Wednesday, September 30, 2015

International Coffee Day

Today, as proclaimed by the International Coffee Association, is the first ever International Coffee Day. I celebrated by having a coffee.

Sunday, September 27, 2015


Just finished an uplifting book about the early 80s music scene in Britain, Dare: How Bowie & Kraftwerk Inspired the Death of Rock'n'Roll & Invented Modern Pop Music. I love the contrast between perfunctory title (Dare - perfect; after the Human League album of course, which kind of defined the period) and the mouthful that follows. And you can tell he really tried to shorten the latter, getting rid of 'David' and changing 'ands' to '&s' or 'n's. I'd go along with the Bowie/Kraftwerk argument actually, though the last time I looked, Rock'n'Roll was still hanging on in there.
The early 80s were an amazing time for pop music - post-punk and pre-stodge. The Jam, XTC, Madness, 2-Tone, Ultravox, Depeche Mode, Yazoo, Human League, Heaven 17, OMD, Cherry Red, Japan, Soft Cell, New Order, Eurythmics, Thomas Dolby, Blancmange, Associates, Malcolm McLaren, Scritti, ABC, Tears For Fears, Simple Minds, Siouxsie, The Cure, Cocteau Twins, The The, Postcard, Crépuscule, Rough Trade, 4AD, Some Bizzare, Fetish, Cherry Red... to say nothing of the more obvious Duran, Spandau, Culture Club and the less obvious Eno's On Land, Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, Eyeless In Gaza... In 81/82 the Top 5 included weird stuff like Kraftwerk's 'The Model', Japan's 'Ghosts' and bizarrest of all, Laurie Anderson's 'O Superman'. And now? 
David Laurie's style took a little getting used to. It's very personal, casual, more like the longest ever pub conversation than a book, full of "oh my"s and "do yourself a favour"s, and even a few F words, but I liked it a lot. The tone of an enthusiast. Like classic Kurt Vonnegut, he mostly likes to keep his prose short, sweet and droll (much of it is laugh-out-loud), but occasionally surprises with a long eloquent sentence which absolutely nails an argument. 
It made me think I'm on the right track with my book, even though David L thought the slide began in '83. Well, we can argue that one over a pint one day... 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Hugo Largo

At a party at Michael Nyman's house this evening, I got chatting to a visiting photographer called Adam Peacock. As we talked, it turned out that back in the 80s he'd lived in New York and had been in a band - the token Brit in Hugo Largo. I told him I'd seen them in a basement club there around '87 or '88 which kind of surprised him. They were great, really unusual. Two bass guitarists, a violinist and a whacky singer in Mimi Goese; no drums or keyboards. He'd had hair then. Their first album was produced by Michael Stipe. I still have their second, Mettle. It had a really weird cover (left), designed by Dave Coppenhall and Russell Mills. When I got home I spent a very enjoyable half hour revisiting them on YouTube. 
Small world...

Friday, September 25, 2015

Techy Art

Boredom Research
The last time I went to Cenart, a large arts centre in the south of the city, was almost exactly a year ago, when we'd just arrived in Mexico. Then it was to see a concert by the Philharmonia. Tonight  it was pretty much the opposite: the opening of Transitio MX06, a biannual digital art exhibition. We'd helped with the UK-based artists.
Boredom Research are Paul Smith and Vicky Isley who do very 'sciency' art. (Here they are with curators Ricardo Dalfarra and Monica Bello). The piece is called Dreams of Mice and it quite literally interprets/visualises the reveries of one particular mouse they called Ron. It reminded me of Future Sound of London record sleeves. 
Lisa Ma
And here's Lisa Ma, who does even stranger research. Her piece in this exhibition, called Farmification, was about the quarter of a billion migrant workers who've left their farmlands to manufacture our technology gadgets in places like Shenzhen. So who's growing the food now?  She persuaded factory owners to grow stuff in their lunch breaks. I'm not sure how that connects with art, but Lisa certainly looks the part. The 'guitar' she's wielding is actually just a giant mouse, moving the screen presentation on. 
Burning Thoughts
Doug Fishbone's Hypno Project was weirder still. A dozen people hypnotised and then responding with grunts, whoops and hand signals to words and images. (Actually, I prefer his most recent project at Dulwich Picture Gallery where he paid a Chinese artist 100 quid to copy one of the Gallery's old masters and hung it up instead of the original. The Gallery then held a competition to see if the public could detect which one was the fake). 
However, the work I liked most (or at least was the most immediately understandable) was Mexican artist Jaime Lobato's Burning Thoughts, a long metal bar with about 100 little flames rising out of it. Strap a receptor round your head and you can control their height through brainwaves.
Art eh?  And Addictive TV will close the exhibition in a week's time.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


I am the envy of my colleagues. At crack of dawn, before breakfast, Liz prepares packed lunches for us all. This is today's: chicken, coriander & salsa wraps, mango & grapes, and lemon drizzle cake - all home made. Am I spoiled or what?
Trouble is, I tend to eat it at my desk, which is not good practise...

