Not in it for the Money: Getting Aggro

I was faced with a dilemma. Back in 2008, having written a couple of largely unread music reviews on my MySpace Blog, I started writing as a reviewer for Whisperin’ and Hollerin’. It came naturally: I’d written music reviews for a few local and regional papers and so on in the past. And so before long, I was cranking out a review a day on average, and sometimes more. Landing more reviewing slots for other websites alongside, I independently built up a substantial PR network over the next few years. While continuing to receive streams and CDs and all other gubbins for review from editors and various PRs, and moving up to an average of two reviews a day, I couldn’t help but feel I was holding back on occasion. That isn’t to say I wasn’t loving my work, and the various sites are all outstanding in their ways, commanding respect and a decent readership.

But the reviews I was holding back on were more journalistic, essay-like pieces which felt appropriate for some of the releases I was receiving, but posting the 450+ word pieces I wanted to write didn’t feel entirely right even on the sites I had free reign on.

For a long period of time, I deliberated running my own site, and laid claim to Aural Aggravation in 2013 with a view to launching my own site devoted to covering the niche bands I liked but felt warranted a more specialist review space over sites that covered everything. I had a sense of how the site should look, feel and navigate. I suppose you might say I’m a control freak: I’d argue against that, but sometimes feel the need to impose my creative ideas on the world – albeit usually only a very small corner of it.

It was listening to the new Philip Jeck album while simultaneously reading Mark Fisher’s Ghosts of My Life that spurred me to write a very different kind of review. More contemplative, academic, even. And much longer – somewhere between a longform review and an essay, you might say. I immediately realised that this was the kind of review I wanted to write. Not always, but sometimes.

And so Aural Aggravation was born and the site went live – public – with a couple of album reviews, a single review courtesy of James Wells, and a couple of audio / video streams. Boom.

I’m not ditching W&H or S4M any stretch, and I’m most certainly continuing to work in my various fiction projects and build The Rage Monologues (more of which very soon). But I am branching out in the reviewing world.

Aural Aggravation won’t be for everyone. And I’m happy with that. It will never reach a huge audience, either. The aim isn’t to be a mainstream site, either in the music if covers or in the way it covers it. Both aspects of the site are purposefully niche, and the fact that reviewing difficult music in reviews that will take more than a minute and a half to read, and don’t even use any kind of rating system runs completely contra to everything that’s going on in the media right now, from the ‘net to the debased print version of the NME. And that is precisely why I’m doing it. There’s a gap in the market, so to speak. Small and specialist it may be, but it’s one that I’m looking to step into in some way – for the love, not the money.

Aural Aggravation Website: http://auralaggravation.com/

Aural Aggravation on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuralAggravation?fref=ts

Aural Aggravation on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AAAAggravation

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Christopher Nosnibor’s Guide to Working as a Music Reviewer – Part Two

We live in a visually-orientated culture. Pictures are more immediate than words. And yet I still don’t get the idea of reviewing a gig in pictures alone. The images convey so little of the experience, and besides, after a while, people with guitars or standing behind synths all start to very much resemble one another.

Similarly, I don’t get the whole deal with people posting photos of their food on social media sites, but did recently suggest that my refusal to subscribe to this trend was proving an obstacle to my achieving mainstream popularity.

So I figured I should document my day – yesterday – in images. Of food. It seems vaguely apposite, as I was assigned to review Black Bananas at the Brudenell in Leeds last night.

I got up a bit before 7am having squeezed in about 6 hours sleep, dressed, guzzled down a mug of tea and was out the door around 7:40. I breakfasted at my desk while wading through emails.

 

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Breakfast

I managed to nip out to grab a bite for lunch, again consumed at my desk.

 

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Lunch

After work, I legged it home, dropped my bag and changed my boots before heading straight back out for a train to Leeds. I had my evening meal in Foley’s on The Headrow before trekking out to the Brudenell.

 

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Dinner

 

I needn’t have rushed as the first act wasn’t on till around 8:30, but the beer was cheap and good and I always carry a paperback in my jacket pocket in case I find myself killing time.

The show was ultimately enjoyable, but I was aware of the train times and, being knackered, decided to slip out during the last song for the 11:16 train. This meant I had to run all the way from The Brudenell near Burley Park to the train station. Consequently, I was even more knackered but I arrived back in York in good time and arrived home around midnight.

Today, having woken up with heartburn and a head full of things I needed to do at work around 5am, I managed a full half hour lunch break, during which I managed to find a quiet pub and knock out the first 409 words of my review. I can’t very well call myself a writing machine if I don’t get on and write now, can I?

