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Opinion Piece

COMMENT: M.I.A. and the Sound of Identity

Words by Alice Salmon

It’s widely agreed that art is the sum of its influences. Pick any great beatmaker, composer or lyricist, and you can hear their identity. For starters, there’s an endless array of artists that cite J Dilla as their biggest influence – his iconic sound is heard today hip hop, jazz and classical genres alike. Hear how Peggy Gou opts to sing in her native Korean throughout It Makes You Forget (Itgehane). And of course, witness Amy Winehouse’s famously mercurial back catalogue – her enduring love of hip hop and trad jazz reframed by a later exploration of Motown.

Arguably top of this list is the Sri-Lankan (via South London) rapper, M.I.A, whose newly released documentary Matangi/ Maya/ M.I.A. unfolds as an impassioned, intricate tapestry of the two cultures that shaped her and her art. Cut from over 700 hours of archive footage shot by M.I.A. and her family as well as long-time friend Stephen Loveridge, Matangi/ Maya/ M.I.A. unflinchingly contextualises one of the most politically-charged artists of our time.

Set in the family home in London and the Arulpragasams’ dwellings in Jaffna, Sri Lanka (via Coachella, the Grammys and the 2012 Super Bowl), the film’s relentless cross-continent leaps seem a deliberate reflection of Maya’s steadfast grip on her cultural identity amidst unpredictable surroundings.

“Wanna hear my story? I’m gonna show you my story”

M.I.A talks candidly throughout the film, recounting her (at times chaotic) formative years. She recalls coming home from school one day to see the neighbours lined up, removing her family’s possessions from their Hounslow home. She told them that they could take what they wanted as long as she could keep her radio. Spoiler alert: they took the radio. As a result, she was forced to hear the unfamiliar sounds of hip hop blaring from the adjoining flat as she lay in bed that night. And from this, she says, her sound was born.

She doggedly pushes her reality into the Western consciousness throughout the film, with staggering reactions from the mainstream media. It’s in the face of such opposition that her music takes on a renewed relevance and meaning: we had no idea we were cookin’ for commandos / everybody came in four-wheeler truckloads (Macho, unreleased, 2004).

 

The documentary is a perfect illustration of how every morsel of art you ever consume is born from something else: music exists on one level to be enjoyed for what it is, but when you delve a little deeper and explore lyrics, artwork, beats and samples, there’s a wealth of riches to be devoured.

This film is a must-see for anyone with even a passing interest in M.I.A’s music. If it doesn’t make you want to revisit a track that has become an internet meme or re-evaluate M.I.A as a feminist icon – or just acknowledge her as a straight-up badass (search “M.I.A, NFL”) – then it will give you a poignant insight into what it really means to march to your own beat.

 

 

Matangi/ Maya/ M.I.A. is now showing at HOME. Book your tickets here.

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independent label

COMMENT: The rise and rise of the independent record label

WORDS BY HANNAH TINKER

Originally run by mavericks with little or no business sense, independent record labels turned the music industry on its head in the 80s. Their sound and aesthetic remains a huge influence on the scene today, presenting the latest acts to the mainstream.

As part of this piece we spoke to independent maestros of the scene Heist Or Hit. The label began back in 2008 with the mind of Mick Heist. With a backstory that’s seen him manage a number of bands, being part of David Bowie‘s tour crew and being an A&R team member in America, he’s got the career any music fan dreams of. “I was at a bar once and realised that Iggy Pop was on one side of me and Bowie on the other –  it was so surreal.”

Factory Records, Rough Trade and Mute are celebrated age-old independent labels that have transcended their prime period. Factory was born in a first-floor flat in a crumbly Victorian semi on Manchester’s outskirts. Then for most of the company’s life, Factory was run from a flat in Didsbury, with threadbare sofas that served as a meeting room yet the company still received six-figure cheques from the label’s distributors.

Back then, independent record labels were run by an individual or individuals with a singular vision and passion, an untutored approach to business and a devil-may-care attitude to the conventions of the record industry. Of course with the update of technology and the introduction of social media, record labels have needed to take hold of their claim to music and a structural update was needed.

foetals

Take one look at the labels of today and you’ll see that image and aesthetic is a key step for success. Heavenly and Burger are branching out and staking claim to no particular genre that captures the eye (and ear) of the modern music lover but rather to musicians that are set for bigger things. Heist Or Hit have Honey Moon, Her’s and Pizzagirl on their roster – a selection of acts that are quickly making waves.

“We really don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves into working with one style. We look up to labels like Heavenly and 4AD, labels that don’t have one set genre. If you put two of their bands next to each other they wouldn’t sound the same but there’s something that ties them together.”

off the record

The team see their position as not strictly a management role but more like guidance coaches, leading the artists forward. “The vinyl issue is a weird one. It’s always the elephant in the room. When you actually break it down to an artist and ask why it’s needed at such an early stage of their career – it’s more just a vanity piece for them.” Of course vinyl sales have boosted in recent years; anyone with a finger on the music pulse has a record player. But the costs for a young artist to produce say 300 copies of an EP on vinyl and then maybe only move a third of that – isn’t going to do them any favours. Away from the money-grabbers and game-setters of the industry, independents are affectively managing the finances of the fledgling acts too – ensuring that they make it as far as possible.

For the independent record label it’s a constant hunt to “open backdoors in the industry” especially with not having the luxury of a whole suite of staff as their right-hand tool. Organically, their craft is as independent as their process is. “We like to receive submissions on a postcard, something that’s got some kind of personalisation to it – not just a BCC email.”