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Past Imperfect Repackaged

Limited Edition (Sept 2015)
Received this CD in the post today. It's a version of Andrew Cox's Past Imperfect compilation, originally released in May last year (during the few months when I paused my blog). It was possibly (?) the last in a series of re-released MFH and Pump-related albums on Plague Recordings and Forced Nostalgia, masterminded by the very wonderful Fre De Vos. 
But here's a limited edition (of 80) produced for the Experimental Music Record Fair in Brussels earlier this month by Editions Abscondita. Nicely packaged. Andrew would have liked it. 
Both the original and the limited edition collect tracks from the early 80s, together with two from a hard-to-find compilation and three previously unreleased tracks. Here are the sleeve notes:
Andrew Cox was the more talented half of MFH / Pump, releases of which are available elsewhere on this site. Alongside his recordings with David Elliott, he also released four cassette albums on YHR (Arioch, Methods, Hydra and Songs from the Earth) between 1980-83.
Original (May 2014)
Tracks from these, together with other rarities are now compiled on Past Imperfect. The opening excerpt from Arioch - a terrifying salvo of purpose-built oscillators (not dissimilar to Pete Shelley's Sky Yen which was released in the same year, 1980), is actually fairly atypical of Andrew's subsequent output - which could be described as dark ambient before anyone had thought of the term.
Andrew used motley instrumentation - piano, guitar, recorders, reed organ, an obscure synthesizer, pedals and other effects units - to create claustrophobic, crepuscular landscapes, often inspired by paintings or literature.
But what makes this compilation so intriguing are the extras: two tracks from the rare Integrated Circuit Records compilation from 1983, and three previously unreleased pieces from 2000 and 2001 which had ushered in a new, ultra-minimal style.
Sadly, Andrew died in 2009 before he could fully explore this new direction, but it is gratifying to see his music recognised, despite his absence.

For more info, see here and here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


One of the challenges of modern, family-life is helping your children with their homework. Actually, I know at least one dad who refuses to do so - "Naah, they need to work it out for themselves!" - but I can't be so heartless. I don't mean do it for them, but at least help if they ask and set them on the right path. 
The homework I dread is maths and yet there is also a certain satisfaction in actually remembering how to do something you last did 40 years ago. After an hour poring over some infernal equation, it finally clicked and A & I punched the air, exchanged high fives and I privately thanked Mr Keane for getting me through my O-level, even if it was only a C.   

Saturday, September 19, 2015

30 Years Ago

Thirty years ago today, Mexico City experienced its biggest ever earthquake in recent times. The epicentre was 350kms away, just off the Pacific coast. There was damage in between, but the capital was most affected because of the huge population of the city and the fact that the city centre is built on very soft ground. 
The damage was extensive: 412 buildings completely collapsed and 3,124 were severely damaged. A minimum 5,000 people were killed but it was most likely much higher than that. A quarter of a million people lost their homes.  
Late this morning as we walked to Polanco's Saturday market, we heard the sirens, signalling the start of city-wide drills (as there are on every anniversary). Today, apparently 6 million people took part. Fingers crossed there won't be another biggie sometime soon...

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

More Independence

Independence Day holiday today (actually it should really be 27th, but whatever) so a relaxing time at home. Coincidentally, 40 years ago to this day, Papua New Guinea gained independence from Australia. Can't say I knew it was ever formally a part of it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

El Grito

Watched President Pena Nieto ring the bell, wave the flag, sing the national anthem (with a crowd of 50,000) and mimic the famous grito (cry) of Padre Hidalgo at 11pm this evening. Didn't fancy joining the throng in the Zocalo so watched it on TV. It's strangely moving. Here's the grito (in English). The people named were all heroes of the War of Independence (1810-21):
Long live the heroes that gave us the Fatherland!
Long live Hidalgo!
Long live Morelos!
Long live Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez!
Long live Allende!
Long live Aldama and Matamoros!
Long live National Independence!
Long Live Mexico! Long Live Mexico! Long Live Mexico!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Independence Music

Fine opening concert by the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Palacio de Bellas Artes this evening. There's been an anticipatory buzz about this for weeks, partly because it's a rare visit by the LPO, but also because the conductor is Alondra de la Parra, revered by many, doubted (or possibly just envied) by others. As a woman in a largely man's world*, and a young (35) woman at that, she's up against a fair amount of old-school prejudice. 
Interestingly, it's very much a female-fronted tour. Jennifer Pike provided the solos for pieces by Saint-Saens and Vaughan Williams tonight, and singers Jennifer Johnston and Olivia Gorra will perform later this week. 
Anyway, aside from the gender gossip, the other interesting thing about the evening was the inclusion of three Mexican works: Silvestre Revueltas's Janitzio (from the 1930s), José Pablo Moncayo's Huapango ('40s) and Arturo Márquez Dance No.1 ('90s), the last two especially - as encores - going down a storm. Clever programming what with Independence Day coming up. Oh, and did I mention that de la Parra is eight months pregnant? 

