ONLY NOISE: Goodbye Sunday

In the two brief periods I lived in London, I developed a new relationship with Sundays. For 15 plus years of my life, Sunday was directly associated with Monday, and therefore brought about a rash of panic as the unfinished homework piled up and the unknown week stretched like a canyon before me. In college, there was no Sunday freedom. The sewing studios at FIT were open seven days a week until 2am. I would work on my projects incessantly, catching the train back to Brooklyn in the wee hours and sometimes heading straight to the Pratt campus, where the studios were open 24/7 and I had a handful of pals to work alongside. New York Sundays was never a time of leisure.

When I moved to London to study abroad at Central Saint Martins, I was shocked to find that despite the fashion department’s reputation for maniacal workloads, their studios were only opened Monday through Saturday until 10pm. This was a frightening realization, as my routine 85-hour workweek was about to be sliced in half. At first I was reluctant, but in time I learned to relax. Powerless to sew sleeves on the jacket I was making at school, I was obligated to go outside, I guess. A routine was born. Every Sunday I would pull myself out of my twin dorm bed, throw on a raincoat, and walk 15 minutes to East London’s Brick Lane market. The market could be hectic, and was clogged with overpriced vintage booths, but since I wasn’t there to shop it didn’t matter. I was simply there to wander.

Before I got to hip Brick Lane I would take a detour through cheaper junk markets that were sprinkled around town. These were proper flea markets with heaps of scrap and isolated parts only pack rats would find valuable. Fortunately, I am a pack rat, and I appreciated that these markets were meritocracies, paying off for the patient and diligent diggers who took the time to rummage through an entire bin of garden hose valves to find one silver pendant studded with semi precious stones. After the junk market I’d wind through the Sunday crowds and procure the spiciest curry I could find along with a cup of tea. Then I would sit on the street, roll a cigarette, and watch the people, who were as diverse in age and dress as they were in nationality. I’d position myself across the street from the resident group of drunken old geezers, who sat playing mahjong for hours.

This Sunday ritual became invaluable during my three months in London. When it was gray and cold (which, let’s face it, was most of the time) the tingling curry spices would radiate throughout my gut and warm me. The fact that I could sit on the street and eat without falling victim to judgmental glances for doing so was an added bonus. This was the kind of Sunday I’d always heard existed, but I never believed that they did. Morrissey’s “Everyday Is Like Sunday” used to propose a frightening alternate reality, but ever since I made my market stroll the highlight of my week, I welcomed the possibility of every day being Sunday with open arms.

My relaxed attitude toward Sundays shattered like tempered glass when I returned to New York, where peace and leisure seem like auction items for the rich. The Sunday fear came back. There was no junk market, no budget curry, and certainly no allowance to plop on the street and drink tea without getting scowled at, or trampled by a swarm of rats. Sunday again meant Monday. Sunday night ushered in short breaths and rapid fire concerns. Sundays didn’t return until I returned to England, and though they took a different shape, it was like they’d been waiting for me to come back. These Sundays were tethered to Clapton Pond in London’s northeast reaches of Hackney. It was summer, which doesn’t mean all that much for temperate England, but it was warm and sunny enough to spend all day in the nearby park. This was 2013, the summer I learned to ride a bike in Hackney Marsh at age 23. It was a glorious time, when I had no idea where life would take me.

In the afternoons I’d linger in the kitchen of my friend Alice’s flat, where I was staying for free. After flipping on the electric kettle switch I’d twist on Alice’s radio, which was permanently dialed to BBC 6 Music. The radio was something I turned on everyday. At 6 or 7am Monday through Friday, and at 10am on Saturday. But on Sunday, the afternoon airwaves were for Jarvis Cocker.

Since January 2010, Pulp’s illustrious frontman has hypnotized listeners with his Sunday Service, an afternoon program on BBC 6. While DJs only have one job to fulfill – playing music – Cocker took his title to the next level, acquiring the mantle of a seasoned storyteller. His sets are filled not only with odd and obscure music, but swatches of found sound from the BBC archives, Cocker’s own field recordings, and the joyful noises summoned from the studio switchboard. Jarvis’ playfulness at the mixer accompanied his rich storytelling. It was not uncommon for a classical opus to follow a punk number, or a piece of poetry to precede one of Cocker’s philosophical ramblings. His deep, hushed voice seemed built for the radio, or perhaps a bedtime story.

I am thinking of all of this – of Sunday rituals and this fabulous radio show, because after seven years it is again time for a new tradition. On Sunday, December 31st, Jarvis Cocker will deliver his final Sunday Service. This news came to me earlier this month, when a cheeky Guardian headline decreed: “Jarvis Cocker Pulps his BBC radio show.” The information cut deep. Even though Cocker is known for taking breaks from the program (and getting killer fill-in hosts such as Cillian Murphy and Russell Crowe), his northern whisper and eclectic programming had become integral to my Sunday listening. Cocker has calmed my pre-Monday nerves for so long that I shudder to think what could take the place of Sunday Service.

