Friday, 28 December 2012

A Star is Born

This time of year can be strange. Poised between the aftermaths of Christmas and looming New Year, it marks a nebulous passage of time that disturbs daily routines and structures, creating an environment where one loses sight of many things, including day of the week. It’s also a time when your middle-aged neighbour, having secured a week off work and sent the wife and kids packing to the in-laws, can play his old Led Zeppelin records at full volume, transporting him back to an era when he was blessed with a full head of hair and could still see his toes when standing up.
It’s this sonic connection to music of your past that almost seems to have therapeutic qualities, reminding us of, for example, listening to Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dreams in your bedroom and your parents worrying about what kind of unfamiliar subculture their kid may be involved with, or ditching school and going to a friend’s house to play Cypress Hill’s Temples of Boom while engaging in activities justifying your parents’ worries in the first place. In that sense, music is a great sensory connector, the melodies and sounds carrying us back to a time and place that may be gone, but certainly isn’t forgotten.


Simply Red’s masterpiece album, Stars, is a record that means a great deal in Britain. Released in 1991, the album was a best seller for two years straight and remains the thirteenth highest selling record in British history. Even more than a generation after its release, many cite Stars as one of the greatest albums of all time, perhaps even the greatest album ever recorded. It’s that good.
Mick Hucknall, lead singer and man behind Simply Red, took the band to new heights with Stars, creating an album of distinct personality and marvellous compositions. Produced by an American called Stewart Levine, Stars was a stellar success, a critical and commercial achievement that remains proudly British. Unlike the mixed attitudes British pop albums like Adele’s 21 or Mumford and Sons’ Babel received in the aftermath of their successes, Stars has always been reflected upon more favourably, a triumph that deserved its glory. It played well with both casual music listeners and with those that treat music like a religion. It was an album that once again showcased why Manchester, England is a powerhouse of great music artistry and continues to generate bands that create life changing songs. Whether it is the Stone Roses, Smiths, Joy Division, Happy Mondays, Dirty North, Doves, New Order, Oasis or Simply Red, Manchester is the rhythmical beating heart of British music.
Stars was never quite the phenomena in America that it was in Britain, primarily because the music landscape over there during this time was populated by angry white guys with guitars and a grunge culture that didn’t want to be associated with pop harmonies or melodies instilling feelings of splendour and beauty.
In Britain, Stars remains timeless. There is not one bad song on the album and some tracks are endlessly repeatable. Stars is a sonic reminder of begging your big sister to give you a ride somewhere and her insisting on playing it in the car, or a memento to how almost every place you visited at the time would use this album as its official soundtrack. It’s an album for everybody yet remains deeply personal. In short: it is simply spectacular.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Suburban Linings Scrapbook

Suburban America is a cinematic wonderland, where interchangeable houses on any random street can accommodate affable extraterrestrial life, poltergeist activity, multiplying gremlins, or some thirteen-year-old kid facing the bittersweet consequences of making a wish to become big.
But suburban America is also a refuge for white guys of a certain age that are on the verge of hitting rock bottom. It provides the backdrop for a familiar setting in which blokes that are not quite old enough to get it together, but certainly old enough to know better, return to their family abode in a bid to reflect on life, only to find salvage through the attentions of a girl that lives a few blocks away who will forever turn their days around for better, or at least help them realise they’re still worth it. Said girl will be in equal parts kooky and kittenish, but essentially, she will be way younger than said gentleman. This is a major wish-fulfilment fantasy for numerous American storytellers and remains a staple fixture of US cinema. To understand why such trends exist requires an individual to be American, Caucasian and possessive of determinant XY chromosomes. For everyone else, read on.
Silver Linings Playbook
Bradley Cooper suffers a terrible mental breakdown after he catches his wife showering with some bald co-worker while listening to a sacred song that was played on their wedding day, spurring the protagonist to beat his wife’s lover to near death and get committed to a mental institution. Cooper is prematurely released into the custody of his elderly parents, where he fights off the unwelcome attentions of a smoking hot girl next door in the form of Jennifer Lawrence. Cooper’s character is in his late thirties, but remains irresistible to 22-year-old Lawrence who can appealingly recall football scores and historic sports results at the drop of a hat. Pure make believe.

Garden State
Some failed actor that looks a lot like Zach Braff returns to his suburban home town in New Jersey upon the death of his mother. While killing time in a place he resents, Braff books an emergency appointment to top up on his lithium, mood stabilisers and antidepressants (he’s complex). In the surgery waiting room he encounters a much younger Natalie Portman, who is also waiting for prescribed pharmaceutical candy and is a self-proclaimed pathological liar (she too is complex). The two embark upon a weekend love affair at the end of which Portman rushes to the airport and begs Braff to stay with her youthful self. Braff opts not to return LA to continue his pointless acting career and devotes himself to loving Nat fulltime. Totes emosh.

Beautiful Girls
Crikey, Portman is at it again, only this time in jailbait form to Timothy Hutton’s well past his best thirtysomething struggling pianist, who returns home to attend a high school reunion while also deliberating if he should commit to his girlfriend back in New York. Portman’s rendering of a 13-year-old girl next door going on 37 is worryingly convincing, though her neighbourhood Lolita act is the most affecting performance in the movie. She is the incarnation of suburban white girl redemption, but that age factor leaves much to be desired. Unwholesome.

