Thursday, July 29, 2021

 "The listener memorises a performance as a revelation, a phenomenon, while the artist only terms of skill and sound." - Mateusz Torzecki and Łukasz Słoński

This line appeared in a chapter about female performers in the 1980s Polish rock scene. It was specifically about Kora, the lead singer of Maanam, one of the bigger groups of the era. It followed visceral descriptions of their performance at the Opole Festival in 1981. Witnesses described how Kora sang with such confidence that it completely redefined how local punk musicians should act and present themselves. Comments on YouTube would reinforce the idea of this performance as a complete revelation, and they would all be balanced by Kora's own assessment of the show: "The sound was terrible but more to the point, I just couldn't hear anything."

I watched the clips and the sound is screechy and atonal, far too raucous for my sherbet-sweet tastes. A person commented how they had this song on a cassette, a friend bought it for them from a music shop in Shinjuku and they listened to it over and over again. They never thought they would be able to see this actual performance but it was here! I understood that shock and that overwhelming gratitude, seeing your "perfect song" materialising from the archives with a video you never knew existed. Suddenly, the chasm between perfect and imperfect could never seem greater than the fan and the artist's impression of their own performance.

I love the absurd idea of a career-defining performance that the performer couldn't even hear. However, I find it irksome to imagine that Kora, as a leading punk figurehead, would be preoccupied by notions of "skill and sound". It's just so crazy and neurotic, it superimposes this perfectionist attitude that clashes with basic punk ideology. I truly believe that you can tell when someone is performing from an entirely free and unconcerned state. That's what makes performances like Maanam at Opole 1981 so extraordinary. You are witnessing an artist in a supreme state of commitment to their own artistry. When you see something like that, you finally realise that perfectionist angst is for amateurs. It is more important to show up and will your art into existence.

Maanam at Opole, 1981

Cassettes & Chocolate Milk: Polish Pop Podcast #66
Papa Dance - O La La
Roxa - A ona tańczy
Maanam - Lipstick on the Glass
Tilt - Mówię Ci że
Kapitan Nemo - Twoja Lorelei
Andrzej Zaucha - Byłaś serca biciem
Papa Dance - Czy ty lubisz to co ja
Ex Dance - Powrót Donalda

Download (73.2 MB)

Explore C&CM Podcasts 1-65 here

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

C&CM Takeover Hour on FOTW's Halloween Listening Party

On Saturday nights throughout October, FOTW'S Halloween Listening Party showcased the Cassettes & Chocolate Milk Takeover Hour, recorded exclusively for FOTW. As anticipated, C&CM featured all the best in dark 'n macabre 80s synthpop, Italo Disco, powerpop, indie obscurities and more...

Not just for Halloween... listen to FOTW's Halloween Listening Party now

Show ya fangs

[UPDATE] Did you miss out on C&CM x FOTW's Halloween Listening Party shows? Fear not, you can download all four episodes here:


Tracklists are in the comments. Thank you to Iain FOTW for hosting C&CM!

Monday, May 25, 2020

"It's the imperfections - the faintly out of tune guitar, the voice, the rasp that creeps in, the garbled lyric, the sigh, the unexpected drum fill played by human hand, these are the things I gravitate to in my favourite music... the humanness of it." - Susanna Hoffs

This line reminded me of a mix I had put together called Dancing on the Night Wire. It features copious amounts of Per Gessle demos and sketchy Kino recordings, all reminiscent of a bedroom recording from 1984. It features human imperfections, but I seek out another kind of clumsiness. It's in the thin production, the super gawky synths, the tinny drums and the double tracked oohs in the background.

The dream would be to analyse each of these songs, to take them apart in order to figure what kinds of instruments they use and what kinds of hooks they employ. I'd even bask in the lyrical themes and dramatic lexicon. I'd slavishly strive toward a perfect kind of imperfect, all while being mindful that at some point, I would need to stop replicating these other artists and accept my own unique brand of mediocrity.

I store these songs in some imagined dream space in my mind, somewhere between Sweden and the USSR in the 1980s. It only just occurred to me that the midpoint between these two countries is Finland. Perhaps that's one reason that I came back with C&CM Finnish Podcast #65. The country exists as another kind of dream space, one where the days never really got dark, back when it was still possible to go outside and cackle together for hours.

