The London Rioters - In need of a creative outlet?

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last 7 days, (and let’s admit, who can blame you?) you would have been bombarded continuously by the countless news stories related to the London Riots.
24 hour TV coverage, specialist radio programmes, You-Tube videos, Facebook and Twitter posts; a media frenzy that has tornadoed through our lives, ripping across the seams of society and leaving behind a littering of moral panic.
Looting the general public of their ability to make informed decisions and tarnishing the young population with the same photo-shopping, cutting and pasting sensationalist brush. 
The digital age has brought with it access to a million points of view, all at once, and all trying to nudge us into thinking a particular way. The news has always been biased, but as a growing commercial enterprise, there’s no escape. The lines between reality and a regurgitated represented reality are being blurred, so much so that the media has an ever increasing and frighteningly high stake in public opinion.
Logging on to Facebook last Monday, about 98% of people’s statuses were riot-based, and interestingly enough there seemed to be divide between those that lived within the areas that were hit by the riots, and those that lived in, say, the Surrey or Oxfordshire countryside.
The majority of London dweller’s statuses attempted to attack the problems behind the rioting, whereas those who were not directly hit by the riots were attacking the yobs, criminals and looters. The interesting contrast here is the level of mediation that each resident has been subjected to, with questionable originality regarding the construction of these ‘opinions’.
Perhaps what we need, to combat this encroaching deluge of media influenced opinion, is to develop alternative ways of thinking.  Perhaps we can take influence from the artistic and creative thinkers of this world, who often indulge in critical analysis. If the public were to begin to recognise their own creative validity within the cultural sphere, perhaps public opinion would become more public-led, rather than led by those at the top of the media chain (Rupert Murdoch, anyone?).
So what if creative thinking could be applied as a solution to other aspects of the riots?
The arts have been one of the industries worst hit by the government cuts. Jobs in the arts are becoming increasingly rare, budgets for the arts and humanities departments in higher education institutions are being slashed, and arts companies are facing great holes in their staffing structure, which they struggle to fill through lack of funds.
The arts are seen as a luxury, a cultural-add on for countries that can afford it. But what the government did not consider is how the arts actually shape society. Art is not an extra, art is essential for a country’s social infrastructure, especially one in ‘financial meltdown’. Particularly for young people, art provides a way of expression that cannot be sought through any other means.
A favourite quote by John Martin states, ‘Life depends on science but the arts make it worth living’.
The riots came after 8 out of 13 youth clubs were shut down by Haringey Council. So how can the government think that the arts are an expendable resource?
Ok, so a lot of the rioters did just want new tellys and trainers. But what happens if we replace this obsession with material goods - this all-encompassing consumerist society, with a passion for something else?  
A passion for making music for example, or dance, or art. Creative thinking is not something that can just be switched on and off, it is a matter of displacement. Art is something that can bring people and communities together, it is something that encourages a new and different way of thinking, a way that is desperately needed, more so now than ever.


Album Review: Ritual Union by Little Dragon

Ritual Union, released in July 2011, is the third album by Swedish electronic band Little Dragon. Allegedly named after lead singer Yukimi Nagano’s fiery tantrums in the recording studio, Little Dragon have been making music since 1996. Their two previous albums, self titled Little Dragon released in 2007 and 2009’s Machine Dreams make excellent predecessors of Ritual Union, a seemingly more simplistic and paired down album compared to their previous sweeping electronic backdrops and epic instrumentation.
Ritual Union seems to take more of a minimalist approach, with the newly released title track relying heavily on an electronic baseline that’s tapped neatly out on the keyboard. This ostinato is nevertheless successfully catchy, and fits well underneath Nagano’s sensually breathy but sweetly simple vocals. 
The album is produced excellently; balancing the percussive element well as it scuttles around underneath the layers of audio, minutely whispering its presence and getting under your skin. However this means that the music’s quality and intricate nature can only really be appreciated through higher calibre headphones. Through normal-average-Joe-poor-student speakers it’s a shame to say that Ritual Union is enjoyed best as background music. Very good background music, but still background music. Not lift music though, that would just be insulting. 
The hint of Japanese influences seem to have disappeared from this album, a trait that softly lingered throughout Machine Dreams, and has been replaced by more of an 80’s vibe. Particularly in the fourth track Shuffle a Dream; slightly La Rue, slightly Blondie, and slightly suitable for jumping around to in spandex and an awful perm.
The same can be said for the 8th track Nightlight, however with a more affluent array of rhythmic patterning, Nagano’s delicate and airy vocals wind themselves cleverly around the surrounding electronic labyrinth.
It is sad to say that Little Dragon’s reductive approach to this album seems to have resulted in them perhaps taking out a little too much. From listening to it I find myself wanting after a few more expansive vocals as seen in A New from Machine Dreams, where Nagano’s beautifully and extremely capable voice echoes ethereally across a thicker and richer tapestry of sound. Everything seems a bit clipped, a bit quiet, as if Little Dragon’s new studio has been built next to a library or a maternity ward.
If you are new to Little Dragon I highly recommend a visit to their earlier albums before delving into Ritual Union. If you fancy a mix of La Rue, James Blake, with a little Cinematic Orchestra thrown in there, give Little Dragon a go. No doubt they will continue to evolve in their music making and challenge their listeners further – a respectable trait in today’s auto-tuned, consumerist music scene.


