More Words About Buildings & Food or Christmas at Number 42

Early summer 2009, a friend and I opened up our home to strangers and began cooking brunches for them. The pair of us were under-employed and had recently heard tales of a Japanese vegan restaurant in a nearby council flat in East London. The attitude of ‘why not?’ soon became The Bruncheon Club. The restaurant cracked best breakfast lists across the capital and these days you won’t see me poach an egg for less than twelve quid.

The final year of the noughties was undeniably the year of the underground restaurant – or supper club if you get your trends from the other side of the Atlantic. Along with my own,  Tony Hornecker’s ‘Pale Blue Door’ was one of the initial swell for those looking to dine-in, out. Situated in his self-converted Alice-in-Wonderland warehouse home in East London hotspot, Dalston , the set-designer picked a simple menu, got a few colourful friends and their dressing-up box along and began serving in April.

The Pale Blue Door’s infamy grew rapidly, largely due to it being very comfortable with its own eccentricities. With food and extra-culinary entertainment served up by transvestites within a home akin to a dollhouse on acid, it was dining a la Twin Peaks.  Hornecker has been frank in admitting he only opened his doors as the bills were piling up and the design work burning out – he was no foodie playing restaurants – but that somehow served to make the whole affair even more laid-back than its underground peers. Thus the restaurant carved itself a Caligulan niche with bawdy evenings that liked to toy with all of the senses.

All of which made a great blueprint for a bit of bash during the season of gluttony and pantomime. At least it did according to the cognoscenti at The Architecture Foundation. The rigorously urbanite organisation – established in the early nineties to venerate contemporary space and culture – invited Hornecker to fill a blank-set and an empty kitchen at their London Bridge HQ. The upshot being the December run of festive underground eatery, ‘Christmas at No.42’.

Initially it seemed that the collaboration may have eroded a little of the underground fun, but then you don’t have to sign Health & Safety waivers upon entry to many restaurants, unlicensed or otherwise.  It did at least create a not unpalatable entrée of apprehensive mystery. With liability now in our own hands my fellow diners – specially selected Architecture postgraduates among them – and I were immediately immersed into a wondrous wooden playhouse, all nooks, crannies, ladders, trinkets and tangents. Expanding across the span of the dollhouse style rooms, from the ground floor dining space through to the cosier upper-level bedroom attic, the restaurant even wound its way into the confines of the toilet. The attention span bewildering setting was crafted by Hornecker in but seven days. Leaving biblical coincidences aside, I thought that if the taste buds were in for similar stimulation then the forty pound ticket was going to be like the January sales come early.

Any remaining apprehension was soon washed away by the large G&T on arrival, especially with the Gin gnashing through the fizz. With the complimentary half-bottle of wine per person arriving on its heels, sobriety soon drifted away much like the first course of cheesy broccoli with spicy flaked almonds.

Cue the cabaret from the drag artists Russella and A Man To Pet. Heavy on innuendo and light on clothing, the entertainment certainly added to the fantasia of our surroundings.Charming and calamitous attempts at tree decoration, karaoke, cake-baking, and baby-sitting would punctuate the rest of the evening.  All this fandangle could certainly be seen as an attempt to hide a shoddy course or two but there was no disguising the showstopper – the mashed potato. Quite possibly the finest mashed potato I have ever chanced upon, thanks to the probable adding of an entire Recommended Festive Allowance of dairy. The creamed spuds helped a few hunks of tender roast beef, carrots and peas slide down gracefully. The finale, an Eton-mess crumble came and went without much fanfare but the dessert did have an alibi. My guests and I were succumbing to wander-lust as we hurried to dissipate into Hornecker’s corners to check whether the other diners were real or just part of the play.

Sceptics may attack the underground restaurant scene for being a transitory media-driven occurrence, less about the food than the happening.  But for the devoted it is the experience that is the thrill, a return to the roots of sharing a meal. The food here, firmly rooted in home-cooking, comfortably survives the scrutiny of the would-be naysayers whilst simultaneously providing an  atmosphere living up to the billing of the believers. For me Christmas at No.42 is well-executed experiential eating; hearty home-cooking in a setting of warmth and casual intrigue.  I’m just hoping that 2010 will see architecture and theatrical underground dining share a few more cosy dinner dates.

