December 2008

15th December, 2008

JERKIER THAN a speeding double-decker being driven by a two year old and more despondent than watching the Titanic non-stop for twenty years whilst being told that apocalypse is coming, Portishead’s third single from new release Third is to be avoided by all those going through intensive counselling for any kind of depression, as no song this good should have to go through the legal process of worsening some poor soul’s condition.


15th December, 2008

THE ICE Age comes but once a year, complete with enough house-bling to give the Milky Way a month off, family gatherings more volatile than the Middle East, and the bloody awful phenomenon that is the modern Christmas Number 1.

Three and a half minutes of commercialised, artificial happiness, telling us over and over again that “IT’S CHRISTMAS!” (yeah, because that had slipped our minds for all of no seconds) that, like the TV on Christmas Day, has actually managed to get worse over the years. ‘The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You)’ and ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ were made bearable by great voices and clever lyrics. But now…

2000 saw everyone’s least favourite dinosaur decide to imitate Jesus in his ‘Millennium Prayer’ video, only to be beaten to the coveted chart position by Westlife.  2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007 have all seen X-Factor winners dribble all over the number one spot, feeding off the desperation of your aunt to buy you a suitably cheap and easy to obtain present. I’m pretty sure Jesus deserves better birthday entertainments those guys. It’s become a joke, an irrelevance and even a scam – only one song over the last decade has been even remotely linked to Christmas (i.e. Bob the Builder’s ‘Can we Fix It?’). Bah…humbug.

Published in Student Direct, December 2008

7th December, 2008

IN MANY ways, challenging the majority’s view of sexuality is mankind’s most difficult task since trying to work out how to venture into outer space with only the technology to make a rudimentary steam engine. Since (at least) the dawn of monotheism in the West, the dominant view of sexuality has been that only unions ordained by God are legitimate, a view that has been propped up by the Catholic Church with some pretty firm and long-life scaffolding.

Even for British families who do not consider themselves religious, this doctrine has had a lasting impact on the upbringing of those now at University. “Traditional” upbringing and education does not cater for the alternative sexualities, and for many British teenagers, first contact with homosexuality was probably within the context of a derogatory remark or joke. Certainly, sex education lessons do not cover the subject at all, or if they do, they do it with all the enthusiasm of a man condemned to spend the rest of his life sat staring at a blank wall. Only at university, or perhaps college, will most students have had significant contact with, for example, same-sex couples. Essentially, LGBT societies have the modern version of the task of convincing everyone that the world is not, in fact, flat.

None of the above is meant to in anyway condone homophobia, transphobia, or any other phobia or hatred of a different sexuality. What it is trying to express, is that the idea that all sexualities are acceptable is, historically, a very new one for the general public. Ideas change over time, and, given that the world of the 21st century is markedly different to that of, say, the fifteenth, it is illogical to condemn the values of the past based on the values of the present. The fifteenth century bishop was wrong in relation to our ideas, not outright wrong.

So, the situation of the uninitiated university student whose heterosexual upbringing did not cross paths with the concept of alternative sexualities is one of confusion, and depending on the level of knowledge, misunderstanding. It is therefore unfair to expect the student to immediately adjust to the presence of a group which, historically, has been marginalised, legislated against, and even violently persecuted. The student may not have grown up in a society where same-sex couples were significantly numerous; perhaps a slightly less serious equivalent would be a student who has spent his or her entire life in the country, coming to Manchester to live on their own, their first time in a city.

Clearly, there will for many be a difficulty in accepting this new reality. This is a difficulty made worse by the militant sections of LGBT societies. Acceptance involves not only the understanding and willingness of the majority group, but also that the two groups interact in social and educational contexts, and that the minority group persevere (that is not to say that those of alternate sexualities should simply forget the modern injustices perpetrated against them – they shouldn’t). This is what a vast proportion of the LGBT society’s members do.

At times though, to the heterosexual student, it can feel as though the LGBT society has put up impenetrable barriers. For one, the society can seem exclusive, not inclusive. It is little known that heterosexual students can join the LGBT society, but this is not advertised, and would be a fantastic way to further interaction.

The society must also recognise that people’s knowledge of alternative sexualities is, on the whole, somewhat low. There are probably many terms in this article that have caused offence, either being inappropriate in tone or usage. For that I apologise; I mean no disrespect and welcome friendly corrections, but in some ways it illustrates one of my points – that there are many who are doing their best to understand this new reality, and yes, need a helping hand. There are some members of the LGBT society who, when a term is misused, or a view that is deemed to be somehow blatantly homophobic, for example, is aired, immediately man the guns and protest. Of course, it is tricky to know who has made a comment with the intention of offending and who hasn’t. However, a “one-size fits all” approach to this is not going to work, and will probably make the problem worse. Why should anyone feel inclined to continue to try to get to grips with something if all it does is yell at them when they get something wrong?

Of course, the vast majority of LGBT societies are not like this at all. You could argue that people should be going out of their way to learn and to understand, but the reality is that this new concept will take time to vanquish thousand year old values and find its place in society’s mainstream. Until that time triumphantly and deservedly arrives, there is going to have to be a little less suspicion and a little more pragmatism from both sides. Don’t forget past atrocities, but put up the barriers and assume that everyone is out to get you. It isn’t helping.

5th December, 2008

RECENT ALCOHOL Control Orders in Rusholme and Fallowfield simply give the illusion that drinkingsomething is being done about alcohol fuelled anti-social behaviour.

