Volunteering at Roskilde Festival 2018

Music festivals are about the bands, yes. I should know this being the live music obsessive that I am. But they can be about so much more than just music and partying, and Roskilde for me confirms this. Even though there is a great proportion of the festival geared up towards the hedonistic – the humanitarian side, which includes being run by volunteers, and with all profits donated to charity, gives a positivity and generosity to the festival that the other massive entities lack (with the exception of Glastonbury and maybe Poland Woodstock). I’d known about this highlight of the Danish party calendar for many years – there’s not many festival fanatics who haven’t heard of a festival with such an illustrious history (not overlooking the occasionally tragic moments). When a friend offered me the chance to volunteer at the festival – I knew I had to go. Even though logistically it wasn’t easy, I found volunteering by far to be the best way to experience a festival, and Roskilde to be quite possibly the most worthwhile festival experience I’ve ever had.

Action at the outdoor Apollo stage

Roskilde, being nearly entirely run by volunteers means that there’s a huge percentage of them on site – nearly 30,000. In return for their hardwork, they’re provided camping spots in a volunteer only area, which is a lot more quiet than the near apocalypse party vibe of the main camping area. This access to a bit of peace outside the near complete immersion of noise elsewhere in the festival, is a welcome respite. There are also free showers which are to a surprising level of quality given the amount of volunteers – think high quality summer camp group showers as well as access to discounted food and drink and a special volunteers only area within the festival site. This itself has a cafe with plenty of phone charging space, and tables to keep working if you have any laptop based work you can’t get away from during the period of the festival, but more importantly, there’s free coffee and tea at all times on the festival site in this volunteers area. As well as free lemonade. Anything free is a blessing when at a potentially costly 8 day festival of the likes of Roskilde. If you needed any more incentive to volunteer, there is of course the fact that for four 8 hour shifts, at times you chose, you can see all of the music you wish, including many of the best acts currently touring, and for your efforts, hundreds of dollars will be donated to charity. Millions of dollars in profit is donated to charity by the Roskilde Foundation after the culmination of the festival, meaning your hard work is not just going into partying, but helping the world as well.

A happy volunteer and Roskilde festival goer

If this is at all getting you interested in volunteering at Roskilde, and keep in mind I haven’t even got to the music yet, the first thing you have to do is find a company to sign up with. I signed up with Mellemfolkelig Samvirke or MS Roskilde, which I can highly recommend. Founded in 1944, they are a politically independent non-government organization whose aims include “understanding and solidarity between the peoples of the world, as well as promoting global development based on the sustainable use and just distribution of wealth and resources” (taking from the Wikipedia blurb). All the money raised by MS Roskilde from the volunteers was to be donated to causes in El Salvador. Signing up to volunteer was a straight forward and painless process, and as well as signing up with a company hosting volunteers at Roskilde, you must also sign up at the Roskilde volunteer website, which can be found here. Once you sign up, it’s a matter of following the steps. Emails will be sent out stating when you have to sign certain forms, complete any learning documents that are necessary for your job roles, and when the time is right, chose your shifts. Choosing shifts happens on a first in first served basis, and getting in just as the places were open allowed me to chose shifts that were all largely before the music days. One night shift had to be completed, which I chose for the night I arrived, which gave a pretty epic initial experience – arriving via a 5 hour bus from Northern Germany, setting up my tent, and checking in to the charity base before starting an 8 hour shift that was to finish at 7 in the morning. One of the shifts had to be placed during a music day in order to meet requirements, but this could be taken in the morning, which means next to none of the music had to be missed. Work wise, our charity was involved in running a volunteer camp ground, so the work was not too difficult and involved either patrolling a camp ground, keeping festival goers happy, observing any incidents and keeping noise to a minimum. There were also times where we had to help lost or drunk campers find there tents, which while minor gave a sense of satisfaction in helping the overall friendly feel of the festival be maintained. Other jobs included manning entrance gates, checking wristbands and checking that any vehicles entering the site or campervan camping parks had the correct documents. All pretty basic but fun, and you have a good team to work with, friends to make and free food, coffees and all that good stuff during the shift. I have to admit that signing up and volunteering seemed a somewhat daunting prospect to begin with, and I couldn’t have achieved this without a much more organised Danish friend of mine, so shout out to them for opening up the possibilities for me to experience this. I can recommend you take the plunge and give the volunteering a go as well, if you enjoy festivals, or just charitable experiences.

