Biffy Clyro live at the 2012 iTunes Festival

Biffy Clyro live at the  2012 iTunes Festival London Camden RoundhouseOne of this year’s major coups at the iTunes Festival was lining up Scot-rockers Biffy Clyro to play London for the first time in over a year. With the band having just announced a January 28th release date for their sixth studio album ‘Opposites’, this was a great opportunity to showcase some of their new material.

First up, the crowd were roused into good spirits by fellow Scots Frightened Rabbit. The Selkirk quintet served up a 45-minute set that varied from compelling to pedestrian. ‘Swim Until You Can’t See Land’ got a strong reception, with lead singer Scott Hutchinson sounding in fine fettle.

Following the now customary 60-second iTunes Festival countdown, Biffy Clyro got a thunderous response when they took to the stage, with the laid-back sounds of Simon and Garfunkel providing a stark contrast to the juddering rhythms of new single ‘Stingin’ Belle’.

From here on in, the set was fairly evenly split between new material, hit singles, and obscure tracks getting their first run-out in years. Of the new tracks, the expansive stadium rock of ‘Victory Over The Sun’ was by far the most impressive, while ‘Sounds Like Balloons’ blossomed from a funky off-beat intro into a full-blown hard rock crescendo. The hits were out in force, from a joyous rendition of ‘The Captain’ to the bounce-along classic ‘Who’s Got A Match?’. The arms-in-the-air ballad ‘Many Of Horror’ split the crowd right down the middle, with the odd cry of “we love you Matt Cardle” undercutting the mood somewhat.

To read the rest of this review on Virgin Red Room, click here.

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Setlist fm or Songkick? The dilemma for music fanatics

Given that I have now dedicated this blog entirely to music, it may not surprise you to learn that I am quite the music fan. Scratch that, I am a music obsessive. I have a CD collection over 200 discs strong (carefully alphabetised, natch), I own more band t-shirts than any other type of clothing, and I have been to more gigs than any sane person should be able to remember – only I can, because I have a creepy OCD document for that.

Muse at Reading Festival 2011
Muse at Reading 2011 - Rock yeah!

So if you are like me, or even a little bit like me, you will like love Setlist fm. Maybe you’re already familiar with it?

This site chronicles every gig played by every band ever. Or at least every gig that someone has uploaded a setlist for, and that’s quite a few.

Great aspects of this site include the stats (oh, the stats!) and the geeky annotations (did you know that Muse’s headline set at Reading included a Sweet Child of Mine outro for Hysteria?!).

What’s more, I was particularly interested to find out the other day that you can track particular bands that you are super-obsessed with. So now, I will get e-mail alerts everytime someone uploads a new Frank Turner setlist.

However, whilst perusing the BBC’s excellent footage of Reading and Leeds, I stumbled across what appeared to be a competitor. You see, the BBC’s festival setlists are ‘powered by Songkick‘.

This site offers something that Setlist fm does not: a personalised feed of all the local shows being played over the coming months by bands you like. Almost immediately, my girlfriend warned me that this was the perfect way for me to spend all of my monies, and more, on gig tickets, and indeed using this site requires a bit of willpower to resist going on a spending spree.

You can also sync up Songkick with your iTunes library, Last.fm or Pandora account and it will import all your favourite bands, then show you when and where they are playing next – and how much it will set you back. This is powerful stuff, kids!

setlistfm/songkick logosOther big plus points include the ability to share which gigs you’re going to, or even just thinking of going to, in one click. I did this on Facebook and immediately found out one of my friends happened to be going to the same gig as me later this month.

Also, there’s an iPhone app, if that’s your thing, and you can track individual venues as well as bands, although I’m not entirely sure why you’d want to…

To answer the question at the top of this post, the answer is: use both. The actual setlist aspect of Songkick seems more like an afterthought as they aren’t that easy to reference quickly, so Setlist fm will continue to take priority there.

Setlist fm is great for looking back over the gigs you’ve been to and Songkick is exciting and inspiring for finding out about gigs that are coming up. I wholeheartedly recommend signing up to them both.

iTunes Festival 2011: What have Apple got left to gain?

What two things do Arctic Monkeys, Kasabian, Foo Fighters, Coldplay and My Chemical Romance all have in common?

Time’s up. The answer is, they are all headlining major UK music festivals this summer and they are all due to play the ridiculously star-studded iTunes Festival next month.

itunes festival 2011 logo

While the iTunes fest has hardly ever been a humble affair (Amy Winehouse and Paul McCartney played in its inaugural year), this year’s line-up is a who’s who of the most popular bands touring in 2011.

Adele, Paul Simon, Linkin Park – it’s like an arms race to outdo all the other festivals and, most ridiculously of all, the whole thing is free.