It is worth noting that Adele‘s ’21’, now one of the country’s bestselling albums of all time, was released by an independent record company: XL. In an industry that is struggling to hold on, with streaming services taking over, it is the indie label that is reaping the benefits of adaption and experimenting with new technologies, thinking on its feet and being open to new ideas.

Read more about the latest music news and reviews over on our blog 👀

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COMMENT: The New Wave Of Psychedelia

WORDS BY HANNAH TINKER       PHOTOS BY THROUGH THE EYES OF RUBY

The first album to define its own contents as psychedelic was the debut album by Texas garage rockers The 13th Floor Elevators, in October 1966 (The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators). Within a year, psychedelia had exploded across the music scene like a giant paint bomb, turning everything from monochrome to technicolour almost overnight and inspiring 1967’s epochal Summer of Love. The reverberations of the scene staked out in the Summer Of Love, are continually making waves in the pool of new musicians.

Four years since the first one, Manchester Psych Festival is now a fully fledged institution. With a selection of gigs promoted across the city each month under their moniker, it’s surpassed itself as a festival. Going beyond the boundaries of art and music the festival brings a like-minded community together in the heart of Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Psychedelia is making a re-imergence into the scene, leaking through the dusky cracks of post-punk and indie-rock and oozing into the forefront of the music scene.

Slow Knife at Manchester Psych Festival 2018

As one of the most prominent festivals in Manchester with a massive influence on the music scene, Manchester Psych Fest is a clearly dedicated to the cause. Taking over 4 dedicated venues, the festival embraces the new and unique. Recently, the festival saw it’s 6th edition and of course, we couldn’t miss it. Starting early, Slow Knife scoop up the crowd and place them on a level playing field: knowing exactly where the day is headed. Saxophone, keys and strings at the ready, their post-punk sound makes for an entertaining first viewing for the day. Spoken word at it’s greatest in ‘Nuke The Moon’ echoes through the Soup Kitchen basement and out through the door. All hail the knife. This is what psychedelia is about.

A quick switch over to Night & Day Cafe and we’re with MOLD for their well-anticipated afternoon slot. The five piece bring a theatrical onslaught to the stage, equipped with face paint and satirical smiles. The psych genre is set to take hold of the scene and is breathing deeply through bands like MOLD that set the stage alight and stand for something new.

MOLD at Manchester Psych Festival 2018

But what exactly is psychedelia? The Oxford English Dictionary describes it as “music, culture or art based on the experiences produced by psychedelic drugs” which is a little reductive for such a grand institution. LSD might have been the original inspiration, but it doesn’t explain why psychedelic music is still being produced and enjoyed by people who’ve never dropped acid in their lives. Psychedelia is appealingly vague and open-ended – a merger of philosophies, colours and styles all happening at once. It’s about opening your mind to the myriad possibilities that we’re met with each and everyday. It’s about reconnecting branching out, seeing clearly and letting go. It’s exciting, but also a little bit scary. Psychedelia isn’t a destination; it’s all about the journey.

The type of bands that are connected with this new unearthly scene of new age psychedelics are the type that set apart from the ordinary and bring a whole new offering to the table – whilst simultaneously not giving a shit about what the rabble think. With this year’s Psych Fest as an example, it’s not just a simple one-trick-pony movement. The festival comprises one day of such musicians – with artwork featured by local artists who are set to break the mould – and sounds from guitar-bass-drums outfits stretching the possibilities of the standard rock band set-up to electronic artists. There are so many acts that it raises the question: is all music, if it’s doing its job right (experimenting, blowing minds), psychedelic?

Madonnatron at Manchester Psych Festival 2018

The classic music of the psychedelic heyday was rooted in social opposition, a countercultural vibe that resonated with baby boomers, students and protesters. The music was not exclusively political or related to your everyday stoner, but in a climate of diverging identity, these new sounds flourished hand-in-hand with the changing landscape. Evolving through the present day, psychedelic music and social commentary are mutually exclusive. With politics a common topic, the psych collective consciousness seem to weigh on the side of identity and social preservation.

It’s been a long, strange trip for the genre that came to fruition through various different routes, starting with the whir and buzz of the 60s and 70s and not showing any sign of stopping, having become embodied by a myriad of current acts like Madonnatron, Yassassin and Meatraffle. For the remainder of Psych Fest, we caught the likes of the Wytches, Baba Naga, The Cosmics, Holy and Josefin Öhrn, each with their own unique take on the psychedelic movement but with a refreshingly new twist. Psychedelia is moving but at it’s own pace, in a strong, independent movement that’s reaching the nook and cranny of each and every musical alliance – whether you like it or not.

Meatraffle at Manchester Psych Festival 2018

Already keen to go to the festival next year? Keep up to date with the latest news about Manchester Psych Festival 2019 over on their Facebook page 🌀

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everything is recorded collaboration

COMMENT: The Real Strength in Numbers

The importance of Collaboration in Music

A band is the sum of its separate components. The bass and the drums make the backbone of the sound, whilst the voice and lyrics serve as the driving message (normally through the means of a song). No rock band is complete without a lead guitarist though, to provide all those lovely twiddly bits and riffs that in some ways have come to define a track. Or have they? Perhaps they’ve really come to define our experience of the song. Like the band, that crescendo style twanging of sound (Guns N Roses’ Sweet Child O’ Mine springs to mind as a notable example) is but one part of something bigger. On its own it wouldn’t do the same, or have the same impact, having had a big build up by the other tools to make up the full effect.