Party goers take a rest outside the Arena stage

Once your in, the festival opens itself up in a way beyond what it would if you were just merely buying a ticket and camping with all the debaucherous revelers. Having a quiet place to camp is a blessing, unless you want to be surrounded by the hundreds of thousands of Danish youth in the main camping area, who compete in creating their own stereos, blasting them at full volume nearly constantly (except for relatively late mornings hours when a nap to delay the hangover is attempted). These campground parties are part of the history of Roskilde and have grown to an impressive degree, even if to a unbeknownst spectator unfamiliar with such traditions, it may seem something akin to partying amidst the actualization of hell on earth. Deep house booms next to obscure Danish in-joke music, young people engage in drinking games such as beer bowling in the alleys between the camps, partying and dancing goes on all hours as the toilets overflow and the condition of the tents deteriorates with each night. How the Danish youth have the stamina for this level of full of sensory immersion, combined with drinking and recreational drug use is beyond me, but they manage to keep it together for the 8 days of the festival, and although there are occasional tragic occurrences, assaults, overdoses and reported rapes, this would be also the case at any major music festival. Especially within a gathering of people large enough for a week to be Denmark’s 5th largest city. There are plenty of volunteers, safety officers, medics and police working in the background to look after those who need it and keep the festival moving as safely as possible. If camping in a full-blown dystopian wasteland youth party such as this doesn’t sound appealing, but the prospect of a brilliantly curated music and arts festival does, then the amenities in volunteer camping will come as a welcome reprise.

David Byrne at Roskilde 2018

I haven’t even got to the main draw of the festival yet, which for most is not the youth camping raves, but the main festival site with 6+ main stages, 175 acts, and various other events, including lectures, workshops and art installations. The major reason for attendance is the music, the headliners which in 2018 included Eminem, Bruno Mars, Gorillaz, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Massive Attack, David Byrne, Anderson Paak. and the Free Radicals, Nine Inch Nails, Stormzy, Khalid, Dua Lipa My Bloody Valentine, Mogwai and Danish acts such as Nephew, C.V. Jorgenson and The Minds of 99. The production value of the stages is extremely high, with state of the art lighting and huge screens on the main Orange stage (which itself is nearly as iconic as the festival). The sound on all the stages is brilliant and bands are afforded fees clearly large enough to secure their most complete stage designs, with all the lights, screens and prop elements that make concert attendance an immersive and exciting experience. Many performers seemed to be putting on special shows for Roskilde, Eminem for example brought out his Bad Meets Evil co-rapper Royce da 5’9″, Massive Attack brought with them reggae vocalist Horace Andy for perfect versions of his songs with them including a personal favourite Hymm of the Big Wheel, Gorillaz brought with them an absolute plethora of guests (which to be fair is not a rare going on for them) including De La Soul, Little Simz, Booty Brown, Jamie Principle and notably Del The Funky Homosapien, although his performance was cut short by what must go down as one of the strangest stage fails in festival history. I also caught memorable shows from artists such as Clutch, Chelsea Wolfe, PARTYNEXTDOOR, Danny Brown and Fleet Foxes on stages scattered throughout the festival. Genre wise, the festival is hard to down, the most EDM of concerts are side-by-side with the most metal. For example, Phil Anselmo, ex-lead singer of Pantera was at the party, performing with his new black metal project Scour (who made no mention or apologies for his previously racist behaviour, but did perform 2 Pantera covers in tribute to the later Vinne Paul). This could be followed by the likes of rising Swedish pop artist Sigrid. Therefore, ecclepticism is a strong point of the curation of the Roskilde line-up.

