Monday, 8 December 2008

Rossz csillag alatt született

Will Langdale is make for more with some Hungarian-sounding experimentalism for you to embarrass yourself trying to pronounce

Venetian Snares – Rossz csillag alatt született

Venetian Snares, aka Canadian Aaron Funk, is an artist notorious for his demanding music, lying somewhere between “'89-'91 summer of love”-style dance on albums such as Higgins Ultra Low Track Glue Funk Hits 1972-2006 and the experimental, harsh, speedy IDM found on Doll! doll! doll!. Rossz csillag alatt született (or “Born Under a Bad Star”), however, hits a clever medium, as he reworks Eastern European classical music with his ineffable skill at breakbeat drumwork.

The album starts low, working in such artists as Béla Bartók, but builds to the drums in a somewhat underwhelming way. The first hint of an embracing album comes with Öngyilkos vasárnap – a remix of Billie Holiday's version of Gloomy Sunday, better known as the notorious Hungarian suicide song. The track builds with glorious misery, the strange 7/4 time working beautifully despite a popular Western audience being generally adverse to the signature. Holiday's voice cuts through the unnerving, wailing synthesiser, and the following track, Felbomlasztott mentőkocsi, leads out from it to truly set the album up.

From there, Funk delves feverishly into dramatic sampled strings, piano, brass and clarinet, using Igor Stravinsky and Niccolò Paganini on Hajnal and Sir Edward Elgar in Szamár madár. One of the best pieces – and one that characterises the album's brooding ambiance and spasmodic beats – is Második galamb, prefaced by a foreboding female monologue, informing the album's artwork of pigeons taking flight. This mid-section is the real meat of the record, with the fantastic juxtaposition of Funk's sampling and rhythm creating an extremely informed hotch-potch of style.

The album comes to a head in the final two tracks, Kétsarkú mozgalom and Senki dala (Bipolar Movement and Nobody's Song). Kétsarkú mozgalom sounds as though it's leaking sadness through digital wounds, and Senki dala has a strange “for whom the bell tolls” ambiance to it, yet after a few listens they can seem somewhat lacking after the crafted brutality of the album's middle tracks. Although it rounds the pace of the album nicely, if anything, Rossz csillag alatt született falls down on its framing, despite being intensely intelligent and challenging throughout.


Code nightclub, Hull

Reviewed by Rory Stobo

Rock clubs and bars are wily beasts to master. Unlike more conventional spots which can be expected, deservedly so in the majority of cases, to be a bit more fly-by-night, those of us who like our beer with breakfast have come to expect a little more in the way of stability. New venues offering us new and exciting opportunities to wear black clothes and dance to Bohemian Rhapsody (Every. Single. Time.) come across the same problematic questions every time. Why is this new place any better than where I've spent my weekends for the past eight years, any why should I care?

It was always going to be with a little trepidation that I made my way over to Code for the first time, the week after it's grand opening night which had, by all accounts, gone quite well. Located in what used to be, I am told, a gay bar, nicely taking care of all your Judas Priest jokes, Code is far better situated for the hum-drum task of actually reaching the place than it's established rival, Spiders. You really get the feeling that there's been a fair amount of rather shrewd thought put into the location of the place. Not only is it clinging lovingly onto the bus interchange itself, it nestles snug in a bug in a rug behind, wait for it, a 24-hour Tesco. So much for your ill-concieved kebab at 3am, just stroll on in and pick yourself up some bruschetta and fine cheeses. Every little helps.

Once you get into Code, three fifty lighter and with a free drink in hand if you're a new member, you get a chance to take in the ambiance and have a scout around. The first of the club's two rooms, both on the ground floor, I explored was what I had introduced to me as the 'chillout lounge.' In a lesser club, this might suggest some kind of RnB nightmare, but here you're treated to comfortable chairs and the sound of guitar hero blasting out at varying degrees of competency from the Wii console set up on a five-foot projector in the corner. The welcome suspicion creeps in that Code cares, in the same way that Spiders used to care, before it's complacency drove most of it's DJs to jump ship and work here. Strolling into the main room only reinforces this, I won't bore you with a playlist, but suffice to say that the music policy at Code is driven by the clubgoers, not the management, and this earns big points in a social setting where it's all to easy to play the floor-fillers and quickly become stale. Ample dancefloor room, a pool table and arcade machines that actually work make this a place that really grabs the attention. Code has a very good idea of why you should care, and wishes to let you know.

The first snag in the evening comes when it's time to refill my drink. The bar staff will be more than happy to sell you a house spirit and mixer for one of your english pounds, but if your hand favours the pint glass, it's probably best to take out a mortgage first. Far be it from me to get ratarsed on gin in the name of investigative journalism, so I could tell it was going to be an expensive night. Thankfully, in an almost apologetic move, one of the bar staff routinely wander the club with a large bottle of what I suspect had tabasco sauce in it, topping up drinks hither and yon. It's the gesture that's appreciated rather than the liquor itself, but you do get the impression Code are clutching at straws when it comes to the actual drinks they serve. Spiders' cocktail list is infamous up and down the country, and it's a shame that Code couldn't have thought up at least a few to make them sweat for this victory.

Overall though, Code acquits itself well in a scene which has long struggled to rebuild credibility through variety. Okay, as I mentioned the drinks are a bit pricey if you insist on sticking to pints, and the problem with playing what people request is that sometimes people request awful songs. But, when the Spiders alternative nowadays is to drink twenty pounds worth of meths and listen to sweet home Alabama on repeat for three hours in the company of fourteen year olds, I honestly believe the odd doom metal track and a couple of pints less is a fair price to pay for progress.


Friday, 28 November 2008


Image to Follow

Will Langland Reviews Battles

I find it disappointing that nubile and untainted reviewers should, in this day and age, feel that it is their place to unerringly praise the music they listen to. One look at Hullfire will tell you that every CD is fantastic and every artist has something new, or improved, or will make your whites whiter – a perfect promise, really, for an industry that has become boring and saccharine. So many reviews read like some sleazy grey PR company has their fingers up the writer's arse, working them like a puppet in a pantomime of appreciation. It's hard to make a discerning judgement on what you want to buy (or, let's face it, steal) when a page of “criticism” is overwhelmingly positive.

