Chinese Condom Brands

The thing you always have to remember about Chinglish is that we are not the intended audience. English is used generally as a signifier of cosmopolitan modernity, and the vast majority of the people who see an English word will not even take the time to register it, let alone try to work out what it means. These characters are there for decoration, and that is their only function.

So, bearing that in mind, here are the brands of condoms on sale at the pharmacy downstairs.


Let’s have a closer look at a few of the more interesting ones.


These are called “sixsex” – I assume this means there are six condoms in the packet, but the one on the left says 12, so now I don’t know what to think.


“Jissbon” – ah oui, le jiss, il est bon, mais ceux-ci ne l’arrêtera faire un bébé.


“Flimsy” – obviously this one is my favourite, and I can sort of imagine how they accidentally chose the worst possible name for a condom – i.e. that they mean it’s light and thin, and not that it’s easily breakable. But still, Flimsy. Flimsy brand condoms.

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Britpop Nuggets Part Three: Long Live The UK Music Scene

Britpop Nuggets 3

MP3 Download (up for now – liable to be removed at some point)
Spotify Playlist (missing Mantaray, Pullover, Perfume, Laxton’s Superb, Gyres, Shiner, Ruth, Teen Anthems)
Youtube Playlist (complete!)

1. The Divine Comedy – Something for the Weekend

The_Divine_Comedy-Neil_Hannon-1996A lot of groups around this time used Britpop as a springboard to expand their sound, make it more generous and expansive in scope. Sometimes this worked out well, as on ‘Something for the Weekend’, where Neil Hannon draws out The Divine Comedy’s baroque pop sound to make something truly universal. It’s a good summary of everything that Neil Hannon was doing right on Casanova – lust, sexual danger, literary jokes, joy and love. Sometimes I think the jokes are too much, but really there’s no need to feel embarrassed when they work so well. Later on, with his remake of ‘The Pop Singer’s Fear of the Pollen Count’ he would show how it could all be done in a much more unsuccessful fashion, but on the whole he seemed to get it right.

2. Longpigs – She Said

Longpigs11The other Sheffield band, Longpigs consisted of three scene veterans (including Richard Hawley, whose Treebound Story were the first group recorded at the legendary Fon studios, and who would later win more critical acclaim than almost everyone else on this CD) and younger singer Crispin Hunt. ‘She Said’ is something of a showcase for the band, the sound of four people trying to outdo each other with the most passionate musical tricks possible. It should be a mess, but it’s a complete joy, with a bizarre, possibly brilliant lyric and a magnificent pause. Unfortunately the group would soon be counted among the many who lost it trying to ‘crack America’, but it was nice while it lasted.

3. Mantaray – I Don’t Make Promises

mantaray2Britpop d-leaguers Mantaray managed to get hoovered up by a major label in the wake of 1995 and all that, had their next LP produced by Ed Buller, and, well, afraid that’s about as interesting as the story gets. ‘I Don’t Make Promises’ is standard enough Britpop fare, not bad, not amazing, but not different enough to stand out in 1997 either. The group apparently fizzled out soon after the LP flopped.

4. Pullover – Holiday

pulloverThis is one of my favourite things on this compilation – Sleeper crossed with ‘Kennedy’ by The Wedding Present, but much, much better than that sounds. Pullover released three singles on Fierce Panda, the others nothing like ‘Holiday’ – instead they sound like a before-the-event Life Without Buildings. I’d recommend ‘Oddball’ if you can find it, a b-side about not being attractive enough to be a popstar but getting on with it anyway.

‘Holiday’ kept getting radio play, but their other songs didn’t, so when they took advantage of the buzz and signed for Big Life in ’96 their first move was to re-record their signature song – and for once its charm survived the bigger, more expensive production. Unfortunately it was at this point that the label went broke, and Pullover appeared to go down with them. Nothing was heard until a few years back when they suddenly had a myspace page with promises of a tour and a new album, but nothing seemed to come of it. Now there are at least three other bands called Pullover on, all with more active fans than MY Pullover.

5. Perfume – Lover

e3852Leicester indie band Blab Happy were a bit late for C86, a bit too cheery for the early 90s indie scene, and broke up before Britpop even started. With a member switched, they reformed as Perfume, and achieved a little (really just a little) more success. ‘Lover’ was a favourite of Paul Weller, Jo Wiley and Steve Lamacq, and, like pretty much everything else championed on The Evening Session, was doomed to never really escape from the indie charts to either commercial or critical acclaim. Still, there is probably a place in the world for this perfectly charming bit of light indie-pop .

6. Pulp – Mile End

pulp-band2On June 17, 1995, Blur did their ‘Knebworth’ – a “homecoming” gig in Mile End stadium in London, with 27,000 people in the crowd and a million more listening on Radio 1. Jarvis Cocker had lived in the same area in the late 80s, finding it squalid and unwelcoming, and must have thought this celebration of the place naive and patronizing. Shortly after, Pulp recorded their ‘Mile End’, a song which sounds like a parody of Blur at their most jolly, and which describes the area in a tone so uncompromisingly grim that it seems a wonder that the area itself didn’t launch some sort of complaint. Britpop was now the scene that hates itself, and soon the anger would be redirected inwards- If you want to hear Pulp at their most self-doubting, check out ‘The Professional’.

7. Catatonia – You’ve Got A Lot To Answer For

catatoniaAs Camden burned itself out, bands from other parts of the UK started to get their chance. Catatonia only got together in 1995, but managed to firmly establish themselves in the next few years, despite never exactly sounding like they were at the cutting edge. Perhaps that was even to their advantage. From their first LP, ‘You’ve Got A Lot To Answer For’ has a great pregnancy scare lyric – “if it turns to blue, what are we gonna do?” and generally sounds almost shockingly sweet and nostalgic for 1996. Unfortunately within a year they’d be writing songs about road rage and the X-files, and, once again, I lost interest, but at least Cerys seems to be a natural fit for a media career.

8. Octopus – Saved

OctopusThe curse of Scottish Britpop strikes again. Octopus were an 8-piece (hence the name) group from Glasgow, London and Paris who by any rights should have been a success. They had an albumsworth of hit singles, they gave decent interviews, they were signed to Parlophone and apparently had the full financial support of their marketing department – But a combination of over-reach by said record label, critical disinterest in indie-pop and public exhaustion with new bands meant that Octopus slipped under the radar, despite having three top-50 (but not much higher) singles. A shame, as their variety and quality, even on b-sides, stands out even now. I had the feeling that it would’ve taken just one hit for them to achieve Space-levels of ubiquity, but it wasn’t to be.

