My father refuses to watch the 1972 film Deliverance - he's seen it once and for him, that was more than enough. It's the story of four businessmen whose canoeing trip down the Cahulawassee River quickly turns into a nightmare. Assaulted by some frightening locals and pitted against the hazards of the river, they find themselves in a rather nasty fight for their lives.
Now, while Jeremy Barnes and Heather Trost haven't exactly spent the last couple of years hanging out in Eastern Europe with inbred, psychotic hillbillies, they have embarked on a daunting musical journey that not many would stomach. Their goal of learning the nuances of a tricky musical language, in a region off the map for mainstream America could easily have led them down a blind alley. So... would they, as the movie's tag line suggests, have been better off staying at home and playing golf?
Well, the short answer is no, because A Hawk and A Hacksaw have made their best, most confident record to date. It's a thrilling, mostly instrumental ride influenced by the Romanian diva Romica Puceanu, the Balkan brass of collaborators Fanfare Ciocărlia, and the breathless music of dark, smoky Budapest dance houses. There are plaintive violin-led pieces, which wouldn't be out of place accompanying a café scene in a Béla Tarr film, and scratchy field recordings - the first half of 'Raggle Taggle' sounds like a beautiful Romanian radio broadcast from 70 years ago. The sheer depth of this record means that Délivrance avoids one of the pitfalls of some Balkan albums, such as those from Ciocărlia - namely that the buoyant music becomes slightly repetitive.
Alongside the British bouzouki player Chris Hladowski, AHAAH have enlisted some key performers from Budapest's folk music circuit. A standout contribution comes from cimbalom virtuoso Kálman Bálogh, whose performance on 'Kertész' is blistering - the notes zip by at an astonishing speed. Other collaborators include Béla Ágoston, of quirky Hungarian hip-hop band Zuboly, and their close friend, trumpeter and violinist Ferenc Kovács.
I once saw Kovács play with Barnes and Trost on a makeshift stage, to twenty people, in the small Hungarian village of Szentendre. It was a scene that summed AHAAH's fearless, unique journey up perfectly. Although both violinists were undeniably virtuosic, the contrast in their style was marked, and picked up on by a handful of bemused audience members. Kovács' performance was freewheeling, that of a man who had grown up steeped in these musical traditions, while Trost handled the fiendishly difficult music with a look of fierce concentration.
Délivrance is no Gogol Bordello Balkan pastiche, nor does it deserve to get lumped into the category of 'world music'. Rather, it's a remarkable fusion, the sound of a band living and breathing a musical culture far removed from their own. According to them, their music is borderless, and the making of it is similar to 'climbing a mountain'. If this excellent album is anything to go by, I sincerely hope that A Hawk and a Hacksaw are halfway up the cliff face, some way off reaching their musical peak.
Andy T, former writer for thehub is currently working for UK-based music website thelineofbestfit. Read more here.
A minimal set and costumes reflected a now familiar approach to Shakespeare, and as the audience entered, Juliet was already romping with herself in the middle of a featureless stage. I was quickly reassured that the Juliets would not be an exact duplicate of each other: some lines and movements were mirrored, others weren't. When one Juliet spoke, the other became a silent Romeo; a setting; a thought at the back of Juliet's mind.
While I'm sure there was a definite direction to the script, seeing Romeo & Juliet performed a few years ago was not sufficient for me to follow the story as such. Shakespeare-lovers or anyone who's actually read the thing recently would therefore have a much different experience. Add to that, the fact that some of the audience would understand the Hungarian, some the English, and others both or neither, and we suddenly have eight different plays on show. (Anyone who is unfamiliar with Romeo & Juliet and understands neither language might be in for a rough ride.)
In the absence of a straightforward narrative, it was the performances that took on the great burden of keeping me interested, and both Juliets were exceptional. That they were not alike was crucial: one, physical, sexual and occasionally animalistic (she growled at me as soon as I sat down) and the other slight and delicate. If you only understood the language of one, the other took on a mysterious presence but at the fore nonetheless. To say that they deconstructed Juliet would be too clinical but they certainly delved around in her psyche.
The Hungarian Juliet, Ubrankovics Júlia, is billed as an award-winning actress (she's even got a profile on IMDB!!) and indeed, it was clear that she was no amateur. It was surprising then that Sophie Thompson, The English Juliet, billed as "from London" went beyond the call of duty, soundtracking the whole thing by singing ghostly medieval melodies that seamlessly wove in and out of the script. Even if you have no theatrical bone in your body, you couldn't fail to be impressed by her undertaking.
