Thirty Thousand Streets

Monday, March 30, 2009

I'm getting bored of this poster now.

Thanks to Sigh 9 for kindly pointing me in the direction of this Flickr pool which contains numerous examples of that poster I was whingeing about. I can probably put this sucker to bed now.

This is my favourite, I think.

Grizzly Man

This evening I watched the Werner Herzog documentary 'Grizzly Man' about the reclusive guy who fed himself and his girlfriend to bears in 2003, Timothy Treadwell.

There's something incredibly eerie about it, as it largely mostly consists of footage self-filmed by Treadwell whilst out in the Alaskan wilderness, consisting of him delivering enthusiastic bulletins about his ursine friends, when you in fact know what the grisly outcome of this obsession was

And he was definitely an 'unusual' guy, with something of a chequered past, who discovered bears like other people discover Jesus. In fact, there is an messianic zeal about some of his straight-to-camera monologues, which veer from sweet (if somewhat naive) hymns to the giant beasts he loves so much, to expletive strewn rants against human society, against the bleakly beautiful backdrop of some mountain vista – usually with a skip-sized brown bear swaying in the middle distance.

In contrast to which, Herzog's measured, considered voiceover seems incredibly compelling. He is clearly fascinated by this man and the legacy of his extant footage, though while the I got the impression he views him kindly (and some people interviewed for the programme clearly saw him as a crank who got his comeuppance) he is as at odds with the spiritual significance that Treadwell projected on to the lumbering beasts who were his companions as anyone. One quote which we actually had to rewind and re-listen to it was so solemn and aphoristic was (and I paraphrase) "The common denominator in the universe is chaos, hostility and murder".

Ultimately, this is quite a sad, affecting portrayal of a man who paid the ultimate price for his love of bears (great tagline, huh?). What stays with me as much as anything however is the incredible gravitas that the archived documents that survive Treadwell possess, the breathtakingly stark beauty of an Alaskan wilderness, mostly indifferent to human motives, set against the emotional crusade of a single man, and as well as being a documentary it's a tragedy, if not also a strange sort of love story.

I also enjoyed Little Dieter Wants to fly by Herzog, too. Next time, I think I'll try and catch one of his actual 'movies'.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Keep Calm

There's that phonemenon, largely subjective I suspect, but often ascribed to synchronicity, where something you were previously unaware of – such as a word, or phrase – suddenly becomes apparently ubiquitous, and you start hearing it on a near daily basis. (Such a thing happened last year, when everyone started saying "├╝ber" rather too much).

It is possible that this is largely due to the brain's subconscious yearning to identify patterns, but also, on occasion can arise simply from a popular trend, or something that cleaves to the public imagination, at any given moment (Myleene Klasse, for instance).

Into the latter category would I place that poster, the wartime public broadcast "Keep Calm and Carry on" (you must, by now, know the one).

Now, I realise that this is an artifact of some antiquity, dating from the Second World War, but prior to the end of last year, I was cheerfully unaware of its existence. Then, one day I saw it, and suddenly it seemed to be EVERYWHERE. I see it on a near weekly basis now, peering at me from the corner of an interiors photoshoot in the the pages of a broadsheet weekend magazine; gurning at me from a web browser, or acting as a kind of serving suggestion in the window of a local framers.

More disconcerting still is the wacky meme of appropriating said, rather staid wartime propaganda, and 'subverting' its message. In fact, I think I might start a niche museum dedicated to archiving permutations of this specific visual macro-trend.

The theatre of Advertising relies on cliches, which act as a kind of shorthand – effectively conveying a set of associations with relative economy, by setting the context. You want to imply that your brand is 'for the people?' (ie: cheap) simply effect a poster campaign aping those Soviet-era propaganda posters you went and saw at the Tate the other year. Y'know, flip the 'R's around, lots of red, raised fists, that sort of thing. Simple.

Almost too simple. Simple to the point of being hackneyed, in fact. But I suppose it takes time for what are by now slightly weary tropes to worm their way into the visual vernacular. What I do find a fascinating enigma, is the notional tipping point at which something like this attains critical mass, and becomes recognisably iconic – to the extent that it's no longer simply a rather simple bit of typography, than a meme, or trope. What precipitated this little bit of design's inauguration into the national Consciousness's golden hall of design fame, alongside The Routemaster?

God knows. But what I suspect from experience is we're probably going to see a lot more of this rather unassuming poster in the future in some form, be it parody or pastiche. The latest example I've secured for my rogues gallery of such examples I spotted on the Peckham Road the other night, which I present for your appraisal here.