Alcohol Control Orders are aimed at stopping the physical consumption of alcohol in a particular place, turning the locations into “alcohol-free zones”. Manchester City Council and Greater Manchester Police have claimed that their latest imposition of an ACO in the Rusholme and Fallowfield areas of Manchester will provide a “safer and healthier environment.”

However, there is one pitcher-sized hole in their plan.

The ACO will not make the location an “alcohol-free zone”, and certainly will not eradicate anti-social behaviour, because an ACO does not stop people who have been drinking elsewhere from walking through the designated area. All it does is put a control on where people can drink, a control which is proportionate to the size of the ACO. If an ACO covered all of inner Manchester, including clubs, bars and pubs, then the vast majority of people wandering around the city legless would be those who had been drinking before arriving. Clearly, the only way that an ACO covering the whole of Manchester is going to occur is if a meteor hits the city, thus making it highly unlikely that anyone will be doing any drinking anywhere in Northern Europe, at least. Until that happens, an ACO will simply move those drinking on Wilmslow Road to a different location, or encourage them to drink up first, before embarking on their wiggly and sometimes event-filled travels. Whilst the ACO may have the effect of putting more police on our streets at night, they will only have powers to deal with people holding cans/bottles/flasks/whiskey barrels. So really, nothing significantly new. It’s nothing more than a façade.

The root of the problem of alcohol related violence and anti-social behaviour is not the physical drinking itself, but the motivations behind binge drinking. When the council realises this diverts funds from projects that waste money and police time, to campaigns which target and root causes and focus on making people question their actions, maybe our streets will become a safer and healthier environment.

3rd December, 2008

I LOVE post-rock; its simple yet hypnotising melodies and harmonies tap themselves together and twirl me around and around like Dorothy, whisking me to a magical magical place.

But as This Will Destroy You’s gig at Jilly’s Music showed, post-rocks’ largely limited soft-loud-permutation formula and a dominant inability to make music different from Explosions in the Sky and Mogwai is slowly consigning it to the status of background music, and after that, the cold dead place at the bottom of the trash/least played on iTunes.

Firstly, let it be made perfectly clear that post-rock is not some kind of innovation desert, not only parching the world’s creativity but stifling and strangling any hope of new birth. No, no, my friend. Godspeed You! Black Emperor (and its child, A Silver Mnt. Zion) and Sigur Ros, to name but three bands, are often held up as the kings of the genre, closely protected by its slightly less weird but by no means interesting bodyguards: Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, and Mono. All well worth a listen, if you ask me.

The issue of the bands’ styles and sounds is where the genre’s main problem lies. GY!BE and ASMZ make for a discordant, yet strangely mournful and beautiful listen, using orchestral instruments and samples, silences and vocals that to the uninitiated sound like a three year old learning the violin. Sigur Rós create the musical version of those pictures you see on nature programs of grand glaciers and awe-inspiring icicles and secret ice valley hideaways. Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, and Mono, however, are all proponents of the guitar-bass-drums-here’s-a-melody-now-let’s-spin-it-out-over-seven-minutes mantra. However, post-rock fans would argue that they do it well, each with their own subtle differences; Mono, for example, incorporate violins into a sound that can make a grown man cry with joy or produce enough power to run that ridiculous experiment in Switzerland.

This mantra is by far the easiest to copy (it’s hard work getting twenty or so people together who can’t read music, and tell them to jam until something otherworldly emerges). Better to grab four people and copy the soft-loud masters, since all you need are the guitarist’s basics; dynamics, alternate picking, and an ear for knowing what sounds pretty and what sounds like the devil just farted in your ear.

It’s all perfectly pleasant, but what can you actually do with it? You could add electronica, more distortion, tune your guitars down, add some different instruments, sing a little, but wait, we already have bands for these things. God is an Astronaut, 65daysofstatic, Timonium and ISIS, to name a few, and it is only a matter of time before carbon copies of all of those mentioned appear. For people who want something a little different, the post-rock catalogue range expansion is slowly grinding to a relentless halt, and is in danger of shrivelling like some kind of prize winning marrow that’s been left in the sun too long. One cause of this could be that this genre is one of the most conservative styles of music around. Thinking of adding a few swept-arpeggios? NO! HOW DARE YOU! And don’t even think of speeding it up (unless you’re 65dos).

The range might be shrinking, but the number of identical products is increasing. If post-rock did release a catalogue, it would be like Argos publishing their home-furnishings section ten times in the same book, each time with a different font face (chose from five). A few truly great sofas and shelving units, and then a ton of stuff that would either last a month, gather dust or just be forgotten about. This Will Destroy you shot themselves in one foot by picking two support bands that were to all intents and purposes identical to their patron, (and shot their second foot by picking a third act who were totally void of confidence and even cut songs short to avoid any further embarrassment) largely because there isn’t much variety to choose from.

I’m over simplifying slightly; there are many bands that do this very well and manage to inject their own style. If that wasn’t the case, then post-rock would stone dead. But looking at the genre as a whole, not only is the field full to the brim and lacking in scrumptious greenery, but it’s also hard to see any life beyond its boundaries. All genres lose popularity and yes, there is a large element of hindsight here, but in comparison to the blues and classical music, it doesn’t have all that much to offer to future generations. As an instrumental expression of thought it certainly has power, but often the thoughts are simplistic and easy to copy and manufacture. Standing in the cold, nuclear-bunker like Jilly’s, I realised post-rock is like some kind of musical hermit, living in a cave, shut off from the rest of humanity, intermittently poking its head out of its hole to preach and gather followers.

Published in Student Direct, December 2008