The same is true of choruses. Choruses prove that music (using western influenced styles as a reference) is primed, by design, for more than the one person – or instrument – to bear influence. Whilst improvisation defines some genres & heavily influences others (jazz and various mods of it, for example), a group will usually work within a set key at any one time, when composing a track. It is the possibilities that exist within the designated set of notes that allow the magic to happen and, perhaps, it is easier for bands to make music together once they’ve done so for a while. Of course, this is by no means set in stone – it’s debatable; however, without delving too far into the history of modern western music and the “science” of music, it can, for the most part, be accepted as a general truth. But, what of those who choose to partner up and combine their efforts, those who aren’t solely in a band together – artists of varying genres, working off of each other to improvise and jam and come up with something completely natural and new.

Richard Russell – the owner for XL Recordings & the Mercury Prize-nominated Everything Is Recorded project – believes that working alongside others doesn’t always mean penning for the skill-sets, or style, that is already proven. He believes that creativity as a talented musician is nothing if not a medium in which finding new ways to express oneself and push their usual style is naturally the goal. When a fresh approach like this is taken, it soon becomes easier to see why Russell claims that an experienced musician can gain much from working with one that is perhaps a less experienced, a “bedroom guitarist” who has yet to find their signature style. Adopting this attitude and by taking people outside of their comfort zone, a musician automatically finds themselves adapting, and it is accordingly where a very different type of magic happens. Collaboration requires a willingness to listen to ideas and suggestions that may seem difficult, but Russell assures people that it does indeed reap rewards – using this methodology also keeps people focused on the moment instead of simply working towards a set goal. The very concept of truly open-minded collaboration means that the creative process becomes something fluid and constantly shifting. Whilst it might seem like this is anarchy, or at least appears to value anarchic tendencies, that isn’t necessarily the case.

Using the concept of spontaneously created collage, Russell formed the project Everything is Recorded. The idea behind it being to bring people together and create without the boundaries that traditional studio-music making brings  – Russell created a space in which there would be no tightly structured rules or requirements to make an album of pre-conceived ideas, in fact, it is quite opposite. In the award-winning documentary of the same name, Russell talks about the many “musical sketches” he has made for years. The producer doesn’t think much beyond the jam and simply collects the work that comes of it for personal use – with Russell’s ability as a record producer, it comes as little surprise that he would enjoy experimenting.

Russell calls this type of music making “Free and unencumbered artistic expression”. It’s a very organic process that can find its own way as it plays out because the reins are off. As opposed to knowing what a painting might look like before it’s begun, Russell and his group of artists try different colours and textures out and see which shapes and shades start to emerge. It’s a very emotion-based affair, challenging the traditionally used production process. The decisions are felt, as opposed to being scrutinised and judged. Celebrated artists like Sampha help to encourage others to gain confidence in contributing, whilst he does – Russell claims that along with his “supernatural level of giftedness” – evidently, another huge part of what makes Sampha such a special individual is his humility and deep respect of and for those musicians around him. Sampha seems to help the collaborative synergy happen without being fully aware of it. This is a fine example of Russell’s knack of seeing this light and talent in people; it’s tempting to state that Russell might, at times, know musicians better than they know themselves, or at least the potential they harbour under the right guidance. Whether this is true or not, what is indisputable is that being around others allows for a more objective insight from one person of another’s traits.

With so many artists working as a unit, it would seem there’s certainly the potential for sparks to fly and egos to clash. Russell identifies that this is far from true. This is no accident and is evidence of more of Russell’s extensive experience and eye. Producers are often cited as being some of the biggest names in the music business; George Martin’s work with The Beatles, Nile Rogers’ numerous projects ranging from Madonna’s massive album Like a Virgin (1984) to Bob Dylan and even Will Ferrell, being just two examples. Both of these prove just how diverse the creative mindset can be – that is, if it’s fully open to newness. Though technical know-how and musical-mastery are necessary to make any ambitious concept bloom and flourish, perhaps the ability for a producer to get the very best out of people is the real key to success – something that Russell must surely be aware of. The time frame is often limited in making albums or singles and the process expensive and the ability of getting a group of people who are spending long periods of time together, in an enclosed space, to co-operate shouldn’t be underestimated – Russell seems to realise that focusing on the enjoyment of the project can often allow this to happen in a much more natural way. However, just putting artists together depending on timings and availabilities doesn’t always mean plain-sailing but this can hold value itself. Working out differences and resolving them can lead to a much closer bond than before, and a new insight and direction into the creative process.

With the collaborative project’s natural theme around friendship Mela Murder and Infinite, both of whom play a crucial role in the documentary and project in helping to capture the very essence of Russell’s philosophy, demonstrate perfectly how adversity and even animosity can lead to new – or renewed – strengths being found. Surrounded by supportive and creative bodies, Infinite is not held back by any prior holds he might have on his style and creativity and instead allows access to his frailty, bravely discussing his crippling loneliness and how it’s been a destructive force in his life. Mela Murder empathises as the two musicians share a tearful and angry exchange during the process, culminating with the pair working out their collective differences whilst expunging sadness & negativity. Collaboration makes room for clarity of expression and a subsequent ‘rebirth’ of sorts, allowing for the type of raw emotion that exposes the delicacy of a frame of mind to be captured and transmitted. The trick to tapping into this potential appears to be knowing when to stand back and when to instruct – letting the tension naturally build before waiting for the natural conclusion that comes between people. Only when Infinite had made way for exposing his low point did Russell tell him to go and perform a vocal. In fact, his contribution turned out to be his best work for some time, and an end to his hiatus – the equivalent of a writer finally breaking through the block that they thought might never end. Powerful and inspirational stuff; a release for Infinite and a momentous incident for those around, leading to more innovation and positivity, continuing the process.

