Posts from 7th March 2005

Mar 05

Condensed Comics #1

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 324 views

Condensed Comics #1
Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane 106

Bah! Who has TIME to read a WHOLE COMIC nowadays? Far better just to get the whole story in a handful of panels — like those PILLS which contain an ENTIRE MEAL!

The Problem:

The Solution:

The Complication:

The Resolution!

Since we’re redesigning…

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 390 views

Since we’re redesigning…

I’ve been meaning to write an intro to FT for newcomers for ages. I never got around to it. It’s not that hard anyway – seven blogs, different subjects, team of writers, there you go. Anyway tonight I did have a go and ended up writing more of a history of the site instead. But it works as an intro too.

What Is A Freaky Trigger?

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Since we’re redesigning…

Freaky Trigger is a UK-based website which consists of a bunch of themed weblogs. It started life in 1999 as a music site, edited by me, as a way to get my ramblings on pop music out of my head and onto the web. I’d always wanted to do a fanzine, and this was a lot cheaper.

On its first birthday I started New York London Paris Munich, a weblog. Weblogs were relatively new back then and I think NYLPM is one of the two or three oldest music blogs still going. Its mix of singles reviews and links was a huge success and it’s still the most visited part of the site. At the time my listening habits were changing dramatically, with single tracks and commercial pop winning out over albums and more ‘alternative’ stuff. NYLPM reflected this and Freaky Trigger got a reputation for being a site which pushed a pro-Pop agenda, taking modern pop seriously and celebrating it. This ideology carried over to the message board I Love Music, which eventually became an even huger success, even though most of its earliest threads were about the Wedding Present.

ILM, and its sister board ILE, pretty much did for Freaky Trigger as an essay-based site. Why spend ages composing a lengthy piece on something when you could post working notes to a board and find yourself in a freeform discussion with some of the sharpest minds on the net? Meanwhile, by 2002 and 2003 newer, better music blogs were turning up and I felt NYLPM had lost a lot of its old fire. We certainly weren’t setting any kind of agenda any more; the sites we used to bitch about now had columns which read like vintage NYLPM (if less starchy and English); the newer players were clearly a lot more on-the-ball; I’d said what I had to say and besides I was getting married and didn’t have that much time for a website any more. Freaky Trigger needed to change, or get scrapped. We decided to change.

Time for a swift one

Also back in 2000, my friend Pete had started Pumpkin Pubs, a pub review site spinning out of a film site he’d been running. Pumpkin Pubs was mostly notable for a livid digitised Pumpkin graphic, and for turning into Pumpkin Publog, a team weblog about pubs and pubgoing which all objectivity aside I think was one of the best kept secrets in UK weblogging. I loved writing for it; I loved reading it; I loved the way it shared with NYLPM a commitment to taking tiny things quite seriously.

So we had a declining site with a big audience, and a relatively thriving site with a tiny audience. We also had an itch to write about some things that weren’t music. Or pubs, for that matter. Solution: blindingly obvious.

In August 2003, Freaky Trigger switched to its current form – a collection of themed team blogs touching on most of the vaguely cultural things Pete and I (and Tim Hopkins, who joined up as the third co-editor) enjoyed. Alan Trewartha redesigned the site and suddenly it looked good. Dave Boyle suggested a sports weblog, and Geeta Dayal a science one, and we put both ideas into practise. We kept on thinking of subjects for a seventh blog and decided to do all of them. I decided that I wasn’t sick of writing about music quite yet and started a stupidly long-term project called Popular. We bought Tanya Headon’s services with some cheap Slovenian gin. And here we are.

Freaky Trigger is not comprehensive. It will cover some things at enormous length and miss out many others entirely. We do our best to make sure every blog is interesting but even so hardly anyone reads the whole lot. It is not particularly inclusive – despite a few efforts and some magnificent exceptions we’ve not had much luck at expanding our circle beyond our social circle. On the other hand this means we sometimes feel like a group of mates bouncing ideas about in a pub. And that feels good. We are a trivial site by and large, but as a reader one of the things I like about FT is the way it will offhandedly drop really good points and ideas into the most unlikely of contexts. An acquired taste certainly, but that’s moot really, as we’ve been here six years and we’re not planning on going anywhere yet!