It’s not solely my Sunday at stake here. Of the many friends I’ve recommended 6 Music to, most of them have admitted that the Sunday Service was their favorite program. One 6 Music convert was merely an acquaintance who took my recommendation to heart. The next time I saw him he looked stupefied. “I’ve been listening to 6 Music!” he exclaimed. When he spoke of Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service, he did so as if he’d struck gold.

That’s probably the most accurate descriptor I can find for Sunday Service: a goldmine of songs and sounds and interviews. On his most recent episode, which aired on Christmas Eve, Cocker dug into his own program archives to play bits of conversation with the likes of John Hurt, David Attenborough, and Monty Python’s Michael Palin, among a wealth of fantastic music. His first track for the set was the suspenseful “Snowed In” by Tim Rose, which happens to be the first song ever that Cocker ever played on the Sunday Service. Looking out the window at my parent’s home in Washington this morning, I listened to Cocker’s set and noted that there was indeed snow on the ground.

There may only be one official Sunday Service left, but so long as I can reach into the BBC 6 Music Archives for a bit of Jarvis Cocker’s wisdom and wit, everyday will be like Sunday. And as Cocker recently assured us, “It’s not goodbye, it’s just farewell.”

ONLY NOISE: A Love Letter to Nils Frahm


I like many used to work an insufferable desk job. To most people, it sounded very interesting, but it was not. It was bland, canned stew disguised as top sirloin. To paraphrase a brilliant Bruce Eric Kaplan cartoon: I grew tired of clicking things all day. My only refuge was that given the oppressively repetitive, brainless tasks I was to perform, I could listen to music for nine hours straight. So in a sense, without 40 plus hours of weekly tedium, it is quite possible I would have never heard the stunning music of German composer Nils Frahm.

It was Thursday, August 6th, 2015. I was dutifully at my desk, clicking away, and occasionally writing down the names of any great bands I heard on BBC 6 Music, which I frequently listened to. There was much talk on the radio about The Proms…it was Promming season after all. I remembered The Proms, as just two years prior I had been in attendance. The Proms is an eight-week summer streak of daily classical music concerts in London. Founded in 1895 with a heavy emphasis on strict classical, The Proms of today are far more hip, featuring contemporary composers and even deviations into the world of ambient/electronic music. When I attended, the compositions of Phillip Glass were the focus of that night’s performance at The Royal Albert Hall.

Although it sounds fancy, The Proms is one of the most democratic music festivals out there – an appraisal the world of classical music desperately needs. Provided you don’t mind lining up for a little while, you can snag a standing position on the Hall’s balcony for only £5, and hear some of the most renowned orchestras in the world.

Unfortunately, I was no longer in London for the 2015 Proms. I was at my desk, remember? But listening to the BBC broadcast, I pretended I was there. I closed my eyes, and smelled the musty carpet of the balcony floor, and tasted the less-democratically priced gin and tonics my friend Alice and I acquired at the downstairs bar. And as I drank in this memory, I heard something so sparkling and beautiful – the creeping in of quiet piano keys, building and turning over with waves of synthesizer crashing atop them. This was, as I later learned, Nils Frahm’s Proms performance of “Says.”

I was dumbstruck and intrigued, and as it goes with intrigue: I wanted more. I devoured everything I could find that Frahm had recorded. Having never in my life been this passionate about instrumental music, I surprised myself in this devotion. Writers find solace in words, and yet I had finally found something that was all the better for their absence.

At first, I merely listened and followed up with watching countless videos of Frahm performing live, which absolutely did me in. Watching Frahm play is almost like watching an athlete. What other pianist works up a literal sweat during their set? He is dynamic, often hopping between a grand piano, Juno synthesizer, and a Fender Rhodes keyboard, all of which he specially mics and prepares for each individual set. In this 2013 video performance of “Toiletbrushes” and “More,” Frahm is mouthing some unheard gestures, looking a bit like he is in pain…like he is not playing the song, but birthing it. His tendons and muscles are visibly strained as he plays like it’s an extreme sport.

But the most characteristic detail is that he plays half the set with actual toilet brushes, used to bang on the exposed strings of the open piano. This reminds me of two things. 1) That the piano is after all, a percussive instrument, and exploring that aspect can open a world of possibility, and 2) that Frahm is aiding in the democratization of classical music and the piano itself. His approach is curious, inventive, and entirely unpretentious. Whether he is melding the worlds of classical and electronica, or discovering that an overlooked household object can be the perfect mallet for a grand piano, Frahm is truly one of a kind.

