyde Park has been transformed into an inner city festival arena with plenty of top name acts playing, gourmet food stands, loads of bars (though paradoxically never enough) and even some fairground rides. As I write this, the arena is still open for business until the weekend and there's plenty still to come from the likes of Elton John, the Rolling Stones, Lionel Richie and Jennifer Lopez.

Of course, as all of this musical gala is right on my doorstep, I need very little excuse to go out and check it all out, however in another shock turn, I have actually taken a slightly different route to getting in and experiencing this festival. Yes, folks: I've actually become a site volunteer to escort people around, give directions and generally be a go-to guy. After all the Olympic fever last year that I missed out on (for better or worse), I actually enjoyed the chance to see a festival from a slightly different angle. I still have another shift on Sunday to catch Lopez & Lionel, but I thought I would cover what's been going on in the park over the long, hot weekend.



Saturday, 6 July 2013

Grand Theft Auto Soundtrack


GTA, the game that started the entire franchise and spawned huge, immersive worlds was just as enjoyable as a top down experience when playing on a Playstation as a kid. I recall a lot of controversy about the game, as playing as a criminal and breaking laws weren't such big things in video games back in the 90s. Characters that were thieves stealing things were often portrayed in cartoon fashion with a lack of blood or were in the context of a spy or espionage genre, so outright criminal rampage was something new. And as history has shown, it hasn't outright lead to the downfall of society and the corruption of youth.

Something that struck me was the music - all the cars had radio stations that would play different music and while all of it was by unfamiliar artists  (and still remain so!), this means that I associate their tracks with this game alone. The hip hop is classy and jazzy, the country and pop tracks are as catchy as ever and the dance tracks are pumping in true 90s fashion. As a result, whenever I hear these stations, I get a big nostalgia hit for the wasted sessions, though sadly it's not enough to make me want to play a few lives. 

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

New track - Titanium



I do like being able to punt out lots of new music and this track is no exception. I turned it around in about three weeks or so and just wanted it done, so here it goes. Not much to say about this track that I haven't already talked about, though I am particularly satisfied with the rising synthesiser line. As Synth1 has no reverse saw LFO shape, I had to use the triangle shape as a reverse saw. Using a very slow time period hooked to the oscillator pitch and tweaking LFO2 as an amplifier gate so I could do bit of jerky movement as it got higher in pitch, I got it done.

From Soundcloud:

Titanium: because it's heavy stuff. Just kidding - this grew out of my love of seeing Netsky last year at Lovebox in London and loving the sort of trance-meets-drum&bass sound that is going around.

A few modifications to my pads to become strings, add some classic dance pianos and this baby is ready to roll - hope you like it!

Monday, 1 July 2013

Volca Beats / Bass / Keys demos


Not content to rest on their laurels, Korg have been busy making some great videos of their Volca series and presented by none other than hardware designer and chief engineer of the project - Tatsuya Takahashi. Tatsuya is a bit of a surprise; he's a fairly young man, knowledgeable and has an excellent command of British English. Rather than hearing a brash Korg USA representative, it's great to have these demos come directly from the engineers themselves and are explained clearly and calmly. Well done to Korg for such a good series of videos, here are my thoughts on them.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

New track - Cerium



Fallout 3 Main Theme / Inon Zur


Ranking up there as a comparable Pavlovian response as the Tetris theme, Fallout 3's amazingly varied soundtrack, starting with the opening theme hits all the right notes. The score builds slowly to the first climax, which coincides nicely with the point where the menu screen comes in and works precisely because it fits in with the rest of the game. For a title that is all about a post nuclear apocalypse, a grim prospect of survival and destruction, and there's plenty of comic and outright silly things out in the wasteland to enjoy to counterbalance it. Looking back to the score, the main theme from Inon Zur presents the game as neither a completely terrible place or completely lighthearted - there's just enough menace in the trumpets to say that there is danger out there but some things have survived and there are opportunities out there.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Lemmings - 10 Green Bottles


One of the biggest successes of DMA (now Rockstar) before the Grand Theft Auto series was the addictive puzzler Lemmings, published by Psygnosis (who became Sony Liverpool, RIP guys!) which has since been ported to every platform under the sun in an attempt to get as much revenue as possible out of it.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Android Synthesisers

A few months ago I took a look at mobile music apps on iOS and Android and lamented that high latency on Android’s operating system (at least at the time of writing) was to blame for the lack of decent music apps on the app store. However, the Heat Synthesiser did pave the way forward in this regard and highlighted that with a bit of programming know-how, it is possible to play a decent Android software synthesizer.

