Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Is being mean about a TV personality on Twitter really 'bitching'?

Probably a bit harsh, but in my defense she had just said her completely perfect picnic pie was rubbish even though it clearly wasn't.

I'm not a particularly highbrow person. Of an evening if I'm not down the pub or up a hill or eating there's nothing I enjoy more than watching my favourite awful TV programme and talking about it, and often enough I'm not impressed.

TV distorts the truth. No matter how much a show touts itself as being anchored in reality, the truth is, it's more entertaining and therefore more worthwhile for producers to pick and choose shots and sequences that portray contestants as exaggerated caricatures of themselves. But you all knew that, didn't you? We've all seen Screenwipe? So let's move on.

These caricatures are what we grow to love or hate. They are manufactured to encourage our pity, enthusiasm or disdain. We pick villains and heroes because it gives meaning to the show. We don't dislike the people, we dislike the character. Perhaps it's hard for people to separate the two, but that's TV for you. Easy to watch, easy to make opinions about, easy to forget, unless you're the person inside the box getting all the shit thrown at you. I'd be tempted at this point to say "well you chose to be on the screen though, didn't you?".

Maybe that isn't fair. Maybe that's cruel. Maybe I don't care. The thing is, people have Tweeted along with the telly for as long as Twitter has existed and TV execs got wise to it years ago. Viewers are actively encouraged to join in the discussion, with companies and programmes employing interns and social media assistants (like myself) to bolster along the conversation and buoy up a little bit of provocation. We say things like "Ooh, how mean was that comment?" or "Oh dear, that didn't look very good did it?" or even "How annoying is that Joey Essex, eh?" to get people talking. We get drawn into other conversations. We just do. That's what gossiping is like.

So, when a bit of mean-natured joshing turns into a national discussion about how we all need to stop judging people, I get a little bit annoyed. I have been known to exaggerate a bit. Hyperbolic hatred can be hilarious. Don't tell me you've never made fun of somebody to get a laugh. You have. The difference is, tossing off a comment online isn't the same as purposefully constructing a deeply resonant insult built to destroy another human being and then saying it to their face. I'd like to think none of us would do that. We're mean idiots but we're not fucking evil.

We aren't. Well, most of us aren't. There are a lot of people out there who are genuinely nasty, who send rape threats to celebrities for the sake of poor banter and who make up jokes about babies in blenders and send them to people who notoriously get upset about that sort of thing. Your mates might find it funny (god knows why), but these people clearly don't. Context, people. As I've mentioned many-a time before, saying horrible things does not a Charlie Brooker make.

Lat night I said some harsh things about Ruby Tandoh on Twitter because she makes my eyelids twitch with irritation. In the cold, post-Bake Off finale light of day I should really say that the distilled essence of a Ruby Tandoh character whom I saw on TV for an hour every week for the past month or so makes my eyelids twitch with irritation. Here's the thing though - she's probably quite nice really, so I didn't send any of what I said actually to her. I have nothing against her personally.

Does this make me a bitch? Should I print it all out and send it to her house so she can hear what I had to say? Some people think yes. Some people think that everything you say should be heard by those who it criticizes.

In light of this, I should probably transcribe the rant I had about Morrissey last weekend after five double vodkas and send him a copy. I should probably call up Julia Bradbury and tell her I think she's a joke. I should also email Kevin McCloud while I'm at it and tell him on a number of occasions over the past year I have called him an increasingly insufferable pretension cloud hovering over prime time TV like a smug fart. (If you laughed at that, you're just as guilty as I am.)

At the end of the day, people like me direct our feeble moanings at the telly because it makes us feel better about our lives and nobody really needs to hear that stuff. That's the way the shows are formulated, and that's the trap we fall into. If you genuinely are still @ messaging Ruby Tandoh to tell her you hate her though, perhaps you need to take a look at where your life is at this moment.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Are falling birth and marriage rates really a surprise?



Mendokusai is a word I learned today. Loosely translated from Japanese to English it sort-of means "siiiighhhh, hassle" (the terms the Guardian used was 'it's too troublesome' but I felt a bit more of that heavy shoulder-shrugging gloom about it) and in the context of relationships in which it was used, it made me feel pretty sad.

According to the article I was reading, 45% of females aged between 16 and 25 aren't interested in relationships in the slightest. "So what?" I thought. Reading on, it turned out the issue is far more endemic than simply young women finding independence for themselves. 