Groove-tastic Danish artist Iris Gold in action at Roskilde 2018

That’s only scratching the surface of the performances you can catch at Roskilde, To bring this back to my original point – volunteering at Roskilde can be about so much more than the opportunity to see music (even though there is a lot of music), some of the most memorable moments were the unexpected ones. I witnessed talks by activists such as Chelsea Manning, met friends through volunteering that have opened up whole new avenues of possibilities in Denmark, and put myself into situations that I believe I can learn and grow from. For example, one night the group I volunteered with hosted a dinner and quiz night. Through the socializing at this quiz night, friends were made that I kept seeing without planning throughout the festival, not to mention that our group got 3rd place in the quiz, just about the best placing I’ve ever managed for quiz night. On a personal note, I also managed to give myself food poisoning by eating salami that had been carried around in my bag, getting hot and sweaty for a week, which knocked out nearly a whole day of festivaling from all the vomiting. A mistake I won’t again repeat at a major music festival. And without the volunteering at Roskilde, it might have taken me a lot longer to learn that lesson.

If your looking to see top class entertaining, party with crazy tall and beautiful Scandanavian people with hilarious and cute accents, meet people and contribute to good causes with your volunteer time – then look towards Roskilde Festival. It could be one of the best reasons to travel up to the land of the Danes, and certainly one of the most simultaneously exhausting and rewarding reasons to.

Here’s a compilation of all the footage I shot during my 8 days at Roskilde:

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[Blog] New Single: Seperations (Produced by Stakker)

A couple of months ago myself and a mate of mine Richard Baldwin, who produces and writes under the aliases Stakker, The Soviet Union and Belville (check out his tunes here), had our first jam, which immediately produced some promising sounds and ideas. We’d previously bonded at a party over a shared interest in old-school audio hardware, and learning that Richard owned not one but two mint condition Roland 808 drum-machines, I knew I had to get together and see what our minds could create.

I was slightly nervous at first to be jamming with such an experience musician, but we kicked straight into it and gelled quickly over some 808 pattern experiments. Quickly laying a beat into Ableton, I scrapped previous verses that I had brought to the jam, and wrote something on the spot to fit the sparse, mid-80s dark electro vibes that Richard was cultivating. Taking some ideas from previous incomplete verses, discussing the refugee crisis, I initially went down the route of the partying-at-the-end-of-the-world theme, that  I had previously explored in End Times. We sat on this rough initial draft for a month or so, having a few jams in between to remix tracks and hang out. Then, after the EU referendum decision, I decided it was appropriate to pick up this jam again and lay something down while the topic and inspiration is fresh. The upcoming US election adds another level of perverse inspiration behind the content of this track.

What we’ve come up with is called Separations, and I’m pretty proud of it. This is the first time I’ve finished a track for my ongoing solo rap project over a beat made not by myself. It felt particularly collaborative due to Richard taking particular interest in how I was delivering the vocals, honing it on specific line delivery as well as the tone of whole verses. We tracked all the vocals in about 3 hours, split up with pizza and cider, and I think the extra production input has taking the track up a notch. It’s still loose, there’s some improv at the end which Richard and I decided to keep in, and there’s a few vocal flubs we’ve kept in there for the hell of it. Stop it sounding too laboured or whatever.

I hope you’ll dig the message of the track – don’t want to be too preachy, but taking influence from political rappers of the past, this is all about unity in the face of the divisions placed upon us by the media, politics and negative rhetoric . Check the track out above, or on bandcamp.

Hamish Gavin and Richard Baldwin Stakker recording Separations

Dicking around at the recording sessions

Journal: Driving around New Zealand listening to The Clean

As the seasons in London shift from summer to autumn, the slight chill in the air juxtaposing the still bright daylight, and a blue sky not yet obscured by grey bleakness, is reminding me of the similar climates of my homeland. Particularly Dunedin, which if memory serves me correctly often finds itself in similarly contradicting conditions. One of the most pleasant things about Dunedin weather, is that even when it is frozen cold, with morning frosts rendering grass crisp like icicles, the sky will nearly always be blue and welcoming. A cold day will always be bright enough to run about outside – which we did plenty of as kids, in the parks, streams and fields of my hometown, Mosgiel.