Not one fan will pay not one penny to see all 62 bands playing for a whole month.

It would be beyond churlish of me to suggest that this is a bad thing, although with the heightened profile of the festival (ITV2 coverage every week etc. etc.), and only 4,000 tickets available each night, it will surely become more and more unlikely to actually win any tickets.

At first, it was clear to see what was in it for Apple. They get their name out there in a massive way, they associate their brand with the biggest and best bands, and each punter is given a lanyard enticing them to download iTunes in exchange for 10 free tracks. But how much longer can they justify laying on such a lavish festival?

Is this year’s line-up a final hurrah? Or will they be back next year with Prince, U2, David Bowie and the Beatles (wouldn’t bet against it!)? Fair play to them for finding space for a few more obscure acts, like Raphael Saadiq, Lang Lang and Swedish House Mafia, but one thing’s for sure – festival organisers up and down the land will be grinding their teeth with envy at this year’s stellar line-up:

July 1st – Paul Simon

July 2nd – Seasick Steve

July 3rd – Manic Street Preachers + Dry the River

July 4th – Linkin Park + Neon Trees

July 5th – Beady Eye

July 6th – Arctic Monkeys + Miles Kane

July 7th – Adele

July 8th – Bruno Mars + Ed Sheeran

July 9th – My Chemical Romance

July 10th – Glasvegas

July 11th – Foo Fighters + Jimmy Eat World

July 12th – The Script + Loick Essien

July 13th – White Lies + The Naked and Famous + Alice Gold

July 15th – Friendly Fires + SBTRKT

July 16th – Jessie J

July 17th – Duran Duran + Ben L’Oncle Soul

July 18th – Raphael Saadiq

July 19th – Rumer + Caitlin Rose

July 20th – Katy B + Jamie Woon

July 21st – The Wanted

July 22nd – Swedish House Mafia

July 23rd – Coldplay

July 24th – Mogwai + Errors

July 25th – Noah & The Whale + Fixers

July 26th – Lang Lang + 2CELLOS

July 27th – Magnetic Man + Alex Clare

July 28th – Chase & Status + Nero

July 29th – Kasabian

July 30th – James Morrison

July 31st – Moby

To throw your hat in the ring for any of these gigs, just head over to the iTunes Festival website. I’ve entered for the past two years and each time I’ve won at least one pair of tickets. Not sure I fancy my chances this year though…

Spot(ify) The Difference

Take a quick look at this picture:

spotify2

Has iTunes had a gothic makeover?

itunes-invert2

No, iTunes has just met it’s worst nightmare. This month Spotify has arrived in the UK and will change the way we listen to music online forever.

For those not familiar with this free and legal service, I will briefly explain. Spotify is a free-to-download program which allows you to stream music live. A lot of music in fact. Its database currently comprises four million tracks and it is growing by 10,000 a day. Not everything is on there, but I’ve been trawling around for a while and it is yet to disappoint.

The whole thing is not only legal, but is endorsed by several major record labels who see this as less of a threat to their interests than pirated music, because Spotify pay them a small premium to host their entire back catalogue. It’s sort of like America siding with the Russians in WWII because, despite their differences, they were more worried about Germany. In this tenuous analogy, America is the music industry, pirated music is Germany and Spotify is Russia. Revolutionary, power to the people etc. etc.

Yesterday, I downloaded Spotify and listened to the new Morrissey album, Years of Refusal. Hot off the press, came out that day. I listened to the whole thing without any loading time and although it’s quite good I probably won’t buy it.

That sort of decision making could be crucial for the music industry. Now listeners worldwide have the right to listen to (almost) any album in its entirety and then decide if they want to buy it or not. If people still decide they want to own a physical CD to show their loyalty and support to the band, then they will surely head to HMV or Amazon and order a physical copy, complete with artwork, lyrics and other such bonuses.

I cannot see how iTunes fits into this new landscape, though. Ditto, MySpace Music. If you just want to listen to music on your computer, then fire up Spotify and listen to full albums as many times as you want.

At this point, I should pay lip service to the few small drawbacks. Every half hour you are forced to listen to a 15-second advert, thus securing Spotify’s revenue which they use to placate the record labels. Alternatively you can pay a tenner a month to cut this out, but that hardly seems worth it.

Secondly, you don’t actually own the tracks and so can’t upload them to an MP3 player. It hardly takes a genius to record streaming tracks, but of course no-one would be that immoral…

Since downloading Spotify, I have been catching up with bands who I have been too busy or too stingy to follow over the past few years and it is simply brilliant. Some I will buy, most I wont, but one thing’s for sure: I’m never spending money on downloading MP3s again.