Frieze 2016 Highlights for High Snobiety

I wrote a piece for High Snobiety talking about some of my personal highlights from Frieze Art Fair 2016, and sizing up the general mood of the fair this year.

Read the whole piece now over at High Snobiety.

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George Carlin’s First Posthumous Release & the Dark Side of Being Funny

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In an episode of his Comedy Vehicle TV series, Stewart Lee pokes fun at preconceived notions of the stand-up comedy as a job that involves courage, describing stand-up comedians as braver in many ways than a fireman or somebody fighting in a war. At the heart of the joke, in my interpretation, Lee was lampooning the way many comedians are deified by their audience for, essentially, doing their job — one that they all went in to by choice. We often celebrate stand-up comedians as individuals who hold a mirror to the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and even society itself, but we forget that most of these people, however staunch they are in their views, went into comedy primarily because they just wanted to make us laugh.

It isn’t that Lee sees what he and others do as insignificant. On the contrary, throughout his career he has argued, both through his jokes and his commentary, that comedy is as much an art form as theatre, opera, music and cinema. In his book, How I Escaped My Certain Fate: The Life and Deaths of a Stand-Up Comedian, he transcribes and meticulously annotates the scripts to each of his stand-up shows, deconstructing every line and drawn-out laugh, demonstrating that even the simplest gag goes through weeks, even months of testing and proofing before it’s uttered for global broadcast at a recorded theatre show.

I mention Lee at the opening of this article because he was the comedian that opened my mind to the idea that comedians are often doing a lot more than just making you laugh. From simple comedic tricks like the rule of 3 — all funny lists should come in threes, with each item funnier than the last — to the phenomenon that the funniest words start with a ‘k’ sound, there’s a lot going on in comedy behind the jokes.

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One of the biggest talking points on comedy podcasts such as Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast and Stuart Goldsmith’s The Comedian’s Comedian podcast is where you draw the line between comedy and real life. I’ve never been a fan of Jimmy Carr’s style, but when he explained quite simply that he ‘just write[s] jokes’, thinking up between 180 and 300 jokes per show, I was able to reconcile myself with him. Love him or hate him, Jimmy Carr writes gags, and he writes gags very well.

Likewise, when Goldsmith confronts David Cross about his regular breaching of topics such as rape, race and learning difficulties, his blunt response is surprisingly thought-provoking: ‘I hear what you’re saying, but I don’t care. I don’t care to engage in debates about what has more leeway in quantitative offensive qualities.’ Cross doesn’t go on stage to act as a moral arbiter for society — if we’re ever going to find the answer to these big questions, it’s unlikely to be at a David Cross set in New Cross. When asked to recount a particular joke about date rape, he refuses to do so on the basis that ‘there’s a lot of performance involved’. Like Lee, Cross believes that there’s a line between the writer and the performer, even when they’re the same person.

Thanks to platforms like these that grant us access to the inner-circles of stand-up, we now have a better understanding of its nuances, and this feels like quite a new development. After all, some of the greatest comedians of the 90s and early 2000s are revered because it feels like there’s no line between the person and the persona. Such was the case with George Carlin.

Though his earlier career was often more focused on topics like language and how it informs societal norms, as he got older Carlin was surely best known for the “crotchety old man” persona that he took ownership of, walking out on stage for 60 minutes and tearing anything and everything to shreds. Returning to that preconceived notion of the comedian as the voice of rebellion, his blend of deeply considered social issues and caustic destruction of those he viewed as on the “wrong side” of the argument created some of the most memorable one-liners ever. This was the man who could fire off beautiful one-liners like, ‘Why is it that most of the people who are against abortion are people you wouldn’t want to fuck it the first place?’ then slice through the noise minutes later saying, ‘When some of these cardinals and bishops have experienced their first pregnancies and labour pains and raised a couple of children on minimum wage, then I’ll be glad to hear what they have to say about abortion.’ He exposed the realities and hypocrisies of modern society with seemingly zero regard for whether the audience was ready to hear it or not. And he did it by making you laugh.

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All of which makes I Kinda Like It When a Lotta People Die, Carlin’s first posthumous release, so interesting. The material itself isn’t anything out of the ordinary in the context of Carlin. He opens with a rant about ‘rats and squealers’, segues into some light scatological material about farts and enemas, and complains about how there are ‘too many songs’ now before reaching the heart of the show’s title; a celebration of mass tragedies — ‘To me, you can never have too many dead people’. Morbid? Yes. Carlin? Naturally.

But the recordings for this release come from two performances at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on September 9th and 10th 2001. Less than 12 hours after he performed this material live, Carlin’s character got his wish, for want of a better phrase. The show was immediately shelved, and the acceptable segments salvaged and restructured for what would later become Complaints & Grievances.

Prior to the events of 9/11 this was typical Carlin, but looking back fifteen years later, this is some of his darkest material. Not only does he mention plane crashes, he celebrates his favourite words to hear on television — ‘We interrupt this programme…’ — and at one point even mentions Osama Bin Laden by name. This isn’t just unfortunate timing. It’s uncanny.

Was it right for Carlin to stop performing this material? The answer feels without question. Comedians are used to hearing the words “too soon” all the time, but this is material that actually predates the event that negates its humour. On September 10th, Carlin had all the time in the world to tell these jokes. After September 11th, the rest of the world needed time. But to think of a man whose entire career was predicated upon forcing the world to confront uncomfortable truths about humanity coming face-to-face with the real-life manifestation of one of his jokes is unquestionably fascinating.