9. The Candyskins – Get On

candyskinsThe Candyskins were an Oxford band, led by the two sons of Kenneth Cope (of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) fame), who had been around on the Oxford scene under one name or another since the early 80s. ‘Get On’ was a Mark Radcliffe favourite and an excellent 12” single, couped with an astonishing demo version of a song (“Car Crash”) they later completely ruined for the LP. They were disappointing when I saw them play at the Phoenix festival, though, and their subsequent career is therefore largely a mystery. It’s perfectly possible that I caught a bad show and there are more gems to find in their extensive discography, but who knows?

10. Rialto – Monday Morning 5.19

rialtoAnother exercise in relabeling, Rialto were the second incarnation of Kinky Machine, a group who could easily have slotted into the first CD of this set, as they were, by their own words “delving into British pop music for influences, from the Kinks and the Jam and Clash to the Beatles.” The grab-bag of influences drawn on by Britpop also included a certain amount of chamber pop, though not a great deal. Rialto’s new idea was to expand this to encompass Bond themes, all a little too rich for my taste, but showing at least that there were directions to go that had nothing to do with Oasis.

11. Laxton’s Superb – Sugar’s Gone

laxtons superbI only knew this group’s name, and their photo, and assumed they were from the Menswear-mod axis, but this sounds like they were more from the Oasis camp than the Blur one, so it’s no wonder they didn’t really fit in. All I can find out about Laxton’s Superb from the internet is that their album was never released, which seems par for the course by this point.

12. The Gyres – I’m Alright

the gyresThe Gyres seem to be the ultimate expression of the Britpop bubble bursting, and the final example of Scotland not being allowed to join in with all the fun. Signed to a large indie label, sent on tour with Cast, Oasis, Reef, Echobelly, Bon Jovi and David Bowie, advertised beyond all belief, all they managed to do was scrape the top 75 twice, then split up when their label went out of business. Judging by this documentary, made at their peak, they were a harmless bunch of kids having a great time playing at being rock stars, but of course that doesn’t mean they deserved success, especially when they weren’t bringing anything much new to the table.

13. Shiner – (We’ll Make You) Famous Honey

R-4271957-1360331531-1260.jpegA band I only heard about through a fanzine interview, Shiner seem to have released a couple of singles on an indie label before dropping completely off the face of the Earth (or at least the internet.) A shame as the four tracks I have by them are all terrific – all retro, but taking their inspiration from less obvious places, and having fun with it too. My only slight criticism is that singer Raaf is a bit too hoary blues-rock for my taste, but the songs more than make up for that. So, who knows why they never got any attention? It might have something to do with this, their debut single, being an attack on the current state of the music industry, singling out corrupt A&R types. A bold move in 1997.

14. Strangelove – Freak

strangeloveFrom the underrepresented Suede (and possibly Manics) mini-axis of Britpop, Strangelove were another group of veterans with a new lead singer. By turns poetic and nihilistic, Patrick Duff seemed like a rare creature – a potentially important artist with heaps of new ideas, some good, some bad, but all leagues away from the posturing and parody that Britpop had been reduced to. At first their problem was that they didn’t have any ‘hits’, but then they actually wrote some and still nobody really seemed to be interested. I remember seeing ‘Freak’ performed on the Jack Doherty show on Channel 5, and being positive that it would be a huge. How could it not be?

15. Blur – All Your Life

BlurMy favourite Blur track, and it’s stuck on a b-side. Could it ever have been a single, though? As much as I adore it, part of it makes me feel a little queasy. As a song about staring down into a personal void and getting vertigo, this seems like the ultimate distillation of Blur’s post-Britpop comedown, but as sellable chartbound concepts go, it’s not really viable. Hiding it away on a b-side does seem odd, all the same, and I wonder if Damon found it a bit too personal to have to promote. Strangely enough, it does sound like a pop song for the most part, but this is for me the first time that the Blur trick of pairing jolly music and sad lyrics really worked, capturing a kind of existential hysteria.

16. Earl Brutus – The SAS and the Glam That Goes With It

earl brutusThere is, of course, a world of music existing outside Britpop, and if one of the functions of music is to offer commentary on the world then kicking against Britpop is a natural stance for outsiders – and that’s as good a description of Earl Brutus as any. Whoever is responsible for their Wikipedia page wrote a neat summary of the group, which I can’t better:

“They were renowned for their chaotically raucous and visually entertaining live shows, which often featured unusual stage props, including messages and slogans that were displayed on revolving garage forecourt signs, written in neon lights or spelt out using funeral wreaths. Earl Brutus’s sound incorporated a diverse range of influences, including elements of early 1970s UK glam rock, the electronica of Kraftwerk, and the ramshackleness of the Fall. Their lyrics concentrated on the mundane side of modern British life while at the same time exploring its dark and seedy underbelly….. Live shows were augmented by the presence of Shinya Hayashida in the band, who was employed to stand on stage and headbang or shout random abuse at the audience.”

The SAS and the Glam That Goes With It seems to be a mockery of the 1997 zeitgeist, but who really knows what it’s about?

17. Ruth -Valentine’s Day

ruthRuth were a local band from Southampton who made it to the big time – if the big time means having music videos and making a couple of appearances on daytime TV. After having no success beyond appearing on a Shine compilation, they disbanded, with singer / songwriter Matt Hales going to to have moderate success as a songwriter.

This compilation was supposed to only include music I genuinely like. I don’t know if I’d go that far with ‘Valentine’s Day’, but nothing better illustrates how predictable a lot of these groups had become. It simply sounds like they’ve been forced to make music with a wacky, upbeat Britpop sound despite their wishes or personal taste, and have trotted out novelty lyrics which even Space would have found a bit too silly. Then the middle eight briefly saves it, shows what they would rather be doing, but it’s only a momentary reprieve. It’s not a bad piece of music, exactly, but it seems to be disposable, and not in a good way.