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A wet Dunedin day

The weather shift also reminded me of some music that seemed to go hand and hand with the chilly warm days of Dunedin. Before I moved over to London, I did a lot of driving around New Zealand – mostly in Auckland, Dunedin and Hamilton, as I strove to obtain my full license before embarking on a mission overseas. I moved to Auckland for several years before London, but I often found myself flying back to Dunedin to visit friends. During these visits, driving around in my Mum’s silver Kea or Grandma’s Mitsubishi, The Clean seemed the perfect soundtrack to to exploring the winding Otago Peninsula and sloped streets of Dunedin. So now that I’m roughly 19,075 km’s from Dunedin, and have been for over 14 months, it is maybe quite comforting to listen to a band such as The Clean, whose music seems to so strongly reflect the landscapes that the Kilgour brothers, and Robert Scott grew up in. Scott was born in Mosgiel, and the Kilgour’s in Dunedin, and I’m not exactly why their music seems to be to be the perfect companion for our vibrant student town and surrounding landscape. Perhaps it’s just that by me choosing to frequently play their Anthology during my cruises ingrained the comparison in my mind. But it seems quite possible that the landscape and energy of the town equally inspired the music – that which was born in student flats and bars of the 1970s, along with other reverb drentched, jangley, guitar based bands such as The Chills, The Verlaines, Sneaky Feelings, The 3D’s etc.. and all the other Flying Nun and Dunedin Sound family.

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Pulled over by the cops – on the desert road – North Island

I do favour the hilly roads on Dunedin, but the Waikato has it’s share of roadtrip memories as well, as after my Mum moved to Hamilton in 2012, I spent many weekends driving around those much flatter streets, and generally warmer climate, but again found myself often choosing Dunedin sound bands as the soundtrack. The Clean’s Vehicle seemed to suit these roads, their 1990 album recorded in London during a re-union tour. This is an album I’m returning to now, and perhaps finding an interesting existential connection the circumstances that surround that albums creation, seeing as David Kilgour was also lost for several years in this UK metropolis. Vehicle is the sound of The Clean again connecting with their homeland, and for me being all those kilometers away, it serves a nice replacement to actually standing on New Zealand streets.

So before I go off on another Europe adventure, I thought I would flashback to those cold New Zealand driving missions, where in one case we were off to shoot a music video at the abandoned World War II gun emplacements along the Otago Peninsula, just along from the favourite of New Zealand tourism, the Albatross colony. Or another time, heading off with my friend Anthony to explore the West Coast of the South Island, and both the Fox and Franz Joseph Glacier. Being in central London for more than a year, these experiences of freedom out in the Southern most countryside of the world do seem all the more special. There are many things going for London, but space and fresh air are largely not amongst them. That’s something that Dunedin and New Zealand has in abundance.

hamish-and-ants-roadtrip west coast south island

Anthony Keenan (Ants) and I on the West Coast of New Zealand

Live Review: Death DTA (Le Divan Du Monde, Paris, 2016)

Steve DiGiorgio played his 3 string fret-less bass like a maniac, beard grey and tied up looking kind of like a metal pirate. Bobby Koeble played every riff, every solo including the classic leads he wrote for Symbolic almost perfectly, lip syncing the lyrics along with an enamored crowd. Gene Hoglan, the atomic clock showed no signs of tiring, as he smashed through the ground breaking poly-rhythmic beats he composed for the two classic Death albums on which he played, lighting up cigarettes between songs, and playing the other drummers beats better than they ever could. Max Phelps at the front, the substitute Chuck Schuldiner now a veteran in his own right having toured for 3 years with these legends, still seems as surprised as anyone that he was picked for the role. But it all comes together as the best metal karaoke show one could ever hope for, a massive release for those who have been listening to Death for their whole lives and had perhaps never thought they’d see these songs played live, by a collection of men who wrote them.

gene hoglan

Chuck Schuldiner was of coursed missed, his onstage presence, technical proficiency and signature vocals of which perhaps invented the Death Metal genre (before outgrowing it) could not be replaced by Phelps, who has a role I do not envy, in spite of how fun it looks. I’m sure it’s an enormous task to have to fill Schuldiner’s shoes night after night, but Phelps to his credit nails nearly every solo, and also attempts various low and high vocal styles that Schuldiner moved between during his career. The crowd was supportive, often yelling Max’s name and giving him support. We were there to celebrate Schuldiner’s legacy, as DiGiorgio made clear to the crowd during in between banter, yet these musicians seem to have grown into their own confident and unique force. It’s shame this formation of Death DTA will not be able to move beyond the limits of an official tribute act, and perhaps compose new material. I would be interested to hear what new compositions the group would create.