I am sick to the teeth of reading terrible music reviews. How many music reviewers praise an album that they never listen to again, or even want to? Sadly, I too must confess a guilty plea to this crime. I remember a particularly nice review I wrote of My Device, if only because they reminded me so much of a band that truly warrants praise – Battles. While it is hard to argue that music shouldn't be enjoyable I increasingly find that amateur reviewers don't understand that music can be enjoyable for being cerebral. Music can dance across your synapses. Music can impress you for its technicality and innovation. Sheer mindless pleasure is why Take That are good. Profound, cerebral pleasure is why Battles are good.

How many times have you listened to a band that truly understand not just how their instruments work, but how their bandmates instruments work? How many times have you heard a band that have a creative vision that they all understand? My god! What a rare and incredible combination. The Sugarbabes know how to sing and a producer, songwriter, lyricist and (dare I mention them) mastering company do the rest, though the loudness war is another topic for another day. As if Keisha Buchanen knows what a polyrhythm is. Hell, as if Britney Spears knows what a polyrhythm is – as if she knows who Aphex Twin is – and Womanizer has that single brilliant moment of electronic drumwork (on “lollipop”) that sounds remarkably like a nod to him despite basically being yet another cover of Personal Jesus.

Thankyou, Battles. I intend to finally write a good review for a band that actually deserves a good review. Thankyou for knowing what a damn polyrhythm is, then writing an entire album so devilishly clever that I have no idea what the time signature is on half the tracks.

Battles are a math-rock band, and while I'd normally finish this sentence with the phrase “from x”, I can't, because all four of them toured extensively with bands before being signed to the British Warp Records. I can go as local as “America”. Guitarist Ian Williams is a veteran of Don Caballero and Strom & Stress, and regularly finger-taps a guitar while playing a keyboard. Dave Konopka does something similar. Vocalist and keyboardist (and whatever he feels like playing) Tyondai Braxton is the son of an avant-garde jazz musician, and it shows. Drummer John Stainer is from Helmet, and has the absurd gimmick of putting his crash cymbal on a very, very tall stand, as if it symbolises everything Battles isn't, and he must be physically forced to think twice about using it in their music.

Math-rock is one of those genres that sounds like someone made it up to look pretentious and sound complicated. It is. It's based around mashing up riffs in different time signatures on loop pedals then having your drummer try and work out where the beat's supposed to go. And then add effects. Having seen Battles at the BBC's Electric Proms, I can absolutely vouch for Stainer's skill as a drummer, and quite frankly, his endurance. On debut album Mirrored you'd be forgiven for thinking that each track was recorded between long periods of fatigue, where Stainer lies in some sort of cell, gaunt and dying, until he can muster the strength to play another track. It's not. They can, and do, play the entire album live, with Stainer hammering away on that ludicrous cymbal. On tracks like Tij Stainer's work is truly epic, somehow switching signatures and complimenting the other instruments in a way that can only come from hours and hours of rehearsal on a Captain-Beefheart-locked-in-an-apartment-like-a-cult-for-8-months level of dedication. You almost feel sorry for the man. And the live experience really is something special with Battles. Considering the variety and precise nature of the album's sound and the technical difficulty of having three people on loop pedals – pedals that don't automatically synchronise the speed of their loops – seeing it done live is like watching a sculptor make the statue in front of you. For once in music there's not only innovation but sheer and determined technical majesty.

When I first heard Mirrored I was certain that it must have been made on a computer. I thought that it had to be a load of guys in a basement, recording a sample, fiddling with it, turning knobs on thousands of strange pieces of equipment, tinkering and fiddling to fit the sound they wanted. Apart from fairly straightforward songs like Atlas and Leyendecker, possibly disregarding the vocal element, the album is full of tracks with elements that feel like they must have been altered or dragged about to stay in time. The plodding Bad Trails feels like a recording of some weird ambient hangar with bits stuck on top. Battles' punchline is essentially that there was no dragging and dropping, copy-pasting or pitch correction in Protools. I once heard someone say that Battles sounds like a load of kids broke into a shop full of music equipment and recorded themselves fucking about. They were half right. Battles is four obscenely talented men with mad, genre-defining ideas breaking into a shop full of music equipment recording themselves fucking about – and it's just that – recording. The band doesn't need a computer to make their music. The computer's just an ear to them. All they need is them and a ton of weird electronic gizmos. The album art, in fact, is the equipment they used to make the album in a huge one-way-mirrored box.

In the end, while Atlas and Leyendecker may be the “straightforward” songs, it's the longer and more progressive pieces such as Tonto, Rainbow and Tij that mark Mirrored's territory. It's these tracks that are the band's muscle, that show how they work and really impress the listener, both with their pacing and their skill. When you find yourself obsessing over the rhythm and effects Ian Williams is using in looping the sound of him scratching muted guitar strings, then get surprised because the drums have been building subtly and you didn't notice, then you've found the essence of Battles. And for god's sake, try not to get sucked into working out the time signature on every instrument. You'll go John Nash.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Quantum of Solace

