Alex James: The Great Escape

Wednesday 31 January 2007 01:00

I'm one of the proud presenters of The Tube, Channel 4 Radio's madhouse monthly magazine programme, and I've persuaded the producers to let me interview a highbrow academic genius every month. We had a maths mastermind this time, Dr Richard Elwes from Leeds University. I was hoping to have a word with him about "metric tensors", which I must admit was a bit of insider dealing, because it's something I've been struggling with myself, at home. Metric tensors are the mathematical tools used to describe the geometry of spacetime and are key to understanding Einstein's universe.

Dr Elwes was a total dude. He looked like he could have been in one of the bands we had on. He was more interested in pure logic and abstract structures rather than this actual one we live in. So tensor calculus was a bit beneath him, I think. Mathematicians rather look down their noses at cosmologists. The mathematicians hold the intellectual high ground. They make their home in perfect realms of conception. If something is proved to be true in mathematics, it's true forever in any conceivable universe, as well as this everyday one that the rest of us are stuck inside. For them, maths is just a kind of advanced music. After all, under analysis, the sound of music is merely the manipulation of the harmonic series. 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/5... Music is just maths with the volume turned up for the scientifically deaf.

The band Enter Shikari were also on the show and they are a very exciting prospect. At long last here is a band with a definitive sound that only really makes total sense to teenagers and no one else. At long last, here is a band that appear to want to destroy everything. There will only be maths left by the time they've finished. In terms of theoretical structures, Enter Shikari are best seen as a super-massive black hole: violent, energetic and hard for most people to understand. They are refusing to sign a record deal, but have sold out the Astoria in London, which usually requires a Top 10 record. Their music is described as "screamo". Screamo is "emo" with screaming. Screaming is exactly what "emo" was lacking. This highly original cacophony is a wake-up call that only young people can hear. The crowd went berserk. I've never seen anything like it. I predict a riot.

I think they are the first significant band of the dullest decade in music since records began. It's been a decade dominated by music technology, rather than music itself. The days of million-pound videos and thriving independent labels are over. I hope they'll come back, but for the Heat generation, music is no longer the focus of everything as it was for me during the Smash Hits era.

Actually, there are a few good new bands around. Peter and the Wolf are a Liverpool trio, with sweet melodies and kinky rhythms. They're worth checking out if you're appalled by the notion of screamo, which you should be. It's an unstoppable force and it's about to hit an immovable object, so get ready for a big explosion.

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