Friday, May 29, 2009

Never trust a man with egg on his face

Following the fall of the government, Czech politics has taken another bizarre turn in the run-up to the European elections, with campaign meetings held by the Social Democrats degenerating into orgies of egg-pelting. This is not something I necessarily approve of or encourage; naturally we ought to be adults about this and acknowledge that the Social Democrats have just as much of a right to make public speeches as their opponents without getting showered in yolk. On the other hand, just as in the case of fascists getting their heads kicked in or taxi drivers getting stabbed, whilst I don’t condone such action I can’t help feeling the fuckers basically deserve it.

The primary target for these attacks has been Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek, and this is clearly a personal issue. He’s not the first politician in the world to have had eggs thrown at him, and the whole thing probably started fairly spontaneously rather than as some kind of orchestrated terrorism. Now though it’s gathered momentum, partly thanks to a campaign on (groan) facebook. But it would be lazy and indecently generous to Paroubek to attribute the unprecedented scale and ferocity of these protests merely to the internet. Such behaviour is far from commonplace in Czech politics, and even my own personal bête noire Václav Klaus never succeeded in provoking this kind of reaction. Personalities sometimes are important in politics, and Paroubek is evidently an extremely divisive figure who has a serious case to answer.

There is now a caretaker government of largely unknown technocrats in charge of the Czech Republic, with a general election planned for the autumn. Paroubek is still widely tipped to become the next PM, and you might expect many people to be grateful for him for sinking the weak and unpopular centre-right government of Mirek Topolánek. However, for all Paroubek’s attempts to insist that Topolánek’s party is behind the sharp turnabout in the fortunes of the dairy industry, it’s not only the right who he’s managed to offend, since it’s clear to anyone not in an acute state of denial that bringing down the government in the middle of the Czech Republic’s presidency of the EU was no more than an act of shabby opportunism, motivated by Paroubek’s gargantuan self-interest.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, or the last straw. There are plenty of other good reasons why a lot of people hate him. Many young and liberal-leaning people have never forgiven him for his response to the Czech Tek festival when he was PM in 2005: the event was admittedly illegal and probably also antisocial, but that certainly didn’t warrant the massive police brutality employed to break it up. He hasn’t been blessed with a particularly sympathetic appearance (although his new dolly-bird wife, acquired when he traded in his old boiler, insists he has a “sexy brain”), but he doesn’t help matters with his arrogant dismissal of any dissent, as well as his bullying tactics, which provide the perfect complement to his rotund, steamrolling frame. After losing the last general election in 2006 he was staggeringly ungracious in defeat, trying every low trick in the book in order to hold on to power at a time when wiser men, such as former Social Democrat leader Miloš Zeman – also a bully, though at least one with a sense of humour – would have eased back.

Most horrifying from any liberal standpoint is his casual attitude towards getting into bed with the communists, which means that there’s now a very real possibility of a government involving these murdering scum for the first time since the Velvet Revolution. Paroubek’s retort to the justifiable outrage over this issue is indicative of why he, both literally and metaphorically, has egg on his face: “People get used to all sorts of things”. Bearing that in mind it’s hard to feel much sympathy if he has to get used to a diet of raw dairy produce.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What a day for rock n roll. Courtesy of the enigmatic Mr Almosthole of Europe's nether regions I've not only been alerted to the internet appearance of the ludicrously brilliant video below but also been placed in the happy position of spreading the joyous news that Novi Sad's baddest, in a fit of benign generosity, have decided to give their pulverising album away free of charge. You like machismo, sweat, claustrophobic angst and bile, eh? Think you're hard enough, do you? Go get it.

Really, how much better can things get? Er.. don't suppose you've got any gigs coming up around September have you, chaps?

Thin White Rope Live Performance in Ghent, Belgium. Song: "It's OK"

Damn it's been a long time since I mentioned Thin White Rope. Thanks to Matt Abourezk for finally putting out a video of suitable picture and sound quality to fully capture the jaw-dropping magnificence of this band's live performances. Guy Kyser goes all Iggy Pop on us for the special occasion of TWR's last ever gig - after all, it was surely one of the most significant events of the 20th century.. For anyone who wasn't familiar with this band before, maybe now you can understand what I was making such a fuss about in those posts of yore. Hopefully there's more where this came from. THIS is the ideal for all rock bands to aspire to. Are you watching Gibby Haynes?