Image to Follow

Katherine Hunter reviews the New James Bond Film

It has come to my attention that there are two types of James Bond fan, those who prefer the new more lifelike 007 and those who prefer the older films with the suave, sophisticated and indestructible English gent who we have come to recognise as Bond.
Casino Royale introduced us to the rough and ready Daniel Craig, who took the films into a new era creating a Bond who actually gets hurt, doesn’t give a damn about his martini and actually briefly dies, if only for a couple of seconds. This was a shock to the general audience, with some people claiming it wasn’t a ‘real’ Bond film, although whether you liked it or not, it was still an amazing film, complete with the usual array of special effects and awesome action scenes.
Consequently the cinema goer expects much the same type of film from Quantum of Solace, a good film, but perhaps not up to Bond standards. In that case they’re in for another shock because the new film manages to combine both the new Bond and the old, creating a hybrid of the best of both worlds.
The opening scene explodes onto the screen as a breathtaking car chase, in typical old bond style, not to be outdone by speedboat and jet fighter action later on. The film has the classic mix of fast cars, women and spectacular stunts, but this time it’s personal as our best loved agent seeks revenge for the woman he lost.
The witty humour is not altogether gone, but Daniel Craig turns Bond into an unemotional killing machine and the body count mounts up as he tries to break the criminal network Quantum. The plot continues on from the last film giving Bond the continuity it lacked, and Craig’s Bond is just as dark and cold as the previous film, injecting the role with refreshing credibility.
The baddies are just as slimy and horrid as ever, creepy billionaire environmentalist Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), and evil dictator General Medrano (Joaquin Cosio) plan to take control of the water supply for a South American country and destabilise it, whilst trying to poison all trust in Bond. Meanwhile Judi Dench again plays a fabulously unimpressed M, who alternatively loves and hates Bond, at one point revoking his licence to kill and remarking “Bond, if you could avoid killing every lead there is, that would be appreciated”
This film definitely has something for Bond fans all round, from Craig’s ruthless charisma to dramatic stunts and so many interwoven plots that you don’t know where to look next.

The Duchess

Image to Follow

Katherine Hunter casts her eye over the Duchess.

Historically inaccurate but does it really matter?

I have to confess that I am a fan of period dramas. I love the costumes, the emotions, the beautiful houses and Mr. Darcy. The Colin Firth one of course. Over the summer my best friend and I had the opportunity to visit Chatsworth, which was an amazing experience in itself. Whilst wandering around imagining we owned the place, we found temporary exhibition of Chatsworth’s famous daughter, Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. This included pages from Georgiana’s dairy, portraits including the famous Gainsborough painting, and video clips from the up and coming film The Duchess, as well as costumes from the period, and ones worn in the film. The exhibition and subsequent talks gave us a pretty good impression of this famous lady and her intriguing life.
This prompted us to see the film, which I did as soon as it came out. And I have to confess that I was somewhat disappointed. This wasn’t the lady I had seen at Chatsworth, I had been cheated. It’s not that it wasn’t a good film, but it was meant to be a portrayal of Georgiana’s life and it glossed over all the important parts. Consequently we took great pleasure in annoying our friends by pointing out all the historical inaccuracies.
It wasn’t just that they had missed out a few details here and there; they completely changed not only the life of The Duchess but her whole personality too. In her life she had been a hugely influential woman, not only in fashion, but she had been an active political campaigner and travelled abroad often. Kiera Knightly just couldn’t carry off the flamboyance and huge presence that made Georgiana such a powerful woman in her time, not least because The Duchess was a buxom woman with a charisma to match, and Knightly is a twig with about as much charisma as a potato.
Poor acting aside the film still didn’t stand much chance. The whole reason that Georgiana’s life is so interesting is because, as the film constantly pointed out, there were three people in her marriage. The film however just used this to overplay the similarities between The Duchess and her distant descendant Diana, the Princess of Wales. The only similarity that their lives shared is that their husbands had affairs, and it’s not as if this is only a unique trait of the Spencer family.
The intriguing part of the life of Georgiana was that her husband was having an affair with her best friend Bess, who lived with them. Even after Georgiana found out about the affair, she and Bess remained best friends. This is what makes the whole situation amazingly unique and fascinating. What annoyed me most was that the film decided to change Georgina into a long suffering badly treated woman, not the independent resilient soul that she really was. It made her look like the victim of her husband’s affair, hardly focusing on the fact that she had her own affair with Charles Grey, making it look more like a depressing last resort.
The film focused on the plight of a lonely and weak woman, which to be honest, we see in films all the time. This should have been completely the opposite, a strong woman coping admirably with the life forced on her by her husband. The film ended up victimising the main character who in reality was a celebrity of her time, even if her marital life was lacking. She was followed and adored by The Ton, and rarely alone although in the film she was completely abandoned and isolated from everyone. Even Georgiana’s mother was shown to be bossy and domineering when in real life her mother had been a caring and protective woman.
The film focused almost entirely on Georgiana’s marital life, when she was also famous for her good friendship with Marie Antoinette, as she used to travel to France often. The film completely cut this out, presumably to make The Duchess appear even lonelier. The gambling side of her life was also played down, in spite of the fact that Georgiana died with a massive twenty thousand pounds worth of debt outstanding. Her huge political involvement was also cut down to a few short public appearances as a favour for Grey.
However, there were some good points to the film. Like all good period dramas the costumes were visually amazing and the backdrop of so many beautiful houses made it something special to watch. The other actors and actresses did remarkably well, considering the rather limiting script. Ralph Fiennes was particularly good as the aging and inhuman duke, and Dominic Cooper made an especially dashing young lover as Charles Grey.
All in all, the film was still good entertainment, but nevertheless I felt let down. So how important is it really to give a historically accurate view in a film?

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Party On

Simon Harrington Ponders Bloc Party

As I write I am looking at the stub of a ticket clumsily stuck to my wall entitled ‘SJM CONCERTS PRESENT BLOC PARTY’. This ticket is from 29th October 2005 and marked an end to Bloc Party’s triumphant UK tour supporting the release of their first album ‘Silent Alarm’, I was not disappointed with the performance I saw in 2005 and with the release of new album ‘Intimacy’ I am not disappointed now.

The album incorporates some of the musical traits that we immediately link with Bloc Party, at the same time we hear a new and more creative element resonating in their music. Their individual sound has been maintained and is never compromised by their willingness to manipulate different vocal and musical styles. In ‘Intimacy’ we still hear the driving bass lines and lyrical complexity that we have come to expect from the band, the opening track ‘Ares’ sets the bench mark for the remainder of the album. The song hits us with an immediate energy, a powerful and cutting guitar riff is the setting for the chanting lyrics ‘War, war, war, war’. Since Bloc Party began they have attempted to make a potent statement through their lyrics, they have achieved this in their two previous albums and do not fail to do so again with ‘Intimacy’.

