Thursday, 28 August 2008


While Helen Of... spends most evenings reading wordy, worthy tomes, we're not averse to a little trash every once in a while. That's why we'll be heading down to our friendly local book shop this week to purchase Let's Talk About Pep, the autobiography of Salt-N-Pepa's Sandra Denton. The book tells of Pepa's life, from her childhood in Jamaica to her time with the ever-fabulous rap group. If Amazon's sample excerpt, about Denton's love for lizards, is anything to go by, this book is going to immense...

One day I remember I got ahold of a machete. I was only like five years old. Don't ask me how I got it or where I got it from, but I had this machete and a bucket. I went around the farm looking for lizards or chameleons. They had all kinds of creatures on this farm, but there were a lot of chameleons. I was fascinated by them, watching them go to a green plant and turn green, then to the ground and turn brown. I walked around looking for them, and I would chop them in half and throw them into my bucket.

By the end of the day, I had a bucket full of chopped-up lizards. My sister came out and saw what I was doing and she scared the hell out of me. "What is that you're doing?!" she screamed. "Dem lizards gwon ride ya." She was telling me that the lizards were going to haunt me. That my doing that had unleashed some kind of curse. "Dem gwon ride ya!" my sister kept saying in her Jamaican patois. Well, they did ride me. As I got older, a lot of my friends would tell me, "You're such a chameleon." It was true. I was real good at blending in. I was good at taking on whatever was around me. If I hung out with thugs, I would be a thug. If I hung out with a prince, it was nothing for me to become royalty. My ability to fit in has been a blessing, but also a curse.


Anyhoo, it's been eight years since the mighty Salt-N-Pepa split (they've got a reality TV show and Salt is releasing a solo album, but there's no new S-N-P material to date). This got us thinking about the state of lady-led hip hop in 2008. We're happy to report it's really rather healthy. Here are a few of our current favourites...

Rye Rye - Brilliant bubblegum hip hop from M.I.A.'s protegee. Check out Wassup Wassup and Shake It To The Ground -

Kid Sister - Smart rhymes over poppy beats from the Chicago-based rapper. Check out current single Pro Nails (feat. Kanye West) -

Yo Majesty - Party electro hip-hop duo, known for their explosive live performances. Check out Club Action -

Bunny Rabbit - Brooklyn-based one-woman experimental rap whirlwind, backed by her brilliant producer Black Cracker. Check out Hit Em Up and It Ain't Easy -

Ooh, and Missy's releasing her new album Block Party in September, which will be reviewed on ...Countertop Writings once we've had a listen.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Music round-up (1st to 15th of September)

Thursday 4th September – Clare & The Reasons
This Brooklyn-based multi-instrumental collective, fronted by Clare Muldaur Manchon, deliver a truly
harmonious brand of jazz-infused orchestral pop. Think along the lines of quiet/loud guitar virtuoso
St. Vincent (who they recently supported on tour), with a full backing band instead of a loop pedal!
Details: Night & Day, Oldham St, Central Manchester
8pm, £7 adv (excluding fees)

Friday 5th September -
Akoustik Anarkhy Cats In Paris Album Launch

The feline-foursome will be showcasing a selection of songs from their first full-length offering, Courtcase
2000, which promises to be a delightfuly odd excercise in experimental playground electro-pop. Plus performances
from Hair Traffic Control and Urgent Talk.
Details: The Deaf Institute, Central Manchester
8pm, £5 adv (excluding fees)

Saturday 5th September -
New Islington Urban Folk Festival 2008
The second New Islington Urban Folk Festival might seem a little like a marketing man's idea
of what upwardly mobile Mancunians want, but it is free and if the sun puts in an appearance it
mightn't be too bad. There's a knitting circle and yarn bombing, plus the lovely Sketch City people
pimping mini barges. Music-wise it's pretty predictable, but there are a few hidden gems including The Jesse Rose
Trip who proffer gentle folky nu-jazz, nowhere near as vile as it sounds.