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk

Christopher Nosnibor’s Guide to Working as a Music Reviewer – Part One

For those who think that working as a music reviewer is way cool and involves hanging with bands backstage and basking in free stuff and record company promo largesse, the average online music reviewer leads a very different existence. I’m not saying I’m representative of all or even most music reviewers, but as someone who’s been doing this thing for nigh on 20 years off and on, and has consistently turned in over 300 reviews a year since 2009, I do feel I’m at least qualified to report on my own experiences. Will this blog help aspiring reviewers? Probably not. Is it some kind of therapy session? I have no idea. It’s a blog. It is what it is.

When I started writing in earnest for Whisperin’ and Hollerin’ in November of 2008, I was thrilled to receive a Jiffy containing five or six CDs by artists I’d never heard of, and would never hear of again. I was actually off work with ‘flu when they landed, so I say, huddled in a blanket, streaming snot as I shivered and shook my way through a bunch of fairly bland albums, which I dutifully listened to a handful of times and did my best to give them a fair and honest but critically balanced and objective appraisal. It wasn’t easy, at least for all of them.

I started to receive offers of gigs to review in York and Leeds, too, my nominated / designated territory. Keen to get myself on the register, I took the first few that came up regardless. I wanted to prove myself, to get my name out, to show I was eager and willing, and able to critique anything. And so I did. I saw some ok bands, the majority of which I’ve since forgotten. I saw a fair few shit bands, too, but you gotta take the rough with the smooth, I figured.

Being a serious gig veteran (I started watching pub gigs and so on when I was 14 and saw my first big gig proper – The Mission at Sheffield City Hall – when I was 15) I wasn’t the sort to be swept away on the tide of excitement the inexperienced feel when presented with live music. I didn’t think ‘it’s live, therefore it’s amazing’ and was more than capable or retaining my critical faculties – and memory – even after a few pints.

It’s fair to say things rapidly snowballed.

Cut forward from 2008 to 2014 and I’d like to say the hard works paid off. In some respects it has, in that I now receive more free music than I can physically listen to, and manage to score many of the releases I’d have previously paid for for free. Similarly I can pick and choose the live shows I cover, and get to go and see bands I’d have historically paid for – or even missed because I couldn’t afford a tickets, although I still take punts, and I still review acts I’m either unfamiliar with or largely ambivalent to because I think covering them will help raise my profile.

I still don’t get paid for any of this and I still work the 9-5. Trying to do up a house and be a half-decent parent to a 3 year old with a full-time job is enough for most people. They’re pussies, or otherwise lacking ambition.

Tomorrow, I’ll be hauling myself from York to Leeds and out to the Brudenell Social Club after work to cover Black Bananas. I thought their most recent album was middling, a 6/10 but figure they might be entertaining as a live act. I’ll be going on my own, despite being offered a +1. Because I’m popular like that. I won’t hang out with the band. I’ll get back in around 2am and will be up less than five hours later for work. Because. Cool huh?

 

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John Robb: music journalist, band front man and cool. The bastard.

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk

Nutjobs, Pissheads and Pains in the Ass

I don’t know what it is about me that seems to draw the crazies. I certainly don’t go looking for them, but they spring out of the woodwork and in an instant decide that I’m the kind of person who wants to converse with random strangers. In actual fact, little could be further from the truth. I’m a fast walker and I habitually avoid eye contact with people in the street. Wearing tinted glasses makes this easier, I find. More often than not, I have earphones in, too, just to create more of a barrier between myself and the world. But where the crazies – and drunks – are concerned, this exterior seems to send the opposite message. Or perhaps they’re just oblivious.

So I was walking back home after watching The Yawns play at The Basement. It was a little after eleven. I was more or less sober, having only consumed three and a bit pints (it would have been four, but while trying to photograph the band, I’d managed to spill the majority of my last pint, much to my extreme annoyance), but feeling buoyant because it had been a good show, and I’d had the chance to catch a few words with Joe Coates (the man behind Please Please You, and the majority of decent gigs in York), and Mark Wynn, cool music scene people I don’t see nearly often enough. I had just parted company with my mate Big Sam, the Balaclava Boy, and had not yet plugged myself into my MP3 player to create my hermetic space. I was, however, wearing a black Thinsulate hat pulled low to the bridge of my nose and felt pretty sealed off.

I’d clocked a guy leaving Sainsbury’s with a carrier bag as I crossed the road, and had seen him remove a bottle of wine from the bag, crack the cap off and take a long slug from the bottle. I thought nothing of it, and wasn’t concerned by the fact I’d probably have to overtake him. Up ahead a way, he stopped to roll a cigarette, and it was at this point I came to pass him.

“’Scuse me, mate.”