There is consistent reference to the expected topics of love and War. ‘Trojan Horse’ establishes the vivid image of a lover reminiscing about what has been lost; in this song Bloc Party combine borderline intrusive lyrics with deliberate composition in order to express something that the listener can relate to. The sensitive lyrics of ‘Trojan Horse’ are contrasted elsewhere on the album by the seemingly punk inspired, full sounding ‘Halo’. From a first listen the powerful chord structure seems reminiscent of Queens Of The Stone Age, the song bounds along at an eager and excitable pace, manipulating well timed breaks and diverse drumming to give ‘Halo’ unique and energetic musical traits that encapsulate Bloc Party’s intimate live sound perfectly.

‘Intimacy’ includes the cleverly marketed single ‘Mercury’, released after track ‘Flux’ it marked a new era for the sound of Bloc Party. The band has moved in a direction that appears to have been inspired by an electro sound, this inspiration can be heard throughout ‘Intimacy’ with tracks such as ‘Talons’ using a synthesizer alongside more traditional rock instruments. Although the band has come under some criticism for moving in a new musical direction it is refreshing to see that at least one artist out there is attempting to venture from their comfort zone and try something different. The album climaxes with the song ‘Ion Square’, an artistic song based on elements of the poem ‘I carry your heart with me’ by E.E. Cummings, this final track has a focus on lyrical simplicity, and brings the older Bloc Party sound together with the new.

In my opinion this album marks the change of Bloc Party into a more mature and diverse band both lyrically and instrumentally, they have developed a more full bodied sound that has been delicately and deliberately composed with well timed breaks and punchy, memorable chorus’. To end my review and express myself in the lyrics Bloc Party, their new album ‘Intimacy’ ‘breaks your porcelain nose’.

Monday, 17 November 2008

A Fat Lot of Good

Amy Connolly Chews the Fat

A growing trend of male has emerged of late. Joining his compatriots, the “joker”, the “jock” and the “cringy Casanova”, give a welcoming hand to the weight watching “writer”! Hurrah!
Long has there been a trend for celeb-abuse, and in fairness landing your perfect job and getting paid shed loads for it necessitates a certain amount of stick. However, there is a rising craze of male “journalists” who have, somehow, become qualified to judge the ideal weight of the female celeb.
The “so-funny-its-really-not-funny” Dan Wootten from the News of the World recently advised that a “podgy” Cat (or in his words “Fat”) Deeley should “choc out the scales”. That’s right, defiant Miss Deeley was photographed holding a chocolate milkshake, following her recent move to America.
Stunning presenter Cat is tiny by anyone’s standards and is surely a good five-stone lighter than the UK’s average women who is a curvy size 16! However, by being pictured with this offending item she has broken the unwritten rule of celebrity women who are expected to fast for their fame. How dare She!
After researching Mr Wootten’s qualifications, there is nothing regarding health and nutrition that might at a push render him license to comment on the subject. Furthermore, this boorish character’s own physique has much to be desired!
Does Mr Wootten believe he is taking a heroic stand against the obesity crisis? Will he single-handedly tackle the curves of Britain until we all resemble the skeletal footballer’s wife? Please!
As the issue of obesity is expanding, there is an accompanying deterioration in disordered eating, especially among teenagers and twenty-something’s. Charities such as BeAT are genuinely fighting this life-threatening infatuation with food restriction, but their work is being hampered be idiots who are categorising size 12-14 healthy-eating-gym-goers as “wide”! Advocating that, instead of eating regular nourishing meals and taking the recommended five sessions of weekly exercise, women should be aiming for emaciation by living on lettuce until they lose the strength to fasten their trainers, never mind make it to the fitness centre!
Maybe I’m being unfair, perhaps darling Dan is trying to make the reader feel BETTER! Helping us to justify any slothful-Sunday chocolate abuse! Ahhh! “Let me just grab the News of the World, I want to see whose put on weight this week!” Then after catching the shamefully “wide” Lily Allen we’d feel much more content to return to our cheesecake.
So is this just me being a little sensitive? I don’t think so! After taking it “too the people”, my opinions were confirmed by repulsed retaliations such as “cheeky git”
On Mr Wooten’s double page “showbiz” column on a Sunday, the average size of one feature could comfortably be covered by a gravy-soaked Yorkshire pudding. I wonder what would happen if a breaking celebrity report would require more than two hundred words, maybe some of these would even need to be more than one syllable! Eek!
It would be unfair to mislead you into thinking that Mr Wootton is the only chauvinist, sorry journalist using this theme as the content of his column, EVERY WEEK! And hey, we’re all about fairness in this game, right Dan?

To his credit, Dan is the first to admit he’s lacking in material, offering his contact details at the top of his column; so, if u can think of anything slightly more intelligent he could write (that would comfortably take up fewer than 150words of course) then answers on a postcard!
I’d love to be a fly on the wall when Mr Wootton is asked what he does for living: “Oh you’re a journalist are you? What sort of thing do you report on? Sport? Politics? Breaking news? Oh, overweight celebs eh? Hmmm your mother must be proud.”
Call yourself a journalist? Well why not go out and report on something then, rather than looking at the pictures in Heat magazine.

Monday, 3 November 2008

The Wire

Martin D. Holmes reaches for the remote and enjoys The Wire.

The Wire: Television at its finest.

Once in a while, in the land of television, there comes a show that just gets it right. HBO, the channel that brought us The Sopranos and Six Feet Under, once again deliver a ground-breaking television spectacle...The Wire, a show that just gets it right.

The premise of The Wire sounds fairly simple; a special police unit investigate a drug organisation running in the slums of West Baltimore, with the aim to incarcerate the inconspicuous drug-lord Avon Barksdale. But this is far from a typical cat and mouse chase, as we delve in to the inner-workings of the law, abundant with corrupt cops, lying lawyers and sly senators which is paralleled beautifully with the inner-workings of an expansive, urban drug crew, with it's own visible hierarchy.

The immediate attractiveness of The Wire is its authenticity. This isn't your typical crime-drama bursting with Hollywood beauty. Unconcerned with pearly white teeth and smooth skin; no reliance on good lighting to hide the actor's bad spots; unfathomable plots are not unravelled and then sewn up with in one episode and characters rarely achieve redemption. This is a credit honoured to creator David Simon, a former journalist for the Baltimore Sun and his writing partner Ed Burns, an ex-Baltimore cop. Drawing inspiration from real life incidents gives the show it's natural flavour and careful attention to detail. The Wire is bold, honest and real.

