#FlashbackFriday: Late of the Pier - Fantasy Black Channel

This is an old unpublished one from Band of the Day, from 2011. Still one of my top albums, six years later. Click here to listen.

From the first few notes of “Hot Tent Blues,” the opening track to Late Of The Pier’s debut album Fantasy Black Channel, you’re in for a circus of bizarre sound effects, and hairpin turns through a galaxy of relentless and awesomely ridiculous songs.

It's a swirling collage of musical ideas and effects—the unifying element being that every song sounds as eclectic as the next. As the instrumental “Hot Tent Blues” melts seamlessly into “Broken,” lead singer Sam Eastgate (who also plays guitar and synths) declares, “Didn't sleep last night, couldn't come down.” It's danceable, but with a sense of yearning as Eastgate's vocal range gradually moves to a higher register on the line “It's all evolution's fault now!”

Although they've all known each other since primary school in a small English village called Castle Donington, the quartet (which, alongside Eastgate includes Ross Dawson, drums; Sam Potter, sampler; and Andrew Faley, bass and synths) didn't emerge as Late Of The Pier until 2004. They started making bedroom recordings, and released a free 14-track demo called Zarcorp, before being signed to a label. After attracting the attention of infamous British record producer, Erol Alkan, Fantasy Black Channel—produced by both Alkan and Eastgate--was released in the UK in 2008.

Considering all of the members are in their early 20s, many of the influences that can be heard on the album are from time periods before they were even born. In the otherworldly, foot-stomping“Space and the Woods,” an almost Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie twang sings out, “Put on my radiation suit and slip away.” And like Gang of Four on an acid freakout, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” has an angular, dance punk feel—with vocalizing “doo-doo's” mimicking the synth riff.

“The Bears Are Coming” is like tribal martian music, with an oddly infectious riff that sounds like letting air rhythmically squeak out of a small mouth opening in a balloon. Like many of the other songs on the album, this almost sounds like it could be multiple songs in one. There is a bluesy breakdown of “I saw you wading in the water,” which explodes—there is literally the sound of glass breaking—into a wonderful mishmash of all the freakiness colliding as the imaginary bears have escaped.

But the stand-out track on here comes midway through, with the madly danceable "Heartbeat."It has one of those tempo build-ups that's worth waiting for, the type that brings to mind the feeling of pure elation and invincibility before the night becomes a complete blur. Eastgate assumes the role of erasing any sense of hesitation as he declares, “It's just a line!”

With their jarring tempo changes, hedonistic lyrics, and eclectic musical ideas, Late Of The Pier is not for everybody. It's been described as “anti-pop pop,” but for those along for the ride—enjoy the 42-minute dance adventure that's equally grimy and glamorous.

Happy Sinterklaas Day!

Happy Sinterklaas day!Image
This is a very special day in which my people (the Dutch) celebrate the life of dear ol' St. Nick, and enjoy some seasonally-appropriate racism. For those of you who've never heard of this holiday, gather around ye olde yule log (a laptop will suffice) and let your humble narrator tell you the tale:There once was a man called Saint Nicolaas, who’s also been known to go under such aliases as: De Goedheiligman (The Good Holy Man), De Sint (The Saint), and De Pre-Diabetische Bebaarde Kerel (The Pre-Diabetic Bearded Dude).

Every year, around late November, a steamboat from Spain arrives in The Netherlands. And on this boat is a stately, yet stoic, chap ensconced in a crimson crushed velvet suit, sporting a flowing white beard that glistens like the first snowflakes in the dawn’s light. Upon his arrival, he parades down the streets on his great gray steed, Amerigo, welcomed by a gaggle of cheering and singing children. “HIJ IS HIER (he’s here)! HIJ IS HIER!” they shout with glee!

Accompanying Sinterklass is his devoted servant, Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), who’s under strict orders to dress up like a 17th century page in a colorful dress, festooned with a lace collar, and donning a feathered cap, to satisfy his master’s unusual fetish.

On the night of December 4th, the local children are instructed to leave out their shoes by the fireplace, ready to accept the gifts of the generous overlord. After a snifter of brandy, and an erotic romp in the hay, Sinterklass and Zwarte Piet sashay around town, filling the shoes of the good children with chocolate coins, oranges, class A drugs, enemas, and other treats.

