Musical Discovery: ‘You’ by BLOXX

There’s always something exciting about finding a new band at the start of their musical journey. With nearly 3K followers on Twitter and only two singles under their belt, BLOXX (a four piece indie band from Uxbridge, West London) are still very much in their early stages, but have jumped in to the indie genre with gusto. You only need to look as far as their first track (Your Boyfriend) and their latest release, You – which came out last Friday – for proof.

A guitar melody which, upon first listen, sounded reminiscent of the Friends theme tune sets the upbeat, rocky tone for this track. Contrast Mozwin’s pounding drums with Ophelia Booth’s soft, mumbling vocals and you have a gritty indie anthem perfect for both live gigs and bedroom listening.

For the most part, it’s the ‘all too familiar’ guitar riffs and bass drums which are the true driving force of the song, but credit must also be given to Booth’s sound in the chorus. Now adopting a louder voice, it adds to the emotion created by the backing instruments to form the usual indie track we know and love.

As You builds on the success of Your Boyfriend, it looks as though we can expect to hear more of Bloxx on the radio in the future (the band have already had some coverage from the BBC), as well as some new material to boost the summer mood.

There’s a hidden truth behind the snap election – we must be suspicious | Liam O’Dell

After nearly three weeks since the triggering of Article 50, the Tories have finally spat out the Brexit pill which no party wants to swallow. A snap election on June 8 will continue to create more uncertainty that Theresa May promised to end.

Photo: Number 10 on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/.

“At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division.

“The country is coming together, but Westminster is not,” the Prime Minister said in a speech earlier today.

We must be suspicious. An arrogant Conservative Party determined to defy the rulings of judges and Lords to pass the Brexit Bill has once again resorted to Cameron’s levels of cowardice. Voters will remember that, but they must question the true reason for calling the election.

The immediate presumption would be that it is an attempt to decimate Labour, but that is questionable. It seems too great a risk for May to sacrifice the Tory majority (and a supposed lack of opposition on Brexit from Corbyn) to ‘kill’ the left-wing party. If the PM expects to win back a majority in June, then she is forgetting that a general election has become more than a Labour vs. Conservative battle.

A call for a snap election is – of course – a gamble, and it’s one May appears to have taken due to the disunity in other parties (according to her speech, at least).

With Labour’s in-fighting continuing to bubble every once in a while, the SNP tackling their own referendum and the Lib Dem’s membership slowly rising, it seems as though May is aiming for a wipeout whilst building upon her majority. But when has disunity within other parties ever hindered the Tories’ Brexit plans? If anything, it’s almost given May a ‘carte blanche’ to do her thing without any real scrutiny.

It’s even more confusing when the Conservatives have always been arrogant and stubborn when enforcing policies. To gamble their majority for the sake of silencing other parties, or getting them to support their plan, seems unfathomable.

So what is the explanation for the snap election? My friend Jarrad Johnson raises an interesting point, saying on Twitter that “someone or something has forced May’s hands behind the scenes.”

It’s an interesting comment when we look back at the past. The last time we had a vote between the typical five-year period was, of course, the 2016 EU referendum. On that occasion, it was believed that this was to end the internal conflict within the Tory party about whether we should leave the European Union. Now, as we face another surprise election before the end of the usual five-year term, we have to consider whether the same arguments are occurring once more.

Musical Discovery: ‘Caught Up’ by Sarah Close

There’s something reminiscent of Natasha Bedingfield and Eliza Doolittle in Sarah Close’s voice. Soft and sweet vocals are something her 754,000 YouTube subscribers (more or less) have been treated to for many years now. However, it was last week that the 21-year-old singer-songwriter released her debut EP – which includes the title track, Caught Up.

Jumpy synth chords and double-bass drums introduce the track, setting the perfect, bouncy rhythm to accompany Sarah’s fast-paced, rap-like vocals. With each line having its own speed (take the slowed down tick, tick, tick and the opening line, I’m dressed like a beauty queen, for example), listeners are entertained and intrigued right up to the chorus, which adopts a softer approach.