With such chemistry, it was a surprise that our post-performance chat with the cast, and director, Engi-Nagy Natália, felt a little strained. Little did we know that Júlia had just announced that she wouldn't be taking part in any further shows. (With an audience that barely numbered twenty, you can understand why.) With two further shows scheduled for late May, and performances at the Camden Fringe Festival lined up, Natália has been quick to recruit news reporter, Kucsera Olga!
To see how she handles the switch to the stage, head to Sirály on Tuesday 26th or Wednesday 27th May. That gives me two weeks to brush up on my Shakespeare before finding out whether Olga can preserve the crucial balance and match the intensity of Júlia's performance. Who knows, she may even growl at me too.
Keep up to date with developments by following Natália's performance diary blog here.
Ludwig Museum, until 5th July
Pest, IX, Boraros tér (T 4,6), 8 min
Fast forward almost thirty years and that same photographer is making his first feature-length film, Control, a biopic about the tragic life of Ian Curtis, the troubled troubadour of that little band he photographed in a London Tube station.
With such clear "bookends," it's a fine time for a massive career-spanning retrospective, simply titled, “Work.”
Corbijn has photographed countless integral underground and mainstream musicians, made some of the most recognizable music videos of all time – Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” being one – and reduced some of the world’s biggest film stars to meager-looking mortals. (One exception is his portrait of physicist, Stephen Hawking, who he makes look like a rock star.) Dylan, Ginsberg, Cash, U2, Kraftwerk, Waits, De Niro, Eastwood...his list of subjects goes on in impressive fashion.
“Composition is easy,” Corbijn said, at a recent free screening of Control at A38, part of the "Holland Kultfeszt." He says he places the importance on the person behind the camera, an emphasis easy to make if you've got a portfolio like Corbijn's.
Regardless, you'd find it hard to argue the fact that his work is strung together in a manner that is distinctly his. The graininess that comes from a 35mm negative being blown up beyond the natural limit, and the blurred subjects, rendered imperfect and almost featureless, are both signatures of his early work in black and white .
Later in his career his prints shrink down and sharpen, yet there is no connection lost between photographer and subject. It’s obvious that Corbijn somehow gets these celebrated people to open up. He forces them into a relationship with the camera; either that or he coaxes it out of them. Judging from Corbijn’s modest demeanor and the intimacy reflected in his photographs, the latter is probably true.
His numerous photos of Depeche Mode are a case in point. An entire room is devoted to them, in honor of the role he's played in their visual aesthetic that's always been akin to their music.
In recent years, Corbin has turned the camera on himself, or rather versions of himself dressed as other people. In the series “a. somebody” he employs a style of self-portrait that evokes the work of Cindy Sherman. Here, Corbijn imitates musicians who died in full glare of the media, some he worked with (i.e. Ian Curtis, Kurt Cobain) and some he never had the chance to (i.e. John Lennon).
Walking through the multitude of photographs that make up Corbijn’s life's work, one can truly grasp the weight of these images. While they can be visually stunning, both for the saturation and the simple compositions, they also cut through the gloss to show a more intimate, human side of those that so often placed atop pedestals.
Yes, the chance to photograph four skinny, shivering musicians from Manchester served as the launch pad for Corbijn, but, like his subjects, it's taken more than luck to keep him amongst the stars. If you’re a fan of photography, music, or stardom, this exhibition shouldn’t go unseen.
Anton Corbjin Antwon Corbin Antone Corbwin
Equus productions debuted last spring with an enterprising and gripping version of Equus, which caught me happily off-guard. (Review here.) This time out, Rhett Stevens has a stab at Joe Orton's 1964 black comedy, Entertaining Mr Sloane, about a lodger, a landlady, her brother and a murder or two.
Staged in Picasso Point's brick basement, the venue is not ideal, and a stage flanked by the audience on either side was the first suggestion that pragmatic solutions would outweigh inspired choices.
With only four characters and no restrictions on nationality, you might think that casting would be a doddle. Not so. With the original Sloane - controversially, middle-aged and black - pulling out midway through rehearsals, and the director standing in as Kemp, it's a miracle that there's anything to review.
Sloane, like Equus before it, has recently enjoyed a West End revival, although its suitability for a budget Budapest production with an international audience is rather more questionable. Equus was a weird story but crucially, it was extremely visual. Sloane, on the other hand, is a lot more dependent on the script and is set in a house on the edge of a rubbish tip. The action in Act I was so fast and furious that whenever my view was obscured, I was content to stare at the back of the head in front of me until I could see again.