A survey in 2011 found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship, a rise of almost 10% from five years earlier. Another study found that a third of people under 30 had never dated at all. (There are no figures for same-sex relationships)[ - perhaps a good example in itself of Japan's staunchly conservative cultural norms. - KT] Although there has long been a pragmatic separation of love and sex in Japan – a country mostly free of religious morals – sex fares no better. A survey earlier this year by the Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA) found that 45% of women aged 16-24 "were not interested in or despised sexual contact". More than a quarter of men felt the same way.(taken from The Guardian)

For a country with more extreme cultural values to our own, it's easy to dismiss these figures as the natural progression of a society primarily interested in 'salaryman' careers and the increase in the number of young people more willing to forgo the traditional trends of marriage and family life. Taking a closer look though could possibly reveal more about Western society as a whole than is entirely comfortable.

Throughout the article, women and men of varying ages between their early twenties and fourties were interviewed to speak about their opinions on relationships and to talk about exactly why they were choosing to remain single - a phenomenon in Japan which the media have dubbed "sekkusu shinai shokogun": literally, 'celibacy syndrome'.

The differences between the interviewees' attitudes to single life and that of a more familiar story taken from our own media was that their single lives weren't seen as temporary or finite. For the most part each person described their desires for sex and marriage as non-existent, stating that they doubted they ever would be interested in anything more meaningful than a platonic relationship. Some said their careers were their main priority, some said they simply were not interested in sex. "Mendokusai" they said. It's too much hassle.

For me, there's nothing surprising about this attitude. Of course relationships aren't necessary parts of human life for a lot people, nor should the traditional ideals of marriage and child-spawning be thrust upon people as the only healthy way to live. I'm not going to talk through the implications these new attidudes are having on the wider population of Japan as I'm sure the figures speak for themselves (you can find them all here) but rather the way they are affecting the sociology of the country. 

Society there has been changing dramatically over the past 150 years. As a culture traditionally set on male-breadwinner, woman-childminder values (much like our own), it has apparently been harder for both men and women to turn these stigmas around due to ingrained ideals combined with conservative Japanese attitudes. Calling unmarried sexually-active people "unsuitable members of society" and assuming that being married automatically requires the partners involved to reproduce isn't exactly doing wonders for young people's faith in the societal norm. 

Now that long-term single life is becoming more commonplace in Japan, the Government and media have attempted to backtrack on what they see as a national crisis, but it might be too late. I read this article and wondered why more countries were not involved in the study, and why it came as a surprise that people are no longer seeking stability in a relationship. In 2013, a long-term relationship couldn't be less desirable to independent people struggling to pave a way financially and socially. Given the state of the world, why should young people feel the need to bring children into it? Why should they be expected to rely on another human when they can provide everything they need for themselves?

I haven't seen a more depressing view of the future. That people would give up the chance to be in any sort of relationship because it's just too much of a distraction makes me sadder than any other news story I've read in recent months. In my opinion, and I know nobody asked me for it but I'm gonna storm in there and give it anyway, years of oppressive stereotypes and pressure to have it all have stopped this generation from seeking the traditional ideals of their parents. Add to this a string of economic and ecological disasters and you've got perhaps the least likely place you'd want to start a happy family.

This isn't about people being unlucky in love. This is about thousands of young adults opting out of relationships altogether in favour of playing reality sims, working 20 hour days and having easier, non-sexual friendships, and it isn't going to just stay within the boundaries of Japan's coastline.

Is that an ideal or is it a nightmare?

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Should we really care about band t-shirts?

"Blitzkreig Bop? No, that's too commercial."
Once upon a time, band t-shirts were something you wore to display your personality outwardly to the world.

You were young and filled with a million self-doubts and adolescent malaise. It was incredibly important to let people know who you were - you weren't entirely sure yourself. It was self-affirming. The fact that the way you dressed could instantly render an instant opinion of your personality was not only pleasing to you, it was a useful time-saver. People with similar t-shirts (or who claimed to have similar t-shirts at home) would talk to you on the basis of your chosen emblem of the day. It felt good.

Later in your life, they became less declarations of 'who you are', turning into simple tokens of things you appreciated. You felt strongly enough about something to wear it on your person. That's a good thing - it meant you'd not totally succumbed to apathy.

I still wear band t-shirts, however a lot of the time I forget they are band t-shirts and wear them inappropriately. I've had them for so long they've blended into my wardrobe, their recogniseable logos as invisible to me now as the terms and conditions on the bottom of a scratchcard. It can cause problems. I wore my Crystal Castles "Bruised Madonna" shirt to the gym once, only to realise the looks of reproach coming from my fellow Fitness Pilates class members were aimed at the apparent glorified image of a beaten woman. I didn't try to explain. "It's just a band t-shirt!" wouldn't have really cut it. They thought I was a total bastard. I was extremely embarassed.

A similar incident occurred when I wore one of my favourite dresses out in Manchester. It happened to be printed all over with the same geometric patterns as Joy Divisions "Unknown Pleasures" artwork. A man stopped me to say "Somebody told me there was a Joy Division dress! I can't believe it! A t-shirt yeah...but a dress? That's cool, man." A man said that. A fully grown man.