Juno
Jason Bateman, despite having lucked out by being wedded to a Jennifer Garner-type, finds solace in the force of nature that is high school surrogate mother to be, Juno. Unlike his onscreen wife, enfant terrible Juno cites 1977 punk rock to be the most important era for music and totally gets Bateman in a way suburban white women of his own age don’t. It doesn’t quite romantically work out, but Juno teaches Bateman that he’s better off alone than being stuck with some prissy wench that doesn’t share his taste in music. Emancipating.

American Beauty
Kevin Spacey’s lusting for his daughter’s popular best friend, played by Mena Suvari, manages to get him out of his existential rut as well as (spoiler) getting him killed. Middle-aged guys hankering after underage suburban white chicks has never gone well, but in this film such activities help characters realise they are either beautiful, gay, psychotic, depressed, beyond hope or straight-up weird, often all at once. Vintage stuff.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

-Music Videos on my Mind- Little Green Cars’ “The John Wayne”

The aim was to lay off doing any music video blogs this month and try and get back to filmic roots, however, after a post about pornography attracted the attention of Russian spammers, who riddled comments with invitations to watch teen sex, a change of strategy is required.
And what better way to kick things off than with Little Green Cars fabulous new song The John Wayne, which is tearing up UK radio stations like a hurricane. This Irish group of country-rock teenagers are one of the most exciting things to have happened in the British Isles since Bombay Bicycle Club released their debut track.

The major attraction with Little Green Cars is that they are on a precipice, either destined to be huge everywhere or a music footnote for 2012. The reason for this is because they’re being talked about in all the cool newspapers and hyped by presenters like Jo Whiley. They’ve got a record deal with Island in the UK and just signed with Glassnote in the US, which means they have the backing of the same people that made Mumford & Sons a household name. Due to the fact that Little Green Cars are lacking a discernible image at the moment, which is something that will need some work if they’re to conquer America, it’s hard to tell exactly where their careers will go.
Little Green Cars lack the charisma to really make the best use of music videos, but that’s something that can be developed. The current use of cheap digital cameras and a setting that looks like it took place in Ferris Bueller’s friend’s house may to do the trick in the short term, but MTV will demand something more expensive next time. At the moment they look like those kids at school that push television sets around to different classrooms, but a freelance stylist will soon put an end to that and give them haircuts to die for. In truth, if the buzz is to be believed, this is the purest version of Little Green Cars we’re likely to see, that is before fame problems and second album difficulties materialise.
Big things await these guys.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Support Your Local Pornographer


This post may get dirty, so discretion is advised.
Pornography is lucrative as any prominent entertainment sector out there. It generates huge profits and employs countless people. Los Angeles, which is the hub of professional pornographic filmmaking, is worth $1 billion (£628 million) to the American economy every year and employs 10,000 people, producing 8% of the all adult films released each year.
The powerhouse that is the LA porn industry outmatches the UK’s entire adult entertainment revenue. The most remarkable differences between American and British pornography industries is that despite the UK having more liberal sensibilities to fornication, hardcore sex videos were banned here until only 12 years ago, which is more than 30 years after America first legalised the sale of non-simulated material.
While the entire American pornography industry can accumulate estimated revenues between $2 billion to $13 billion (£1.2 to £8.2 billion) annually, its fortunes are increasingly under attack from political adversaries, shrinking home entertainment markets, amateur digital competitors and global piracy. The current business model for LA based pornography is increasingly outdated and unsustainable.
Whereas British pornography is defined by its low-level smuttiness, often comprising of pseudo-gonzo scenarios consisting of, for example, unsightly middle-aged men coaxing dour supermarket checkout girls into staged ménage à trios, American pornography prides itself on decent production values and the employment of celebrity porn stars, all of which comes at a cost . A good porn agent will broker up to $2,000 (£1,256) for a sex scene, charging more if his client is required to apply her own makeup before filming and drive herself to set. The typical budget for a professional American hardcore pornography movie is between $50,000 to $300,000 per shoot (£31,000 to £189,000), employing ten to forty people on each production. When we consider that the equivalent international production costs significantly less, and is cheaply distributed, it’s easy to see how badly impacted the American pornography industry is. In fact, things are so bad that according to top porn agent, Mark Spiegler, a female porn star’s yearly average earnings have gone from $100,000 to $50,000 (£63,000 down to £31,000) within the space of a decade. (For educational purposes, Spiegler kindly provided Hollywood Reporter with a breakdown of the current payment scale for an in-demand porn actress, who is paid about $800 for a girl-girl scene, $1,000 for a guy-girl scene, $1,200 or more for anal sex and $4,000 or more for double penetration. For the UK porn pay scale, adjust currency to pound sterling and deflate all fees by 50 %―we come cheap.)
The priggish American Establishment has its talons out, tearing away at an already compromised industry. Last month, 55% of countrywide voters passed a law called ‘Measure B’ that will introduce costly new health permits for all porn films shot within Los Angeles County. The way Measure B is written means that pornography sets will be considered clinical environments, essentially requiring the utilisation of gloves, masks and condoms during sex performances. The eroticisation sought will ultimately be bargained, thus ruining all perceptions of verisimilitude for the viewer. As California and New Hampshire are the only states where pornography shoots are legal, the wiggle room for adult entertainment studios will be severely curtailed.
The quagmire of bureaucracy faced by the Californian porn business will be massively complicated because of these new measures. LA can hardly do with any more of its film industries leaving for new pastures, which the state fears will happen.  The new legal requirements mean producers will have to obtain permits from the Los Angeles County Dept. of Public Health, in addition to the filming permits already required by FilmL.A. According to preliminary estimates, the county expects the entire program will cost about $300,000 (£189,000) annually. Porn producers will have to foot that bill entirely. The price will be based upon the number of people who purchase these permits, the fewer production companies that get the permit, the higher the cost will be. This means that if fifty permits are issued, the cost per permit would be roughly $11,658 (£7,326).
Pornography is as much of an American institution as apple pie manufacturing, but these new laws will seriously ruin its standing as the world’s biggest adult film industry. Like it or not, it’s an industry that contributes significantly to the American economy and is as essential to the Californian entertainment sector as either Hollywood or Silicon Valley.

