Saturday, 28 September 2013

Live Music Review - The 1975 - Brighton Concorde 2 - 28/09/2013

The music industry is a cruel mistress. One minute you are the hottest thing since Hot Chip and the next you are fighting it out with The Pigeon Detectives to get a gig at the Butlins Indie Weekender.

The chart's transitory nature guarantees a never-ending quest for the next big thing. Right now the current NME darlings are The 1975, a Manchester 4-piece with a strong aroma of the 80's that permeates their music like a musky Drakkar Noir.

They have been championed by Zane Lowe, recently sold out The Bowery in New York and in a recent poll of Radio 1 listeners their single Chocolate was voted as the best single in the last 5 years. It would be churlish to compare regular Radio 1 listeners to goldfish so lets just say the buzz this band are generating is huge.

This furore is not lost on the fans who have come tonight judging by the chatter outside the venue. There is a reasonable cross section: some of them old enough to remember the 80's the first time around but mostly those who have been dropped off by their parents.

All are aware that we they might not be seeing The 1975 in such close proximity if their star continues its ascent. Front man Matt Healy comes out to a sea of camera phones and the pounding drums of opener The City. Silhouetted by the back and white neon image of their album cover his grown out Mohawk, stoner chic and skinny frame make him look like a young Jim Bob from Carter USM.

The 1975 have a knack of drilling home a phrase or a melody so it becomes ingrained in your psyche. The City overlays an incessant synth throb with Adam Hann's metronomic guitar loops to a repeated chorus of

"If you wanna find love you know where the city is"
Its life-affirming stuff.

M.O.N.E.Y.'s irregular rhythms, percussion and programmed beats make it sound like an unreleased Talking Heads track. Sonically it's interesting but the lack of a chorus lets it down. Talk! ups the anty with its funky riffs and anthemic refrain of "Why do you talk so loud?". The irony is lost on the couple in front of me who decide to shout to each above the music for the duration of song.

Head.Cars.Bending is not from the debut album but from the Music for Cars EP and plays out like a rockier version of Little Red Corvette using a similar chord progression as its template.

The 1975 do use synths and electronica to great effect do give their songs added dimension, although live the sound is slightly paired back. In many ways Heart Out distils the essence of The 1975 in one track. Lyrics such as

"Obsessions with rocks and brown and f*cking the whole town"

marry the bands twin preoccupations of sex and drugs perfectly. Throw in a bass line that borrows the staccato intro from Robert Tepper's No Easy Way Out, a dash of Buggles and a synth sax solo and they couldn't make it more 80's if they made it wear shoulder pads and carry a Filofax.

Its about this time of the evening where Healy complains about the heat and gets his shirt off and a waft of oestrogen temporally suffocates the room. Such is his effect on the ladies its only right that the bubblegum pop of Girls gets an airing. My favourite song on the album it sunny riff recalls the Pointer Sisters. If they were to remake Beverly Hills Cop you would find this on the soundtrack.

Matt then unleashes the one song bulldozer of Chocolate. Its as sweet a pop overload as the name suggests (although its another song about drugs)and is the main reason why the band are making waves. Tonight it has grown men screaming out its nursery rhyme chorus.

"Thank you for making this number one Brighton"

If the men get vocal the song literally has girls climbing the walls as one brave trio attempt and impromptu pole dance on the foot wide shelf at the side of the stage. Security quickly ushers them down but not before Healy as had chance to serenade them before leaving the stage.

The devotees know the band have one bullet left in the chamber and shout them back out for an encore. "We Want Sex!" is chanted in unison before the group return for their encore in an explosion of strobe and the thrashing guitars of Sex

"Seen you soon...and if I don't see you have a good life"

The 1975's tick all the right boxes. They show invention, variety and can deliver live. Yet despite all these positives why do I feel that something is missing? They only thing I can think of are that band lack a degree of soul. Both in delivery and in content, their music can sound detached and artificial like some musically proficient 6th formers singing about their nights out on the town.

If they want to be a truly great band they need to connect with their audience on a deeper level. This I hope will come with time. People will always listen harder if they think you have something worthwhile to say.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Games Don't Kill People, People Do - Does Grand Theft Auto Create a Nation of Killers?

As a gamer of 20 years standing I’ve always been baffled by the notion that violent games create a generation of killer zombies primed to shoot up their local mall as soon as they are told they cannot order anything off the breakfast menu after 10am.

