CounterCulture: The Final Fortnight

If you read this blog, you probably have internet access, which means, you probably realise that the music business has changed a bit in the last decade or so. Sure, there are some folks out there who wish things still worked like they did in That Thing You Do (probably all busy suing housewives and college kids on behalf of the RIAA), but I suspect that the majority of you, as I do, see it as a change for the better. But in combination with currently less-than-stable economic conditions the world over, even more adjustments are necessary.

Opportunity does not simply present itself the way we like to think it used to. Back in the 50s, for instance, at the ripe old age of 18, Phil Spector essentially managed to charm his way into an internship at a recording studio and, within a matter of months, he had written and recorded the number one song in the country. But things are different now. We all acquire more skills by accident than our grandparents did in years of study. Talent and “the look” are no longer sufficient. Today, more than ever, we have to create our own opportunities. Enter CounterCulture: a team of twenty-somethings, already experienced concert and festival promoters, with a flair for the unorthodox and an appetite for innovation.

It’s that DIY determination that makes an event like CounterCulture so inspiring. I’m sure you remember CounterCulture from a few weeks ago, but let’s recap. Since late September, an ever-changing celebration of London’s underground and DIY arts culture has been taking place in a pop-up venue beneath London Bridge (7-9 Crucifix Ln, if memory serves). The concept itself is an intriguing one, so it can be no surprise that it has gained the attention of several traditional media outlets, including Time Out and The Guardian, as well as countless blogs around the world. Still, CounterCulture is something that has to be experienced firsthand to get a full understanding. I should know, I’ve seen it.

That’s right, I made the 4000 mile trek to London for the purpose of hanging out under a bridge with scores of perfect strangers. (Ok, they weren’t all strangers. I knew one of the artists performing and brought along another American friend who happened to be in London at the same time. But still.) It’s a major commitment for what, ostensibly, amounts to a few hours in a club, but everything—the financial cost, sleep deprivation, epic layover, humiliating airport “security precautions”, the entirely-too-long interrogation from the lady at immigration, and the pain of trudging several miles a day through the rain in brand new unbroken-in shoes—all of it was well worth the investment.

CounterCulture is a blow to “The Industry”. Surpassing all expectations of those writing it off as ‘just another pop-up venue’ and eschewing expectations, much to the dismay of those looking for a ‘Scene’, the small but passionate team behind CounterCulture have succeeded in creating a laid-back atmosphere where everyone (myself included!) is welcome. It’s that eschewing of image that has made CounterCulture the success that it has become. Because that’s really what we’re looking for, isn’t it. A chance to witness something new and innovative irrespective of what’s cool or what sells. It’s the atmosphere in which art and creativity at their most organic and visceral are highlighted and unavoidable.

CounterCulture was slated to run for 99 days and is now entering its final fortnight, set to come to a close on the first of January. If you are in or around London at any point for the rest of this month, I encourage you to have a look at their upcoming events and head down to London Bridge to check it out for yourself. I, for one, am holding out hope that they will be back around for another go somewhere and sometime in the future, but it would be downright shambolic to miss them now while it’s all at your fingertips.

We’re So DIY!

It’s been a while since we’ve heard anything from Seattle’s Math and Physics Club (well, technically not for me since I first heard them just as I was getting involved in this blogging racket about 15 months ago). But it’s been three years since the release of the band’s last EP, Baby I’m Yours. So, for the collective “we”, I Shouldn’t Look as Good as I Do is another bright spot in a year that is producing no shortage of indie pop magic. Then again, what else do you expect from Matinée Recordings?

From the opening bars of “Jimmy had a Polaroid” (also the first single off the album), the boys staked their claim to a permanent spot in my amorphous summer road-trip rotation, further cementing their position with the singable shuffle of “We Make a Pair”. Frequently, I Shouldn’t Look as Good as I Do finds Charles Bert’s vocals reminiscent of the tonal clarity of Sondre Lerche, especially on tracks like the sparkling “Will You Still Love Me” (alongside Jen Garrett [Stuporville]) and the traipsing theatrics of “Everybody Loves a Showtune” (which could easily be mistaken for a lost New Vaudeville Band B-side).

And of course I have to mention the closer “We’re So DIY”, which I am unofficially adopting as our official theme song. Check us out selling records in the back. / Hand-designed custom jacket with a badge. / We’ll never carry up the charts / but we’ll be the indie stars / that everybody hearts. / We’re so DIY! I couldn’t have said it better myself (in fact, I am half tempted to replace the “About Us” page with the lyrics to this song). It is clear from this album that Math and Physics Club know the way to an indie kid’s heart and, for the rest of the general public who don’t already, they’ve provided a road map. The whole trip will take about 25 minutes.

Download – Math and Physics Club, “Jimmy Had a Polaroid” mp3

Also from Matinée this month is Dealing In Antiques, a 20-track collection of EPs, B-sides, and new recordings by Finland’s Cats On Fire. Dealing In Antiques is essential for anyone who loves good pop music, Scandinavia, or the lingering ghost of the Smiths. Oh, by the way, most of the EPs these tracks are taken from are sold-out, so this is the only way you’re going to hear them. So, buy it. It’s 20 tracks and a brilliant investment, at least it is if you’re sort of person who likes the sort of music that you can enjoy. It’s provided hours of entertainment for me since I first listened to it last week—that is, when I haven’t been busy reveling in Math and Physics Club (see above).

Download – Cats On Fire, “Your Woman” mp3