On Culture and Tourism
GREEN TURTLE CAY doesn’t have a bank or even an ATM, the museum and the health clinic both fail to keep the hours they post, and when I ask if there’s a police force, I learn that it’s comprised of one man — and “he isn’t always here.” But the Green Turtle residents do have a Home Depot. At least, that’s what they call it.
By the time the Arctic Monkeys’ fifth studio album, AM, was released in September 2013, Alex Turner had established himself as one of the most compelling frontmen in rock and roll — though perhaps not for the usual reasons. Suddenly, he was channeling a bit of Jim Morrisson’s brooding croon, pulling off Jaggeresque sashays, and doing more with his hips than anyone but Beyonce. But, no matter how much WD-40 he seemed to have sprayed on his hip labrum, the whole pomaded AM aesthetic seemed a bit too polished and rehearsed to be really rock and roll.
Cue Miles Kane. The pair collaborated as The Last Shadow Puppets on 2008’s The Age of the Understatement, and though they’d created a sound basically unlike anything else in the twenty-first century pop/rock universe, their relationship as musicians and as pals took a few more years to reach maturity. These guys are best mates — evidenced, for example, by that video of them flailing at a Strokes concert — and maybe you can only be as loose and goofy and, well, yeah, rock and roll, as these two are Tuesday night at Terminal 5 in midtown Manhattan if you’re playing with your best mate. It helps if your tunes slay and if you have a decade-old audience of worshipping fans, which these two do. You could say that New York’s invisible stars were aligned for an amazing show tonight.
Music festival reporting can be physically and mentally exhausting: last summer Scotland’s T in the Park saw me haul-assing across a muddy wasteland to catch a very late and very crowded bus, and Latvia’s Positivus (though the accommodations were more comfortable) left my schedule in the hands of some seriously hard partiers. Then Edinburgh’s Fringe made August of 2015 the most hectic month of my life. But I’ve never, as a reporter, felt myself so spiritually and bodily taxed as I did on the last night of SxSW 2016, pondering giving up on a 3-hour queue to see The Roots, enduring unseasonably bitter winds, very aware of having been oversaturated in music and local craft beers for too many consecutive days.
Of course the endurance test was not only “worth it” – it was a privilege. Just taking a glance below at some of the incredible acts I saw in one packed week proves that. Each new day seemed to erase the previous, and only when I type the names out all together do I have any sense of the sheer volume of the good music I heard. You can check out my schedule, with links to my daily posts for The Skinny, below.
SxSW Tuesday 15 March: Thelma and the Sleaze, Gymshorts, Yonatan Gat, St. Lucia, Big Boi
SxSW Wednesday 16 March: WOMPS, Hinds, Mothers, Iggy Pop & Josh Homme
SxSW Thursday 17 March: CHVRCHES, Lucky Chops, Declan McKenna, KLOE, 2 Chainz, Earl Sweatshirt
SxSW Friday 18 March: Duncan Fellows, Joseph, Flo Rida, Charli XCX, Sylvan Esso, Santigold
SxSW Saturday 19 March: Sugarmen, Fizzy Blood, Demob Happy, The Roots
“THERE IS NOTHING HERE,” the young German engineer said through his cigarette, staring off the balcony of the largest house on St. Anne’s Hill, in the small pilgrimage town of Góra Świętej Anny, or St. Annaberg, in Polish Silesia – he was looking out to the A4 autostrada and the white goateed visage of KFC’s Colonel Sanders, globalism’s ghostly grinning avatar looming over what once must have been the total dark of the Polish countryside in summer. But the darkness was incomplete; there were halogen lamps yellowing the square below us, and white Sanders smiling with his eyes.
St. Annaberg at night, as seen from the parking lot of the KFC off the A4 autostrada.
It was early August; Tobias Spruch, of Dortmund, Germany, was back in his parents’ hometown for a family wedding. On most days of the year, the arrival of Tobias and his family – brother Matthias, sister Sarah Maria, and father and mother Berthold and Brigitte – would swell the tiny hillside town’s population from about 600 to a robust 605. But that week their appearance in Annaberg was but a drop of holy water in the proverbial aspersorium: it was the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, and thousands of Roman Catholic pilgrims were making their way to the top of the hill, to its Calvary and to the 33 Baroque chapels and reliquaries that form a path to the basilica on top, as they and their forebears had been doing since the Franciscans arrived and built their monastery on the 1st of November 1655.
Hundreds of thousands venerate at the hill each year – one historian recorded 400,000 visiting the monastery and its famed wooden statue of St. Anne in 1865 – but aside from a handful of Catholic feast days, the town’s population remains comfortably under 1000, and non-religious tourism is virtually unknown. Nearby Krakow and Warsaw are popular vacation destinations; and tourists stop close to Annaberg at the Pałac w Mosznej, or Moszna Castle, an enormous edifice of 365 rooms and 99 turrets combining Baroque, Neo-Gothic, and Neo-Renaissance elements, each palimpsestic addition of wings and towers funded with Silesian coal-money. But Annaberg’s treasures don’t attract the same type of attention. The town boasts a Lourdes grotto, wall-sized 17th century paintings housed in the chapels, pristine Baroque architecture, near-empty pre-war mansions quietly and elegantly decaying, and – perhaps most impressively – a massive Nazi amphitheater carved out of an abandoned quarry, all in the middle of an untrammeled national nature preserve.
I first heard C Duncan a few days before his debut album, Architect, found its way onto hipster coffee shop soundtracks the UK over, and before Duncan found his way into a demanding summer touring schedule, including The Wickerman and Latitude Festivals and a spot opening for Glasgow compatriots Belle & Sebastian.
I love the album (and reviewed it here) and was quick to book a ticket for C Duncan’s show at the Glasgow Centre for Contemporary Arts this pat June. The meticulous maestro had taken a gorgeous album – one he crafted entirely himself, in his bedroom, calling on his skills as a multi-instrumentalist and his wits to build lush tracks out of handclaps and chairback stick-slaps – and turned it into a fast-paced and emotional live show, a one-man labor of love transformed with an excellent backing band before an eager audience. Duncan and I chatted in the CCA cafe a few hours before the show: read the fully interview in The Skinny here, and listen to the recorded sit-down here.