Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Girls Who Run The World

It seems to me in the arts that there isn't a day goes by without someone complaining about one of two things: The frightening amount of young women who seem to feel that in order to get ahead in life they must strut scantily clad about the stage; and secondly that these days, there is a general dirth of 'real' music out there to sample.

I guess they have a point. As we all know, over the last decade or so more than at any other time in music history, an appearance on a reality TV show has become synonymous with success within the industry. But luckily for me in the places I hang about, there is still a lively discussion as to whether this is the case at all. Don't get me wrong I'm not suggesting that these shows are not a hard and competitive platform from which to launch yourself. Neither am I naive enough to believe that everyone who walks on to the show has never picked up a microphne in their lives, was entered without prior knowledge by a friend and is the sole carer of a sick relative despite the efforts of some of the best TV producers and editors in the bizz. Seldom are these people genuine over night sensations. In fact the opposite is often true, they have had to put in many long hours of practice before choosing the last resort and knocking on reality TV's door. It is a shame that they feel the need to put themselves at the mercy of The Big Machine like this, especially so for the odd contestant to grace the screen who actually has talent. They very quickly loose the sparkle in their eyes and at best end up a nervous, shivering wreck, at worst less than tabloid fodder.

All this considered, it is a miracle that any one manages to make anything that resembles music within the industry at all. We should all really be walking around with ipods full of various 79p tracks of white noise on them. Luckily this isn't the case at all and here is how I think a couple of my favourite artists right now did it...

So in order to become a true success on entering the maze that is the music industry, you need to choose between these two options. You either become the machine or not give two stuffs for it. Tough choice I know and one that takes a lot of guts but bear in mind that sitting on the fence results in X Factor size splinters. Now it would be negligent of me not to give her royal Gaga-sty even the slightest mention in an article such as this but to be honest it is another star in the music firmament that has been occupying my mind lately.

I was lucky enough to blag my way into a job at Glastonbury earlier this year. Whilst there I happened to stumble upon 175,000 people in the middle of the night having a wale of a time twisting their wrists and pointing their ring fingers in the air as if they were trying to catch a satellite. That's right you guys, Queen B had arrived. Aside from the fact that she really knows how to put on a live show, the way she has managed her career is something of which all young wannabees should take note. Sure, she is an entity unto herself (none of the potions you might find on ebay can give you a voice like hers regardless of the star rating of the seller)but that's not the pint. By writing and singing her songs in her own 'bootyliscious' manner, Beyonce hasn't once thought of asking to join the machine - she simply walked straight past it and built her own. She isn't acting like she owns the stage she literally does. Her image, songs, clothes, the whole lot are direct manifestations of her own musical identity as dictated by her. Unlike other enjoyable groups out there, people don't watch her because she is scantily clad but because she demands they respect her and her work.

Another lady who thumps her musical fist on the stage until you listen up, comes from the other side of the musical spectrum. I first added her to my list of favourites after discovering her with her band The Kills on The Other stage again at this years Glastonbury. Alison Mosshart isn't easily forgotten by anyone who's gone to see her. Also a talented singer and songwriter, she exudes an attitude on stage which suggest that not only does she not give a hoot for the machine, but that most of the time she is too busy being creative to even notice that there is one. As the front woman for both this cult indie rock duo and the esteemed 'super-group' creation of Jack White's The Dead Weather, she is simply mesmerising. She moves with the dexterity of a gazel and the power of a jumbo jet engine so it's as if every sound you hear from the stage is coming through her and not the speakers. I have to say sitting on my little patch of dried mud in the stupid-degree heat she struck me as rather a tour-de-force and living proof that the machine is only ever as powerful as you allow it to be.

So as I save up the pennies in order to once again curtsey at the court of Queen B and pick up a lovely vinyl version of The Kills latest offering Blood Pressures, my head is able to hit the pillow each night safe in the knowledge that in actual fact, talented girls are soaring high and not all is dismal in the musical world.