Had I been 18 I'd have been thrilled (and probably tried to sleep with him), however in my mid-twenties, not-nearly-drunk-enough-for-this state I became incredibly embarrassed by my dress. It was betraying me, making total strangers talk to me enthusiastically, forcing me to be social and gregarious. I don't wear it much anymore.

In the music news this week I've seen two stories about music/band t-shirts that caught my attention. The first is about Rihanna, whose music I have already admitted to liking, and whose body I would slaughter countless mythical creatures to attain for myself (funnily enough, the Slaughtering Mythical Creatures pack from LesMills is about due to arrive). According to what I've read, she's been handed an undisclosed sum from the Arcadia group after they used her image without permission on a t-shirt.

Fair enough, I say. Her face is her money. You don't think she makes her bucks from the music industry, do you? *laughs and laughs and laughs until it goes dark*.

The second was an article about Ian MacKay being "alright" with Urban Outfitters selling a Minor Threat t-shirt. Now, if he says it's okay, are you really gonna argue with him? It would be nice for him to get some of the proceeds just as Rihanna has sued Topshop for, but I think he's far too concerned with not bowing down to "the man" to care about that sort of thing.

The thing about the latter article is how band t-shirts are seen by many, including the author, as being an untouchable aspect of a person's own, private cultural beliefs. Owning a Minor Threat t-shirt to this person (and the girl mentioned in the piece) was a statement of unmeasurable status and cooliosity. If you had a Minor Threat t-shirt, to some groups of people, you were the man. Or woman.

So, the implication is then, having a band's t-shirt sold in a high-street store automatically downgrades the coolness of liking this band, therefore downgrading each fan's coolness. Being able to buy a t-shirt in a shop is not good enough to reach the high echelons of cool. I can sort-of see the annoyance - when they started selling Daft Punk t-shirts in Primark I felt like I'd been sterilised - but is it really so bad in the grand scheme of things to have non-fans wearing the names of your favourite musicians on their person?

I have spent too long glaring at youthful, carefree woodnymphs who dare to wear a Blondie or Fleetwood Mac t-shirt that they picked up from Topshop. In the spirit of my efforts to try and let go of all the boiling hate and rage inside of me (there's a lot, trust), I've decided it's better to let them get on with it.

It'll hurt, friends. Oh god, it'll hurt. Seeing a skinny 17 year old Alt-J member lookalike wearing a tye-dyed Tupac vest will never be an enjoyable experience. Just think of this though - one day they will be patiently waiting at a taxi rank or sipping their first pint of the evening when a vaguely unkempt and incredibly enthusiastic person will approach them. They will wave their arms and stand just a bit too close, assuming that this shared t-shirt bonds them together as kindred spirits. They will talk at length about how cool this shirt is, and latterly how cool the person or band depicted on it is. Mr Alt-J will have no idea what to contribute. This will be the most cringeworthy moment of his life.

He will never wear that shirt again.

You see, it'll be worth it in the end.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The internet ruined the Millenials.

It has become a concern of mine that my generation, the younger section of the Millenials, a term that makes us sound like wise, post-human ethereal beings, are anything but.

As more of my creative friends are dragged into the disused quarry that is the dire employment cycle of 2013, I've started looking at not only myself and my friends and family but the people I converse with online and even the writers I admire in newspapers, magazines and in blogs. I think we're all dying out.

I can't think of a time when it was easier to distract yourself. I'm doing it right now. I have a list right next to me of articles I could be researching for, articles I need to write, jobs that need to be finished and tasks to do for work, but I've chosen to write this instead. It's on the internet. It doesn't seem like a real time commitment.

I see so many talented people having interesting debates online on a daily basis that could be put towards some really groundbreaking work. They never will be. This is not meant in a disparaging way - creative types have always procrastinated - only that it saddens me so many ideas will go un-explored thanks to how quickly they can be shared, talked about and forgotten.

I wonder if some of the world's greatest philosophers would have managed to change the course of thinking forever had Twitter been around in their day. They'd have managed a good few thousand RTs perhaps (if they'd had a decent following, been picked up by a Blue Tick-er or had written it without punctuation for the Weird Twitter crowd) but they might never have gotten round to picking apart their ideas in a book. They might have become more introverted, speaking their minds only behind a computer screen, discouraging them from attending conferences and making speeches and lectures. It's a hypothetical situation but one that I've been thinking about a lot lately.

More than this, our generation in the West is seen as living out an endless childhood. How can a member of it be taken seriously? Those before us lived through what were perceived to be Real Hardships - wars on their doorsteps, breadline poverty, mills and factories, unequal rights - see us as spoiled or even, to my constant exasperation, ungrateful. Thanks to the incredible lives our predecessors lived we are free to use the benefits they accumulated to spend our lives in a constant state of purgatory, drifting from one thing to the next, living for the weekend in a life more-or-less unchallenged by society or hardship.

