Steve Mannion

20
Aug 04

Catch them on the Flipside

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Innovative, audacious, useful…unimaginative, cowardly, lazy…You could apply any or all of these adjectives to Channel 4’s new late night show Flipside, that consists of a bunch of K-listers (MTV dudes), pwned props (Victor Big Brother) and meeja pundits (Heat’s Boyd Hilton) watching different channels on digital TV and commenting on them. My first instinct: you’ve gotta be kidding me. The logic behind it is highly apparent though: Let them watch other channels, but whilst still watching our channel. Genius. No. Bloody cheeky. Channel 4.

Funnily enough I had an idea similar to this a while back when people still cared about what should replace RI:SE. If C4 are exposing loopholes regarding broadcasting copyright then hats off, because I can’t imagine other channels are that happy about this. The sweetener is perhaps that they tend to only look at things like UK Gold+1 (so it’s not ‘live’ as it were), Babestation, E! and those terrible channels that get bundled with your Sky box that you never watch. Of course now that I know the latest incarnation of Japanese ‘punishment wins prizes’ show Endurance can be found somewhere in there, I don’t have to watch late night Channel 4 ever again – yay!

13
Aug 04

ResFest

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ResFest looms once again – along with OneDotZero this is a key event in the medium of artistic digital film, primarily showcasing cutting edge film-making, animation and effects. Needless to say I will be there at the NFT when it happens, glued to my seat drooling over Shynola’s gorgeous work and similar.

Res the magazine provides a DVD every issue featuring short films, music videos, tracks and whatever extras they can muster. On the latest disc I was surprised to find a new video for Michael Andrews ft Gary Jules ‘Mad World’ directed by one Mr M Gondry…
Even before it starts you know it’s going to better than the terrible (tho perhaps appropriate) video that accompanied the song’s release last Christmas…and yes it is.

Why have Universal chosen to commission a new video for this song? Perhaps the popularity of the track lingers in some quarters of the world previously unexposed to the dreariest Christmas number one ever? And why choose Gondry? I can only assume they share the view that the original video was dire and it would be nice to have something a bit more stylish to go with one of the best selling songs of the decade so far (at least in the UK).

We are in a city, on a building roof. By we I mean the camera, looking down onto the street where a collection of children are starting to form shapes. They form a face…it’s all a bit British Airways isn’t it? Reminiscent of his classic clip for Massive Attack’s ‘Protection’ too. The kids assume other forms together, a car, a dove, a dog with disturbingly thin legs…occasionally the camera (us) pans slowly (in Gondry’s typical haunting ‘uncertain/mesmerised’ style) to the left where we see Mr Jules himself, still wearing that darned flat cap, looking down on the kids just as we are. Cars trundle by on the road, the skies are a cool grey with a low yellowish hue in the distance – hard to tell if it’s morning or evening. It looks cold but it probably isn’t. Eventually the camera shifts right and around and we see Mr Andrews (presumably) at the piano, his back turned to us, with the Empire State Building perfectly poised and majestic as ever in the distance. Ah…

A chaste affair but ordinary by his standards perhaps. Still what’s admirable here is the obedience in applying an organic theme to an organically rendered song – the use of people, rather than computer effects, to pull off the usual Gondry hallmarks of transformation, mirrors without smoke, the clockwork behind the clockwork, or just a really neat idea so simple anyone could conceive it, especially for something as supposedly trivial and throwaway as a music video. But still nobody conceives of it quite like Gondry does. It doesn’t quite save a poor cover from poverty but it does provide it with a much more comfortable bed to sleep in.

11
Aug 04

Metropolimbo

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Metropolimbo

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage with growing up in a surburban satellite such as the towns within the Zone 5/6 boundary is that while you feel comfort in being able to experience both urban thrills and rural bliss quicker than most, you can unfortunately end up knowing not as much about either as may be desired. Metroland et al = limbo. The people there don’t tend to grow up yearning to escape to the big city, because the big city is only 45 minutes away on the Tube anyway. Likewise there’s no craving for the idealised simplicity of country life, because once you’re into Zone 5 the woodland/office block ratio really starts to tip towards the former’s favour. Growing up with cattle-filled farmland AND multiple Tube routes within equal reach I always felt re-assured by having these ‘options’ – nurturing – if not a key influence in – my blatant general dilletantism in life.

