Last week I went to the Modeselektor gig at the Twisted Pepper in Dublin. I’ll admit that I knew only one of the DJs playing, Joy Orbison, who’s music I follow and enjoy.

I enjoy electronic music, but equally I know that my knowledge is very much limited to what I know and enjoy, as with many NORMAL music listening people, it takes time to discover music in a way that isn’t forced, but serendipitous. I’m not the type of person that sits on my computer all day trying to discover music, I have far too many things that I do, and I enjoy a healthy life away from my computer.

So the Modeselektor gig. Electronic music fanatics believe the electro scene is split in to two groups: them and ‘hipsters’, I had no concept of what a ‘hipster’ is and I’m still non the wiser. So this very black and white electro world apparently has no place for me, the fairly average guy who has many interests, but likes to go and see DJs now and again.

People behave in two ways when they meet people who share a similar interest to them: they continually struggle with that person to demonstrate their superior knowledge while outwardly being friends (like Verruca Salt and Violet Beauregarde), or dismiss their interest as feigned, merely trend following. And this happened at the Modeselektor gig I went to. The friend I went with is INCREDIBLY knowledgable and passionate about electronic music (I personally could not be arsed with that level of dedication) and he met a group of notably older electro fans there, I found their response a little bit surprising, immediately suspicious, immediately making sure it was clear that this was their exclusive club. How far removed this is from the early days of the electro scene fuelled by Ecstacy in an openly accepting environment. I’m not advocating drug taking, but it’s obviously still a large part of the scene, yet without the most essential benefit: acceptance. Like a giant comedown paranoia is seeping through the walls… See here for perfect example from Human Traffic… (Expect strong drug reference and strong naughty language)

I expect electronic music will reinvent itself as it has continued to do over the past thirty/ fourty years or so, and the previous generation will grow beyond a point where they can attend and police gigs in the fascist like manner they do at the moment.

I went to see an amateur production of The History Boys last week, I’d been to see it in Jan 07 at Wyndham’s in London… with Ben Barnes as Dakin… I enjoyed the first act, but the second I found completely absurd, the low point being the moment when Dakin asks the teacher if he wants to ‘suck him off’… I know Alan Bennett is gay, but is it really necessary to force homosexuality on an audience play after play? I mean fair enough if his plays were aimed at a mainly ‘gay audience’, but they’re not. His continual reference to homosexuality frankly wears thin.

Infact the only Alan Bennett play I’ve ever enjoyed was a touring production of Enjoy, which played at York Theatre Royal a few years ago. It was expectedly weird and fairly clever, but even still had a transvestite and gay character. I want to make it clear that I’m not homophobic in any way whatsoever, I just think that it is of no benefit to anyone to present gay/bi/trans characters in a non realistic way, the story (and I’m all about story) loses its credability, it doesn’t ‘normalise’ sexual diversity infact it alienates it further. His play for the National Theatre in 2010 was about an Oxford Don and a rent boy…

I think generally Bennett is overated as a playwright. I didn’t understand the hype that surrounded The History Boys, even when it originally opened. I think to an extent theatre appeals to middle class audiences because they think they have to like certain writers to be considered ‘cultured’, but what happened to the idea that ‘you’re only as good as your last play’? It doesn’t seem to exist with the big name playwrights (Aykborne, Godber, Stoppard included), excluding critics of course.

NB. I preferred the amateur production of The History Boys to the National Theatre production.

Regional theatre and new writing are inextricably linked. Compare for a minute that sort of theatre you see in London’s West End, to the theatre you see in Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham and even Hull and Scarborough, these places boast some of Britain’s best contemporary playwrights: Alan Bennett, Alan Aykborne, John Godber. Would the work of these men have seen the light of day on a West End stage? What producer is willing to take that risk!? Regional theatre offers new writers an important opportunity to shine, and therefore holds a key position in discovering and developing the talent of tomorrow.