Wednesday, 17 August 2011

A Tale Most Timely

So freakishly enough with the riots going on at the moment, I happen to be halfway through A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens intense exploration of the French revolution from both sides of the channel.
The funny thing about it is, that despite being published in the mid 19th century and discussing events which took place within the 18th one, the lessons which it could have taught us long before last week, if we had only let it are huge.
To be honest its simple enough : Treat people like sh*ts for long enough and they start behaving like sh*ts. Now don't get me wrong I am not defending the conduct of the people - who contrary to popular belief were both young and old and of every race imaginable - for whom physical destruction was the most satisfying way of articulating themselves. I personally, being both working class, a graduate and of a mixed race background inevitably feel taken advantage of and trampled all over by the government. However, I, like the vast majority of young people, would rather talk or write or sing or dance or petition about my problems then use force. The physical approach not only risks hurting other people and of course ourselves -why trash your own garden and then complain you can't sunbathe in it? - in more ways than one. It does also go a very long way to proving the government's misconceptions about working class and young people right.
So according to Dickens in these ' of times' slash '...worst of times' what's to be done? Well as I say I haven't quite finished the novel but so far restraint seems to be the order of the day; there is a time and a place for everything and careful thought must come before action. Although this is not the late 1780's. Perhaps in our 21st century world, we can find it within us to act like the intelligent, articulate young people that we are and quietly wait for the right time to shout with our voices as opposed to bricks, fire balls, and the lifted contents of JD Sports.
And for them, those distinctively middle aged, upper-class guys up top, what could they possibly learn? Principally I suppose that you can't run a man's child over with your carriage and bid that he 'eat grass' lacking bread and expect no tears of hurt to be shed. In a country which proclaims to run a system so tight that no-one however lowly or however high is out of the reach of the long arm of the law, it is more than a little frightening, that the politician's and bankers who steal the taxes from our pockets and the fiscal strength from our infrastructure to the tune of thousands of pounds a year (in bills for the cleaning of moats and duck ponds and replenishment of private jets) escape with a slap on the wrist - if that and little else - whilst a young person stealing 3 bottles of mineral water to the tune of £3.50 can receive four months in Jail. Shame on you Messrs Cameron + Clegg. Shame on you. Of course he should be punished for taking part in criminal activity regardless of his motivations but perhaps we can show some semblance of balance and perspective here. If I had my way you'd both be banished to the naughty step. Oh and whilst you were there I' d advise you to read something from within Dickens' cannon. Taking the opulent and expensive educations you have been lucky enough to afford into account - I personally couldn't have afforded to go to 6th form without the precious EMA you have now cut - I find it hard to believe you haven't encountered him in the first place. I long since have. Yes, it might surprise you to know that simple folk like us sometimes sit at home and read the classics or in fact do anything that doesn't involve skulking around on street corners with our hoodies up. Perhaps when you read him this time, pay attention. I'm sure you'd agree the 140 yrs since his death is a long time within which to be stepping backwards.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

What's in a Game?

Why is it that many people (I hesitate to use the term most, due to an abundant lack of actual statistics) see video games as childish? If I tell certain people that I've spent the evening on the xbox, it's met with a dismissive shake of the head, or, if I'm lucky, a sympathetic thing's will get better soon. I don't want or need them to get better, it was no doubt a very enjoyable, frustrating and ultimately diverting evening.

If I was to say I spent the evening watching a film or listening to music, I'd not receive such a patronising reaction. (Unless, perhaps, the film was Meet the Spartans and Justin Bieber was on the stereo.) Video games are becoming more and more sophisticated, not just in terms of graphics but in terms of story, character and all-round immersive environment. Take LA Noire, the game from Rockstar (GTA) in which your character is a detective in 1940s Los Angeles. The narrative twists and turns, splits depending on how you investigate the crimes. It's an engaging story in which you become emotionally involved with character. Why, then, is it not taken as seriously as, for example, film?

There's certainly as much work that goes into the product, both in terms of production, marketing etc etc. Could it be that it suffers from being the youngest child? Cinema, at its inception, was not considered anywhere near a serious art form, until pioneers such as Chaplin and Griffith (racist he may be) pushed it firmly into the classification of "culture". Video games, in their modern form, as still relatively young, and the simple fact may be that it just takes certain people some time to consider something new to become "worthy".

Hindering the cause for computer entertainment is the misconception that games are mindless, and often needlessly violent. Whilst there are undoubtedly some games where this is the case, it is unfair to criticise the whole art form of gaming. There are films that are mindless and pointless (just earlier I caught a snippet of Cats & Dogs on TV), there are books that are mindless and pointless, but you can't criticise The Great Gatsby because Dan Brown is a trashy author. And there's no doubt he is.

But games like LA Noire, even entertaining family fare like the Lego Adventures of Indiana Jones (brilliant) require active brain power. You have to solve puzzles in order to progress, and it doubtless improves your hand-eye coordination. Maybe a fair accusation may be that it can be antisocial, but it is no less so than a film, a book, or a play. In fact, it's probably more so, as most games now feature online modes where you interact (shoot) with other people from across the globe.

When all is said and done, though, I imagine the cynics will keep coming back to the one prominent argument: it's just a waste of time. Well, it isn't. If it's a waste of time, then all art forms are a waste of time, then sport is a waste of time. We don't stop watching films when we grow up, we just change the type of films we watch. So it is with games, except the margins are less easily defined. They're not for everyone (usually because they're no good at them, hence they become pointless) but they are a burgeoning art form, and should begin to be treated as such.

Tom Brown