Only, now I live in Zone 3, with an urge to get even closer to the centre, and I find myself constantly struggling when it comes to knowing and recommending places to go and things to do. It’s a complacency perhaps not recognised by the abundance of people I know who live in Zone 3 but originally hail from other places in the UK, more often than not THE NORTH. Because of course when people move to London after college or whatever, they’re not going to take it for granted, they’re going to want to live reasonably close to some ‘action’ and seek out the places to go and the things to do in them. This could mean anything from just knowing a little place on a side street that does great tapas, to having been to all the big clubs at least once out of curiosity AND convenience. Anglophiles from overseas who’ve settled in the centre only in the last few years or visit London several times a year can also have this edge over a suburbanite like myself, who bitches about the place all too often thinking they know it so well.

So lately, because I have been living in an area that was previously alien to me (Harringay), and working in an area that previously felt so hostile or just plain indifferent (Old Street/Hoxton), having got to know them a bit more in that time, I realise more and more how little I did and still do know – and I almost envy the people who did feel the compulsion to escape their hometowns to come here, to experience London fully and freshly as an adult. Then again, the wide-eyed fascination I felt for the city as a child what with being able to encounter it relatively easily still counts for an awful lot. Perhaps people growing up in the outskirts of NY’s outer boroughs, or the edge of any large thiriving city feel or have felt these things too. All of which makes me personally feel that there is a little catching up to do, and what better time than now?

4
Aug 04

Long Dark Tunnel

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Long

Dark

Tunnel

(Confessions Of A Metropolitan Claustrophobe part 1)

Living and travelling around and through London is easy on the Tube, despite all it’s flaws. But take it away and the nightmarish urban journey takes on a new dimension. Around six years ago now I decided I really couldn’t face travelling underground anymore – more for fear of irrational panic attacks and subsequent humiliation rather than a feeling I was actually in genuine danger. Quite what brought this on other than an over-active imagination I’m not sure. Delays between stations were always tense. Perhaps some see no difference whether it’s underground or overground – the simple fact that you are unable to womble free is an inconvenience irrespective of where and on what level it takes place. But something about the tunnels got to me in the end. Where once I adored passing through them, taking regular carefree trips around the city exploring everywhere and anywhere, somehow despite having grown up and having learned how to apply rational thought to situations far better than I had been able to as a child and adolescent, a fear took hold – merely the fear of being trapped, unable to move, unable to escape – and never knowing exactly when you would be able to again… (actual answer: couple of minutes, nine times out of a hundred).

Ridiculous? Of course. Irrational phobias tend to be ridiculous by default, though they can be quite reasonable at the same time. It might make more sense if some traumatising incident had happened to me on the Tube in the past, but thankfully no. I was not on that late night Northern Line service that ended up hurtling backwards past three stations one night because the driver fell asleep on his Dead Man’s Handle. Nor was I on the Victoria Line morning service when one train broke down at Highbury & Islington causing the two just behind it to stop in their tracks for the best part of an hour. Weirdly however, I’ve recently used the subterranean Metro in Bilbao and the subways in New York and Chicago and I enjoyed them. You can feel a strange sense of indomitability far from home though, as if nothing can really hurt or flummox you, because half the time you don’t feel like you are really there.

Friends remain confused and bemused. But absteining had some advantages. I saved money and I got to see parts of London I had not before via the bus or the invaluable Metrolink. Confidence was gained in having a better grasp of bearings and alternative travel routes around town. Moving closer to the centre of the city also helped. Prior to that I had travelled underground maybe just six times in as many years, the most recent time confirming my fears somewhat – our Northern Line tube screeching to a half abruptly just before Warren Street, the engines going eerily quiet (the darkness through the windows, the silence – broken only by the occasional sighing and tutting from passengers, or the giggling from my American friends as I nervously played with my phone, all very unsettling). Of course about three minutes later we were on the move again, and I had not freaked out. Yet the reluctance persists. It’s habit now. Often I find myself hovering around the station entrances just wondering what the hell my problem is. Sometimes that torrent of warm air rises up from the escalators, followed by the throngs of addled gasping passengers. At that point I hop on the bus…

