Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Music: Can Suede’s Dog Man Star stand the test of time?

With Suede’s first new album in over a decade out this week, we look back at their critically acclaimed album Dog Man Star to see if it stands the test of time...

If you’d asked me when I was 17 what the greatest album ever made was, I would have probably said Dog Man Star by Suede. I was a pretty big Suede fan back then, to such an extent that their fan club was the only one I’d ever joined (though I only did this because I knew they gave away exclusive CDs).

I spent months teaching myself how to play guitar like Suede’s first guitarist Bernard Butler, and even went as far as saving money and trading in my guitar in order to buy one just like Butler played in the live video: a cherry red semi-acoustic electric guitar with violin-style F-holes and a whammy bar that seemed to take its spring from a moped.

One of my friends was also a massive fan of the album, and we would spend hours deconstructing it and enthusing about the intro to ‘The Wild Ones’ or the bass playing on ‘New Generation’. I loved the way that Dog Man Star had been crafted as an album: this wasn’t merely a collection of songs – it had a perfect structure that told a story with a beginning, middle and end. It was during this period that Brett Anderson’s vocals were at their peak. In the albums before and after Dog Man Star, Anderson sung in a higher register, but here his voice is deep and controlled. It’s weird to think back how much of my time I spent obsessing about this album, as I probably haven’t played it in over a decade.

Dog Man Star opens with swagger: ‘Introducing the Band’ is slow, deliberate, and arrogant. Listening to it today, I never realised how much it sounds like Spinal Tap’s tribute to booty, ‘Big Bottom’ – that certainly puts a new spin on things. This being said, it’s a slow-builder that sucks you into the album – a perfect introduction.

‘We are the Pigs’ knocks the swagger levels up a couple of notches to produce an awesome rock-stomper. The guitar playing in this one still gives me goose-bumps: the way Butler’s guitar-work hits you with full force in the chorus is quite staggering. This is followed by ‘Heroine’ which is just mind-blowing, and captures the feeling of nocturnal introspection perfectly. The song is sad and atmospheric, but manages to retain a strange sense of vitality.

‘The Wild Ones’ is equally excellent, and showcases the extent of Anderson’s vocal talent. A lot of artists would have rested on the power of the introduction to ‘The Wild Ones’ and based an entire song around it, but not Suede – the song is huge, anthemic and cinematic; and when Anderson sings in choir-boy tones “We’ll be the wild ones / running with the dogs today” as the instruments drop out, it still sends a shiver down my spine.

‘Daddy’s Speeding’ is a incredibly creepy piece of music that builds and builds before spinning out of control. It’s dark and sorrowful, and is filled with feelings of paranoiac anxiety. ‘The Power’ hasn’t aged well and sounds incredibly cheesy. ‘New Generation’ is a stomper of a rock song. Again, it is Butler’s blues-tinged distorted guitar-work that grabs your attention, with about three guitar solos overlaying each other beneath the song’s chorus, and playing off each other in really interesting ways.

‘This Hollywood Life’ is pure rock sleaze – comparisons to David Bowie in this one are unavoidable. ‘The 2 of Us’ is a moody ballad set to a piano. I used to love this song, but today it sounds rather derivative. ‘Black or Blue’ continues along the same moody path as ‘The 2 of Us’ but with the addition of noodling effect-laden guitars and a big cinematic chorus. Again, it doesn’t grab me in the same way that it used to, and can’t help but sound dated.

‘The Asphalt World’ is simply breathtaking, and easily rates as one of Suede’s best songs. The song is packed full of angst and frustration that seems to seep from every instrument. There’s this feeling of passive rage in Anderson’s vocal delivery that doesn’t appear on any other of his recordings – this is a stunning piece of music.

Album-closer ‘Still Life’ was always my favourite song on the album, but today it sounds incredibly naff, reminding me of the soundtrack to some bad film from the 90s that is superficially very good, but on closer consideration is actually incredibly vapid – something like Chasing Amy or Garden State, for example. It’s a song that is massively theatrical, but feels a bit too campy and self-indulgent to take seriously.

This is still a very good album. There are a few tracks that I used to really like that now sound quite tired and dated, but those that don’t still sound awesome.

This article was featured on Sabotage Time.

Suede Official.
Suede Wikipedia.
Suede bio.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Podcasts: Interview with David Cartwright of Manic Chord Theatre

Interview with founder of Manic Chord Theatre, David Cartwright about their forthcoming performance at Temple Works, Leeds.

Get tickets.
Manic Chord Theatre on Facebook.
Follow on Twitter: @ManicChord.
Temple Works.

Reportage: iPhone journalism - a visually impaired perspective

It’s not easy trying to embrace new technologies when you’re visually impaired, but if Journalism Week has taught me one thing, it’s how to adapt.

I’ve been training as a journalist since January at Leeds Trinity University, working towards the postgraduate NCTJ in Magazine Journalism. As someone interested in writing features and reviews, I was surprised by the emphasis on multi-platform journalism and multimedia technologies.

I’ve always been willing to embrace technology, but the iPhone is a device that I’ve largely ignored, associating it with obnoxious proto-gangsters who linger on the backseats of buses, thin men sporting bad facial hair and trilbies, and tech geeks. So when the tutors and guest speakers were singing the iPhone’s praises, I was initially sceptical.

