#NewMusicFriday: ‘Solarize’ by Capital Cities

Establishing an intergalactic theme with an abundance of synth, Capital Cities’ second album Solarize lives up to its name, but fails to offer the same catchiness as its predecessor.

Having started off writing jingles together, the duo behind Capital Cities, Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian, are quite experienced in what makes a catchy hit.

Their debut album, In A Tidal Wave of Mystery, came packed with them. Bubbly, upbeat electronica mixed with the occasional flair of saxophone defined the duo as an inventive pop funk group – their collaboration with André 3000, Farrah Fawcett Hair, fully demonstrating their creative abilities.

Fast forward to their sophomore album, and it’s clear that the pair wanted to strike a slightly different tone to their next release. Out goes the vibrant, punchy grooves, in comes a slightly stripped-back and chilled vibe – save for the track Vowels, which is a refreshing look back at a style almost non-existent on the album.

The only other place on the record where one can expect to find something familiar is on the track, Gatekeeper Julie. Like Farrah Fawcett Hair, the track is full of spoken lines, but this feels more like a distant relative of the hit, with the constant voice interruptions sounding like a friend repeatedly talking over that song you like which is playing on the radio.

This is only one of a handful of songs which are new on the album, with most either being singles or from an EP released previously. As for what remains, nothing really stands out.

While the change in style on Solarize is to be respected, the quieter sound comes at the expense of catchier, vibrant melodies.

Rating: 3/5

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‘The Jungle’ review – a raw and important tale of community at the heart of the refugee crisis

Incredibly immersive and delivered by a phenomenal cast, The Jungle gets to the heart of the refugee crisis in an emotional tale of hope, community and companionship.

In the UK, the Calais Jungle and the refugee crisis have only been observed from afar. Media coverage shines a light on the issue, but there is still a degree of separation – a barrier instantly broken down in Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson’s latest production.

With singing and dancing too, this West End production is a brilliant piece of theatre. Photo: Marc Brenner.

If you’re lucky enough to get stall seats, then you find yourself in Miriam Buether’s ‘Afghan Cafe’, the stalls section which is very much part of the stage. Actors hand out leaflets about “another proposed eviction of the Jungle”, naans and drinks to audience members as they enter. Cultural music plays. The fourth wall is instantly broken, and you are immediately immersed in the environment.

It’s the sense of community which really shines through over the two hours and forty minutes, as cast members bounce off each other’s performances seamlessly and with ease.

So much so that there is not one overall stand-out actor. Ammar Haj Ahmad (who plays the main protagonist, Safi) delivers mesmerising monologues in an embracing and welcoming tone, whilst Ben Turner charms as the dedicated restaurant owner, Salah. Black Mirror star Alex Lawther is impressive as a British aid worker, and Trevor Fox offers some brilliant comic relief as Boxer.

Although fictional, Murphy and Robertson’s script does a phenomenal job of exploring the Calais Jungle with pure honesty. Okot (John Pfumojena)’s monologue about his attempt to make it to the UK is one of the most heartbreaking and moving parts of the play. Important points about the crisis are bluntly communicated throughout – as much as the play draws you in, it also leaves you with questions to ask once you’ve left your seat.

As such, The Jungle stands as both an excellent and important work of theatre and as one of the most important plays to see this year. Thought-provoking, moving and incredibly immersive, this must-see production is exactly what theatre should be.

Rating: 5/5

The Jungle is now playing at The Playhouse Theatre in London from now until the 3 November.

#NewMusicFriday: ‘Tie Me Down’ by Gryffin (feat. Elley Duhé)

In keeping with his traditional style, Tie Me Down sees Gryffin combine a powerful female vocalist with flowing lyrics, a trap beat and hazy synths to make another catchy and vibrant dance hit.

Elley Duhé is certainly making a name for herself in the dance community lately. Riding off the success of a collaboration with Zedd on the track Happy Now, the American singer-songwriter has joined forces with yet another dance great.

With Duhé’s original music already containing somewhat of a trap rhythm, Gryffin certainly caters to the artist’s talents whilst also offering something a bit more creative and challenging. Lyrics are delivered at different speeds flirt with an offbeat rhythm underneath. There’s a sense that the singer is in her element here – and that’s certainly shown in her performance.

Elsewhere, Gryffin’s production talent shines through with the song’s seamless progression through verses and chorus. A subtle guitar melody guides the vocals through the verse into the build-up, switching from light instrumentals to full-on hazy synth vibes. Such is Gryffin’s skill as a producer that such a development from a stripped-back feel to a loud hook never feels rushed or sudden.

