#NewMusicFriday: ‘Glass Mansion’ by Elephante

The second EP from American DJ and producer Elephante (real name Tim Wu) contains songs as delicate as the record title itself. Glass Mansion, following on from the artist’s 2016 debut I Am the Elephante, seems to adopt a more stripped-back sound whilst still preserving the electric grit and punch of the previous release.

It’s a sound which was hinted by singles such as Troubled and Come Back for You, switching pulsating  synths for smooth guitar melodies. With that being said, the chill vibes of Plans appear throughout the EP, and the grungy Black Ivory instrumental gets a follow-up in the form of Red Smoke.

Come Back for You opens up the EP with smooth guitar, dramatic fanfare and marimba alongside soulful vocals courtesy of Matluck. It’s a song which feels somewhat selfish lyric-wise, working with the instrumentals to give off a sense of loud, bold bravado. It’s certainly a strong introduction to the nine-track release.

Contrast this with the following three songs, and the record becomes more reflective. Have It All featuring Elephante regular Nevve (from Catching On and Sirens on the previous record) comes with a slightly harsher feel no doubt compounded by deep, hazy synths. It’s a return to true Phante grit, but unlike previous tracks, the instrumentals are saved for the hook. Soft verses pour out emotional messages before being bolstered by expressive choruses which, although not your traditional party sound, bring with them a feeling of calm euphoria.

Off the back of perfect seaside track The In Between, Wu returns to the mic to sing alongside singer Knightly on the bouncy All Over Again – the layered vocals seeming to cleverly represent the frustrations of two individuals stuck in a complicated relationship.

Yet, it’s the fifth track of the EP, No Room for Lovers, which is perhaps the most significant. Not only does it serve as the beginning of a new emotional mindset across the remainder of the record, but it also strikes listeners as being the most ‘out there’ in terms of Elephante’s typical sound.

Completely devoid of any electronica, this track – featuring female vocalist Crystal – instead adopts plucky guitar and a fluid drum beat to give it a boisterous, confident groove. It’s your traditional sassy funk hit, and it sure as hell embraces that.

After Red Smoke serves up an expressive instrumental break, the final three songs of the EP become increasingly reflective, uploading and upbeat in nature, concluding an emotional arc present across the nine tracks.

In a series of tweets on Twitter, Wu said the EP is about “the journey of finding grace and happiness in a half-built home” and over the course of the record, the producer takes a creative and imaginative approach to this concept whilst also fleshing out a new stripped back style.

If his debut I Am the Elephante was the weekend party record, then Elephante’s Glass Mansion is the EP for chilled evenings.

Rating: 4/5

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‘Quiz’ review – James Graham’s ‘coughing major’ play explores justice in a post-truth era

James Graham’s latest play Quiz is one of binary oppositions. At its heart, audience members tackle the question of whether ‘coughing major’ Charles Ingram was guilty or not guilty of cheating on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, whilst also exploring truth versus falsehood, and showbiz versus justice.

Photo: Johan Persson.

No doubt a political playwright, Graham says the “curious overlapping of light entertainment with criminal justice” in the Ingram case became a “prominent theme” whilst working on the play. Yet this particular point feels lost in amongst the nostalgic, exaggerated and slightly excessive quiz presenter impressions by Keir Charles (although this portrayal was most likely deliberate), the brief media circus scenes, gimmicks in the court case and the audience pub quiz. Although a treat for hardcore gameshow fans, the connection is a weak one.

Perhaps the strongest point suggested by Graham is one around post-truth – a political concept surging in importance in a time of Trump and Brexit. As both acts explore different narratives in the trial before asking the audience to vote, confirmation bias and manipulation are thrust into the spotlight for the crowd’s scrutiny. In a time where we find ourself subscribing to different narratives and interpretations of the facts, the investigation of this through the courtroom is Graham’s strongest point.

Accompanying the thought-provoking writing are some great performances from the cast. Utopia‘s Gavin Spokes delivers an impressive performance as the eccentric major, Stephanie Street is a solid Diana Ingram and Greg Haiste plays a variety of roles with vibrancy. Sarah Woodward and Paul Bazely also give enthusiastic portrayals of the two lawyers involved in the trial.

Chuck all this in with audience participation and a fourth wall break, and you have a thrilling multi-media production that both investigates and challenges reality. Quiz is a must for big thinkers and gameshow fanatics.

Rating: 4/5

Trump’s state visit cannot be ignored | Liam O’Dell

Just like you shouldn’t fight fire with fire, you can’t defeat bigotry with ignorance.

The comments on the official Facebook page for protesting Trump’s state visit makes for interesting reading. In amongst the comments opposing Donald’s presidency are a few suggesting a different reaction to POTUS’s arrival, which is to simply ignore him.

Donald Trump
First people wanted Trump’s state visit application to be revoked outright, now they’re suggesting we ignore him completely. Both are the wrong approach. Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode.