At this point in my discovery, I knew very little about Nils Frahm the man. But his compositions so moved me, that within a week of first hearing him I had purchased a keyboard and booked my first piano lesson.

Few things have stirred me to such an extent. When I finally got a gym membership it came from a place of motivation, but not of inspiration. Watching certain movies makes me want to write a screenplay – but I never actually do it. At the most, I will buy up every record an artist has released within a short amount of time…but picking up a new instrument at 25? I was possessed.

After a year and a half of closely following Frahm’s career (and SLOWLY learning the piano), it seems as though the composer’s raison d’être is to captivate listeners to the point of great emotional response. As he told The Quietus in 2013:

“I’m interested in how human beings react in certain situations, and what music does to people’s emotions. How we can change people’s attitudes with tones. After I’ve played a good concert, people leave the room happy. This is something we can give back to the world. When people feel down and like it’s all going to shit, at least we can give them some music and change their attitude so people don’t think it’s all shit.”

It is rare to find such idealism spouting from the mouth of a professional musician. But Frahm’s optimism seems wholeheartedly sincere, and it is reflected in his actions. In March of 2015, Frahm gave us Piano Day, which celebrates his beloved instrument by sharing its immensity with the world.

In a statement on his website the pianist poked fun at his own fixation with the ebony and ivory:

“Beloved planet,
Don´t think I am completely pathetic, but I am here to tell you about a new holiday.”

Frahm proceeded to explain that Piano Day existed to celebrate any and all things Piano, and encouraged participants to create anything in that realm of possibility.

“Please dress up that day (don’t play any guitar) and prepare some presents for us all and don´t forget to share them with us. Any piano related creative idea will be honored and seen by the lovely people around here and myself. Thanks for your participation and spread the word, in a couple years I want PIANO DAY to me more important than Xmas and more stressful than Thanksgiving.

Anyways, enjoy this little present of mine, it is a snippet for more to come.

Nils Frahm (has lost it completely)”

Frahm’s “present” was a free release of his 2015 album Solo. I realize now, listening to his annual, hour-long Xmas mix, that Frahm often gives music freely to his fans. It is something he has always done and it has probably been a partial cause of his steadily growing fan base.

The mix is more wintery than Christmas-y, but cozy nonetheless. Snippets of recordings by Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Lee Hazelwood, and Marlene Dietrich seamlessly float in an out, enveloped in the warm crackle of a record playing…or is it a slow burning fire? Either way, it is toasty to the ears.

I’ve been sitting on this desire to praise Frahm in long form for quite some time now. “Should I wait for his birthday?” I ask myself. “What about a new release? How can I make this relevant without simply sounding like a wide-eyed, drooling fan-girl?” But it was the Xmas Mix that did it, because it seems to represent the simple, fervent mission Frahm has of sharing music, and that moves me as much as his playing.

It is evident that this is a man hopelessly in love with music, and devoted to sharing it, whose career reflects a monastic approach to “success.” In 2015 Frahm spoke to Resident Advisor of his booking process:

“I only want to play if someone invites me. Don’t ask for shows.” I don’t want to use the piano as a money-making machine. This is what I tell my whole team: when someone asks, be nice, but don’t try to push people with my stuff.”

He continues by telling aspiring musicians that they shouldn’t focus on getting successful; they should stay at home, get really good at what they do, and wait for someone to notice their hard work.

In his typical, philosophical manner of speaking, he wrapped up his Quietus interview by saying:

“The only thing we can try is changing people’s attitude, but not with words. I don’t want to be Bob Dylan, I can’t express it through words but I can express it through emotional experiences. All the answers you need to know you have inside yourself and all you can do is inspire these sorts of answers, perhaps by conversation or by music or by looking at a piece of art. I only have one lifetime to do it and it feels way too short!”



Three years ago, on a dim June morning at 6 AM, I sat next to some toast at a shoddy Formica table.  The table was in a damp, smelly kitchen exploding with mounds of used tea bags, soiled dishes, and sagging cilantro.  Only, the latter wasn’t called cilantro, it was called “coriander,” because this kitchen was in Hackney, East London.  Clapton Pond to be exact.  And you couldn’t find “cilantro” in all of England, let alone in Clapton Pond.  These early hours were perfectly serene for me.  The moments before my two hour bus commute to the Southwestern tip of the city were quiet and sad, but most importantly calm.  Sometimes I would see a little fox in the garden, foxing around.  Other times I would sit with a journal and stare at its blank pages as if my retinas could burn words into them.  Whatever occurred on a given morning, silence was crucial for peace.    So there was a real hiccup in this pre-work routine when my affable flatmate Tom would bounce into the kitchen, pour himself a stout cup of coffee, and flip on the radio to BBC 6 Music

There couldn’t have been a more disruptive gesture with which to stab my lame little ritual.  It made me uneasy, serrated with nerves – until I took a moment to actually listen.  When I did, it struck me that what was playing was good.  Really good.  It wasn’t an online podcast, or a publicly funded radio station with biannual pledge drives.  This was the BBC, once the home of John Peel.  A government subsidized program, playing the likes of Wire, Kiran Leonard, and Stump at six in the morning.  Was it for real?