It’s almost as if the flowing verses see Sarah air her frustrations and annoyance at the partner, whilst the delicate chorus sounds more curious and intrigued, with nothing more than light synths accompanying the first refrain. On the second occasion, piano and drums heighten this emotion and upbeat feel. It has the traditional vibe of the pop genre from the noughties, with modern synths bringing the track up-to-date.

With Close already receiving Radio 1 airplay with her track, Call Me Out (also on the debut EP), it looks likely that this fun and upbeat pop track will also reach similar levels of success for Sarah in the future.

In Development…

This week has been one of progression. It started earlier this week with me making a return to public speaking. The last time I had to give a presentation to someone, it was in May last year, when I went to Leeds to give a presentation about myself and my time as a member of the National Deaf Children’s Society’s Youth Advisory Board. Although reading a book by TED’s Chris Anderson provided me with some reassurance, I was still fairly new to the experience.

The presentation still went really well and it was great talking to the young people there, but I had certainly improved when I gave a talk to Central Bedfordshire Council’s Youth Voice on Tuesday this week.

It was a talk on social media, fake news and campaigning, and I was quite flattered that I was asked to chat about the subject (after all, I hardly see myself as an expert on these). Despite that, as I worked my way through the presentation slides, I could sense my own confidence and was able to talk at great length about the three issues. I suppose on this occasion, I was able to chat more about Twitter than I was about myself – but I think that came down to preparing the presentation in advance.

Overall, it was a great experience, the conference itself was great fun, and I even walked away with a greater idea about what my dissertation for next year, too.

It was also on that day that I was offered the role of Editor at the University of Lincoln’s student newspaper, The Linc. After spending the past year as News Editor at the paper, it’s an honour to take the next step up and accept the offer. I look forward to working with a great team next year.

Speaking of third year, it’s as my second year comes to a close that once again, I reflect on what my university experience so far has given me. Already, I have done amazing things with the community radio station in Lincoln and the student newspaper. I’ve applied the skills I’ve learned (such as shorthand, learning about politics and making FOI requests) outside of university and they have given me new opportunities as well.

As my final year approaches, there’s no doubt at all that it was the right decision, but I continue to be amazed at just how quickly time flies.

Musical Discovery: ‘Nothing Without You’ by Emma Blackery

Even before YouTuber and singer-songwriter Emma Blackery released her first track from her upcoming EP, Magnetised, fans were offered cryptic hints about the record’s story. ‘Mending’ was the one word the 25-year-old used to describe the collection of songs, and is an accurate term upon hearing the first single, Nothing Without You – which came out at midnight on Tuesday.

Aside from the line ‘I would be nothing without you‘ obviously alluding to Blackery’s gratitude at an ex-boyfriend for everything he has helped her achieve, lyrics such as ‘you shape me into who I wanted to be/and you made me take a look at myself and see‘ also touch upon this theme. In a comment on the music video on YouTube, Emma explained that this was a happy song – which provided some clarity after hearing negative lines like ‘I got shackles round my feet/They’re tying me to this place‘ in the track. Yet as a whole, the positive message becomes apparent after multiple listens (it’s that catchy) but it’s not just the lyrics which give off this vibe.

From the lively piano chords to the expressive drum rhythm throughout, the track’s instrumentals certainly continue this upbeat tone, but it’s Blackery’s refreshed vocals which really heighten these emotions. Throughout the nearly four-minute long song, listeners can be surprised with the occasional, powerful high notes (particularly in the chorus) from Emma, displaying increased passion and confidence both in terms of the subject matter and her singing in general.

With Nothing Without You being the first song on the six-track EP, it’s a release which has not only teased Blackery’s direction as an artist, but offered a first glimpse into the narrative of the record. It’s enough to justify the word ‘mending’ whilst keeping us intrigued in finding out how ‘the era of Magnetised unfolds.

Nothing Without You is available now on iTunes and Spotify. The EP, Magnetised, is out on May 26.