It’s now Summer 2013 and the Google Play store has been steadily building up a number of music apps for download, both free and paid-for. In this post, I’m going to cover a few of the free options that are available and will highlight some of the best (and worst) the platform currently has to offer.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Mid-June for Korg Volcas?


According to Absolute Music, the lovely new Korg Volcas are going to be available for purchase at some time next month, though I have been unable to verify this release date and I am super excited to get hold of a couple of them for projects.

As I happened to be in the West End this evening, I checked in to the West End DJ store near Tottenham Court Road and asked if they had an idea on release dates. After they called their UK Korg representative, they were given a street date of end July for the Volcas, but with a limited supply until the Autumn.

While it's nice to get a better idea of when the release date will be (you can't get better than direct from Korg!), it also means trying to foster a bit more patience: West End DJ only managed to order 10 sets of all three and knowing that they will sell like hot cakes, they probably won't be around for long. It's also worth pointing out that this is one of the best things about bricks and mortar establishments - you're never going to get a straight answer from websites that contradict each other.

Well, at least I get a couple of months to save up for the beats and bass combination - I have been trying to hold off of buying a Monotribe as I don't think it really suits what I want to do. I did have a hands-on test with one tonight as well and I was struck by how much larger the unit is than I had been lead to believe. Either way, its limitations are thrown in to much sharper focus when compared to the new Volcas, so I think this is just GAS talking!

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Wario Land Stage 1


As Game Boy games go, this one ranks pretty highly in terms of time spent as a kid playing through. A kind of alternative Super Mario Land, this one stars Mario's alter ego and main rival Wario (see what they did there? They replaced the M with a W: genius!) and rather than try and save the girl, all Wario wants to do is to shoulder barge everyone and steal all their money and treasures, so that when he defeats all the pirates he has enough money to buy a super sized castle to live in. 

Monday, 20 May 2013

Daft Punk - Random Access Memories

Now that the marketing hype machine has run its course and whipped music fans up into a frenzy, today marks the release of Random Access Memories, the latest album from French dance duo Daft Punk. Of course, I've grabbed a copy to review and on listening it's certainly a step in the right direction.

Early reviews and news coverage of the album (plus the constant teasing use of single Get Lucky in television spots) have already set the tone for their fourth album; it's less robot rock and more soulful disco and funk this time around. It seems ironic to me that now Daft Punk are trying to recreate the 70s wholesale rather than sample it for catchy hooks and hot riffs, but with quite so much music experience under their belt, the duo do seem to pull it off convincingly.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Mondo Grosso - Shinin'


This isn't just because I bought a PSP on release day (yep, got one of ten 1001 mark PSPs that came to Wallington) or that I think that the PSP is a totally underrated platform for games, but that Lumines was such a standout success for a launch title. Successfully combining bright colours, addictive puzzle action, a straightforward rule set and such great music throughout, this title reminds me of the good, old Sony that used to come out with excellent and enjoyable games. In particular, the cheerful Mondo Grosso's Shinin' is just a joy to hear when starting up a new game and really brings back some good memories of playing this during my year abroad in Germany.

Q! Productions also were responsible for Gunpei, another underrated puzzle title for the platform that I enjoyed, and the port of EEE (Every Extend Extra), which also combines music, pulsing visuals and a spin on shoot 'em up style for a compulsive mix. I'm not sure what they are up to now, but they were responsible for a lot of time spent on my PSP!

Thursday, 16 May 2013

DV247 in dire straits?

Music shop DV247 has announced the closure of all of their UK stores bar the distribution centre in Romford; Essex following their parent company White Rabbit Records going in to administration. In another sad day for the high street, which seems to be shrinking by the day and leaving behind Poundland and Fried Chicken shops, this leaves people unable to demo gear in their regional outlets, though at least for me I will be able to get my fix via a short train journey.

It's a shame to hear, as DV247 keep a wide variety of products available and are perhaps one of the last big names in the UK retail sector for music (I'm thinking of West End DJ now) who still have actual bricks and mortar shops to browse or pick up orders from. Here's to hoping there will be a turnaround for them!