Far from being novel in nature, Russell’s project takes what already exists and hones it – that’s what makes it new. His entire exercise taps into the socio-psychological aspect of creativity and shows how awareness and concerted effort can be channelled into making something unique. What does feel refreshingly different from a standard mash up of different styles though, is the pronounced self-consciousness of things. Russell encourages self-awareness and allows the results to speak for themselves, realising that you can’t make people operate in harmony, but you can guide a way to it. Working around musicians throughout his life at XL, Russell is an astutely self-aware individual and one that’s well worthy of being deemed to hold a special type of wisdom.  For Russel the rainbow of collaboration and creative output can never have enough colours – the spectrums are never limited for him – and it is the painting of the rainbow that counts; the final display is secondary. The extraordinary vibrancy and bright bursts of colour only happen when the atmospheric conditions are just right, if, and when they are.

Everything is Recorded is more – so much more – than a project, programme, experiment or mere arrangement. It’s a mantra and a philosophy. An outlook and an attitude on the importance of collaboration – and one that we contribute towards – and a way of doing things that we can all learn something from, but only if we choose to.

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editors

NEWS: We’re Looking For Editors!

With a growing editorial output at MCR Live – and to keep up with the successes of our audio, visuals & events! – we’re looking to expand our core blog team to reach out to new audiences whilst offering the MCR Live audience more varied content. We have music locked down, but now we’re looking for the best of the best editors across theatre, art, film, culture, fashion, literature, photography and comment sections to lead teams, create ideas and to liaise with creatives in order to put together some boundary-pushing, engaging and wholly unique regular content!

We want to continue in our quest to becoming the cutting edge platform for Manchester and the North of England. With our video & on-air content flourishing more than ever (including the milestone of recently reaching Number 1 on the iTunes podcasting charts!!), we want to give our blog the time to shine & this is where you could come in to play!

Taking on the role of ‘Editor’, you’ll have the swanky title of ‘*INSERT CATEGORY* Editor‘. The amount that your section grows will be all up to you, and you will get full credit – we just want you to have the same vision, and drive we do!

Depending on the section, the role will entail:

  • Coming up with monthly content ideas & pitching to the team,
  • Contacting suitable creatives for interviews & liaising with industry contacts,
  • Arranging preview & review content for events,
  • Recognising trends within your section & delivering content that matches up or pushes these,
  • Fulfilling MCR Live’s ethos of ‘no genres barred’ content – focussing on quality over anything else,
  • Sourcing new contributors and managing contributors writing for your section in our exclusive group,
  • Editing and submitting to publishment within the allocated time-frame,
  • Publishing a minimum of 4 pieces per month (either by a contributor, or yourself),
  • Growing your contributor teams,
  • Attending MCR Live events and industry events on behalf of the platform,
  • Acting as a face of MCR Live & helping to grow the project.

Pieces could fit around a theme, be in line with current affairs trends or news, and should be as unique as possible… but more than this, we’d love you to take creative control and urge editors to have their own spin! For the full brand pack, head here.

All sound a bit much? Apply to be a contributor, here.

To apply, please fill out the short form below. Good luck!

Feel free to give us a message if you have any questions or would be interested in taking on any other categories we haven’t listed.

TAKE NOTE

I’m not based in Manchester – can I apply? Yes, of course! As long as you have shown an understanding of the scene around here and can organise relevant content for contributors, and can network in the venues and scene around you!

Is this a paid role? Unfortunately, not at present, but depending on the growth of the MCR Live project in the coming months this could change. However, it is a fantastic opportunity to build experience with one of the fastest growing media platforms in the UK & having an editorial role makes it easier to network with people in the media industry.

Do I have to work in the MCR headquarters? We do have space both in our studio in Ancoats and our offices in the Northern Quarter, should you need a space (desk, laptop, or computer) to edit on. This can work if you are based in town – or work nearby and are about in the afternoon – and we should be able to accommodate you (with notice)! We can also teach you SEO, and how to run the blog should you need a helping hand. However, feel more than free to work from home… just keep us up to date with what’s going on in your section!

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middle east

COMMENT: Identity Of Many

An exploration of boundary-pushing Music, Literature and Film from The Middle East.

In the age of the 24-hour news cycle and constant societal upheaval, the mainstream public eye seems forcibly fixed on the world’s most negative happenings. The Middle East is the most commonly pinpointed target – as many of its member states are war-torn and repressive – and as with anything in these circumstances, there are so many cases of beauty & expressionism within the arts that are overlooked simply due to location. Thus, at MCR Live we have decided to combat this behaviour: highlighting two musical artists, two writers and two filmmakers from the Middle Eastern diaspora who are pushing boundaries and deconstructing prejudices and perceptions with their work.

The Musicians

Deena Abdelwahed

A native of Tunisia and now based in Toulouse, Deena Abdelwahed’s confrontational brand of dance music is a socially engaged melting pot of Eastern culture and Western perception. Klabb (her 2017 EP released through Infine records), is deeply entrancing and shape-shifting – reflecting the violence and less savoury aspects of the Middle East, whilst celebrating the power that art and music can have. The songs fuse both grinding and dissonant industrialism with colourful ambiguity, all coming from the same dark core and desire to – in her words – “critique injustices in Arab society” but allowing minds to wander through decomposing cityscapes, unsure of the future but actively clawing on to hope. Klabb is a rich example of how real cultural issues can be tackled and affronted by art; something which Tunisia’s 2015 lifted media blackout, in turn, helps.

