Blog : Posts from June 2008


Boredom threshold

In which we are disgusted by a band who are so bad it made FP angry

It’s often said that you shouldn’t criticise or decry art just because you don’t understand it. You shouldn’t put down music, or books, just because they’re not to your taste. Well, I’ve found, there’s a limit to that. For we have been to the worst gig ever, and have barely survived it.

We were given tickets to last night’s gig by the reformed My Bloody Valentine, at the Apollo in Manchester. “They’re a life-changing experience” said the chap who gave them to us. Unfortunately, he was right.

The support – Sonic Boom Spectrum, Pete “Sonic Boom” Kember’s band* – was good, and interesting to hear; and the main act started off not too bad. It wasn’t really great, very badly mixed, but it was still listenable. I didn’t know any of the songs, but there were some good tunes somewhere in the depths of the mix; although I couldn’t tell if any of them were meant to be vocal or instrumental.

Towards the end of the gig, though, the band gave up on trying to play music. Instead, they blasted the audience as if it was a rioting crowd, with a barrage of white noise. Incredibly loud white noise. “Loud” doesn’t really describe it. Everyone was wearing earplugs, but everyone still had their hands tight over their ears. K was pressing herself against me, in pain, holding one ear to my chest and my hands over her other. And it continued.

I was expecting this to be brief. It was stupid and moronic, after all. There was no art to it, no creative input, no nothing. The band may as well not have been on the stage. But, no, it went on and on. People started walking to the exit, or discussing how bored they were by text message. I started wishing I’d brought a book and a torch. Anything would have been more interesting than standing around in a noise-filled space whilst a few people on the stage had an art-wank moment together. I started counting the people who were walking out – by now it was an appreciable proportion of the audience, and idly wondered where the circuit breakers were. Or if I could cadge a fag and a lighter – but how, with this noise? – and set off the fire alarms, if that would cut stage power. I wish I had done. Ten minutes, and it was still going on, the same as it had been to start with, no change to it, no modulation, just noise. I should have walked out. I should have walked out already. I wish I had done.

It took twenty minutes for the band finally to evaporate their remaining credibility and give up, by which time about a third of the audience had left. Twenty minutes of white noise. Twenty minutes of dangerous-to-health white noise: nearly 24 hours later I still can’t hear properly. My Bloody Valentine disgust me. They have squandered and wasted what little ability they had, in the pursuit of angering their audience. They’re not musicians, they’re brutal morons, and they deserve to end up infirm and insensible. Their audience, who are the ones with the hearing loss, don’t. My Bloody Valentine would be the worst band in the world, if you could describe them as musicians. This truly was the worst gig I’ve ever been to, and it really didn’t deserve to be staged. If the band had never reformed, the world today would be a nicer and more creative place.

* Thank you to the person who wrote in to correct me there. I wasn’t entirely sure who the support was at the time, but the chap who gave us the tickets had said it was going to be Sonic Boom.

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In which we discuss “Halting State” by Charles Stross

This month I have mostly been reading: Halting State by Charles Stross, a near-future techno-thriller set in an independent Scotland, ten years or so from now. It’s a very good book; I recommend it; full of where-tech-might-be-going extrapolations. When reading it, though, I couldn’t help thinking: I have a bit of an advantage on the average reader.

It’s set in Edinburgh, you see, where Stross lives and where I used to live; and just about all the locations in the book are real locations. There’s the city mortuary, for example; an inconspicuous 1970s flat-roofed building built of dark shiny engineering brick, at one end of the Cowgate. I can picture it exactly in my head, because I spent four years in the university buildings which overlook it. The characters retreat to the pub over the road from the mortuary: when I was a first year, we’d go in there every Friday afternoon.* A few years later, on my way to work, I used to walk past a flat that gets raided by the police near the start of the book; and I always wanted one of the little houses in the Colonies where one of Stross’s protagonists lives.

I’m sure it’s a very good book even if you don’t know all this; but if you don’t, you probably won’t realise just how well-researched it is. Every location is realistic, because every location is real; and the science fiction becomes real too.

* all Edinburgh residents will have noticed a small geographical mistake in that section, actually: he gets one of the street names wrong.

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In which someone admits that SEOs are entirely pointless

An intriguing claim appeared in The Guardian yesterday, buried in its corrections column. Insurance-comparing website GoCompare has stated that there is little connection between its Google positioning and its income. More specifically: dropping from the first page of Google results for a common search term did result in a big drop in traffic, but had no financial effect on the company.

GoCompare is an internet business. As far as I understand it, they rely entirely on their website for income. What they’re claiming is: when Google lowered their ranking, they lost a large amount of traffic – but that none of that traffic, apparently, was making them any money.*

There are entire companies based solely around the premise that they will push you up to the top of Google’s pages. I’ve known marketers spend huge amounts of time and effort on it, taking common search phrases and analyzing them with a fine-tooth comb, trying to find out why they’re below their competition. I’d expect GoCompare to have been doing exactly the same thing themselves, in fact. And they’ve found, apparently, that it was all for nothing – because when Google pulled the rug from under their efforts,** they say, it had no effect at all on their income. Maybe they’re a special case because (unlike smaller online companies) they do spend a lot on irritating minimal-budget TV adverts.*** Even so, it’s intriguing. If their claim is true, there’s probably hardly any point at all in any large organisations spending much effort on search-engine optimisation. Small companies who can’t afford TV adverts, or who produce specialist products – well, that probably doesn’t apply. It probably doesn’t apply to AdWords campaigns either. But general search results? “Overall sales figures were not affected”.

* They seem to be talking about general search results. If they were talking about paid-for adverts, then the drop in traffic would also mean a drop in outgoings; but as they’re not, the change in traffic shouldn’t have any effect on their running costs.

** The Guardian had previously speculated that Google did this deliberately – it was that article which prompted the correction.

*** which, at least, aren’t as annoying as those produced by their competitor I’m never going to go near, no less than barge-pole distance, because their adverts are that bad. “I’m so stupid I’m trying to get money from a piece of cardboard with a cartoon cash machine printed on it! I’m confused! Dot com!”

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In which we visit Bristol

A fortnight after our holiday, I’ve finally managed to start uploading our holiday photos. We went to Bristol, and photographed outlying parts of the large and rambling railway station.

Street furniture, Bristol Temple Meads Station, Bristol Temple Meads Station, Bristol Temple Meads Station, Bristol

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