Even those comedians who build their on-stage persona upon the notion of not giving a fuck, on some level, do. Bill Hicks, a man who spent his career denigrating religion and nanny-state crybabies who complained about smokers and drugs, developed some semblance of spirituality and reflection when he was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 31, according to anecdotes at least.

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A decade and a half later, clearly the publishers feel that enough time has passed for us to hear this material and assess it on our own terms. As with all comedians, behind the George Carlin we saw on stage was a man who thought deeply about what “funny” is. He understood that comedy was something that those in society without power could use to hold the privileged and powerful to account. Of course, whenever a comedian plays with shock, offence and controversy in their act, they catalyse a discussion about where we draw “the line”, but Carlin was no Frankie Boyle, slamming grotesque imagery and pop-culture references together in search for the next tabloid scandal. Carlin tore everything down and then forced you to look at the rubble and ask yourself what’s really important.

In my opinion, the most interesting track on I Kinda Like It… is the first track on the album; a homemade recording by Carlin from 1957 in which he pours vitriol on the police and firemen as crooks, conmen, thieves and liars. ‘Don’t watch the firemen carrying the hose and the axe — those guys obviously have something to do. Keep your eye on the fireman who doesn’t seem to have anything to do, because odds are after that guy has been in your parlour for twenty minutes, he’s got half of the small articles of your parlour in his pocket.’ Again, in the context of 9/11 and the sacrifices the police and firemen of New York made on that day, this material from nearly 60 years ago is equally as sinister as Carlin’s 2001 material. But what it does, positioned at the album’s opening, is remind us that even the most timeless comedy is a moment in time that can be informed by experiences that precede it, but cannot dictate what will happen in the years that follow. Comedians can hold a mirror up to society. They can negotiate how best to perform their material to show us what society should be. But changing the world isn’t the job of one person on stage. That’s the audience’s part.

George Carlin — I Kinda Like It When A Lotta People Die is available to purchase now.

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CYPRESS Fall/Winter 2016

Just a quick one today to point your attention toward Canada’s Haven, who have just released the latest lookbook for their in-house brand Cypress, now in its third season.

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If you’re already familiar with Haven then you know these guys are purveyors of a very particular aesthetic situated somewhere between functionalist Canadian cold-weather apparel and contemporary Japanese streetwear. This is the store where Arc’teryx Veilance, Burton, Reigning Champ and wings+horns sit right alongside Ganryu, Takahiromiyashita The Soloist and Visvim.

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There are few stores out there right now that really feel like they’re curating a particular style for a particular customer as opposed to just padding themselves out with whoever the latest trend is. But every time you see a new brand join Haven’s roster, or a slight change in their styling, it feels like an evolution of their customer, rather than pandering to an entirely different demographic.

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Hence why it’s so interesting to see them now branching out into making their own clothing, and doing a really solid job of it also. Thanks to Haven’s wealth of connections both in Canada and overseas, Cypress is a pure expression of the philosophy instilled in their brands; high quality, functional, stylish and timeless. Clear influences from different brands can be seen, such as WTaps, Undercover and The Soloist, but coming from guys with such an authoritative position, you’re reassured that this isn’t imitation as much as it’s simply them offering their take on something they’ve lived and breathed for years already.

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Highlights for me include the satin cotton military jackets and zip-up sweats, whilst the various pant offerings also look really solid, finding a comfortable middle ground between the hyper-tapered skinny-fit silhouettes that are dominating a lot of North-American fashion right now, and the straight-leg carbon copy cargo pants you get from Japanese brands that are often “too authentic”. Not every day paint-balling outfit.

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There’s no need to go on about this one too long. If you’re looking for some good quality wardrobe staples at an admittedly slightly higher price, then look no further. Think of how satisfying it will be next time you bump into all your mates in line at Dover Street Market for whatever dogshit brand is hot that week, and you say “Hey, nice shirt, who’s it by?” and they say “Sergio Georgini”, and you say, “Oh, cool.” And then they say, “What about your military jacket, that’s really clean!” And you say, “Yeah, right? It’s Cypress.” And they say, “Who?” And you say, “Cypress.” Just say it once now. Doesn’t that feel nice on your tongue? Safe.

CYPRESS Fall/Winter 2016 is available now.

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“Why adidas and Alexander Wang’s collab makes total sense” for DAZED

I wrote a piece for DAZED about how, in collaboration, adidas Originals and Alexander Wang have found their cultural counterparts.

Read the whole article now over at DAZED.

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Maiden Noir F/W16 — Into the Silence

A few years back, maybe 2012, I was a massive fan of Maiden Noir. After their early days making kind of ishy t-shirts that were indistinguishable from All Saints and Passarella Death Squad at the time, the Seattle-based brand seemed to find its feet creating simple, well-designed streetwear with a healthy mix of camos and motifs against black and understated colour palettes. It was basically a Norse Projects for the Pacific Northwest, and it did what it did really well.

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Over the following seasons, however, everything got really shaky. Designer Nin Truong’s architectural background seemed to empower Maiden Noir to craft collections that cut through the bullshit of over-engineered product to create unassuming wardrobe staples with a touch of flare, but the other side of the blade was a series of collections between 2013 and 2015 that were so safe and lacking in character that it tasted like watered down vanilla ice cream.

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As a result, Maiden Noir feels kind of like that friend of yours who’s a really talented musician but spends all his time learning to cover Megadeth songs and sharing videos on YouTube. Come on man, you’re better than this.

