Sunday, 16 October 2016

Guilty Pleasures - Vaporwave/Simpsonwave

(Pic : via deviantart)

"Vaporwave"
– 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 : 101greatgoals.com)

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.

Favourites

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 : goal.com)

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 : footyheadlines.com)

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 overall....so watch them win the bloody thing.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

2015-16 Post Season Review

(Pic : Sky Sports)

Arsenal

Season verdict C. Progress stalled. It sounds silly to give it that rating when Arsenal have just finished runners-up – their best position in 9 years - but considering this was also the best chance to win the title since 2004 the season can only go down as an anti-climax. It's been the usual problem of Arsene Wenger failing to fill holes in the squad (he seemed to be the only person in football who thought Arsenal didn't need any outfield players last summer) and placing too much faith in players who are either inconsistent or injury prone.


Player of the season – Mesut Özil. His best season in an Arsenal shirt and he's shown why he was worth the £40million price tag after some criticism in previous seasons. He's created more league goals (19) than any other player this season – twelve more than Cesc Fabrecunt - and was close to matching or bettering Thierry Henry's Premier League record of 20 assists.

Most Improved Player – Nacho Monreal. There were rumours he might've been off in January, but he's since become a solid first choice left-back and with Kieran Gibbs' injury problems, of the two it now looks more likely that Gibbs will leave the club if he can't force his way back into the team.

Breakthrough Player – Alex Iwobi. Should've been given a chance much sooner based on what I've seen at the end of the season, but he was never mentioned in the same light as other, more hyped, youth players. With a few senior midfielders leaving I'd expect him to feature more next season.

Goal of the Season – I've opted for Danny Welbeck's last minute header against Leicester at home. It's not the greatest goal ever scored and on technical ability Alexis Sanchez v Man United probably would've been the winner. Why did I choose this one? It provided hope – a player who had been out for months scoring the winner in what looked to be the game that made Arsenal genuine title favourites....didn't last though did it?

Best Moments – St Totteringham's Day 2016 will go down in legend and is up there with Marriot Lasagna 2006 in terms of shear Spurs implosion. Beating Man United 3-0 at home. The two Leicester games, particularly the home game. Beating Bayern Munich at home 2-0. Flamini's goal to knock Spurs out of the League Cup.

Worst Moments
– Where to start....Seeing yet another title challenge collapse with a string of poor results in January, followed by defeats to Swansea, Man United and drawing at Spurs; all Arsenal had to do is win a few of those games and the title was theirs. Going out in the FA Cup to Watford in March.
Losing 4-0 at Southampton. The Champions League campaign as a whole was a disaster and I wish Arsenal had gone out in the group stage than prolong the nightmare. Joe Allen is dead to me after the equaliser at Anfield which marked the moment the wheels started to come off.

Work for 2016-17 – With the new injection of TV money there are no excuses for Arsenal to not go out and fill the holes in the squad. In particular : an out-and-out 20-30 goal a season striker, a midfield enforcer/ball winner (it looks like a deal for the appropriately-named Granit Xhaka is close if not already done) and a medium-term replacement for Per Mertesacker at centre back.

Overall

Team of the Season



Player of the Season – Riyad Mahrez (Leicester). Signed for just £400,000 in 2014, he's gone on to establish himself as one of the best wingers in the Premier League and one of the most consistently well-performing players of any team. He's easily matched, if not exceeded, the exploits of Alexis Sanchez last season and is also remarkably well-behaved, picking up just one booking all season.

Young Player of the Year – Dele Alli (Spurs). He's petulant, but what a player. Reminds me of a more graceful version of Patrick Vieira (sadly). A mention also has to go to Marcus Rashford (Man United), who seemingly came out of nowhere to become the latest homegrown talent for the Mancs.

Manager of the Season – Claudio Ranieri (Leicester). What he's done matches, if not exceeds, Blackburn's title win in 1995, Man United's treble and Arsenal's Invincibles season.
I'd expect a statue of him to be built in Leicester. After the way Claudio was treated at Chelsea, I'm genuinely pleased for him; doubly so as it coincided with Mourinho proving to the world just how much of a cunt he is.

Honourable mention goes to Slaven Bilic. West Ham faded towards the end of the season after some impressive results against the top sides. They could be genuine contenders for the top-four next season if they can adapt to the Olympic Stadium. Eddie Howe also confounded all expectations at Bournemouth and if Leicester hadn't overshadowed it, Bournemouth staying up is a magnificent achievement in its own right.

Best Signings – Riyad Mahrez, obviously. N'Golo Kante too. Toby Alderweireld (Spurs) was a bargain at under £12million. Dimitri Payet (West Ham) has been impressive since an under-valued £10million move from Marseille last summer and there are rumours abound that Real Madrid are sniffing around. Petr Cech (Arsenal) had a wobbly start, but has since proven himself to be a bargain at around £10million and was subsequent winner of the Golden Gloves. He's the reason Arsenal finished second instead of sixth.