So even without a slightly jittery start and a mistimed doorbell - the hallmarks of amateur theatre anywhere - the slow-paced, dated and anglocentric script made the struggle all the more palpable. Modernisms were added but mentions of contact lenses, joyriding and boxer shorts couldn't drag it into the present.
While I certainly didn't want to see a "Carry On Mr Sloane", I did feel that a bolder interpretation of the characters would have given the first act a greater sense of purpose. Sylvia Llewelyn's Kath was the strongest performance, based largely on an Are You Being Served? era Wendy Richard. Daniel Hall's delivery had a certain Michael Caine chic, while Rhett Steven's Kemp hinted at Buster Merryfield, without exploiting its comic potential. With no English archetype to reference, Béres Miklós, undisputable star of Equus, was left a little adrift.
Fortunately, Orton's script picks up in Acts II and III, as the wretched characters reveal more of themselves. It's also more liberally peppered with insults and quips and gradually, the audience's uncertainty gave way to wry smiles and the odd guffaw. The final curtain was accompanied by enough enthusiasm for the cast to bow twice, but the applause was polite rather than rapturous.
So Equus' second production just about keeps them on track, and remains the only opportunity you're likely to get to see challenging English theatre in Budapest. However, it does highlight that, in theatrical terms, 45 years is a long time and 1000 miles is a long way.
The last two performances will be held on Tuesday 5th and Wednesday 6th May at 19:45. Details here.
Műcsarnok, until 17th May
Dózsa György út 37 (Hősök tere) [map]
Pest, XIV, Hősök tere (M1), 2 min
From large video works and performance art, to photographs, installations, and paintings; strangely, it all links up under the umbrella of “human discourse,” unlike another group show happening in Budapest at the moment. From familial turmoil and oddities (see Jesper Just and Tracey Moffatt), to sexual and surreal (see Marina Abramovic and Pipilotti Rist), to war and human destruction (see Cristina Garciá Rodero and Thomas Hirschhorn); the ugly and the beautiful are shown side by side in immaculate curatorial fashion.
If the attendance at the opening is any indication of the importance of Mi Vida, then the fact that you could barely move speaks volumes, and some recognizable names don't hurt either. One might expect with 36 artists and over 100 pieces, there’d be plenty of duds. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, artists like Canadian heavy-hitter, Marcel Dzama, are that bit more accomplished but the lesser works are more than just filler.
Dzama’s small-scale ink and watercolor drawings are surrealist and comic book-esque. They are without background or contextual objects allowing the fantastic characters’ peculiar actions to fill the empty space. The paintings of re-worked Polaroids in Enrique Marty’s “La Familia” are equally imaginative. The color and technique is devilish, violent and unsettling, evoking something reminiscent of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
While Dzama and Marty’s works play primarily in the realm of the bizarre, the large-scale photo capturing destruction on a road in Kabul by Luc Delahaye, brings the exhibition back into the realm of reality: the pain of personal loss that lies behind the camera’s main focus. Meanwhile, Tomas Hirschhorn’s massive installation entitled United Nations Miniatures, may appear comical on the surface, before the stark reality behind the miniaturization of so many indistinguishable war atrocities sets in.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. An entire room (blatantly marked 18+, so kiddies beware!) is dedicated to Serbian artist, Marina Abramovic’s “Balkan Erotic Epic.” Here Abramovic questions the presentation of “information” by documenting obscure, sexual agricultural rites. Despite their patent absurdity, they remain somehow convincing. The video of the women in traditional garb running around in the rain flashing their genitals and breasts to the sky, and the one of the naked men frantically thrusting into the soil are guaranteed to amuse, at the very least.
Also following a comedic line, is Candice Breitz’s “Mother” – the distillation of six famous motherly roles in Hollywood films. Each mother, including actresses Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, is given her own screen in a pitch-black room where they are arranged in a stadium-like semi-circle. Everything around them is digitally removed, blackened out, focusing the attention on their emotions. The repetition of noises, snivels, and moans showcases the spectrum of motherly emotions in a span of just 13 minutes.
The presentation of much of the work is inventive and follows with the “on the cutting cusp” execution and feeling of the show. This is most evident in the presentation of Wolfgang Tillmans’ photographs, which are strewn about the wall in an erratic but calculated fashion. Some are massive, high-hanging and framed, others are small and simply taped, un-matted, to the wall in a series.
Only the work of American photographer, Ryan McGinley is largely underwhelming. McGinley has become highly regarded as a young photographer in the past ten years, and Műcsarnok’s promotional posters boast that his work is included in the show. However, to me, his photos are highly self-indulgent and lack any real discourse: it’s just American youth in the desert, nakedly basking in their parents’ trust fund.