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To tell it like it was however; hearing such  classic songs live, played by such iconic musicians of the genre, left me to uncontrollably grin for nearly the entire set. I couldn’t but joyously mosh when hearing something like Overactive Imagination off Death’s 1993 album Individual Thought Patterns played live right in front of me, with the very drummer who I listened to in wonder ten years earlier as I tried to figure out what he was doing. I often found myself with my arms around the fellow French Death fans in the pit, jumping up and down and yelling every lyric to Pull The Plug and Crystal Mountain. Air guitar displays burst out amongst us at the front as we fanatics displayed our obsessive knowledge of the solos and fretwork from throughout Death’s discography. There was all the expected moshing and circle pitting, and rampant crowd surfing also broke out. I managed to pull off one ill-timed but hugely entertaining crowd surf as the acoustic intro to Destiny kicked into distortion. It was a bit of a struggle to get down once I was up in the air, but credit to the French crowd for going along with such antics. Almost all the signature tracks were played, minus a few – it will be interesting to see if any future Death DTA tours will feature Scavenger of Human Sorrow or Flesh And The Power It Holds for example (we might need Richard Christie on drums for those two).

Bobby Koeble

This being the last night of the tour, and being a metal show in Paris, there were extra bouts of between song banter – mostly from DiGiorgio , giving shout-outs the the backstage crew and taking time to specially thank the French crowd for coming out and supporting. We were apparently the best crowd of the tour – something DiGiorgio made clear he doesn’t say every night. Whether that was the case or not, it was a great gig and something I’m proud of trekked to have seen. My only regrets are that I don’t speak french well enough to make many friends before or after the show, and that security was tough enough to not allow some of us to wait after the performance to meet the band. Perhaps next time the band tours I’ll have a chance to chat to Hoglan in person. And maybe next time I’ll know French a little better – or maybe that’s asking a little much. For now, this Death fan is satisfied.

[Journal] Back To Metal or: Looking Back On Being a Teenage Metalhead

Our tastes change depending on who we are at any given time. When we’re kids, we often lean towards pop and friendly or gimmicky dance music, as this is what appeals to us. Or in our younger days, we listen to whatever our parents are into. As we grow up, we become more aware of cultural trends happening around us, and try to keep up with them, for the sake of being one with the crowd, to bond with our peers through shared cultural knowledge. When we hit our teens, some of us want to distance ourselves further from the mainstream, and look for periphery or outsider art that doesn’t so much appeal to those still following the mainstream. For recent generations, perhaps that means diving deeper into movements such as rap or metal, or at least that is what it meant for me, as well as searching for cinema not so accepted by my teachers or parents, horror and art-house for example.

Your experiences might be different, as I’m looking at this from a reasonably personal perspective. But metal for me formed a defining part of my teen years, from 14 upwards, I found myself listening to increasingly heavier music, out of enjoyment and also to know about something and be a part of a cultural movement outside what was predominantly taking place within popular groups in my home town. Sport and pop music never really had enduring appeal. I was preoccupied by the mainstream in my tween years, and although I found the Beastie Boys and felt pretty proud discovering such cool artists before the rest of my peers, I would soon turn my back on them, based on one nasty interview they have in New Zealand in 2005. That was before a concert I would want so much to go to but never had a chance, their headlining performance at the Big Day Out. When they acted like bored assholes, in an interview with Clarke Gayford on ex-NZ music channel C4 – my genre loyalties would be prompted to change.

They may have been having a bad day, and I would eventually forgive them (rediscovering them in 2007 upon the release of The Mix Up), but in the interim, metal would fill the gap of my teenage obsessions, and a love of dance and rap would soon be replaced by obsessive support for the heavy – Megadeth, Pantera, Death, Carcass, Mayhem, Slayer, Immortal, Cryptopsy, Metallica, Sepultura, Metallica and Black Sabbath amongst others. The chug, the growl, the double kick, aggressive lyrical delivery and the overly long song structure would become my new musical guide.