To some listeners, some demos would be too shabby to exist, but for me, so many of these rough sketches reveal a modest kind of beauty. The recording is created when the artist is in a state of flow, yet the imperfection of the recording betrays an uncomfortable creative midpoint. I wonder how these demos came into existence. I wonder how is it possible to press record when the inner-perfectionist never leaves you alone?

Dancing on the night wire, Turku

Cassettes & Chocolate Milk: Finnish Podcast #65
Leevi and the Leavings - Pohjois-Karjala
Kaseva - Mari
Jukka Nousiainen - Jukan tehdas
Litku Klemetti - Sinä tiedät sen
Digital Dance - Cairo C
Dingo - Autiotalo
Eppu Normaali - Joka päivä ja jokaikinen yö
Leevi and the Leavings - En tahdo sinua enää

Download (84.7 MB)

Explore Podcasts 1-64 here

Thursday, October 04, 2018

The first thing we did when the concert was uploaded was look for ourselves in the crowd. It was a surprisingly stressful experience for many of us, the cameraless fans who were suddenly in the presence of Paul McCartney in Studio Two of Abbey Road Studios. Yet, the fans made sure to link up with one another, to add and follow and like each other after the show. That night, we gathered up whatever photographic evidence we had: the crumpled setlist, the sweaty green wrist band and the poster of Egypt Station and we made sure we posted all we could to the socials. I uploaded a screenshot from the Abbey Road webcam, captured by my brother, Andrew, diligently spying from his computer in Melbourne. I didn't tell him where the show was, but I gave him a very firm tip off.


I was on limited data on a primitive replacement phone when the Spotify gig was finally released, but I made sure to watch the show as soon as possible. "The Green Wristband Bunch" memorialised the show in degraded screenshots of us euphorically singing, smiling and grasping each other. During the show itself, I had no particular sense of anybody else around me. I was entirely focused upon what was going on the stage. At times, the girls around me would reach out to touch my arm and ask if I was OK. I assured them that everything was fine but then, there were times when I was visibly shaken. I had to embrace the sheer euphoria of it, to be in the room where the Beatles recorded, with a Beatle performing a few feet in front of me.


I had recorded a video of myself before I set off to Abbey Road, privately acknowledging what this show actually meant. Much of my musical life is preoccupied with Beatles research, whether it is reading books or watching documentaries or just seeking out photos of the Fab Four with teacups in the background. The fascination exists an escape valve and I relish how much we all seem to know about John, Paul, George and Ringo. I live so much more in every conversation where we can contribute an insight or a feeling about the Beatles. There is such purity in that love that we share, yet when I am forced to qualify my place as a "true" fan, I feel completely inadequate.

My guilt about winning that place to see Paul led to discussions with friends about the hierarchies which fans impose to determine the sincerity of other fans. That pressure to be a musical expert undermines my desire to publish anything, particularly on C&CM. Despite my neverending research, I feel that I will never know enough to tell you about it authoritatively. In a material sense, I have no shrine and I have no tattoos and yet I still think about them more than most things. I think about the competitive nature of their creative partnership and I think about how we can characterise and identify Paul's songs as opposed to John's. I think about them so much of the time, because I'm still learning about the Beatles.

Thank you to Shot97 for beautifully crafting this gif...

When I look back at that show, I feel that there is something so incredibly pure in those intermittent shots of my friends in the crowd, particularly with Jon and Mel freaking out together. At an early point in the show, Paul was describing the first time they entered Studio Two, being "little Beatles" who were only allowed to enter only the tradesmens' entrance. Paul described George as having a black eye as a result of a fight at the Cavern. At that moment, the camera cut to me, with smudged black eyeliner and tears streaming down my face. I suddenly felt so overwhelmed to hear one of those whimsical stories I had been collecting for decades. The casual nature of it broke my heart.