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 22. Kittens

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neoteny n. The retention of juvenile characteristics in the adults of a species

Such as being amused by nob gags? I suspect not. The film Team America: World Police is packed with juvenile humour – it appealled only to the base, the vulgar, those with no sense of decency. What a great film. But there is ONE terrific joke in it that manages to appeal to even those of a refined disposition: RELEASE THE PANTHERS!*

Kittens are an elemental force of nature – tiny bundles of energy that are less the young of a species, more the mass-noun for a fundamental feature of the universe. Gamboling among the quantum-foam of the universe are the bosons, fermions, pions (mm, Pions), kaons, and atomic kittens. All chasing that elusive cosmic string, running too fast, then skidding on the lino of time and tumbling bum over head. Aw, bless!

The only member of our top 25 that is defined by its youth, Kittens are the epitome of the evolutionary desirability of neoteny – somehow more so than human babies, as (unrelated) human babies rarely have the same ticklish effect on human MEN. Even cat hating men? Who knows? Who talks to cat-hating men?

Destroy: the phrase “sex-kitten” (ban this sick p@3do-b3st14l filth), and “Hello Kitty” stationery (ban this sick p@3do-b3st14l filth)

Search: lovely LOVELY piccies of kitties, like the 196 at this site

Bonus level: Keep Kitty Warm – time-wasting game from b3ta.

*Thanks to the sharp-eyed contributor to IMDB trivia who spotted they were real kitties.

Leaked TV alert

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Leaked TV alert
According to b3ta‘s blog, the first episode of the new Dr Who has leaked onto BitTorrent already. I can’t find any supporting blogging or actual evidence (not while I’m at work), but they are usually reliable on this sort of thing. Opinion appears to be positive, and a couple of people I know who have seen it say they liked it a lot (though they would, being Who-industry types). This Easter I am indeed looking forward to the resurrection. Which is saying a lot as I have been opposed to this whole scheme for so long now.

Will the last person to leave the FA please turn off the lights

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Will the last person to leave the FA please turn off the lights

Some readers who have heard me on the subject of the FA and the Premier League will be aware of my general view that The FA is staffed by good people let down by the muppets who actually make the decisions. They might also be aware of my view that too many people working in football are bears of little brain. Nowhere is this better illustrated than with the latest policy for dealing with the issue FA Cup replays.

The basic story is simple – the World Cup is in 2006, and FIFA have decreed that players must have a full month off before the tournament starts. This presented a problem – what to do if the later rounds of the cup went to replays. Like several did this year. Apparently, there simply isn’t the time to fit another week’s worth of fixtures in what with the compression of the season and the likely European commitments of clubs usually contesting the latter rounds. So what they’ve done is create a two-tier competition. Teams in European competition will have no replays, but the mere plebs will have the opportunity to fight it out once more. But no taking Chelsea back to your place after a hard-fought draw, and you’ll have penalties at the Bridge next year.

That’s not because of any other reason than Chelsea would be in another competition. It’s not like replays aren’t good. By keeping replays for teams not in Europe, they’re saying replays are an important part of the cup. By removing the need for them if certain clubs need them, they’re saying that those clubs are more important than the integrity of the cup.

It’s hard to think of a more idiotic policy. A fundamental of a cup competition is that the rules are the same for everyone. By ignoring that for this is yet another cut. It won’t be the death knell of the competition, but it’s a major cut in the list of a thousand cuts which will kill the thing.

By coming up with this policy, and agreeing it, football confirms that it really can’t see the whole picture, so beset by sectional and short-term interests. And so beset by those interests is the FA that it can’t actually go beyond them to act in the best interest of the cup and the game.

Lets be clear here – this is the FA’s flagship competition. This isn’t anyone else’s responsibility, over which they exert mere moral authority. This is their own sodding competition, and they can’t defend it against the major clubs.

What were the alternatives? Well, they could have not scheduled the week of the 5th and 6th Rounds as free weeks in the Premiership for those teams not in the cup by that stage. You know, liked they used to. They could have used the opportunity to reduce team numbers in the Premiership. You know, like they’ve been wanting too.

But no. Let’s come up with something really bad. Something that gets at the very essence of the competition. It’s a hoary old cliche that the FA Cup is under threat, and I’m sure that you can scour the archives and find people saying that the end of the second (and third and fourth…) replay was a death knell. But this is really bad. I was profoundly depressed about the future for the first time in some time.