18. Teen Anthems – I Hate Oasis (And I Hate The Beatles)

teenanthemsIt’s a bit of a risk to put “I Hate Oasis (And I Hate The Beatles)” on a compilation of any sort, as it sounds like deliberate mockery of the songs preceding it – and on this compilation, that’s exactly what it is. For me, the true end of Britpop was marked by Mark & Lard’s brief promotion to the Radio 1 Breakfast Show, where their odd humour fell flat and their outlandish features proved too confusing for the general public. It’s unclear why they made this their single of the week – either it was a provocation that contributed to their dismissal, or they already knew they were going and it was a “fuck you” to the zeitgeist. Either way, it’s extraordinary that it was played on Radio 1 at peak time at all, let alone five times. Even twenty years later the song is still making people furious, if Youtube comments are a reliable guide – so in 1997 it must have annoyed people a great deal. But these things simply needed to be said.

19. Helen Love – Long Live The UK Music Scene

Helen LoveTeen Anthems follow-up single ‘Welsh Bands Suck‘ was keen to specify that “apart from Helen Love they’re a load of shite” – a good thing too, as Helen Love seem to have been of a similar mind about the music being championed in 1997. Essentially a female version of The Ramones with junk shop keyboards, Helen Love’s nearest brush with fame was this hugely sarcastic attack on the current musical gatekeepers, which alternates between presenting them as dominant bullies and as impotent, moribund dinosaurs. My only disagreement here is that I think the Longpigs & Bluetones are perhaps not the worst offenders to be singled out, but on the whole, this is a complete joy.

20. David Devant & His Spirit Wife – Life on a Crescent

We’ve come to the end of the story now. Britpop had burned itself out after a few years, all ideas used up, all energy transformed into bankrupt imitation and drudgery, the leading lights already doing their best to distance themselves, a habit they would continue for the next twenty years. Britpop’s central magazine, Select, had become a bitter, humorless rag, featuring an endless string of articles about Oasis, OCS, The Verve and Paul Weller, and at turns ignoring and despising all of the genuinely good, original music that was around. The NME was, if anything, worse. TV and radio had long ago moved on. Those left behind were by definition the easily nostalgic, those who were scared of change or wary of difference – hardly a rich pool for creative expression.

David-Devant--His-Spirit-Ginger-179574Rather than leave on a down-note, though, let’s have a look at what could have been. If the opening premise of Britpop was to find a way to imbue music with a new kind of Englishness, then David Devant & His Spirit Wife were its ultimate expression, the way forward that should have been. They had one of the most entertaining live shows I’ve ever seen, and their records were brilliant from start to finish. The fact that they weren’t the hugest band in the world is hard for me to understand even now.

‘Life on a Crescent’ – a live recording for the Mark & Lard graveyard shift show – isn’t by any means typical DD&HSW, but as an evocation of suburban Englishness, it’s completely essential. Britpop might have failed, but in its minutiae, on its margins, we can find plenty that’s worth saving.

    Some further reading

Britpop: The Great Rock & Roll Swindle – a surprisingly candid and informative collection of interviews from Mojo.
Thread on Britpop at ILM

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Britpop Nuggets Part Two or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Tolerate Northern Uproar

Britpop Nuggets 2

MP3 Download (up for now – liable to be removed at some point)
Spotify Playlist (missing Delicatessen, Heavy Stereo, Elcka, Powder, Brassy, Telstarr)
Youtube Playlist (complete, but some videos seem to be blocked in the UK)

1. Black Grape – Reverend Black Grape

Black GrapeWhen Shaun Ryder parted ways with The Happy Mondays it was after one of the most disastrous recording sessions in history. ‘Yes Please’ was recorded in Eddy Grant’s house in Barbados, where the group had been sent so that Shaun wouldn’t take heroin. They stole and sold Eddy Grant’s furniture and used it to buy crack, which they smoked on sun-loungers next to the swimming pool. Returning to the UK, they held the tapes hostage, and threatened to destroy them. After paying up, Factory found that the songs contained no vocals whatsoever – Shawn hadn’t even gotten around to writing any. The label went bankrupt soon after. The idea that any record label would trust Shaun Ryder to record anything again was faintly ridiculous, and I doubt anyone could have guessed that he’d recruit a few of his mates, release an LP on a major label and a have series of hits just a couple of years later. 1995 was an odd time – and odder still, their debut single is simply brilliant, joyfully plundering from a vast buffet of inspiration, and with an actual bass-line and beats behind it all – completely joyful and triumphant. It wasn’t to last, of course, but never mind that.

2. Oasis – Acquiesce

OasisIt’s the start of 1995, and Oasis are still on the ascendant. Acquiesce finds them returning home in triumph, a shame there was nobody to whisper “you are mortal” in their ears. Rumor has it that the swapping of vocal duties between the verse and the chorus meant that Noel and Liam were singing about each-other – now if that isn’t wishful thinking, then I don’t know what is. More like it was one of their last experiments, and I wish there had been more.

3. McAlmont and Butler – Yes

mcalmont butlerBernard Butler, who had left Suede in a fog of acrimony mid-way through the recording of their second LP, wrote ‘Yes’ as a snide kiss-off to the group when they asked him to return, then found David McAlmont (who had also recently left a group) to sing it. The result is five minutes of the most positively joyful “fuck you” you’ll ever hear – “I feel well enough to tell you what you can do with what you got to offer” – i.e “take your band and shove it.” The pair would stay together for only a few months – long enough to record enough tracks for a short album.

delicatessen4. Delicatessen – CF Kane

Delicatessen never sought to be pop stars, that’s for sure, but Britpop was a scene, and its tendrils extended even this far out, connecting these lovers of discordancy to the members of Suede, Supergrass and Powder. CF Kane is the closest thing they had to a hit, and its chorus is literally a man screaming over a wall of white noise.

5. Cast – Finetime

Cast_-_band_membersThe La’s would have been perfect for Britpop, but after taking the best part of five years to record a short LP’s worth of songs, Lee Mavers retreated into his cave, and it was left to his bassist John Power to form a new band, which he named ‘Cast’ as the final lyrics on “The La’s” are “the change is cast” – to JP this is a powerful metaphor, meaning the group is a continuation of an predestined idea, but as a name by itself it gives the impression of a rotating group of anonymous, replaceable players following a script. Fortunately John had a couple of good songs up his sleeve – Finetime and Alright – but unfortunately the well seemed to run dry soon after. By the time “Walkaway” had become the stock music for montages of sports teams losing, I was bored with Cast.