I didn't feature predominantly in the show, but I was grateful that they captured that particular moment. It was the moment that I felt the most love and awe, the most gratitude and sadness. I'm not embarrassed to admit that it was a kind of existential grief, one that owed to the fact that despite all our love, that moment had to pass. As fans, we can dwell and we can document. We can retreat and virtually live in a year that predates our birth by two decades... but it's all so ephemeral. Nothing can ever contain that awe or gratitude we carry. We just have to find a way to feel it. We just have to find a way to learn to be thankful for the way such moments materialise.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

It was in the East Wing of Somerset House where I spotted Brian May down the white marbled corridor. I calmly weaved around the arty types, standing by the trestle tables with their stacks of hardcover photography books. All the while, I felt quietly stunned that even from across the room, his expression seemed to suggest that he knew that I had come there for him. In my dramatic retelling of the encounter, I wave my hands about to indicate that it must have been my slinky 1974-era Freddie Mercury aesthetic which had given my intent away. The crowds parted as I came up to him. I smiled shyly, held out my hand and laughed: "It's been twenty-five years leading to this moment."

The truth is that I had come to terms with the idea that I would never meet Brian. As a Queen fan, I had heard the stories of friends eagerly waiting at airports and stage doors, often armed with their own replica Red Special guitar to be scribbled on with black marker. There have been stories of a friend holding the real Red Special in a studio, recalling "the neck was too thick and he didn't drink the tea I made for him". Yet, for all the premieres and launch parties I had managed to wrangle my way into, I could never actually make it happen. It seemed like behind every velvet rope was another velvet rope... and behind that velvet rope was a VIP area that excluded my types from entering.

"What would you ask, if you had the opportunity?" I had years to meditate on this point, but I never managed to articulate a single question for him. I would always say that I just wanted a meaningful dialogue, an ordinary encounter except with my greatest creative influence. There'd be certain qualities that I'd hope for, a kind of warmth and a genuine interest, even if it was a momentary thing. I can only assume this is what we're looking for when fans share these types of stories with one another: a vicarious joy and curiosity when you hear of the circumstances that transpired in meeting the musician you love. You want to hear of every detail, if only to say, "You are so lucky, I'm so insanely happy for you!"

It was a disjointed encounter, with VIPs continuously tugging at his sleeve for attention. He'd return to me though, as I would madly flip through my mental filing cabinet to recall every Queen anecdote that might be of some vague interest to him. I told him of my brother's ability to identify the specific location of where Queen photographs where taken in Japan in 1975 and 1976. "How does he do that?" Brian asked. "By analysing the buildings and the topographical details of each photograph. He can come back to me within the hour with a link to where the photo was taken Google Street View." Before I'd get any response, we'd be interrupted...

"So, what about you? What do you do?" I laughed and I panicked, in much the same way that I do when anyone asks such a confronting question. "Well, I live this pseudo-bohemian lifestyle where I live and work in this youth hostel in Bloomsbury but then I travel and go to museums and I write essays about music and relationships..." We were interrupted again by an older, more important man. Brian would come back to me with that dialogue still intact. "It doesn't sound like you're pseudo-bohemian, it sound like you're a proper bohemian." Of course, there's a retrospective agony in using that word, bohemian, as if I used it as a knowing reference...

It was like an awkward Tinder date where all the silences would be filled with speedy anecdotes of how I have attempted to analyse and honour his band for literally decades. I felt embarrassment, as every utterance seemed to straddle the fine line between the gushy and the academic. I'd be spouting these seemingly endless stories of my own creativity, hoping for an apt reply or connection, while knowing that Queen isn't his central priority anymore. His interests lie in astronomy, animal conservation, stereo photography and politics, quite simply in another universe well beyond the scope of this little band that was established nearly five decades ago.

Yet like any good fan, I guard memories of those tiny interpersonal details, like how he had hot pink nail polish painted on his left ring finger: "I have no idea how it got there." Randomly enough, I had gold nail polish painted on my right ring finger. There was a sweetness and warmth in asking how to spell my name and then signing his own, marking a little cross and then looking up to smile at me. When we went in to pose for a photo together and how we laughed after I said: "You would tell me if I had something on my face, yeah?" Among all the well wishes and hopes that we would meet again, I shook his hand and then he placed both his hands on my upper arms and kissed me on both my cheeks. I blushed wildly.