Mi Vida is a show that is exciting for its presentation and near-flawless execution, and also for the subjects that are tackled within. The most poignant trends in the contemporary art world lie within the walls of Műcsarnok at this very moment. Get there at any cost before the show closes on the 17th of May!
All photos courtesy Műcsarnok, except the topmost.
Pest, IX, Boraros tér (T 4,6), 8 min
The art that comprises New Acquisitions is mostly what they’ve purchased in the past couple of years and is all contemporary, if not the newest in new. Pieces by Hungarian artists make up most of the show, but there are several works from artists around the world including Chinese artist, Csi Peng, whose “True And False Money King” might hint at a fitting theme.
Alas, the selection of photography, painting, sculpture, collage, and video seems to have everything but unity. An exhibition of recent acquisitions is bound to be a mixed bag but here the emphasis is most definitely on the 'mixed'. The neon piece, “Little Warsaw” doesn’t really tie in with Péter Gémes’s brilliant, pictogram-esque large-scale black and white negatives, nor Antal Lakner’s comical “Passive Working Devices” (above, right). But then again, nothing meshes.
Something that always tends to wear me out at these group shows is the sheer amount of video work on display. I feel like an A.D.D. kid inside a Chuck E. Cheese that’s inside of a Toys R Us that’s inside of a McDonald’s PlayPlace. Then, when you get to watch them, it suddenly transforms into a series of 5-15 minutes comas... and New Acquisitions has 7 of them.
A precise live set that consists entirely of Old Wounds from start to finish on this European tour has got Young Widows continuing their legacy of a near-constant tour schedule. They’re on tour almost non-stop through mid-April, which takes them back to the US to play the famed SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. This three-piece, which also includes drummer, Jeremy McMonigle, has managed to keep a squeaky clean, explosive live show, without the fat. No colorful lights, no fog machines, no bullshit. The songs are stripped down—forget samples and special effects. What you hear on the album, you get live. When the band made a stop in Budapest on February 18th, we had the chance to catch up with them.
HUB- So you're playing Old Wounds in it's entirety on this European tour, how's that been going over, especially in the places you haven't played before?
Evan- It's going very well. We are literally soiling ourselves every night.
Jeremy- Really awesome.
Nick- I second that.
HUB- In terms of the recording process for Old Wounds, why did you do just four songs in a live setting and not the whole album? With that said, the album sounds cohesive, not just in the songs, but in the recording, were you worried it wouldn't?
Nick- No, some of the songs we wanted to record live and some in the studio. We just had to feel it out through the live sessions and listening back to everything.
Jeremy- We had the utmost faith in Kurt’s [Ballou of the band Converge and engineer/owner of Godcity Studio] ability. So we knew that it would all come together.
Evan- Some of the best drum sounds we got were in our friends house the first day we met up with Kurt. We had mics going up staircases, in a kitchen, and it really came out huge.
HUB- The music industry seems to be changing as we know it, at least the sales of records, how did that effect this latest album? Was that a factor in the recording, sort of bringing it back to the roots of a live show?
Jeremy- Not really we just wanted to do it that way for our own gratification.
Evan- The music industry is boring and has nothing to do with our band. We aren't trying to bring anything back, we're trying to make new sounds, patterns, and songs that we find natural and compelling.
HUB- Vinyl as a format is looking like a better and better way to make money from album sales, especially with the rabid (illegal) download culture. It seems doing limited runs is the way to do things, for example your 7" series. Does the downloading/blog culture play any sort of role in the way you guys do things?
Jeremy, Nick, Evan- No.
HUB- With that said, how do you guys feel about this downloading generation? If people are stealing your album from blogs and the like, especially in a place like Budapest, where not so many stores are going to have your record, does that get you "Lars Ulrich angry?"
Evan- Denying it seems pointless. I just downloaded Crime and the City Solution and Swell Maps records right before this tour. It was my first time and I've been listening to those records non-stop this entire tour. Amazing music.
Jeremy- Not really. If that’s how people get into our band, cool. Maybe they will come to the show and buy a copy of the record. Actually that very situation placed at a show in France.
HUB- What about the economic crisis? Does that have an effect on you guys as a band/album sales/touring? Do you find yourselves needing to tour more to make ends meet?
Evan- We're under the crisis line and I honestly haven't even thought about its effect on our band. This band is more about the art and the ideas, nothing else.
Jeremy- Not yet and hopefully it won’t ever.