But pornography has a chequered image. It flies in the face of feminism and good values, exploiting women for the entertainment of men. (Gay pornography is also a part of the American adult entertainment industry, but its profile is nowhere near as mainstream or profitable.) Just because an industry proves lucrative, that doesn’t mean it should be given free reign, right? After all, all developed societies have placed massive restrictions on the sale of harmful materials like alcohol and tobacco, and those industries survive. With the rampant proliferation of sexual content filtering its way into numerous mediums (from Fifty Shades to Christina Aguilera music videos), government has a duty to make the production and acquisition of pornography hard as possible.
As liberal and progressive the UK appears to be when it comes to sex, it is perhaps the only country in Europe that has more stringent measures in place to restrict the availability of pornography. Unlike in America, where one can easily purchase hardcore videos from some mainstream emporiums (I’ve seen it); Britain restricts sales exclusively to licensed sex shops.  Whereas hardcore pornography can be accessed through reputable hotel chains in the US (I’ve seen it), such material is unlawful to broadcast even on subscriber based UK adult entertainment channels.  In addition, the UK is still the only Member State of the European Union that prohibits private imports of adult pornography by consumers coming from other Member States. Recently, agents of Her Majesty Revenue & Customs seized 96,783 items of pornographic media carried by people travelling into the UK, proving that sex doesn’t sell in every territory.
One realises that this is an extremely prudish and academic account of the pornography trade, but it’s a distillation of what that industry is: a profit-driven business. The best thing about legalising hardcore pornography is that respective countries can monitor and tax it accordingly, but the greater issues concern pornography’s more ethereal possibilities, where videos can be shot, pirated, uploaded and accessed with great ease, ultimately bypassing stringent laws and ending up in places where it shouldn’t.
Governments can make the production processes of porn as complex as they want, but they may be wielding a sledgehammer when what’s required is a scalpel. By identifying sex education deficits in school teaching methods and carnal misperceptions between males and females (primarily in the former), maybe society will be better placed to tackle the grander challenges posed by pornography. The issue isn’t with the availability of pornography as much as it is with the lack of understanding about the subject matter.
In fact, the best antidote is to simply read this post because it manages to make pornography sound utterly unexciting and operational at once. Not an easy thing to pull off.

Friday, 30 November 2012

-Music Videos on my Mind- Chromatics’ “Cherry”

Chromatics is an indie electro group from Portland, Oregon that’s been making music for the last 12 years. Their sound is cool and cinematic, so much so that some guy on the radio this week was talking about how Nicolas Winding Refn cut his 2011 cult movie Drive to their music, though ultimately, Tick of the Clock was the only track to feature in the film.

Cherry is the band’s brand new song and it may finally help them court some attention in their home country. The worry is that they may be perceived as being too cool for school, especially when we consider that Karl Lagerfeld invited them to play at the Chanel Spring Summer 2013 fashion show in Paris last month where the band was placed above the runway overlooking the catwalk, tasked with enhancing the hip factor by performing their greatest hits, hits that most people in attendance never even knew were great.
 
Cherry is a good song, dreamy and spaced out. Lead singer Ruth Radelet is comparable to a latter day Debbie Harry, though the group’s sound is more redolent of the British electro post-punk movement that brought about bands like New Order and Depeche Mode. In that sense Cherry is classic alternative music, the kind that’s been evergreen for more than a generation.


Tuesday, 27 November 2012

-Music Videos on my Mind- Nite Jewel's “Weak For Me”

If bipolar could be conveyed in song, perhaps it would sound something like this.
Ramona Gonzalez’s music project, known as Nite Jewel, is, for some reason, rereleasing its 2009 album Good Evening. Weak for me, a standout track from that LP, now has a music video to accompany it and it suits the song pretty well.
There are echoes of Tom Tom Club matched with early ‘80s synth pop magic, however, there’s a structureless edge to it all, dovetailing dark bass sounds with aching vocals. It’s weird but in a good way.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

-Music Videos on my Mind- Tame Impala’s “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”

Australian psychedelic rock project, Tame Impala, have got a new track and video doing the rounds. Feels like we only go backwards is happy and clappy in dangerous doses, injecting big bursts of colour and song in amounts huge enough to bring on convulsions.
Impala’s mission has always been to create sounds that immerse the listener into a dreamlike melody. Watching this video makes one think they may have accomplished that, exceedingly well.


