Sunday, 16 October 2016

Guilty Pleasures - Vaporwave/Simpsonwave

(Pic : via deviantart)

– a subgenre of ambient that emerged in the last few years - is supposedly a play on "vaporware"; hyped computer software (usually games) that are constantly in development by companies who promise major steps forward over rivals, but which never get released. It's also supposedly a reference to the Communist Manifesto that "all that is solid melts into air"....though I'm not sure about that.

So some interpretations suggest vaporwave is a deconstruction of the free market by using the images and sounds of commercialism to make a statement on the failed promise of capitalism and perhaps even the failed promise of the internet itself.

Also, as almost all vaporwave is based around chopped and looped samples, almost all of it is "stolen". So it also thumbs a nose at ownership of music by "stealing" music nobody really finds any value in (i.e. the type of muzak they play in shopping centres and shopping channels, when you're put on hold, cyberpunk Japan or 90s screensavers) and creating meaning and substance from something that has neither meaning or substance - usually linked to 80s and 90s nostalgia.

As it's perhaps the first genre of music to come entirely from the internet there's no "scene", live performances seem to be rare and absolutely anyone with a basic knowledge of programmes like Audacity can make it. As a result, it's  drawn comparisons to punk's DIY ethic.

Is that pretentious? Of course it is. Pretentiousness is when you give something more importance or meaning than it warrants and if there's anything that defines so-called Millennials – the people making and listening to vaporwave - it's pretentiousness.

Not all of it's like that. It's a joke and a meme too, but it stands apart by also often being....well, good....and I don't really care whether you're supposed to like it or not.

But where does The Simpsons fit into this?

Over the summer a number of vaporwave videos appeared with the music put to clips of The Simpsons.

There's nothing extraordinary about that in itself – and it's all a result of a single bored student – but when you add the 90s nostalgia, chopped editing and the eerie, slightly unsettling, vaporwave soundtrack it creates something magical even if it's all a big joke. I can't even explain why it works, it just does.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Top 10 Star Trek Villains

The 50th anniversary of Star Trek was celebrated recently and I couldn't let that go unnoticed, so I've decided to look at some of the best bad guys and girls who've helped make the franchise what it is.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Top 10 Grindcore Bands

If this post were written in the true spirit of grindcore it would be about 5 lines long - but grindcore is a suitable soundtrack to what's happening in the world at the moment.

Here's the standard journey (and it is very much a journey of self-destruction) towards grind :

You start off listening to rock bands with an edge to them. Next, you might move on to some of the more radio-friendly metal bands like late-era Metallica or Black Sabbath – and most would be happy to stay there. The next level for those who want something a bit heavier would be the old school thrash bands. When bands like Slayer sound too soft for your new found tastes you go even further down the rabbit hole towards black metal, death metal, doom etc.

When you're a suitable candidate to push the boundaries of what music actually is, waiting for you at the end of a dark corridor - ready to shove knives into each ear - is grindcore.

It's an "acquired taste". If you were to compare it with spicy food : normal mainstream metal would be a tika masala, black metal would be a vindaloo, grindcore is like downing one of those hot sauces with skulls on the bottle. It's an overwhelming sensory experience, while many grindcore bands - having been inspired by hardcore punk - often tend towards the political than the nihilistic.

As grindcore often ranges from thrash metal or hardcore punk played at breakneck speed to pure noise it's often difficult, if not impossible, to differentiate between songs. That's why I'm doing bands instead, as the style of the musicians is what makes grindcore bands stand out from each other.

10. Pig Destroyer

Grindcore bands generally fall into three broad categories – those who want to scare (aka. goregrind), those who want to shock (aka. pornogrind, noisegrind), those who want to make political points. Pig Destroyer are very definitely in the "horror" group, specialising in story-based gore. They were also one of the first band to introduce the grindcore trope of sampling from horror films.

9. The Berzerker

Yeah, it's a bit noisy, but this Australian band have a highly unusual background for a metal band having originated from DJ-ing and industrial music rather than punk or thrash metal. They clearly had a sense of humour, but despite being hailed by the underground the band split circa 2010, with one of the members going on to become....a glamour photographer.

8. Agoraphobic Nosebleed

Legend has it no drummer could keep up with the rest of the band so they were replaced with a drum machine – something that's incredibly rare in metal. A typical song is under a minute

7. Terrorizer

Very influential in helping to define the grindcore sound, if having an on-off history as a band.

