Life has been a bit crazy during this last month. There has been good food. There has been drama. There have been nights of no sleeping, just talking and joking with the people that make life great out here. And there has been music – so much new music to enjoy – that I feel like I’m going through my own musical awakening, or renaissance. New sounds every day, new tunes to send shivers down the spine – it’s like listening to music for the first time again.

Truly experiencing music is, for me, a question of sharing your materials with other people and letting them show you what they know. That could apply to a lot of things in life, but on a pragmatic note, when it comes to music it’s about giving my laptop to my friends and letting them search YouTube, La Blogotheque, Last.fm, and other sites for all the sounds that I’ve been missing out on.

In this way I’ve discovered that there are eloquent, passionate people out there, connected to me by signals transmitted through a few electronic circuits, the sky and space. People who innovate music, who bring it to life and revolutionise it in a completely new way – a way that’s in keeping with the technological world, while retaining something older, something time-tested and valuable as well.

‘The Young Folks’

boyzone

I’ve gone on a journey with music over the years. The first CD I ever bought was by Boyzone – an Irish boy band that I have no shame in admitting I mildly obsessed over as an eleven-year-old. In my teens I was a very moulded follower, going through the usual pop trends, taking inspiration largely from my younger sister, who was into rock and nu-metal for a while. I don’t remember many of the specifics of those years, although being part of a church youth group meant that I built up a stash of Christian rock CDs by singer songwriters and a band called Delirious?, who were the Christian equivalent of rock ‘n’ roll legends to me.

Hitting 18 and 19, I had CDs by Coldplay and Dido, among others, in my collection, until I met someone who introduced me to Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Radiohead. (In particular the latter’s seminal album ‘The Bends’. I was a latecomer to the greatness of Thom Yorke, although there’s no ‘wrong’ time to discover genuinely good music.) Suddenly I was swept up in a 60s and 70s revival, and the modern artists took a back seat for a while.

A quick disclaimer before I go on: my parents were obviously responsible for my musical education as well. But if their musical roots were my foundations, then I built on them for a while with my own (admittedly sometimes questionable) taste, letting the foundations sit beneath me quietly. It was only years later that their influence started to show again. After hearing Led Zeppelin and some old Beatles classics, I remember sifting through their collection of vinyl records, searching for inspiration. It was at that time that I listened to the Beatles’ White Album, and spent hours poring over the lyrics of ‘Stairway to Heaven’, printed on the back of a Led Zeppelin album sleeve.

‘Rock And Roll’

ledzeppelin

Along with Muse, Led Zepellin and Radiohead became my mainstay for a while. In my first year of university I had a Muse/Matt Bellamy shrine on my wall, and a ‘Stairway to Heaven’ poster, which saw me through all three years. I lived with two music lovers for the duration of university. Between them they had very different tastes, and I took a little from both of them. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Rage Against The Machine, Jeff Buckley, Audioslave and Pearl Jam entered my consciousness, as well as The Libertines, Razorlight and Arcade Fire.

My sister began university at Cardiff when I was in my third year at Lancaster. She had always been a great influence in my musical life (The Shins and Patrick Wolf found their way into my collection thanks to her), and after she began university her musical awareness skyrocketed in a quite alarming way. I found out about Of Montreal and then a new type of sound for me: electronica, fronted by The Knife and Ladytron. A boyfriend at university DJed at an indie-electro night in one of the clubs in town, and through him I began to appreciate electro-house and trance music. My induction into beats and keyboards had begun.

At the end of three years at university, I had to transition back to life at home: life on the Other Side. Not all of my music survived the change – some bands discovered at university remained at university. A lot of the hard-edged rock and grunge bands (Audioslave, Pearl Jam, Nirvana) were shed, proving that I can be a very superficial listener to some types of music. But this was a honing process: I discovered some of the best songs I’ve ever heard at university, and they survived the change and remain on my playlists today.

Post-university, my music was in the doldrums along with a lot of other interests in my life. It’s not good to spend too much time dwelling on a limited and largely uninteresting few months, but I will say that I continued to be influenced by the people I spent time with. I listened to drum ‘n’ bass for the first time in the shiny new convertible Peugeot of a work friend. It was the first time I really got a kick out of listening to the frenetic beats of an underground rave scene, and although I didn’t pursue that kind of music too much, it remained in my awareness, along with my electro anchors – Ladytron and The Knife – which saw me through to Spain, where I now live.