Although at first the street slang and Baltimore police jargon may be jarring, it is a staple of the show that you eventually become accustomed to and you'll soon find yourself referring to the police as the “Five-O” and claiming that your caffé latte is “good product”. What is also daunting is the amount of characters. One of The Wire's many selling points is it's masterful ensemble cast, displaying an outstanding array of talent. Keeping track of who is who can be a struggle, but the large cast is something you begin to appreciate as the show develops and the plots and characters start to tie together. This is a cast that has you locked on to their every move.

One of the stand outs is Dominic West, who puts in a terrific performance as McNulty, a maverick cop whose confidence and brashness in the wrong hands could have been overbearing. West has managed to find the perfect balance between arsehole and endearing, which makes McNulty one of the most likeable, charismatic and watchable characters.

Another memorable performance comes from Michael K. Williams as Omar, the gangster Robin Hood, stealing from the dealers to give to the addicts. Enigmatic, terrifying and down right defiant, yet possibly the most captivating character.

It is Larry Gilliard Jr however, who gives perhaps the most interesting performance. Gilliard plays the conflicted D'Angelo, cousin of the infamous Avon Barksdale. Trapped in a world of crime and violence, D'Angelo continually questions his choice of lifestyle and the actions of his friends and family. Gilliard portrays the angst and confusion of this character to perfection, drawing sympathy and anger from the viewer simultaneously.

The Wire is by no means a 'star-studded' affair, you probably haven't heard of the majority of the actors and that's because many of them are local to Baltimore, picked specifically for their talents rather than 'name-value'. David Simon himself has explained how he is still surprised that he got a show with an 80% African-American cast on US television and the fact that the majority of the actors are 'unknowns'. This once again lends itself to the authenticity of the show, as you are able to see these characters as 'real', as opposed to a famous person playing a role. Not since The Godfather have a group of actors delivered such tenacious, realistic performances that you are totally mesmerised by the world they are creating.

But the star of the show is Baltimore itself. It's gritty and bleak landscape not only provide the backdrop for the movement of urban city life but also provide the tone and feel for a scene. The harsh surroundings fill in the gap for the intentionally missing soundtrack and help to encapsulate the raw atmosphere of the show. From the train tracks where McNulty spends his nights drinking, to the drug-ridden terraces, to Orlando's night-club, you begin to associate the characters with the scenery and vice versa.

But amongst it's grittiness The Wire manages to maintain a great sense of humour, even drawing laughs from the most dislikeable characters. With its Seinfeld-like conversations about the rules of chess or how much money the man who invented the chicken McNugget earns, it sustains it's realistic approach while also being eye-wateringly funny. This tone is set from the opening scene of the very first episode, in which McNulty ponders how a murdered street dealer got the nickname 'Snot'. And this inventive humour continues throughout the series, most evident in a scene consisting entirely of the word 'fuck' and it's many variations. The humour counterbalances the drama well, so that things never become too heavy-handed.

It's steady build of plot and careful character development, combined with it's lack of dependence on cliff-hanger endings and disregard of cringe-worthy clichés, makes The Wire a refreshingly realistic crime drama. The show is like a great novel, you can't just read one chapter and then give up, thinking you know all that there is to come. The Wire is a slow burner but persist and you will be treated to an intricately interwoven plot that expands with every episode, your jaw dropping further every minute, as the pieces of the puzzle steadily fall in to place and your left applauding as the final episode draws to a close. This is a show way more than a simple crime investigation, this is a microscope in to urban city life.

The Wire is television at its finest.

The View

Harriet Shephard has a chat with The View, or their drummer at least.

The View
Welly 22nd October

After their year of absence, The View mark their return with a gruelling tour of the smaller venues across England. Despite being dubbed by many as ‘one hit wonders’ after the ridiculous success of ‘Same Jeans’, tonight Welly is still heaving with a rowdy and enthusiastic crowd. The new single ‘5Rebbecca’s’ seems to have evoked a new faith in the masses that The View shouldn’t be forgotten just yet.
The room erupts as The View lumber on stage sporting unruly hairstyles and the heavily Scottish greeting of ‘you al’right you crazy bastards?!’ As they launch into their set the floor moves and bodies fly, the biggest reaction of course being to ‘Same Jeans’ and the storming ‘Wasted Little DJs’ that ends the set. Previously unheard songs such as ‘Jimmy’s Crazy Conspiracy’ go down well and promise a new album that certainly won’t disappoint.
The flaw in this performance however is that the crowd contribute much more than the band. The singer and lead guitarist do attempt to interact with the crowd on several occasions, but soon discover that in Hull, quickly spoken Scottish over a noisy crowd isn’t easily understood. The View play a competent collection of songs and look like they are thoroughly enjoying themselves, but somehow still manage to look like your mates band doing one of their first gigs in the local pub. This serves as a reminder perhaps that in age of the members and as a band, The View are still very young.
Although they don’t receive much banter and response from the stage, the crowd are clearly very appreciative of what they’ve been given. Between each song and during a ‘technical difficulty’ the united chant of ‘The View, The View, The View are on fire!’ thunders throughout the room. To complete their live shows The View may just need renewed confidence and improved crowd interaction, but this performance and their new material proves we haven’t seen the last of them.

Interview with Steven Morrison (drummer)

Have you played Hull before?
Yeah we played here with The Paddington’s, then ended up at some person’s house man, we just followed them down the street to it after(laughs).

And Hull’s one of your first stops?
Yeah, but I’ve already got blisters on my hands! They’ll like leather by the end of the tour though, we’re playing pretty much every night for seven weeks. They went all soft in our six months break after the last tour, so they need to toughen up again.

How’s living on a tour bus again?
Its great, we’re got a new bus this year very comfy! We had an old one last year which was great but after you’re spent a year and a half on it its nice to get a new one. We’re on it with our crew and support band who got chucked out of the hotel room last night for setting fireworks off (laughs)

Your playing just the smaller venues this time?
Yeah and some are really small, we played Newcastle Academy last night, thought it was great then they were like yeah your playing upstairs! (laughs) It was so much smaller than this.