Biggest Flops – Take your pick from Newcastle : Florian Thauvin, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Jonjo Shelvey. Memphis Depay (Man United) has always seemed like he couldn't be bothered. Christian Benteke (Liverpool) – I still rate him as a player generally and think he's just had an off-year, but the £33million pricetag : Aston Villa's biggest victory of the season there. Raheem Sterling (Man City) built up his bank balance as the record English signing, but there's little to show for it.

Goal of the Season -
Dele Alli again, with a Bergkamp-esque finish at Crystal Palace.



Monday, 21 March 2016

Top 10 Nu-Metal Songs

(Pic : The Guardian)

I've already done hair metal, so it's probably worth coming to another of the much-maligned heavy metal subgenres.

Firstly, it's hard to tell what nu-metal actually is/was. It emerged in the mid-1990s and early-00s with some general stylistic themes : "angsty" lyrics (which probably ended up influencing emo), use of instruments other than guitars and drums – particularly turntables – wider variety of vocal styles (even within the same song) and most bands usually have/had some sort of "gimmick" (masks, face paint, OTT hairstyles, uniforms etc.)

It was very much a fusion of different styles in the post-grunge fallout. However, it lacked the hard edge and authenticity of thrash metal and death metal, was probably too white male driven to be taken seriously as street/urban music and lacked the sincerity/DIY ethic of grunge. As a result it's become the unwanted stepchild of the metal scene.

Not wanting to look back with rose-tinted glasses but that's probably unfair. Most of it was utter dross, granted; I always called it "wrestling metal" because it always seemed to feature in wrestling promos. There will be no Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Papa Roach, Puddle of Mudd, Staind etc. here. That's because they're all shite. I've never liked System of a Down either – though I won't lump them in with that lot.

Many of the bands were highly experimental and not afraid to try new things. It also acted as a gateway to some of the harder/"better"/classic stuff and it paved the way for things like the Gothenburg sound, djent (you can definitely hear nu-metal influence in Meshuggah) and modern progressive metal.

10. Anthrax & Public Enemy – Bring The Noise



Two of the most maligned genres of music – metal and hip hop – collide. Probably the leading candidate for "first nu-metal" song (I don't think Walk this Way counts), though groups like Faith no More, Cypress Hill and Rage Against The Machine also have a claim to it. It works....too well....and although it was probably done as a laugh you can see why it inspired all the bands that came later.

9. Raging Speedhorn – Thumper


There were very few nu-metal bands from this side of the Atlantic, it was mainly an American thing; though some Welsh bands did become big names in the (somewhat related) metalcore scene. This one seemed to get constant airplay back in the day.

8. Kabbage Boy – Girlfriend


This one probably doesn't belong here as it's from the game Brütal Legend, but it's a perfect send-up of nu-metal tropes – though Ben Folds also deserves a mention for Rockin' the Suburbs. It takes a stab a the plethora of crap post-grunge bands like Nickelback and Creed, though this also sounds like a piss take of Incubus and Linkin Park. So bad it's good.

7. Rage Against The Machine – Sleep Now In The Fire


I'll admit that I've never really liked RATM, but I respect them – particularly Tom Morello, who's one of the more influential guitarists of the last 30 years or so. There's something ironic about being lectured in anti-capitalism by a band signed to a Sony-affiliated label, but I suppose that's the only way they could get their message out, and it's probably a better tactic than living out of a van or in a commune like Crass.

6. Fear Factory – Linchpin


Fear Factory : the band that puts the "heavy" in heavy metal. This one sounds more industrial-inspired than hip hop and show a willingness to experiment with some vocal programming – which almost doesn't work, but somehow does. CAT GIVE ME A PAAAAW! CAT GIVE ME A PAAAAW! NO, YOU CAT!

5. Mudvayne – Dig


If Sesame Street parodied a metal band, it would probably look and sound like (the old) Mudvayne.
I can't understand a word of it, but it's pretty intense (with a cameo by the Seinfeld jingle thing) and, like all good metal, makes you want to punch a bear in the face. It actually takes great technical skill to pull this off but, yeah, it's no surprise they ditched the face paint eventually.

4. Sepultura – Roots Bloody Roots


The Roots album incorporated elements from traditional Brazilian folk music, but split fans with many considering it a "sell-out", and other shailing it as one of the best albums of the 1990s. This has an almost hypnotic groove and riff to it. Sepultura dropped off a cliff when Max and Igor Cavalera left, but I don't know if it's great or sad to see them playing tiny venues nowadays – something that seems to have happened to a lot of nu-metal bands.