6. Dying Fetus

Perhaps they're more a death metal band than grindcore due to their song lengths. Started off with adolescent horror-inspired lyrics but those lyrics became more anti-capitalist, anti-religion and anti-racism in later years. Famously part of an internet campaign to headline Download in 2014. Sod Download, why not Glastonbury? #WhyNotDyingFetus?

5. Cattle Decapitation

When it comes to music, vegetarianism and animal rights are perhaps stereotyped as being all about twee folk music on acoustic guitars at hippy festivals. Cattle Decapitation pull no punches – as you might expect from the name - and take the theme of animal rights to its logical conclusion, which is pure misanthropy. To them we're all meat.

4. Brutal Truth

Very straightforward, no nonsense brutality but with elements of technical sophistication within the noise. One of the first American pioneers of grind along with Terrorizer.

3. Anal Cunt

You can't have any discussion on grindcore without mentioning Anal Cunt. They barely qualified as music but they're arguably the most (in)famous grind band. If you want a fair description of Anal Cunt's back catalogue, take every single racist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, homophobic comment on the internet, then condense it into 30 second rants screamed over a hairdryer. So in some respects they were pioneers, and you can see their influence on Reddit and other imageboards.

In a genre that's all about pushing music to the very extreme and beyond, in terms of "satirical transgressive repulsiveness", Anal Cunt lead the way. If you get the joke, they're hilarious. If you don't get it or are a bit hyper-sensitive - you can't really blame anyone - they're worse than Hitler (they'd take that as a compliment).

2. Carcass

Liverpudlian forefathers of the "goregrind" microgenre – though they seem to get overlooked in favour of other bands from that particular city. Can't think why. Instead of going for political lyrics, they opted for shock value (a lot like Anal Cunt). As a result, one of the more prominent urban legends is that Carcass were actually medical students as their bloody lyrics – accompanied by a wall of noise and often focused on the digestive system - were straight from medical and pathology textbooks.

1. Napalm Death

The Godfathers of Grind from the outskirts of....Coventry. Famous for having the world's shortest song at just over 1 second long (You Suffer). As much inspired by anarchist punk bands as they were metal they created a fused sound that eventually became grindcore.

Their debut album Scum - famously picked up by John Peel - is widely considered a classic despite having 28 songs whilst being only 33 minutes long. Within the noise, their lyrics would be considered quite progressive for any band let alone a metal band, being outspoken in support of pacifism and anti-fascism. 2016 marks their 35th year.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Euro 2016 Round-Up

Portugal won it, so now it's time to look back at some of the highlights of Euro 2016.

The football itself wasn't great. Take away the novelty of having Wales and other debutants there and Euro 2016 will be remembered as a poor tournament both on and off the pitch, with hooliganism raising its head outside the grounds and negative, defensive tactics dominating the games themselves.

I feel sorry for the French. They've gone through a torrid 18 months and in spite of all the security concerns stepped up to the plate to deliver a successful competition, ruined by the idiots who went there for something other than watching football.

For once my predictions were accurate apart from over-estimating Austria and under-estimating Wales. The teams I said would do well did do well, those who I expected to flop flopped.

Wales at Euro 2016

Well, what can you say? Heroes to a man.

Wales are now amongst the smallest nations to ever reach the semi-finals or beyond of a major international football tournament, joining the likes of Uruguay, the famous Hungary team of the 1950s, Denmark in 1992, Bulgaria in 1994 and Croatia in 1998.

I don't think I'm being biased by saying Wales played some of the best football of the tournament and produced two of their best ever performances against Russia and Belgium. The teamwork, tactics and discipline was incredible, though after the poor warm-up games I feared the worse.

In the end, Wales went out to two soft Portuguese goals, having under-estimated the impact of Aaron Ramsey – one of Wales' "Three Musketeers" alongside Joe Allen and Gareth Bale. Although as a unit the team play well, if any of those are absent or below par, the team noticeably lacks something.

The most exciting thing is many of these players are still yet to hit their peak and could well become even better – only Ashley Williams and James Collins are older than 30. The "superstars" aside, many of them also struggle to get games for their clubs, Hal Robson-Kanu infamously having no club (but for how much longer?). I hope a few of them can now secure moves to clubs that will offer them more game time.