Incarnate playing Oamaru's Penguin Club, 2007

Incarnate playing Oamaru’s Penguin Club, 2007

Local New Zealand metal bands would also form a huge part of my metal education and influence. Playing alongside stellar bands such as Christpuncher, El Schlong, 8 Foot Sativa, Tainted, Overlord, Nuns With Guns, Injection Of Death – some from Dunedin, some from around NZ, would only cement my desire to become a better metal musician and be more a part of the community. I was drumming with my high school friends in a band Incarnate (separate schools, but similar friends and ages) and I was prompted to double kick faster and faster, and learn more complex beats and fills, through competition with the peers around me. Gigging together, with friendly competition and rivalry, these high school and university gig days were some of the best times of my life.

After tour photo - Osmium, Sinate, Incarnate, Flesh Gates & Menaesa

After tour photo – Osmium, Sinate, Incarnate, Flesh Gates & Menaesa

Time moved on, I changed cities, and perhaps moved away from metal. Rap re-entered my life, and in a turn of events I still find hilarious even as I delicately pursue it, I’m now an aspiring solo and group rapper writer and producer. Metal is still in my life, as I sporadically meet my friends for gigs and festivals, but mainstream, indie and rock is back to being a more dominant part of my life. I’m no longer trying to prove myself to a community, or gain respect in one genre or subculture. I’m following whatever I like at whatever given time, although still arguably somewhat being under the thumb of trends and phases.

The last month I’ve moved back to a metal phase, interspersed with other genres, but returned to much loved groups such as Baroness, Black Sabbath, and Immortal (whose live DVD is a brilliant lesson in live metal theatrics) as well as diving into bands I’ve previously ignored (as I write this I’m listening and loving Meshuggah’s  “I”) – particularly Gojira, who I find are a brilliant mix of progressive and melodic elements with traditional metal brutality. The whale pick scrapes they’ve pioneered add an addictive element to their death and sometimes even nu-metal influenced chugs. Their lyrical content is on point as well, drawing from philosophical as well as literary influences and also environmental concerns. I love a band that has a heart and cares about topical themes, and Gojira further prove a metal band can be intelligent and as heavy as the heaviest substance on earth, in line with philosophically minded metal bands like Death or Cynic. I will see Gojira live in June at Download Festival, with some friends adventuring over to the UK from New Zealand. I look forward to this greatly.

Drumming at Refuel 2009

Drumming at Refuel 2009

Tastes can change, and I’m lucky to be friends with many different people with tastes ranging from the hardcore dance fanatics, to the indie rock purists. I focus on music because this is what I know, but equally, many of my friends are just as much die-hard about sport or gaming. Our interests and obsessions take many twists and turns, but it’s comforting to know something solid that I loved in a past life, such as metal, as an interest and a community – just will not die.

Review: Kanye West – The Life Of Pablo

There’s a lot of noise right now surrounding Kanye West, which seems to be the case whenever the man drops a new album. West is a master of the “any publicity is good publicity” promotion technique as we all know, even if it isn’t always intentional. Hatred of this rapper has magnified over the years, perhaps originating particularly with the Taylor Swift-Grammy’s incident of 2008. That’s been covered elsewhere so I’ll refrain from discussing in depth here. But since then, Kanye fans have had to increasingly find ways to defend their idol, with most months bringing another scandal or ludicrous (but quotable) remark. The press, and social media opinion are divided – there’s enough hatred in the comments thread of any Kanye related Facebook post to suggest that many people think West is not as groundbreaking, trendsetting or influential as he thinks he is. But his albums continue to sell well and garner near unanimous positive reviews – which can’t be said for many artists seven (or eight if you include Watch The Throne), into their solo careers.