The naughty kids? A lump of coal. The really naughty kids? A good spanking with Zwarte Piet’s chimney sweep’s broom, made of the sharpest willow branches, whilst Sinterklass guffaws maniacally, the whites of his crazed eyes glinting in the night that’s as dark as his soul. And for the REALLY naughty children? They’re tied up in Zwarte Piet’s sack, to be transported back to Spain. Nobody knows exactly what happens when they get to Spain; some things are better left unsaid.

So there you have it, the most well-researched, factually-accurate tale of this special holiday. Happy Sinterklaas Day, everyone!

Steaming Basket Baby Food?

So Wordpress has this awesome feature where you can check your blog stats to see how many people visit your blog per day, what links refer them here, and what Google terms are used. Somehow, someone managed to reach my blog today by searching for "steaming basket baby food." Umm...what??!

I just Googled this, and apparently there's this contraption called the Beaba Babycook, which turns fruit and vegetables into baby food. If and when I ever have kids, someone buy this for me!

(The internet is random)

The Futureheads: Live at Pure Groove Records in London

"Ok, this next song is going to sound very Russian, and when we start it will become very clear why," explains Barry Hyde, with the same mischievous grin as The Grinch when he's slinking around Whoville, stealing all of the Christmas decorations. The lead singer of The Futureheads has successfully captured the attention of the crowd packed into the tiny Pure Groove Records shop and cafe. It's a quiet Thursday afternoon in London, and a mixture of students and young, suited professionals on their lunch breaks are gathered to catch a rare, free acoustic performance of the normally raucous Sunderland-based indie rock quartet.

As the group launches into "Struck Dumb" from their newest album, The Chaos, which was released in the UK on April 26th, the Russian reference becomes very clear indeed. Without the aid of electric guitars, band members Ross Millard and David 'Jaff' Craig harmonise "ra da-da!" sounds--making sure to heavily roll the R's--and occasionally display Russian-inspired dance moves, alternately squatting and popping back up with flailing leg kicks and arm thrusts. The only thing missing from the scene is black, furry hats and shiny, red voluminous trousers.

Hyde joins in by singing, "Misery, is a little line, of a little dash, it's a subtraction sign." Meanwhile, drummer Dave Hyde sits off to the side, providing a rhythmic beat without the aid of a drum kit.

With influences ranging from new wave and post-punk greats like Fugazi, XTC, Devo, and Gang Of Four, The Futureheads normally perform upbeat-yet-aggressive sets that often result in moshing, crowd-surfing, and pogo dancing. But despite not having the usual array of electric instruments, amplifiers, smoke machines, and brilliantly-coloured stage lights, their performance doesn't feel any less exciting.

The Chaos Here, the excitement comes from admiring the power of their voices and poetic lyrics, like "Every time I listen to my heart/It's like a cartwheel in my head but my legs are made of lead" from "Heartbeat Song." This is The Futureheads stripped down to their rawest elements.

And, today, those elements consist of one part concert, one part variety show--the band members seem to be in a jovial mood, joking around with each other and encouraging crowd interaction. It's not every day that a band turns one of their songs ("Hounds Of Love", from 2004's self-titled debut album, in this case) into an audience participation game. Millard's side of the crowd has been instructed to sing the "OH oh-oh"s, while Craig's side of the crowd has the dueling "oh-OH!" melody.

It's here where it becomes clear that this isn't your ordinary British indie rock band, with generic melodies and a pretentious attitude--the band's vocals alone intertwine in perfect harmony, almost like a throwback to a-Capella barbershop quartets from the turn of the 20th century.

Although the audience members may not possess the same level of vocal talent as the band, hearing the entire shop singing along to "Hounds Of Love" is a testament to the band's showmanship. Moments like this make you remember why you bother going to shows in the first place. It's easy to sit back and listen to an album on the bus, while working, or at a club, but without the smoke and mirrors of studio productions, some bands just can't cut it live.

But whether they're playing an intimate acoustic set, or performing at Europe's largest festivals, The Futureheads have consistently proven that they can do more than cut it live--especially with the occasional, impromptu kalinka dance moves.

Still alive!

Apologies for the lack of blog activity, but my laptop broke a couple of weeks ago and I still don't have a replacement. Just wanted to let everyone know that I'm still alive and well, and will be posting regularly again once I have a computer :)

Tamale-Making: A Mexican Christmas Tradition

Every year at Christmas time, without fail, my mom likes to tell the same joke:Q: Why do Mexicans always have tamales on Christmas? A: So that they have something to unwrap!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Mexican cuisine, tamales are a concoction of cornmeal and various fillings (sweet or savory), wrapped in corn husks and steamed until cooked.