How was making the new album?
Ah we had a bit of a rollercoaster there, a whirlwind, chaos constantly, but we got loads of work done even though it didn’t feel like it.

Much different to the last?
Definitely more mature, the songs are a lot bigger, more intricate and a bit darker.

The albums called ‘Which Bitch?’ was this named with a particular bitch in mind?
Ah no! It could be anyone could be a guy, could be a dog.

I hear the new song ‘Jimmy’s Crazy Conspiracy’ is based on your friend’s own interesting theories?
Yeah our pal Jimmy from Dundee, he’s pretty clued up but totally manic, really into pentagrams and all that. He says all the owners of the biggest names like Coca Cola and stuff are in cult together, that the whole worlds under a crazy conspiracy.

Do you have a strong support base at home?
Aye too strong! You can’t fit everyone on the guest lists, my Mum and dad came to our last one back home though which was nice.

Is ‘Same Jeans’ still the favourite?
Oh aye, everyone goes mental for it, we may aswell rename ourselves ‘Same Jeans’! (laughs)

You get on well as a band?
Oh yeah, if theres any problems we just sort it out with a scrap. We were fighting in an alley the other day with these three people watching looking shocked, we just ran back on the tour bus when it was sorted! They looked mortified to see us going at each other.

Did you attend any festivals this year?
Er V festival and Rockness, that had beautiful scenery it was on a Loch. Could see a huge lake and mountains around it, I don’t remember much of it though (laughs) just arriving and thinking ahh this is nice.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Phaedra's Love

Richard Watson is skeptical of a performance of Phaedra's Love

Phaedra's Love
by Sarah Kane
Hull University Drama Department
Gulbenkian Theatre Studio, Hull, 24th October
Dress on the 22nd

Phaedra's Love, at the Gulbenkian this week, is a surprisingly tame performance of one of troubled writer Sarah Kane's lesser-known plays.
As a playwright, Sarah Kane is distinguished by her own mental health problems, graphic on-stage displays of sex and violence, and her early suicide after writing just five bitter, caustic plays. What makes her interesting is her divisive effect on audiences; generally, people either love the daring, honest and gritty depiction of Kane's world, or hate being subjected to gratuitous sex, violence and harrowing mental pain. A good production of a Kane play should have this effect on an audience, and her work is usually at least good for setting up a debate on the value of shock factor in theatre and if there can ever be too much sex and/or violence on a stage.
Unfortunately, Hull University's extra-curricular Phaedra's Love – with an admittedly short rehearsal period – fails to do this. It lacks the visceral edge that is really needed for Kane's work, and the audience at Wednesday's Dress Rehearsal were left neither loving nor hating it. The tension and genuine feeling are both missing from this piece, and only very rarely does the pain shine through. A feeling of pain, be it mental or physical, is vital for a Kane play, and maybe this cast simply hasn't had time to find it – whatever the reason, its presence is sorely missed here.
Phaedra's Love is Kane's modern version of the Greek legend of Hippolytus, virtuous bastard son of Theseus, and his step-mother, Phaedra. The French writer Racine also updated the story for the 1670s, and Kane has given us a modern Hippolytus – a repulsively feckless prince, spoilt from birth. He spends his life waiting for something to happen, though it takes him a long time to realise when something is finally happening. As in the original Greek story, Phaedra's love of the title is for her step-son, Hippolytus, who has no interest in her whatsoever. As in the Greek story, Phaedra's reaction to this is what Hippolytus into trouble with his father, Theseus. The rest of the cast is competent in filling the roles of doctor, daughter, priest and later townsfolk, but there is never enough depth of feeling from anybody to really live up to a Kane script.
While this production is happy enough to indulge in the various acts of oral sex and masturbation, it skimps on the violence. There is an admirable bravery – surely to be applauded by fans of Kane – in the blow job delivered at the front of centre stage, but something distinctly lacking in the fight and rape in the penultimate scene. These events – played at the same time – are rushed and lack all that should make them shocking, dangerous and painful. Without shock and pain, Kane is nothing.


Catherine Jebson comes back for more, this time with a review of an Oasis gig in Sheffield.

Saturday 11th October, Sheffield Arena.
There are certain people who demand your attention. When the Pope makes his addresses from his seat at The Vatican, or the American electoral candidates thunder through the smaller States. When midwives across the globe declare a child's sex to their eagerly awaiting parents. All captivating moments of collective undivided attention, and yet none of them appear to have shit on the instant the Gallagher's take the stage at Sheffield. The level of devotion inspired by the first sight of Liam's trademark swagger is nothing short of religious. As the ultimate Northern lads band roll into town, their fan base have followed in almost pilgrimage fashion. The love has spilled onto the surrounding streets and trams, even into Meadowhall's unbelievably aptly named 'Oasis' food court where a coach load of fans had taken to terrifying late night shoppers with choruses of "You gotta make it happen!", as if the locals cowering into their cous cous had some immediate path of action to take. The excitement is infectious hours before the doors even open and leaves you feeling that tonight, Liam and Noel won’t merely be playing to an audience, they'll be entertaining their own troops.
This hype is nothing new of course. Oasis are hardly strangers to the Arena circuit and yet with the brothers' frequent skits and their anthemic set this feels as intimate tonight as it would were they to play in your back garden. Oases aren’t a band that can rest on their laurels and put on a half-arsed show in the knowledge that their new album's number one anyway. Real heart and thought has gone into this gig and it pays off. The roar that follows Gallagher Senior's introduction of 'Don't look back in anger' is Spartan in proportion. As the man points out, this is Sheffield's song, it being written fourteen years ago in a dressing room hours before the band were due onstage. Noel himself is on top form, an observation made more incredible by his currently nursing three newly broken ribs. His stunningly belted out acoustic rendition of 'Don't look back' thrusts two fingers normally associated with his younger brother at the Canadian wanker who could've put a stop to it all. The set is catered toward pleasing the populist fan, but with fifteen years of releases under their belt it's difficult to design a gig otherwise. The more hardcore fans are treated to old gems 'Slide Away' and 'The Masterplan' in favour of the career defining live favourite 'Live Forever', but the set is so blindingly polished and uplifting that it barely registers as amiss. Besides, when you're privileged enough to be played for at this quality for a relentless two hours, complaints would not only seem ungrateful, but downright anal. We even get some classic Liam remarks when he spots a glow stick wielding couple down the front. As they happily pull shapes to the new and gorgeous sounding 'Shock of the lightning' the epitome of Manc' charisma spits at them, "You're at Oasis, not the fucking Klaxons."
The older material predictably gets the warmest responses, but far from proving tired old accusations that Oasis are living off everything released before 'Be Here Now', when 'Songbird' and 'Lyla' get their airing, the crowd go just as nuts. Tonight though belongs to 'Dig out your soul'. The band's seventh and arguably their most groove-based studio album scales altogether trippier heights than 2005's 'Don't believe the truth', even boasting a piano ballad. It's still very much Oasis, but a deeper, more reflective and frankly, more intelligent sounding Oasis than ever before. The strength of this band therefore stands up and shines when new songs 'The Rapture' and 'I'm outta time' have the same proportion of the crowd singing every word as they did to their ten year old counterparts. The customary seven minute finale of 'I am the Walrus' is accompanied by an epilepsy-inducing strobing bonanza of green and red lights and screens. Everything tonight looks lush and sounds gargantuan, particularly as (after an initial fluff in the keyboard dept) Oasis lose themselves gloriously in a cover of the aforementioned Beatles song that the 'fab four' could never actually play live.
Oasis. So heart wrenchingly, throat achingly impressive that part of me can't help hoping Damon Albarn was watching.
Oh and the support, Twisted Wheel were not only forty minutes late, but also unoriginal Libertines wannabes. Volume and Topshop haircuts do not the good band make.