6. Heavy Stereo – Sleep Freak

heavy stereoThe concept behind Heavy Stereo was simple – “We’re The Glitter Band,” and that was basically it. It was good enough for me, though, I actually bought two singles, and contemplated getting the album too, though looking back it’s hard to see why I didn’t just buy a ‘Best of Glam Rock’ instead. “Sleep Freak” seems to be the only thing that stands up on its own now, and even that only just. Heavy Stereo thought they had a big break when they went on tour with Oasis, and guitarist Gem Archer really did – Noel noticed that he was better than Bonehead and quickly moved to absorb him into his folds. For the rest of Heavy Stereo, that was that.

7. Smaller – God I Hate This Town

smallerPete “Digsy” Deary might have had a number one hit in France, Italy, Germany, and Hong Kong (Cook da Books’s ‘Your Eyes’) but he’s still destined to be forever remembered as “mate of Oasis” and nothing much else. Smaller were too slow off the marks, and didn’t really ever look like a going concern, but at least with “God I hate This Town” they managed to tie the rock side of Britpop to a vaguely Punk outlook.

8. Elcka – Games We Play

ElckaThere seemed to be a blizzard of new bands in 1995, and even though I was scouring Select for any mention of anyone new, some things even escaped me. Elcka, by all counts, were an excellent live act, but didn’t seem to get it together in the studio until it was too late. I’ll leave it to someone who actually saw them at the time to go into a little more depth here. There was a goth-glam undercurrent to much of D-list Britpop (I’m thinking of King Adora and Subcircus here), which finally emerged into the mainstream in the form of Placebo. If you don’t think that Placebo are mainstream then you probably haven’t lived in continental Europe.

9. Menswe@r – Stardust

MenswearIn the years after Britpop’s great wave pulled back, Menswear’s reputation suffered more than any other, to the extent that their name alone became a punchline for the follies of 1995. This wasn’t confined to uninformed members of the public – music journalists, former friends, even their drummer has made a few comments of the “what were we thinking?” variety. As someone that owned their first LP ‘Nuisance’ and actually listened to it well after 1995, this seemed like a bizarre development. Maybe they weren’t the best group around, but their highlights still seemed genuinely exciting – the music was arty post-punk brilliantly corralled into chart pop (surely that’s what everyone wants?) and they looked fucking cool (this too.) It wasn’t until a bit later that I realized that (a) people who dislike artiness + people who dislike pop = almost everyone who has an opinion about anything (b) there’s that ‘authenticity’ thing that people care about for some reason again and (c) my god did Menswe@r go out of their way to piss off absolutely everyone, and not in a cool punk way. There was even a small article in the NME (which I’ve just spent a fruitless hour trying to find) which accused Chris Gentry of blagging his way into the whole thing by elbowing his way into conversations with important people at The Good Mixer and offering them cocaine.

The trouble with looking at the group in this way is that it turns everything into a game of “who deserves this more?” – and worthiness has never been a great yardstick to measure the value of music. Sure, Chris was a chancer, but he had the guitar licks to back it up. Johnny Dean is surely more important – later diagnosed with autism, his very un-indie disconnect from musicianliness, coupled with a focus on honing the purest possible form of pop star iconography almost qualifies as performance art in itself. ‘Stardust’, my favourite Menswear single, is on the surface a character assassination of Bobby Gillespie – “he’s a superficial fucker” – but the twist is that every mocking line could equally be directed at Johnny by his critics – and his critics seemed to consist of most of the group.

Meanswear wouldn’t last, of course – even by 1996 they were yesterday’s news, and their second album, released only in Japan, is an unwelcome mainsteam-country-rock let-down. Then there was nearly 20 years of nothing, the members going into radio and A&R, until last year JD finally got back up on stage to perform under the name again. You’d have thought enough time had passed to look at 1995 with a bit of perspective, but apparently there is still a way to go.

10. Marion – Let’s All Go Together (Slide Mix)

ThisworldandbodyBoasting the best voice and the prettiest face in Britpop, Jamie Harding seemed feted to be one of the lasting stars of the movement. The music had a vague edge of dangerousness to it, the group had a knack for writing epic-sounding rock songs… aside from boasting Britpop’s Only Beard™ they seemed to have everything sewn up. But then Jamie discovered heroin, and swiftly transitioned from debauched rockstar to junkie in a bedsit. This surprisingly candid NME article has most of the detail – a sad story, especially with their early promise, but the good news is that he seems to be past it now, and is back to performing. ‘Let’s All Go Together’ is a growling romp about mass suicide, which featured on an excellent Select tape.

11. Powder – Deep-Fried

powderMenswear had an easy ride compared to Powder, who elicited two responses; “I hate them” and “who?” The second response became ubiquitous when singer Pearl Lowe later emerged as a celebrity of some sort, for reasons too silly to go over here. Powder were a bit like a gothy, female-fronted Menswear, all louche debauched messiness over ‘fuck it’ art-punk. Pearl wasn’t the most talented singer, but her 6am growl suited the mood, and they at least had, what, three half-decent tunes to back it up. They broke up when Pearl became pregnant, so any promise was ultimately unfulfilled, though Pearl did go on to join Britpop D-league supergroup Lodger a few years later. I proudly submit myself as one of a select few who genuinely enjoyed every minute

12. Northern Uproar – Rollercoaster

Northern-Uproar-Rollercoaster-277580Oh god, just look at them. Four high school kids who think if they put on parkas and glare at the camera they’ll be the next Oasis. That’s what I used to think, anyway – if ‘they’ hated Menswear and Powder, then I had license to hate Northern Uproar, that sounded fair. Only it wasn’t, of course, these kids had a right to the same treatment as anyone else, and while I’ll never really be a fan, Rollercoaster is still not bad, capturing as it does a lot of the excitement of being a 16-year-old on tour with your heroes.

13. Super Furry Animals – Hometown Unicorn

super-furry-animals_4Up to this point ‘Brit’ has generally stood for ‘England’, or actually ‘Camden’. The scene had started there, and that’s where you moved if you wanted to be in on it. Much as with other musical movements, there was a ripple effect as people around the country realized that being in a band could get you on top of the pops, not just playing the local toilet circuit. Wales in particular saw an explosion in new groups, though some of them are too left-field (i.e Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci) or too rock (Sterophonics) to be included here. The Super Furry Animals were easily the most exciting of these, turning up to festivals in a tank, recording the sweariest single of all time and featuring celebrity drug-smuggler Howard Marks on their album cover, inevitably leading to both cult following and chart success. At this point I’m almost ashamed to admit that even after buying their first few singles, SFA never really clicked with me as something I could truly love, and I am entirely unable to put my finger on exactly why. This is embarrassing as almost all my friends love them. Sorry.

