Just one day after I saw the Ladytron concert, I experienced its antithesis. A jaunt upstate to visit a friend found me sitting in a well-lit coffee shop listening to some local poets, who were backed by a five-piece band playing world-inspired jazz. The entire group -- from the 50-something drummer to the velvet-drenched ex-Goth whose spoken word couplets were most frequently performed that night -- defied demographics. Several members of the group also, knowingly or not, defied fashion. But fashion, as well as being an emblem for a particular lifestyle, was not the point of their performance. Nor was the point to vie for a Pushcart or await stardom. The point was poetry, and emotion, and therapy, and expression. It was humble creativity, plain and simple, without a modicum of pretense or an ounce of expectation. I wondered, sitting there in my uncomfortable plastic seat at a rickety formica table, listening to love poems that were somewhat predictable but nonetheless earnest, what the kids from Ladytron would have done in such a setting. Brought down off the perch which comfortably separated them from the crowd at Bowery, confronted with the utter humanity of their fans (and their fans, in turn, confronted by them) -- would the entire Ladytron enterprise have self-destructed? Would there have been more smiles and warmth from the four fashionistas who, as if robbed by the kinetics of the lights and the cinematic displays in the stage's background, had been as motionless and cold as molecules at absolute zero? Don't get me wrong -- I understand and appreciate the expert execution of an image. There's something both beautiful and artistic about a neat, clean package, where form and content are stitched together so tightly that it seems one was rendered for the other, and the other only. And these days, the music business aspires toward and practically demands such unity. In this way, Ladytron are God's gift. Their musical style -- robotic, inorganic, and razor sharp -- becomes all the more acute when embodied by four good-looking Brits who are the very avatars of cooler-than-thou. Sporting outfits that resembled the uniform of the factory-less working class -- as if Carhartt started making wear for the runway -- Ladytron seemed prepped to program the crowd into their Linux code, or else replicate themselves again and again until we were nothing more than throngs of their artificially produced offspring. But since the audience were not clones, it was Ladytron themselves who ended up seeming lifeless, rather than vitalizing. The irony was that the musical exactness that makes Ladytron's 604 and Light & Magic so goddamn danceable was the quality that rendered their show flatter than a day-old, open soda. Ladytron opened with "True Mathematics", the first track off their most recent release, Light & Magic. Behind a hefty wall of Korg synthesizers and other devices that challenged traditional definitions of "musical instruments", Ladytron dug in immediately, flashing serious, sexy, and almost sinister glances toward the front of the stage. Mira Aroyo, who tends to sing background vocals on Ladytron's material, took the mic here, spitting out (what I think was) German in a manner made only more severe by her icy countenance and angular hairdo. More than being serious about their show -- and believe me, they were damn serious -- the Ladytron kids also appeared anxious, riding that fine line between control and chaos. In music as mechanistic as theirs, a live show can almost be a hazard -- there's less room for error than there would be in a wash of feedbacky guitars and wildly crooned vocals. (That is, unless you allow there to be . . . more on this point to come.) "Playgirl", song two, was also performed with an aspiration toward organization. Recorded, the song burns with an icy heat, in part because the drum machine claps and synthesizer drone have a driving, yet playful banter. Helen Marnie, the primary vocalist, sings with a sweet sharpness, like a little girl wielding a knife. In the face of this combination, grooving is an absolute requirement. And yet, here -- even after being warmed up by the hells-bells antics of Simian -- the crowd did nothing; the band did even less. Marnie didn't even bust a hip shimmy. Wait -- I thought this music was supposed to be fun? What made this even more uneven was the fact that Ladytron were touring with a live drummer and bassist. The bassist -- hanging back and keeping low-key, as bassists are wont to do -- fit in almost unnoticeably, but the drummer had too much verve and too little stilo to not stick out like a sore thumb. Later on in the show, cymbals crashing through a sped-up version of "He Took Her To A Movie" gave the entire thing an energy it did not want to have, like a nuclear reactor overheating. It came off as . . . untidy. And if there's anything that's death to this brand of electroclash, it's untidiness. But it didn't have to go down like this. Brewing just beneath the surface, making occasional appearances that grew more frequent as the show went along, was jubilance. About halfway through their set, Marnie smiled demurely which, given the context, was about as scandalous as her unzipping her jacket to reveal a pair of sparkly, tasseled pasties. She experimented with the vocals on "Blue Jean", and busted a full-on move during "Evil". Obviously, there were living, breathing performers up there. And, I contend, their immaculate presentation would not be undone if we saw them. Was it simply nerves that kept the bulk of them (with the exception of a warmed-up Marnie) stiff and uncommunicative? Did they think appearing to be having fun would cramp their style -- or ours? Whether these speculations are on the mark or miss it totally, one thing is clear: the operative word in the phrase "live performance" is not performance. It's live. That means delivering the music we adore and doing it with a joie de vivre. If all I wanted was to hear Ladytron's music while marveling at their unabashed stylie-ness, I could have stayed home, cranked up 604, and downloaded JPGs of them off the Web.
So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.
As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.
This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.
It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.
Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.
"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"
Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.
Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.
Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.
There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.
There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."