Thursday, 22 November 2012

Twenty Nine Steps to Wasting Five Years of your Life

When your small little drama about a Columbian drug mule bags its lead actress an Oscar nomination and its director a slew of international festival prizes, you’re guaranteed that Hollywood will come along and present a panoply of potential projects to get your attention. Chances are it’ll be an absolute exercise in futility, wasting precious creativity and energy.
Joshua Marston made Maria Full of Grace in 2004 and turned actress Catalina Sandino Moreno into a temporary temptation (she did the role of Maria the vampire in a few Twilight flicks). In 2007, Marston was announced to be developing a supernatural thriller with J.J. Abrams for Paramount Pictures. Five years passed and no supernatural thriller came to fruition. All that Marston has to show is a flow chart he did for npr that describes 29 steps to creative dissolution and heartbreak.
Hooray for Hollywood.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

-Music Videos on my Mind- Phantogram’s “Don’t Move”

New York indie pop duo Phantogram make the perfect kind of music for the ADD Generation. Beats and sounds materialise and immaterialise in nanoseconds, while new rhythms loop into existence only to be trumpeted by a sound you knew was coming but still pleases nonetheless.
Don’t Move’s genius is almost what makes it hollow. This is a tune that can feature everywhere and anywhere, from nightclubs to detergent commercials. It’s radio-friendly to the max, but cool enough to smoke a joint to. It pleases everyone and bowls over no one.
Also, lead singer Sarah Barthel is kind of attractive, until you realise she looks like the girl that served you at the pharmacy this morning, totally fed up in her job and wanting to make the kind of impact that will win the world over. A girl that’s noticeable but ordinary, much like this song and video.

Friday, 16 November 2012

-Music Videos on my Mind- The Ravonettes’ “Curse the Night”

The Eurozone crisis is making monsters of its citizens, including kids.
The Ravonettes have produced a great little music video for their latest song Curse the Night that totally feeds off the current economic miasma. The deplorable financial situation in Europe has resulted in the youngest (and the very oldest) in society carrying the burden of suffering caused by an unequal redistribution wealth and suppressed opportunities. Therefore, it makes sense for a European indie pop band to make a song and dance about it.
Not one to break from tradition, Danish duo Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo deliver another tune that sounds remarkably like all their other songs, but when it’s this good, who can complain. Bad times have never sounded so soothing.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

-Music Videos on my Mind- The Staves’ “Mexico”

It seems that an ideal retirement package nowadays is having three daughters who can write, sing and get on well enough to form a group. The Staves are a British acoustic folk rock trio doing exactly that.
Taking their cue from successful modern sister acts like Haim and the Peasall Sisters, The Staves hope to venture the same trodden path that ersatz British folk deals like Mumford & Sons and King Charles have. Knowing full well that only a heartless fiend could resist the soothing charms of three pretty English girls who play their own instruments, The Staves may actually luck out.
Mexico is such a nonchalant little number that it’s in danger of reluctantly causing mass comas. The dreary art school music video doesn’t help much either.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Ramsay Horror Picture Show

As it's Halloween, let’s set our sights further east to India, where, for a time, horror films were all the rage.
Interestingly, two very successful Hollywood sibling scriptwriters who specialise in genre movies, and will remain nameless, were looking to make their directorial debut on a horror movie set in India. Their pitch was snapped up by a big production company who immediately dispatched them to India to engage in research and location scouting. They were told to get inspired by the culture and ancient heritage of the subcontinent, but to do it in a way that will positively creep them out. They saw things that they claimed terrified them beyond belief and visited areas they wished they hadn’t. They also caught a movie that had been made in the 1980s which intrigued and perplexed them in equal amounts. The film was an Indian horror movie that featured monsters, but was skewed by the inclusion of song and dance numbers as well as broad comedic subplots that had nothing to do with the main plot. The film was, according to them, a mess and had no redeeming value, say, unlike their own brand of mediocre PG-13 American commercial horror. When they found out that the movie they saw was one of the biggest hits of Indian cinema, they began to wonder if making a horror movie set in India was really the right thing to do.