It wasn’t so much that the interests of small number of clubs have predominated. I’m used to that. It was that an idea had been proposed and no-one, seemingly, had said ‘but it’s utter rubbish, as ideas go’. Power and money will always want to dominate, but you’d like to think talent will out. Silly me.

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 23. Narwhals

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Alix writes:

Narwhals are rarely seen and their lifestyle is poorly documented. They live in the Arctic but churlishly avoid Siberia and Alaska. Their most distinctive feature is their ridiculous tusk. Only the males have this tusk (females being toothless), and it is actually a tooth that has grown through the upper lip. Narwhals are around sixteen feet in length, and the tusk is 7-10 feet long, which is an absurd body to tusk ratio. Sometimes two teeth grow through the lip, and twist round each other, forming a spiral tusk.

The unicorn legend is reinforced by the existence of narwhals. Sightings of narwhals have been reported as sightings of unicorns and travellers have returned with narwhal horns and passed them off as unicorn horns. If you grind up the tusk it makes magic powder. However, you can only buy the tusk using magic beans. Or on the black market. Tusks retail at around ’2300 and can be used for magic purposes or you can make them into goblets.

Nobody is sure what the tusk is used for (whilst still attached to the narwhal) – there are suggestions that it is used during courtship rituals as a crazily lethal submarine jousting weapon, or that it is used to obtain food. To my disappointment all of the websites I visited were certain that it isn’t used for killing. My favourite is the suggestion is that it is used to channel and amplify sonar pulses. The clicks and trills that they use to communicate are deafening to the human ear. No one has ever been physically attacked by a narwhal, but no statistics are available regarding deafenings inflicted by narwhal. They eat squid, halibut and flatfish. Again, no one is sure how they kill their prey but its been suggested that they make a really loud noise and stun their prey.

The meaning of ‘narwhal’ in Old Norse is ‘corpse whale’, derived either from its cadaverous skin, or from its tendency to float motionless, belly up, for long periods. They are insulated by 4 inches of blubber and the largest narwhal ever eeighed 3500 pounds. That’s approximately equivalent to 116 Andy Fordhams, plus a few of Girls Aloud.

Narwhals are hunted by the Inuit (Inuit is another word for Eskimo). The Inuit call them qilalugat tugaliit. That’s actually true; I haven’t just sat on the keyboard. They burn the oil, feed the meat to sled dogs and eat the skin as it is packed with Vitamin C, and according to one website ‘tastes like seafood’ (Surely it is seafood? It lives in the sea after all). Polar bears, orcas, sharks and walruses also hunt narwhal. In a race between a narwhal and a killer whale the narwhal would win. If the killer whale overtakes, it will ram the narwhal head on, knocking it unconscious, then eat the narwhal. That’s the reason why narwhals are in this list and Free Willy isn’t.

A whole kilo of MEAT

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A whole kilo of MEAT

The Robster and I went to Prague for the weekend, and we spent some time looking at pretty buildings and fannying around in the snow before getting down to the real business at hand: beer. Much of this splendid substance was consumed, generally biased towards the dark and chewy end of the continuum (rather than girly lager which you can get anywhere), and including samples of Velkopopovicky, Staropramen Granat, Gambrinus and Krusovice, costing on average about 40 pence a pint.

On our last night there we went to the highly-recommended Pivovarsky Dum, or “House of Beer”, which any sane person would surely agree is a fine name for a pub. A bit out of the way from the bright lights and UV theatre shows of the centre of town, its clientele consists of moderately-clued-up tourists as well as hefty local chaps out to do some serious damage to their livers. A splendid feature of the place is that you can order a zirafa (giraffe) of your chosen beer: this is a long 4-litre glass tube set in a shiny brass foot with a tap, and sits on your table preventing you from realising how pissed you are until you get up to go to the toilet.

