Alt-J

2012 was not a great music year to me, among the new music, undoubtedly the breakthrough act obscuring the rest of the competition was Alt-J.

Alt-J are cleverly named after a keyboard shortcut. If you type it on a Mac keyboard It delivers the Greek letter delta ∆. When the combination is executed on a windows machine it is supposed to open the media player. It’s not happening on mine, though. Nevermind.

You could not avoid hearing of Alt-J since the debut album, An Awesome Wave, came out. They got an instant hype on the British music blogsphere. It was about a year ago, May 2012. From the release to the Mercury Prize nomination, about 2 months apart, the growth has been exponential. From the nomination to winning the Mercury prize in september it became unstoppable.

It also attracted Pitchfork attention but England from Chicago is quite far and despite the review was written by the Manchester based editor, the best young music journalist out there, Laura Snapes, her words aren’t in line with the rest of the british press (Clash, Q, NME, DiS… ). I tend to agree with Laura, or with Pitchfork, you choose.

I also tend to be prejudicial but I wasn’t this time. I gave the album several listening yet it did not impressed me.
Together with many 2012 releases that created a storm leaving me indifferent, Alt-J triggered the belief that I was getting unsympathetic with new music.

I always said that there is nothing wrong, once passed 40s, to not be moved by music written by youngsters for their peers.
It’s hard to accept and I am not good on dealing with my ageing, but I am good at rationalizing.

In the ageing unstoppable process, 2013 arrived and, surprisingly, brought some outstanding releases. I have today to acknowledge that I can still be moved by new music, Savages anyone? Maybe it wasn’t an age issue, just the sequence of notes, chords and sounds on those records not appealing to my ears.

In brief (I have to create space for some photos you know) I never liked Alt-J album despite it is one of the few I gave several spins.

For the records, Alt-J formed in 2007 (Wiki source) at Uni in Leeds. A long period to put together ideas and songs till a demo EP released in 2011 and the debut, An Awesome Wave, in 2012 once their effort was recognised and finally signed by Infectious records.
Too long? Maybe. In five years a young band changes too many ideas and if the songs try to bring all of them together the result is messy. Which is what I believe is a problem of the album.

Alt-J yesterday came back to Cambridge with a sold-out gig in the largest of the city’s venues, the Corn Exchange.
Yes, came back because I learnt that Alt-J moved to Cambridge post-Leeds and have been rehearsing here for further 2 years before going to London to record the album.

If you think that I must have stumbled upon them in any Cambridge pub where live music happens daily, well, you’ll be disappointed. I have never heard of them around and learnt of their Cambridge residency only recently. They kept it secret.

I was keen to see Alt-J live. I haven’t been to many gigs this spring 2013 and a show of an upcoming big act in Cambridge is, sadly, becoming a rarity.
Among a quite depressing “What’s On” schedule of declining music stars, musicals and cover bands arriving regularly to the Corn Exchange, a venue where I like to photograph because of the bright lights often provided, the arrive of Alt-J was a breath of fresh air.

To be honest a bit too fresh to be the 14th of May!
Heavy rains, temperature below 10 C degrees and an Italian virus which won my English antibodies, conspired to keep me at home. I am persistent enough, once the pass had been approved, I got paracetamol, got on the scooter in the rain and, drenched, got inside the Corn Exchange very early, together with the hard-core (and very young) fans.

While waiting, I tweeted some complain about the weather pondering whether Alt-J show would be good enough to justify such a miserable trip. Not sure that mentioning @alt_J was a good move.
I love conspiracies theories (I’m Italian), especially if they are supposed to be against me. Feed my egomaniac soul!

Whether someone read it or not, I was approached by the security of the Corn Exchange advising that the band’s management wants photographers to be escorted out of the venue after the 3 songs for the photos.

We were two. A young guy, first time here, asking me if this was the usual policy. I said that I have been shooting bands at the Corn Exchange for 10 years, hundreds and hundreds of shows, and it never happened to be escorted out without letting me stay to see the gig. Curious.

So… three songs on and I was out in company of the rain. Back on the scooter. Back home.
It is impossible to review this show, sadly, because I was liking it.

The band live, despite remaining a British indie band in love with Radiohead has a sound that is livelier than many more I have seen.
In the very difficult attempt to refresh a music that gave its best a decade ago with an infusion of nervous- electro-vibes that are depicting this decade, Alt-J were convincing me after 10 minutes.
I wasn’t allowed to listen to the other 50 minutes so I can’t comment further.

I’ll wait for the next time, hoping that the hype won’t be too high and the snobbish attitude would be left out to give space to the down-to-heart nature of indie-rock.

In the meanwhile, I mean from when I wrote this 24 hours ago to now, Alt-J added the Best Album at The Ivor Novello Awards among their achievements. Congratulations. Better you follow Alt-J online here to know what’s gonna be next: [website][facebook][twitter][spotify]

Photo tip

Too much light? Yes, it’s rare but it happens. And contrary to what you’d expect, I’m about to complaining about it.

Alt-J show was full of light. Packed with bright spots, columns of leds, strobes. Far more light than needed.
I found myself shooting at f8, with fast shutter, ISO800 and below. Miles away to the struggling 1/80s f2.8 ISO6400 which is the standard.

Still, I was disappointed. Or not too happy.

Despite we need light to create images, unbalanced light is a problem.
When the difference between the brightest areas and the darkest is so huge, not only Ansel Adams’ zone system but even modern sensors, despite their huge exposure latitude, suffer to cope.

I tried spot metering, I tried “manual everything” still some images cannot be balanced and I had to opt to what to get exposed and what to get either totally burnt or totally dark.

It is surely easier to deal with more light than less light. Technically it is as difficult and you need to read and interpret it in the quick slot you have allocated.

In a split second you need to know what is your subject. You need to get it well exposed. Composed. You need to know what will happen to the rest of the frame. You need to follow the gig and think at the next photo.

One of the ways to achieve this is to use spot metering, as long as you know what spot metering do and doesn’t. In theory you want to point an average lit area. Not the brightest not the darkest.

In the real world the brightest area is the easier to notice and, often, also the ones you want in focus (i.e. a singer’s face hit by a white spot). A way to achieve a good result is to point the bright face with spot metering and at the same time compensate the exposure. Try overexposing a couple of spots. i.e. +2 or even +3 EV.

The result is the bright spot (the face) being brighter than average (but still readable in the details) with that +3 able to bring out of the darkness the shadows.

If you like burst shooting, give bracketing a go. It means setting the camera (most can, check your manual) to shoot 5 or even 7 frames in sequence with the exposure +/- 2-3 EV around a preferred setting.

It is not something I do, because I am not a fan of burst shooting (I tend to wait for the moment before pressing the shutter) and because, concerts not being as landscapes, in the few seconds of the bracketing the scene changes and the best composed photo risks to be the wrong exposed.

To me good composition comes first than good exposure. You can address exposure more in post-editing than composition.

~ by Valerio on May 15, 2013.

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