Thursday, September 14, 2006

Votes and Gigs

Tonight was an example of what I love about Oxford.

First I went to the launch event for the second in the Hansard Society’s democracy series of pamphlets, in which Chris Ballinger challenges the IPPR’s recent recommendation of compulsory voting (see here). He argued that, while we want to raise turnout, this measure would only tackle the symptoms and not the root problems (lack of engagement in politics).

(UPDATE: See a summary of the IPPR report here)

A lot of his case, however, rested on the claim – made by someone from the IPPR – that it would be absurd to force people to vote if their votes didn’t matter. He therefore argued we needed electoral reform first, and compulsory voting should only be a last resort.

Personally, I’m not in favour of compulsory voting: I think it’s enough people have opportunities, I don’t think they should be forced to either turnout or vote, particularly when, as Chris pointed out, many votes in safe/non-marginal seats effectively don’t matter. However, I put it to him that one reason to favour compulsory voting might be that it could lend impetus to electoral reform. I bet if people had to vote, then many of them would want to make sure those votes counted for something…

After the talks, sandwiches were served and I was able to have a quick word with a Hansard Director Phil Parvin, who I knew as Clare Chambers’ partner, and a guy from the City Council, before leaving. (Noting, on my way out of Brasenose, the large lighting crane in Radcliffe Square – apparently filming Lewis).

As I was cycling home, I passed Rob on the High Street, and dismounted to walk with him up St Clements. I’d been planning on going to Port Mahon, to check out the Sunnyvale Noise Sub-Element gig, though I was unsure about going on my own. Anyway, Rob had to be off, but I did go in the pub, only to bump into the City Council worker – Jonathan – who was there because one of his friends was actually promoting the gig. Oxford is indeed a very small world.

The show itself was almost a testament to that: it brought together several local bands who’d recently been involved in remixing another local band, The Evenings, for a remix album out that night. Obviously, therefore, this was the incestuous hub of the local indie scene. There were probably no more than thirty people in the upstairs room at any point, and I’m sure most of them were band members, other halves, and various other not-having-to-pay types…

First up were Lind Optical, performing a two piece acoustic set because their drummer had injured himself. Maybe it was this forced change, but I was far from impressed. Lame jokes about goldfish in tanks were accompanied by equally uninspiring music, with even the rare event of a Daft Punk cover played on acoustic guitar failing to add excitement.

The second ‘band’, nervous_testpilot, turned out to be a Gabba DJ, in the vein of Nailbomb Cults (who I've previously seen a couple of times around Oxford), rather than a conventional act. Taking the piss out of his laptop set-up, he leaves a pre-recorded message to do the introduction, and then sits down to read a magazine. Though not used to inter-acting with crowds, who are normally too busy dancing, he comes across as a funny and charismatic guy, though the self-deprecating comments about his music were perhaps too frequent.

At first, the music is simply hardcore d&b/techno, lacking the obvious hooks of the aforementioned Nailbomb Cults, but if you listen closely samples such as Fatboy Slim and Snoop Dogg are there, albeit generally under the music rather than over it (if that makes sense). Plus the bangin’ dance tunes are mixed with some relatively gentler, Aphex Twin-style, numbers that he claims to have knocked up in minutes. Personally I find a lot of it (gabba/dance stuff generally) sounds much the same, and is probably more for dancing to than listening, but the Oxford scene seems healthy and certainly this was a good show, even if it didn’t persuade me to spend £5 on the EP.

Supposedly a special treat, another remixer Twizz Twangle - a veteran of the lcoal scene, though known for polarising opinion* - has been persuaded to perform an extra quick set before the headliners. This seems a popular occurrence, but I think there must be some joke I’m missing. One man with an acoustic guitar, whose first song features almost choirboy Christmas carol vocals (albeit slightly deeper), but who then switches to a playing some kind of Celtic folk-jig with a rustic farmers’ voice, only to stop when he forgets the words. The same problems mars an attempt at Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’, before the set is brought to a swift close with a collaboration with the night’s announcer Lee, that ends in some kind of ad-lib. It’s the best performance, but that isn’t saying much in my opinion, even if I have missed some kind of joke. (Apparently, everyone should see Twizz Twangle once. Maybe I’ll try to avoid a second time then…)

*Disclaimer: There was certainly no unusual climbing/bouncing around tonight, nor trumpets. Maybe this was what was missing...

Headlining the rather small event were the Sunnyvale Noise Sub-Element, who I’ve now seen three times over the course of almost five years. Lately, it seems they’ve only been performing as a two-piece – I don’t know if this is a permanent personnel change, or merely a performance thing – but it doesn’t hold them back.

With a box of electronics providing various bleeps, noises and samples, the two guitarists thrash there way through half-a-dozen low-slung walls of noise, moments of atonality and post-rock , including ‘How Spiderman Was Tricked By His Wife’, ‘Techno Self-Harm’ and ‘Journalist vs Jay Kay’.

Though not all the bands were to my taste, I enjoyed another venture into Oxford’s local underground music scene, not to mention the sheer randomness of going straight from a lecture to such a gig, only to bump into someone else I’d just met. I decided to take a chance on buying the Evenings remix album too. Maybe I’ll let you know what I think.

(I don't seem to be able to add pictures at the moment, but ones of the gig can be seen here and here)


  1. And congratulations are due to Chris Ballinger, who (I have been told) recently and successfully defended his D.Phil thesis.

  2. Yes indeed - I noticed they were calling him Dr Ballinger. and assumed he was entitled to the label, but wasn't sure how recent it was.