* Only five women feature in a recent list of the world's 150 greatest conductors (Backtrack music listings website)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

No Ferrero Rochers

Prior to their 4-concert tour of Mexico this coming week, we held a reception for the London Philharmonic Orchestra this evening at the Ambassador's residence. I am aware that this is an ex-pat diplomatic cliché, but there you go. As part of the evening, star violinist Jennifer Pike played some short pieces by Fritz Kreisler, Jules Massenet and Edward Elgar. It was amazing. Pike's been wowing audiences and critics since 2002 when, aged 12, she won the BBC Young Musician of the Year, and at 15 debuted at the Proms. She plays a 1708 Matteo Goffriller violin on loan from the Stradivari Trust. I didn't offer to hold it while canapés were served.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Lee Miller's Son

Opening of Lee Miller: Fotografa Surrealista exhibition this morning. I've always been fascinated by Miller. What a life she led. And this is a great exhibition, really well curated by Stefan Van Raay - that's him on the right. The man in the middle is Antony Penrose, Lee Miller's son. I somehow expected someone much older, though at 68 I guess he is, but doesn't look it. He now looks after his mother's very extensive photographic archive which is still based in the house he grew up in Chiddingly, East Sussex. 
The exhibition covers her early work in Paris (including co-discovering the technique of 'solarization' with Man Ray), studio work in New York, lady-of-leisure period in Egypt and, most important of all, her war-reporting work which is both shocking and strangely poetic). After that, she mainly stuck to photographing artist friends (Picasso, Miro, Moore, Dubuffet etc) while battling post-traumatic stress syndrome.  
Antony gave the girls a book he wrote called The Boy Who Bit Picasso. He was that boy, back in the early 50s. He just did it on impulse. And Picasso bit him back. 
Nice to meet Stefan, who has a strong Chichester connection. He used to be Director of Pallant House. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Do, Flex, Test

This evening we launched a book - Do, Flex, Test - about designer-makers. That's people who design stuff and make it. To quote The Economist: "As manufacturing goes digital, a third great change is gathering pace. It will allow things to be made economically in much smaller numbers, more flexibility and with a much lower input of labour, thanks to new materials, completely new processes such as 3D printing, easy-to-use robots and new collaborative manufacturing processes available onlne. The wheel is almost coming full circle, turning away from mass manufacturing and towards much more individualized production".
The book is about the design-maker links between Britain and Mexico, written by curator/writer Regina Pozo, published by Buro-Buro and launched this evening on the rooftop of the Laboratorio para la Ciudad (a kind of civic think tank). The Lab was given an office in a non-descript city government building, but they've got tired of that and taken over the rooftop, planted stuff and turned it into a funky terrace-cum-workspace.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

63 Years, 217 Days

Mildly interesting fact. Today, Queen Elizabeth II became the longest-running British monarch ever, surpassing her great-great-grandmother Victoria. Wikipedia helpfully tells us that the shortest (undisputed) reign was Sweyn Forkbeard's 40 days in 1013-14. I'd never even heard of him.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Stephen Fry in Mexico

This evening we all watched the first episode of ITV's Stephen Fry in Central America. First stop Mexico, from the Texan border to Belize via Chihuahua, Copper Canyon, Real de Cartorce, Teotihuacan, Mexico City, Michoacán and Acapulco. All in 45 minutes flat.

All good stuff. Fry squeezes in peyote tasting (though not by him), the axolotls of Xochimilco (which is as weird as it sounds), the amazing butterflies of Michoacán ("the only multi-generational migration phenomenon in the world" which he was tempted to turn into a song), a cameo appearance in a soap opera, witnessing a demo on Reforma about the Missing 43, and a rather overdone bit on the divers of Acapulco. 
Not quite up to Michael Palin, but I look forward to the rest.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Museo Tamayo

Gorgeous day, so cycled en famille to the Museo Tamayo to check out a couple of exhibitions, both group shows. 
The Museographic Essays no.2: From the Modern to the Contemporary is the second in a series of interpretations of the museum's own collection, most of which was donated by the museum's founder, artist Rufino Tamayo. So there's your Picassos, Magrittes, Rothkos and Noguchis with the more recent Peter Fischli & David Weiss, Simon Starling and Wolfgang Tillmans. Nice enough, but I didn't quite follow the curatorial thread, A thought there was too much blank space and not enough art and N's scholarly comment was "I could do that!"
Better was Overlaps: Latin American Art in Mexican Collections. Aside from Roberto Matta (Chilean, but spent most of his life associated with the Surrealist movement in Paris), I'd not heard of any of them. But it was a vibrant, refreshing collection of works. Picture on left shows Argentinian Rogelio Polesello's Reticula (1968) as seen through his Circulos Concavos (1975).
Nice museum, cafe and shop and in an equally nice setting.