They're the details that get conveyed in frantic post-meeting phone calls and notebook ramblings, but they never really get conveyed when you upload a photo to Instagram. On Tumblr, a certain sweetness was recognised: "So wonderful. That gentle hand on her shoulder 💜" Perhaps it doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things, but it's interesting to think about these sorts of encounters and what they mean to fans. How can you possibly manage the awkwardness and the luxury of such a moment when you've had a lifetime to imagine what you could say. There's a risk they could be disinterested or there's the chance that you could articulate the enormity of it. More than likely, you'll just get the chance to say what we've all said: thank you for your time, thank you for your music.


Cassettes & Chocolate Milk: Scandipop Podcast #64
Peter Bjorn & John - Second Chance
Kakkmaddafakka - Restless
Veronica Maggio - Vi Mot Världen
Fallulah - Out of It
Per Gessle - Galning
The Mary Onettes - Lost
Susanne Sundfør - Slowly
Simian Ghost - A Million Shining Colours

Download (44.8MB)

Friday, April 14, 2017

C&CM Mixtapes

Longtime followers of Cassettes & Chocolate Milk on Facebook may be aware of the occasional gift of a mixtape, a digital rip of a cassette destined for the tape deck of the Volvo. They're a little similar to the podcasts that you may find on here, except they're free from verbal interference and genres tend to be a little mashed and indistinct. They'd inspire conversations during late night drives, where a friend would say: "El, El... I can't identify any of these synthesizers. What's going on?" To which, I'd have to chuckle, "They're Soviet synthesizers. I don't think you're meant to identify any of them."

Readers of The Milk Diaries may already know that for the past two years, I've lived without cassettes, a car and a desk. I've actually lived without most of my possessions, opting for Dickensian existence in a cave (with an en suite cave) in the epicentre of London. When I returned to Melbourne some weeks ago, I flipped open through the glovebox to find ever-familiar cassettes which I have been told are still on super high rotation. When I listened to Tarzan Loves the Summer Nights II, I couldn't help but feel that this was never meant to become the past.

I'll leave you with a collection of ten C&CM's Mixtapes to download. They were all designed to be mixes for late night drives, where the tape would flip over and over and over again, inspiring lengthy neverending discussions where neither party had to look at one another.

Meanwhile, you can hear my latest musical preoccupations on Spotify!

10 C&CM Mixtapes after the jump



Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Milk Diaries: Memoirs

Melbourne's Wheeler Centre had the good foresight to bootleg an event I wish I could have attended: Carrie Brownstein in conversation with Myf Warhurst. Early on, Carrie began to describe how, as a kid, she would stage performances for her parents. It was an anecdote which highlighted an early compulsion to perform. I thought to myself, but surely we all did that? Didn't we sit various sets of parents down for the endless performances of singing, dancing and/or prancing?

The anecdote made me think of musical memoirs and how they manage to detail these various fan behaviours and activities. I often think of Giles Smith in Lost in Music, perpetuating this mythology surrounding his first 7" inch record. He had always insisted that his first disc happened to be the Beatles' last, but then upon searching for Let It Be, he found that he had never actually acquired the record. It's a story that charms me, in that it reflects a need to create this poetic narrative around the music, but upon closer inspection, it all falls apart.

The musical memoirs that remain with me capitalise on that balance, between the heady and the reverent, the silly and the extremely serious. I think of The Modfather, where David Lines collapsed in a newsagency upon hearing that the Jam just split up in 1982. There is a sincere sympathy with that boy on the floor with a bloody nose, but at the same time, there is this absurd portrait of this boy with a completely ridiculous musical obsession. The reader can affectionately chuckle, but the source of the humour comes from the recognition between writer and reader. We know, cause we've gone bananas over a band too.

I try to remain on good terms with the musical and personal past and I try speak of tastes and activities with an odd sardonic fondness. What I have to remember is that this kind of enthusiasm is hardly unique to myself. When fans talk to other fans about fandom, I think it is important to remember that love is an analogy: while I can talk of painting my left fingernails black in tribute to Freddie Mercury, I cannot inadvertently dismiss the dedication of another fan. The skill in it comes from crafting a story which illicits a glimmer of affinity and acknowledgement. The point is not only to honour the past but to encourage others to share their stories.