14. Brassy – Boss

BrassyMuffin Spencer (sister of Jon, of Blues Explosion fame) is (as far as I know) the only American voice on this compilation, and she’s here because she made her way across the Atlantic, formed a group with locals in Manchester, and released a couple of astonishing singles: like Chrissy Hynde, only better, and without any of the success. ‘Boss’ is my favourite – a tight low-fi racket with Muffin purring her way through vague descriptions of an unspecified (but disgusting sounding) sexual act. Unfortunately their label would collapse before they were able to put an LP out, but years later they would reform to make an indie hip-hop LP which finally had some success in the form of a Motorola jingle taken from the single ‘Play Some D’. Poor old Brassy.

15. Mansun – Thief

mansunMy sense is that Mansun don’t belong to Britpop at all, but they were the beneficiaries of the A&R scramble for indie bands in the wake of Parklife, so they fit around here in the story. Blessed with huge prog rock pretentions and lyrics so bad that they felt they needed to write another song to stop people reading them, they weren’t really my thing – and yet I seem to have bought the One EP, Two EP and Three EP, and listened to them, and enjoyed them enough to listen to them again. ‘Thief’ is from the One EP, a standard-enough Mansun b-side which lurches into a tremendous breakdown halfway through.

16. Gene – Fighting Fit

gene-big-2Gene were early at the party, but took a while to get going. ‘Fighting Fit’, their biggest and most anthemic single was released in the Autumn of 1996, and its parent album not until the following year. This small amount of success seemed to be something of a long service prize, the group having stuck to their plan of recording songs that sounded like weepy yet macho versions of Smiths ballads even as it failed to get them on Top Of The Pops. To be fair to Gene, it was clear that there was something of substance here, and at another time or another place it would have been valued more. A couple of years later it was all done – a fact I realized when they felt the need to send a promo of their LP to my (circulation approx. 25) non-Gene-related zine.

17. Telstarr – Berserk

telstarrI must have picked up this record at the much missed Magpie Records in Worcester, though I have no idea why, only that it’s a complete joy of a post-Pulp Britpop single, a paean to the joys of washing away existential misery with a night out on the town. According to the internet it was played a few times on The Evening Session, and 45cat have a scan of the back cover with a full list of band members. Aside from that, the world seems to have forgotten Telstarr. If anyone has any further information about this group then please leave a comment.

18. Lush – Last Night

lushStalwarts of The Scene That Celebrates Itself, Lush started out as a proto-shoegaze band, gradually became increasingly dreamy and floaty, then shifted direction completely when Britpop came along to become, if anything, the most commercial-sounding group of the lot. It’s unclear how much of this change was due to record company pressure, but they had certainly not given up on dream pop, as evidenced by ‘Last Night’ – one of a few gorgeously realized soundscapes which were relegated to b-sides or album tracks while ‘Single Girl’ and ‘Ladykillers’ were a-listed on Radio 1. Evidently the group were ready to shift back to the music they wanted to make as soon as possible, but after a depressing American tour supporting the Gin Blossoms, drummer Chris Acland commited suicide, and the rest of the group decided to call it a day, with Miki quitting music entirely. There’s a good article on the group here.

Edit: Three hours after I press ‘post’ Lush announce a reunion. Astounding.

19. The Bluetones – The Fountainhead

bluetonesShed Seven played Worcester at the start of 1995. I didn’t go, but people who did came back raving about the support act, The Bluetones, and a couple had bought their self-pressed 7″ single with future hit Slight Return on one side and The Fountainhead on the other. Everyone was sure that they’d soon be the biggest band in the world, which is odd as for all their success, nobody ever seemed excited about them again. Never Britpop’s brightest peacocks, The Bluetones hid their hooks in secret places – rhythms, countermelodies – and this was somehow enough to keep them in business for most of the decade. The Fountainhead (hopefully nothing to do with Ayn Rand) is a good demonstration of their appeal – an excerpt from a guitar jam, stretched out into a digression of a song, technically proficient and adventurous without showing off. Which brings us to…

20. Ocean Colour Scene – I Wanna Stay Alive With You

oceancoloursceneMaking this compilation has meant listening to a few things I would’ve otherwise not. In the case of OCS, it meant I needed to confront my prejudices. Do I even really dislike them, or am I just following the opinion I’m expected to have? Is the problem with the group, or what they stand for? The way all this exciting music was morphing into a couple of dull formulas? The pride in musicianship ahead of quality? The way all the eccentric characters were disappearing to be replaced by identical muso blokes with nothing much to say? The last one seems unfair in this case – unlike most of the other acts here, OCS weren’t all white, or all-straight, and yet… And yet listening to their Britpop LP, Mosely Shoals, every track seems to be an homage to a certain type of mod or soul instrumental, intricately worked out, but lacking any character of its own. It’s not that any of it is bad, it’s just, what’s the point? What are they actually expressing here? The one exception to this is ‘I Wanna Stay Alive With You’, where the artifice is stripped away and we’re left with a simple, honest love song. I’m torn between enjoying it for itself and cursing them for not making more like this.