Friday, September 4, 2015


Met Dutch friend Egon, here on business (small world…), for a quick drink at a bar near the Alameda. Nice park, the first created in Mexico City in an area that was once an Aztec marketplace, but now full of trees, fountains and strolling families, with the Palacio de Bellas Artes at the other end.
Got there half an hour early so quickly whizzed round the Museo Mural Diego Rivera. Oddly, it hosts just one Rivera painting, but it's a big one: Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central (Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central), a 15m-long mural painted in 1947. It originally hung in the Hotel Del Prado but when that building was destroyed in the 1985 earthquake, they moved it to this new museum, which must have been quite an operation.
The fresco takes us on a Sunday walk through Alameda Park and represents three principal eras of Mexican History: the Spanish Conquest, the Porfiriato Dictatorship, and the Revolution of 1910, in chronological order from left to right. In the centre is Diego Rivera at the age of ten being led by the hand by La Calavera Catrina, a skeleton figure parodying vanity, and behind him is (inevitably) Frida Kahlo.  
The rest of the museum is given over to temporary exhibitions, currently one by Rosendo Soto (1912-94).

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Long Music

Max Richter releases a new album tomorrow. It's called Sleep and appropriately it's around 8 hours long, designed to be listened to (or at least subliminally perceived) while you're in dreamland. You can download the whole thing here or there's a truncated vinyl version, which perhaps should be called Snooze or Cat Nap. There'll also be a concert version in Berlin later this month.
This sort of thing isn't new. La Monte Young and Terry Riley used to perform for hours and hours in the 60s, and Robert Rich did the same with his Sleep Concerts in the 80s. And then of course there's Jem Finer's Longplayer which is designed to play for a 1,000 years. 
But the piece I like (the idea of) best is John Cage's As SLow aS Possible which can last as long as you like. One performance in Maryland, US in 2009 was a mere 15 hours. Another version, played on an organ in a church in Halberstadt, Germany, is designed to last 639 years. The first chord was played on 5 September 2001. The weights holding down the pedals were then shifted and another chord was played on 5 January 2006. And so on. The next chord (or possibly just a single note?) will be performed on 5 September 2020. So if you're around in five years time, do drop in. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Duke of Burgundy

We've been running (with an agency called Enfilme) a mini-filmfest titled, rather unimaginatively, Sound & Vision at two art-house cinemas in Condesa and Roma. It's an interesting 'auteur' selection: Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers, Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, Duane Hopkins’s Better Things, Joanna Hogg’s Exhibition... and tonight the closing film, Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy. 
I've been following Strickland's career with great interest (see Katalin Varga and Berberian Sound Studio posts). Burgundy shows him getting ever more confident: script, direction, look, feel, music. Everything about it points to an early 70s middle European aesthetic. Not just because it appears to be set then & there, but also because it seems to have been made then & there. The title sequence alone, by Julian House at Intro, is a fantastic piece of pastiche, and I found myself comparing bits of the film to Fassbender's Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, Bergman's Persona and - most obviously - Jesus Franco's Vampyros Lesbos. Sounds obscure, challenging? Well yes, but it's also quite funny in parts. I loved, for example, the unexplained appearance of a blond mannequin, sitting in the audience of a lecture, and some of the dialogue is hilarious. It's also quite possibly the only film I've seen with a complete absence of men and children.   
As usual the choice of music, by Cat's Eyes and Nurse With Wound, is both brave and successful. Around halfway through, there's a frenzied, hallucinogenic scene of moths flying around, set to an excerpt of Nurse With Wound's Soliloquy for Lillith, an obscure triple album of experimental ambience from 1988 (and I am almost certainly the only person who has a copy of the original here in Mexico). 
And what's the film about? Well, it's your typical sado-masochistic love story between an older and a younger woman, who share a scientific interest in lepidoptera. Obviously.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


Following Tania Hershman and Paul McVeigh's visit last June, we've invited another pair of short story writers to Mexico - Tom Lee and Joanna Walsh. They did a talk with Mexican writers this evening which I couldn't go to, but joined them afterwards for dinner in Condesa. Also dining was a Mexican writer with the strange, non-Mexican sounding surname of Jonguitud (and a more prosaic forename, Paulette) and her actor husband. She's just had her first short story, Mildew, published in English. Her husband starred in Henry IV Part I in London three years ago, part of the impressive all-37-plays-from-different-countries festival at Shakespeare's Globe. Another writer Pablo Soler Frost joined us too. He writes his novels with a pen and doesn't have a phone. Interesting evening.