What to do? Hypnosis? Perhaps take part in those organised emergency drills LU invite the public to participate in as volunteers? Or stay as I am, confident at least that I’ll get from Angel to Brixton eventually… only not as a sardine. I do miss it though, the art works at Gloucester Road, never experiencing the sci-fi sophistication of the Jubilee Line extension first hand, the extraordinary way the passage from White City to Shepherds Bush seems to take three times longer than it should do given the distance on foot…In the meantime, submit your own tube-related horror anecdotes in the comments box if you wish. I’m off now to prepare another blog post, this time concerning what I have come to term as BUS RAGE…

30
Jul 04

Pop The Vote

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Pop The Vote

On the I Love Music board I am running a poll to determine ILM’s Top 100 albums and tracks of the decade so far, what with being pretty much halfway through it as we are (unless you’re one of those anti-Carterian date rockists). A lot has happened in the last five years in the world of popular music – some genres ‘dying’, some being ‘reborn’, some continuing to mutate and spawn demonic offspring, but of course this is a poll for individual works (albums and tracks – not JUST singles mind) and not genres, although it will be interesting to see which styles prove the most popular when all the votes are counted. Right now I see no clear winner for either the albums list or the tracks list, but it’s early days yet. Please check out the voting form here and submit your choices based on the list provided, nominations provided by the ILM contributors on a ‘Pick One Only’ basis, leading to some shocking/hilarious omissions I’m sure you’ll agree – and that’s before the final chart has been calculated. The deadline for submissions is Monday 16th August, 12pm BST. Happy voting!

28
Jul 04

I recorded then watched Channel 4’s ‘X Rated: The Pop Videos They Tried to Ban’

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I recorded then watched Channel 4’s ‘X Rated: The Pop Videos They Tried to Ban’ the other day, and spent much of it’s duration begging Jayne Middlemiss (unfair to single her out, and hardly new to pick on TV talking heads but never mind) to actually venture her own opinion for once rather than just stating the obvious as if it was somehow learned rather than just basic observaton.

But when Jayne did manage to state a view with what seemed like a shred of actual ‘this is what I – not the producers – think, actually’ emotion, I just felt even more embarassed for her and the programme. The view in question amounted to indignation regarding the video for Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’. More interesting than the video (meh) was JM’s minor outburst, the lingering camera only serving to accentuate the pompousness of it all, and the sense of pre-meditation. Do the programme-makers use the likes of Middlemiss and Gina Yashere i.e. TV presenters with no apparent knowledge of the subject they are discussing other than the press clippings or videotapes they may have seen just before filming, because they want to make them look stupid?

The shrewd editing of 2 Live Crew’s Luther Campbell so that he appeared just as conservative and hypocritical (deeming TATU ‘sick’ etc.) as the buffoons who petitioned to have his material banned from record stores in the 80s also a case in point. If so then this would be the only thing I learned from the predictably but still disappointingly banal look at naughty music videos. Other ‘revelations’ (Trent Reznor obsessed with S&M, Jonas Akerlund ‘not’ out to cause controversy, rock stars and rappers equal in exhibiing violent and misogynystic behaviour alongside a penchant for titillation, duh) all second hand. Too bad they couldn’t get a word from Pharrell on the supposed rationale of N.E.R.D.’s ‘Lapdance’ video (the naked women representing politicians, obviously – but that’s old news too I guess).

Paul Morley may get tired of describing the chaotic abandon that accompanied Frankie’s glorious rise to the top of the charts, but it’s always fun to portray the early 1980s as footloose and fanciful – nobody really seeming to understand the exciting new music video genre at the time, but figuring that adding breasts or cunning allusions to sordid sexual acts would be enough to get tongues wagging, eyes goggling and sales soaring. Somehow it worked then, but the cynical and relatively lazy approach of C4’s retrospective evening-fillers ends up only entertaining by default but largely unsatisfying. And afterwards? Not the music videos themselves in all their assorted glory but a repeat of Bo Selecta (breasts and cunning allusions to sordid sexual acts – but without decent tunes over the top, bah). How about a new series of Mirrorball instead? Please?