Next: 1996, 1997 and the end of the road

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Britpop Nuggets Part One: Some People are Born to Dance

britpop nuggets 1

MP3 Download (up for now – liable to be removed at some point)
Spotify Playlist (missing Whiteout, Thurman, 60ft Dolls)
Youtube Playlist (complete)

“Looking back, Britpop is almost unique among those musical trends which lasted half a decade or more, in that you couldn’t fill a Nuggets-type compilation with genuinely good tracks.”
– Taylor Parkes

“There were lots of bands around back then, and some of them haven’t dated very well.” – Gaz Coombes

“Once the box marked ‘the past’ was open, other people were bound to cherry pick rather less recherche inspirations – why bother drawing on forgotten Lynsey de Paul album tracks when you had the Beatles, the Stones, the Jam? With the first wave of Britpop we unwittingly set everyone up for Union Jack sweaters and endless re-runs of Quadrophenia.” – Bob Stanley

“It’s got to mean something, it needs to mean something, surely it must mean something.” – Sleeve notes from Pulp’s ‘Sorted For Es & Wizz’ single

Last year the BBC held celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of ‘Britpop’. Their starting date was taken from the release of Blur’s ‘Parklife’ on April 24th 1994. For me the relevant date to mark is 20th August 1995, when Blur beat Oasis in the “Battle of Britpop.” On that day I was in holiday with my mother, sister and grandmother in a guesthouse in Torbay, listening to the top 40 countdown on a portable radio, feeling that something hugely exciting was happening. I experienced Britpop from the sticks, through Select magazine, on Top of the Pops and Radio 1, and bought into it, completely, for a while at least. I taped ‘Britpop Now’ and watched it perhaps 50 times. There are a hundred other things I could’ve been into, but I wasn’t. Britpop was my thing and two decades later I still feel like I somehow need to stick up for it. So I made this, and we’ll see if Taylor Parkes is right.

In making this sort of compilation, the intention of the curator is usually to draw attention to something which has been neglected, but with Britpop this would clearly be insane. For starters, it already receives too much attention, as the tedious week of nostalgic guff the BBC released made clear. Even in 1995, it relied on already recycled sounds and ideas, when much more interesting music was going on elsewhere, and being ignored as it didn’t fit Britpop’s conservative little box. To side with Britpop is to side with the dull parochial nostalgics, and against almost anyone who was making genuinely interesting art at the time. Even many of the artists on this compilation have little or nothing positive to say about it. All true, and yet I would like to make the case that there is still something here worth saving, or at least to find out if such a case exists, if my reasons for listening to any of this is anything more than nostalgia.

Britpop began with “The scene that celebrates itself” – a collection of friends who hung around in Camden and sometimes played in each-other’s bands, all producing different kinds of experimental or arty music, none of it remotely commercial, a sort of early 90s indie Bloomsbury Group. Most of the people involved would have nothing to do with Britpop, but the scene would survive and mutate into a very different beast, an often bitchy group, not playing with each-other so often, but becoming increasingly similar in their sound. The actual people involved came from all corners of the country, but most of them ended up drinking in the same few pubs, then came cocaine, then heroin, then The Spice Girls.

This compilation mainly tells the story of this group, excluding those who deliberately distanced themselves (Manic Street Preachers, Saint Etienne), those who were never really involved (The Verve, Radiohead, Kenickie), and those who came along too late (Travis, Kula Shaker.) I’m also limiting the scope to 1993-1997, and going in roughly chronological order. These rules will be strictly obeyed, except when I feel like breaking them. I was also planning to exclude Blur, Oasis and Pulp, but the story makes little sense without them, so here they are too – but in the form of album tracks and b-sides.

1. Suede – Metal Mickey


This is as good a place as any to start – spiky artpop with a distinctly English flavour tearing up the pop charts. (Or at least it seemed to be in the music press; the cool kids at school preferred The Levellers and Kingmaker.) ‘Metal Mickey’ was Suede’s first hit, and stood out from everything else in 1993. The first Suede album conjured up a magical world all of its own, one that was too left-field and romantic to be easily replicable, and all that later bands seemed to draw from it was a sense of scale of ambition. Unfortunatly the more important factor in the invention of Britpop was the Select cover. It set up the idea that something was going to happen, and that was apparently all that was needed. As for Suede, their influence would swiftly wane, the poetry and drama giving way to a comfortable cruise control mode which would continue to sell records long after Britpop had been and gone.

2. Denim – Middle of the Road

denimAlso featured on the “Yanks go Home” cover was Denim, a new project from Lawrence, formerly of Felt, refugee from the lost world of C86. Too early to join the Britpop party and too odd to get into the mainstream, Lawrence would spend the rest of the 90s experimenting with increasingly cheap-sounding synths, often to brilliant effect, but apparently of little interest to people who actually bought CDs. His comeback single “Summer Smash” was pulped in the aftermath of the death of Princess Diana, but it’s doubtful that it would’ve attracted much attention in the Britain of 1997 anyway. ‘Middle of the Road’ is the first of a couple of statements of intent, something which Britpop in its stride conspicuously avoided. (NB: If anyone is angry about Lawrence “hating” any of these act, please pay attention to the bit where he says he “hates guitar licks” and, you know, don’t take things so literally.)

3. The Auteurs – American Guitars

auteursThe Auteurs positioned themselves as the mortal enemy of Britpop, so they seem a little out of place here. In 1993, however, they were on the Select cover with everyone else, and ‘American Guitars’ sets up the parochial narrative of Britpop as much as anything on Modern Life is Rubbish, in ways that nobody really intended.

“I am working on a new song called ‘American Guitars’: part sarcastic riposte to British bands who cannot find their own voice, forever worshipping at the altar of US rock, part self-mythologizing history of my fledgling band. Soon the British press will pick up on ‘American Guitars’, proclaiming it some sort of battle cry against the marauding Yanks. It won’t be long before Britpop rears its ugly head…” – Luke Haines ‘Bad Vibes; Britpop and My Part in its Downfall’

Britpop wasn’t supposed to be a reaction against grunge, but a reaction against British indie music of the early 90s – more anti-Stourbridge than anti-Seattle. This distinction was, naturally, lost as Britpop found its way to the tabloid press.

4. Elastica – Stutter

elasticaThen there was a year or two where there was something changing, but it wasn’t really clear what it was, and none of the names given to it would stick. The “scene” was well established, however, and Elastica were sitting right at its hub. Aside from the obvious Brett-Justine-Damon connection tying them to Suede and Blur, the group will pop up here again and again, in relationships, friendships, as housemates and substance abuse enablers to about half the groups here. To quote Luke Haines again;

“Donna [Matthews, Elastica guitarist], although she doesn’t realise it, is a negative Timothy Leary figure. Arriving in London from Newport with just an electric guitar and enough heroin for the movers and shakers of the Camden scene to turn on, tune in and nod out.”

After an excellent, if not terribly original (but really, who cares?) debut LP, Elastica would descend into an ever changing line-up of junkies, producing little more than an EP of good material over half a decade, so let’s remember them with ‘Stutter’, the moment when they really were briefly the best band in the world, and the only charting song I can think of on the topic of brewer’s droop.
To read more about Elastica please have a look at Kat Stevens’s One Week One Band entries, which really sum up the suburban Britpop experience as well as anything I’ve read.