Credit must also be given to the lyrics to the track, which offers something different to the over-saturated topic of a difficult relationship and helps create a catchy chorus at the heart of the song. Tie Me Down is an incredibly slick, fresh and creative collaboration from the American DJ and Elley Duhé.

Tie Me Down is available now on Apple Music and Spotify.

If Facebook wants to be completely transparent, then its time for them to reveal their algorithm | Liam O’Dell

With the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s Select Committee calling for more transparency around the business models used by social media platforms such as Facebook, the rise of data politics means that the algorithms can no longer be kept a secret.

It’s a system so mysterious that it’s become a game to content creators and data miners – a series of hoops to jump through that can get them to the audience they want. Crack the algorithm, and you crack a system which is, in essence, the hive mind of those which use said platform. Cambridge Analytica have shown that it can be done, which is why it’s time that the inner workings of social media sites are revealed to the public.

Photo: Anthony Quintano/Flickr.

This level of transparency was also called for by a report by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s Select Committee (DCMSC), along with a new definition for social media websites which are “not necessarily either a ‘platform’ or a ‘publisher'”.

There has been ongoing talk about Facebook’s precise role in the tech and media industries, and whether it is indeed a ‘publisher’. Yet, as the DCMSC notes: “Facebook is continually altering what we see, as is shown by its decision to prioritise content from friends and family, which then feeds into users’ newsfeed algorithm.”

More importantly, it’s time for social media platforms to fully disclose what exactly their algorithm is. The Cambridge Analytica scandal has shown that this is a serious ethical issue. It’s essential that something so impactful and manipulative is out in the open, so the public knows just how they are being influenced.

Recently, Channel 4’s Dispatches investigated how Facebook moderates content on its platform, and questions are being asked about what sort of content the site decides not to take down. Monika Bickert, Facebook’s Head of Global Policy Management, told the DCMSC that “our community would not want us, a private company, to be the arbiter of truth”, yet their systems display content in a particular way, and they still have to make decisions about what content they do not allow on their platform.

In turn, social media sites may claim that publishing extensive details about their algorithms may harm their company when it comes to competition, but this issue covers freedom of expression and democracy – two things which cannot continue to be sacrificed for protecting ‘trade secrets’.

Granted, knowing how such a system works may be a gold mine for those who seek to exploit it (clickbaiters, data miners and so forth), but when the general public know how a system can be cheated, they can also know how others can use it for monetary gain. Those who publish fake news will be faced with a fresh wave of scepticism when people know the tactics that they use.

If Facebook doesn’t want to be seen as an “arbiter of truth”, then the solution is simple: make the algorithm more transparent, and then the people can decide the truth for themselves.

Funding for an inclusive transport network is good news, but long overdue | Liam O’Dell

A £30 million boost to public transport – combined with continuous improvements in technology – means we’re one step closer to a fully accessible and inclusive network for disabled people.

Public transport already comes with an air of traditional British awkwardness. Eye contact with fellow train passengers is heavily discouraged, conversations with your taxi driver never extend beyond small talk and if you play hardcore dubstep too loud through your headphones you’ll be met with 22 death stares from commuters on the Circle Line.

Now imagine this experience as a disabled person. For many autistic people, the loud noises of the London Underground can be nothing more than overwhelming. For wheelchair users, some train stations come without step-free access. Then, for a deaf young person like me, all it takes is an announcement over a tannoy on a train and I start to feel lost and confused.

Photo: Department for Transport.

I turn to the commuter next to me.

“What did they say?” I ask.

Except I don’t.

For one thing, I’ve come to assume that the train coming to a halt and the garbling voice of the driver in an announcement means that the journey is most likely delayed. A quick look at Trainline on my phone confirms it, and saves me from breaking the eerie silence that returns once the driver has finished talking.

While technology has helped to improve accessibility on public transport for me and other disabled people, the inclusivity of a bus journey or taxi ride is significantly enhanced when tech combines with physical improvements – which is why I welcome the Department for Transport’s announcement this week that up to £300 million is to be invested in making transport networks in the UK more inclusive.

In their Inclusive Transport Strategy, the Government commits to legislation to ensure that “on-board audible and visible upcoming stop and route information is installed on local bus services across Great Britain” – a reassuring move indeed.

From a deaf person’s perspective, the strategy could also go further, and address tannoy systems on trains and taxis. Granted, the option of taking the front passenger seat in taxis is an option for me when I need to hear the driver, but there’s always been that expectation that you’ll struggle to open the back door, not sit at the front. The end result is having to try and make out the driver’s voice in amongst the hum of the traffic which seeps through the doors.