15
Jul 04

Mobb Deep ‘Got It Twisted’ (Jive)

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Mobb Deep ‘Got It Twisted’ (Jive)

It shouldn’t still happen should it? Taking hits from the 80s hasn’t sounded so crazy for a while, even as that trend has reached it’s fulcrum in the post-millennial fallout. This time the hook from Thomas Dolby’s ‘She Blinded Me With Science’ is stretched and skewered and bound with a crystalline perfunktory beat perfect for Prodigy and Havoc’s blahzay (if not particularly inspiring here) posturing. For me, as is often the case with my enjoyment of US hip-hop) all that really matters about this track is that hook and it’s deployment. The subverting of context, so simply, so craftily and in this case so elegantly. The question of whether the beat came before the sample intrigues. But less imaginative as it may seem compared to the recent wave of crunked up hits that tend to shun obvious (tho perhaps you wouldn’t expect Dolby’s work to be drafted in this genre) samples in favour of original hooks generated by digital synths – itself something in common with early 80s pop production. Either way new wave influences and references (fresh or old) in hip-hop (and other genres – cf Richard X) production remain welcome in this corner.

(Forgot to mention that the duo were quoted in interviews as claiming the Dolby track and others like it WERE popular in circles such as theirs growing up – so not a complete surprise to see it used in this way after all. But then maybe the surprise is it’s taken this long).

I have just given You Whores a cursory glance for the first time

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I have just given You Whores a cursory glance for the first time and I was amused soon enough. The idea’s seeming unoriginality quickly dissolves once you recognise the quality of craft and content (simple but stylish and effective design, very funny submissions from the interweb’s finest assortment of mostly anonymous menkos – awarded a ‘black star’ for a proposal deemed creative enough by the site’s maker.

Another hit for Bill Drummond then, who made an appearance at St Luke’s church in Old Street last night as part of the Clerkenwell Literary Festival’s bill to promote his latest online venture. This was my first encounter with the great man in the flesh. I did not know what to expect and did not care too much frankly. I had heard about the site but not had the chance to check it out before. After brief performances by Giro Playboy (spoken word recitals over non-descript ambient tones – some nice bits but an overall meh) and Adam Buxton in his playful if somewhat hackneyed Pavel the angry Latvian poet guise, Drummond bounded on stage and set about his task in a very business-like manner.

Explaining the origin and reison d’etre of You Whores via smirk-worthy anecdotes (it was partly inspired by a Tracey Emin piece who it seems clear Drummond is quite a fan of) and logical reasoning Drummond established the appeal of the project quickly and successfully. However, there was something a little unsatisfying about this casual demystified approach for me, and the blatantness of the way Drummond touted his wares – well composed but totally ordinary posters detailing the site’s purpose and very little else. And some T-shirts, ’10 to you mate. Hmmmm. When he asked what should be done with the bottle of unopened champagne he’d brought along for some reason I resisted the temptation to suggest burning it. Charmingly, if unspectacularly, it was given to the first person in the audience who asked if they could have it. This seemed to go against the general theme of ‘whoring’ but I will forgive him for this, and the site, which can only grow in size and popularity in the coming months.

In this month’s Four Four Two…

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In this month’s Four Four Two (a good read tho not enough coverage given to Euro 2004 review I thought – then again I guess we don’t need yet more pages and pages devoted to THAT disallowed goal) magazine Jurgen Klinsmann re-affirms his status as TNT (Thoroughly Nice Teuton) of the highest order in an earnest if only mildly revealing interview (I particularly enjoyed the anecdote about Sheringham convincing JK to dive to celebrate his first goal for Spurs). But it was his comments regarding the alarming decline of German international footballing ability that got me thinking…