‘Saturate’

Living out here I am surrounded by people with very good taste in music. It’s something that makes me feel privileged, and it’s revitalising to spend time listening to fresh and different music every day.

The real watershed came one evening in January or February this year when Jess and I were sitting in her apartment, drinking wine together after her boyfriend Noel had gone out to meet some friends. Jess suggested that we play her MySpace playlist, which contained a lot of electronica and techno, the amalgamation of which we dubbed ‘dirty electro’. (I’m not the least bit informed when it comes to labelling and defining music, by the way, which is why you’ll only see me using the same words over and over again. It’s easy for me to remember indie, folk, rock, electro, techno and chillout. It’s less easy for me to connect post-hardcore or minimalist-trance with anything meaningful. I’m not really ashamed about being uninformed – I just know what I like the sound of, and it’s easier for me that way.)

thechemicalbrothers

With Jess’s playlist and the godsend that was Last.fm, I started listening to more of our ‘dirty electro’, including Chemical Brothers, Freezepop, The Prodigy and Boys Noize. The iTunes free single of the week also helped me to find some gems: among them Little Boots, who offered some tantalising mixes free to download on her website (which in turn opened up a plethora of talent for me to investigate, including Fake Blood and Hot Chip). It snowballed from there. When Jess and Noel moved into my apartment, they brought Noel’s speakers and sub with them, and it was a rare moment when there was no music at all playing in the flat. Last.fm’s radio was on most of the time – our favourite stations were Fleet Foxes, Gorillaz, reggae and 60s – and a pantheon of new artists opened up to me.

gorillaz

Inevitably then, it was a sad day when Last.fm announced that their radio tool was no longer going to be free of charge outside of the UK, the USA and Germany – but we took the artists we had found and continued to play them. We sourced new music on YouTube and La Blogotheque – which is one of the most innovative music sites I have seen on the internet. Their Take Away Shows represent a musical energy and passion which is incendiary, of artists doing what they love best in the most unusual and inspiring conditions. (Think Arcade Fire in a freight lift – and that’s just the start of it.) Rachel, my sister, continues to pass on tantalising new leads (I found out about Beirut through her, and then Fleet Foxes over Christmas 2008), the most recent of which has been the incredible School of Seven Bells.

‘Tomorrow Comes Today

And it goes on. I could mention several other artists, and the fact that I’ve listened to a lot of Cubana out here, in particular salsa, rumba and merengue, but you know how I said that things snowballed after I started sharing music with my friends? It’s true. The more you listen to and talk about music, the more you could mention, cross-reference, link to etc. The potential is amazing. But this is just a taster – it’s my personal chronicle of musical awakening, and a very modest awakening it is in comparison to those for whom music is a way of life. But this counts and is significant for me, because music is very important, in my life and the lives of nearly everyone else I know.

Music is about discovery, living, expressing life and art and emotion and humour, and everything in between. It will always be part of humanity, so there is no climax: just an evolving strain of quality and individuality which can transcend different cultures, generations and beliefs.

I’m excited about living in an age of availability. It has its downfalls – too much choice, a deluge of quantity without quality – and it can be difficult to wade through the sheer amount of information out there. But with friends and useful tools such as Last.fm, iTunes, YouTube and Spotify, it’s possible to surf the wave as it rolls on (which is a horrible cliché, but at least a better one and more fitting than ‘riding the storm’).

Bring on tomorrow, and new music with it.

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Some links for you to check out:

La Blogotheque [take away shows]
Black Cab Sessions [backseat innovation]
Little Boots Music
School of Seven Bells
Lykke Li “I’m Good, I’m Gone”
WeLuvMuzik on YouTube
Last.fm
Spotify
School of Seven Bells “Half Asleep”
Fleet Foxes “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” (cover by First Aid Kit)
Izzy’s Playlist on YouTube
Lee Hazelwood & Nancy Sinatra “Some Velvet Morning”
Primal Scream feat. Kate Moss “Some Velvet Morning” [which version do you prefer?]
Yeah Yeah Yeahs live on Jools Holland

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