Even if piracy has caused enormous effect to the actual physical sales of The Life Of Pablo – or rather, Tidal subscriptions it was intended to generate, being exclusively released in this platform – just the breaking of piracy records speaks of the interest in West’s music. So is it really deserving of all the positive reviews, or has Kanye’s creative ambitions begun to outweigh his actual musical output? Having now listened to it for over a week, I’m able to somewhat have an informed opinion. I attended the theater streaming of the TLOP album release at Madison Square Garden, and at that first listening I was pleased with what I heard. The solid but perhaps short album of the MSG premiere, that seemed to echo Yeezus’ sequencing, was satisfying but did not appear classic in the way Dark Fantasy nearly immediately did. It was hard to say at this stage whether it was really one of the greatest albums of all time, as West had tweeted. Now that the album has been released for real, it’s probably clear the claim is indeed a stretch to far. The actual release is a longer, denser and more unfocused product. The additions since MSG (Facts, 30 Hours, the return of No Party’s In L.A.) were welcome, as these are good songs, but they’re messily placed at the end of the album breaking from West’s usual skillful sequencing ability. They could be bonus tracks – perhaps the album truly ends with the haunting Wolves. But this is left unclear.

So while the sequencing could me Kanye’s most sprawling and mixtape-esque yet, this is not in-of-itself a sign that West has jumped the shark. Looking at the songs themselves, there is still a great deal of inspired moments, up there with Kanye’s previous best. Ultralight Beam continues his run of brilliant opening tracks, and is as startling a beginning as On Sight’s harsh electronics three years ago. Beam could be Kanye’s most obvious gospel moment yet, a tribute to his faith, but still heavy and experimental in production. The space between the choir vocals makes each lyric hit harder, and there is a haunting quality added by the backwards synths. Kanye introduces the track, but then lets Chance The Rapper spit the longest verse. It could be the best verse on the album, which perhaps speaks of Kanye’s somewhat diminishing lyrical ability – even though his productions still shine.

Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1 reunites West with previous collaborator Kid Cudi over a brilliant soul beat that could have featured on The Collage Dropout. Kanye’s opening lyrics are unfortunate (rhyming asshole with asshole), yet speak of a continued theme from Yeezus – that of a man torn between the sex-party bachelor life of old and the responsibilities of being a parent. Other controversial lyrics through-out the album, such as the much discussed – “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex, why? I made that bitch famous” – on Famous,  adhere to this theme (albeit in that case, loosely). It is easy on the basis of these lyrics to state that Kanye’s wit has declined somewhat, but an argument could be made that he is still as comic and witty as ever – his comedic skills are now just being overlooked (justifiably due to his ego). One of my favorite moments is in the aptly titled Highlights, which incidentally is one of the catchiest on the album and features the best use of ‘gopro’ in a rhyme I could possible imagine. Even the interlude Freestyle 4 works. It’s another musing on sex in a club, but manages humour and darkness in equal terms. These moments seem casual – although the album has

Other musical highlights include Feedback, a great beat perhaps not backed up by as strong lyrics and Waves, where a Chris Brown hook is used in a surprisingly not so nauseating way. When the album goes dark, in remains effective, as on the introspective Real Friends, one of the albums most sincere lyrical moments, analyzing the difficulty of staying a true friend even when we try. FML, featuring The Weeknd returns to the theme of draw of lust and it’s negative effects, which shares more sonic and lyrical similarities with Yeezus moments like Hold My Liquor. Perhaps not as successfully though.

The album is in parts a sequel to the dark and sparse introspection of Yeezus and in parts a return to the more upbeat and sprawling early albums. Kanye acknowledges his own transformation between these eras on the I Love Kanye acapella (which once had beat – the leaked OG version of the album revealed) – another apparently controversial moment that’s being discussed more than the actual music. TLOP is not as focused as Yeezus, and the songwriting and lyrics not to the standard of what I consider to be his best album and artistic peak, My Beautiful Twisted Dark Fantasy. But there are enough great moments on the album to prove that Kanye hasn’t yet lost his midus touch, even if this is an album to pick and chose from, rather than play from start to finish. So if the detractors want another reason why the fans stick to their hero in spite of any shortcomings – TLOP proves, the music remains enough.

Thoughts on David Bowie (Rest In Peace, 1947 – 2016)

David Bowie means a lot of things to a lot of people. This is obvious with the outpouring of memorials all over social media. This morning when I woke up, upon picking up my phone the first thing I saw was someone changing their Facebook profile to Bowie’s iconic image of Ziggy Stardust. I scrolled down a little further, to see the news of his passing from Pitchfork. Unable or unwilling to react to the news immediately, I slept for another hour, dreaming of Bowie, to be awoken by my BBC Radio 6 alarm setting with tributes from on air. At least in London, mainstream media today has been almost solely and rightfully focused on Bowie’s life and influence, and so too have my friends, as I spent much of the day reading their dedications.