The movie they saw was Purana Mandir (The Old Temple), a horror film that captured the Indian market like nothing else. Released in 1984, Purana Mandir did something films of that nature weren’t supposed to: it became a blockbuster. Made for about Rs 2.5 lakhs (however much that is), Purana Mandir grossed about Rs 2.5 crores (however much that is, though I suspect it’s significant) and became the second most profitable Indian movie released that year. It told the story of a family that for generations has been hexed by a creature called Saamri. Aeons ago, Saamri killed the daughter of an Indian feudal lord who accidently stumbled into his graveyard lair. The feudal lord’s henchmen capture Saamri and decapitate him, but Saamri promises to have his revenge from beyond the grave, declaring that every female descendant of the feudal lord born after his physical death will die in child birth.  He also states that if ever the day comes when his head and body are reunited then he will come back to life and finish the family bloodline, forever. The curse runs and runs that is until a younger generation decides to take it upon themselves to travel to the ancient site of Saamri’s beheading. It’s at this point the film kicks into gear and the youngsters are, ahem, way in over their heads.
Purana Mandir was put together by a filmmaking family known as the Ramsay Bros., a team of five brothers who struck gold making low-budget horror movies that were shot on location, often set in eerie rural mansions inhabited by ghouls and demons. While the films were anchored in ancient Indian folklore and mysticism, they were indisputably inspired by American horror movies like Evil Dead and A Nightmare on Elm Street, where gore and grisly deaths were paraded in style. The Ramsay Bros. films were also identifiable via post-colonial inspiration taken from the British Hammer House of Horror tradition, where reused sets and lighting arrangements, initially designed to cut costs, became a signature brand aesthetic, ensuring their films were, by accident or by design, uniquely identifiable.
Like horror films in any culture, the Ramsay Bros. brand of terror pushed the boundaries of acceptability by including scenes of sex and promiscuity that, though tame by Western standards, sat uneasily with conservative Indian culture. The Ramsay Bros. movies were always rated for adult viewing only, but never engaged in overt nudity or sex scenes. There was a certain innocence to them, modern for the time but very Indian at heart. For example, a scene where the lead actress is taking a shower in Purana Mandir has her character, weirdly enough, wearing a bathing suit as she does so.
Purana Mandir was the crown jewel in the Ramsay Bros. canon. Though much of its long running time is surplus to requirement, the horror, when it arrives, is unsettling and genuinely scary. You care about the characters and the core story is captivating. Perhaps the most successful aspect of Purana Mandir is the creature Saamri, a genuinely startling horror presence played by a six feet seven inch tall civil engineer turned character actor called Ajay Agarwal. Agarwal embodies Saamri, exceeding the screen and creating one of the most visceral horror icons in the process. Agarwal’s performance, in conjunction with an incredible score and terrific sense of atmosphere, ensures that Purana Mandir remains one of the most important horror films in Indian cinema.

The Ramsay Bros. essentially made the same movie over and over again until audiences couldn’t hack it any more. Proving that lightening in a bottle is a onetime thing; the brothers couldn’t replicate the success of Purana Mandir no matter how hard they tried. Yet the incredible thing is their movies were so influential that the Indian censor board insisted on issuing a disclaimer preceding every film to rubbish any superstition they might encourage, fearful that audiences wouldn’t be able to accept them as simple make believe. That’s how effective they were.
The famous Hollywood screenwriting duo that dismissed Purana Mandir may have actually missed a trick. Sure, it’s far from perfect and has more rough edges than you can shake a stick at, but its premise is a potent one. In fact, the film can't be that much of a write off when you consider it was screened a few years back at London's highly prestigious Institute of Contemporary Arts as part of a season on Bollywood Horror.

In an era where horror remakes and adaptations of foreign films are rampant, perhaps Purana Mandir may have been an ideal project to bring to a new auidience. Great story, relatable characters and solid scares, Purana Mandir is screaming out for an expensive studio treatment that will tap into the massively lucrative Indian market as well as the horror hungry American crowd. Just remember who gave you the idea.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

-Music Videos on my Mind- King Krule’s “Rock Bottom”

There are some songs that you sit on for months hoping they’ll gather traction and the record label will do the honourable thing by commissioning a music video. Alas, a lot of the time that simply doesn’t happen.
In the case of 18-year-old King Krule, the lack of a music video might actually be a good thing. A BRIT School alumnus, which is never a good thing as it’s the same institution singers like Adele and Jessie J were assembled, Krule has eschewed any notion of fame academy stereotypes and positioned himself as a no frills musician. His sound recalls Paul Weller’s early years with The Jam, yet his less than handsome visage perennially roots him as an artist for the radio.
And let’s be honest, if you looked like this kid then appearing in music videos wouldn’t be your top priority.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Jeans are so much more than X and Y

Let’s talk about fashion. To be specific, let’s talk about Replay Jeans because, as their corporate profile elegantly stipulates: “Jeans are perhaps the only truly successful alchemy of the individual and the universal, because every pair exclusively mirrors and represents the wearer – just like a strand of DNA.
Such poetic interpretations of casual denim elevate jeans unto something more metaphysical, something beyond just clothing.
Truth is that Replay Jeansa European brand that sold its products to gullible Euro kids by implementing a completely Americanised promotional toneis arguably one of the most fantastic manipulators of consumer awareness that ever existed. To follow Replay Jeans’ advertising campaigns is to learn something about how much brands will alter their approaches to selling stuff in accordance to generational attitudes and expectations.
To illustrate, we need to examine:
Exhibit – A

Exhibit – B

Ain’t these a pair that totally sum up the generational shift from X to Y? Notice how the actual product being sold never feature in the commercials. Why is that? Well, it’s because Generation X’s young populace was a different breed. They were a generation that strived to not ‘sell out,’ and to keep things ‘real.’ They were more than willing to buy shit they didn’t need but demanded a degree of artifice on part of the seller, a level of chicanery whereby they were happy to be exposed to brand awareness as long as it was masqueraded in layers of earnestness and value-positive messages. Therefore, monochrome vignettes of a stand-up comic wanting to extol the virtues of respecting ones parents and sepia coloured clips of a young man caught in some existential travelogue was all the rage for Generation X. Materialism was cool as long as the advertiser contemporaneously stuck two fingers up at it.
To bring this argument full circle, click:
Exhibit – C