We don't always choose that life. As perpetual children of plenty we're, unfairly and wrongly, never really expected to accomplish or achieve anything of much worth. It's partly our fault - fetishising cupcakes, spending our time doing nothing in particular, wallowing in self-pity - I feel like I am still a teenager, but I'm not. I'm at an age where many of my heroes had already begun their roads.

The worst part is, I know what I want my contributions to be, I'm just not doing anything about it. For many (or perhaps most) that realisation of where you want to be hasn't occurred yet and that's a true challenge, one that should never be scoffed at. Our generation has been told by those previously mentioned parents and grandparents who lived through True Hardships not to spend our lives using each day up doing something we hate. The result of this well-meaning worldly advice is that for the most part we feel we are wasting our lives, endlessly trying to reach some happy living Nirvana where time isn't the enemy and activities are meaningful instead of guilt-laden distractions from the real world.

I know that a great deal of my friends and acquaintances have Plans. These Plans have been sitting in folders and in notebooks for months, perhaps years; thought about daily but never acted upon. These Plans might not be fully-formed yet, but they are meaningful enough to keep close, like some desktop talisman glowing from the inside, promising a better life somewhere in the non-specified future. It could be the basic construction of the beginning of a novel (yes, that's me). It could be a spreadsheet detailing how enough money could be saved in a year to go travelling, to go back to university or to start that business you always wanted. It could be a photo album of people you want to get back in touch with, who you know make you a better person, who will be the key to achieving what you want in life. It could be a basic scribbled-down note of realisation that something needs to change, but you're not sure what.

I know one thing - while we're stuck in unfulfilling online purgatory, none of these things will ever be realised. I don't like what this could mean. The internet is a creative chimera - the perfect place to share ideas, research in depth from the comfort of your home and to blow off steam, but it's also the most effective time-sapping device ever created by nature or man, destroying good intentions and wasting days of our lives. If I was the conspirational sort I'd say that perhaps social networking was devised to stop the creative types of the world from doing anything at all.

You could say that it has enabled more people than ever to question the motives of those in power, that it has given the masses access to huge amounts of information and data. You could say that it offers a total and complete resource to find out anything you could ever need to know. You could talk about how it is the perfect place for like-minded people to share ideas, thoughts and values. This is all true. What is being done with this new-found activism though? Are we creating more, doing more? Or are we endlessly recycling it, forming opinions or ideas and then going to make another cup of tea?

We are making ourselves feel impotent when we are not.

Monday, 22 July 2013

How to check your charitable donations go where you want them to.

"I don't give to charity - they just spend the money on advertising and legal proceedings anyway."

I hear this a lot when I talk about giving to charity and I can see where this opinion comes from. Tarnished forever by the actions of charity hawkers in the street, people now view giving as a hassle, and one that won't necessarily end up with any noticeable or fulfilling outcome.

In March 2014 the Charity Commission's data held on the annual returns of charities will be made free open data, however until this point, it's fair to think that charitable donations aren't making any difference. After all, how can you really tell if your charity is keeping their spends a secret?

I give to charity and always have ever since I earned enough money to sustain myself and then have a bit left over for having fun with. I figured since so many people have helped me out over the years (see 'the week my cat died', 'the time our family were technically homeless' and 'all the times I've called free organisations like Citizen's Advice Bureau for advice') this was the best way to give something back to the universe (or whatever). As much as I'd love to be of more practical, personal assistance to my charities of choice, I either can't - I'm in the wrong country for starters - or quite simply, money is far more useful to them.


Macmillan Cancer Support - "How we raise and spend our money"


If giving to charity is only something you do not do because you're afraid your money will only go towards a fancy TV advert or an MD's large salary, this is no cynical thing. At least you're thinking about what you're doing and not giving blindly to the first charity that comes your way. Not all charities and philanthropic organisations act in this way though and it's fairly easy to do some research and find out how to help the people/animals/countries/wildlife/plants/insects/planet in a way you feel suits you best.

Many charities - like British Red Cross as seen here or like Amnesty International seen here - break down their spending in a visible manner, however not every organisation is as transparent.

Alive and Giving is basically a charity comparison website. It helps prospective givers to find out which organisations offer the best 'value for money' - that is, how much of your hard-earned cash will be tied up in fees and legal costs, and how much of it will actually reach it's intended recipient.

Choosing from the type of charity (so "humanitarian", "agricultural", "medicinal" etc.) and then by location, it's also really handy to help you find out about smaller charities doing work in fields you a) are really interested in and concerned about b) may never have heard of before due to their small size, minute advertising budget and remote/local location.

I tend to research charities a lot before I give money to them (why on earth would you give money away when you don't know where it's going?) and I'm glad there's now a site dedicated to encouraging others to do the same.