3. Deftones – Be Quiet & Drive (Far Away)


Deftones are one of the few bands to actually come out of this with any serious critical acclaim – probably because they never 100% fit the nu-metal label in the first place and are normally lumped in with it because they appeared at the same time. They're so head and shoulders above most of the bands here this could easily have been a list of 10 Deftones songs. Definite shoegaze vibe with this one, but it doesn't lose the metalness. Pretty decent acoustic version too.

2. Korn – Blind


Before they turned the whiny angst up to 11 and achieved more success, Korn used to be a decent band. Blind defined what nu-metal would eventually sound like.

1. Slipknot – Duality

What's the quickest and smelliest way to demolish a house? You can either dump a massive load of elephant shit on it, or put on a Slipknot concert.

It's always a chuckle when people cite Slipknot as the most extreme example of metal ever. I don't know how they got that label. There's stuff out there that sounds like a jet engine in a slaughterhouse and lyrics that would warrant a visit from the police and psychiatrists.

As the years have gone one my respect has grown for Slipknot as musicians; yes, I actually just said that. The masks are a bit silly, granted, but trying to get any sort of coherent sound from a band with nine members (three of those playing percussive instruments) is incredibly hard. Somehow Slipknot seem to get better at it. Although he's no longer in the band, Joey Jordison's also one of the best drummers of all time.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Should rugby tackling be banned in schools?

(Pic : intriguing.com)

Earlier this week, a group of assorted experts (it seems quite a few of them aren't medical professionals but sociologists) called for rugby tackling to be banned in schools and replaced with touch rugby. They're concerned serious injuries to under-18s - ranging from broken bones, torn muscles, as well as head and neck injuries – lead to lifelong consequences.

Unsurprisingly, the suggestion was scoffed at by rugby organisations and professionals, who say the sport "builds character" and provides a physical and mental challenge to players. To a certain extent it's hard to argue with that.

I normally have little truck for these "nanny state" initiatives, but this time the killjoys have a point (even if the research has to be properly scrutinised) – not because of rugby tackling itself, but because it's forced on boys. Team sports - and it's usually always rugby - form a part of the school PE curriculum, so you have little choice in the matter.

* WAVY LINES *


Because there was a freak decrease in the number of boys towards the end of primary school, every boy was expected to play in competitive rugby games; girls were allowed to play but none chose to, though a few played for opposing teams.

In Year 6 I was brought on as full back towards the end of a match against one of the stronger schools. It wasn't long until the opposition's oaf of a forward saw me - under 5ft at the time, probably half his weight - as a momentary inconvenience on his way to the try line.

It was a one-sided contest. My head bounced off his knees as I'd never been taught how to tackle properly.

You would've thought such a mismatch was to be expected, and at least I attempted something approaching a tackle. However, my "team mates" and teacher decided instead to berate and laugh at me for letting the other side score what turned out to be a winning try. So while my ears were still ringing I let off a few expletives and told the teacher where to stick the rugby team.

Not only did I get a bruised head, bruised ego and what was likely a mild concussion, I was sent off for misconduct. I never played for any team ever again and my rugby experiences still put me off group activities....so it certainly "built character".

Though, if it had been less than ten years earlier, I would've got another beating for not taking the beating in the proper spirit.

* WAVY LINES *


When I moved to secondary school I enjoyed PE more because we did different things, and some of those – discus, handball, cricket, badminton, 5-a-side – I was half decent at and suited my strengths.

Fortunately, the school had a reputation for producing rugby players. When the inevitable happened and rugby popped up on the timetable, the PE teachers knew what they were doing and made sure the more able and bigger/heavier pupils took part separately from those who were either too small or – like myself - not experienced enough to go full-hog.

Tackling should be introduced slowly as players get older and more physically equal to each other, and PE teachers should be properly qualified to teach it. If not, full-contact rugby should be taken off the curriculum and be reserved only for those who want to play.

For younger players, touch rugby's probably a much better avenue to teach things like ball skills and positioning anyway.

But it's worth pointing out that serious injuries in rugby appear to be rare. It's physically easier (and less painful) to take a rugby tackle to the chest or abdomen than it is to to be on the receiving end of a two-footed tackle in football - all of
my own worst "sporting" injuries happened away from the rugby pitch.
I've ruptured tendons after catching my leg doing cross-country; I've suffered numerous foot and leg injuries playing football; I've come off a mountain bike a few times and dislocated my right kneecap twice climbing on things - no broken bones though.

I'm sure rugby's great fun for those who are more athletically gifted or take part in clubs after school - and it shouldn't be curbed. But it's wrong to force boys into a full-contact sport when their bodies aren't ready. It's no different than, hypothetically, making boys do boxing under the national curriculum (many schools used to and nobody complains that it doesn't happen anymore).