Grand Theft Auto 5 was released this week to the usual gasps of protest. One particular mission involving torture has got conservative knickers in a twist. In it players can choose various torture techniques (drowning, mutilation, electrocution) in order to kneecap, pull out teeth and batter information on the location of an insurgent from one of the characters. Use all the torture implements and you can get your hands on a gold medal. Well done.

The game’s makers Rockstar North have sensibly kept quiet on the subject, letting the furore sell more units. The game is the most expensive ever made; costing £170m; an extraordinary outlay, but it’s expected to generate £1 billion in the first year alone. Remember, there is no such thing as bad publicity.

Rockstar have previously rejected criticism about the levels violence and depravity in the franchise by saying they the games are not, as Florida lawyer Jack Thompson describes them:

“murder simulators”

Rockstar have argued that GTA uses its dark humour as a means of critiquing modern life by holding up a mirror to the less salubrious aspects in 21st century society. They don’t encourage they reflect.

In GTA 5 the water-boarding elements of the controversial mission have been suggested by some as pointed criticism of US behaviour during the Iraq War and should be taken into context with plotlines from later on in the game. Whatever the justification, conservative commentators have hinted that suggestible children are going to start setting up their own water boarding areas in the corners of playgrounds as a result. Alison Sherratt, president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers says

"Four to five-year-olds have a tendency to copy what they see on TV, whether it’s this or Fireman Sam putting out fires."

Firstly, what human detritus is allowing their toddlers to watch an 18 cert game and a how is a 4yr old going to rig up a car battery to some jump leads in order to set up a makeshift torture rig? For starters car batteries are quite heavy and you will struggle to get one for under £80. Which 4yr olds have that sort of money? That is unless they have been studying GTA and have a sideline in robbing convenience stores or running townsfolk over collecting their money from their flattened corpses. Damn, GTA really IS corrupting our nation’s minds.

I remember way back in the 80’s playing Barbarian on the Commodore 64 where your character was a greased-up beefcake who spent the entire game trying to decapitate his opponents and if successful your enemy’s head would satisfyingly bounce off the screen.

I’ve played all sorts of games over the years which have involved all manner of shooting and blowing people up and yet I’ve never felt the urge to go on a mass rampage. I do often walk about my flat smothered in baby oil wearing nothing but a loin-cloth but I’m sure that has nothing to do with my gaming choices.

There is an argument, of which I am sympathetic, to say that violent games can be the catalyst for unbalanced individuals to commit acts of violence. MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski says

“it’s kind of hard not to make a connection between games and the recent Navy Yard shooting (12 people shot dead by gunman Aaron Alexis) when you hear the shooter's friend saying that he would watch on a life size screen these violent video games for hours and hours and hours and hours and hours.”

Take the example of Anders Breivik who in court described how he trained for the killing of 69 people by practicing his shooting on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Describing the game, he said:

"It consists of many hundreds of different tasks and some of these tasks can be compared with an attack, for real. That's why it's used by many armies throughout the world. It's very good for acquiring experience related to sights systems."

He added: "If you are familiar with a holographic sight, it's built up in such a way that you could have given it to your grandmother and she would have been a super marksman. It's designed to be used by anyone. In reality it requires very little training to use it in an optimal way. But of course it does help if you've practiced using a simulator."

Breivik is not an isolated case .The Virginia Tech shooter Seung Hui Cho, the Arizona shooter Jared Lee Loughner and the Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza, who sat in his windowless basement playing Call of Duty for hours, are all described as essentially being addicted to video games.

There is a strong argument that these games desensitize already troubled trouble individuals from the mechanics and implications of killing. Repeated acts of aggression are probably not the best remedy for individuals dealing with bullying, social anxiety or serious mental illness.

Personally whilst I think violent video games should be strictly restricted to the under 18yrs, like all adult entertainment, I think the killers would have committed these terrible acts whether violent computer games existed or not. A sane mind is able to distinguish between fantasy and reality and there has to be something seriously wrong with them mentally to copy the violence they have witnessed in games.

Perhaps more money and time should be spent helping those who have personality disorders and mental illness rather than knee jerk reactions by MP’s and media types with voters to assuage and papers to sell.

Next week: 6 games that make GTA look lke Angry Birds