Link to the press release here:
http://www.dv247.com/news/DV247%20Is%20Not%20In%20Administration/133450

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

New review: I'll Be Your Mirror

Photo courtesey of Efestivals
I've been a bit busy over the weekend with the I'll Be Your Mirror festival, with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs curating an interesting group of bands coming together last Saturday 4th May. It's good to get back into the reviewing season and I am pleased that I have other ones coming up as well.

There was plenty on during the day, though the lack of the second curator meant that there was only the one day rather than the two days in 2011 when Portishead organised the festival. There were also fewer food stands as well - perhaps the credit crunch is having unexpected consequences.

Well worth seeing King Khan and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion as relatively unknown groups that I hadn't heard of who gave really great performances. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs performed a really slick gig whose production values were streets ahead of the others, but then again, it wouldn't exactly be good of them to foul up as headliners, would it?

Link to full review:
http://www.efestivals.co.uk/festivals/ibym/2013/review-overview.shtml

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Not dead, honest!

Been a bit busy of late, but will endeavour to update everyone and this blog in due course. Enjoy the sunny weather outside for a change: I have!

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Pokemon Main Theme / Game Boy


Finally justifying the reason why I had a Game Boy Pocket Blue (which I have recently rediscovered under my old toys), the early red and blue Pokemon games were the perfect sort of RPG game that satisfies my base nature for collectivism. It felt like one of the first Game Boy titles I had played that actually had a bit more depth to it than the arcade ports (Tetris, Formula 1, Mortal Kombat, Mario, Bomberman etc) that I had owned or played up to that point.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Support your local record store!

This coming Saturday is Record Store Day and there is plenty going on in London's Soho record shops to warrant going out into meat space. Phonica and Sister Ray will be hosting live bands and DJ sets, with plenty of offers, sales and competitions, so there's plenty on offer to keep you busy.

Above all things that an independent record store can offer, I think my last experience spells it out clearly. Following a delightful hour long rummage yesterday through some of the stores on Berwick Street in Soho, London, I came away with the following haul after paying about £15 for the lot. This is a selection of things I have been on the lookout for for a while but never fancied paying quite so much in HMV for (the Yikes! Remixes album costs about £11 in HMV: I got a sealed copy in Music & Video Exchange for just £3). Sure, the selections might not be the most up to date, but if you are anything like me there will be plenty of albums you have yet to get. Alongside this I had a great chat with a local DJ and we helped each other find some decent quality finds and swapped recommendations along the way.


It's what record shops are all about. Go check out yours and fill your iPod with something new on Saturday. Who knows, you may even enjoy it!


More information at:
http://www.recordstoreday.co.uk/

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Bonus Theme - Ristar


Not really much to say about this one, only that it's a late release on the Mega Drive / Genesis and featured some excellent graphics and characterful platforming gameplay from the guys at Team Sonic. The hero Ristar has to answer a call for help and save his people from a tyrant and use his extendable arms to grab and headbutt enemies. As for the music, it is very much up there with the best on the platform, with some excellent dance, ambient and new jack swing, with the bonus stage a great example of what can be done with the FM chip in the machine.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Korg's Volca Grooveboxes


Whilst Clavia and Novation made the world aware of what they were going to exhibit at Musikmesse this year a few days ahead of the show, Korg kept their mouths shut right up until the morning of the 10th April whereupon they unleased their Volcas on the world.

Funnily enough, Matrixsynth and other sites got a chance to publicise the above image a few days ahead of Musikmesse as a kind of teaser of things to come from Korg. In the case of Matrixsynth, they interpreted this photo as a high quality render and treated the whole idea with a great deal of scepticism - even linking to Korg press releases to say that it was an unofficial render or possible hoax. In hindsight we know that they were mislead, but disbelief is a good way to go with these things in case they end up being just a photo and not a proper product for release.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Happy Birthday Novation / Bass Station 2


After 21 years of making synthesisers, midi controllers and accessories, British manufacturing firm Novation haven't missed a beat and continue to generate a legacy of musical wizardry. The latest in their line of products is the Bass Station 2, a completely analogue monophonic synth designed as a reimagining and development on the original Bass Station synth (now yonks old!).

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Musikmesse 2013 tomorrow!


Tomorrow marks the opening of the Frankfurt Musikmesse in Germany, the largest European music trade show running from 10th to 13th of April. If truth be told, this one actually crept up on me unawares and were it not for some cool news of new synthesisers I would have probably missed it completely.

A couple of nice announcements already to sweeten the start to the week is that Nord, and Novation (amongst others) all have new products to show off at Ffm Musikmesse, with plenty of other manufacturers ready to out new gear.