Sunday, 17 January 2016

My Favourite Bowie Tracks

(Pic : Rolling Stone)

Losing Lemmy, David Bowie and Alan Rickman in the space of a fortnight isn't the most auspicious sign that 2016 is going to be any good.

I'm not one of these people to get overly sentimental or mournful over the deaths of people I've never met or don't know – you won't find me laying flowers in the street or sticking tags on profile photos. Having become somewhat world-weary I greet bad news with a shoulder shrug, however awful that news might be, and always expect the worst in anything. In what's becoming my favourite refrain - quoting Slaughterhouse Five - "So it goes".

Although there had been rumours about David Bowie's health for a while, that doesn't make it any less of a shock and I grimaced when I got the news alert on my phone Monday morning. I can't think of many other celebrities that would apply to, though as they're getting on a bit I won't tempt fate!

David was one of these once a generation types who'll be spoken about for, not decades, but hundreds of years. "True original" and "one of a kind" are apt descriptions. Musically, he influenced everything from flamboyant mainstream pop music, dance music, indie and you can even hear and see his influence in punk and some metal subgenres (like NWOBHM and hair metal) – anything trailblazing, brightly contrasted or slightly rebellious.

So it comes as absolutely no surprise that his passing has been particularly noted amongst the LGBT community. Even as a straight man it's fairly obvious that his, to use that antiquated term, "gender-bending" will have – as Arsene Wenger of all people said recently - sent out a strong statement to everyone in the post-war generation that it's OK to be yourself. Bowie was "being camp" when "being camp" was still considered at the very least extremely deviant behaviour.

The only people still living who can perhaps claim to have that level of Western artistic and cultural influence are Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Madonna. The only difference, speaking personally, between them and Bowie is while acknowledging their influence I've never liked any of their work as much as Bowie's - hell, I like more Madonna songs than Dylan's!

He was also a more than decent actor – Labyrinth might be cheesy, but it's still enjoyable - and although I'm no art critic, his paintings are quite impressive.

In perhaps his greatest achievement, David's the only person to have ever worn a bright ginger mullet and make it look good.

As is always the case, it's only when you look back at what he's left behind that you realise how good he was. Apart from The Laughing Gnome – which for a novelty song isn't that bad – and some of his more experimental stuff in the 90s I can't think of any he did that wasn't at least satisfactory.

Here are those songs I believe are more than satisfactory :)

5. The Man Who Sold The World


4. Let's Dance


3. Heroes


2. Ashes to Ashes


1. Life on Mars?



Sunday, 10 January 2016

Tranquil, moi?



IBM recently launched something called "Watson", which – in their own words - is a programme that uses natural language processing and machine learning to reveal insights from large amounts of unstructured data.

One tool they're trialling is a programme which determines your personality traits from your writing style and vocabulary. Considering I have have quite an extensive corpus of work, I chose some recent blogs at random and inputed them to see what it came up with:
Click to enlarge

I won't argue much with that description and it explains why I decided to go into science (I come back to the scepticism part later). It's not that far off apart from the prestige thing and the behaviours; I never click on ads and usually do buy eco-friendly. Though yes, I'm sure many people have noticed I don't reply on/use social media very often, so it got that right.
Click to enlarge)


This next makes me out to be some sort of brooding robot. Hmm, my scepticism's tingling. They're never going to properly judge artistic interests from writing alone, but it does imply I'm a marketers' nightmare as it seems I have little consumer need. Suggesting love (which is defined by Watson as meaning social contact and bringing people together, not romance) would be my second highest consumer need is so wide of the mark it verges on laughable.
Click to enlarge


The conscientious ratings are fairly accurate, though I'd say I'm much more self-disciplined – it does take a certain level of self-motivation to do this - and a lot less cautious. I'm no neat freak, but I'm not THAT bad (5% orderliness). Emotional range – by IBM's own descriptors these ratings suggest I'm emotionally stable, self-controlled, calm under pressure and not prone to neurotic behaviour, which is presumably a good thing.
Click to enlarge


Introversion – anyone who knows me will say this is spot on, even I'll admit that. It's been joked on more than one occasion that I should do a "sponsored talk". I'm probably much more cheerful and active than the ratings suggest though. I'm probably more agreeable too; it's fair to say I can be a grump but I will offer help when asked as long as I'm not  expected to be a mind-reader. I'm genuinely surprised the sympthy levels were that high though.

Time for the scepticism proper. These might sound accurate from a subjective point of view, but it could be the Barnum effect in action – the descriptions are vague enough to sound individually tailored but can apply to large numbers of people at the same time. It's the same principle behind horoscopes and their ilk. Although I like taking these silly tests to pass the time they should always be taken with a pinch of salt.

Just to prove my point, here's the analysis based solely on this blog :
Click to enlarge

Watson seems pissed off.

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