Friday, 27 December 2013

A Concrete Meccah: 96 Hours in Berlin

Land of the estranged, notoriously darkened figures cloaked in webs of cigarette smoke and European allure darting through silver streets: admittedly initial expectations for the hub of German culture was a little adventurous but I was lustfully hungry for cultural enrichment. Devon had worn me down, hedgerows sullen- I yearned for a retreat from normality.
We departed at a meagre 11pm from Tiverton parkway train station headily catching a train into Exeter to spy our entourage of the next few days when Louis and I made the executive decision to sensibly stop off at The Imperial for a night cap, quick woozy brew to keep our spirits high for the ominous journey to the East as we eventually bundled onto the back of a coach to Gatwick, ticked off the register and told to 'mind your language'.
What followed, through a thick fog of gross fatigue, inebriation and perpetual nicotine fixes from hanging round the back of the group as we entered Berlin after concluding our intrepid embark, fending through customs and other such airport jargon was a rich Eastern melange. Though not quite as rose tinted as my minds eye, skies were heavy and sheet white omnipresently. The sheer vastness was what struck me first, the sheer velocity and magnitude of German architecture- looming sheets of stagnant grey concrete, splayed luridly in graffiti tags, scattered over all manner of buildings and previously bare faces. It felt barren, sharp and a cold juxtaposition of old and new architecture; all with the unanimous intention to astonish- the 'Reichstag' gloriously ancient though with the recent acquisition of a glass dome. In the evenings we explored aptly put as a 'PG-13' segment of the nightlife in Alexanderplatz. Dipping our toes fleetingly in a gay bar the size of a larger than average postage stamp we poked our heads through of the doorway (the frame of which brandished a 'We Welcome HIV Positive!' sticker) inhaling a musk of an enclosed carcinogenic smog (-it's Berlin darling, you smoke indoors) and glancing a few withered revellers we made a hasty dash to a local bier garten- the likes of which are abundant.
The big American chains are prevalent on the high street, a startling reminder of globalisation as you stroll past the fourth consecutive Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks, the gag starts to wear a little thin. The Markets, though stunning are inevitably an almighty tourist trap and one can't help but be irked to compare to Exeter's own 'authentic German Christmas Market'. Here Gluhwein flows freer than water.
Given the 'History' facade of the trip we pay a visit to several local museums, Berlin wall commemorations and Sachsenhausen concentration camp to gain a contextual perspective to the city. What strikes many of us is the realisation of the relevancy of events in the relative recent time frame in which the Holocaust happened and the extent to which it still affects generations today. The image of the Nazi Medical chamber in Sachsenhausen is one that shall be indelibly engraved in my memory. The clinical labortory perfection of the room was silencing. Tiled entirely in white, two white glass cabinets stood at the rear with two operating tables in white on either side of you as you entered the chamber. One couldn't help but be persistently consciously aware of the mortuary beneath your feet, and the intense isolation and sparseness of the camp truly emphasised the tremendous number of those captured.
A city once divided, the astonishing history to the city of Berlin given the cultural, social and political shifts over the past 100 years gives for an intriguing and maturing voyage, and having ventured from my mild Devonian home I found myself cursing the wind at having missed out on the Dali exhibition. There's no chance in hell I'll ever get to see that in bloody Barnstaple.
Mark my words Berlin, this isn't the last you've heard from me.

All images my own.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

A Good Day

Today has been a good day.
Owing much to overcoming the toils of procrastination. I have finally triumphed in the face of laziness and got my first published article!
My previous post 'The Look vs. The Hook' is just that, and today was published in Exeter's own Express and Echo weekly local paper.
Making a hasty dash to Co-op following a rather flustered flute lesson (last ever, I'm hanging up the metal pipe following considerations of Grade 8 Jazz; a daunting feat) I snatched up a copy, casting a pound at the cashier and indistinguishably mumbling something about having an article in it to the facially sagging older woman before upheaving my small woodwind burden and sprinting over to the college 'Tower'.
Still incredulous, I insisted on purchasing an additional 'safety' edition much to the reluctance of my trustworthy accomplice Louis, fist pumping.
We commence an expedition to Berlin on Tuesday and in light of todays events, I am left in suitably high spirits.
Still bloody beaming.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Billy Bragg @ Exeter Great Hall, support from Kim Churchill