5. Pulp – Lipgloss

Pulp-bandPulp had been around forever, of course. Their first rehearsal took place a whole fifteen years before the release of this single, though to be fair this particular lineup had only been at it for four. It was their luck to reach their most commercial phase at just the right moment, and to tire of it marginally more quickly than the public did. Of all the groups here, Pulp mean the most to me, but rather than explain why at length here, I’ll direct you to my other blog where I’m reviewing all of their songs (and promise to start updating it again soon.) Lipgloss is the group’s first top 40 hit, and marks a nice mid-point between the multicolored brilliance of their Gift singles and the pop sheen of their nascent imperial phase. It’s also a good demonstration of the Ed Buller thousand-layer production style which dominated these years before Steven Street, Owen Morris and Chris Thomas became so dominant. Speaking of which…

6. Blur – Tracy Jacks

blur_q_3706Of course all of this might have been for nothing if it hadn’t been for Parklife. Music that sounded vaguely like The Kinks and XTC, lyrics about archetypal English characters; this would be the blueprint for 50% of Britpop acts to either define themselves by or in opposition to. Parklife itself is a good deal more varied than this suggests, from the silly punk of Bank Holiday to the swoony balladry of To The End and the sarcastic disco of Girls & Boys. Only a couple of tracks fit the overall picture, and Tracy Jacks is probably the best of them – all Tony Hancock and Reggie Perrin set to tightly meandering post-punk, somehow sounding like it wouldn’t worry Radio 2.

7. Echobelly – Today, Tomorrow, Sometime, Never

echobellyEchobelly arrived on the scene surprisingly early, narrowly avoiding being labeled “New Wave of New Wave” by being insufficiently new wave. Comprised of Indian singer Sonya Madan, black lesbian guitarist Debbie Smith and hugely tall Swedish pornographer Glenn Johansson (and a markedly less multicultural rhythm section), some might expect them to have been one of the less predictable Britpop groups, but for whatever reason it didn’t really work out that way. This is Sonya’s song about emerging from a restrictive upbringing to find the world of rock’n’roll to have more lethargy and less direction than it had seemed from the outside. This is an unusual and quite personal topic for a pop song, and that’s a good thing.

8. Salad – Your Ma

salad2Further deviating from the ‘4 white English boys’ cliche, here’s Salad, with Dutch singer Marijne van der Vlugt. Salad never really reaped any success from Britpop, possibly because they had lyrics too ridiculous to tolerate, or possibly because Marijne was a model and a ‘VJ’ on MTV8 Europe, which made her somehow suspect to the music magazines. Do me a favour and please ignore all of this – Salad were one of the strongest groups of the era, recording two whole LPs without so much as a duff track. ‘Your Ma’ is the group at their prime – bizarre lyrics over deranged punk-pop music, but if you want something a little more serious then check out this article about ‘Motorbike to Heaven’ at ‘Left and to the Back’ where Marijne is pretty active in the comments.

9. Shed Seven – Dolphin

shed_sevenI was spending the weekend at my Dad’s flat in Romford when I saw this exciting new group called Shed Seven on an LWT regional arts programme. Returning to high school in Worcester, I found to my surprise that they had supplanted Ride as the band of the moment. Having only heard ‘Dolphin’, Shed Seven seemed like our generation’s great angry, funky punk band, but I’m afraid to say I found everything else they did to be little more than water treading. In spite of my *very important* personal misgivings, the formula worked, and they managed another 14 top 40 hits, the last one as late as 2003, and only one of them was rerecorded by the group as a jingle for a mobile phone shop.

10. Oasis – Bring It On Down

oasisSo far we’ve covered one half of ‘Britpop’, so here’s the other. On the surface there seems to be a huge divide, but this is deceptive – Oasis were also nostalgics posing as revolutionaries, and they also drank at The Good Mixer. I tired of Oasis more quickly than most, but it’s hard to deny the power in something like Bring It On Down. Oasis were best when they were hungry, and it’s this drive and passion that got them in the door in the first place, something else that was quickly forgotten. Can you imagine anyone else here (or any of their descendants for that matter) singing ” You’re the outcast / You’re the underclass…”?

11. Whiteout – No Time

Whiteout_bandThe first guitar band to sign with Silvertone since The Stone Roses, Whiteout went on a triumphant co-headlining tour with Oasis in 1993 to considerable enthusiasm from both press and public. At least one of the two groups was fated to be successful – that is, Oasis were. It would’ve been a huge surprise if anyone was particularly interested in Whiteout in, say, 1995. Primal Scream’s ‘Give Out But Don’t Give Up’ had tested everyone’s patience for hoary blues-rock, and even by the end of 1994, it sounded like the last thing anyone wanted to hear. After their LP flopped and their singer and drummer quit, Whiteout optimistically carried on for a few years as a two-piece, to apparently zero interest from anyone, then quietly split. Scottish Britpop groups, as we will continue to see, were cursed.

12. Ash – Petrol

Ash_1994Three sixth-formers from Northern Ireland, Ash only count as a ‘Britpop’ group due to an accident of timing, releasing mainstream indie-pop singles like Girl From Mars in 1995, before naturally deciding they were a rock group after all and positioning themselves very much on the other side of the Atlantic. Unlike almost anyone else on here, they are still around. ‘Petrol’ is their second single, from 1994.

13. Thurman – English Tea

ThurmanIf you care about authenticity (I don’t) then Thurman are probably not the group for you. Originally a heavy metal band genuinely called “2 Die 4”, they saw the way the wind was blowing, changed their singer and started playing semi-plagiaristic rip-offs of glam rock and 60s pop. Was this all done cynically? Not sure it matters. Skilled imitation is a valuable thing, and their album Lux is still an enjoyable listen, even now. “Famous” is a pretty insightful piece about an indie singer suddenly realising he could be big-time famous and getting a little too carried away, but it’s “English Tea” that’s presented here, purely as it’s the closest thing I can find anywhere to a 100% Britpop genre-piece.