There was a glimmer of hope with the release of the brand’s Fall/Winter 2015 collection ‘Forever Lost’, which finally started to drag Maiden Noir out of its flavourless rut and somewhere closer to creating something new. With their latest collection for Fall/Winter 2016, ‘Into the Silence’ it seems like they’ve gone back to the basics, but the result is a collection that’s far more compelling than anything else they’ve done in recent years.

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The lookbook reveals a washed-out, greyscale palette with minimal colour. Flashes of mustard and stone browns add a little flare, but for the most part it’s an understated affair. In place of colour, you have texture; jacquard knits, mohair cardigans, thermal fleece, wool trenches and glossy nylons.

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One of the issues I had with even my favourite Maiden Noir collections was the cut, which often seemed to try a bit too hard to be “menswear” with tapered shirting and so on. Everything looks a bit more relaxed here, which is a relief. Rather than trying to look like a men’s clothing brand, the collection looks like some clothes a guy could wear, which I’m fully behind.

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I think it’s pretty easy to identify the source material for Maiden Noir’s latest collection. On paper, they cite ‘juxtaposition of nature and the built environment’, and this certainly comes through with the use of geometric patterns and checks on super relaxed and comfortable cuts. But there’s also a touch of a particular individual quite close to the brand’s Seattle background (hint: it’s Kurt Cobain). You’d have to be trying pretty hard not to pick up on the grunge aesthetic here, and any time you see a long-haired blonde dude in washed denim and a mohair cardigan, you can put money on that being the inspiration.

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That being said, these guys are Pacific-Northwesterners with a sizeable following in Japan, so I guess you’re led to believe they’re coming from a pretty authentic place, and they can create credible product with hints of a deeper cultural significance to the Japanese market, where that kind of thing is nigh-on essential.

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And there’s the magic of what Maiden Noir can do when it stops over-labouring the art of being understated. This is really nice, simple, well-designed stuff that stands on its own two feet, but if you want to dig a bit deeper and think about it, you can arguably find some subtle cultural references in there. The result is a collection that doesn’t shout from the rooftops, but nonetheless emits this cool, calm 90s grunge sensation that could only come from the place where that style was born, rather than semi-informed mimicry.

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On a level, I sometimes feel like Maiden Noir could be doing what Jerry Lorenzo is doing right now with Fear of God, and without the irritating pretense that I always get with the latter. Lorenzo’s work is so heavily dependent upon the symbology of others. I feel like he needs to rip off old band t-shirts and tour merchandise because he lacks the innate understanding of that culture to be able to bring the aesthetic to life himself. To the point, a lot of the guys who designed those tour t-shirts are alive and kicking, you could track them down and commission some new work, but you wouldn’t know where to begin.

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Maiden Noir conjures similar images of iconic 90s music and counter-culture lifestyle in this collection, but it feels a lot more measured and tasteful. If you want to enjoy the references then do, and do so without feeling like they’re being shoved down your throat. If you don’t want to, that’s cool also, just enjoy some nice clothes. And they are nice. So enjoy them.

Maiden Noir‘s Fall/Winter 2016 collection is available now.

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Timeliness/Timelessness — My Problem with Gosha Rubchinskiy

There’s a joke by Stewart Lee on the first season of his Comedy Vehicle TV series where he laments the success of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books amongst adults, swatting away constant inquiries as to whether he’s read them with, ‘No I haven’t read them, because I’m a forty year-old man.’

A few seconds later, he directs his eyes straight into the camera and asks back, ‘You know those Harry Potter books… you know they’re for children, don’t you?’ I’ve always enjoyed that joke as an expression of those Emperor’s New Clothes moments where we find ourselves surrounded by people going crazy about something, but we just don’t get it ourselves, with or without good reason. I have it whenever I meet somebody who likes Jeff Koons, but that’s for another article. He is trash though.

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And this is kind of where I am right now with Comme des Garçons’ Wunderkind of late, Gosha Rubchinskiy. At a time where the majority of people can’t get enough of him, I’ve definitely had enough. I’m really beyond the point of trying to justify or intellectualise about his stuff anymore, even less so in light of his blessing from/incorporation into the house of Kawakubo in the past few years. I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.

It’s not even like I’ve never liked his stuff. I’ve written on this blog about previous collections and been very enthusiastic about it. I was really positive about the general pricing of the product, occupying a middle ground between high and low fashion that seemed to provide something for everyone. There was a lot of unique and interesting product on show.

But recent seasons, to me at least, have really started to stink of something I haven’t quite put my finger on yet — laziness, cynicism, deception, obnoxiousness, dead horse syndrome? When I appeared on a SHOWstudio panel last year to discuss his Fall/Winter 2016 runway show, I made some comments about Rubchinskiy perhaps trying to share elements of the Russian identity on his terms, and I stand by that, but the way that the product is presented on the runway versus the product that eventually hits the shelves reveals a stark contrast that’s pretty hard to ignore.

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Gosha Rubchinskiy’s designs are inherently interwoven with both the pre- and post-Soviet Union narrative of Russia. As I said on SHOWstudio, however, whilst the Iron Curtain supposedly came down at the end of the 1980s, one often gets the feeling that it’s still there in terms of culture. How much can we genuinely say we know about Russia these days, honestly? There’s tertiary glances and news reports, but how is that any different from the murmurs and rumours of the Cold War era? I’m 24, so feel free to tell me to shut the fuck up Donny, you’re out of your element.

These narratives of the Eastern Bloc, then, are so often mythologised in the hands of the West. When Gosha’s collections first started to really appear in stores at the beginning of 2015, so much of it was terribly made, poor quality, ill fitting and tacky, and people went crazy for it. There’s something about that which seems really patronising to me, and there’ll always be questions hanging over my head about whether the product was shit because that was the intended aesthetic or because CDG sent the production to Turkey to secure a decent mark-up on cheap (in the context of CDG) clothing.