The sheer amount of regular people and famous fans alike that expressing sadness at his passing speaks of the man’s importance to popular culture. There is barely a strand of modern music that Bowie did not play some part in innovating in his 70s peak. His work never diminished, even if his audience became at times more niche. Being the androgynous role model that he was, his music spoke to people regardless of gender, generation and race. As I write this I am down at an impromptu memorial to Bowie which has broken out in his birth suburb of Brixton in London. Stretching from a Bowie mural and reaching down to Brixton Oval, thousands of people have congregated, laying flowers, painting faces (and statues) with the Stardust bolt and with singalongs rampantly breaking out aided with the P.A. equipment of local residents. It’s a Bowie block party and a mini-festival, with all kinds of misfits and music fans gathered together.

bowie brixton

There’s probably a lot of reasons why Bowie means so much to so many. Most obviously is the music. Generations have grown up with songs like Space Oddity, Life On Mars, Ziggy Stardust, Heroes, Ashes to Ashes and Lets Dance sound-tracking our lives. His ability to innovate and defy expectations has made him a critical favourite, where his pop sensibilities have equally kept him commercially relevant. Most inspiring to me though, is Bowie’s approach to his own career. His frequent and fearless approach to changing up his style and identity provides a guide to how the rest of us mere mortals can too approach change in our lives. Musicians often get stuck repeating the same formulas, so too do the rest of us in regards to careers or habits. Bowie’s legacy is one of disregard to conformity – if one idea has exhausted it’s potential, move on to a new career in a new town. Just as Bowie dropped glam rock for funk at the height of his popularity, or pop for a return to his rock roots in the late 80s, we too can apply this mindset to more everyday situations. If a job or relationship isn’t working out right, moving on and reinventing is always an option. Even if Bowie makes changing your style cooler and more effortless than a great many of us ever could.

For some reason at points throughout the last decade, I’d found myself imagining what a world without Bowie would be like. Before the release of his 2013 album The Next Day, it seemed like that could come anytime, given his almost complete withdrawal from public appearances and projects. I wanted to believe, that if any of our classic rock idols, Bowie would be the invincible one (he certainly seemed the most otherworldly). With the release of Blackstar last week, it seemed like that might be true. Bowie had seemed healthy albeit a bit wizened in the last few music videos, and he seemed to have lost no energy, finding time to write and stage an off-Broadway sequel to The Man Who Fell To Earth sound-tracked by his music. I had spent this weekend internalizing the new album, which I found to be slighter but more completely realized than The Next Day. Blackstar’s jazzy and sprawling first half put the album up there with the most experimental of Bowie’s musical efforts, although the 2nd half featured a couple of classic ballads, finishing with the touching, I Can’t Give Everything Away. Sounding like Strangers When We Meet, with Low-era production and a haunting harmonica riff, it could be one of Bowie’s best songs of the last twenty years. Before this morning, I had neglected to register the many references to death within that song, and on the album. Such as this lyric from the title track Blackstar, where he appears to be acknowledging his end, and passing the torch somewhat;

Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)

I’m sure there will be many more artists that come close to Bowie’s level of success and many that imitate his chameleon approach to a music career, but I doubt that a torch can really be passed. Bowie’s passing for me signifies an end to a particular era of culture. Although some stars of 1960s and 70s music remain active, Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and The Rolling Stones to name some, Bowie’s passing seems significant in reminding how finite this era of music really is. Culturally, this is a loss up there in impact with the loss of John Lennon, Michael Jackon, Freddie Mercury and Elvis. Bowie’s loss has reminded me that these legends won’t be around forever, and neither will we. Rock music, as permanent a movement as it may seem, is a passing thing, as mortal as we are. But rather than seeing this finality as grim, we can look positively to all that Bowie has laid out for us. We may not be able to carry his torch, but we can at least take inspiration from this most ambitious, creative, trendsetting and alive of artists.

I would like to end with this sentiment from Twitter user Dean Podesta, who I think said it quite well;