Details: Cotton Field Park, Old Mill Street, New Islington
2pm to 8pm, free

Friday 12th September -
Helen Of Troy Does Countertop Dancing

Get your dancing shoes on and get ready to bust some serious moves, as we lead you through a panoply of
preposterous musical gifts, including... Madonna, Santogold, Hole, CSS, L7, Ladyhawke, Girls Aloud, PJ
Harvey, M.I.A. and lots more. This will be our first Friday night outing y’all, make sure you’re a part of it.
Details: Charlies, Harter St (off Princess St),
Central Manchester
10pm to 4am, £4, £3 w/flyer

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Madonna, we salute you

Helen Of Troy... hero Madonna turned 50 this week. Among the celebratory articles and pats on the back were a saddening number of sneery asides questioning whether Madge should swap her leotard and disco dancing for a nice tweed twin set and cup of tea. Tina Turner also came under fire earlier this year for her figure-hugging silver Grammy Awards outfit. These detractors seem to have no problem with Iggy Pop prowling the stage with his chest (and sometimes his cock) out, so why is the sight of a woman in her 50s, with a body that could make a twenty-year-old weep with envy, so completely abhorrent.

Happily, it's the sneerers, not Madge, who seem outdated. 50 is no longer a cut-off point where women must accept invisibility and deny any last vestiges of socially acceptable sexuality. There are plenty of pentagenarians who are sexy as fuck. Michelle Pfeiffer, Sharon Stone and Meryl Streep to name just a few.

Being told to cover up is nothing new for Madonna, so we doubt very much she's sat at home sobbing into her sequined leotard. Lets just hope she does what she's always done and gives a big twos up to her detractors by kick-starting yet another fashion phenomenon. To celebrate the sartorial success of our favourite fierce female, here are some of our favourite Madonna outfits.

Monday, 18 August 2008

New Music: Ladyhawke

No, not the 1985 fantasy film starring Michelle Pfeiffer, but the up-and-coming retro-chic poptart, Pip Brown. The Modular-signed London-based Kiwi cites Blondie, Patti Smith and Stevie Nicks as musical influences, the later being the most obvious in her panoply of glittering musical offerings. With this in mind, it’s worth noting that Brown still manages to sound fresh and relevant, proffering a mix of 80s-influenced electro-tinged beats complete with funk-laden pop sensibilities. Latest single Dusk Til Dawn is the subtlest and sparsest contribution to date, but as is so often the case with Brown, less is definitely more. In other words this is evocative, melodic pop at it's electro-retro best.

Ladyhawke's eponymous début album is released on Monday 22nd September and includes recent singles Back of The Van and Paris Is Burning. You can catch Ladyhawke live on the 5th of October at Roadhouse, Central Manchester. Tickets cost £7.50 excluding fees.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Music Round-up (16th - 31st August)

Wednesday 20th August - The 1,2,3,4s
If you like The Matinee Orchestra, and lord knows we do, then you're bound to enjoy the brooding glamour of this offshoot quartet, who formed towards the end of last year. Describing their style as symphonic-pop, this Manchester-based four-piece deliver a truly mesmerizing sound.
Details: Night & Day, Oldham Street, Central Manchester
8pm, £5

Friday 22nd to Monday 25th August -
Manchester Pride 2008: Big Weekend
Pride organisers pulled out all the stops last year to secure the services of Gossip, but this year there's not that much to recommend in terms of live music. The only really promising performances come from fabulous local-rockers Geekgirl and Danish pop-outfit Alphabeat. Oh, and there's Sophie Ellis-Bextor should you want a dose of high-sequin satellite-faced pop!

There are literally loads of clubbing events taking place throughout the weekend, but our pick has be the Poptastic Main Event on Saturday night, which takes place at the Arches on Store Street, under Piccadilly Train Station. At £16 a ticket, it's a little steep, but the fun goes on until the wee hours (6am to be precise) and, despite a few toilet issues, the venue is fucking superb.