A fresh December eve, accompanied by an intrepid father though quietly brimming with nostalgia fuelled ecstasy no doubt stemming from our freeloading musical bounty having won a pair of tickets from an email draw in low budget Devon music freezine, we drifted through flocks of receding hairlines. I felt veritably marginalised. Finding myself a sensible seat and fittingly offered half a cider we were greeted with bare footed, whispy haired ozzie Kim Churchill; singer song-writing one man band, harmonicas brazen and brandishing his guitar with arachnid type dexterity authentically concocting an auditory aperitif, convincingly clad in an open necked denim article. A quivering halo of locks empasionately bobbing as vocals broaden. He offers an ultimatum- ‘acoustic contemplation on the concept of rage’ or a ‘psychadelic rock’ umber, a delirious interjection of ‘DISCO!’ from a swaying punter to a hearty middle class chortle confirms the latter in a notably un‘psych’ed rendition. A driving outback spin on Dyaln’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ seduces his observers to sporadic  standing ovations and a pat on the back from a paternal Bragg. Indicative of the age, a flurry of Samsungs and HTCs protrude from the sea of middle class parent’s pockets, proclaiming to their followers of their CONCERT. GOSH HOW YOUTHFUL OF YOU! I catch mutterings of ‘real ale festivals’ and patiently press a stress inducing game of Candy Crush. Bragg enters in a wake of polished angsty triumph, ‘Nobody Know Nothing Anymore’ sets the tone, we are subservient to your ideological preachings. He sings of cyber surveillance, scientific progression and inequality with an Americana undertone (to which he informs us is ‘country music for people who like The Smiths’) with a peddle guitar prevalent. Famed for his patriotism he is soon to declare an adoration of the archaic British brew, aptly namedropping his associate Morrisey as a fellow lover of a cuppa to soothe the vocals. Sporting a newfound speckled grey fuzz of facial hair and an all American Cowboy shirt he admits his boots are ‘a little bit pointier than before’. The anedcotes however one could have checked off a premeditated list- Syria, Twitter, the SNP, the glory of the old school protest songs (a suitable nod to Woody Guthrie) alongside Tory cynicism, Socialist cries of DEMOCRACY FOR THE PEOPLE , globalisation, radicalism, THATCHERITE BRITAIN and gender constrictions with ‘Sexuality’ dedicated to recently forthcoming Tom Daley. He trails the nouveau, grinding to a halt at a surprisingly delightful Kraftwerk infused ‘New England’ with a verse dedicated to fated Kirsty Maccoll. He emerges for the encore rehydrated yet furrowed with poignant news, after a stomping ‘There is Power in a Union’ he addresses the crowd. ‘Tonight we have lost a father.. Nelson Mandela, I’m sorry to have to tell you’ to which spectators let out protestations, ‘NO!’ followed by cannonic sharp inhalations of breath, it’s a suitably moving tribute and one that defined the night to be engrained in the memories of many. As a product of 95 I felt somewhat disparate from the wave of songs condoning 80s political oppression and the multitude of his nostalgia wading followers. Regardless, Bragg’s ideological groundings are undeniably relevant to today’s society and his aptitude as a song writer and performer is formidable, even 30 years on from the release his first album.

Monday, 9 December 2013

'Holy Shit' Album Review for A2 Language

Yannis and co. Trot boldly onto album three

*  * * *
Elinor Potts


In a haze of almost Win-esque vocals, Yannis initiates the turbulent expedition of Foals’ ambitious third album in a flurry of interweaving guitars.  This veritable melodic smorgasbord is an intrepid exposition into what many deem to be the their breakthrough album, seminal to 2013 (though recently grappling for the formidable Mercury prize snubbed to by none other than blub-stepper James Blake in the woozy, bluesy wake of Overgrown). From their math rock roots the Oxford bred collective shuffled onto the scene in 2005, clean shaven with a fresh faced penchant for similarly clean cut guitars. Beards a bit longer, minds a bit darker, after cult ballad Spanish Sahara of 2011 dropped there was always going to be an over-hype for the infamously tricky third album.