While Italy, Spain and France all provided their own puzzling questions regarding their poor performances (unlike England who played well enough but ooh that cursed luck of the draw again eh? hem hem), it’s generally recognised that Germany have sunk the lowest. What convinced me that England may be inching closer to winning SOMETHING ANYTHING (apart from the unexpected Lampard equaliser, showing a dogged tenacity that I thought went encouragingly beyond Lineker’s strike in Turin 14 years prior) is the fact that their failure in Portugal seemed to come down to a tactical stubborn-ness (though some of you may prefer to call it a naivety, understandably) in defending marginal leads against a) the defending champions in their opening game and b) the host nation in the interim make-or-break/no more room for error stage of the tournament. Against ANY other teams they may just have managed it, as Germany did two years before in South Korea (It is oh-so-convenient to ignore this because although it was deserved, it was always very difficult to believe we were watching a genuinely excellent team (perhaps the same is thought of Greece by some though their recent victory was just as deserved if not more so). Erikkson recognised that the way to win was to mimic the Germans whilst hopefully using England’s natural strengths to provide that extra punch. Perhaps it didn’t work because Sven himself is not German – a schoolboy error wrt to executing his masterplan? Or perhaps it did just come down to who the opposition were and what was at stake in both cases.

Klinsmann cited the problem as there being too much for young people in Germany to do now. Sports have taken a backseat to the obsession with technology and gadgets (phones, Internet and other burdgeoning entertainment markets based on hi-tec developments that have exploded in the time since an arrogant but grateful Andreas Moller lifted the European Championship at Wembley eight years ago). Another difference may be the nature of England and Germany’s domestic leagues – the Premiership as bloated and affluent as ever, fuelling the fire in the belly of kids tantalised by big glory and even bigger wages. The Bundesliga remains a beautiful machine by design but with even Bayern Munich floundering in Europe and domestically in recent times the league has trouble attracting big names and does not seem to command the same fervour as the Premiership or La Liga home or away. English hyperbole tends to revolve around the arguments of ‘having the best league in the world’ and ‘having the quality, but not the team/direction/sufficient management’, oh and they all get paid too much so are less hungry. These are valid points but they don’t really apply to Germany whose sole basis for believing success is something to be expected comes down to just the belief that having done it before they must do it again. But I’m thinking ‘why should any of this be deemed a mystery now?’ Why is success for such nations often deemed a right as some sort of echo of past imperial magnitude? But England will have another chance. Germany will surely produce classic players again in time – they would perhaps be wise to take advantage of the massive immigrant population as France did. And it will be interesting to see if/how they turn themselves around for 2006.

14
Jul 04

What does the latest round of Guiness (Extra Cold) adverts suggest

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What does the latest round of Guiness (Extra Cold) adverts (a follow-up pastiche compilation of previous classic Guiness ads) suggest? That they’ve run out of ideas and are squeezing the last drops of the black stuff (not Bovril) from the damp bar cloth? Or is it an inspired celebratory reinforcement of the ideas and themes that have been tossed our way the last fifteen or so years by the marketeers?

Perhaps both in that they seem keen to signal the end of an era for the brand, possibly to culminate somehow with the fact that Guiness is no longer brewed in the UK at all – a major business change that I’m not sure regular drinkers of the stuff here will really notice. The ads on the other hand are easily noticed and indeed it’s somewhat remarkable the way the latest ones grab you with the exact single reference you would surely have placed on them (e.g. the fish on the bicycle – referring to an advert from the mid-late 90s – not a term they invented but seeing one on screen I’d be surprised if nobody instantly realised they were watching a ‘new’ Guiness ad…the image and the product becoming synonomous with each other in the process, or at least you would think that was the intention). More extraordinary is the re-appearance of Rutger Hauer who I thought was dead for some reason (probably a consequence of having done apparently nothing in the last 15 years, other than the odd ad for Irish stout…around 15 years ago).

These familiar references are enjoyable to see again though, representing the more thoughtful side of DYS thinking – a reward of sorts for those who’ve been paying attention to and enjoying the campaigns all this time, if not those who go one better by actually consuming the drink. One of the more popular adverts (‘Swimmer’ featuring the cheating brother vs the pint and effectively spawning a number one hit in ‘Mambo No 5’ has yet to be referenced as far as I’ve seen) and the ‘meaning of life’ one with the talking squirrel remain favourites here. All this enough to keep me interested (as far as ad-spotting goes) in seeing what they do next.