Saint Abdullah

Saint Abdullah are a sibling duo based somewhere between Iran’s capital Tehran and Brooklyn respectively. Stalwarts of New York’s Boomarm Nation roster, their music is described on the labels bandcamp as “political music, sacred music, and for most of us in the west, new music”. Their music is steeped in the traditions and tragedy of the duo’s homeland, but it faces sternly westwards as well. Both 2017’s The Sounds of Evil Vol. I and this February’s Stars Have Eyes challenged Western perceptions of Iranian and Muslim culture. Saint Abdullah have created a way of taking their post-Islamic revolution starting point and transmitting it through suffocating atmospherics, sonically poetic cut n paste sampling & rhythmic hypnotism – the result? A world-weary, but profound, exploration and explanation of their own ethos.

The Writers

Hoda Barakat

When it comes to literature, so vast is the landscape and societal diaspora of the Middle East that the range of perspectives is in rude health. In an age where femininity and repression are steadfastly under the microscope, its the female voices which offer the most direct viewpoint. Hoda Barakat’s The Tiller of Waters, though revolving around a male protagonist, is a beautifully poetic and poignant analysis of the psyche that embodies travel, migration, art, industry, love and desire set against a chillingly hallucinogenic backdrop of war-torn Beirut during the Lebanese civil war. Her work oftentimes showcases a passionate and deep-set understanding of culturally definitive cloth and weaving practices as a metaphor for the entire human condition, and in such finds beauty in the little things when the larger picture seems so bleak.

Rajaa Alsanea

Middle East

By contrast, Rajaa Alsanea’s The Girls of Riyad adopts a far more colloquial, accessible prose and a form of narrative that would probably be written off as Sex And The City– esque vacuity to some. However, it would be churlish to do so. Constructed through a series of diary-style emails written by an unnamed protagonist, and depicting the life of four women from the higher echelons of Saudi Arabian society, the novel follows the travails of its characters through themes of love, religion and meaning in life in a deeply misogynistic place. At its best, Alsanea is pacey and properly electrifying – chilling and funny, and chapter eleven in particular works wonders to crush a number of misconceptions and prejudices attributed to the mentality of women in the Middle East region. Though serious and sensitive at its core, Alsanea’s book approaches life in Saudi Arabia with a twinkle in its eye, something that seems crucial to fully understand the mechanisms of Riyad’s community.

The Filmmakers

Babak Anvari

I’ve not seen a huge amount of Middle Eastern horror movies, but it’s probably fair to say that few of them cover as much profound societal, genre-orientated or psychedelic ground as Babak Anvari’s 2016 movie Under The Shadow. After an Iraqi missile hits the Iranian block of flats where a mother lives with her young daughter, the anxiety, paranoia and stress of the ensuing war outside begins to have catastrophic effects on central character Shideh and her family – as her mind unravels, she becomes convinced that they’re being haunted by evil spirits. It’s an incredibly claustrophobic, stripped back, vision that melds classic horror movie tropes with location-true themes of war and the repression of women. However, at its heart, it’s about the relationship between a mother and her daughter and how the misfortune of their environment turns them against each other. It’s genuinely fucking scary, too.

Emad Burnat

Whereas Anvari’s movie marries real-life horror and surrealism in a fictional setting, even more horrifying is the first-hand account – all presented through the lens of Emad Burnat’s primary recorded footage – of Burnat’s 2011 film 5 Broken Cameras. A stark and deeply harrowing documentary about the struggle of a Palestinian farming community during the Israeli occupation of Gaza’s West Bank, the 90-minute film is an uncompromising purveyance of death and oppression and a direct summary of what living in desperate situations drives people to do. There are glimmers of a hopeful future; Burnat’s community show a breath-taking amount of spirit and the instances of joy feel all the more prominent in the face of such adversity. Emad is ultimately fighting for his community, and by doing so, celebrating what he believes to be just. His determination to carry on filming, despite the pain it lands him and those closest to him in, is an example of artistic expressionism in its most powerful form.

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lgbtq+

COMMENT: Pride Month – The Relationship between LGBTQ+ & Music

Sing Like You Want To Be Heard and Dance Like Everyone is Watching.

Music has many powers and harbours the ability to transmit them simultaneously. It can move us, both physically and emotionally, and create a range of feelings, often in the same song – or even the same verse. Amongst these seemingly mystical abilities is the strength that bands and artists omit through their music to reach out to us and help us find a place in the world – a factor that often comes with a growing sense of self-awareness of one’s own tastes, around the confusing early teenage years. Nothing else quite seems to allow us to feel understood like the air-guitar and the hairbrush microphone in the privacy of our bedrooms.

For some, these are phases that pass even if the music remains loved and throughout their ‘teenage years’, nostalgia-driven playlists. However, for many others, this connection to music remains to close to the source of their early identity construction. Of course, figuring out who you are is a deeply personal experience for everybody, but there are plenty of artists who speak up on behalf of certain members of society that are placed into certain categories (it is important to note that these groupings are not necessarily by their own accord). A large example of this being the LGBTQ+ community. Many icons – past and present – have put their weight behind issues and topics that were considered taboo, or, against perceived social normativity. There are (and may there long continue to be!) many notable persons who have played their part in highlighting the cruelty & ignorance surrounding prejudice; doing so both overtly and via the medium of music.

David Bowie

David Bowie’s death in 2016 came as a crushing blow to music lovers everywhere – sometimes it takes this to fully realise the legacy that a person created. Bowie was foremostly an individual, paving his own way in the music scene – his many songs and albums might be what the icon is most remembered for, but his wider-reaching contribution to humanity must also be duly noted. Bowie felt no need to identify behaviour with gender, challenging the conventions that he felt were unnecessary – to Bowie, there wasn’t a ‘right’ or a ‘wrong’ way to dress, a rigidity to sexuality or what one must like. It is all too easy to say Bowie helped to achieve this by donning dresses for LP artwork and in his interviews – in fact, that would be an insult to the point being made.