So. Ireland. I’ve ranted before about the lack of performance infrastructure, but there’s more to say. Where are the development plans for regional theatre? Where are the theatre in education departments? Do they exist at all!? Take my local theatre, The Hawkswell Theatre in Sligo. Last September the position for Director came up, I applied, having enough ‘senior management experience’ and skill to meet the requirement, obviously I didn’t get it (Arts in Ireland are very nepatistic) less than six months later it came up again. In my letter I mentioned briefly that audiences can be developed through building active relationships with schools and other institutions educational and social. I briefly outlined the benefits of working with third level institutions both in terms of reaching new audiences but also in presenting material. There is NO money and very little benefit in theatres operating purely as receiving houses in the regions, they just don’t create the community buzz that producing houses do. A perfect example of this is Druid Theatre in Galway an organisation that not only the city is proud of, but the country; They have an international reputation. Of course Druid is entirely producing, but Sligo needs a theatre that people can get excited about, theatre that attracts the student population, and producing in-house productions in association with Sligo IT, offers a real opportunity to generate income and develop links with education. Is this too progressive? It’s difficult to get people to think out of the box… particularly in the regions. Why is that? Is it all about empire building? Key players enjoy the control they have over organisations, they don’t want to relinquish their control and so any newcomer that has a good idea is an immediate threat. I really wish this wasn’t true, but it is, and when I was a teenager it was the reason I was so keen to get out of amateur theatre -apply a business model and flat corporate structure and like alchemy, theatre becomes a lot more creative and communication flows a lot easier.

Regional Theatres need to work together strategically, and on a more local level arts organisations need to collaberate more, create clash diaries, share marketing and where possible resources. Theatre in the regions will never be the money spinner that it is in the West End (no appropriate Irish equivalent) but it can become more economically self sufficient, more robust and most importantly, it can revitalise tired communities, generate income through cultural tourism and create employment. Win win.

Moby popularised electronic music. He did this by creating a very distinct style, with his first successful album Play having a strong ambient feel. This was the worlds first commercial taste of ambient sound, when it appeared in the early noughties it captured the New York/ eastern influenced atmosphere that was impacting western society, a society interested in new age culture. I discovered Moby while I was still at school… For me, a boy never particularly interested in metal and the type of rock that was popular at the time, it was perfect, I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer so the ambient aspect appealed greatly, the richness of the sound, the more sophisticated quality of composition. It was Moby who introduced me to the Electro Genre, an interest which grew wider and further towards the upbeat end.

These days what I particularly love about Moby is the amazing variation of style on each album. My first Moby album was 18, the one after Play, which was heavily ambient then Hotel which again was largely ambient. There was a largeish gap between Hotel and the next new release, and in this time I explored Moby’s back catalogue: I like to Score, Everything is Wrong, Animal Rights and Ambient. This was an entirely new musical education for me as the early albums really help to see the progression in Moby’s work from House towards ambient. Last Night released in 2008 was a tribute to the New York dance scene, a couple of tracks having a heavy disco influence, appealing greatly to House lovers and showing that Moby is a skilled electro all-rounder.

So to the upcoming album Destroyed. Yes an appropriately unusal title, I strongly recommend you download the EP he released, available for free download from moby.com. If this is anything to go by, it promises to be closer in style to 18/ Hotel than the previous two albums Last Night and Wait For Me.  Be The One is a fantastic track and I know that come the middle of May I will be first in line in the music store.

I once attended a meeting with a number of regional arts practitioners in the UK, I remember one lady saying ‘we need to move away from our preoccupation with infrastructure’, that’s all well and good, but first of all you need to have the infrastructure to move away from. A theatre isn’t just a place to perform, it’s a cultural focus point, a point of contact between artists and the community in which they work and live.

Despite having a culture of culture, Ireland has a distinct lack of performing arts infrastructure. Aside from the recently built Grand Canal Theatre, there are few venues in Ireland that can accommodate large scale productions. Even the two big producing houses in Dublin (The Abbey and The Gate) are tired venues, in desperate need of a complete technical update. So out of the five big theatres in Dublin only the Grand Canal Theatre offers a great deal of potential to producers of large scale theatre. If Ireland is to compete with Britain in terms of cultural tourism, then a great deal of investment needs to be put in to building new venues and redeveloping existing venues across the country. I was very surprised to discover that even Galway doesn’t have a large theatre with a fly tower and large amounts of wing space.

The last tourism and culture minister said that Ireland needs a ‘broadway’… I’d like to contradict that, Ireland needs a ‘West End’. But further than that it needs infrastructure in the regions, major theatres in every gateway city in the country. Investment into the cultural economy pays dividends not only in money generated by tourism, but in the community enrichment that happens as a direct result of culture and creativity. The world knows that Ireland is culturally rich, isn’t it time that the full potential of this was realised?