Visit http://www.aliveandgiving.com/ To find out more about charities you already support or to find a new one you m ight never have heard of which sums up your morals and beliefs entirely.

Sidenote - Some charities aren't included in the scheme which could be for a number of reasons, most likely being that they decided not to opt-in to be scrutinised. I am of the opinion smaller charities do more to help their chosen causes anyway, however if you're looking for an organisation who isn't listed, check their official website to see if their financial info is listed (usually under "FAQs" or "more about us"). Often it is. If it isn't, the choice is entirely yours.

More interesting links: 
Development tracker - how the UK invests in developing countries
Ipsos Mori's report - "Public perceptions of Charity"
5 things charities are spending your money on - LoveMoney
The "non profits" who spend most of their money on fundraising International Business Times (America)
Is the way we view charity spending counter-productive? - The Guardian

Friday, 19 July 2013

Why mediocre country-pop song "If I Die Young" by The Band Perry fascinates me

I'd been confused by this for a little while.

At my fitness pilates class (haha yes I'm an OAP, something to do with my left hip flexor means I need to do stretches and...you don't want to know all this) there is occasionally a country playlist. I'm not adverse to country music - I love hearing a Marlboro man sing about how upset he is that his lady left with his truck - but some of the tracks on it are truly unbelievable.

One such song is "If I Die Young" by The Band Perry. A song that's quite nice in a bland, background radio music sort of way; it doesn't scream "crossover single of the century" but it doesn't make me want to tear my eardrums out with horror and frustration either. It's essentially a 'nothing' sort of song. If you heard it once you'd never think about it again.

I hear it once a week though, while we do awkward spine rotations in a gym hall just outside of Clitheroe.

For the first couple of weeks the whole playlist blended into one lamentable drone, occasionally punctuated by cynically-written wedding song cash cows by the likes of Shaniah Twain and Alison Krauss. One week I noticed that Brad Paisley was in on the act, crying about drinking whiskey to forget his cheating wife (true country ethics). All seemed well and relatively dull.

Then a song started creeping into my subconscious. I found myself humming a tune throughout the week, so I Googled the words I remembered and lo and behold, here was "If I Die Young", wriggling around in my frontal lobe.

I'm now semi-obsessed with this song. It's not great - as I mentioned before, it's the type of mid-chart-bothering pop country a million other people have done before - it's the sentiment that affects me so. Let me explain.

"If I Die Young" is a song about dying when you're young. Obviously. It details how the singer would prefer to be buried (in satin on a bed of roses) and sent off (sank in a river), how sad her mother would be to bury her child and how people would listen to her final words with reverence and respect.

Despite this being a wholly inappropriate premise for a pop song, this still isn't why the song fascinates me.

What I find so truly fascinating about this track is how it must have been written along the same lines as any classic "first dance" wedding song, but for a young person's funeral.

Everybody has a song that reminds them of somebody, and should that person pass away, that song becomes your own personal memorial of their life. The Band Perry (or more probably, their manager [NOTE: I have since been informed by an eager fan that this track was made before they had a manager, however it was released on Republic Nashville so make of that what you will) had the fantastic business idea of creating that song cold, therefore offering their cut and dried sentiments to be pasted onto an entire nation's grief. What a fantastic way to make money! People are always dying, ergo, people will always need moving funeral songs. The grim gift that keeps on giving.

I'll paste the video below so you can listen for yourself. There is no personal sentiment, no added memoirs or anecdotes - this track was made to be grafted onto as many people's emotions as possible. Almost regimentally innocent with choice lines like "the sharp knife of a short life", I wouldn't be surprised if a boardroom of people sat around brainstorming ways to describe a mother's perfect vision of their beloved child. I can't believe somebody has been so savvy and cynical. I'd be appalled if I wasn't in awe of their massive, businessbutt balls.

Oh, it's also in a key pretty much everyone can sing, perfect for recitals and cover versions. Cha ching.

Listen to it here and then tell me if I'm just being a cynical, unfeeling twat.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Music descriptions

"Most rock journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read." -- Frank Zappa

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Author - Forward Forever (a review)


There's been talk recently of the death of an entire genre, brought on by a culmination of factors, mostly disenchantment, popularity and overexposure. Dubstep has always divided opinion and as the demand for heavier, more abrasive drops reached an all time high, it's only natural that a tipping point was reached.


Not every dubstep producer is happy to leave the ailing genre and step onto the as-yet unspoiled pastures of Instagram house though. It's difficult for me to write objectively about Author. On the one hand, they're a production duo who I don't know personally and therefore could say whatever I wanted about. On the other, as solo artists and as their current collaborative project they have created some of the most important music to me that I've heard; a bold statement, but one that could easily be backed up if you gave me a soap box, two shots of gin and four hours of your time.