You can find more wondrous photos at BigShinyThing

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Hits of The Near Future

The esteemed Warp Records had their glitchy mits all up inside two of my Top Ten Albums of The Decade. Best keep an ear out for new audio dynamite on their newly-released 2010 sampler then. Just how many of these folk will be whipped up in the 2019 list frenzy?

Have a free guess thanks to the smashing peeps at Warp. Grab free downloads from the sampler – by Gonjasufi, Nice Nice and The Hundreds in The Hands – and listen to a snippet of every track here.

The Top Ten Albums of the Decade

10. Les Savy Fav – Go Forth (French Kiss, 2001)

The boisterous bass and rhythm, cornered and incendiary + Tim Harrington’s sharp lyrical wit = Sumptuous rock gold.  One of those albums – indeed bands – that improves with the claustrophobia of headphones.

Case studies – Tragic Monsters

9. Godspeed You! Black Emperor –  Lift Your Skinny Fists To The Sky Like Antennas To Heaven (Constellation/Kranky, 2000)

Godspeed! changed the way I thought about music. Four twenty minute-plus epics of emotion? For a teenager immersed in grunge and its mostly sorry aftermath any song over five minutes was peculiar. A double album consisting solely of elongated instrumental movements was a trip. But it was heavy so it was good  – or so the grunge logic went. Effectively different tracks rise and fall out of the over-arching movements as intensity builds, whirls and dissipates in the amorphous Canadian band’s melting pot. Prog, punk, classical, post-rock – they all get thrown into the avant-garde blender, as too your emotions. Just lie on a bed and listen to it.  GYBE could be seen as a pretentious bunch but the work is of such quality as to be hugely accessible. Forgive me for sounding like your mates Dad driving your-trying-to-pretend-like-your-not-full-of-cheap-booze 14yr-old greasy features home as he takes this small opportunity to crank up his Dire Straits Best Of BUT you have to appreciate the scale of the ambition and the precision of musicianship. This is true spine-tingling stuff, genuine waves of cherished calm before the anticipation writhes to the fireworks of the climax and peaks of heightened awareness. And back down. And repeat. More a drug less an album.

Fix: Storm

8. Battles – Mirrored (Warp, 2007)

I remember where I was when I first heard B EP  – namely the peerless opener SZ2 – in the dingily sparse back-room of The Marquee, Norwich.  It and only it ran around my mind for days until I could pin down a copy of my own. A couple of years later it had a whole track-listing of peers to play with on Battles debut album. The changing time-signatures chopping in and out, the glory of  the short-lived melodies, the layers of aural intensity and – oh my – the drumming. Battles sounded like Fugazi hiring Stravinsky, buying keyboards, doping the drummer – with performance-enhancing athlete brands of dope and a cup of warm mushroom tea for good measure – and asking him to interpret percussively a cluster of wrongly-convicted intergalactic bandits on a mission to free Earthlings from the constraint of time whilst the rest of the band valiantly attempt to translate the dissonance of my brainwaves into a six-minute tune. And if that sentence was too long for you then go listen to Mirrored and read it again.

Masterpiece: Tonto

7. LCD Soundsystem – Sound Of Silver (DFA 2007)

After an enthralling spate of dynamite single releases – Losing My Edge for track of the decade anyone? – LCD Soundsystem’s eponymous début felt a little flat. James Murphy et al could clearly craft a twenty-first century outlier hit but LCD on long-play? It felt like they didn’t understand such an anachronistic concept. Yeah what-evs.  They recorded Sound of Silver and turned second-album syndrome on its head. Seamlessly clean electronic perfection bubbling with Murphy’s sardonic chirps. Press play and every track demands the next as you daydream of mythic parties.

Heaven Sent: Someone Great

6. Jamie Lidell – Multiply (Warp, 2005)

The KFC-lite sounds of Jamie’s most recent longplayer –  ‘Jim’ – suggest that this mid-decade belter will stand as Lidell’s high watermark. Multiply is simply seductive.  Its cup brimmeth over with smart percussion, sublime guitar licks, grooves simultaneously fresh and familiar and Lidell’s are-you-sure-he’s-a-white-guy? voice. At every turn this LP has soul. From dancefloor fillers like A Little Bit More through to the finger-clicking Music Will Not Last and inner-Jamie laid bare on Game For Fools this album plays out like a blueprint for genius. The spirit of Stevie Wonder circa the 70’s would be nodding in appreciation. I dare you not to boogie along too.