The usual sites have all the details, with Nick at Sonic State looking at providing some decent coverage as always. I'm also looking forward to seeing if the boys from Bitwig will be there with a bit more information about their DAW, given that the show is happening on home turf.

Venue website:

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Fopp is saved!

Well, some good news and some bad news comes this week in the form the Hilco buyout of HMV, who have inked the contract and released the details of what shops are going to be kept running. In amongst all of these stores is the great nugget of news that all the Fopp stores are to be saved, heralding what I hope to be a new era in the brand's success. With any luck, the new owners will decide to keep the shop running as it has always been run: buying some new old stock and selling it for cheap, be it movies, music or books. 

Happily for some towns (most notably those in the South of England it seems), their HMV stores and the jobs of its staff are saved, but there are plenty of stores closing, including the HMV in Croydon's Centrale shopping centre that used to be my regular haunt as a student. With this gone, hopefully the other independent record shops still left in Croydon like 101 Records will suffer a bit of a resurgence.

Original Guardian report with full store closure details:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2013/apr/05/hmv-sold-hilco-saves-jobs-shops

Saturday, 6 April 2013

The Great Ticket Scandal


Concerts, gigs, festivals, sports matches, theater tickets, it doesn't matter: with the festival season and summer holidays coming up, it's important not to get shafted by touts, resellers and ticket websites and this video goes some way to providing a bit of a cautionary tale.

In a way, I do have some sympathy for those people who are shelling out hundreds (and thousands!) of pounds for gig tickets to see their favourite artists. However, I can see why Viagogo and Seatwave operate these ticket websites if desperate fans are willing to pay these prices and if they do so, they really shouldn't complain as long as they get what they want to pay for. Quite simply, if they are too expensive, then why do the fans feel honour-bound to buy them?

As someone who does a bit of gig reviewing, it has been a little while since I have had to buy a music ticket, but I would certainly get fed up if I had to pay so much for an evening's entertainment. Having said that, the last ticket I bought was from a tout in Brixton for a drum and bass gig, for which I only got shafted an extra tenner for a ticket that was originally an early-bird ticket with a slightly lower price. 

If you can't get tickets, it just wasn't meant to be and if the band is popular, console yourself with the fact that there will be other opportunities to see them. Otherwise, you are only a fool to yourself if you want to pay hundreds of pounds for one off shows and then complain about it afterwards.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Soundcloud April Fools

A lovely little April Fool's joke by the team at Soundcloud includes the Drop-o-meter that indicates the drops in a Soundcloud track based on a patent-pending algorithm.

Nice laugh, guys!

Read more about it here

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Bubble Bobble / Taito


Another excellent video game port on the Atari ST and one I enjoyed playing with my brother on twin joysticks. Loads of levels, power ups, co-operative play, needing some strategy based on level design and occasionally just a bit of luck. It's a childish, pleasing game with some cute characters and solid platform gaming, with enough nuances in the game rules to learn that mean that you can really start ratcheting up the points.

As for the music, this was a lovely bit of Atari ST music, featuring some truly heavy square bass lines and arpeggios that played throughout the game. Even hearing just a bit of it sends me straight back to my childhood!

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Akai Miniak

I've just picked up a new bit of kit for my bedroom after spotting a bit of a bargain on Gumtree for just £100 and a trip down to leafy Kenley in South London (barely Zone 5) in the snow. It's an Akai Miniak and in pretty decent shape as well – if only for the missing knob cap on one of the endless controller knobs and a couple of video game stickers on the unit itself that came off with zero fuss. Thanks to some isopropyl alcohol that made the whole unit stink like it had just been dumped in a vat of vodka, the stickers left no marks either and in general the unit is solid, working and with no scratches or dents at all. This post is more of a kind of "first impressions" review after I've had a better chance to sit down and play with it for a few hours.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Buying your way into the charts


A recent article on the Beeb (that's the BBC for overseas readers) caught my eye the other day, which claimed that chart topping artists had at some point fabricated their successes in order to get noticed by DJs, record labels and other artists. In singles out a company that would arrange for videos on YouTube or tracks on Soundcloud to receive set numbers of hits and accompanying comments to back up the legitimacy of the "traffic". In doing so, this increases the visibility of the work on the site, at which point it starts to pick up organic hits and thus into the headspace of industry professionals.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Daft Punk - Random Access Memories rumour roundup

Well after the somewhat anticlimactic change to Daft Punk's website late last year, which had then reverted back to its older logo before finally changing to its most recent incarnation, it is now clear that the French duo are set to release a new album after several years. In case you need a history lesson, the last true album they released was Human After All, with the rather lacklustre Tron Legacy soundtrack punctuating the gap. It's also great to note that Daft Punk continue to generate gossip and interest after quite so many years of silence, with no tours or solo albums for over three years. So what exactly do do we know about this new album?