My suspicions were aroused further as we went into Fall/Winter 2015, a collection that was awash with shearling jackets, wool overcoats and fleece sweats. Not actual shearling, though. Synthetic. Oh, and not real wool either. Acrylic mostly. Same with the fleece. I probably sound like a total anal pedant, and I am, but I’m pretty sure they had sheep in Soviet Russia. I don’t buy that making all the product from “cheap to the point of feeling cheap” materials is some sort of artistic statement. Vetements barely gets a pass for the commentary on capitalism in contemporary fashion that is a £600 hooded sweat, so don’t expect me to lap up £450 for a jacket that would literally melt if I sat too close to a bonfire.

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I’m far from the highest authority on the politics and inner-workings of fashion. I stand by a statement I make regularly that in reality, I’m a guy that got into clothes and likes writing about them. But I have a theory about what Gosha generally is and it’s closely connected to Adrian Joffe, husband of Rei Kawakubo. As is generally known in the scene, Joffe is the guy that introduced a lot of ideas of commercialism to Comme des Garçons, and very successfully. Before Joffe, CDG did not release fragrances, as it’s a well-known fact that 99% of fashion-label fragrances are produced on license for no reason other than that the ridiculously high markup they provide and the fact that people will buy them. Fortunately, Joffe convinced CDG to do them, provided they did them in a way that was distinctly CDG. Translation; a couple ostensibly avant-garde scents to begin with, followed by business as usual. To their credit, CDG’s fragrances are for the most part made in-house, and they were one of the first fashion labels to eschew the traditional sales model by stocking their fragrances in fashion stores instead of traditional fragrance shops, which was genuinely very clever, but it still sits uneasily with me.

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And so is the case with other interesting little ventures such as PLAY Comme des Garçons. It’s not that they’re not necessarily good, it’s just difficult to look at this in the context of the shining light of fashion’s Avant-Garde and then confront the transparent commercialism that created it. In the same way that CDG fragrance enabled the original rule-breaker to get in on the status quo, so too did PLAY enable CDG to sell lower tier branded t-shirts. Again, not a criticism, just a measured dose of realism about what these things actually are.

But the co-sign to Gosha really felt more extreme than those, because of the product that coupled it. It feels like Gosha is just an avenue for CDG to sell really badly-made clothing at a high markup under a gossamer-thin veil of conceptualism. I don’t buy the narrative that Soviet Russia was this hyper-impoverished sea of synthetic fabrics, fake sheep and complete obliviousness as to the basic shape of the human form. If fashion has taught me one thing, it’s that almost every culture places value and importance on things such as craft and identity.

That cynicism was brought to its head when I saw Rubchinskiy’s Spring/Summer 2017 presentation at Pitti Uomo. Well, I say presentation. It was more just a skullfuckery of crass, cynical collaborations whose underlying concept seemed to be, “Is your brand a bit naff and corny? Excellent. Do a Gosha collab and then everyone will think you’re being self-aware and ironic”. Is this really a representation of the Soviet identity? Or is it a representation of a Western conceptualisation of the Soviet identity as “anything cheap and tacky that we wouldn’t be seen dead in, so they’d obviously love it”.

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Spread out over the course of several seasons, perhaps one or two collaborations a collection, I might have been able to swallow it. There’s something in there about everything being fashion, and about brands that have at one point in time fallen in and out of favour with the general consumer. Hell, at a time in the UK when the Air Max 95, adidas ClimaCool, shell suits and trackies are making a comeback, why the hell shouldn’t Kappa be making a comeback? But even then, the most significant cultural presence Kappa had in the UK in the last fifteen years was on Little Britain’s Vicky Pollard, a character who was herself a problematic and condescending parody of the working class created by two public school educated guys. So I don’t know.

But slamming all those collaborations out in one collection is just overwhelming. Fila, Sergio Tacchini, Kappa, Levis, Reebok, Camper and God knows who else. It really felt less about Rubchinskiy, and more about those brands bobbing their hands up and down going, “Oooh! Oooh! We’re naff too! Be ironically poor with us next!”

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I’m just really disenchanted by this whole movement that’s epidemic throughout fashion — at least in the mainstream context, which is important — right now, that making cheap and tacky product is some sort of an artistic or academic statement. Yes, there are amazing designers like Grace Wales Bonner and J.W. Anderson doing really cool and inspiring things with fashion as craft right now. But that speech in The Devil Wears Prada about fashion trickling down into the mainstream is true, and now that big name fashion labels are themselves more mainstream, I think it’s a really crap message to send out there that you can make shit product with a high markup and that’s all that matters. I’d much rather there were mainstream labels doing something to educate about how craft informs value, and how well-made product is better for all of us in the long run.

Finally, a point that was made by the excellent resident writer over at Style-Zeitgeist. I just don’t see any longevity in any of this, from the designer to the customers. I don’t think the people who are fueling Gosha right now are going to be here in a few seasons’ time when the hashtags move on, and I don’t think the product that’s being released is going to be dug out of an archive in years to come as an example of great fashion design of the time. I was interviewing somebody recently who said that these days timeliness is more important than timelessness. And isn’t that the truth? Right now the name of the game seems to be creating something that will grab people’s attention for long enough to get a few headlines and satisfy the PR department, rather than trying to actually make something that really engages people and pushes the movement into new and exciting territory. How depressing, written in Cyrillic or otherwise.