Available to mop up the exciting microbrews (including banana lager and a nice sour cherry beer which is a lot more subtle than yr Mort Subite kriek and all that gubbins) is a fairly extensive menu. Now, Czech cuisine really does not muck about, one good reason for visiting in winter being that you need healthy walking around in the cold to burn off the damned food. Potatoes prepared in stomach-leadening portions coupled with big hunks of beast-flesh are de rigeur, and the Dum wasn?t noticeably bucking the trend the night we were there. A couple of half-litres gone, we ventured upon rabbit with spaetzles (err, Czech gnocchi?) and potato dumplings stuffed with roast pork and accompanied by sauerkraut, all of which was very nice, especially the sight of several pathetic rabbit leg bones lying desolate on a plate after finishing. We thought ourselves pretty hearty after encompassing this lot, but as the evening wore on we noticed a growing proportion of gentlemen tucking into enormous plates supporting what, according to the menu, were individual 1kg joints of pork, accompanied only by small lakes of horseradish and mustard. Atkins-tastic. We sipped a couple of digestif shots of slivovice (alarming plum brandy) to untwist our melons, then headed off into the snow to pack our bags.

THE BYRDS – “Mr. Tambourine Man”

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#199, 24th July 1965

The impact of Bob Dylan as lyricist isn’t so much in the idea that pop could be ‘poetry’ but in the idea that it could be a riddle-game. (Of course the difference between these two ideas is mostly one of emphasis: that’s why we do comprehension exercises at school.) Coded meanings and lyrical references didn’t begin in 1960 but the formula was generally to take a subject that one couldn’t sing about and modify things so that one could. Once a listener to, say, “Sugar In My Bowl” understood the single metaphor, that was that: they were in the club.

Dylan did this too, as singer and as audience – his ears notoriously pricked up when he misheard dope references in the Beatles. But a lot of his mid-60s lyrics took the technique and exploded it, packing fabulous, ridiculous worlds of detail and allusion into rambling verses. You could have a lot of fun codexing them – which itself might let you into a particular club – but there’s not often a key central image that turns the song into something you can make literal sense out of. Your understanding is something personal, secret, hard to articulate.

But of course understanding of pop usually is like that. It turns on the private stuff you can draw out of a chord, or a phrase, or a snarl or twitch. The point at which pop criticism starts is that ginger moment when you play a song you love to someone else and hope that the world it opens up for them is the same as the one it opens for you (or maybe you hope that it’s not the same). What Dylan’s kind of cryptic pop is doing – and make no mistake, it does it well – is making the potential for private worlds more obvious, making them part of pop’s text.

We’re at a slight tangent, though, to “Mr Tambourine Man” by The Byrds. For one thing “Mr. Tambourine Man”, at least the wide-eyed way the Byrds sing it, is one of those Dylan songs that has a metaphor-key, and they’ve left the key squarely on the doormat with the label “Take me for a trip” tied on. I think it’s a very pretty lyric, but it’s approached here with a convert’s optimism and Dylan’s folksy tics (“I’m ready for to fade”) are treated with a bit too much reverence. The Byrds sing the song like Dylanologists-in-waiting.

But that’s fine, because while you’re helping them puzzle out the words, the music gets the chance to sneak up and charm you. I like the Byrds because of the way they hit on a lovely sound and then applied it for a couple of years to everything – stern old hymns, laments on Presidential death, wry musings on the rock biz, love songs, drug songs, anything. Any subject, any song could be polished and Rickenbackered into a blissful smoothness. Here their obvious faith in Dylan’s song and their musical committment to beauty link, and the result is three minutes that seem to bring a better world within touching distance.

THE FT TOP 100 SONGS 85. Teddybears STHLM ft Mad Cobra – “Cobrastyle”

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85. Teddybears STHLM ft Mad Cobra – “Cobrastyle”

If I was a real music journalist I would look forward most to the part of the job where you make up new genres! I think I would make up a genre which would include this record, and Junior Senior, and Bigtrack Rockismo (or whatever they’re called), and let’s throw in the Go! Team as well. This genre would be called Bubble Beat – what a rubbish name eh? It’s kind of a tiny bit like Big Beat but with a really brazen pop sensibility and flagrant disregard for the real cultural context of anything it uses. And with no ridiculous ‘po-mo’ ‘manifestos’ either, just a love of stupid fun. “Cobrastyle” for instance marries dancehall to rockabilly with only the most glancing regard for either and ends up as a fabulous pop record and surprisingly not at all insulting. A while ago I called this song the audio equivalent of sequinned Motorhead T-Shirts and I see no reason to back away from that. Incidentally do not buy a Teddybears album, if you want to hear something else by them then “Different Sound” is quite good, though it actually is Big Beat.