HUB- A lot of the stops on this European tour are pretty standard, and not so many underground US bands come through Budapest, it seems kind of off the beaten tour path. You mentioned during your set that you guys love this city, was that a main motivating factor to play here?
Nick- Well, Breather Resist played [in Budapest] in 2005 and the show went well plus we got to see a lot of the city and it's amazing.
Jeremy- It seemed like a cool place. Even though it was a bit out of the way it was worth playing because the show was nice.
Evan- Wonderful and passionate people have brought us to Budapest and that is what makes me love Buda, Pest, and the little island between [Margit Sziget] that brings the two together.
Check out Young Widows at their MySpace page here.
(Interview & Photos: Jacob P)
Irrational Orthodox Noise look like they've just stepped out of a salon.
Songs are varied: "Teach Me How to Fly" is both sinister and dreamy; the dark electronica of "Check in Your Body" somehow remains radio friendly, at least until you reach the industrial boat-coming-into-the-harbour outro; while "Sounddress" is more of a warbling art project than a song.
When it comes to alternative music in Budapest there's a paucity of talent and an abundance of the ersatz. ION, however, are not part of the fashion. They tap into the history of independent music and come up with something that sounds genuinely 1987.
Sample them below or check their myspace here.
Műcsarnok, until 15th February 2009
Dózsa György út 37 (Hősök tere) [map]
Pest, XIV, Hősök tere (M1), 2 min
One of his greatest concerns is commentary on the image as well as photography as a medium, to illustrate first-hand that a photograph is not in fact what Roland Barthes would call the “spectrum” - the actual things being photographed. Rather, Ruff’s work concentrates on Barthes’ “stadium” - the interpretation and contextualization - or in Ruff’s case, re-contextualization and de-contextualization. He is not so much a Photographer as he is an Artist, or Mediator.
His most noted work to date is his jpeg series where he pulls somewhat iconic images from the Internet - such as the freshly attacked, yet still standing, Twin Towers in New York - blows them up to enormous proportions (the long side usually measuring around 3 meters), and pixelates them, removing information which renders them unrecognizable at close range. However, the image of the 9/11 attack (ny02, 2004) is missing from the show, bringing into doubt how representative this “retrospective” actually is.
His other noteworthy series that features photos pulled and manipulated from the Web are his Nudes, a series of pornographic photos. The artist doesn’t pixelate these images in the same manner but instead blurs them, bringing countless genitals, plastic-looking breasts and vinyl lingerie into the realm of what might just border on tastefulness.
Ruff has been doing what he calls “sampling,” ever since his Stars series from the 1990s, where he takes detailed photos of the night sky that were made by astronomers who had the very powerful equipment he didn't have access to. Here, Ruff is displaying and appropriating them in the form of large C-prints. The same goes for his Newspaper Photographs, in the sense that he’s “stealing” the images. The artist liberates newspaper photos from their captions to see if they still mean anything to the viewer, and of course the iconic ones (i.e., Hitler) do, and the banal do not.
Such technical precision, however, may easily be lost on anyone outside the world of photography, and is unlikely to be enough to make the aesthetics of this exhibition alone stick with you for very long.
Komor Marcell u. 1 [map]
Pest South, IX Millenniumi Kulturális Központ (T2) 3 min
The concept: every one of Shakespeare's plays performed by three players in two hours. As you might imagine, some of the bard's larger themes get glossed over in this format. This play was written by some prog-rock sounding trio called Long-Singer-Borgeson and is performed at the Nemzeti by a dramatic troupe called the Madhouse Theater Company.
Mike Kelly, Matt Devere and Andrew Hefler make up the cast. And, as you also might have imagined by now - it's a comedic spoof.
I had heard about this play and its long Budapest run many times. But the main circumstance that put me in the seats was not a review or knowledge of the text. It was a chance encounter with cast member Matt Devere in a Budapest watering hole - 6tus - a few weeks ago that brought me there. After he'd bought me my fifth Unicum, I pledged to see his show within the month.
On Sunday I was good as my word. Navigating a convoluted system of Metro, trams and buses brought us to the National Theater (Nemzeti Szinház), part of a relatively new complex that also includes the Palace of Arts (Művészetek Palotája or MUPA). The Palace of Arts building is quite handsome. I can't say the same for the theater building - a marriage of late-19th century neo-Hungarian excess and 21st century XIII district condominum.
But it's what goes on inside that counts. And the inside of the theater was packed, mostly with what I assumed to be rich Hungarian teens and their chaperones. A full house for a play that is not new on a Sunday night - very impressive.