I should’ve walked on by and feigned deafness. But I’ve tried that before, and been harangued all the way down the street for ignoring such people. I figured he was going to ask me for a light. It happens a lot. I simply explain I don’t have a lighter because I quit smoking and that’s that. So I stopped and looked at the guy.

“Do you like heavy metal?”

Shit.

“I hope you don’t think I’m, like, stereotyping or making assumptions, but I thought you looked a bit alternative and like you’d be into different stuff like heavy metal. I hope you’re not offended or anything.”

“Not at all. It’s not my first choice of music,” I professed, “but I like some metal.”

“Yeah? Like Sepultura an’ that?”

“Not so much,” I replied.

“No? What then?”

My ears weren’t only ringing from the gig – I’d left the house in a hurry and irritatingly forgotten my earplugs – but from the clutch of upcoming Southern Lord releases Lauren at Rarely Unable had recently put my way and that I’d spent the afternoon getting my lugs round. These were still fresh – and loud – in my mind and represent, to me, the only kind of metal worth listening to. The really heavy, abrasive stuff. The nasty, gnarly stuff, the full-throated sonic annihilation of grindcore and crust is far more my bag than the overblown fretwankery of the ‘big’ metal acts. I attempted to explain this to him, although as succinctly and as accessibly as possible.

“So, like Slayer an’ that?”

“Not really,” I said. This really wasn’t going anywhere and I rather hoped my less than leading response would leave the conversation as extinguished as his poorly-rolled ciggy.

“No-one listens to metal,” he moaned. “I mean, I don’t want to blow my own trumpet, but I’m a shit-hot guitarist. You probably think I’m just a drunk wanker, and I am drunk, but I can play all the songs. Metallica, Iron Maiden. I’m 40 years old and I’ve been playing guitar for 20 years but I just can’t find a band to play in. Do you know where I could go to find other people who are into metal who’d want to be in a band with me? Do you play?”

“Nah. I play guitar a bit and can move a bar chord around in time but it’s pretty basic. I gave up on playing music and now I write about it instead.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m a music writer.”

“Like a journalist?”

“Yes. I review stuff. CDs and live music. And I can tell you that a lot of people do listen to metal. It’s a huge market.”

“Yeah but I can’t find anyone. There’s nothing I’ve ever found that I can’t play. I can do all the solos, even. But no-one’s interested. It’s all DJ this and fucking MC that and… you know what I mean? You’re not a DJ are you?”

“Hell no. I’m a writer.” The guy was beginning to get on my wick and I was pleased to arrive at my turn-off from the main road. “I’m off down here,” I said.

“Me too.”

Shit.

“I know you’re probably thinking I’m some drunk twat, and I am drunk, but don’t worry, I live round here, I’m not trying to stalk you or follow you home or anything. I am a bit drunk, but I’m a decent bloke, y’know, and I know I’m a good guitar player. I mean that. I don’t like going up to people and saying ‘I’m a shit-hit guitar player, though.”

“Maybe you should. If you’re serious, you need to get out there.” I believed he wasn’t going to stalk me or follow me home, and I doubted he was about to turn and knife me, kick me head in or smash the now half-empty wine bottle over my head, but figured it was still wiser to humour him – because he was clearly a drunk twat – than risk it by tying to shake him in an obvious fashion.

“Is that what you’d do?”

“Yes.”

“And you’re a DJ?” There was a broad hint of incredulity in his voice.

“No, a writer.” There was a broad hint of weariness in mine.

“So how does that work?”

“I get sent music and I review it. I go to see bands play and I review them.”

“Where? Who do you write for?”

“Various websites.”

“Websites, eh? And you’re a journalist? But you don’t know where I can go to meet people who’d give me a chance? How do I find people that are into metal? I’m a fucking awesome guitar player – and I’m not just saying that, and it’s not just because I’m drunk – although I am drunk – I can play everything and I love metal. Satriani, you name it.”

“Maybe you could go and see some bands playing. Talk to them. they’ll know other musicians, people in bands who are looking for a guitarist.”

“And they’ll be into metal? I mean, I’ve got a band in theory – like me, and a bassist and a keyboard player but we don’t need a fucking keyboard player.”

“No, that’s a bit 80s hair rock, I’d have thought.”

“Yeh, exactly.”

And so it went on in this way until we reached a junction where our routes diverged, much to my relief.

“It’s been good to meet you,” he said. “Thanks for listening. A lot of people wouldn’t have done.”

“That’s the kind of guy I am.”

“You’re a good guy. What did you say your name was?”

“Thanks. I’m Chris.”

“Right, yeah. I’m Steve. And you’re really a DJ?”

 

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Some drunk bloke I found on the Internet

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk