Category Archives: Music

Festival Football

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As the flames burst out of the Arcadia spider I am lost, turning to my friend Amie who has ducked away in excitement and momentary fear, we catch each other’s eyes and burst into huge, unaffected grins and carry on dancing to the pounding rhythm. With eleven o’clock approaching we start our short journey to the Park stage, jabbering away enthusiastically about the lights, the beats and plans to meet again when we’re back in the real world. We make it to the park. Mogwai appear shortly after, unaffected and humble Scotsmen with a truly impressive array of amplifying equipment in the background, coloured a cheery orange – I briefly wonder whether it is of political significance before dismissing the thought as unlikely, unworthy and irrelevant, concentrating instead on that delicious feeling of impending joy that I feel within me, but also being transmitted quite clearly from the smaller than deserved but undoubtedly dedicated and passionate people around me, the mud and the hill on the way here having separated the ones who know from the ones who dabble.

They begin, and I’m lost.

Time passes – not so long but nonetheless immeasurable – in unaffected delirium, mad smiles and pats on the back and Amie’s delight only a tiny bit dampened by her repeated, smiled, question of ‘Who are we watching again?’

‘Mogwai’, I reply, an unjustified and probably slightly patronising but ultimately unavoidable hint of paternalistic pride in my voice. They are ‘my’ band you see, in that I brought us to see them and they are astonishing, even though I’ve long realised that I don’t recognise any songs they’re playing tonight and that I’m not going to either. It’s better this way though, each building bit of blinding brilliance is a revelation in and of itself, lacerating its way into my subconscious with the anticipation already growing of the joy of rediscovery to come, the future listen that will channel back to this perfect space and time, right here, right now.

And in that blinding kaleidoscope of sound, vision and feeling I am already half-composing these words. I am already thinking about the article which Joe suggested might be about watching football at festivals. I’m already considering how to convey this experience into words and how to bring football into this epiphany when I realise it’s already there – the power of football can be demonstrated no more vividly than the fact that here I am, in a place of joy and togetherness far outside of football and right at the extremities of my own capacity for fleeting happiness – yet there is still space for me to think about football, still enough room left for the thought of writing about this to add just a little more happiness to that moment, a smile on my face anticipating the process of putting words to paper to come.

Football is emotion isn’t it? It’s an addiction. Like smoking, and like smoking the elation comes in large part from the small element of constant pain that football introduces into your life. A constant, nagging, emotional pain that is never far away. Like trauma, it resurfaces unbidden, triggered both by obvious connections and obscure ones. A flash of colour or a word and, there it is again, Gerrard’s slip against Chelsea (or pick your own of many millions of moments here) back in your mind again. Like smoking, you need the hit of football which you tell yourself you enjoy in order to forget that nagging pain for a while, but of course it will hit again, because that’s how football hooks you in and grabs you and doesn’t let you go. To the point where now that I am 33, and I am honestly a lot more detached about football than I used to be – 2005 in particular I invested a lot of emotion into Liverpool, fortunately for a considerable pay off with that Champion’s League win – I sometimes look back on that younger, more addicted self with a certain envy, not because I miss the elation but because I miss the investment, the way that constant, nagging pain was a rhythm every bit as enveloping and to which I moved every bit as naturally as anything coming from the spider or from Mogwai tonight.

And I’m lost again.

Mogwai build to their climax, as they do, then stop with no fanfare and no encore – they know how to elevate, and they know when they have finished. It’s as useful a skill as any. We meet my girlfriend Alex, and debate our next move in that ineffectual, post-bliss manner where I know that for me, personally, nothing else tonight is going to live up to this anyway. In the end we go to bed, which I am somewhat pleased about.

I wake up fairly early, before my shift, and before I even roll a cigarette I’m checking the results. Colombia 2 – 0 Uruguay, a James Rodriguez double and the lad’s already being compared to Maradona.

I roll my cigarette.

I’m smiling for the rest of the day.

 

Posted by Sebastian Crankshaw

You can follow Straight off the Beach on Twitter @S_ot_B and on Facebook.

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Preview 28 – South Korea

1966. So evocative. The cheering crowds in a packed stadium, the intake of breath as the ball drops and then the roar of approval as the 18,000 at Ayresome Park celebrate Pak Doo-Ik’s solitary goal in the encounter between North Korea and Italy. What? Oh.

Fergie’s Noisy Neighbour jibe doesn’t even come close in the case of South Korea. While Manchester City may have the economic equivalent of nuclear weapons, causing a mass retrieval of protect and survive manuals for the range of lower league clubs in Lancashire, they don’t have a minefield separating them from Old Trafford. Just Ordsall, which may be worse. And yet it was “AGAIN 1966” from the South Koreans as they hosted Italy in the 2002 World Cup, when the rumblings of discontent generated by the succession of Kim Jong-un were in the future and diplomatic interests were represented by Jimmy Carter, rather than Dennis Rodman. Those last two things might be related.