Before long I was the one turning the dial to 6 Music at the crack of dawn, beating Tom to the punch.  On weekends, all of my desire to get out of the neighborhood was extinguished by that four hour round trip commute Mon-Fri, and I would often sit in the kitchen for half of the day with a notebook and the radio.  I pretended it wasn’t 2013, pretended that the DJs were my only source of know-how, like when Peel ruled the airways.

It is rare that we ingest contemporary culture alongside a hearty helping of surprise.  We know the T.V. schedule, we oversee our own Netflix and HBO viewings, we cherry pick song by song on Spotify.  Independent radio stations-not Top 40, but rather the few programs that exist outside of the mainstream-are true arbiters of surprise.    You never know what will come next, and that is a scarce thing to come across today.  The anticipation that perhaps the following track will be by your new favorite band…there is some dose of fate in that, even for someone who doesn’t really believe in fate.

I eventually became obsessed with the station, rolling into work a little later because I simply had to hear the end of that song, and find out who sang it.  I began making unwieldy lists of everything I heard, a habit I maintain to this day.  The dawn’s greatest priority was still coffee, but the radio was a close second.  I was transfixed…how could something so perfect, so seemingly tailored to my tastes exist?

Founded in 2002, BBC 6’s slogan claims that it is “The place for the best alternative music. From indie pop and iconic rock to trip hop, electronica and dance with great archive music sessions, live music concerts and documentaries.” Somehow that statement still seems to be putting it lightly.

Their roster of DJs boasts names like Iggy Pop, Jarvis Cocker, The Fall’s original bassist Marc Riley (my personal favorite) and John Peel’s own flesh and blood: his youngest son Tom Ravenscroft, who turned me on to the likes of Girl Band and Maribou State.  This is of course, the tip of the proverbial iceberg, as every host I’ve come across is either a renowned musician, journalist, or producer of some merit.  Brush gently at the surface of any 6 Music presenter and you will uncover a rich history in popular culture.  These aren’t merely critics, but fans; giddy enthusiasts with the entire BBC archives, Peel sessions, and exclusive interviews at their fingertips.

Their 24/7 programming spans every genre imaginable, sometimes encapsulated in more flavor-specific shows like Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone and Nemone’s Electric LadylandOther times musical styles seem to be picked at random, the only consistent link being the superior quality of each track.  One time I heard The Fall in the same set as Tribe Called Quest, which was only to be followed by Kate Tempest.  It’s this kind of unfaithfulness that I can appreciate when it comes to record collecting.

If you and I have had a chat about music since June of 2013, chances are you’ve endured me waxing fanatical about this radio station.  Not everyone dove right into it, but those who did always mention it when we cross paths.  And often, they’ve found their own pocket of programming that I myself have yet to explore.  One such convert informed me that he is hooked on Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service, a real Christmas dinner of a show featuring not only oddball tunes, but short stories, bits of radio plays, off-kilter sound effects, and of course, Jarvis’s velveteen voice to guide you through it all.

It seems safe to say that if it weren’t for 6 Music, it may have never occurred to me to have a crack at music journalism.  Beyond that, I wouldn’t know or enjoy as much, and this goes for contemporary as well as veteran bands.  My world would very likely exclude newcomers such as Happyness, Ezra Furman, and Meilyr Jones, all of whom have cropped up on my “Favorite New Artists” list.  Some I’ve seen live, others I’ve interviewed; all have moved me to write about them in the hopes that some searching eye will come across my enthusiasm the same way my ears heard the excitement  of the 6 Music DJs.

Although the more obvious takeaway has been finding more music to cram in my brain, there has been a much greater reward from listening to this station, and that is the optimism it’s restored in me as a music lover.  A good decade of my pre-college life was dedicated to the discovery and devouring of music, and yet when I moved to New York something snapped.  I assumed everything was over.  There would never be another Smiths, blah blah blah.  It was a juvenile stance to take, and one I hope I’ve completely scrubbed myself of.  Because if there is anything that BBC 6 has taught me, it’s that people will never stop making music, and through the science of probability, there will always be at least some good music, some great music even.  There never was a “day the music died,” just a constant costume change in a perpetual sonic play.  There will never be nothing to listen to.  You’ve just got to look harder.