Though his outward personas highlighted this outlook, on a deeper level – as far as Bowie was concerned – it didn’t matter who you were or what you liked.”Difference” for Bowie only existed because other people made it that way. The musician invited along those who were wrongly labelled “freaks”, “weirdos” or “queer” (before the reclamation of the term) and other pejorative classifications, to be themselves, joining communities through his music. Yes, theatricality and fun might have been centre stage of much of the performer’s career (using personas like Ziggy Stardust to communicate certain concepts and ideas), but Bowie brought these issues of equality and individualism to the spotlight. Although he might be a less obvious example when it comes to the link between the LGBTQ+ community and music, especially with the abandonment of his queer identity onstage, Bowie should be remembered as this innovator in his challenging of the status quo. Of course, though, he is not alone in this…

Freddie Mercury

Freddie Mercury became as well known in the news for his then “alleged” homosexuality as his music; this was a sign of the times. Western attitudes (and perhaps the British press’ in particular) towards anything other than heterosexuality was still deeply conservative in the 1970s and as such, Mercury was discussed, analysed and scrutinised very publicly. Although Mercury wished to play no part in being an icon, the musician undoubtedly became one thanks to his personality and most memorably his ability to hold entire stadiums in the palm of his hands. Whatever stereotypes and generalisations about behaviours attributable to sexuality were still being purported, Mercury certainly wasn’t the commonly received “idea” of what it was to be a gay male. The strength, energy and raw power of Freddie’s stage presence always made sure that these were the dominated opinions of him – and quite right too. The Queen frontman’s death from one of the biggest and unspoken killers of the decade – AIDS – brought about many changes in attitudes that had been a long time coming. Mercury refused to give into the fear of the press, the fear of the disease that eventually killed him and the fear of death itself. It is the strength of character and bravery in the face of extreme adversity that truly makes Mercury the icon he is to this day, and will no doubt continue to be.

Beth Ditto

Fast-forward to 2018 and both representation and attitudes towards difference have improved. A person’s choice to identify with a specific sexual-persuasion is no longer automatically assumed to be the defining feature of their personality, or, the focal point of their performances. Beth Ditto, of 2003-2016’s Gossip, identifies as a lesbian and a punk (the term punk itself has seen a change in its generally accepted meaning and is worth looking up). Whilst ditto is a notable advocate of LGBTQ+ rights, her music isn’t wholly focused on pushing a certain message – however, that doesn’t mean she isn’t iconic. The point here is that a person’s sexual persuasion doesn’t have to dictate the art a person creates, nor should it have to be focused solely on their personal beliefs. It might be, but it doesn’t have to be.

What Ditto should be commended on is her projection of self-love – putting forth to both young and old alike, her outward example and message to love who you are and to celebrate your authenticity. Ditto’s powerful stage presence can be described well as a sort of the opposite of apologising for any part of who she is and what she’s all about; a declaration, saying: “Here I am – and proud!”. This display of self-acceptance is immeasurably inspiring to those who feel judged, discriminated against or otherwise marginalised. Like Bowie and Mercury, Ditto’s acceptance of herself can mobilise an army of fans who look to her as an inspiration; someone to aspire to be like. Gigs of artists like Ditto then become a safe-space where one can go to in order to let loose without the fear of abuse – or worse, physical attack –  instigated by perpetrators based on how an individual looks.

Sophie Lancaster

Sophie Lancaster, killed in 2007, is one horrible example of someone receiving abuse for the way they look. Though the attack wasn’t necessarily deemed to be motivated by LGBTQ+ hatred, it was due to a similar hatred of difference – a person should never pay with their life for expressing themselves. Though some LGBTQ+ laws already existed at this time, they simply weren’t enough and in April 2013 Greater Manchester Police announced that any crime committed against subcultures, including verbal or physical assaults, would be dealt with as Hate Crime. It often takes the loss of life for the seriousness of an issue to be addressed. Music does many things and, as mentioned throughout, helps to give one a sense of belonging. This is an essential part of a person’s teenage years, and for those like Sophie, becomes a rite of passage, often being where we make our first friends that share views and similar tastes to ourselves. Music allows us entry into communities whereby we can truly discover who we are, and find others who accept it. For many young members of the LGBTQ+ community, this safe-haven can act like an extended family that they come to rely on as a support network in what can still be a cruel, and judgemental, society. Knowing that there are others who understand you, have been through similar experiences and most importantly who always accept you, provides for some connections and relationships that will stay with a person for life. Having music to enjoy as a collective, entertainers & powerful personalities who stand for free love and equality, lets people be part of a movement that celebrates who they are with a sense of belonging, entitlement and pride.

As we come into 2018, it is important to look back on how far we have come in regards to equal rights, homophobia and individuality – however, living in an age where it is easier than ever to express your thoughts (both supportive, and non) we still have a long way to go. Music has acted as a platform for both deemed ‘outcasts’ and the LGBTQ+ community alike, giving creatives the spotlight to express themselves and celebrate their differences and has brought light to the need for a changed outlook, joining many individuals and communities through the artform in the process. Long may the relationship between the LGBTQ+ community and music continue. Love and let love! Sing Like You Want To Be Heard and Dance Like Everyone is Watching!

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czar sacha

COMMENT: A Czar Is Born: But Can Parklife’s Founder Shake Our ‘Madchester’ Love Affair?