The supporters also deserve a bow. They've been exemplary ambassadors for Wales, making new friends in France and beyond by all accounts – something that can't be said of supporters of certain other nations.

The focus will almost immediately switch to World Cup qualifying, which starts in September. Looking again at the group, I've never been more confident that Wales can qualify for a World Cup - 60 years after our last appearance.

Wales have proven they can do it at a European level, now let's do it on the world stage.

Best Of

My Team of the Tournament :

Honorable mentions go to : Joe Allen (Wales), Hugo Lloris (France), Giorgio Chiellini (Italy), Alvaro Morata (Spain), Kamil Glik (Poland), Mesut Özil (Germany) and Rui Patricio (Portugal).

Player of the Tournament : It was Cristiano Ronaldo's tournament, no question. You only had to see his reaction to going off injured in the final and on the touchline towards the end of the game what it meant to him. Yes, he's an egotistical prick on the pitch but he practically got Portugal – one of the worst teams to ever win a major tournament – to the final single-handedly and propelling him towards the top of the "Greatest Ever Players" list.

Goal of the Tournament :

It was a tough choice, but I opt for Xherdan Shaqiri's (Switzerland) goal against Poland in the last-16 ahead of Hal Robson-Kanu's Cruyff turn against Belgium. Bicycle kicks are hard enough to attempt closer to goal and to successfully pull it off outside the box is dreamland stuff. Sorry, Hal.

Breakthrough Players : Antoine Griezmann (France) was already considered one of the brighter talents in Europe but that status was cemented – though he had a poor final. Renato Sanches (Portugal) secured a big money move to Bayern Munich before the competition and I can see why he's highly-rated but I'm not entirely sure he proved it. Joshua Kimmich (Germany) – a raw talent with clear potential though he'll have to choose between defence and midfield as I'm unconvinced he can do both.

Biggest Surprise : Wales, obviously. Iceland can probably take the ultimate crown there though – they weren't pretty to watch, but they provided some of the more memorable moments of the competition, particularly the "ooo" chant. Hungary proved they were there for something other than making up the numbers as well.

Biggest Flops (Team) : Jack Wilshere may be Arsenal through and through, but his reaction ^ to England's unceremonious dumping out to Iceland was one of my highlights of the tournament . How England managed to fuck things up so badly will be discussed for years to come, but I suspect it came down to a lack of leadership on the pitch and too many egos trying to make a name for themselves but failing to live up to the hype. When you have so many Spurs players, expect to play like Spurs, I suppose.

Russia were abject. After the behaviour of their supporters I doubt any tears were shed when they were sent home. As I said before the tournament, Belgium proved to be all hype and seem to have suffered from a similar problem to England. Factoring in the talent at their disposal, they should've got to the final at least. Considering their world ranking, Austria failed to live up to the hype as well.

Biggest Flops (Players) : Take your pick from England, but aside from Joe "Pasta Wrists" Hart, Harry Kane stood out. He scores bucketloads of Premier League goals but couldn't hit a barn door; his free kick against Iceland was, as others have put, "so far right it joined Britain First".

Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany)
is a genuine legend of the game, but whenever he came on you could see he was struggling physically; considering he's only a few days older than me that's a sign of how short a career at the top of football can be.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's (Sweden) international career ended with a squeak. Paul Pogba (France) didn't live up to the hype, neither did Bayern's David Alaba (Austria) and Robert Lewandowski (Poland).

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Euro 2016 Preview

(Pic :

The 58 year wait to see Wales in a major international football tournament is almost over.

Even getting there was a major achievement but now there'll be an expectation that they don't embarrass themselves, get out of the group stages and use the uncertainty of the knockout stages to cause upsets.

The tournament has expanded to 24 teams from 16 so this is more like a mini World Cup than the over-and-out tournaments of the past. Considering the density of top national teams in Europe, I don't think that will really impact the quality of the tournament itself.

Welsh Expectations
Our best hope, but also our biggest weakness?
(Pic : Wales Online)

Best case scenario is 5-7 points in the group, but that means the playing at their absolute peak and it has to start with a win against Slovakia on Saturday. 4 points might be enough to get out of the group as one of the best third-placed teams, 5 should ensure it – a win and two draws. It's doable, but more difficult than it looked when the draw was made in December.