We all have a musical past and in the most idealistic sense, it would be so wild if more people developed the confidence to describe their relationship with music in blogs and zines. There are other ways to share obviously, only the other day, the Museum of London invited original punks to come down with personal objects for punk.london. They sat and described the significance of studded leather jackets, band buttons and weathered Doc Martens. If anything can be learned from that afternoon, it can be that physical things can be the best starting point.

So if you think you might want to begin, think of those band t-shirts (à la Vanessa Berry), ticket stubs, plectra, posters or your drawer of mixtapes, with dozens of romantic sentiments untapped. Write down anything that you would say to a friend who would care. Write quickly. Write every day. Share.


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Milk Diaries: Oblique Strategies

I remember it was in the great musical text, Isle of Noises: Conversations with Great British Songwriters where Ray Davies encouraged the use of unfamiliar instruments during pop composition. I think about this a lot, that when you are adept at playing an instrument, whether that be piano, guitar or violin, your fingers tend to fall back in the same places.

The idea that Ray Davies presents offers hope to those who are not particularly dexterous on their pop instrument of choice. It relies upon that theory that creative acts can actually result from technical or physical limitations. On a personal level, it warms me to think that ridiculous contortions to avoid barre chords could ultimately result in something interesting and unique.

I recall Brian May saying something similar, that he preferred to make up melodies away from the guitar as he had shared a similar tendency to return to the same, comfortable places. The concept led me to think that perhaps what is pivotal is not what you can play, but what you can imagine. It reinforced a theory I developed when I jammed with vocalist Marcella back at Casa Hawksburn.

What impressed me most was her incredible ability to instantly invent and vocalise a melody over any given loop or chord progression. It was akin to a stream of consciousness practice, where all expression is experimental, yet still thoroughly valid. The process was be inspired yet straightforward, where the memorable melodies were later developed into full tracks with synths and lush string arrangements.

On some level, these songwriters might not have a scientific understanding of their own creative process. These musicians might just be offering oblique strategies for the pop curious. Perhaps it is a naive thing to suggest such things, particularly when pop can be broken down into its most formulaic components. For me, however, there is some comfort in the idea that regardless of your musical skill, it is the trust in your first thought which might be the most inspired thing.


Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Milk Diaries: Leftover Love

“I succeed very well, by not looking at the world around
By not looking at myself
Going on, moving, constantly.”
Dyva - Leftover Love

I felt a desperate need to listen to this song, lying across some seats on a local bus to Cirencester. It was some years ago and I was with my family. We were all stuck in traffic and I felt lousy. I knew only emotional early Italo Disco would assist with whatever ailed me. I sought out the bouncy bass and cloudy vocals and I wailed along under my breath:

“People can’t invent,
Their lovers and friends,
It’s life which gives these
And also takes them away sometimes.”

It’s not the most articulate of lyrics, but it reminded me of a friend who once described the appeal of Italo Disco. He said it was the language barrier which makes for more pure, expressive lyricism. It was an insight that, for me, added so much to a genre that is so commonly dismissed as disposable. Leftover Love is lyrically clunky, but it captures a desperate level of sincerity:

“I want to say yes,
Want to say yes to life!”

It's been a long time since that bus ride in Cirencester, but I occasionally think of Leftover Love and how meaningful lyrics needn't be particularly poetic or articulate. There can be something in the simplicity of expression which can make a song quite profound, even though it is hard to believe such meaning was ever really intended..

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Milk Diaries: Validity

I live in the hope that I will see the value in all music. I like to believe that even if song is not to my taste, it deserves to exist because it is a form of personal expression. It is for this reason that I would prefer to stay well away from musical criticism. Personally, I see it as a potentially damaging form of journalism which can unnecessarily discourage a musician who may be fledgling or insecure. The moral is simple: just because I don't understand it doesn't mean they should stop.