What is related is Korean identity. Despite Government wrangling, a tectonic game of not-quite-war, Koreans recognise Koreans, share in their achievements past and, despite the ongoing political turbulence of the present, the ghost of the shell of the Hermit Kingdom encapsulates both countries. The Koreans support the Koreans, regardless of the intended separation of politics and ideology. After all, they’re Korean, too. So 1966 again it was, and a remarkable host tournament too, not least because of the fascinating pairing with Japan. Even more remarkable, given that South Korea hadn’t won a game in the five previous consecutive World Cup finals. I’m not going to talk about referees. I’m not.

More consistent in qualifying and having progressed further in the finals than certain other 1966-centric nations in the last twenty years, South Korean players have used the platform of 2002 to spread far and wide. This year, 17 of their 23 man-squad play outside of Korea, a sharp reverse from the 7 who plied their trade abroad, mostly in Japan, 12 years ago. A sign of the rise of Korean football, or a willingness to recruit individuals to exploit the huge potential market of what is inaccurately called the ‘Asian market’? Roy Race romanticism or rat race economics? This battered carcass of a refugee from Portsmouth’s freefall says the latter, the desperate, brief spark of belief and hope and joy which gets its moment once every four years says the former.

I suppose we’ve now reached the point we bring up the other cultural ticket-barrier touchpoint when discussing modern Korea. And in a way, it’s representative of our treatment of Korean football. Gangnam Style was a targeted satire of aspirational money culture within South Korea, lining up and picking off references in a lyrically sparse catchy K-pop jaunt. But he did a funny dance and used enough English in the chorus for it to be a spannered-on-Revolutions-cocktails singalong classic, and two billion Youtube views later his follow up singles will forever be stuck in a deep shadow alongside Jordi Cruyff, Nicky Summerbee and the recently jailed Edson.

As goes PSY, so goes Korean football? Amusing, briefly interesting but ultimately disposable. A one hit wonder, who’s still gamely working the circuit. Familiar enough to be recognisable but an obvious lesser form of our own vastly superior Western genre. Look at the size difference, bless them. Look at how happy they are when they score, it’s almost like they understand what it means. Plucky, and an emphasis on the last five letters. Patronising bollocks at best, new ways of employing imperial and race based stereotypes at worst.

They are drawn in Group H with Algeria and Belgium, two nations who are no stranger to division, and Russia for whom the same could be said, but for entirely different reasons. It’s not one of the most scrutinised groups, but will be worth a watch to see which team finds its voice. Don’t rule out the team from south of the 38th parallel.

Posted by Dutton Peabody

You can follow Straight off the Beach on Twitter @S_ot_B and on Facebook.

 

 

Brazilian mirages

While exotic othering is often referred to in terms of the systemically prejudicial discussion of Middle Eastern, African or Asian cultures, in British popular culture and particularly football the principle exoticisation is of Brazil. My dad’s generation got hooked on the ’58, ’62 and ’70 World Cup winning sides as the bossa nova wafted into their ears (ignore the coup, think of Ipanema!), then my own fell for Zico, Socrates (the iconic wafer-thin, underworked, chain smoking, socialist doctor), Eder and Falcao in Espana ’82. It didn’t matter that they didn’t win as our exposure to their glorious strikes and celebrations – in the first tournament to be given comprehensive coverage in a UK-friendly timezone – had done its job.
 
These Brazilians – if they’re any good they assume a one-word mnemonic, their real names left to the pub quiz master. They seem to play without restrictions, with a ‘smile on their faces’ etc. Well, any savvy member of the Brazil national team knows that the Seleção plays a unique role in the projection of the country’s uniquely ‘mulattoist’ self-image (the days of racial separation and exclusion long gone, officially at any rate), and has a complicated relationship with that projection. The Seleção and their continued adherence to the jogo bonito are vital in Brasília’s projection of soft power.
 
The myopic exoticisation has many knock-on effects, such as Pele still being seen as the world’s best rather than the stocky but wayward Argentine who was clearly better than him, the yellow jersey bearing the Ordem e Progresso legend being the most popular football top on our streets after the usual domestic and continental suspects, and a general willingness to ignore the reality of some recently stiff sides compared with the halcyon days of ’70 and ’82. It also extends to conveniently ignoring the parlous state of the Brazilian league system (with players still treated as import opportunities and mystification when a player returns to Brazil still in his prime or fails to leave early enough in his career), and the rampant hooliganism of the big clubs’ torcidas organizadas.
What is it about Brazil that gives it this primacy in our exoticising of Latin America? With the ethnic mix not as recognisably ‘European’ as Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, maybe the westerner still thinks about Brazil with a colonist’s mind, able to take what he wants from the country while rarely putting anything back. Think Barry Manilow ripping off Jorge Ben’s Taj Mahal for Copacabana. And it’s in music where we find the other major lazy stereotyping towards Brazil. If one part of the dream of Latin self-liberation is to play football on the Copacabana, the other is to follow it up with Carnival! Here the ‘wild’ percussion and melodies act as cheap hedonistic shorthand for ‘PAAARRRTTAY’, as is evident in Norwich’s playing of the Heartists’ Belo Horizonti (with extra clappers at Carrow Road these days).
 