Friday, 17 October 2008

In the Chilly World of Snow Patrol...

In the chilly world of Snow Patrol, ‘the fun just never stops,’ apparently…

By Natalie Rosen

Listen everyone – I have some vaguely exciting news for you! Snow Patrol are back, and they sound the same as ever. Let’s celebrate with a bottle of ice-cold water, and possibly a bag of broken biscuits. I’m sure the band are doing that right now, as they unleash their mild new single, ‘Take Back The City,’ on the suspecting public.

Is anyone excited about the return of Snow Patrol, apart from Snow Patrol, that is? Just as well no one was bursting with anticipation, because as we all know, the higher your expectations of something, the more disappointed you’ll be. Remember the total solar eclipse of 1999? Free viewing-shades in cereal boxes, a mass migration to Cornwall, the end of the world predicted – and all we got was 100% cloud cover. Of course, at the back of our minds, we knew it wouldn’t be too spectacular, but we did hope it wouldn’t be rubbish.

Quite ironic then, that Snow Patrol’s forthcoming album promises, by its title at least, to be an even more brilliant celestial phenomenon than an eclipse – A Hundred Million Suns. Which probably describes the galaxy, and there are not many marvels of physics more wonderful than a galaxy, full of cute twinkly paper stars. That’s right – paper stars. Look at the album cover for proof, because what do scientists know about outer space, anyway? However, these five Northern Irish/Scottish indie boys deserve your sympathy: ‘Chasing Cars’ was voted Best Song of All Time by Virgin Radio listeners (you’d think that music was only invented in 2006), so for ‘Take Back The City’ to match the success of that sweetly yearning, radio-hogging ballad will be a challenge of Everest – or maybe Ben Nevis – proportions.

‘Take Back The City’ sounds like an extra extra bonus track you might have found on Snow Patrol’s previous album Eyes Open. This is not a bad thing; their earnestly emotional tunes rightly sold millions. You know the formula now – soft, ear-pleasing vocals, crunchy little guitar bits here and there, melancholy yet hopeful lyrics, and ponderous, plodding rhythms. And always a faint chill, as if contemplating a vast expanse of ice. In these times of global warming, we’re lucky to get a decent frost; but Snow Patrol create a sound reminiscent of Narnia, where it’s always winter but never Christmas…

‘You can sing till you drop, ‘cos the fun just never stops,’ vocalist Gary Lightbody breathes, while his bandmates do their best to rock out. The subject of his cheery mood is the collection of skyscrapers, half-price sales, trendy young people and police incidents that we call ‘the city.’ Indeed, the tone is quite heady and uplifting, recreating the buzz of a night-time urban adventure. One of those rare times when you’re drunk on life instead of cheap beer. Still, this feeling is diluted by the song’s main fault – melodic repetition. The same notes are played and the same lines sung over and over, and you’ll probably fall asleep halfway through. Even the accompanying video, in which sociable citizens move at double-speed, will not keep you awake. But then, Snow Patrol aren’t famous for being fascinating.

I defy anyone, when listening to this track, not to wish for something – anything – unexpected in it, just for a bit of aural interest. Nothing too radical; perhaps a random Blur-esque ‘woo-hoo!’ or a naff robotic voice entreating you to ‘boogie on the dancefloor,’ or a few hip-hop exclamations of ‘yo, c’mon, this is how we do it, shorty’. Something memorable is needed. At least ‘Chasing Cars’ lodges in your brain because of the lethargic wail, ‘If I lay here, if I just laaay here…’ But ‘Take Back The City,’ even after a few listens, merges with their back catalogue into a Snow Patrol soup. Snow Patrol-flavoured soup would, I imagine, have no flavour at all. One of those boring, watery soups lacking tasty lumps of vegetables. If you prefer tasteless soup, that’s fine, but it will pass through your bowels leaving no nutrients. Similarly, this particular song is not greatly enjoyable, nor will it damage your health (I hope).

‘Take Back the City’ is serviceable enough to accompany your most mundane activities, such as driving to work, or organising your stamp collection. It is impossible to hate, like Snow Patrol themselves. As for ‘taking back the city tonight,’ it doesn’t quite cut the mustard, lyrically or melodically. There are much better singles, such as the fresh, upbeat ‘You’re All I Have’ or the youthful, energetic ‘Spitting Games,’ or the haunting duet with Martha Wainwright, ‘Set the Fire to the Third Bar’ (incidentally, a live version of this features as a b-side to the new single). I think it’s time Snow Patrol had some new ideas, and then we’ll have something to be genuinely excited about.