It’s still Replay Jeans pretending to be all-American but notice how much of the seriousness has been dialled down. This new Replay commercial for 2012 puts jeans at the core and embellishes it with big explosions and silliness. There is barely a frame in which denim and/ or flannel doesn’t take centre stage. This is Replay Jeans for Generation Y, a young populace that’s totally cool with being a bunch of ‘sell-outs.’ Generation Y is completely comfortable with the prospect of brands selling them shit they don’t need and they will not coerce the manufacturer into feeling guilty about promoting its overpriced products to them just as long as it’s fun to watch. In that sense Generation Y is arguably more honest than its predecessor, albeit, somewhat less overtly demanding and conceited.
Looking at the Replay Jeans commercials for its Generation X audience is a reminder of just how much trends have changed yet remained totally the same in other respects. There’s slight suspicion that had either of those first two adverts been made in 2012 then both protagonists would be caked in tattoos and superficial attitudes. The meditative comedian of Exhibit A will have to find something cooler to do than go on a road trip with his kid. Rather than coming home and mumbling sweet nothings to his implausibly young parents, one suspects that Exhibit B will now be about some dude who puts on a pair of jeans and goes partying with hot chicks in exotic destinations. Both these Replay Jeans commercials are as corporate as Exhibit C, but there’s something absorbing about them, perhaps even meaningful.
One suspect that the branding of Replay Jeans will forever evolve, though its fake American stance and phoney messages about how denim is close to Godliness will never alter. If every generation has its own sound then every generation also has its jeans, only the material stays the same, the ways to get you to buy them modifies.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Have Middle-aged White Men Killed Rock ‘n’ Roll?

American filmmaker Harmony Korine in an interview with GQ magazine last summer said: “I don't listen to music made by white people. I especially hate anything where a guitar is used. I don't listen to white people and guitars.”
It is a tough statement to understand because back in 1995 Harmony Korine and musician Lou Barlow oversaw arguably the greatest movie soundtrack ever in the form of Kids. The soundtrack for Kids was as incendiary as the movie itself, featuring the rawest New York hip-hop and American alternative guitar music of the period. Barlow’s own group, Folk Implosion, featured heavily, but other bands like Sebadoh (another Barlow side project) and Slint nestled brilliantly well with rap acts such as Lo-Down and A Tribe Called Quest (though the latter was only used in the movie). It was the perfect marriage of yin and yang, encapsulating a skater youth culture that had omnivorous music tastes, with rock and rap holding equal importance. It was a soundtrack assembled by angry young men who love music, including that made by white guys with guitars.

Korine may now only favour black music, but why has white guitar music suffered in recent years? It’s only fair to say that black music has cheapened itself by prostituting its services to manufactured pop outfits (Wiz Khalifa being Maroon 5’s bitch-for-hire, for example), but it still has not received the backlash that rock music endured.
The truth may be that alternative music remains a genre presided over by relics of an older age. Take for example Green Day, the celebrated Californian rock band that has been in existence for over 25 years now. Green Day will release ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tré!, a new trilogy of albums that will be issued within months of each other. For diehard fans this news will be heaven, but one has to question why it is the same old faces that refuse to call it a day, putting out records every few years that sound remarkably like everything else they’ve attached their name to?
Green Day’s newish video for Oh Love demonstrates a great reluctance to do anything from the ordinary. Directed by ‘90s music video helmer Samuel Bayer, Oh Love has Billie Joe Armstrong and co. playing an intimate concert to a group of barely dressed models that are young enough to be their daughters.  If anything, the video exemplifies exactly what Green Day has become: A bunch of middle-aged men that have nothing new to offer other than an established formula and common denominator tropes.

Green Day hit the big time in 1994 with their first major record label release, Dookie. An entire generation has passed since its coming yet the interim has struggled to offer another, younger, global rock band to take their place. In fact, the case of middle-aged rockers refusing to call it a day means that we have bands like the Foo Fighters and Red Hot Chili Peppers insisting consumers take them as seriously as they may have done when they first came to prominence. Even more ‘recent’ acts like Linkin Park, The Strokes, Muse, The Killers and My Chemical Romance have been in circulation for over a dozen years now. These people are essentially sat on their jobs, turning rock music into an embarrassing joke that wallows in an anachronistic stubbornness, refusing to be invigorated by a new generation of musicians that may take the genre into fresh directions.
Before this post is vilified for being an attack on middle-aged white guys with guitars, it must be pointed out that there is no issue with musicians of a certain age continuing to make music just as long as the material they create actually demonstrates progression. Although a band like Radiohead may be accused of being stuck in a rut, one cannot say they’re not trying to evolve and discover new sounds. What is absolutely certain is that the Radiohead of 2012 is in no way what it was back in 1993.  The band has an innate desperation to avoid ground already covered, keen to circumvent looking like mature people attempting to pass themselves as being younger than their years. Although the middle-aged rockers of Green Day, Foo Fighters and Red Hot Chilli Peppers will do everything from emblazoning themselves with fresh tattoos to applying liberal amounts of guyliner and purchasing corrective cosmetic laser eye surgery in a bid to keep relevant, Radiohead has aged admirably and maintained their importance in the music arena.
Middle-aged rock musicians refusing to bow out gracefully is as much the fault of the bands themselves as it is of the music industry. As piracy and alternative means of acquiring music proliferates, the music industry is less willing to sign up new acts that will require heavy promotion and distribution in order to register with consumers. Britain’s sage middle-age rocker, Noel Gallagher, recently told the Daily Express that rock stardom is an endangered species primarily because it is impossible to make the vast amounts of money that previously came with the territory. Gallagher said: “There was a way of making money and selling records that got happened upon in the 1960s, and it worked for 30-odd years.” He went on to say, “Then all of a sudden, in under a decade, it’s gone, never to return."
Therefore, the music industry would rather preserve established acts, regardless of their sell by date, and have them reproduce the same style of music that worked for them when they first came about.  2012 has seen albums by Smashing Pumpkins and Soundgarden, alternative rock acts that were a breath of fresh air a generation ago, but have little to contribute in a post-millennial music culture steeped in diminishing sales and a stagnant music broadcasting culture.
Harmony Korine may have given up on rock ‘n’ roll but its salvation will be compromised further if bands which have had their time refuse to accept that there is something fundamentally wrong in trying to insist they are as important as they were when record companies first took a chance on them. Likewise, if record companies don’t discover new guitar bands then there will eventually come a tipping point in which younger generations will completely turn their backs on a music scene identifiable by having artists that are as old as their grandparents.
But maybe such an arrangement is cool. After all, this is a generation that is more attuned to the tastes of its parents than perhaps their parents were to their own folks. As long as money is being made and nobody is complaining loudly enough, then maybe 40 can be the new 20. After all, rock music is the gateway to transcendence.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