I can't help but think that the designer here has aped the typographical layout of the original to the detriment of the poster's actual message... quite aside from the phrasal emphasis feeling slightly wonky – "ANYTHING YOU SAY MAY (be taken down) AND USED AS EVIDENCE" – the poster felt to me like some kind of wagging finger aimed at prospective criminals, when actually the two little lines of copy at the bottom reveal that the poster's purported message is about a police pledge to use confidential informant's testimony as evidence in court.

Still, I suppose it does at least stylistically fitting in the context of a message originating from the state, even if it does look a bit 'V for Vendetta'. We live in an incredibly pluralistic, visual culture (someone quoted "alter modern" at me the other day) where entire historical visual languages are there to be cherry-picked, just a Google search away. In such an age 'appropriateness' is perhaps the best a designer can aspire to, when there is no single master 'design narrative'.

PS: has anyone else spotted any other hacks of this bit of iconic design? I'd be interested in seeing them.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Closer @ Hidden

On Friday night I went to a night called Closer, at a club called Hidden in Vauxhall which was, appropriately, tucked away on a little side street just next to the South Bank.

It's a pretty compact venue, with two shoebox-like dancefloors, one with a kind of mezzanine bar above it. There's also an astro-turfed smokers bit outside. Pretty unpreposessing really, but the music itself – some of the banging-est techno I've heard in a while – was a refreshingly cathartic opportunity to dance like a thing possessed, for most of the wee hours.

In spite of the yellow and black industrial stylings of the flyer, (which owe a rather obvious debt to The Hacienda and Peter Saville) and the fact that legendarily tough-as-titanium-nails producer The Surgeon was headlining, the music was on a surprisingly groovy Detroit flex (still well hard though).

Highlights for me included someone playing Game One by Infiniti (a Juan Atkins pseudonym) and 'The Surge' dropping Didgeridoo by the Aphex Twin at about five in the morning, though by that time I was somewhat weary, and in fact popped out about halfway through the tune to down a shot of vodka and ice at the bar.

Following this, Saturday was almost entirely couch based. I stayed in, ate Chinese and watched Gosford Park. Today I went for a mooch round Hampstead Heath with Will, Sam, their bairn Zac and Helen and Renee. On our way back home we passed George Orwell's old gaff on Parliament Road. Most relaxing.

Here's that Infiniti track. Enjoy. Or don't, if you hate Techno.

Friday, March 20, 2009

That Watchmen review

Who Watches the Watchmen? well me, last Friday at the iMax, and I actually sat down and penned quite a long review about it too, before thinking, hmm, about eight squillion people have already chucked their two penneth in the jar, so you can probably google "Watchmen review" and get an idea whether you think it's going to suck or not without recourse to my ramblings. Here's an extract from my epic:

"It's been said quite often that a serialised TV show would be a far better format for translation of this project, and I have to agree. Watchmen was, as a comic and latterly a graphic novel, intrinsically episodic, and its frequent forays into the medium of other media (e.g. Newspaper clippings and magazine articles) from the alternate late 20th century Moore dreams up for us, are intrinsically problematic to channel onto a cinema screen."

Eh, I do get carried away sometimes (I start going on about Marshall Mcluhan, too). I think that's enough for now. To paraphrase my weighty, considered review:

"Watchmen: It's not as bad as it could have been"

In fact, it's not bad at all. No, it's not the novel, never could be, never was going to be, so get over it. It's pretty (if that's the word) and if you liked Dave Gibbons' artwork, you'll probably just be mesmerised by seeing that translated into moving images for two-and-a-half hours. That's me as a fan speaking though. Lord alone knows what people who hadn't read the comic thought – they were probably utterly bemused by it all.

What I would say is, if you haven't already (and can be bothered) read the book first. It's very good, and doesn't even really bear comparison to the film in terms of its breadth.

Now, for a bit of fun, here's Watchmen author and all-round arch beard Alan Moore commenting on and reading from the book (if you stick around to the end). He fucking hated the film on principle. Fair enough. I like his assertion that Batman, as a archetype is essentially a vigilante psychopath.

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What tickled me more was the similarity between Moore (no pun) and Garth Marenghi in Channel Four's wonderful Horror spoof Darkplayce. It made me chuckle, anyway.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Just William

So, this afternoon Prince William popped into The St Giles' Trust on Camberwell Church Street. Immediately prior, I was scarfing down a bowl of noodles from my flat over the road, gazing absently out of the window and wondering what all the police and – even more rare for Camberwell – photographers were doing there.

Me and my housemate, whom I alerted to all this, assumed it was probably some MP or something, and it was only when the tall grinning one emerged from a silver people carrier with his entourage, that we realised what all the fuss was about.