So: we generally love Brazilian music but know little of its specifics beyond Mas Que Nada and a few others. We love to lose ourselves in the generic brew but leave the specialists to ask for details. Such reluctance feeds the industry urge to throw the highly diverse Brazilian music world in with the even more generic ‘Latin’ category. And now, with the tournament upon us, advertising agencies are steaming in with outrageously trite ‘samba party’ clichés, as is evident in the Pot Noodle advert below and this one for M&Ms.

Now that the world cup is returning to Brazil, ironically the leagues of British exoticists will have a chance to place the deluge of samba stylings on TV shows and the interchanges of Neymar and co in the clear context of the problems confronting the nation: Rio’s programme of favela pacification (brutal, with many seeing it as a prelude to gentrification), a downturn after the consumer-led boom, and a quite unjustified overspend on infrastructure for this and the 2016 Olympics are driving regular protests at what many see as the country’s misplaced priorities. The pricing out of poorer groups from the shiny new stadia also tells its own story. [As an aside, the sporting bodies’ choice of Brazil follows some punitive bastard logic – two huge rounds of infrastructure investment – there is less overlap than might be imagined between football stadia and sporting facilities.] Among some highly conditioned Brits we know that the ongoing and social fissures are not likely to make much of an impression, yet it would still be one of Brasilia’s greatest soft power plays if it manages to damp much of the disquiet so we just ‘concentrate on the football’.
 
And if you are hosting a match and want to prolong the night with a potted history of Brazilian music from Elza Soares and Jorge Ben via northeastern Manguebeat to more modern baile and drum & bass stylings, then hit the playlist below. 
 
(props to https://twitter.com/ctzncorinthian for help in the compilation)
Posted by Murray W

You can follow Straight off the Beach on Twitter @S_ot_B and on Facebook.

 

Ola Ola – A Song for a Roiling World

The official tournament song is an oddly uncelebrated art form that is utopic in theory if usually risible in practice. Back in the days when the pop single was one of the most lucrative artefacts known to late capitalism, these folksy bagatelles must have made simple commercial sense as a way of drawing in extra revenue to a not-yet heinously wealthy sport. Before replica shirts, before sponsorship even (I learn to my astonishment that the first official World Cup song was released to coincide with Chile 1962 – that is, before the Beatles), tournament songs were both a bit of a joke and a primitive form of merchandise that made a few extra quid for the organisers. Before consumerism’s viral infiltration of leisure and lifestyle, there was the simple memento, the novelty keepsake, the guileless souvenir.

Nowadays, the function of the tournament song is subtler. No doubt they still generate considerable revenue, but in the neoliberal period – post-Band Aid and ‘We Are the World’ – World Cup anthems have also become central to the quasi-ethical propaganda campaigns of the globalised economy.

Hence, titles like ‘Let’s Get Together Now’, and eclectically orientalist collaborations across borders and genres (Toni Braxton and Il Divo, R-Kelly and the Soweto Singers, Jean Michel Jarre and Tetsuya Komuro). Increasingly, these (probably intentionally) forgettable songs hover in the background of tournament PR campaigns, faintly hinting at the notion that the World Cup has the potential to be an important internationalist statement, dangling the prospect of global solidarity while reducing that concept to an enervated marketing slogan with a half-life of four weeks.

To an extent, ‘We Are One (Ola Ola)’, official song for Brazil 2014, slots relatively easily into this established tradition of watered-down Fukuyaman idealism. But there are a handful of things that make it a bit more interesting than that. For starters, like much recent pop music, the melody is pleadingly melancholic and cautiously hopeful – quite a contrast from the airy triumphalism of nineties and noughties ballads.

The vigorously strummed guitar chords are mostly in the minor key and never quite resolve. The tempo is fast. The segues between singers and styles are abrupt, bewildering, and at times (J-Lo’s cameo, Claudia Liette’s interlude from 2:38) kind of brilliant.

Okay, the title is parodic and the lyrics never manage to be anything other than pitiful. But in its best moments ‘We Are One’ conveys a sense of something bubbling under the surface, of incipient voices clashing against each other in a crowded room underground, of multiple ideas fizzing and just failing to catch alight. This is the sound of a roiling, incongruous energy that hasn’t quite found its outlet yet – the urgent, nascent sound, in fact, of the world in 2014.

Posted by Alex Niven

You can follow Straight off the Beach on Twitter @S_ot_B and on Facebook.