JINGLE BELL FLOP

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

MILITANTS WON’T WIN YOUR WAR

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.

HOW TO APPEAL TO BE TACKLING ALCOHOL ABUSE; THE ALCOHOL CONTROL ORDER.

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.

POST-ROCK IS NOT (YET) A COLD DEAD PLACE

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.

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This Will Destroy You

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

WHY ARE YOU HERE?

24th November, 2008

EXACTLY HOW much is going to a gig, mocking the audience and abusing the band worth to someone? At least £20, apparently.

The signs were there from the start. Opeth, Sweden’s prime metal export, attract a slightly more varied crowd than the average metal band, with goth boys wearing a lot and goth girls not wearing a lot, metalheads, and fans of bands such as Tool and Marillion. Quite diverse, but very friendly. Not, however, hip-hop loving, hostile, balding men decked out in denim, gold rings and a beanie.

Before the p.c. brigade pounce opportunistically, yes what’s on the outside doesn’t necessarily make what’s on the inside axiomatic, but there were other pointers. For example, the man’s “DJ” dancing like he was in some sort of club (you can’t dance to Opeth. It’s like trying to fly a brick), and assortment of “wankers!” gestures at the end of the night (and every song).

Assuming he did pay, what prompts the presumably conscious decision to cough up to go to a performance by a band you’ve probably never heard of and set about taking the piss? And on your own too; if he’d picked a DOWN or Slayer gig, he would’ve been ripped apart, his arms shoved down a toilet, his head lobbed on stage and his genitals impaled on the singer’s microphone stand. But whilst his reasons will remain a mystery, everyone who was in that room now hates him. And their reasons are quite clear.

Published in Student Direct, November 2008


AUDITORY OVER-STIMULATION

7th November, 2008

OK, THERE’S no denying that gigs and festivals are loud, the equivalent of standing next to a pneumatic drill for an extended period of time, albeit more musical (depending on your point of view, of course). So, to protect those precious personal sound receptors, three things have been recommended. Don’t go (as if), turn the music down (yeah, right), or wear earplugs.

Now, I’m pretty sure my hearing is going down the proverbial toilet. And some gigs are just far too loud; anyone who saw Fu Manchu at Academy 3 last year can testify that. I couldn’t hear properly for a week, no exaggerations. I probably should’ve thought about my future health, my need to hear bird song when I’m 80, or to attend to the wishes of moaning children or spouses. Earplugs would be the answer. But why don’t people wear them?

Maybe people just don’t think about it during the aural pummelling. I certainly don’t.

Or maybe it’s just the general nature of humans to put having a good time way above their health and well-being in their list of priorities. If people drink to excess, risking liver and brain damage, plus anything which could happen whilst stumbling home, then how can we be expected to take care of our hearing?

Here’s a radical idea. Instead of those bland and frankly un-cool lumps of plastic you can get for free…let’s turn earplugs into a must-have fashion accessory. If people put metal studs and fleshplugs into their ears (which carry risks of blood poisoning and miniature dolphins jumping through artificial hoops), surely we wouldn’t be averse to adding a bit more weight to our lugholes, which just so happens to do us a bit of good?

Picture it; just before your dream gig, you make a beeline for the merchandise desk. But what to choose? Before your awestruck eyes you see t-shirts, hoodies, posters, bandanas…but what are these? The Arctic Monkeys official earplugs? Woah! Buy! Buy! Buy?

Published in Student Direct, September 2008


GROW UP METALHEAD, GROW UP

7th September, 2008

ANYONE SEE the millionth Metallica documentary on ITV a few weeks?  Running through this millionth insight into the thrash metal legends was a patronising and frankly incorrect assumption that metal, in all its guises, is for the young and immature. The violence of the lyrics and the rowdiness of the live shows implicitly cited as being made for angst-ridden teenagers venting their frustrations at a world that is, like, totally against them and everything they do and say. But this documentary got it all wrong.

Metal has many forms. 2000 miles an hour or 2 miles an hour, satanic and pagan or relentlessly Christian, brutal and atonal or melodic and beautiful. But what connects all of its styles is the sheer energy, power, and often, the technicality and musical proficiency required to execute it successfully.

If people were largely attracted to the lyrical violence, then the number of murders imitating Cannibal Corpse’s lyrics would be in their thousands, and the Norwegian Black-metal church burnings of the late 80s and 90s would have left no house of God standing by now. Granted, many songs concerning themes such as rejection and isolation can be related to by some fans, but to think that every metal fan has disturbed and immature fantasies about brutally murdering their family? Oh please.

No, what attracts many metalheads to their chosen music is the power of those steamroller riffs, and the skill required to rip those amazing guitar solos out of thin air in front of an admiring and adoring audience. What else explains why bands like Metallica continue to make music? Metallica released their first album in 1983. Megadeth and Slayer, bands beginning in the mid 80s, are still going. As is Phil Anselmo from 80s groove metal band Pantera, who busies himself by fronting DOWN. Judas Priest have reunited, and of course, Iron Maiden (1970s) are still pushing boundaries. And they are all bringing the fans they captured from their first few albums with them.

GIANT GENRES

8TH August, 2008

“ROCK”. “POP”. :Classical”. Sensible and common divisions between quite different styles of music, in the same way that ‘sky’, ‘earth’ and ‘sea’ divide the world into nice broad chunks. However the gods of the genre creation world, having got the basics covered, have now turned their attention to distinguishing one tree from another. This sort of science is in no way fit for the music world. Take, for example, Youthmovie Soundtrack Strategies. I checked them out on that Old Testament of music, lastfm. The worthy follower responsible for this verse labelled YMSS as “prog-post-mathcore-rock-stuff”. And what, exactly, is that, other than the display of both sheer desperation, and the taking of music classification a thousand steps to far?

It’s getting out of hand. When something slightly new comes out, there seems to be four options. One; call it alternative or contemporary. Everything is alternative or contemporary, depending on either your taste in music or perspective. Two; shove it in with other genres. ‘Rock’ is now so broad that it’s offensive; I’m sure that Aiden and Cannibal Corpse don’t enjoy being in the same room together, never mind the same genre. But at least these two options are practical. Three; use ‘nu’. We have ‘nu-metal’, ‘nu-prog’, and ‘nu-jazz’. So can we have ‘nu-classical’?. How about ‘nu-new age’? What would they sound like? If this continues, we’ll just be using a chain of comparatives, or even, bizarrely, ‘nu-nu-nu-nu-nu-metal’, and end up sounding like a two-year-old disciple of the Teletubbies. Four; do what some fool did for YMSS and turn a great band into a partial tongue twister.

Granted, we need to separate our music, or else our music libraries would resemble Picassos. Broad genres are unfortunate, but it’s extraordinarily difficult to pin a music style down. Trying to do this merely complicates things far more than is necessary, and actually serves to detract from what music is about; not classification, but enjoyment.

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