14. 60ft Dolls – Happy Shopper

60ft-dolls_1995_promo_photo_1b60ft Dolls just didn’t fit in. A welsh rock group, normally found drinking heavily and getting into various kinds of trouble, they would seem a natural fit for the ‘Oasis’ side of the great Britpop schism, if it weren’t for the fact that they were brought together, pre-Britpop, by Elastica guitarist Donna Matthews, who was dating bassist Michael Cole and working in the same pizza restaurant as guitarist Richard Parfitt. After putting out a few surprisingly soulful punk-rock singles like ‘Happy Shopper’, the group found themselves inevitably sucked into the Camden whirlpool, a shame as they showed a certain amount of promise. Later Richard made more of an impact on the music scene by discovering Duffy.

15. Sleeper – Inbetweener

sleeperIt’s a bit disingenuous to paint Sleeper as pioneers of any sort, but they were the first to take that ‘Parklife’ sound and successfully export it to the charts. Louise Wener didn’t have much of a voice, but she made the best of what she had, burbling and cooing around the edges of her tiny range, creating vividly realized stories of suburban English relationships – in truth, there was a lot to like. ‘Inbetweener’ is still their best-known song, and for good reason – it takes ‘Chemical World’ or ‘Stereotypes’ and adds some much-needed empathy. After their first LP, Sleeper for some reason adopted a policy of putting all their musical experimentation into the first 20 seconds of their songs, leading to disappointment when the colour-leeched ‘real song’ kicked in. Were they deliberately trying to be “more commercial”? I hope not.
Louise is one of the few Britpop alumni who still praises the movement, and has managed to reinvent herself as a writer of reasonably good indie-themed chicklit. The Sleeperblokes have presumably found alternative careers.

16. Supergrass – Mansize Rooster

SupergrassPA010611More kids, but this time veterans too. Before Supergrass there was The Jennifers, a fey jangle indie band easily eclipsed by their sequel. I found Supergrass to be genuinely exciting at the time, not hugely original of course, but with the inspiration to back up their influences and an ability to turn up the heavy from time to time, which was lacking in most of their contemporaries. A shame that they are remembered more for the chirpy ‘Alright’ and its novelty video. Mansize Rooster is much better, endlessly inventive and accomplished without ever being self-indulgent.
Supergrass, of course, stuck it out for ages, only breaking up in 2010

17. Dodgy – So Let Me Go Far

dodgyDodgy had been around for a good few years by the time Britpop arrived (I remember Chris Morris, of all people, playing them in 1993) and had the good fortune to peak just as their sound accidentally gelled with the zeitgeist. They might’ve shared influences with many of the other bands here, but they slotted them together in quite a different, much more earnest way. Sometimes this worked out well, as it does on ‘So Let Me Go Far’, a welcome dose of sincerity in what Damon Albarn described as the “blizzard of cocaine.” Soon, though, they just seemed to be a band who played every festival going in order to be sung along with by hoards of beered-up lads in Mani hats; and even this job was snatched from them when Travis appeared. That’s not how I want to remember them, but it’s hard to avoid it.

18. The Boo Radleys – Stuck on Amber

6160_The%20Boo%20RadleysMore ship-jumpers here, b-list shoegazers The Boo Radleys decided that they were interested in making pop music, and created ‘Wake Up Boo’ – a track seemingly tailored to be the theme to Chris Evans’ Radio 1 Breakfast Show. Received wisdom has it that ‘Wake Up Boo’ and ‘It’s Lulu’ were just sneaky cover to introduce quality songwriting into the charts, and if you’d asked me last year I’d have agreed – I bought ‘Find The Answer Within’ and ‘From the Bench at Belvidere’ and thought ‘Ride the Tiger’ was one of the best singles of 1997. Listening back, though, I seem to have lost whatever it is I saw in them, the songs sound muddy, the tunes seem to be AWOL. ‘Stuck On Amber’, featured on a wonderful Select cover tape in 1995, is the only thing that grabs me now, I’m afraid.

19. My Life Story – Angel

mylifestoryEnough with the four-piece bands, to close CD1 we have a small orchestra fronted by an immaculately coiffured fop. I liked My Life Story, but was put off by their fanbase – mainly painfully shy bookish couples in their mid 20s wearing matching MLS t-shirts. Nice people, I’m sure, but not an exciting crowd when you’re 16. That was them all over – fairly good, but somehow faintly embarrassing at the same time. They did really made an effort to engage with their fanbase, producing a newsletter called “Sex & Violins,” seemingly every month, and sending out more free gifts than anyone else. Of course, this didn’t mean they would escape the great post-Britpop label purge at the end of the 90s. ‘Angel’ is possibly the most heartfelt and least arch thing they ever did, and stands up well even now.

Next week, part two; 1995 and all that.

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Tkay Maidza

Tkay Maidza is a 19-year-old Zimbabwean-Australian singer and rapper, and my favourite musical discovery of 2015 so far. Three videos to make her yours too.

Other news; I’ll be in England next week, with Milan. !

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Deep Dream Photos

This year is proving to be a difficult one and I’ve had little or no time to write or make anything. I did, however, manage to spend an hour yesterday altering some images with ‘Deep Dream’.

This is an experimental piece of code released by Google which attempts to find patterns in images (based on analysing pictures from Google images), then alters the pictures to make them match the patterns it thinks it found. The images can be bizarre and trippy or just look like paintings. Often it just adds a lot of dog faces – apparently this is the result of analysing too many photos of dogs. Right now it looks amazing, but in a few months everyone is going to be bored of it – so better post these now rather than then.

Here are the pictures, and here is the link if you want to make any for yourself.

6b8be22a-2693-4516-8d67-628cbb0c1123 e9d5e8c1-13fe-46dd-b118-b448db1ea736 bced8d02-769a-4d6e-95e7-f03f9c3a1875 b844040a-c0a2-427f-b53d-55a4477bacf7 b6fdc1ac-b619-4844-97ba-a128ea7d4eec b6f4723f-bd7c-4672-baec-c7d4aa36b552 a37fbe94-15e7-40ce-a97c-df6591abdafc 027261d1-e4f9-44f8-b551-30865c447a80 5240c9bb-3771-489f-96aa-b69fa4a09682 4557e42d-899d-4176-8f4e-738d0f58c141 26d6afdb-126c-46f9-b0d2-dc0cb19a7933 077e3da8-7fd3-4c35-bc55-21fbb108e87f 98e64aee-844e-464b-b3aa-a740fe951082 6d0dd76c-651b-4025-a165-f65e0195111a

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Prague, 2003-2004

“Beyond a certain point there is no return. This point has to be reached.” – Franz Kafka








































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