Musical Discovery: ‘Galway Girl’ by Ed Sheeran (Martin Jensen Remix)

After his original track Solo Dance made radio airplay in the UK, now is the time for the Danish DJ Martin Jensen to secure another club hit to cement his position in the dance music industry. With his new release – a remix of Ed Sheeran’s Galway Girl – Jensen is back with another smash tune.

The best remixes are always those with a hint of change in the original. Any large-scale changes to a track which is already successful doesn’t bode well for the DJ in question. Thankfully, Jensen was able to make the slightest of adaptations to shift the song from being an Irish ode to being a tropical club remix.

Sheeran’s vocals remain unedited, and so it’s the fluttering instrumentals underneath which is where the All I Wanna Do DJ can flex his muscles. With bouncy synth and drums, there’s more of an exotic feel in Jensen’s versions. It’s even something apparent with the chorus, where we hear the traditional violin melody switched into a light marimba-sounding synth tune. Similarly, the line ‘I just want to dance‘ becomes a fitting build-up to this aspect of the song.

With singer-songwriters such as Ed Sheeran, there are certain tracks which require some soul to give it a bit of a ‘kick’ (read more about that in my review of his new album Divide here). Fortunately, Galway Girl already is an emotive song, and Martin Jensen only heightens that specific feel in this exotic dance remix.

Thoughts on passing my 100wpm shorthand exam

The past seven days have been full of writing and journalism-related opportunities. From an inspiring masterclass from columnist Owen Jones on Monday, to chatting to fellow writers in the local pub on Wednesday, the sense of enthusiasm I gained from talking to imaginative people was fantastic. However, as well as the events, there was also some news. On Tuesday, I found out that I had passed my 100 words-per-minute shorthand exam.

Shorthand Pen and Notebook
Photo: Wannabe Hacks on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/.

There was a sense of disbelief that came with seeing my name on the list of people who had passed. Despite feeling confident after the test, doubt over certain parts of my submission made me question whether I was successful and I was quick to assume that I was unlucky for the third time. I had already began to organise the resit, and so to find out that that was unnecessary was a great weight off my shoulder. The news came as a relief as well as a wonderful surprise.

I always loved shorthand ever since I started learning it back in September 2015. The ability for languages to aid communication – be it breaking down a semantic barrier or help write words quicker – has always fascinated me. Having learned British Sign Language in the space of two years (to a degree that I can now have a full conversation with a BSL user and use fingerspelling if I’m in trouble), I was looking forward to the challenge of reaching the 100wpm milestone as soon as possible.

It took a couple of attempts to get there, though. Unlike other languages where it’s a question of memorising an extensive vocabulary, shorthand is all about building up speed. With that, came plateaus, where it felt like I had reached a certain level and I was stuck there. If I remember rightly, there was one between the 60wpm-80wpm gap, and then getting up to the crucial 100wpm also led to a few problems on this front, too.

Then came the fact that the language requires a lot of quick thinking alongside listening to what the speaker is saying. It’s something which can be difficult as a deaf person when I’m trying to process what I’ve heard (more on this here), but if anything, passing this exam has clearly shown that my speed on that front has improved as well.

As much as shorthand was a challenge, it was of course great fun, too. Like a typical puzzle on the back pages of a newspaper, there was a sense of it being almost like a logical test, too.

When you look back on your notes and see a word missing from a sentence, you often have to look at the other words around the unknown one to get a sense of what it could be (‘context is everything’, as it were). If not that, then trying to decipher the almost text-speak structure of the language would be fun (for example, realising that TRFC was the word ‘traffic’). As someone who loves logic puzzles, I also saw shorthand as a fun game as well as an interesting language. I imagine that feeling won’t fade now that I’ve passed my 100wpm exam.

Whilst my lessons at university have now come to a close, I am never one to completely abandon the languages which I have learned over the years (memories of GCSE French still linger around in my mind) and so I will no doubt continue to use shorthand when in the industry. Thanks must go to my tutor, Pat, for all her encouragement and support over the two years to get me to such a milestone.