And the play did not disappoint the packed house. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare is not so much a theatrical piece but an elaborate comedy sketch. The script is loose and unfocused, but the production is amply held together by the charisma of the three players. There are a few moments (a few too few, perhaps) where the true dramatic talents of the players are juxtaposed against the slapstick of the material: certainly the most entertaining bits of the evening.
For the record, the play ends with Hamlet being done in 90 seconds - backwards. What a piece of work is a man! How infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable! Especially when cross-dressing as Ophelia with buck teeth or running about the stage in reverse gear with a rubber knife through thine own cursed head!
This article originally appeared on sfinbudapest.com. Read more from SF here.
We'd been pretty skeptical about English theatre in Budapest, but were actually very impressed with what Equus managed to put together. Now they're starting a new project and you, who never got the breaks, you, who could have been a contender, might want to audition.
"Equus Productions is seeking artistic minded people both creative and performing for its Spring Production. Three Male actors - playing ages 20's, 30's & 40's; One Female playing age 40 + ... (Nationality irrelevant)
Auditions to be held in early December. Interested ???
Telephone Rhett on 06 30 955 5882 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details."
"I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it."
Don't miss your chance.
It’s a singular achievement, put into perspective by imagining how tiresome twenty-two versions of any other film would be. Jaws, for example. The Neverending Story, Part 22. By now, these film sagas wouldn't be playing to packed houses, they'd be direct-to-video bombs, featuring Z-list stars and occasional cameos from people who should know better. Like Malcolm McDowell or Mick Jagger.
Personally, I gave up on Bond a long time ago, so it was a pleasant surprise that 2006’s Casino Royale turned out to be really rather good. Inspired by the Bourne movies, the franchise looked to have taken a big step forward. Casino Royale was lean and tough, the story was engaging, and in Daniel Craig, we had the best Bond in decades.
It’s unfortunate then, that Quantum of Solace has undone pretty much all of this excellent work. I wish I could summarise the story but I had absolutely no idea what was going on - apart from the fact it had something to do with Bond’s dead girlfriend, the shadowy but boring Quantum organisation, and an environmental terrorist.
There’s a traditional formula for Bond films - a breathtaking pre-credits stunt, followed by thirty to forty dull minutes of plot exposition, after which Bond hooks up with a babe and chases people all over the globe (and sometimes into space). Obviously aware that Bond stories are stymied by this template, the writers of Quantum of Solace have departed from it by dispensing with the initial plot development section altogether. Instead, they spend the first third of the film whipping Craig around the world at breakneck speed, which has the unfortunate effect of making Quantum of Solace seem like the Holiday programme, but with fighting.
All of this isn’t very interesting, and it’s easy to slip into a soporific state during the copious action set-pieces. In fact, I was far more taken with the dazzlingly surreal universe this film dreams up - one where a beautiful female secret agent can meet Bond at a Haitian airport wearing nothing but a brown trenchcoat and boots. Immediately, the two British government employees check into a hotel and get busy, before receiving an invitation to a party…. that evening! She hasn’t a thing to wear! Leave it with me, says Bond, and arranges for her to get some clothes and have her hair done.
However, that particular scene has nothing on the bizarre ten minute sequence in which Bond steals a plane and crash-lands in the middle of the Bolivian desert. Eventually, he climbs out of a crater then walks for hours in the midday sun, dressed in a tuxedo, before rocking up to a dusty, ramshackle, one-horse town. There, he hops straight onto a public bus (the kind that comes along once every three days) and doesn‘t even bat an eyelid.
The whole film feels like a missed opportunity, especially after the efficient and exciting Casino Royale. Craig is good, but the problem with creating a grittier Bond is that if it isn't backed up by an interesting or partially believable story, it's difficult to know why you should care. Bond doesn't instantly become a deeper character just because he's mourning his girlfriend. Either way, it'll be interesting to see what happens next. Will Ms. Broccoli follow this up with yet another money-spinning, predictable action flick, or will she attempt to find some better source material (Sebastian Faulks, perhaps)? Wasting Daniel Craig would certainly be a shame.
Finally, a word about that title, which has been widely dismissed as the worst ever. I’ve been mulling it over for a while, and I think to some extent I know what it's trying to say. ‘Bond 22 - An Amount of Comfort'. Whatever that means. It’s as pointless and daft as the film itself.
When Sam invited us to the gig, I was a little suspicious. "They're not going to be really Goddy, are they? I'm not coming if they're Goddy." "No, they're not Goddy," he lied. My friend Stephen was angling for Sam's sister, so I think I had some kind of fluffer duty, especially as I was the one with the car.