Big bopper: Multiply

For your viewing pleasure here is a beautfiul animated video for album opener You Got Me Up…

5.Sonic Youth – Rather Ripped (Geffen, 2006)

I once dated a girl who claimed she didn’t go to bed with any joe who wasn’t aware of Thurston Moore. Luckily – or so I thought so at the time – I knew of Moore et al but I’d never gone deep into the black hole of cool that remains Sonic Youth. It was Rather Ripped that would change all that. It was a succulent epiphany. Meaty melodies were repeatedly dragged and twisted from shards of bone. All the usual angst amid distortion was in place but each track offered a glimmer of an opening compared to other works of Sonic Youth which tend to be blessed with the kind of arms-folded-shut welcome of a freshly withdrawn teenager. No here there was a way in – like if you loitered in the butcher’s long enough and ignored, in the right way, the cute meat-serving girl behind the counter you’d fancied for ages then she might just take you home and do it to you on her blood-soaked apron.  The determined vocals – writhing with danger and sexual assurance – were passed back and forth with the precision of a blade as the anti-king and queen of rock returned to form and left their pretenders to mop up the sweat and tears. So to recap, if you don’t know Moore, Gordon, Ranaldo et al it’s important that you are aware that they might cut you but only to maximise your pleasure in the bedroom.

Seductresses: Sleepin’ Around, Pink Steam

If you watch nothing else then watch this incredible live rendition of Pink Steam…

4. M Ward – End Of Amnesia (Loose, 2002)

Pure soporific delight from one of 2009’s awfully monikered ‘Monsters of Folk’. Not that one should disagree with the sentiment though – M Ward delivered five spellbinding discs this decade. None would top End Of Amnesia though. It virtually strokes you to sleep with the soothing rhythms and deft guitar that haunt the album. Sentiments of heartbreak and the sorrow of memory are in the air. Yet there is an acceptance, a glee almost, in the natural decaying of things. Ward is like a wizened old storyteller who ran away in his pomp to play in a beautifully decrepit travelling show, its best days and velvet curtains all dusty. He’ll tell you this was after his true love left him, but then at least he had the fortune to meet her he’ll add. The controlled, punctuating and expressive percussion, M Ward’s honey and grit voice, the album evokes so many images it’s as if Ward has blown the cobwebs off his photo album and is leading you down the richest of memory lanes.

Take heed: Bad Dreams, Carolina

3. The Rapture – Echoes (DFA/Vertigo, 2003)

Air cow-bell? I’d never played air cow-bell until Echoes came along. And if any song is giving LCD’s ‘Losing My Edge’ a run for track of the decade it is The Rapture’s preposterously good ‘House of Jealous Lovers’. Whoever wins DFA Records comes up trumps. Apparently so demanding were DFA production duo James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy on the sensitive Rapture boys that recording Echoes almost split them. Dear Rapture, please stop and listen to the album you conjured here and then compare it to the schmaltz of the un-engaging non-DFA follow-up Pieces of The People We Love. This is edgy yet delicately judged dischord, all angles considered. Wild, infatuated and knowing highs crash into cavernous lows. Post-punk, no-wave, disco, eurotrash all collide. The genre hopping and expert production serve to give the band’s crazed sounds the perfect sweaty platform on which to lay themselves bare. Until they pick up the phone to Murphy & Goldsworthy again, they’ll never sound the same.

Club Classics: House of Jealous Lovers, Sister Saviour

Treat yourself right – enjoy The Rapture’s anthem how it should be enjoyed, in a dark and sweaty place…

2. Smog – A River Ain’t Too Much To Love (Domino, 2005)

Bill Callahan’s last outing as Smog sees him at height of his song-craft. Sophisticated and supremely beautiful – let’s not be overly-dramatic but if something unfortunate should ever happen could someone play Say Valley Maker at whatever funeral service I’m granted please. Corny as it sounds Callahan is a poet. The lyrical imagery ceaselessly stimulates the brain. It resonates deeply within you yet it likes to stay in the shadows, you have to discover it for yourself. This is an excerpt from Rock Bottom Riser,

I saw a gold ring
At the bottom of the river
Glinting at my foolish heart
So my foolish heart
Had to go diving
Diving, diving, diving
Into the murk

And from the bottom of the river
I looked up for the sun
Which had shattered in the water
And pieces were rained down
Like gold rings
That passed through my hands
As I thrashed and I grabbed
I started rising, rising, rising

Introspection never sounded so darned swell. As you go you’ll find fatalism, optimism, resignation, stoicism and love. It’s almost jolly compared to his back catalogue, although Bill always had a wicked sense of humour which is still evident on tracks like The Well. Callahan has never produced a more hopeful sounding collection.  A River is almost completely purged of the the mournful, the angry and the empty. Even Rock Bottom Riser takes a swing toward the light. This album is an incarnation of Herzog’s ‘ecstatic truth’. I can’t believe it’s not number one.