Once a tamale is cooked, you unwrap it from the corn husk and enjoy.

For many Mexican families, especially in California, tamales are synonymous with the Christmas season.

Many families turn their kitchens into mini tamale-making factories, churning out dozens of batches at a time.

The tamales are eaten throughout the entire holiday season, and also given away to friends and family members.

I’ve always liked the idea of everyone getting together to make tamales. Unfortunately, my Mexican side of the family lacks the know-how and culinary skills to actually take part in this tradition.

Instead, we turn to our local taqueria owner, a woman from Oaxaca, Mexico, who sells tamales of your choice by the dozen. Joining the Tamale Production Line

This year, however, I had the chance to get together with a couple of my friends in California—who are both of Mexican descent—and join their families in the tamale production line.

I always had the idea that tamale-making was a very laborious process, but it turned out to be relatively simple.

We bought a bag of prepared masa (a mixture of corn meal, water, lime, salt, and lard) from a nearby taqueria. The dried cornhusks, chicken, and green chili sauce were purchased from a Mexican market.

To make the tamales, you first have to soak the corn husks in cold water to make them pliable. Then, a layer of masa is spread on the smooth side of the husk. In the middle, you add the filling. Wrap everything up, and the tamales are ready to go in the steamer.

We ended up making two types of tamales. The first were sweet tamales, with a combination of brown and white sugars, and a heavy-handed pouring of ground cinnamon. The second was a savory mixture of green chili and shredded chicken.

Both types turned out really well, and it was fun to partake in this traditional activity.

It’s a nice way to spend time with loved ones over the holidays, and to create something delicious in the process!

Graduation: One Year Later

Exactly one year ago, I was nervously standing on stage in front of hundreds of my peers, receiving my diploma. I distinctly remember the feeling of achievement, excitement, and anxiousness that I had on this day.

After working hard for four and a half years, I had reached the end. I was now a college graduate.

The whole day was a blur of emotions. Thank God for the invention of waterproof mascara.

Growing up, graduating college is one of those things that seems so far off. So adult. The beginning of a new chapter of your life.

The first month or so after graduating felt like an extended winter break, with the added bonus of not having any assignments to do. It felt good to be able to relax and not have to worry about school.


Unfortunately, the time I graduated was during one of the worst parts of this economic recession. Many of my peers were having a hard time finding jobs anywhere, especially in the media field.

Slowly, it began to sink in that I could be in a very tough position if I didn’t find a job quickly. There were student loans to start paying back, among other living expenses.

By the end of February, almost three months after graduating, I had finally landed an internship at a company called Ustream. It was unpaid, but it was better than sitting around at home, so I took it.

Luckily, I was offered a full-time job as Marketing Coordinator, just after a little over a month of interning. Sure, the pay wasn’t the best, and the hours were even worse, but it felt good to be working in a career related to my degree.


Despite being happy about having a job, I felt that if I continued on down this path of marketing, I would move further away from my career goals.

I wanted to be the person producing media, not the one marketing it.

Over the summer, I made a big decision to go to graduate school in London. It wasn’t an easy choice, especially considering my economic situation.

But it was the right choice.

I haven’t looked back since making that decision, as I know that by doing this course, it’s putting me closer to where I want to be. NEW GRADUATES

This year, I watched some of my best friends walk the same stage that I did.

I’ve watched them work extremely hard over the years, and I was proud to be able to watch them be honored for their achievements.

It seems that landing a job is getting harder than ever, but I have high hopes for them.

I think that, as long as you work hard and have clear goals set out, you can achieve them. Maybe it will be a difficult journey along the way, but sometimes you learn the most from going through hardships.

So, to my lovely friends who graduated this year, congratulations! Keep doing what you’re doing, and welcome to the post-grad world.

As Monica once said in Friends, “The real world sucks…you’re gonna love it!”

Flying Home: The Long Journey

After four different modes of transportation, and over seven hours in the air, I’m finally back on US soil. My journey began by leaving my house in London in the early hours, when it was still dark outside. I stupidly left my packing until an hour before leaving, so was unable to get even a small wink of sleep.

I lugged my suitcase the fifteen minute walk to the bus stop, took the bus to a tube station, and then caught the tube to Heathrow airport.