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15 years — Thoughts on Jane Doe by Converge

Like a lot of teenagers, I went through an angry phase. It manifests itself in different ways for everyone, I’m sure, but music was a really big thing for me. As I’ve mentioned before, it started with the whole nu-metal thing — Korn, Slipknot, Marilyn Manson et al — and then my mum and dad intervened and started pushing me in the direction of perhaps the more “traditional” options. It was through this that I was introduced to The Clash, Buzzcocks, Sham 69, Led Zeppelin and so on. Am I grateful for this? Of course. But since when did young people choose their edgy cultural materials to please their parents?

I remember getting massively latched onto punk around the age of 14, and made regular trips to Brighton to get records from the Punker Bunker on Sydney Street. It was a tiny basement underneath this clothing shop called, if I remember correctly, Immediate. The owner, Buzz, is to this day a key player in Brighton’s music scene, organising most of the shows that come through the city. Punker Bunker’s DIY photocopied A6 paper flyers were a constant presence in my teenage years, and it was thanks to the efforts of that small group of people that I was able to see some of my favourite bands in intimate venues like the Engine Rooms (RIP), The Hob Goblin, Concorde 2 and a place near the Level that I think was called Pressure Point? I know there’s some Brightoners reading this so please lend me a hand.

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Anyway, Punker Bunker introduced me to a lot of modern punk and ska, namely bands like Big D & The Kids Table, Capdown, Link 80, Lawrence Arms, Captain Everything, Polysics, Blue Meanies, The Chinkees, and so on. Link 80 were a particularly important band for me; their vocalist, Nick Traina (son of adult-romance novelist Danielle Steele [I know, right?]) killed himself at the age of 19, and the underlying pain in the band’s music both before and after his death resonated on some level.

So from modern music, back to the past, and then back to the present. This, in turn, led me back to the American punk and hardcore scene of the 80s with Minor Threat, Bad Religion, Agent Orange, Black Flag and Dead Kennedys. Considering how much my dad loved British punk, it was very satisfying to hear his disdain that I was listening to Dead Kennedys, a band whose name he described as something along the lines of “utterly atrocious”. Still, when you listen to an album like Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, you can hear some elements of a band that was doing something undeniably new with the genre, even if it was just Jello Biafra’s fucking bizarre vocal style.

And onwards, into the post-hardcore phase with bands like Drive Like Jehu, Fugazi, Hot Snakes and Glass Jaw in the late 80s and early 90s, whilst on the heavier side you had bands like Botch and Dillinger Escape Plan. I understand that I’m rattling off a load of names, but I guess my point is that in the relative blink of an eye, I educated myself about an infinitely expansive musical history, and the ebbs and flows of sound and energy that came with it. Turns out a lot of teenagers like me had been angry for a very long time, each finding their own unique way of expressing it for their time.

Around the age of 15, metalcore, emo, death metal, grindcore and all manner of combinations were in their heyday, and Brighton was a pretty respectable epicentre. Thanks to the likes of Punker Bunker we had bands like Norma Jean, War from a Harlot’s Mouth, Daughters and Dillinger Escape Plan playing right on our doorstep, but the city itself was also the birthplace of the likes of Architects, Johnny Truant, Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster and The Ghost of a Thousand. Granted, we also gave the world The Kooks, but you can’t win them all.

This was in the golden age of MySpace as well, and as hard as it is to believe now, back in 2006 the MySpace music player was the fucking oracle. I can’t even tell you the number of bands I discovered as a result of the four-song induction a band’s MySpace profile gave you. I’ve already listed more than enough bands, to write any more would be a purely self-indulgent exercise, but let’s just say that a lot of them had very long, semi-ironic names.

I was hit by a big wave of nostalgia a few months back and decided to go back through my mind trying to remember all those bands and trying to get hold of all the old records. This might shock you, but at the age of 24 it turns out that Arsonists Get All The Girls’ ‘Hits from the Bow’ isn’t actually very good. To be honest, it was the anger that primarily attracted me, which bands like that provided by the tonne.

I must have been 15 when somebody introduced me to Converge, and like almost everyone I started with their 2001 album, Jane Doe. The other day I was inadvertently reminded that September 4th marked 15 years since the album was released (thanks Sean Mahon), and it got me thinking about that album a lot.

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As I’m sure is often the case with Jane Doe, it was the artwork that first caught my attention. Even if you’ve never heard of Converge — fuck it, even if you’ve never even liked metal — I feel like you’ve probably encountered the artwork for Jane Doe. For one reason or another, it became a pretty iconic image that I’d seen years previously on t-shirts, posters, MySpace skins, tattoos and so on, but never known the significance.

As it turns out, Jane Doe would come to be heralded as one of the greatest metal albums of all time. At different points, by different people, at different levels, for different reasons, it has been described as Converge’s magnum opus; the symbol of what hardcore would become in the 21st century; a genre-defining record; a triumph of contemporary punk; one of the most important records of our generation. For that reason, there’s really no point to me writing another article talking about why this album is objectively important. I’m just going to talk about what makes this album important to me.

As I’ve explained, by this point I’d already encountered my fair share of “angry bands”, in all manner of incarnations. As I said in my article about Daughters a few weeks back, one of the things that I feel now is how many of these bands were so formulaic in their attempts to be more extreme. Turn up, play faster, breakdown harder, more blastbeats, more pig squeals.