One of the undeniable highlights of Pride every year is the parade, which kicks off at 2pm from the Museum of Science and Industry in Castlefield and follows the same route as last year.
Details: Various venues and times.
Weekend ticket £17.50 adv (excluding fees), £20 (no booking fee) from 22 August at the Box Office
Day tickets £10 adv (excluding feeds), £15.00 (no booking fee) from 22 August at the Box Office

Sunday 24th August -
Club Brenda’s Alternative Mardi Gras Extravaganza
If the thought of going anywhere near Pride makes you feel a little queasy, why not try out Club Brenda's fantabulous alternative offering. This bound-to-be-brilliant Mardi Gras Extravaganza features two rooms of alliterative music - party pop and delectable disco - plus a pervy performance from David Hoyle and live music from cult Canadian band The Hidden Cameras.
Details: The Ruby Lounge, High Street, Central Manchester
10pm to 4am, £6

Thursday 28th August - The Bottomfeeders
Any band that bemoans the music industry's obsession with cock-rock with a chorus that goes ‘skinny white boys should eat more pies’, is always going to be OK by us. This bonkers but thoroughly refereshing six-piece have been local favourites of ours since their Sounds From The Other City performance back in May. If you like your pop brazen, strange and full of fun you need look no further.
Details: Roadhouse, Newton St, Central Manchester
8pm, £5

Album releases coming up over the next couple of weeks include:
Stereolab - Chemical Chords. Out on Monday 18th August.
Missy Elliott - Block Party. Out on Monday 25th August .
Liz Phair - Exile In Gunville. Out on Monday 25th August.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Katy Perry Kissed A Girl... Did She?!

Katy Perry kissed a girl and she liked it. OMFG, does that mean she’s, like, a lesbian and stuff. Wait a minute… come back boys, she’s just pretending to like the ladies to fulfil the wank fantasy of some fat middle-aged record company boss. Phew!

Now don’t get us wrong. We’re not shocked by Perry’s pretend gayness. You only have to go to any branch of Brannigans on a Friday or Saturday night to see truck loads of girls lezzing up to try and get some spotty guy a little hot under the collar. What really upsets us is that it got us thinking about the number of actual lesbians in mainstream pop. We had a quick think and we can’t think of any. OK, so you’ve got your serious singer-songwriters like KD Lang, there was that Alex Parks lady from Fame Academy and there’s the bi-curious Peaches and Madonna (though we still can’t work out if Madge’s lesbian dalliances were just for publicity). Don’t even get us started on t.A.T.u. Other than that, to our knowledge, there are none. Please correct us if we’re wrong.

It seems that it’s OK for women to play the gay card in pop as long as they don’t actually mean it. This strikes us as strange. There are countless male gay pop stars, so why are ladies who like ladies not allowed to (a) produce pop or (b) - and we think this is the most likely - be open about their sexuality and still have mainstream appeal.

One thing’s for sure, Katy Perry’s faux lesbianism won’t be rocking the foundations of the straight-bias in pop. Hopefully when the first out and proud female pop star comes along, and we’re sure she will, she’ll make up for all this publicity-grabbing pretending and cloak and dagger anti-lesbian bullshit.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Album Review: Ida Maria - Fortress Round My Heart

The début album from Norwegian singer-songwriter Ida Maria is one of the best Saturday night/Sunday morning albums since Primal Scream's Screamadelica. But while the 1991 classic was a catalogue of uppers and downers, Fortress Round My Heart is all about the booze. The narcotic count might be negligible on this ten-track album, but there are still plenty of highs and lows, as Ida and her band lurch from the gay abandon of alcopop indie-rock such as I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked to the gin-soaked, tear-stained melancholy of See Me Through.