I don’t deny the fact that Labour were most definitely not without fault, however they were strong advocates of culture and the intrinsic value that it has. David Cameron’s ‘cool conservativism’ doesn’t fool anyone, and I particularly enjoyed the Banksy defaced billboards that demonstrated this fact. Near where I lived the graffiti wasn’t so clever, a simple ‘Fuck off Torys’ sprayed over the billboard delivered the message loudly and clearly. Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt (or as BBC presenter Jeremy Naughtie inadvertantly called him: ‘Jeremy Cunt) jumped straight into his new position in goverment wielding the hatchet, abolishing the UK Film Council and cutting Arts Council England’s already cut to the bone, housekeeping budget by a further 50%. The result of this is being felt already with one County Arts Officer telling me ‘[ACE] literally can’t afford to show an interest anymore’. It’s very easy to say ‘we’re cutting administration money’, but surely they understand that the Arts Council doesn’t run itself, and anyone who’s completed an Arts Council Application form as I have, will know just how much information there is to plod through PER APPLICATION? The very depressing fact is that that is exactly what the average Tory party member does think. I worked for an high brow arts festival for years and at one strategic development meeting the chairman (a Tory party member) turned to the Arts Council Officer running the meeting and said ‘Is this your job?’ To which the lady replied ‘yes’, to which he responded ‘You mean somebody pays you to do what you do?’

Don’t act surprised. The Conservative view of Culture is of something that’s ‘nice to have’, it’s an occasion or event that’s used to further social status. Maybe this is a little unfair, but for years quality was judged in output only, not in the experience gained for participants and workers involved, not to mention the wider community enrichment that the arts bring. An excellent example of this (and one of my favourites) is the amount of money that Opera North receives between 2008-2012, just over £38m. I fail to see how this is true value for money (value for money being one of many assessment criteria used by ACE). Don’t get me wrong, my brother’s an opera singer, and obviously I don’t want to threaten his employment in any way at all, but really, £38m! The Royal Opera House in London over the same period receives… wait for it… just under £110m. It’s like ACE and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have forgotten that without grass roots arts projects, youth theatres, theatre in education departments, in the future there will be no performers, no artists, no musicians of the standard that there are today. I noticed that Julie Walters and a number of others wrote a letter to the Observer last Sunday with a similar message.

Since London won the Olympic bid (and I say London because really where else in the UK is benefiting from the Olympics?), more and more money has been channeled out of the arts and into sport. I love sport, I do, but where is the value for money in this!? And we’re promised that as of 2012 Lottery money will be returned to the Arts. But in these past few years of economical drought for grass roots/ middle of the road arts, how many organisations will have gone, and gone for good?

Twenty year old Nicolas Jaar has my respect. The American Electronic music scene seriously lacks the excitement of the European scene, in this one aspect at least, Europe leads the way in creating experimental electronic music, and pushing and evolving the genre it created and nurtured. What interests me inparticular is the grass roots music that is artists at the beginning of their careers pushing their particular sound, a different take on the stuff playing most of the clubs in Germany, London, Paris (and now to an increasing extent Dublin). Ramadanman who I was only recently introduced to definitely does this, I went to see him play a set in Dublin last month, and was inpressed with his distinctive twist on dubstep that he wove into a varied but seamless set.

But New York born Nicolas Jaar creates a sound that is impossible to define, I’m struggling to fit him into a particular category, with a particular genre label because frankly he doesn’t fit into one… This excites me, I think far too many mainstream artists, as they become more established particularly, get scared of being more experimental with their music, of incorporating other sounds, crossing over into other genres and sub-genres, the result of this is fairly ‘samey’ music. Maybe it’s his age then that makes (can I call you Nic?) Nic Jaar’s work so appealing to me? A real wealth of sound across a variety of genres (house, disco, dubstep, bhangra!? et al),  something about being young, indecisive and exploritary, that causes this, but whatever it is, please don’t stop Nic I love it! So maybe the US is finally going to become a challenger to the European scene. What I’d really love to see is a completely fresh scene that is perhaps a little bit less preoccupied with image, because from an outsider that’s how it looks… A music revolution!? Maybe not.

Check out some of Nicolas Jaar’s stuff on youtube…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2y_ikBmNeRU&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bmG8hgDyP0&feature=related