J. Sparrow asked me to tell him honestly what I thought of "Forward Forever" so these are the words I came up with.

It would be easy for Author to rest on the merits of their previous works to sell a willfully difficult second album. Their first self-titled LP was met with a wide-reaching ripple of critical acclaim. Loved entirely by a sizeable cluster of fans, it reached out past the confines of the usual dubstep crowd.

Rather than scrabble for inspiration by changing direction as many would, the pair use “Forward Forever” to create a meticulous scrapbook of sonic memories, ideas and sketches; some brand new to the listener, some previewed in live sets along the way. It covers a lot of ground too, there are a plethora of influences on show and the album is made stronger by some impressive guest spots and influences. Dan Man's distinctive roots vocals give “Jah Live”'s swooning dub an authentic edge, and “After Time” would not have that same flourishing, burnished glow without long-time friend and collaborator Quark's dreamy, atmospheric influence.

There's a dynamic at work between both producers that give Author a raw credibility underneath the polished beats and brass. Perhaps it's because they've worked together for years that they have become so comfortable as a duo -- there is something joyful in hearing both Ruckspin and Jack Sparrow bounce off each other. Working in unison yet with their own techniques and ideas in mind, they coalesce and soar apart constantly, changing and adapting to each track's trajectory. I wouldn't be surprised if half of the LP came about through drawing up specific ideas and half were brought to life by improvisation using this shared mindset.



One guest musician who I think requires a specific mention is Submotion Orchestra's Simon Beddoe, whose gorgeously warm influence has become an essential part of Author's production as well as an integral part of their live shows. Jazz improvisation in dubstep might not catch on across the board but nothing makes more sense on Forward Forever than his subtly illuminating contributions. “Take The Bridge” showcases this perfectly, offering moments where brass steps out from behind intricate percussion and deep, subby bass to create an atmosphere of its own, enhancing the sound without ever overstepping the mark.

Author are at their brightest and most cinematic in tracks like “Keep Moving” and “Innovate” as provocative lyrics and emotive live instrumentation push for an emotional response. Combining Gil Scott Heron with that unmistakeably Author-style beat, Beddoe's brass and trip-hop sampling, it's a combination of all the things I love about them in one track. Going cinematic again, “Roman” is undoubtedly Ruckspin and Quark's most melancholic labour of love since “Sunshine” with its ethereal, flowing sounds falling into deep caverns of bass with live instrumentation flickering around a deeper hum of subs and strings.

When they get it right there are few artists who can touch Author in both levels of creativity and production skill, and that's what makes their work so intriguing; a combination of acute attention to detail whilst retaining a sense of warm musicality. The nature of an album like Forward Forever is that experimentation does lead to stronger tracks overshadowing others. Despite this however, each goes a long way to present itself not as a collection of isolated tracks, but as an interchangeable soundscape of musical ideas amassed over two career's worth of work.

Favouring live instruments and unafraid to build tracks up to towering levels of swaying atmosphere and texture, their interpretation of dubstep is a world away from the barren wastelands of ceaseless compression and robotic build-and-drop. With depth, emotion and constant creativity, they work together seamlessly to draw from both old influences and new techniques in order to explore their sound further and to make music they love, the outcome of which is a fresh yet somehow familiar perspective. There's no doubt that the latter was not the intention, but talented musicians left to their own devices to create whatever they want tend to care less about classification and more about the pictures they paint and the stories they craft with their sounds.

Tracklist
01. After Time feat. Quark
02. In The Sky feat. Jehst & Stig of the Dump
03. Innovate
04. My Only
05. Chant feat. June Miller & Rider Shafique
06. Gathered feat. Quantum Soul
07. On The Boil feat. Quantum Soul
08. Paint By Numbers feat. Quark
09. Jah Live feat. Dan Man
10. Roman feat. Quark
11. Take The Bridge Home
12. Keep Moving feat. Rider Shafique

Black Box will release Forward Forever on June 24th, 2013.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Watching a 44 year old man rap the theme tune from a show he used to be in isn't really for me.

Whenever a sports car drives past me, I pretend to look at my watch. This might be why whenever something is over-enthused about on the internet (something I spend about 11 hours of my day interfering with) I glance over it and secretly hope it's rubbish so I don't want to share it too. I'm a stubborn little prick, basically.

This is also the beginning of my explanation as to why I found Will and Jaden Smith doing the rap from Fresh Prince of Bel Air on Graham Norton's talk show a bit rubbish. Carlton was good, but that's because he's got nothing to fall back on. He had to put his everything into that performance.

I have nothing against the Will Smith personally - why would I? He's a a man who makes his living out of entertaining people. I respect people for that (even if Hitch was absolutely fucking diabolical). What I hated was sitting in my house at whatever time it was on Friday night watching a viral video get made in front of my eyes.