After that, we pulled up seats, waiting for him to emerge again. It felt a bit like being on a police stakeout (though quite entertaining) as we watched a rogues' gallery of Camberwell's eccentrics tramp past, up and down the street, looking bemused at the gaggle of reporters camped outside of the Castle pub downstairs. I managed to get a cactus needle stuck in my thumb, from the withered specimen on the windowsill, which I spent most of the time trying to tease forth with a fair of tweasers. One of the guys from the trust popped out for a ciggy three times, which suggests he either really likes the coffin nails, or was just quite nervous (or both).

Eventually, a blunt looking 4x4 (containing two slightly twitchy looking bodyguards) and the silver people-carrier reappeared, signaling his reemergence, though it was another twenty minutes or so before he stepped out the door. In the meanwhile, one of the waiters from House gallery next door emptied a bucket of suds into the drain under the SUV of the two secret service types, nearly causing a security incident in the process. Word had got around by now, and the African guys from Merrygold's Barbers were were out on the pavement gawking (along with the girls from Hairshack afro-hair salon next door).

Eventually, Wills stepped smiling out front, to be greeted by flash bulbs and cheers, before stepping into his carriage and being spirited away 'up West'. The Castle Pub was looking especially busy when I walked past just now, presumably full of St Giles' employees, talking excitedly about their day.

Annoyingly, my photos are 'crazy shit'. But there you go.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Moodymann at Need to Soul

So last night I trooped up to Cargo for Need2Soul with Al, where the enigmatic Moodymann was headlining alongside Benji B, who recently interviewed that other Detroit legend Juan Atkins for his BB6 Deviation radio show.

It's hard to know what to expect from such a individual, who is, as a personality, almost as cryptic as his mystically obtuse deep house jams. In an era of vapid celebrity, there does seem something almost heroic about Moodymann's celebrated reclusiveness (he's like an Alan Moore who writes house rather than comics) which falls into the same 'faceless' vein of fellow camera-shy Detroit reclusives Underground Resistance, and whom like the latter is often outspoken in a scene perhaps perceived as apolitical in the supposed inclusiveness of the dancefloor. This is perhaps epitomised best by his infamous 'whiteboy-baiting' liner notes on a Silent Introduction which could perhaps be interpreted as a topical sideswipe at producer Moby's liberal ransacking of the Lomax brother's field recordings of deep south blues singers on the album Play, (tracks from which later on ended up gracing a host of commercials, somewhat tarring the Go producing vegan's credentials in the process).

And Moodyman – or Kenny Dixon Junior's – rants on the proprietary nature of all things black seem to extend to recorded media itself, for he is a champion of the vinyl, as the 2000 release, Forevernevermore testifies - the rambling passages of mumbling, ambient clattering and near silence that interrupt tracks otherwise pristine on the LP release seeming less his evocation of musique concrete than a sly dig at those who chose to fork out for the shiny little coasters (that was my take, anyway).

Which was ultimately borne out last night, when he played a vinyl-only set from the DJ booth at the side of the room. We got in just in time to witness the beginning of his set, and hear him doing his laconic paper-comb-voice-mumble bit, waving a 12 inch aloft and affectionately referring to the crowd as "all y'all motherfuckers out there" (for which they seemed exceptionally delighted). In spite of his unshowiness, the man is clearly a showman of sorts.

As for the music. Well, anyone expecting anything too beardy was probably in for a letdown, as he played a surprisingly accessible two hours. The set opener was The Door's Riders on the Storm, segueing into The Family Stand's Ghetto Heaven, which acted as a bridge to mostly well-loved soul and disco numbers, such as Skyy's First Time Around and the Light of the World's funk-ta-fied cover of I Shot the Sheriff*.

Later on, having popped out for a drink and a roll-up, we retuned to find he'd upped the tempo somewhat, and was playing such proto-house electro-disco numbers as Telex's chugging Moskow Diskow and the prowling electronic whine of the sinister Sharivari by early Eighties Detroit act A Number of Names, followed some more straight-up house numbers.

After that it was up to Benji B to take the reigns, which he did with a Latin-inflected set, detouring into house later on, which I thought was good, if not exceptional. By this stage I was up on the stage for the second time, having been moved off once with everyone else by one of the bouncers.

After that I departed South to Camberwell, though ultimately ended up walking to Elephant and Castle, as all the buses were so stuffed to the gills with merrymakers. Even this though, failed to detract from what was an extremely enjoyable night out, if not quite the array of obscure delights I anticipated.

Based on my two excursions there so far, this is a really good night. Soulful, danceable music over a range of styles, without being particularly faddish. The venue's not bad either – I like the outside smoker's oasis, and the soundsystem bumps. I'll be back, soon enough.

*This track, incidentally, I identified with the Shazam application on my phone, which appears to 'know its shit'. I had rather assumed it would only be able make identifications of the order of whether something was Lily Allen or not, but the music database seems to be surprisingly good.