-Music Videos on my Mind- Charli XCX’s “So Far Away”

While teenage girls of the American Midwest may have declared Taylor Swift's We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together as their official existential anthem to broken heartedness, British girls of the same age demand much sterner stuff to convey similar sentiments, profanity included.
Charli XCX ‘s underground instincts remain intact, though, if we’re being totally honest, you’ll have to admit her song writing is every bit as superficial as any generic American pop star singing about hopeless boyfriends, hence why Teen Vogue is a big fan of hers. The video has a distinctly British edge to it in that it was probably cheaply put together by her big brother, who will no doubt incur the wrath of Disney lawyers for having utilised footage of their iconic princesses without legal clearance.
Even with the backing of Warner Music, Charli XCX isn’t exactly a big name, but So Far Away, and its raw music video, seems to indicate that the efforts to turn her into a mainstream goth pop star hasn’t worked out very well. Perhaps she’s better off sticking to the style that initially got her a major record deal, though, if that will be enough to pay off the imminent Mickey Mouse lawsuit is yet to be seen.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

-Music Videos on my Mind- Lana Del Rey’s “Ride”

This isn’t an official music video for Lana Del Rey’s brand new song, and if it is then the music industry is in much worse state than imagined.

While a still image of Rey on a tire swing may do the job in the short run, a song as sumptuous as this one deserves the expensive treatment. Ride reminds us why some music lovers got excited about Rey in the first place, capturing the dreamy splendour of her initial singles Video Games and Blue Jeans.

It’s obvious that Rey's fast tracked EP, Paradise Edition, is nothing more than a quick cash grab to take advantage of the singer’s current popularity, not to mention an opportunity to benefit from the profitable approach of a coming Christmas, but this is simply too good a song to be cynical about. If the record company has any sense then they will supersede this austere clip with a proper music video that incorporates spectacular moving images of an all singing and sulking Lana Del Rey.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

-Music Videos on my Mind- Supafly’s “Happiness”

9/11 was a numbing event. The world changed in an instant, with broadcasters reacting insanely to what and what wasn't permissible anymore. MTV was so shaken by the event that they temporarily suspended Foo Fighters' Learn to Fly and Goldfrapp's Pilots music videos on account they were set in airport terminals and were, therefore, too controversial to air. For years the airport terminal music video was a no go area, that is until Feist gingerly ventured back into the aeronautics domain with My Moon my Man. The end result helped us realise that air travel and music videos could, once again, be inspiring bedfellows.

Now London's dance outfit, Supafly, has taken airport music videos to another level, transforming the very serious task of mandatory security checks into the world's best party. Rudeboys, strippers, religious people and everyone else gets down when an illegal psychedelic gas is unleashed by passport control, causing all delayed passengers to dance like crazy.

Supafly's Mista P and One recruit Shahin Badar to lend the track an Eastern flavour, though it primarily works by harking back to the '90s sound of Touche and Regal's The Wiseguys. Happiness is a fun video and you can never have enough of those, especially when they remind us that airports are portals to happier destinations.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

-Music Videos on my Mind- Psy’s “Gangnam Style”

Fame is like a swift tornado. It comes with sudden force, fiercely shaking and rattling the windows and doors, renders a few dent marks and scratches, only to disappear as quickly as it arrived.

Psy is a South Korean pop star who's too old and unconventional looking to make it as a global pop phenomenon, yet that's exactly what's happened. His music video for Gangnam Style is racking up a billion Youtube hits every hour and is playing, at this very moment, on every radio station, in every continent, on planet Earth.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, has declared their love for Gangnam Style. Tom Cruise, Katy Perry, Nelly Furtado, Jay Leno, Simon Pegg, LMFAO and everybody and their mother has come out this week to venerate Psy's genius, announcing we should all worship him as our new God.

In true US style, media personalities immediately shipped Psy onto American shores so that he can do his gimmicky dance routine with both Ellen DeGeneres and Britney Spears, showing them that the emotional toils of messy breakups and tabloid scandals can easily be remedied by a bit of Gangnam. (The Americans pulled a similar stunt with the Slumdog Millionaire kids a few years back before jettisoning them back to their ramshackle existences when the whole act got boring and stopped being cute.)