Manchester owes much of its international acclaim and reputation for subversive counterculture to The Haçienda and Tony Wilson, who famously proclaimed: “This is Manchester, we do things differently here” – but will the arrival of Manchester’s first ‘night czar’ see the city progress beyond the hedonism of ‘89?  – WORDS: Theo Watt

In her first year as London’s new ‘night czar’, Amy Lamé faced the unimaginable challenge of saving Fabric, one of the capital’s best-loved nightclubs, following the drug-induced deaths of two teenagers. Three years on and the beaming strobe of night time culture shines on Parklife and Warehouse Project founder Sacha Lord, who has just been appointed Manchester’s first-ever after-hours czar. Lord, who is also responsible for bringing superstars like Frank Ocean and A Tribe Called Quest to Heaton Park, has already given his backing to drugs testing in venues, but the night time head honcho faces another unique challenge.

In my opinion, the mark of Lord’s legacy will be in his ability to reinvent Manchester’s club scene by pushing a new identity that doesn’t fall back on the nostalgia of The Haçienda. This month will mark eleven years since the iconic Whitworth Street club was forced to close. But despite The Haç – the birthplace of acid house and the second summer of love – shutting its doors in 1997, its memory still lives on in the hearts of people who weren’t even born in its heyday. I should know, it was the brilliance of Tony Wilson, New Order, Happy Mondays, A Guy Called Gerald, 808 State and others that brought me here in the first place. But, like others my age, Madchester lives on in my imagination, not my memory.

Someone with vivid memories of the golden age of acid and baggy, however, is ex-FHM writer and freelance journalist Joe Madden, who incensed Manchester music fans by calling out the damaging and dull addiction to nostalgia, ahead of last year’s True Faith exhibition of New Order and Joy Division artwork. I wouldn’t go that far, but I do agree with the famed DJ and author Dave Haslam in that Manchester’s music scene should celebrate its past, without living in it. “I admit it’s a difficult balance, but I think what’s sometimes forgotten is that every generation has a battle to fight,” he writes. Lord [Sacha] has done an exceptional job thus far through The Warehouse Project, but the Store Street club’s box office roster is a seasonal affair; Manchester needs a world-renowned nightlife it can get behind all year round, not just between September and December, and not just within the dance genre.

As for the identity debate, I doubt anyone is against Manchester’s past, present and future co-existing. I would much rather it this way then in my hometown of Bristol, where the likes of Massive Attack and Portishead feel more like closely guarded secrets among my dad and others his age. As Haslam said, there has to be a balance. What we need is further collaboration between genres and sub-cultures, and to provide a credible platform – as Tony Wilson did – for the emergence of homegrown, underground talent. Only then will Manchester be able to look backwards whilst looking forwards. Only then will Manchester’s nightlife feel as progressive, dynamic and inclusive as the city itself. We mustn’t forget our past heroes, but we needn’t erect any more effigies or mosaics to Madchester’s past either. Lord is undoubtedly the man to modernise our nightlife before taking it to stratospheric heights. Like Human Traffic’s Pablo Hassan, his experience, address list and authority on club culture is matched by few.

Given the impact of a night czar in London, Manchester could soon see the arrival of 24-hour clubs, 24-hour tram travel and, one would hope, more events like Parklife and The Warehouse Project for the 24-hour party people who keep our city jiving after midnight. As for us clubbers, we’ll be waiting to see if Lord can implement a year-round club culture that follows Amsterdam and Berlin in being ahead of its time, as was the case more than 20 years ago when a club that would change counter-culture forever through ecstasy and acid house was born. Let’s hope the third summer of love continues long after dark.

Watch our in-depth interview with Sacha Lord below.

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Bongo's Bingo

COMMENT: Why Bongo’s Bingo Has Taken Over

Attending a Bongo’s Bingo before leaving Manchester was definitely on our bucket list and it never fails to disappoint. It’s always a great way to kick off an evening, and chances are pretty high you’ve heard of the institution, which has literally taken over England. If you’re going, or you’ve been – everyone knows you’ve had a great time.

So why has a game originally played by OAPs in a run-down hall turned into a phenomenal night out? Everything about Bongo’s is fun and the old traditions are met with new spins. For example, they’ve kept “Two little ducks” and “legs eleven” but at the same time thrown in raps, chants and alcohol to hype everything up/

Bongo’s starts with everyone dancing on tables, drinks in hand and booklets and pens at the ready. This isn’t normal Bingo – it’s Bongo’s Bingo! 3 hours of bangers, dancing and lights as well as the potential of winning over 700 quid?! Mental.

The rules are simple – the first round you play for a line, the second round you play for two and finally you are playing for a FULL HOUSE! You scream loud and fast if you win and a range of crazy prizes ranging from a mix box set of Disney Princesses, a Henry Hoover, a cutout Jeremy Corbyn and loads more.

One of the many highlights of the night is the recurring dance-offs and chants at “dickheads” who lie about what’s on their playing cards. The games are accompanied by a DJ host, laser lights and of course two men dressed in absolutely stunning wigs and princess dress costumes. New props keep the crowd energised and we had massive balloons to dance with as well as glowsticks at one point. Confetti Cannons and showers of Coco Pops to ‘Co-Co’ by O.T Genesis also meant this was just one big party.

The numbers were shouted out and followed by loud sing-alongs of Frozen, S Club 7, Come on Eileen and more. It is an absolutely great night out and an incredible way to end exam season!

The crowd gets super involved and even if you don’t win anything – it’s a fab night out. This was my third Bingo – I’d now call myself a pro and I won for the first time ever! I was super stoked with my litre of tequila and maybe next time I’ll finally scribble enough numbers that I get on the stage. Who knows, but there will definitely be a next time!

In all honesty – if you want something different and guaranteed fun – head to Bongo’s Bingo in Manchester or any other big city in the UK. It’s amazing!