The little hall was packed, and Sam went over to Deliriou5? (I can't help saying it like that), who hugged him, patted him on the shoulders and the like, and looked all chummy. I looked around at the audience; not a very rock 'n' roll audience, in truth. The gig began and they had some kind of projector, like the ones you get at school, displaying the lyrics: "Father God, you heard the prayer; From deep within my spirit cried; If there's a God, come rescue me; Now here I stand, I'm saved by grace." That's quite Goddy, I thought.
Not as Goddy as it got just before the interval. A song ended in clouds of feedback... feedback that just kept feeding back. And as it fed and fed and fed, the singer raised his arms out straight on each side and began to mutter... "Thank you Jesus... thank you Jesus..." To my horror, the people around me began to raise their arms too, all murmuring "Thank you Jesus... Thank you Jesus." I looked across at Stephen. He wasn't murmering. "Thank you Jesus!", I thought.
The interval arrived and I was out of there like an atheist. A slightly shaken atheist at that. Stephen stayed. It got weirder. I think someone was cured of Leukemia or something like that. [I invite him to elaborate in the comments.]
Fast forward 14 years and they're playing Petőfi Csarnok. I don't know if it's likely to be quite as intense but, if someone suggests that you go, and you're not a religious nutcase, don't say that you haven't been warned. On the other hand, it is their farewell tour, so if you're looking for God in the form of mediocre rock, it might be a while before the chance comes again. Tickets here.
delirious; delerious, delirius, delerius Andy Sz.
Their current tour has taken them to Slovakia, Vienna, and Poland, but not Budapest - Animal Collective wanted to play here but just couldn't sort out a gig. Still, that wasn't going to stop us. Last week we made the three hour trip to Bratislava for what turned out to be a stunningly good concert, and beforehand, thehub joined up with Dave Porter (aka Avey Tare) to discuss the tour, the new album, and Crayola crayons.
Hub: How’s it all been going?
Dave Porter: Yeah, well. The tour’s been pretty good.
H: It’s an interesting set of locations. A lot of people skip this part of the world.
DP: I think we always make a point, even in the US, of not going back to the same places. It’s not like we have anything against going anywhere but it can get a bit monotonous. A lot of people message us and say 'why don’t you come here', or 'why don’t you play there…'
DP: Bratislava I don’t know, I couldn’t tell you about specific places but for a while now, maybe like a year or two years, we’ve wanted to do a Central and Eastern European tour just because we never get over this way.
H: What did you expect before you came?
DP: I didn’t know what to expect, definitely not as big crowds or as much enthusiasm as we’ve seen so far. I guess only now we’re getting to the heart of places we’ve never been to. We’ve been to Poland and Vienna before and the shows there were great this time too, even better, a lot crazier than I expected. It seems like it's been mostly sold out.
H: A lot of people won’t have seen you before. Has that affected what you do in your sets?
DP: Not really, we’ve been playing the same set of songs now since last Spring when we started writing our new record and we always try to play a lot of new material live. Over the year we’ve been throwing in a lot of old songs as well to mix it up a little, so it doesn’t feel like we’re playing the same set over and over again. We have like 26 songs we can play. We’ve been playing them so much and touring so much that we’re jamming a little bit more.
H: You’ve finished the new album [Merriweather Post Pavilion, due in January]. Is that mainly what you’re playing now?
DP: I’d say half of our set is stuff from the record.
H: And given that you always work ahead, are you performing anything newer than the new album at the moment?
DP: No. We’re working on this visual project. In terms of new material, we’ve been spending a lot of time on that lately and we hope to finish the musical part by December - we’ve got some studio time then. It’s the first time we’ve ever written a lot of new material that we’re not going to play live any time soon. We haven’t really had a lot of time with wanting to just be at home.
H: About the new record, was the writing and recording for Merriweather Post Pavilion similar to Strawberry Jam?
DP: No, not really. Strawberry Jam when we started was a little bit more open ended. We were going on tour for Feels and decided to write some new material for that. It was kind of haphazard at first because we had our initial writing session for Strawberry Jam in Lisbon. It took a little while to get used to the environment - we had a lot of problems with the studio space there and I think that contributed to it being a slower process. With the new one we had a bunch of ideas and we were enthusiastic to start writing as soon as we were done recording Strawberry Jam. Noah [Panda Bear] and I sent demos and melodies to each other and to Brian [Geologist]. Josh [Deakin] had decided that he didn’t want to tour for a while which pretty much meant we started to work on a new record without him. So it was a little bit different. We wrote most of it really quickly and the first tour after Strawberry Jam we had foundations for almost all of the songs.