This lofty ideal sits alongside an ambition that I will like everything in time. When I refer to either idea in conversation, friends simply say to me: Throbbing Gristle. It's a tongue-in-check reference to the violent reaction I had when I saw footage of them live at the Oundle Film School. It was projected on a big screen, during a punk film festival at ACMI in 2007. It followed a night of raucuous performances from Blondie and The Ramones and I remember feeling how I wanted to be Richard Hell, singing Blank Generation.


Throbbing Gristle was a total affront to my pop sensibilities. There was no melody, just bleeding white noise. There was no vision, just blurred flashing light. I couldn't decipher what was going on and later, when friend would take me to some noise shows, I would leave feeling not only so confused but so totally angry by the whole performance. Even nine years on, I am convinced I'll never be able to understand or appreciate noise. It's a difficult thing to admit, since it comfortably sits synthpop and post punk as this hugely influential genre.

The easiest way to conform to such ideals is to keep quiet. I am motivated by the love and respect shown by peers and professionals, the awe displayed among musical intelligentsia. I have to remind myself: It's expression! It deserves to exist! All the while, I am far more inclined to say: What the fuck was that? I just, I can't... no. 

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

The Milk Diaries: FOMO

It's always a rare and special feeling to explore the collection of an informed enthusiast. I got that feeling in a completely different context, tripping over hoarded shards of Roman antiquities at the John Soanes Museum. I also felt it, exploring David Byrne's Music Library at the Southbank Centre. I went there with a musical friend who harboured a similar sense of awe with that place. We sat together at a round table with our respective stacks of specialist music books, carefully flipping over pages in silence. We agreed that it was absolutely imperative that we return, but unfortunately we never managed to go again.



There was a particular emphasis on the fact that these were David Byrne's, the books he used as research for his musical publications. My friend and I jabbed each other when we found his Todo Mondo bookplates or else little handwritten notes in the margins. It was a varied collection, encompassing books about world music, recording technology and the psychological effects of music. I could see that we had a different approach to music but I still took delight in the slightest overlaps with treasures in collection: Literally, The Faber Book of Pop, Revolution in the Head, Musicophilia and a few othersIn any case, I gravitated towards the books that featured grainy high contrast photographs of the New York underground.

I spent an awful lot of time with this one book, reading personal accounts of what it was like to live in New York City between 1977 and 1979. Each anecdote covered similar kinds of details, the idea of moving into a huge, run down old factory in a dubious part of town. The extremely low cost of living was always cited, particularly in light of the gentrification that would follow. The typical names were featured as you'd expect, stories of wild nights with Blondie, Richard Hell and Television and the reader was made to feel as if they'd really missed it all. It was all over and there was no way we could make up for that dreadful cosmic loss.

It was a familiar device in musical storytelling, that overwhelming sense that you missed this important scene. It was used extensively throughout the BBC6 Music's tribute to Larry Levan, Legends on the Dancefloor. It was an unusual piece in that it included lengthy and seemingly unedited interviews, fond anecdotes from DJs and club attendees. The interview subjects described the physicality of the place, what it was like to walk through the entrance and to walk up the stairs. They described the array of juices and drugs, the queues and the films they projected. It's an intensely visual piece that I very much enjoyed, but saying that, I was filled with those familiar New York scene sentiments: you couldn't understand what it was like if you weren't there.

Some veterans do not to say this so explicitly, but occasionally you can catch the sentiment on film, when they gesticulate wildly towards an abandoned club. Perhaps our sense of exclusion is generated by the vibrancy of their personal account. Whether it is the punks or the disco dancers, there appears to be a consistent hoard of people who manage to recall their scene with a profound level of detail that extends far beyond the antics of just one night, it goes towards the significance of the space itself. It suggests that many of them were paying attention, mutually appreciating the significance of that place and moment.

I have often smirked at those jibes that I missed out on whatever went down in New York. Whenever I'd come across one of those statements, I'd think that I never would have been able to fit in anyway, it simply wasn't my place. I can see now how it can be seemingly impossible to convey the importance of a physical place at one specific time. I realise now, since I am constantly dolling out anecdotes of growing up in an intensely musical household, jamming and discussing music with people who genuinely cared in the same way I did. I can say that no one else would understand the nature of our in-house music, but I would never mean for it to be a swipe at anyone. It's just a statement of truth: no one could ever know what it was like, except for us.