TV

Robin Hood

Roger Holland

Robin Hood makes a quick anti-war comment, establishing right-on credentials for the benefit of the Islington classes, but doesn't pursue broader issues of taxation and social justice.

Robin Hood

Airtime: Saturdays, 9pm ET
Cast: Jonas Armstrong, Lucy Griffiths, Keith Allen, Richard Armitage
Subtitle: First Season
Network: BBC America
US release date: 2007-03-03
Trailer
Amazon

Robin Hood is one of those legendary figures who just keep on giving. The inspiration for every heart-of-gold outlaw tale since the Middle Ages, Robin's influence has been seen most recently in Joss Whedon's Firefly and Peter Jackson's portrayal of Faramir and the Rangers of Gondor in Lord of The Rings. In 1941, Roy Rogers gave us Robin Hood of the Pecos, in 1947 Gene Autry starred as the Robin Hood of Texas. Real life outlaws have also been romanticised à la Hood (Billy The Kid, Jesse James, and John Wesley Harding and Hardin), movie versions of the character abound (played by Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn, Mel Brooks, Patrick Bergin, and Kevin Costner), as do TV series, including the definitive Richard Greene version and the '80s retelling that introduced both black magic and fantasy into the legend. Both those series were produced by independent British television companies. Now, the BBC, proud upholder of everything that is great about Britain, has given us a laughable, error-prone Hood for the new millennium.

These new adventures of Robin Hood were filmed in 2006, broadcast in the UK the same year, and debuted on BBC America in March 2007. A second season is already in production, which says more about the strength of the BBC's marketing than it does about the show's quality. The plots are facile, the drama absent, and the acting so wooden it often cannot be seen for the trees of Sherwood Forest. Yet I've enjoyed every last episode, each so bad it's rather good.

Perhaps the most killing thing that can be said about Robin Hood is that the eternally unlikable Keith Allen is undeniably the best thing in the show. He takes his Sheriff of Nottingham directly from Alan Rickman's scenery-chewing rendition in Prince of Thieves, itself lifted from Nickolas Grace in Robin of Sherwood, and adds just a little postmodern manipulative sociopath to the mix.

Would-be Assassin: "I shot the sheriff."

Sheriff of Nottingham: "No, you shot the deputy."

The Sheriff's context, however, is literally meager. England in general and the city of Nottingham appear are alarmingly under-populated. Robin and the Sheriff barely have enough men to form a basketball team each. Hood's side seems to be able to wander in and out of Nottingham Castle at will, and barely a week passes without at least one prisoner breaking out of the dungeons.

The Sheriff's second, Guy of Gisborne (Richard Armitage), is suitably brooding and ineffectual, seeking redemption in the "pure heart" of Marian. Lucy Griffiths plays her like Keira Knightley with boobs and a wonderbra. If you remember the mild controversy over posters for King Arthur, when Knightley's chest was photoshopped up to something approaching a C cup, then you already know everything you need to know about Griffiths' Maid. Except that she fights like Cameron Diaz in Shrek and is largely inept and always in need of a timely rescue.

Robin and Gisborne take turns rescuing her. Robin repeatedly rescues her from Evil Sir Guy, and Evil Sir Guy rescues her from the Sheriff. Yep. It's a Lurve Triangle, and all the chemistry is on the hypotenuse. Yet neither man seems able to spot a woman in men's clothing. Sir Guy is blind to Griffith's boobage whenever she appears in her overwhelmingly odd "Nightwatchman" guise; Robin too struggles with this secret identity, as well as Saracen "boy" Djaq (Anjali Jay), whose sole disguise is a short haircut.

Such charming naïveté is entangled in Robin Hood's politics. The backstory to most of the Hood legends casts him as a loyal servant of King Richard the Lionheart, returned home from the Crusades to question the value of the war overseas and its impact at home. Can you think of a parallel with today? Writer and executive producer Dominic Minghella certainly can. Unfortunately, he can't do anything with it beyond waving an occasional trite banner to say, "Look! It's like the same as today! Aren't I clever?" Americans may need to remember this is coming from a British perspective:

Sheriff of Nottingham: "The king needs funds to fight our holy war."

Robin Hood: "Is it our holy war? Or is it Pope Gregory's?"

While liberals and right-wingers see Robin Hood as a freedom-loving champion of small government, the Left often reads him as a classic socialist. Minghella, however, appears most interested in the cheap score. He makes a quick anti-war comment, establishing his right-on credentials for the benefit of the Islington classes, but doesn't pursue broader issues of taxation and social justice. I don't think I'd trust Minghella to write a shopping list.

Guy of Gisborne: "I understand the king is winning, thanks be to God."

Robin Hood: "He's killing more people."

Gisborne: "Is that not winning?"

Robin: "Show me an argument ever settled with bloodshed, and then I'll call it winning."

I'm fairly sure some important arguments have been settled through bloodshed. The only trick Minghella misses here is to add Culture Club to the soundtrack. All together now: "War is stupid, and people are stupid".

In one episode, Gisborne announces he can "hold and execute outlaws without trial", while the Sheriff plots to use the spectre of Robin Hood's "terrorism" as a device to keep the peers and peasants in line. The Sheriff is happy to use torture and conspire to acquire weapons of mass destruction. But none of these ideas or themes is given more than a brief nod, and the idea that the dungeons of Nottingham Castle might double as a medieval Gitmo is plainly risible, given the ease with which Robin and his men regularly break each other out.

Similarly, I wonder how many former coal miners in the UK watched the fifth episode of Robin Hood and laughed (somewhat bitterly) at its Bird Flu referencing title, "Turk Flu". In the '80s, Nottinghamshire had the most productive coal mines in the UK and the best paid and most treacherous miners. The vast majority of Nottinghamshire's 30,000 miners scabbed from day one of the UK's watershed miners' strike of 1984-1985, betraying their 170,000 colleagues and acting as Margaret Thatcher's own personal strikebreakers.

In "Turk Flu", Gisborne and the Sheriff of Nottingham are the proud owners of a thriving iron mine, which provides much of their income and "military might". However, mine workers are dying because of the mine's poor state of repair and consequently, they announce that they will strike until conditions are improved. Gisborne and Nottingham's response is a model of Thatcherite industrial relations. Gisborne kills the miners' leader and Nottingham fires the remainder of the miners, prohibits anyone from helping them in any way, and brings in "blackleg" miners in the form of slaves. It's possible that Minghella carefully planned this episode in order to scar the Nottingham scabs with dramatic irony. But based on the rest of the series, I think I'm with Boy George.

5

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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