Friday, May 01, 2009

Must try harder

You asked for this George…

Back in the late 80s I remember I needed a bit of persuading to get into the Butthole Surfers. I was slowly weaning myself off the ropier end of the goth stuff I’d been listening to for little other reason than that they wore a lot of black so they must have been deep, man, and was beginning to reason that if I wanted to be cool I’d have to turn my attentions to the other side of the Atlantic, hence I’d started to check out the Pixies, Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth among others. But the Butthole Surfers? Would I be able to handle this or would it be a bit too far out and challenging for me? The name put me off more than a bit: it sounded smirking and oafish, which was something of a leap for me to take after all the pretentious austerity or mystical preciousness of names like Bauhaus, the Cult and the Sisters of Mercy (to name some of the less shameful elements). But the serious music press I’d started reading was insistent: the Buttholes were a serious and important band, so I felt almost obliged to like them.

I hadn’t been entirely convinced by what I’d heard on John Peel but I was determined to persevere, so I went out and bought “Locust Abortion Technician”. Again the name was a tad hard to stomach, however it was genuinely weird enough to stimulate my interest and was at least considerably less “Beavis and Butthead” than the band name. The same applied to other titles: Hairway to Steven, Rembrandt Pussyhorse and particular favourites A Brown Reason to Live and Pioughd. The old goth in me still hasn’t died and to this day I detest wackiness in music, but these titles suggested more than that, charged as they were with absurdity, a grotesque, bloated hilarity. When it came to the music I had to give it a good few spins before I could truly say I liked them, but in the end my diligence paid off, I had willed myself into becoming a hip noise freak.

There were still reservations though. Whilst I loved the monstrous, bowel-scourging guitar rock and the warped, nightmarish sound experimentation, there was still way too much sniggering going on for my liking. “Hay” and “Kuntz” are difficult tracks to like, and even in the mighty “Sweat Loaf” I’m sure I’m not the only person who, during the slow section, is simply thinking “get on with it and give us the bloody riff, man”. Sure, you could argue that without the slow part it would lack the dynamics, but there’s no reason why “slow bit” should have to mean “shit bit”, and in this case it’s merely inept and shoddy. Not enough to ruin an otherwise rollicking track, though.

Fast forward to last week in Prague. I had seen the Buttholes once before, but that had been on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Reading Festival in 1989, which seemed rather an incongruous setting for their dark outlandishness. It had been enjoyable, but I was looking forward to seeing them at a proper gig, anticipating a bit more intensity. Frankly, I didn’t get it. They started well enough, with “22 going on 23”, but the rocker in me was unsatisfied. I’d been expecting to be bludgeoned, terrorised by a racket so enormously crushing it would make me spontaneously shit my pants, but this didn’t even fill the hall. Not loud enough, not heavy enough.

This was compounded by the band’s attitude, which affronted my protestant work ethic. Whereas in their prime they had successfully presented themselves as dangerously cutting-edge, their twisted, unsettling humour a result of taking way, way too much acid (these things impressed me when I was still in my teens), now they came across as nothing more than a bunch of sad, middle-aged men pissing about. It was hardly as if they’d moved on in any significant way, but still there was no “Sweat Loaf”, no “Jimi”. Few concessions to their audience, in other words. I don’t want to bang on about money, but having paid almost 30 Euro a ticket I demanded better than this, particularly when I remember paying less than half that to see a truly astonishing performance by the Young Gods a couple of years back. Fucking rock stars. Compared to their searing, viscous rectal expulsion of yore, this was a meek trickle of diarrhoea.

Anarchic? In your dreams. This was just sloppy, they were treating us with contempt. Once they toed an engaging line between silly and scary, but there’s no doubt which side of that line they’re on now. At some point they evidently fell off their surfboards and landed… you know where. I guess this kind of rock is no country for old men.