Soundwave Festival Croatia 2011

Picture this: you’re strolling along an idyllic seafront, calm waves gently lap against your ankles in pure transparency as the sticky Mediterranean climate breathes a contrastingly fresh breeze across your face. Brightly coloured square buildings line the streets with rows of orange brick roofs, these buildings garishly inhabited by shops, restaurants and apartments for tourists. The sun is setting across the sea, crimson and lilac clouds hang streaked by the brightest yellow. The tangerine sun melts slowly down towards the sea where it is distinguished, leaving behind the most beautiful sky man has ever seen. And through this the sound of heavy dub lingers in the distance, summoning you across the bay to the Soundwave festival site.
Soundwave Croatia took place between the 22nd and 24th July 2011 on the beautiful Petrcane peninsula in Zadar, Croatia. Hailed by London Lite as ‘basically The Big Chill on sea’ (www.soundwavecroatia.com), Soundwave is the brainchild of perfection by events companies Soundcrash and New Bohemia. Recognised for their effortlessly alternative and downright brilliant line-ups and DJs, the two combine to bring Croatia an assortment of the best dub step, jazz, electronic and reggae, with sets often uniting all of the above genres.
A far cry from the mud slopes of Glastonbury, the festival site itself is a thing to behold. With its intimate capacity, one stage is a mere hop skip and a boogy away from the other. By day, the well used festival site known as The Garden is a peaceful abyss. Set on a wooded peninsula surrounded by the warm Adriatic sea, festival goers can lounge in their tanned bikini bodies, watch the waves and the world go by, supping on sweet Somersby’s cider. There is beach volleyball for the more active visitor, or the sought after boat parties that sail along the coast, playing host to some of the festival’s DJs. Sound checking echoes across the beach as the acts warm up for a 1pm start, allowing the hungover to gracefully recover before partying again.
By night, the site takes on a more magical appearance. The trees are illuminated in blue, green, red and purple whilst their trunks are wound with sparkling fairy lights. On entering the site, dancing is suddenly a pre-requisite, and you feel the need to throw some shapes whilst travelling to your desired destination. This often results in some interesting new dance techniques. To your right is a collection of sea front bars; a tropical themed tiki bar, a wine bar for an optimum view of the sunset and the beach bar stage – a purpose built dance floor which suspends over the beach. Here you can bob around to some hard core dub step, club style lights flashing across the sea for braver ravers to try their moves on the slippery stone beach.
Towards the far end of the festival site is a catering area with simplistic offerings of burgers, chicken and chips. Options of wraps and salads are also available however turned out to be the messiest thing ever to be consumed during a live set. Attempting to enjoy a band while your food disintegrates in your hand is not the most enjoyable experience. However the surrounding village of Petrcane offers a vast range of very cheap Italian (!) food for most tastes and requirements.  
The main attraction of the site is of course the main stage. During the opening night this stage saw the delights of Roots Manuva and Bonobo, personal favourites on Friday and Sunday evening. Bonobo’s chilled soundscape wrapped itself around the space like a cloud of purple smoke, enveloping the audience and keeping them thoroughly capsulated. Live flute and clarinet floated loftily over murky bass notes and catchy rhythms, enhancing the richness of the audio experience. Roots Manuva’s legend status was evident as he got the whole garden singing along to his monumentous deep and poetic lyrics.
Earlier on the Friday the stage was graced by Brighton based singer/songwriter Andreya Triana. Her voice like honey, melting effortlessly across her exquisite vocal range. Andreya ran through favourites A Town Called Obselete and Lost Where I Belong, a song soulfully describing the hardships of a struggling singer, from her recent album of the same name. She then rounded off the performance with an acapella version of Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics. Using her stunning voice in instrumental harmony to great applause, Andreya grinned along with the audience, both parties feeling as if they’ve experienced something uniquely special.
Saturday was kicked off by the limitless Riot Jazz, a jazz band fully equipped with Sousamaphone, a brass instrument that winds around the players body as if he is attempting to play an attacking snake.  Riot jazz belted out covers of The Human League and Marvin Gaye, getting every member of the audience crazy dancing. As the expert MC shouted over thunderous brass rhythms, the audience responded with further hip twisting, head nodding and foot tapping. 
The ethereal Little Dragon topped the bill on Saturday night, an utterly spine tingling set. Front woman Yukimi Nagano‘s sugary tones delicately decorate the captivating electronic backdrop as she commands the stage, energetically crashing out rhythms with her hands on the gigantuous lit up drum kit. The violet and fuchsia lighting, echoing melodies and glittering percussion turns this performance into something otherworldly. Perfect accompaniment to a perfect setting. If you like good music in beautiful surroundings, I would thoroughly suggest a trip to Soundwave in summer 2012. It won’t disappoint.