Sunbeams: I Feel Like The Mother of The World, Say Valley Maker

1.Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It In People (Arts & Crafts, 2003)

It just gets better on every listen. The thirteen tracks bleed into one another in the definition of harmony. BSS were a collection of musicians – varying between ten to fifteen on this album – from Montreal who’d be hanging out in post-rock art-house bands like Do Make Say Think and A Silver Mt.Zion. Then they decided to make a pop album. You Forgot It In People could be the most serendipitous pop happening of all time. It challenges and comforts, it is outside and inside all at once. It is hushed, post-coital, but it wants to played on a hilltop louder than the volume goes. Cautious, introspective and optimistic – see Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl – BSS can also drive the hell out of tunes such as Almost Crimes or Pacific Theme. For all the layers in every track there is always balance. You are drowning but you are drowning in pillows. The percussion or horns or backing vocals or strings or banjo or always something! seem to constantly provide an extra dimension and serve for repeated listening and discovery. Such are the advantages of having a cornucopia of musicians to call upon. The production is wondrous as different instruments are plucked from the milieu and given centre-stage at just the right time. This album is made with love and this is how love should be. And love pips truth to number one.

There are no song suggestions, you go listen to it all.

But as tracks of the decade go, I’d pick Cause=Time.

p.s A few honourable mentions in no particular order. All great albums but too early too judge their lasting impact…

The Felice Brothers – The Felice Brothers (Team Love, 2008)

Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest (Warp, 2009)

M83 – Saturdays = Youth (Mute, 2008)

The xx – xx (Young Turks, 2009)

Be a square

Premise 1 – Chess is fascinating.

Premise 2 –  Bobby Fischer is the most fascinating player in the history of the game.

Conclusion – Watch this documentary

Try the supreme yet brief BBC documentary – click here and play the third video down.

Hand+Star

Tom Chivers – Penned In The Margins guru and all-round poetry mogul – has just launched the lovely looking Hand+Star website-come-blog. Tom describes the new project as follows…

Hand + Star is an online compendium of new writing and literary reviews. Taking its name from the Fleet Street workshop of Tudor printer Richard Tottell, Hand + Star offers intelligent, fresh perspectives, open to the interplay between text, technology and popular culture. Hand + Star combines the speed and energy of blogging with the authority of the traditional literary journal, and is committed to seeking out new, independent and lesser-known voices in poetry and fiction.

You can get literary and interactive here, you’ll spot that Julie Palmer-Hoffman, the contributing editor, has been blogging ferociously about literary/textual news.

You can read my own contribution – a review of Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing In America – here.

Finally for a little visual entertainment here is Aisle16’s Ross Sutherland – his début poetry collection Things To Do Before You Leave Town was published this year by Penned In The Margins – with his incredible poem The Love Conspiracy.

Things I Have Made and Done Pt.3

Yes, it is just some chairs.

They are chairs with a chess board in front of them though and a fire by their side.

This is how good life can be in New Zealand.

In more proof of my remarkable mastery of buttons and colour I have written about gadgets. After some work experience for at Stuff.tv this summer I have started writing for Electricpig.co.uk. In my spare time I embrace change.

Exhibit A, some Windows Mobile news for Stuff.tv.

Exhibit B, a review of The LG Pop for ElectricPig.co.uk.

Things I Have Made and Done Pt.2

This is a poem I wrote lying in a hammock, under a coconut tree, by a lagoon, in The Cook Islands. I tell you I work better in the sunshine.

Flash

Have you ever found yourself wanting to be Flash Gordon?

Not in essence super

just really well co-ordinated

like a swim-coach

who made the most of quite an ordinary name

simply adding such a prefix as to suggest

we could rise above playground subculture

your own personal Ming

oh flash,  loving love comes

as easy as humility amid your success in team sports

what did you have to go through?

Teach us Flash, Prefix us

The Honour of Being John?

You are a beacon for the vocations

The Gordon School of creative naps

Rigorous retrospection into the development of balance

and yoga, Flash definitely does yoga