First track Interlude is a well-crafted tribute to those earlier guitar counterpoints of Antidotes and textur-alised with the classic Foals’motif. Inhaler proceeds, leaving a funky trail in its wake. Their decision to incorporate a more neo-funk element evident from live clips from late 2011, experimenting with the crossing of musical territories with ‘O Funk’ and‘Krakowfunk’ shabbily surfacing on YouTube. ‘IMPOSSIBLE POSSIBLE’ he wails at your cochlea, a grittier tone, with driving festival ambience, ‘I shimmy and shake, I wake and bake’ that despite proclamations of curbs in collective weed consumption, his is a blatant nod to drug culture (-or a newfound vocation in early rising culinary exploration?)

 Arguably an unrepresentative first single of this venture to the mainstream defiant pop ballad ‘My Number’ slinks light-heartedly behind- a defining mainstream anthem, projecting Foals further into the public eye. Injections of ‘Oooo’ Beyonce style-y backing administer an undercurrent of sass from the suburban ass-jigglers.

A slower affair, the Chelsea favoured ‘Bad Habit’ is tainted by the visual acquisition of twenty something Cameron hailers and twenty something awkward pauses dragging our hoofed collective further into the pitiful abyss of Grazia flicking primetimers.

‘Come this way’ Yannis beckons you, underpinned by booty shaking bass one can’t help but fall amorously into the musical embrace as he breathes down your neck ‘every time I see you, I wanna sail away’.

The solo Indie serenade ‘Late Night’ is a sort of Spanish Sahara take #2, an auditory time warp of the 2010 infamous video as you gaze out over a vast expanse of stagnant water, blubbering. A nod to Two Steps Twice, epic guitar solo storms, a love child conceived in the womb of rehabilitation, fated for muddy fields. You can almost hear the future yelps of pretentious new disciples; ‘I’m totally into the old school The Foals’ holding only this number to their name. It builds in an expansion of melodic satisfaction as Philipakkis makes sweet audio love.

You’re plunged further into a grotto of heavenly noise as ‘Out of the Woods’ emerges, the runt of a pedigree litter much to the fault of its psychologically harrowing video and with quite possibly the best goddamn use of glockenspiel synth since the dawning of time. It makes you think that after 29:50 minutes of incessant groovin’ you’ve almost certainly acquired RSS in your right foot.

They’ve come a long way since 2010’s Total Life Tour. As a 14 year old punter caught in a primary midst of groggy rockers and stale ale, the first encountering of haphazard musical enlightenment was nothing short of monumentous.

A brew of angst driven dystopian lullabies whilst perpetuating the Math Rock influence in playing ‘Cassius’ and set staple ‘Two Steps’ with characteristic guitar solo that has frontman clambering the crevices of the Brighton Dome. Juxtaposed by their Reading 2013, this performance displayed a wizened head-down spectacle, drawing in flocks of pilgrims stretched over sparse Reading fields, a bona fide Meccah to those immersed in the Indie sphere.

 There is a definite musical cohesion to this record, intertexture prominent and crafted with loving hands. Bold use of strings and a fluidity of synths that rears its head as the record begins to round itself off and adopts a more pensive, contemplative stance. More filler less killer- anyone tells you this is their favourite is a foot-kissing toe-tapping ultimately bland imbecile.

IS THIS A CONDONATION OF CLASSICAL ORCHESTRATION? I have scrawled in my notes on proceeding ‘Milk and Black Spiders’ it’s not quite a Muse but it’s a definite third album act of pomposity leaving auditory voyeurs frothing at the mouth. ‘I’m an animal just like you’ he assures in a cursive tones, breathing sultry air over that recurrent riff. Thereon follows the descent to desolation ‘I’m falling, deeper down I go’ he says whimsically to prevalent string orchestration and near tribal percussion in the penultimate Stepson, as Moon boasts tenacious lyricism from our enigmatic facially furred Cypriot. It ultimately concludes on a polished, glassy Sigur Ros note making for an overall emotive, synthesised melange of dominant triumph, all guns blazing.

Peaks and troughs, of emotion, turbulent this is a veritable voyage leaving one breathless and gripping the seatbelt for dear life. A triumph regardless, teetering on the conceptual, still an astonishing feat of achievement in this age of hashtagged, Internet frenzied, TV roused audiences.

Hats off to Senor P. and the gang.