It's commonly accepted across the board that whenever there's a guest on a chat show, they are there to flog something. Whether they have a terrible new autobiography out or a new single, or they're about to launch a new show of their own, there's always that moment where they say their promo piece and then get back to being lightly questioned about what hair products they use (unless they're on Chatty Man in which case they are plied with 20/20 and forced to talk about clitorises).

What I saw on Friday night was a man pushing his averagely talented son (who he clearly adores, make no mistake about that, I totally get it) into a glaring prime-time spotlight on the basis that he is related to him. He wants to give him a head start. It kinda felt like Will Smith had gone right up to the bigger boys on the football pitch, Jaden in hand, and said "Come on son! They want you to play with them! See!". It was a bit awkward and from the look of Graham Norton's face, he thought so too. I actually turned the telly off at this point because I didn't want to watch Will Smith make his son tell a joke or do a dance routine that they'd rehearsed or something.

About an hour later, people were sharing videos of him doing the theme tune to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air with Jaden and Jazzy Jeff in tow as if it was the single greatest television moment of all time. Let me just clarify - this is a show that went off air in 1996, that was never really as good as its theme tune led us to believe.

I know, I'm no fun, I'm a cynic, I take good things and turn them into grey, magic-less mush. But are you all really that unimaginative?

This reminds me of the guy on Facebook that will make pictures of LITERALLY ANYTHING on Microsoft Paint. Anything you want. Despite this, time and time again people request him to draw a couple of fairly obscure 90s celebrities doing things like riding broomsticks or making cakes while they wear fancy dress. Clearly in the face of absolute choice, people will go back to the things they know. These days, there's a weird version of accepted oddness where "random" is as sterile as an estate agent in a navy suit. You're more likely to see a man dressed as a banana on a bar crawl these days than you are a man dressed in nice clothes. It's just the way things are now.

You do know they sat and thought up a way to get Jaden posted on the internet as much as possible over the coming 48 hours? It was a cold, calculated "how do you make a viral video?" move that was followed up by Will Smith kicking a ball really badly. I'm sure you've seen that too. Share away.

Maybe it doesn't matter. Content created for content's sake happens all the time on the internet, why shouldn't it happen on TV? I'm still stuck in a behind-the-times dreamworld where people do things because they like to do them though, not because every move they make is a marketing decision. But that's just silly naive little me. That's why I'm not a multi-millionaire with lovely, well behaved, talented kids and a core fanbase of the entire known universe. Because who doesn't like Will Smith? Answer: Nobody. Even I like him, and I hate most things.

To end on a high note, here is an example of somebody flogging something to a live studio audience on a chat show and making me nearly bawl my eyes out with the loveliness.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Be the venue you want to see in the world

Over the weekend I did a lot of characteristically small-town rural things. I visited family. I drank wine in front of an open fire. I had a roast dinner. I drank in a Wetherspoons. One thing I did that might be worth mentioning though, was the fact I went to see a burgeoning new house act play in a student club in Lancaster.

Going to see bands, artists or "acts" in small towns is often a bizarre experience. Despite Lancaster's huge student population, the nightlife in the area leaves a lot to be desired. Aside from a handful of smaller clubs dealing with late night binge drinkers with typical enthusiastic aplomb, there are scarily few places to go where any music outside of the charts might be played.

After years of visiting the same nightspots in the city - it's my hometown, I've been a veteran drunk there since the summer of 2005 - there seems to be little the bars and pubs can do to encourage the growth of any kind of independent music scene, despite many heroic past attempts by well-meaning students and businessfolk alike to change the face of Lancaster's late night scene.

Short-lived electro nights and breakbeat shows came and went, rock nights burnt out, visiting musicians became more and more obscure. The die-hard followings of various club nights was no match for the ever-changing young population of Lancaster. There may be locals but the vast majority of paying punters are set to leave in four years max. You can't expect a much-loved local lad or lass to continue DJing at Cuba after they graduate. It's selfish. People move on (to Manchester, usually). You eventually get over it.

With the graduating musicians goes their hard-earned clubnight branding. The nights of flyering comes to a stop, the bar loses money, it eventually closes. This sad story isn't singular to Lancaster, but its more telling there than in other areas. Even larger clubs like Toast (now "Lost" - a stolen name from a rock night that once flourished there - no rock is played now, oddly) and Liquid rebrand every 18 months or so, desperate to keep it fresh for the perpetual influx of freshers, forgetting about the locals who potentially have more money to spend if the theme, music, even the atmosphere was right.

Pubs that were once six-deep at the bar now struggle to hold on to patrons on pound a pint nights. Nights that were legendary amongst an entire cross-section of local society have been stopped due to a lack of interest and the simple fact that promoters don't want to put their time into these sorts of ventures anymore. I don't blame them. There are other things to do.