This is particularly interesting when one considers the response to the news already. When May made the extremely premature offer to Trump just a few months after he was elected, petitions were launched calling for the invitation to be revoked. It hasn’t, and rightly so. At a time where people voice concerns over speakers being censored on university campuses (a place people say is the centre for debate, critical analysis and discussion), it would be incredibly hypocritical for us to take the stance of banning him outright, rather than allowing him to visit the UK to be met with opposition. The former shows ignorance and hostility, the latter sees a fair and decent approach to differing opinions which we need to see in our society.

Now that that option is off the table, the next idea seems to be simply ignoring the fact that the so-called ‘leader of the free world’ is visiting the UK – something which is not only completely impossible, but has failed to get the President’s attention in the past.

Those holding this opinion most likely believe that for a man who came from the world of reality television, not getting the attention of a large audience is the most irritating thing to happen to Trump. Quite possibly, but in all the times that the leader has unleashed anger and frustration in less than 280 characters, it has been with regards to more public acts of defiance. Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and others have all succeeded in getting the President riled through high-profile political messages, not members of the public who have decided to not pay attention when Trump is in their country on a state visit.

Donald’s affinity for Fox and Friends and extensive rants on Twitter paint the picture of a man who is, primarily, a man who prefers visual, easily understandable information – something which both platforms provide.

This brings me to the planned protests on Friday, 13 July. When images surfaced of the crowd size for Trump’s inauguration, the 45th President didn’t take the news too well. Some might argue that protesting may lead to further unnecessary hostility or Trump seeing it as a positive, but if enough people protest, and it makes the news, he’ll realise that all the attention is for all the wrong reasons.

Not only that, but the right to protest is an essential part of British democracy, and would be a welcome return to a peaceful and civilised approach to public discourse around socio-political issues. As one of the organisers, columnist Owen Jones wrote on the Facebook event: “We’re not just protesting against Trump, we’re protesting against Trumpism, including in our own country: where minorities are blamed for the injustices caused by the powerful.”

People thinking of ignoring Trump fail to realise the bigger issue here and to separate personalities from politics. As Owen says, the protest will also take a stand against Trumpism. Ignoring the president when he visits could very well be the right response when it comes to an individual with such an ego, but we must remember to protest what he stands for – something which cannot be ignored, no matter what.

By not paying attention to Trump, we would also reveal the polar opposite of the hostile political debate which we see in our society. While anonymous Twitter users fire hate and personal attacks at politicians and commentators online instead of criticising the issue itself, a new idea has emerged where outright refusing to acknowledge or challenge political ideas is considered the best approach. It is not, and such an idea must be tackled before it finds itself nestled in our political discourse.

In today’s climate, we must strike the middle ground which is devoid of ad hominem remarks or plain ignorance. A return to passionate but civilised discussions on the topic at hand is needed now more than ever.

To meme or not to meme? Thoughts on the EU Commission’s Article 13 copyright directive | Liam O’Dell

Try to regulate the Internet, and you will get memed.

In the middle of a controversial debate around net neutrality in the United States, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai tried to win support with a cringeworthy promotional video. In addition to the strong opposition to the new plans, the video was repeatedly mocked and parodied by Internet creators around the world.

Photo: World Bank Photo Collection/Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode.

Next in line to propose new regulations on the Internet is the European Commission, who, through a new copyright directive known as Article 13, want to “[improve] the position of rightholders to negotiate and be remunerated for the exploitation of their content by online services giving access to user-uploaded content” and make sure that “authors and rightholders receive a fair share of the value that is generated by the use of their works and other subject-matter”.

The concern comes from campaign groups such as Save Your Internet, who argue that websites will have to “implement complex and expensive filtering systems and will be held liable for copyright infringement, potentially incurring fines that threaten their economic viability”.

“The days of communicating through gifs and memes, listening to our favourite remixes online or sharing videos of our friends singing at karaoke might be coming to an end,” it goes on to add. It was these specific concerns about memes which made the headlines in media organisations such as BBC News and Sky News, and led to many young and witty remainers to joke that they now support the vote to leave the EU in 2016’s referendum.

As with most policies, there is a degree of ambiguity and over-the-top formality in the EU Commission’s proposal, but campaigners are right to voice concerns about Article 13 affecting memes. In the UK, there’s certain instances where duplicates of copyrighted work such as photos and videos can be monetised – provided the new version is transformative. In other words, creative forms such as reviews and parodies are covered under fair use or fair dealing because they bring new ideas to the table, and thus don’t infringe upon the market of the original work.

Before I elaborate, I should stress and issue a disclaimer that I am not a legal expert or lawyer, and so my knowledge of copyright and fair use comes from my time on YouTube and as a journalism student whose dabbled a little bit in media law.