Music novelty acts during a global recession are, it seems, a necessary evil, designed to distract us from the bigger problems in life. They are a reminder that when all seems lost, happiness can easily be gleaned by watching an awkward looking Korean guy dancing like a madman. What's more, personal joy can be brought by joining in and imitating the crazy dance moves. It seems to have done the trick for Mitt Romney.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

-Music Videos on my Mind- Ellie Goulding's "Anything could Happen"

Tragically, legend has it that Ethel Goulish, a great ancestor of British singer Ellie Goulding, was burnt at the stake in 1782 by the elders of Herefordshire council because of suspicions that her big chin was a signifier of being a witch.

Fortunately, centuries later, Ellie Goulding's big chin is no longer a marker of being the Devil's concubine. Nay, Ellie is cultivating big money making pop records that have sold massively in all the markets that matter. Not only that, Ellie is the proud girlfriend of a famous American musician called Skrillex, who really should be burnt at the stake for making awful dubstep music.

Ellie is back with a brand new album called Halcyon and has released the first video titled Anything could Happen. As a song, the best praise that can be given is it's not as boring as some of her other stuff, but that doesn't mean it's much better. The video is a rather predictable affair, featuring car advert stylistics and pretentious pagan motifs (good luck getting that stuff on American television).

There's a strong suspicion that Anything could Happen may launch Ellie Goulding into the big time. It has all the hallmarks of song that will play from station to station. In fact, it's probably a song that sounds better on the radio without being compromised by its lackadaisical music video.

This may be the kind of music that plays better to women than men, but that's only because guys are scared of big chinned females. Had a pop star like Rihanna recorded this song, with her respectably sized chin, then everyone would buy it.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

-Music Videos on my Mind- Delilah’s “Shades of Grey”

There's something really trite about pop acts putting out titles that are the same as some massively popular current cultural trend. Take for example Cover Drive's horrible single Twilight, a track that rocketed to the top of the British charts due to the fact young girls were reminded of their favourite vampiric brand.

Now comes a young London artist that goes by the name of Delilah (not her real name) whose new single Shades of Grey seems one numerical prefix short of targeting a lucrative market that consists of bored young mums who like to read about the absurd kinky happenings between a horny academic and a priapic businessman.

That kind of thinking may be cynical, though perhaps not too far from the truth, as methinks the marketing guys at Warner Music are hoping the popularity of a certain book may translate in decent music sales for the aforementioned single. Saying that, Shades of Grey is actually a very good pop song. What its music video lacks in ambition is made up for in a well produced and nicely sung track that is radio-friendly to the hilt, but in no way irksome.


Delilah describes her music as being "strong, dark, melodic, soulful pop." That's actually a pretty accurate description because, in the hands of any number of other young female vocalists, such a song could have turned out to be extremely pedestrian, which this one in no way is.


Thursday, 23 August 2012

-Music Videos on my Mind- Bobby Womack (feat. Lana Del Rey) “Dayglo Reflection”

As a song, Bobby Womack's collaboration with Lana Del Rey, Dayglo Reflection, has been out for months now, however, my reluctance to report on it has much to do with the rudimentary video made to accompany the track, always hoping that XL Records may allocate a minor percentage of the many billions it's made from selling Adele albums to making a better video for this one.

It seems that's not going to happen. Alas, we have to make do with what is given, albeit it's not that bad, just that such a top song deserves much better.

Bobby Womack hasn't released an album of original songs for over 18 years now, so many had anticipated the release of The Bravest Man in the Universe, hoping it'd be the perfect antidote to the era of crap music we exist in. It turns out people are addicted to crap music nowadays as Womack's album charted at a woeful #181 in the US and a pitiful #49 in dearest old Blighty.

And to think Mr Womack was diagnosed with colon cancer and endured pneumonia during the recording of this album, meaning The Bravest Man in the Universe should not be reduced to just an album title. Whatever you may think of Lana Del Rey, her contribution on Dayglo Reflection is simply wonderful, as is Damon Alban's production work, all three artists sending it to another level of melodic brilliance.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

-Music Videos on my Mind- Kreayshawn’s “Go Hard (La La La)”

Natassia Gail Zolot, or to use her performing name, Kreayshawn (get it?), is another one of those modern confections that drew notice through her homemade viral rap videos and went on to score a major record deal with Columbia. As a result Kreayshawn's music video for her latest song Go Hard (La La La) has received a serious upgrade and stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the most imaginative clips to be released this year.

Having been accused of exploiting black culture from rappers like Rick Ross and the Game, Kreayshawn is best thought of as a pop novelty, something that will, for the moment, extrapolate enough cash from her core Caucasian teen female market until the next product arrives to take her place. The problem is that the whole white girl rap act actually detracts from Zolot's real passion in life which is directing music videos. She attended Berkley Digital Film Institute on a full scholarship and was so good she landed the job of directing a video for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, which the band then chose to bin and reshoot with another director.

For now, Kreayshawn is going to keep her day job as a rapper. Go Hard (La La La) does have its garish coloured charms, even enlisting the appearances of Zolot's former band members, V-Nasty and Lil Debbie, from her White Girl Mob days, evincing that what Kreayshawn may lack in credibility is made up for in loyalty.