Why would a club sort out its disgraceful toilets and rude bar staff if its still making money from people who don't care where they drink? Why would a clubnight want to book a guest DJ in if ticket sales would barely cover their costs? Why would bands and DJs want to play in a town that has forgotten what real live performances are about?

That's the atmosphere I was met with on Saturday - a crowd who had lost their way. Aside from my initial delight that in quite a large club the drinks were less than £5 each, it was clear the people inside weren't here to see the act in question - they were here for some music. They were here to see anyone. The sheer fact that these young DJs were national names, that they were playing music that wasn't on the Capital FM playlist made it more exciting. It was confusing to see hundreds of people dancing to tasteful, poppy, Disclosure-esque house the way they'd dance to Knife Party. It was hard to see whether people were enjoying themselves or if they were just excited to be given something else to do.

The guys on stage weren't bad, and they played a couple of really great tracks. What I was left with wasn't an impression of them though. It was an impression of small town nightlife. There's nothing to do because people don't know what they want. Or perhaps they won't pay for it. Either way, it's hard to explain that going out isn't all goldfish bowl Sex On The Beach, broken toilet door locks and clubs that smell of straw and disinfectant. The cheesy music I can cope with, the disgraceful state of the venues I cannot.

If club owners want to leave their properties to fall in on themselves, that's their choice. When it reflects badly on an entire area, that's when it becomes a problem. When discussing where to go on a Friday night comes down to where is less disgusting, you know there is a serious issue at hand. With no real choice, these places are packed regardless of whether any changes are made. This turns promoters off from creating new and interesting clubnights, it stops larger acts from coming in and generating much-needed revenue from ticket and drinks sales, and it stilts the growth of what could be an area of serious cultural growth and activity.

Lancaster isn't a backwater town. It's a thriving city with a very diverse cross-section of society living within its boundaries. There's no need for it to act like a post-depression mining village in the throes of a moonshine epidemic. If you're going to own all the clubs in an area, perhaps think about the ramifications this investment has on the scene of the town as a whole, and not about how much more money you could make by letting underage drinkers in on the sly.

Just a thought.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Out of the Loop


Do you know how hard it is to get back into the loop of something you were barely in the loop of to start with? I'll tell you – it's really freaking hard.

I rely on my PC to work so that I can work. I feed it the occasional bit of memory here and there, it opens browser windows and files for me. It's a simple arrangement that has got us through our Great London Famine of Jan-March 2012, the incorporation of hashtags into the common parlance of the bantersaurus rex and the end of the world.

It was to my complete and total horror then that late one night in early December, my PC decided it had had enough of being my Wordpress slave and kicked it. I say “it”. It kicked my frivolous freelancing dream right in it's flabby, impotent ballsack.

All it takes in this precarious business is a couple of weeks of inactivity and your Klout score is fucked. Sure, you can tell yourself you'll update via your smartphone, but without the glare of a reproachfully empty word document open in your face, not a lot will get done. Go on, tell yourself this is the age of mobile devices. Try and write a thought provoking article on 90s RnB on your iPad. YOU CAN'T CAN YOU. YOU'RE JUST WATCHING HOMELAND AND LOOKING AT YOURSELF IN THE BLANK BLACK SCREEN WHEN IT LOCKS. This is what I'm saying. It is futile. You are fighting something you will never overcome.

I gave into this malaise for a bit. It felt sort of nice you know; a week or so off from my gmail account. I learned how to play “Hounds Of Love” on the guitar. I watched all of the original “Yes, Prime Minister” (recommended). I downloaded countless games on my phone thinking that I would “get back into” gaming. Because that's what real gamers do, they play Temple Run for 16 hours and never get a score higher than 46,240.

I stopped thinking in Tweets. I stopped knowing what tracks were “dropping” soon. I stopped caring about what producers were saying was their favourite studio beverage. I became scared of checking my Soundcloud account because it had been so long since I last did so I was sure fifteen genres had been invented since my last login and I might get laughed out of our Solar System for not knowing about things first anymore.

Somebody told me about Justin Timberlake's new single with Jay-Z. Somebody had to tell me about it and I had to genuinely say “oh, really?”. I am not myself.

I now have a new computer and I don't know what to do with it. I have forgotten everything I knew before. In fact it is much worse than that because I actually know less than I did before about music because during my Amish holiday I only listened to records and most of those are by Killing Joke and The Cult and INXS.

I can't stay in this slump forever though. My four tumblr followers need me. I must get back on my synthy rollerblades of freelance rejcection and glide wobbily onto the bassy promenade of self-regarding, 'serious' dance music.

If I don't write something about someone soon, somebody else will do it.

That just about sums up my worries. Now. Isn't that a motivating way to sum up the life of a freelance music journalist?
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