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But when I first listened to Jane Doe, something hit me really hard. Far from an attempt to convey an emotion, this record was an embodiment of pure fucking rage. The moment you listen to the first track, ‘Concubine’, you know you’re listening to something different. The recording style is thick and muddy. The drums sound so distorted and clipped that you feel like it’s been recorded wrong. The vocals are almost instrumental, and completely unlike any other band, closer to an expression of intense pain than hyper-macho gutter vocals and death-metal screams.

I remember the song titles really capturing me also, particularly ‘Bitter and Then Some’. There was something about that which really resonated with me, perhaps the feeling of an intense anger, definable only up to a point. I’m angry, but so much more than that which I can’t even put into words.

The same is true of the lyrics, some of which still encapsulate certain teenage emotions so effectively; ‘You were my last great war'; ‘Those nights we had and the trust we lost/ The sleep that fled me and the heart I lost'; ‘She burns as bright as the sun/ and she falls darker than night/ She shines as light as these days/ and she fades faster than time’.

For the first 11 tracks of Jane Doe, you’re thrown like rag doll through a meat grinder, between heartbreak, anguish, loss, betrayal, despondency, alienation and gut-wrenching rage. I can’t count the number of times I’ve listened to ‘The Broken Vow’ on repeat just to experience that transition from blasting punk drumming to cinematic cymbal punches, back into furious crescendo, and back to blasting snare hits, and all in the space of two minutes.

But the final track, ‘Jane Doe’, is kind of where the whole album is tied together. I’m a sucker for bands who can write a killer closing track — Jimmy Eat World do it, Architects did a pretty solid job on their debut Nightmares EP, and Genghis Tron’s ‘Board Up the House’ has a final track that genuinely makes me feel like I’m drowning — but the final track on Jane Doe works in a different way, because whilst it retains all of the fury of the preceding tracks, it turns all of that into something a lot more fragile.

The guitar melody isn’t quite major key and it isn’t quite minor, neither empowered nor downtrodden, and the lyrics reveal the root of all those previously expressed feelings; ‘Faster than light and faster than time/ That’s how memory works/ … / Out of every awkward day/ Out of every tongue-tied loss/ I want out’.

I’m notorious for sometimes going a bit too deep into the meaning of things — I say this as I approach 1600 words on a metal album that’s already been written about to death — but I think what makes Jane Doe such an important album is not only does it perfectly capture and express those confusing emotions that many of us feel as teenagers and beyond. There’s an element of Jane Doe that tries to ask why. Of course this is most prominent in Jacob Bannon’s lyrics, where declarations of ‘Death to cowards, traitors and empty words’ are quickly followed by ‘You are the everything and the in between/ Push on and soar higher’.

But sonically, Jane Doe is a powerful expression of those very same emotions, from melodies built of equal parts bitterness and bereavement, to a production style that makes you wonder if everything is so loud it could fill a stadium, or if it’s actually just being crushed under the weight of it all. It isn’t an album for everyone, and it was never meant to be, but if you listened to it at some point in your life and felt even the tiniest part resonating, the chances are you’ll find those same pieces scattered throughout the music and be glad it was there when you needed it.

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BACON — #probablybaconsocks 2016

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Just a quick one to let you know the guys at BACON have just announced their latest release for 2016, bringing back the bacon socks in the OG white and a brand new black colourway.

As always, the Japanese collective has accompanied the release with an unconventional lookbook showcasing the socks in all their glory, as well as the #metalbacon t-shirt which has received a full restock in both colourways.

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My love for BACON has been fully explained by now, so there’s not much more I can tell you. Monkey see, monkey do. BACON release, Gregk writes. They’re about £15 a pair, go with absolutely anything, as the #probablybaconsocks hashtag quickly demonstrates, and they come with free Kevin Bacon stickers so I really don’t get why the fuck I still have to tell you guys to get on board.

#probablybaconsocks 2016 and the restocked #metalbacon tees are available now from BACON-index.

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A.IN.T Summer 2016 — “Let My Peep Hole Go”

I was talking with a friend the other week about what felt like a golden age in British streetwear, 2008-2010. To my recollection it was a moment where “streetwear” was really manifesting itself in a clear form on both sides of the pond. T-shirts. Big graphics. Sweats. Denim. Sneakers.

This was the high point of labels like The Hundreds, Diamond, Black Scale, DGK, Undercrwn and a whole wave of American brands who were embodying the essential “larger than life” identity that streetwear portrayed. This wasn’t about competing with fashion proper, or integrating, or even co-existing. It was about being cheaper, more accessible, completely on your own wave but making a big fucking scene about it. Undercrwn were a brilliant example of this. OTT caricatures of pop culture American figures, massive typographies, collegiate-style meets hip-hop attitude. Bliss.

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Over in the UK you had a number of brands doing a very similar thing, but with a slightly more “British” thread running through. Second Son, MHI, King Apparel, Trapstar, and countless others whose names escape me now. Everything was very “streetwear”, but very Brit about it.

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One brand in particular really caught my attention though, partly because my friend Leo constantly heralded them as the very best UK t-shirt label out there. A.IN.T — Art in Transit — were a prime example of the creativity going around at that time, seemingly born out of a burgeoning screen-printing culture. Certainly, it was a very vibrant and colourful time compared to prevailing trends in streetwear right now.

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A.IN.T’s offering incorporated a number of different influences typical of streetwear; graffiti, big graphics, big logos, big everything. But where they really made an impact, in my opinion, was their layered graphic tees that blended big block typography with classic illustrations of pin-up models. Visually, they were just miles ahead of the Illustrator-esque cartoon graphics that were being banged out left, right and centre by inferior brands, and text hits like “Honour & Glory” injected a healthy dose of British flavour in a way that so many others tried to do and failed.