While transferring stations, a kind stranger helped me carry my suitcase up a large flight of stairs to a different platform.

The same thing happened when I first came to London. It’s nice to see that there are still kind and helpful people in this world.

Eventually I made it to Heathrow, only to find out that my flight was delayed by a few hours.


After wandering around aimlessly for about an hour, I discovered paradise within Heathrow’s Terminal 4—there is a ‘quiet prayer room’ that has, wait for it… RECLINING CHAIRS!

And they turn down all of the announcements to keep the atmosphere peaceful.

Anyone who has ever had to endure the long layover, especially running on no sleep, knows how irritating those constant announcements can be.

Apparently not too many people know about this prayer room, so I was able to land a prime seat in the darkest and most private corner.

After a couple of hours of intermittent sleep, it was time to board the flight to my layover destination: Newark, New Jersey.


Unfortunately, there is no hidden oasis near my gate here in Newark. The announcements are loud and constant. A steady stream of background noise comes from people walking through the terminal.

There are all types of people rushing through. Business men dressed in suits, glued to their Blackberries and laptops, unable to lose a minute’s worth of work.

Harried-looking moms trying to simultaneously keep on eye on their luggage and their rambunctious children.

Young tourists, speaking in their native tongues and appearing excited to be in the United States.

Weary travelers, trying to find the most comfortable sleeping position on Newark’s hard seats. FLIGHT DELAYS

My flight to San Francisco keeps getting pushed back. Apparently there was a mechanical problem with the first plane, so we have to wait for a second plane to be ready.

I’ve discovered that, besides people-watching, blogging is a good way to pass the time. Who knew?

This has been a long journey so far, and I still have a while until I’m back in San Francisco.

I’m looking forward to the sweet sensation of those wheels landing on San Francsico’s runway.

But even more so, I’m looking forward to that moment of bliss when I’ll be able to plop down on my bed and pass out for as long as possible.

In the meantime, I’ll let my distaste for Newark airport fester until this plane is ready to board!

Bargain Shopping in London

Retail Therapy: a term for shopping for yourself in order to achieve a sensation of of happiness and stress relief. I’ll admit, I’ve definitely resorted to ‘retail therapy’ on a number of occasions. I don’t know what it is about shopping that can instantly make you feel better. It’s almost like a drug.

Sometimes the cure for a really bad day can be as simple as going into shops, trying on clothes, and making a purchase.

During this recession, it can seem frivolous to resort to retail therapy. However, I’ve discovered that it doesn’t have to put a huge dent in your wallet.

London is often cited as one of the world’s most expensive cities. Coming from the United States, the exchange rate isn’t in my favor—the pound is currently about 1.6 to a dollar.

Despite this, I’ve found some great ways to shop in London on even the most meager budget. SHOPPING AT MARKETS

Camden Market is one of my favorite places to go shopping in London. You can easily spend hours getting lost in the market, and looking through all of the different clothing stalls.

One great thing about Camden Market is that you can haggle prices there. If the stall owner tells you that something is 20 pounds, say you’ll pay 10 pounds, and then haggle until a fair price is agreed upon.

I recently purchased a 100% cashmere sweater, and a vintage dress, for 12 pounds total!

At Camden Market, it’s best to look around different stalls before settling on a purchase, as you can often find cheaper prices for similar clothes.

Portobello Road is also a great outdoor market for a dose of retail therapy. It’s less geared towards clothing, but that’s not to say you can’t find good clothing deals there.

The last time I went, I found a store in which every clothing item was 5 pounds. I’d much rather pay 5 pounds than 30 pounds for something similar at a place on the high street.


There are some people who love to flaunt designer clothing. For me, I get so much more satisfaction from spotting a good bargain than wasting money on one single item.

Why blow all of your money on one upscale item, when you can get an entire outfit—and accessories—for even less money?

Some people argue that it’s all about quality. If it’s cheap, it won’t last long. However, I’ve had cheap items of clothing that have lasted years. As long as you take care of them, you can get a lot of wear.

Charity shops are another great way to find a bargain. They are dotted all over London. You may have to spend some time digging through the racks, but there are always gems to be found.

One last tip for any of you considering retail therapy: don’t buy it unless you love it. If you’re unsure about something when you try it on, hold out for something else. It’s a waste to spend money on something that you might not even end up wearing.

Happy shopping!