Vivienne Westwood at the Winter Gardens

Katie E. Booth Ponders a Vivienne Westwood Collection
Many people assume that Fashion is merely pieces of clothing, selected to cover the naked form or in some cases express the wearers’ individuality so that people can point and gossip about their state in the street; but did you ever think of fashion as an art form? Well that is exactly what eccentric designer Vivienne Westwood is pushing you to believe with her touring exhibition celebrating her most infamous collections spanning three decades.

With its original start point the V&A gallery in London; I managed to catch up with the exhibition on its stint at the Winter Gardens in Sheffield. The gallery itself is home to many exotic exhibitions including a room filled with sculptures and garments made from woollen string and have held several pieces of work from renowned artists including Mark Quinn’s sculpture of a contorted Kate Moss. With the Gardens reputation and being an owner of a treasured pair of suede Vivienne Westwood ankle boots, I had high expectations for the exhibition (plus the £20 admission fee did not help the situation); and I was not left disappointed.

With a velvet red carpet leading the way, you are taken through the world of one of the most outrageous fashion designers and general nut job Vivienne Westwood whose motto for life is ‘You have a much better life if you have impressive clothes’. Beginning with her vital role in the emergence of punk rock in the 1970’s to her well known costume pieces of glamorous dresses and glimmering corsets. Showing exactly how she liked to push the boat out, you start with the ripped denim and studded boots of the Rock and Punk era. One piece that stood out was a simple black cotton t-shirt enclosed in a glass cabin with small bones attached by metal rings across the chest to symbol to word ‘Rock’. Learning her technique from the ever so familiar information cards, Westwood used small chicken bones collected from her local take away, boiling and drilling them she would attach them to her t-shirts to emulate key words such as ‘Rock’ or ‘Perv’: not only do you get an inside look of Westwood’s work but also her inner minds. Leading into Westwood’s bondage inspiration with full leather jumpsuits designed as a straight jacket, you also get to learn Westwood’s history and key aspects of her personal life that inspired her work. Usually I would skip these cards and gaze at the work but each fact was tied in with an outfit that gave you an insight into its creation.

Leaving the early years of Punk and Westwood’s starting points the exhibition seems to take a dull turn concentrating on the more ordain collections including the ‘Witches Collection’. One toned suits and drab dresses stain the electric reputation Westwood has held throughout her career. I attempt to read the history cards but once again find myself skipping past to the more glimmering collections. In an art exhibition that is only situated in one room, it seems a waste of vital space to concentrate on these lifeless pieces that, from reading the one history card in this section, are a collaboration between Westwood and her second husband Malcolm McClairin; where are the controversial garments and elaborate costumes I was promised? With the next stage of the exhibition titled ‘sex’ I had a feeling my question would soon be answered. The walls splattered with pornographic images and rubber curtains, the pieces filled with fetish rubber leggings and t-shirts with photographic prints of breasts on, I had finally found the quirkiness I had come to love from Vivienne Westwood. If the gallery had been crowded with people I probably would have skipped this section through embarrassment of looking at sex clothes but on this particular day the gallery was lifeless so I got a nice long look at the intricate detail of the stitching on the all-in-one play suit. However my eye was being drawn to the final part of the exhibition: the costume gala. I had finally found the source of the bubble of light you see shining over the cabinets as you entered the gallery; a circle of sequins and fabrics seemingly sewn with golden thread. The famous ‘Mock Crock’ platforms that saw Naomi Campbell fall flat on her bony behind on a runway in 1993 where encased in a glass cabinet in the centre of the room but I was drawn to the wall behind. A glimmering tribute to Westwood’s work with the traditional corset, specimens made from fabric, bone, sequin; I felt more like I was watching a Kylie concert than viewing an art exhibition. Select pieces from the recent costume collection from Paris Fashion week last year towered on a platform in the centre, garments looking like they had come straight out of littlest girls dressing up box but some how emulating the modern world of today’s fashion. A luscious Ball Gown trains crimson silk along the floor with details of golden thread giving the air of royalty.

Emerging from the room of glamour and glitz I feel I have just been released from the inner workings of Vivienne Westwood that, ignoring the dull periods of her McClairin stage, is wonderfully captured in this touring collection. Although I will not be spending £75 on the exclusive lipstick print white t-shirt, I can now challenge those who dismiss fashion as art: I challenge them to take a step inside the world of Vivienne Westwood.

The Peasants' Revolt

Catherine Jebson visits the Ringside Pub on Beverley Road to savour some burlesque.

The Peasants Revolt
The Ringside Revue at the Ringside

Being asked to provide the warm up entertainment for an evening centred on stunning women taking their clothes off is no easy task. Despite their admission that they don’t know what burlesque is, and have never played to a strip-hungry audience before, The Peasants Revolt manage just fine. It becomes apparent from the moment they stumble on stage that they have decided to get into the spirit of the show and not take themselves at all seriously. Far from this seeming sloppy and disastrous however their friendly interaction with the crowd suits the candlelit, chatty proceedings surprisingly well. Their opening banter is relaxed and though much could be said for their attempts at stand up, they settle into their first cover effortlessly.

Musically the band is tight, giving us suitably bare back-to-basics strings and vocals that get even the highest heeled foot tapping. The feeling that they’d be out of place anywhere but at a function or local gig is inescapable, but the intimate atmosphere tonight allows them to have fun with their set. Everything from Duran Duran’s Rio to, worryingly, Britney Spear’s back catalogue are certainly originally done. Anyone who can take Hit Me Baby…and add a wonderfully done mandolin solo deserves at least some credit.

The transitions between songs are chaotic and the covers themselves are occasionally punctuated by mock arguments between the band. Luckily for them this hilarious dialogue is excusable because, after all, few of us are there for the music! The Peasants Revolt held up well and kept heads nodding along to their poppy acoustics tonight, but the question on everyone’s lipstick was whether this spontaneous routine was something the band would unleash again the night after, and the night after that, and the night after that…

Catherine Jebson.