The strategy also talks about how 75% of rail journeys are now through stations with step-free access, but it could also commit to 100% within a certain timeframe. Similarly, the Government plans to launch a public awareness campaign in 2019 around positively interacting with disabled people “to ensure a supportive travelling experience”. This needs to start now.

Only last week did we hear of a disabled comedian who was “humiliated” for using a disabled space on a train for her mobility scooter when another passenger wanted to use it for a pram. It’s an ongoing issue around priority seats which also highlighted in a campaign by comedian Corry Shaw, who called for Transport to London (TfL) to introduce messages asking people to ‘look up’ and see if someone needs your seat.

As more funding is announced for disabled facilities on public transport, we also need to ensure that such support is not exploited and that non-disabled people are aware of its intended purpose just as much as disabled people.

The Global Disability Summit 2018: Disabled people must be at the heart of change | Liam O’Dell

As the first ever Global Disability Summit – organised by the Department for International Development – gets underway, we must remember that disabled people have to be at the heart of all positive change.

The sheer hypocrisy of having the UK Government host an event on disability following last year’s “human catastrophe” verdict by the UN is more significant than you may think.

With delegates discussing topics such as “tackling stigma and discrimination, inclusive education, technology and innovation” and looking to ways of implementing change, it’s important to consider the actions and attitudes which both underpin and hinder social progress.

Photo: Department for International Development (DfID).

At the centre of all this is media and political representation. Disabled people long for accurate portrayals in film and television of those with similar impairments to their own, devoid of the ‘inspiration porn’ and warped fascination that surrounds disability. In politics, decisions on benefits and support for disabled people stir up negative stereotypes, and in some cases, they aren’t even consulted on government changes.

Both of these issues combine to dramatically limit the power and voice of disabled people in society. Charities launch campaigns aimed at ‘ending the awkward’ around disability because the actions of politicians – supported by the press – create an atmosphere where the only understanding people have of impairments, conditions and disabled people is through government policy and the limited media representation – that is unless they visit charity websites or know someone who is disabled, of course.

However, there’s a possibility that this awkwardness and issue has transferred into education and other areas of society. While my experience at school regarding additional support was absolutely incredible, not everyone has the same opportunities during their time in the education system. For some, if measures are put in place to help them, it’s with little involvement from the disabled person themselves.

So now, as organisations look to implement the Charter for Change, it’s reassuring that one of the ten clauses within it is to:

“promote the leadership and diverse representation of all persons with disabilities to be front and centre of change; as leaders, partners and advocates. This includes the active involvement and close consultation of persons with disabilities of all ages.”

Summits are a great opportunity for discussion and debate – to talk, and to listen. If there’s a global effort to enforce the above pledge, then we can elevate the platforms of disabled people around the world, informing policy and breaking down stereotypes and misconceptions in our society that have existed for far too long.

Are you disabled and between 11 and 30 years old? If so, the Global Disability Summit is inviting you to share your thoughts on some of the issues disabled people face around the world. The survey is online now. I’ve completed it, and I hope you do too.

Disconnected

This little corner of the Internet has been gathering dust over the past few months. Sure, there’s been theatre and music reviews which have kept things moving forward, but the previous schedule I used to have on The Life of a Thinker is pretty much non-existent.

As I write this, I wonder if my lack of posting falls under the wider creative block I’ve experienced since leaving university. I’ve been able to produce more journalistic articles now that I’ve finished (today saw me hand in my keys to my flat – I am now completely finished bar my graduation in September), but returning to blog posts and structures which existed prior to my third year of university feels weird and alien to me now. Uni life has led to a break and sense of disconnect that means any chance of me picking up where I left off is minimal and slim – my memory of a regular blog schedule buried underneath all the recollections of my dissertation work, exams and more.

I think I probably need some time to think about how regularly I blog and what type of content I write about. Life updates and music reviews are the two main types of content on The Life of a Thinker and for the longest time I have considered just turning this into a music blog, but to do that would require saying goodbye to the more journalistic articles that appear on my blog from time to time.

At the moment, with music reviews and life updates taking up Fridays and Sundays on my schedule, that still leaves Mondays and Wednesdays free. One could probably be filled with more opinion pieces (which I need to get back to doing) but the other is still blank. I’ve considered more TV reviews on this blog – would that be of interest to you? Let me know.

I apologise that this probably isn’t the most substantial blog post or explanation as to where I’ve been or what comes next, but I hope that with time, my ideas for what happens next to my corner of the internet will become clearer.

Thanks for sticking around.