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A.IN.T wound down rather unceremoniously a few years ago and everything just went quiet. Things went heritage beardwear and people stopped rocking graphic tees as much.

It was a nice surprise to get an update into my inbox the other day, then. This summer, A.IN.T is making a return with a new collection of t-shirts that bring back the essential concept of those pin-up tees in a tweaked configuration. 3 long-sleeve t-shirts, 5 snapback caps and a waxed bucket hat take inspiration from the “Tart Cards” found pasted in phone boxes and scattered round the streets of Soho — a timely update to the original concept considering the rapid transformation of London’s gritty “entertainment district”.

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The release is accompanied by a lookbook shot on location by Tom Beard, inspired by Soho’s heyday during the days of Paul Reymond and all the other smut-peddlers. It’s a solid replication of the original idea, and ties everything together well.

The cultural transformation taking place all across London is no mystery by now — East London is pretty much completely switched up, Stratford has transformed into a strange City Boy’s paradise-meets-weekend shopping destination, Peckham is now fresh turf for the farmers’ markets and Brixton… oh, Brixton.

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What makes Soho particularly strange though, is that it’s historically sold to tourists and visitors a cultural landmark of sorts. It’s an area that’s being systematically dismantled in favour of a glossier, more market-oriented model, but that new model is still being sold on an old mythology that it actively worked to remove. Kick out all the nightclubs, brothels, massage parlours and peep shows, then sell a flat to foreign investors looking for a property in “gritty, authentic” London. Adam Tickle’s “So Long Soho” was another great exploration of the Soho that is rapidly disappearing, if you manage to get hold of a copy.

That’s what makes this release appealing, to me. It’s classic A.IN.T, geared toward a very current phenomena. Welcome back, A.IN.T, good to see you.

A.IN.T London’s “Let My Peep Hole Go” collection is available now from aint.london. Enjoy the photos and take a trip to Soho while it’s still there. If you’re too late, enjoy a matcha green tea latte, sourdough sandwich and a massive fucking bowl of vanilla instead. Safe.

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Notes on Christo’s ‘The Floating Piers’ at Lake Iseo

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To get from Verona to Sulzano, first you have to get a train about 50 miles West, to Brescia. From there you can get another train that takes you through Paderno and Bornato-Calino, on towards Lake Iseo and its surrounding villages — Iseo, Pilzone, Sulzano, Sale Marasino and so on. Typically, this journey takes about an hour, half an hour each leg. On Tuesday, June 28th, this journey took me four and a half hours.

I’d booked my tickets online a week or so previously. I’d set a whole itinerary for the day, so by 9am I was at Verona Porta Nuova station and ready for my train at 9:30. The train to Brescia was a breeze, genuinely. Turns out when you buy a train ticket in Italy you’re buying a seat, so the number of people in each carriage is the same as the number of seats. You know you’re from London when a balanced seat-to-passenger ratio seems less courteous than it does inefficient.

At Brescia, I made my way toward the ticket office and asked about trains to Sulzano. ‘You’ll need to go outside the station,’ I was told, ‘and walk around to Platform 2. It’s been set up as a special platform.’

‘Okay, thanks, and I have a ticket for the 10:30 train, is that right?’

‘You should be fine, but as I said, you’ll have to go round and join the platform.’

When I get to platform 2, I’m greeted by a line of people running the entire length of the platform, ten feet wide. There must have been about a thousand people there. Optimistically, I tell myself that they must all be chancers. ‘Excuse me,’ I ask someone in a hi-vis. ‘I’ve got a ticket for the 10:30 train?’

‘This is the queue to join the train.’

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So it begins. Turns out that twenty miles away at Lake Iseo, the small town of Sulzano has become so overloaded with people that pretty much everything has ground to a halt. The local authorities had anticipated there would be interest, so they’d organised for more trains to run between Brescia and Sulzano. The only problem is, there’s only one line for both directions of travel, so the only point where trains can pass each other is when the line splits at train stations. More trains, more complication, more trains sat on station platforms waiting for an approaching train to pass before they can move safely forward.

So we’re told trains won’t be leaving Brescia for at least an hour, and once that train gets moving, it could be up to three hours for the next one. Cue groans, lots of ticket waving, strategic line jumping and passive-aggressive shoving. At 12:30, two and a half hours later, I finally manage to get on a train, slowly creeping towards Sulzano.

Once you get to Sulzano, the problem becomes pretty clear. This is a village by a lake in the mountains of Northern Italy with a population of roughly 2000 people. Conservative estimates expected 30 000 visitors a day. News channels were reporting 700 000 people visiting daily. Think of the effect Glastonbury Festival has on the local population each year, then drop that on a village that has had absolutely no experience in this kind of thing before and no opportunity to prepare.

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Another town, another queue, but finally, at last, for the main attraction. First conceptualised by the artist over forty years ago, revisited throughout the decades in projects that were never realised, Christo’s concept of a floating walkway had finally come to fruition at Lake Iseo. Two years of preparation had led to this moment, and on June 18th The Floating Piers would open for just sixteen days. Once your feet were stood on the rippling orange cloth that snaked through Sulzano’s streets, you knew that you were close, and could breathe a sigh of relief. By this point it was 1:30pm, the sky was clear and it was about 32°c. Organisers had resorted to just shooting a fire hose into the air to keep us cool. No complaints. Half an hour later we were finally allowed to walk down to the waterfront.