Upon hearing this news for the first time, I was curious to know how such a proposal – if fully backed and passed within the different organisations within the EU – would be enforced. However, after seeing the term “recognition technologies” within the document, it’s clear that we’re talking about systems similar to YouTube’s Content ID function. Yet, even that has it’s problems…

With any legislation – especially those regarding any form of expression (e.g. free speech laws or copyright laws) – it’s important that it allows for context. On a site like YouTube, for example, video game cutscenes may be flagged for copyright infringement when they may be a part of a play through by a games reviewer. YouTube film critics face issues around copyrighted movie footage which, for a video-sharing site, is essential for illustrating their review. In all of these instances a computer system may struggle to understand the underlying context in which the copyrighted content is placed. Searches for matching content can be easily coded and incorporated into an algorithm – context cannot.

Therefore, I am mainly sceptical of this proposal, but that’s not to say that I don’t see where the EU Commission is coming from. Whilst the possible restriction on memes is ridiculous and nonsensical and falls under transformative fair use, I do believe that more adequate protection needs to be put in place for talented artists who may find companies using their drawings and illustrations online without credit.

Although, this brings me to another issue with this policy. Whilst legislation can be a blanket law to address a rare event or a small instance, group etc., on this occasion, using algorithms to scan whole websites for this one specific issue may actually do more harm than good. We have to protect artists and illustrators who are having their content duplicated without no transformative element, but a dragnet algorithm is not the right way. Instead, much like some sites already have flagging and reporting systems, each platform should have a report button which allows creators to request to have the duplicate taken down.

As much as we should be concerned about what Article 13 means for memes, we should also question what alternative laws there needs to be to protect artists’ work.

#NewMusicFriday: ‘Just Got Something’ by Codeko feat. Alex Winston

Lyrically speaking, it has the traditional make-up of a summer dance song. Cue vague and confusing lyrics about something romantic or some unorthodox relationship. Yet, it’s the instrumental elements of Codeko and Alex Winston’s Just Got Something which gives this track an edge.

A fluid, off-beat drum beat allows for some interesting experimentation with pace and tempo throughout the song, Winston’s soft vocals often overlapping with the snappy snare drum. It’s this bouncy rhythm already established at the start of the song which lends itself to the track’s build-up, working alongside pulsing, hazy synth to create suspense before the main hook.

The melody itself clearly establishes what sort of vibe the song wanted to go for. Pronounced synth notes which sound somewhat like trumpets allude to a carnival tone, complete with an electronic fanfare. Mix that with a punchy drum beat and you have something a lot more interesting…

Just Got Something is available now, both on Spotify and Apple Music.

A Matter of Time…

It’s been nearly two months, and staring at a blank page feels… weird.

It shouldn’t be. The fear of the blank page has kind of faded away as I write essay after essay after essay and then a 10,000 word dissertation on top. Yet, I imagine that the feeling of disconnect has come around as a result of my rather lengthy absence from blogging, with the last post being published on 13 April. Sorry about that.

Photo: Pixabay.

Although, on the topic of dissertations, I now face a particular dilemma when it comes to my writing. Three years of academic coursework has programmed my brain somewhat into writing – and reading – non-fiction. It’s either factual journalism, or a detailed essay. The former (if it’s broadcast journalism), allows for some creativity, but for the most part, it’s quotations, analysis and formulaic structures. Big academic subjects have drawn me to books on post-truth, politics and media law. Whilst they have all been fascinating, I fear that getting back into reading and writing fiction will take a very long time indeed.

Yesterday night saw me meet up with fellow writers (both of fiction and non-fiction) and I remember explaining to them that the creative spark – the one where a random character or story idea just pops into your head – has just… gone.

At the end of the evening, I reached this conclusion that this balance between being able to write both journalistic articles and works of fiction would be struck at some point in the future. It would just be a matter of time – and time is something I have a lot of at the moment.

After all, I’ve pretty much finished university now. I mean, I have one shorthand exam towards the end of June (which is external and not to do with coursework) followed by some work experience and then that it me finished at Lincoln until September, when I graduate in a cathedral, which is pretty cool.

Until then (and indeed afterwards), I have a period of time on my hands – ‘free time’, you could say. With no more assignments to complete or any additional commitments to honour, I’m faced with the same freedom I faced at the end of previous academic years, except this feeling is more permanent.

Now comes the job search and an empty diary to be filled with opportunities, job interviews and networking events.

I started writing this questioning whether ‘A Matter of Time’ was the right title for this piece, but now I realise that the phrase is one which I have heard a lot of recently, and it is the perfect way to describe the position in which I find myself.

At the start of my degree in Lincoln, I was told it would only be ‘a matter of time’ before I find myself at the end of my three years, ready to graduate. It’ll hopefully only be ‘a matter of time’ before my love and inspiration for writing fiction returns. It’s only ‘a matter of time’ before I get my first job after graduating…

If the next steps of my life post-education all come down to ‘a matter of time’, then I’m not waiting around.