Escape from the planet of the robot monsters / Atari ST


Despite its long name, Escape From The Planet Of The Robot Monsters is an excellent isometric shoot 'em up, with plenty of zappy, Dan Dare-esque action. Set on the synthetic industrial planet Planet X, the evil Reptilons invade and enslave the human workforce to create an evil army of robots with a plan to invade Earth. Team up with a friend or go it alone with your trusty ray gun and blast away at a variety of enemy robots while arming up with bombs to destroy Reptilon bosses and saving hapless slave hostages to increase your lives.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Android and music: we have the technology

The only thing that Android seems to lack in terms of applications at the moment is proper support for music making. Not to sound like a complete anti-Apple person (they just priced me well out of the market, is all!), but Apple's low-latency audio drivers and substantial market share for the iPad have allowed companies like Arturia, Korg, Moog and Propellerhead (to name but a few) to develop touch-enabled software synthesisers, as a way of bridging the gap between virtual synths on desktops controlled through a DAW and a fully blown standalone hardware synthesiser. There are even iOS versions of full DAWs including FL Studio and Garageband, bringing full mobile music to anyone who has these devices.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Monday, 4 March 2013

New Track - Scandium

A nice departure for me that uses a pad to determine the key and the bassline works off of that. Really enjoyed making this one and playing with Protoplasm TSM for the pad. The breakbeat I ended up using is the Worm break and I liked the ability to mess around with proper old-school rave break downs as well. As to whether I will do something similar in the future, who knows?

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Music Man Cave + Kaossilator

After my old flat mate moved out to go live with his other half, I've had plenty of time and opportunity to move everything non-music related into another room, which is larger and suits as a bigger bedroom. The practical upshot is that I've now got my old bedroom all to myself as a man-cave and I have completely devoted it to music making...okay, and playing video games as well. This also means I've been able to make use of another table top for more space and can keep my MicroKorg and Minibrute next to each other.

I've also been meaning to take some photos and as the missus is out of the flat tonight, I've finally had a chance to take some photos and get them uploaded. There are plenty of photos available via a Google Plus photo album for your amusement (see link below for more). I knew that old UV light would be useful for something moody and of course the Synth Cat in the form of Hello Kitty.

More photos:
https://plus.google.com/photos/104066085457238286830/albums/5850134231546301009

Korg Kaossilator


I've also picked up a Korg Kaossilator for £50 via Gumtree and a nice chap called Colin even took time out of his lunch break to travel in to town and drop it off for me. Beats the £129 price tag of the new one.

It's a lovely little unit, with some good varied Arp/Gate patterns and very useable synth lines, chords, basslines and SFX sounds are good enough to play around with and make jamming loops.

The retro, plastic exterior belies its powerful synth engine, which seems to be derived from the MicroKorg, complete with reverb and delay effects built in. While you can't edit individual sounds, at least the built in effects give the sounds some depth and the chords in particular are quite pleasant to listen to. You can always hook it up to another effects processor and have more fun - in my case, the Mini KP2 - and do dub style echos and other choppy weirdness.

One of the main downsides is the problem of playing it accurately and I have seen plenty of guides on adding a grid to the XY controller and using a stylus for note-perfect playing. I am in two minds about this: on the one hand, you could make better use of the sounds on the Kaossilator. yet on the other hand the XY controller is all about random expression and coming up with something unique and satisfying by happy accident.

Yes, there is a Kaossilator app for the iPhone which is priced at around £20 that I could have used, but the bigger, clunkier real estate of the original unit makes up for the higher price and it's a cheeky little purchase that won't break the bank.

Oh, and UK owners are advised to take a look at Maplin for third-party power supplies. I don't think Korg would be able to beat £13.50 for a power supply. Just look for a variable power supply that can supply 4.5V and at least 500ma with the required plug connector like this one. I bought two for the Kaossilator and Mini KP2, as both only last for about 5 hours on batteries.