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The experience of walking on the pier is difficult to put into words. Constructed from 220 000 polyethelene cubes, the structure ripples and sways with every movement of water, and when the lifeboats and ferries passed close to the edge, the entire surface would rise and fall. It was like walking on a pavement where every tile is constantly fluctuating. One person described it as like walking on the back of a whale.

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The photos that had been shared in the build-up gave me some impression of what to expect, but I hadn’t been prepared for the sheer scope and scale of the project; 3 kilometres of walkway floating barely a foot above water level, connecting two completely isolated islands with the mainland for the first time ever.

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As you stood halfway across the first walkway, you’d look up at Monte Isola in front of you, and then look back in the direction you’d come from, and realise your current perspective was one that would be otherwise physically impossible. There’s a sort of symbology about mountains and bodies of water; one of substance and magnitude, and you’re surrounded by them on every side, but then you’re stood on this man-made structure, literally floating, defying the limitations of both the land and the water.

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Once you’d reached Monte Isola, you walked around the mountain’s edge to the next pier, a triangular structure connecting Monte Isola to Sao Paolo, a tiny private island, and then back to Monte Isola. The first walkway was the longest of the three, and after ten minutes of walking in a straight line along the water you get another feeling of the jarring physicality of what you’re doing. Looking over to the other walkway, you can feel the movement going on all around you. Across the lake you can see the ripples and waves of the water ebbing and flowing, whilst the triangle enclosed by the two walkways lies almost completely still.

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At Sao Paolo, having walked almost 2 miles in the afternoon sun, people took cover beneath the trees that climbed over the walled enclosure of the island. For the first time ever, the inhabitants of this house had to put up with people peaking over the rear wall of their garden, which would otherwise be a sheer drop into water. And raising their cameras over the wall to take photos of the family trying to relax on their upper balcony. It was all pretty bizarre.

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After making my way back to Monte Isola via the second walkway, I decided to walk up the mountain roads and look down onto the lake. The visual effect of these thick, rigid orange lines cutting across an idyllic mountain landscape was completely surreal, amplified by the constant stream of tiny silhouettes slowly making their way around in varying directions. I ended up spending about 6 hours that day, walking back and forth, exploring and taking in the experience, wishing I could stay and enjoy it longer, whilst having to accept the necessary transience of the project. Christo himself has said that anyone can create something permanent; that true courage is creating something that is destined to vanish.

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As with all of his and Jeanne-Claude’s projects, Christo denies any deeper meaning to The Floating Piers. The objective was simply to transform an environment and create a way of experiencing the landscape in a new way; to create something aesthetically beautiful. It’s difficult, however, to find yourself overwhelmed by the experience and not try to read deeper. Beyond the obvious religious symbology — official flyers and leaflets invited you to ‘walk on water’ — there was a strong sense of the power of human endeavour, and man’s transformation of Earth. Only recently, a study announced that Earth had officially entered the ‘Anthropocene’, an entirely new geological phase defined by man’s impact on the planet. And then here you were, stood on something transient that had completely altered the environment in which it was placed against all natural laws.

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A few days previously, I met two guys from Berlin, one of whom had heard rumours that so many people were visiting Sulzano that the piers were beginning to buckle under the weight. ‘It’s quite good timing for Christo, if you think about it,’ he said, ‘considering everything going on with the refugee crisis right now.’

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And whilst the distinction between privileged Europeans experiencing an art installation and refugees escaping conflict is an important one, there was definitely a certain symbolism to a series of transient pathways, connecting previously separated landmasses through a tenuous path across water, drawing thousands of people from every direction to a town whose local infrastructure was fundamentally unable to cope with the sheer volume of people it was now up against.

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And whilst the response from everyone looking over at Lake Iseo over the past few weeks has been overwhelmingly envious and enthusiastic of Christo’s work in the area, reception in the local community was markedly split whilst I was there. On the one hand, local businesses were experiencing possibly the biggest boom they’d ever seen; one bakery at Monte Isola was shifting trays of focaccia so fast the bread was being sliced up and served to waiting customers before it could even reach the counter. On the other hand, residents without an immediate financial gain had effectively seen their whole community shut down for 3 weeks with little assistance; Mario, the pensioner I stayed with one village over from Sulzano explained the driving permit system to me. If you wanted to drive through Sulzano you needed a particular permit that wasn’t given to him. They had, however, given him a driving permit for Monte Isola, despite him not even living on the island.

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All that aside, it was difficult to put the whole thing into words — and I say this as I try to do exactly that. The decision to go was a sheer whim. I’ve been familiar with Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s work for a few years and, like most people, find the whole concept fascinating. It was after I watched the documentary about the 1974 Valley Curtain project that something deeper hit me. That idea of simply altering an environment and making people view it in a different way; the paradoxical notion of using a curtain not to conceal, but to reveal something else. The opportunity to experience a Christo project in person was impossible to pass up, so I went. And, as I said before, the experience was such that you felt like it should be there forever, but you had to accept that it was destined to vanish as quickly as it appeared.

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A few days later in Verona I cast my mind back to that line of people at Brescia train station. Hundreds of people caged in by police and officials, each holding papers and documents in their hands saying they were supposed to be going somewhere. The officials insisted they were doing everything they could but were equally lacking in answers. They knew we would be able to move forward eventually, they just weren’t sure when, or how. You can only hope that they all see the parallels between a group of people demanding to get on a train to a tiny village out of entitlement to art, and a group of people hoping they’ll one day get on a train, or a boat, to safer shores, out of sheer desperation. The Floating Piers were transient, but the ideas they confronted — albeit by chance — are much more enduring.

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