We had a number of workshops on the iPhone and mobile journalism. We learnt how to use it for taking photographs, recording audio, and for making and editing video. We were shown how to use apps like iMovie and Voddio, and then how to publish content onto sites like YouTube and SoundCloud.

This is where I ran into difficulties.

I have a progressive eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa which means I have no peripheral vision and i have trouble with certain lights and colours.

I kept relying on fellow students to select the app I needed as the icons were too small for me to read. I found the screen to be either too dim or too glary to comfortably look at, and some of the apps were too small and detailed to use.

When Journalism Week arrived, I decided to stick with the technology I was comfortable with - a Nikon D3100 DSLR camera, a laptop computer, and a HHB FlashMic. I spent the week photographing speakers, writing articles, and conducting audio interviews. One tutor joked that I was “off-roading”.

It was apparent that those using the iPhones were ahead of the game. They could simply record an audio, edit it on screen, and have it sent to SoundCloud within seconds. I had to use card readers, USB leads, and wait while things transferred from one device to another, before editing it and then uploading it manually to SoundCloud.

This is another place where I ran into difficulty.

The SoundCloud interface was not made with the visually impaired in mind. This meant that I had to email the audio to the editor, and get them to upload it on my behalf.

Of course the audio quality on the iPhone doesn’t match the FlashMic, and a good DSLR will always take better photos. But what came through quite clearly during Journalism Week was just how convenient it is to have everything on the same device that can publish instantly.

I won’t be using the iPhone for mobile reporting, but I hope that Apple will consider releasing an iPhone with a much larger screen, or an iPad with a broadcast-quality microphone. Perhaps then I’ll be willing to invest.

Large portions of this article were used on Journalism.co.uk.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Podcasts: Andrew Edwards on journalistic integrity and trust

Andrew Edwards (BBC Radio Leeds) gives advice to trainee journalists about the issues of trust and responsibility in broadcast journalism.

BBC Radio Leeds.
Andrew Edwards' BBC profile.
Follow: @RadioAndrewE.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Review: Northern Ballet presents: The Great Gatsby

Translating a novel so entrenched in the lore of 20th Century literature into dance is an ambitious task at the best of times, especially when the novel in question is as subtle and ironic as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Art Deco masterpiece, The Great Gatsby.

Choreographer David Nixon had his work cut out for him when trying to present the story of The Great Gatsby through the medium of ballet. Without Fitzgerald’s dialogue, the story takes a backseat. It is perhaps for this reason that the performance focuses on the glamour and decadence of Gatsby’s famous parties. It is brimming with elaborate costumes, mesmerizing dance routines, and a sumptuous jazz soundtrack.

What makes Northern Ballet’s production so interesting is the seamless way in which seemingly disparate styles are fused together. A ballet-tinged Charleston near the end of the first half becomes a fascinating spectacle when, for the first time in the performance, the cast begins to sing rambunctiously along with the score.

The ballet’s epiphanic moment comes during the final scene. The fatal love story comes to a climax, and the loss of hope is palpable - a subtle change to the scenery during the final moments is heartbreaking.

What let the ballet down, however, was its characterisation. In the first half, the stage is so crowded that it is difficult to tell who the main characters are. During the second half, the cast is whittled down to the key players who remain almost static in their character development. Those unfamiliar with the novel will no doubt be left bemused.

The Great Gatsby is a beautifully understated and subtle novel that doesn’t quite work as a ballet. Much of what made the original so arresting is unfortunately lost in translation.

The Great Gatsby is being performed at the Grand Theatre, Leeds, Sat 2 March, 2013 - Sat 9 March, 2013. For more information visit northernballet.com.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Art: Interview with artist Paul Digby

Paul Diby
Leeds-based artist Paul Digby spoke to me about his work and the forthcoming Yorkshire Artists show at Leeds Gallery, March 1-28.

His work encompasses painting, drawing and sculpture, and draws his influence from the worlds of science, technology and psychology.

His works are deeply considered, and though his work has a strong aesthetic, he considers himself primarily to be a conceptual artist.

Paul Digby, The Light
Paul Digby, Early Morning
Paul Digby, Kitchen

Paul Digby’s homepage
Leeds Gallery
Paul Digby’s Axis profile
Hoping Against All Hope: A Response to Paul Digby’s Work.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Podcasts: Anna Averkiou gives advice on becoming an international correspondent

Anna Averkiou media.

Podcasts: Interview with Derek Thorne about One World Media

One World Media offer bursaries to trainee journalists to cover interesting stories in developing countries. I spoke to Programme Manager Derek Thorne about the project.

Derek Thorne

The Changing Face of India

One World Media.

Podcasts: Review of Journalism Week

A review of the highs and lows of Journalism Week. From the passion of Vice Magazine Editor in Chief Alex Miller, to the PR for PR of Trevor Morris.

I also talk about my views on press regulation and the talks by Neil Wallis and Brian Cathcart.

Blanket coverage of all the talks and workshops during Journalism Week can be found at journalismweek.wordpress.com.