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Dragpunk Tour Diary: The Kids Are Alright; Meeting the Millennials on tour with Adore Delano.

With great pleasure and enjoyment My last week and a half has been spent supporting Adore Delano’s Whatever Tour across seven cities in the UK, along with my Birmingham drag family, Dragpunk. This presented many challenges, not least of all how do we, as lipsync artists create a show that fits with Adore’s live singing and rock band? We are a collective of subversive, punk drag queens. Born and raised in dark murky basements of Birmingham’s underground, 18+ nightlife venues – how do we cater for a 14+ audience there for the main act, not us the support?

So we set about planning. Making a full show of our 35 minute set. Background music, microphone time, and mixes and looks that serve all that Dragpunk is about. We wanted to provide a full show, and most of all make a statement. The reaction was entirely surprising and revealing about the ‘state of the youth’.

For us drag mixes entertainment with queer activism – the megaphone that we can use to talk about queer and gender identities, to challenge the lurking insipid homophobia, transphobia and racism within the LGBTQ community and outside of it. Dragpunk’s Amber Cadaverous, whose gender is only relevant for clarity, is a cisgender woman. Her whole performance within our set was an explosion of songs about being precisely that – female. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. It’s A Woman’s World. Man I Feel Like A Woman. Interspersed with relevant soundbites, it all wrapped up with Amber picking up the mic and giving a speech telling this young audience that their existence is not second to anyone else’s. It’s more than okay to be female.

My own number, a lipsync featuring Jinkx Monsoon’s beautiful rendition of Radiohead’s Creep, finished with a similar moment on the mic that to be strange, unusual – weird even – is absolutely okay too. Pursue that difference, be kind, open, learn, and you may find that happiness, confidence, and self esteem are earned in a world that actively resists the unorthodox.

After the first opening night in at the Manchester Academy, it became quite clear that we left an impression. Over the course of the tour it became all the more clear that all of the Dragrace fangirls and fanboys, the hundreds each night making up the audiences, amounting to thousands over the tour, who were there for their love of Adore Delano, actually just love drag and difference. Adore represents a punk brand, latched onto by her fans whose love and devotion to her was strong and deep to say the least. Yet these fanboys and fangirls, often dismissed for not supporting ‘local’ drag were there to have fun, and to spend the little money they had on one awesome drag experience. Many have no outlets to local drag or queer nightlife for they do not live in the big cities or are simply not older enough. With Adore Delano, her band, and what we provided was that access to the local drag, to UK drag, and what it can stand for.

After each set we were approached for photos, hellos, and thanks for our drag and message. Our personal and Dragpunk social medias exploded. Tired, eating far too many crisps, whilst travelling between cities we spenthour after hour, quite happily, responding to floods of DMs, comments and tags. Four individuals from Birmingham with paint and fabric strewn about them, under the name of Dragpunk, were now being thanked by these young people for inspiring them with our drag and for telling them that it’s okay to be yourself. And often for simply saying hello to them in person. Stories about people’s own struggles, about how they felt some validation at our show, became the norm. Some survived the Manchester bombing. other’s survived self harm, chronic depression, and crippling loneliness. These are not fads, these are not over-sensitivities. These are not ‘snowflakes’. It was and is still immensely humbling. We did not plan it to be this way. It helped that our drag, our performances, and our mixes were decent, for without them the message may not have reached. Most of all it helped that through entertainment, a shining message landed. No lecturing, no talking down, we spoke sincerely without realising that it would resonate. You know you have successfully penetrated gay youth culture when you receive such an outpouring of love from fans via popular LGBT messenger app and online brothel Grindr.

What does this mean, about this young generation so easily dismissed disparagingly as ‘millenials’, as ‘snowflakes’, who often to give meaning to their fandom by self-identify as ‘stans’ on that notorious hotbed of Twitter? (Stan essentially being a super fan, named I am told after Eminem’s early classic Stan, about an overzealous fan). Well it seems that they are not actually being engaged. Low and behold, society is failing them. All we saw was passion, and some of the most fun and positive individuals around. Are we really throwing out a whole young generation, again? Is it because they have online platforms to comment and criticise the corrupt world around them? That because some, just a few, take it too far? These audiences were a cross-section of an open queer-minded youth, who were happy to be happy given the chance. Twitter is their main outlet in a world where adults – as with in every era of our history – puts down the youth. When we provided a message of empowerment, they lapped it up. We sent some very clear messages in our show, as Adore did, about sticking two fingers up to misogyny, trying to fit in, and assimilation into a straight-laced society. Where else are people providing these messages and actually living them?

To say the least, it was refreshing and if we can see the potential of engagement, then others can. The key is understanding rather than the smug chastising, condescension of the follies of youth that too many older people’s minds can succumb to. We felt empowered and emboldened that drag is activism, and that as Dragpunk, we have a statement to make. We hope that others take it on board to pursue as well.

 

Paul Aleksandr, the author of this article is one quarter of Birmingham’s most prolific drag collective, the indescribable drag punk. He blurs the line of gender subtly, and draws influences from goth and alternative culture, horror films, and societies boogeymen and creeps. His first language is Russian and his hobbies include birdwatching, amateur abortionism, and tasteful nude self portraiture. You can find him on Facebook as Paul Aleksandr or on instagram at @paul_aleksandr.

If you’re attending Birmingham Pride this weekend, Dragpunk’s legendary Emo Party I’m Not Ok Will be opening the future stage at 2:30. If you’re a fan of the weird and wonderful, get on down.

You can keep up to date with his work as well as tour dates and parties being thrown by the Dragpunk collective on Facebook or via @dragpunk on instagram and Drag_Punk on Twitter. 

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