H: Did that have anything to do with it being your second record on Domino and being more comfortable with them?
DP: I think it was just knowing more what we wanted to do going into it, whereas with Strawberry Jam when we first started writing the songs we didn’t know what was going to go on the record or even what kind of record it would be. This one we had a clear picture. [Various MPP tracks here, here, here, and here].
H: With your aliases and the kind of music you play, Animal Collective seem like a band that could distance yourself from your fans but in fact, with the bootlegs and so on, it’s the complete opposite. You’re very accessible. Is that something you’ve wanted from the beginning?
DP: Sort of, I think it goes in both directions. When we started it wasn’t even called Animal Collective. We wanted the name of the band on the record to be whoever was playing, like Avey Tare and Panda Bear, so it would just be the label Animal that put out our records. Starting to tour more it became Animal Collective because we needed a name. We thought it would be better for people to recognise us. We had this back and forth between wanting there to be a bit of mystery. With the records and the music we don’t like to divulge too much information. We like to keep this kind of mystique about the records, to be their own world, their own environment so we don’t really talk about how they’re recorded. I don’t think we’d ever do one of those ’Animal Collective in the Studio’ things. For us it’s got to be this slightly mysterious world.
H: It seems like a happy medium, not too much and not too little.
DP: Yeah. At the same time we’re like, just normal guys. It was always really important to us that we didn’t have like a rock and roll attitude, like we’re above everybody else. We wanted to go beyond that and have it as an experience that everybody shared together musically. Talking to people and hanging out with people when we can is part of that.
H: In many ways, it seems like you guys can do no wrong. Almost everything written about you is positive. Do you feel pressure from that or is it something that doesn't register, perhaps because you’re in the middle of it?
DP: Pressure only to deliver certain things, information for example. We have this message board that’s popular for fans to write on and I started to kind of distance myself from that, because being a part of it so much can affect the way you think about things. People can write what they like but for me personally, it’s not really any of my business.
H: It was probably different when you weren’t so popular…
DP: Maybe a little bit. It’s cool to be involved in some form and it’s a good source of information. It’s cool that fans can ask questions and we can go on it but at the same time, it’s not really an important part of the music making process.
H: You've become a household name. Is that something you think about?
DP: Not really, we just feel pressure to write records that we’re excited about, because we’ve been doing it for so long. Getting larger has always gone at a natural pace. There was a point when we put out Sung Tongs and we’d go to a 200 capacity club and suddenly it was sold out. It was like wow, people are coming out to see us. We always wanted that to happen and always wanted as many people as possible to be into our music but you never really know where it’s going to go.
H: Is playing these smaller European venues a way of revisiting your early days?
DP: In a way. The past couple of European tours I’ve felt we were breaking through. It helps to have all these songs out there on the internet. It’s crazy to go somewhere and people know songs that you haven’t put out on a record. It blows our minds. When we put out Strawberry Jam, I felt there were places in Europe that we still needed to crack.
H: Funny to hear an American artist talking about ‘cracking’ Eastern Europe…
DP: Yeah, in America we instantly started to tour. Back then it was before the internet became a really popular tool, so touring was the only way of getting our band known. It was easy just to hop in a van for two or three weeks, but we had to find a way of managing that because the States is so big.
H: Have you guys been having fun being in smaller cities here?
DP: It’s hard because the time and the set up that we have is intense and long, so it’s a lot of work. This tour we’ve been trying to go out to bars and stuff after the shows, to talk to people and hang out.
H: One last thing, I wanted to ask you about your commercial.
DP: Yeah, for Crayola.
H: I had the TV on one day and I saw it and was like, I know that song, it’s Sweet Road. How did that come about?
DP: We get offered commercials all the time. Our publisher wants us to make money, obviously, but it’s not really something we’re enthusiastic about, attaching our music to somebody else’s product.
H: Well, a lot of parents would be probably be delighted to hear Animal Collective. I applaud you for it.
DP: Yeah, it’s the only one we’ve ever done. But I guess Crayola crayons were always pretty important for me growing up…
A fresh box of colourful crayons isn't a bad analogy for Animal Collective's music - playful and raucous, experimental and complex - however you choose to describe it, there's certainly a hell of a lot of colours in there. And from what we've heard, it should be a happy new year. Merriweather Post Pavilion is going to be a bumper 150 crayon pack.
(Interview:Andy T, Jacob P
Photos: Jacob P)