Wales's strength is there's absolutely no pressure on them and they have two bone fide superstars in Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, with Joe Allen underrated at Liverpool and Ashley Williams capable of playing at a higher level. There's a bit more discipline with this side too.

The Welsh weakness is a lack of a top quality striker and an over-reliance on Bale to get goals. The problem hasn't been producing top quality players, it's that we tend to produce them in one or two positions at a time and haven't had a team with a fuller complement of genuine top-drawer players since the ill-fated 1990-1994 team. If Craig Bellamy was only a year or two younger....

My gut instinct is that Wales can get out of the group and, if there's a kind draw, might be able to get to the quarter finals. It's looking like Germany in the last-16 we qualify in third place, Austria if we finish second (which is probably a better opponent than winning the group – Ukraine, Turkey, Switzerland). So second place should be the aim.

However, I don't think there's been enough preparation (due to Gareth Bale's involvement in the Champions League Final). Sadly, my head's saying Wales will go out at the group stage as Slovakia, Wales and Russia will take points off each other. England should have no problems getting out of the group (and will probably beat Wales next week), but I doubt they'll go much further.


The favourites?
(Pic : The Guardian)

Germany – They had a bit of tough time in qualifying (by their standards) but they usually turn up in the tournaments themselves. As reigning world champions they'll be most people's favourites I'd imagine and the squad is as strong as its ever been – though a few of the established stars : Schweinsteiger, Mertesacker, Podolski – are starting to show their age. I'd expect them to get to the semi finals at least.

France - As hosts you would expect France to do well anyway, but they'll really want to put on a show after what's been a tough 18 months in the country. They have a number of players who'll be looking to shine : Olivier Giroud, Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann. They're going to be in the easier half of the last-16, so I'd expect them to be semi-finalists too.

Italy - Got to the final in 2012 and are overdue a success at European level, their last win coming in 1968. They were unbeaten in qualifying in what was a relatively hard group. They were thumped by Germany in March, but when they get their act together they always perform well at the highest level.

Portugal – Is this Cristiano Ronaldo's last serious chance at winning a European championships? They have one of the easiest paths out of the group stages, but have a fairly tough path to the final, possibly facing Belgium, England and Spain. The quality's there.

Possible Underdogs/Dark Horses

Austria have often flopped at big tournaments, but this
time they might cause a few surprises.
(Pic :

Iceland – In a season which has saw Leicester City win the Premier League, Iceland will probably be the surprise team. They punch above their weight and beat the Dutch twice in qualifying and got wins against the Czechs and Turks. They can certainly get out of their group.

Switzerland – They haven't had a particularly good run of form at the moment, but on paper they have a strong squad. They're capable of performing against the big teams - and would have to take points of France in the group stages - but it depends on which Switzerland turns up.

Austria – Going through a spell similar to Wales, though with more tournament experience and better form. One of the better performers in qualifying, managing to get out of a tough group at a canter. We will have to pay close attention to how they'll do as they'll be Wales' main challengers in 2018 World Cup qualifying.

Poland – They normally cave at big tournaments, but they have some top quality players established at high-ranking clubs – notably Robert Lewandowski, Grzegorz Krychowiak and Lucasz Piszczek. They flopped four years ago, but something tells me they can do something significant this time around.

Potential Flops and Whipping Boys
Are Belgium all hype?
(Pic :

Belgium – Deservedly ranked as one of the best sides in the world, but as they've shown a few times - including against Wales in qualifying - they're capable of flopping hard. Perhaps the hype has got to them a little bit, but you would still expect them to get to the latter stages....and fall short.

Spain – They cruised qualifying but are a shadow of the near invincible 2008-2012 side and this is probably a last hurrah for the current generation of players. I still expect them to go far, but not win it.

England – You know the story. They'll get a few good results together, someone will establish them as "the next great hope", then they'll go out on penalties in the last-16 or quarter finals.

Republic of Ireland
– They're going to get hit hard in the "Group of Death". I don't think they'll disgrace themselves, but I'd expect them to ship at least 2 goals a game.

Albania – An unknown quantity and the only reason they're there is because they were awarded a 3-0 bye against Serbia due to rioting. They did manage to pull off a shock or two in qualifying so it's not as if they don't deserve their place, but I'm expecting them to have the worst record watch them win the bloody thing.