Musically, Maria proffers little new. Her primal indie-pop and gentle introspection could have been produced any time over the past twenty years, but the 23-year-old is such a fantastically fascinating character it's hard not to be captivated. The musical career of the be-fringed rocker was kick-started at an open-mic gig after a set by Kings Of Convenience's Erlend Øye. Legend has it the singer was so incensed by her fellow countryman's gentle folk-pop she took to the stage and unleashed an impromptu bile-filled set. Since then, Ms Maria has performed covered in blood after headbutting a guitar, cracked a couple of ribs and attempted a violent attack on a member of a rival band. Sweet Scandinavian popstar she ain't.

This anger and unpredictability is evident throughout Fortress Round My Heart. Maria rasps her way through the chorus of inspired opening track Oh My God like she's ready to be sectioned, then turns sweet as a strawberry Starburst with the Jimmy-Mack-alike Stella. This schizophrenia means Ida Maria's début is a constantly interesting prospect, giving evidence, if any were needed, that a touch of madness often makes for the best music.


Release Date: 28/07/08 Label RCA

Thursday, 7 August 2008

God Bless Courtney Love

We’ve been following Courtney’s, let’s face it, genius blogging adventures for a while now and thought it only fair that we share the super-intelligent rocker’s ramblings with those of you unfortunate enough to have missed out on them.

To date, Courtney's blogs have included...

1. A brief mention about her ‘kookoo bananas’ alter ego Cherry Kookoo and her attempt to kill Kookoo off in the hope of avoiding further emotionally-fraught rants!
2. Her present feelings towards Madonna and how their ‘karma seems a bit intertertwined’ of late - compared to, y’know, the good old days when they seemed at constant loggerheads over burning issues like Madonna’s supposed lack of musical talent and... erm... shoes!
3. A self-examination of the reasons why she is attracted to sociopathic men, one of whom is described as a British comedian, quite mean and unusually dark. I wonder who that could be! Jim Davidson maybe?!

Whether you love her or loathe her, she always has something interesting to say. Not least her self admonishment on how we should all resist the urge to blog about private matters when suffering from ‘Shoptoe’ – that’s an unlucky combination of fraud and broken toes to you and I. So the next time you find yourself trawling the interweb looking for a bit of amusement, why not check out Court’s MySpace where her brilliant collection of muddled, and sometimes poignant, ravings reside.

Currently listening to…
Poppy And The Jezebels – UFO (single)
Radioclit featuring M.I.A. and Santogold – Get It Up (Mixtape version)
Sleater Kinney – The Woods
PJ Harvey and John Parish – Dance Hall At Louse Point

Monday, 4 August 2008

The Gender Agenda

Elfin nu-folk singer-songwriter Laura Marling has been quoted as saying she's sick of being lumped in with other female singers, who she has nothing in common with musically, just because they're all women. It's easy to sympathise. In certain feminist theories there can be no such thing as Woman, due to the diversity amongst individuals. Female artists are as diverse as women in general, so why does music produced by women seem to form its own discrete genre?

Male music does not exist. Male music is just music. Because we live in an androcentric culture which constructs the masculine as the norm, the feminine has become its inevitable Other - without which the masculine would not have meaning. Therefore it seems natural to us that there is a female music which hangs about at the edge like a trophy girlfriend.

In addition to the marginalisation of women in the industry, we have to contend with the perception that music created by women is just not as good as the music of men. I once asserted that "Women in music have to work twice as hard as men," which was met with the response, "No they don't, they can just give the producer a blow job". If this joke doesn't worry you, you should read Freud on the subconscious meanings of trivial utterances.

As long as male artists continue to dominate the music industry - and I suspect this will be a long time - female artists will always be lumped together in their own genre. The only conceivable silver lining being that the masculine dependence on the subjugated feminine means there will always be female music. Which will have to do. For now.

Amy Wilson

Currently listening to...
The Ting Tings - We Started Nothing
M.I.A. - Kala
Goldfrapp - Seventh Tree
PJ Harvey - Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea