MidiMidis and Delays @ The Relentless Garage, 6.10.10

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiAxiGZKpGQ&fs=1&hl=en_US&color1=0x5d1719&color2=0xcd311b] Remember this tune? For anyone who grew up in the 90s, hearing the familiar, bleepy "doo doo dooos" can instantly transport you back to the days of playing Nintendo, watching Saturday morning cartoons, and swilling hefty portions of sugary, crack-like Kool-Aid through crazy straws.

For up-and-coming act, MidiMidis, mixing nostalgia with crazy electro rock is their name of the game. Their music is entirely composed of 8-bit and midi melodies. Imagine a British version of Julian Casablancas stroking himself with a Duck Hunt gun while watching "Tron", and you'll have some sense of what MidiMidis sound like. Or, y'know, you can just listen on their Myspace page.

The band were opening for Delays at the intimate Relentless Garage in London. An odd combination of bands, but they seemed ready to take on the challenge by performing with raw enthusiasm and fervor.

But despite giving an energetic performance, complete with brilliantly garish stage lights, the crowd was only mildly receptive. Perhaps they'd be more suited to opening for a band like Klaxons or Late of the Pier, rather than Delays.

Although, oddly enough, their performance seemed to have a Viagra-like effect on an older couple standing next to me, inspiring the man to gratuitously squeeze the bottom of his partner while she listened on to the bleepy, shouty spectacle going on in front of her.

Bottom line? MidiMidis are the perfect soundtrack for either your next crazy electro-rock warehouse party, or for people in their 'frisky fifties.'

Delays: Still Rockin' After All These Years

Six years is a long time to wait to see one of your favorite bands in concert again. The last time I saw Delays, I was just starting my first semester at USF. So naive, so innocent (but still with a kick-ass taste in music).

They've released three albums since then, including the recently released "Star Tiger Star Ariel." And judging by the crowd at the Relentless Garage, they've managed to maintain a strong fan base of hardcore followers.

The venue was packed with their most dedicated fans; the fans that can sing along to every single word whilst fist-pumping and pogoing up and down to every song.

Musically, they've come a long way since releasing "Faded Seaside Glamour," but they've retained the same freshness and exuberance in their live performance. And, somehow, they don't seem to have aged at all in the last six years. I'd like to know their secret!

Perhaps it's the same source of magic that gives lead singer Greg Gilbert his androgynously siren-like vocals, as he wails along to the lush, ethereal melodies and beats of the rest of the band.

Like the veelas had the power to hypnotize unsuspecting men in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" with their song, Greg managed to get even the toughest-looking men in the venue to jump around like hooligans at a football match.

The band played a good mixture of songs from all of their albums, including "Long Time Coming", "Cavalry", and "Valentine." As the songs continued, hands shot up into the air like some type of religious spectacle at one of those weird churches in a tent, where people speak in tongues and pass out from the power of Christ.

Luckily, no one passed out here. The band expertly knew how to command the stage and get the audience going. It's obvious that Delays are a band that have been doing this for awhile, without the awkward or nervous onstage moments. Greg, Aaron, Colin, and Rowly all play with a noticeable confident attitude, somehow managing to simultaneously engage the crowd and blow them away at the same time.

And the crowd wouldn't let them get away without an encore, enticing the band to come back onstage by clapping in time and continuing the melodic "Oooohs" that Greg left off with.

Bottom line? Like Super Mario Bros, Delays are still just as amazing (if not better) after all these years!

Megabus Musings

An exercise in stream-of-consciousness writing while taking a Megabus from London to Bristol

**September 24th, 2010**


I'm on Megabus right now, headed to Bristol. I've been chewing on the same piece of peppermint Orbit gum for at least an hour now. It's starting to feel sharp and bitter inside my mouth. When did I start chewing primarily on my left side? My boots kind of pinch my toes, but they're better for walking in the rain than my flimsy Primark flats. I'm in an extremely creative mood today. It's probably my mind's self-defense mechanism for avoiding thinking about the inevitable awkwardness that's to come. The further we speed along down the road, the heavier my chest and stomach feels. Although that could be the leftover tuna-zucchini-cheese-tomato pasta I had for breakfast. 

It's been over three years now. Time heals all wounds, right? Let's hope so. 

My legs are too long for the limited seating space, but at least I have a whole row to myself. I often wonder what people around me are thinking. Not necessarily if they're passing any thoughts on me, but just curious about how different everyone's inner monologues are. Do people talk to themselves in the third person? Or are there songs constantly playing in the background? Or are they thinking about food and sex? Reminiscing on nostalgic moments? Trying to surpress negative thoughts? Carefully filtering their true thoughts from the words that actually escape their lips, like a whale filters food from ocean water? I just caught the eye of a girl sitting in front of me, as she adjusted in her seat. A moment so brief and meaningless, it will soon be forgotten.

Being on the left side of the road now only feels weird at night. My eyes are not used to the mirror image of white and red lights. It hurts, slightly, but it doesn't mean it's wrong. It's just something to get used to. This is the first time in a very long time that I've allowed myself to run with my thoughts, without burying them with stupid reality shows or movies online. It's too easy and comfortable to ignore the mind, to push away thoughts, to avoid making decisions because they're too hard to face. And so the days roll by, the months change, the lines between different weeks become blurred. 

I find comfort in the fact that we're all lost right now, not having a fucking (that's for emphasis, not anger!) clue what we'll be doing in a week's, month's, or year's time. Not even knowing where we'll be living, or if we'll be working. It's only a bad thing if/when the money runs out. I love having money, but I hate money. It can turn people into monsters. It can be worse on a relationship than infidelity. People become obsessed with it, and lose sight of the things that really matter in life. Like connections with other human beings. Because, really, the connections that we make are what make life worth living. "All you need is love." "If you've lost your faith in love and music, the end won't be long." Too true. I haven't lost mine. I may be lost in life right now, sailing along without a specific final destination in mind, but the experiences that I've had over the past year have been incredible. The new places I've been to, the new skills I've learned, and, most importantly, the new people that have come into my life. I believe there's a reason why everything's played out the way it has, and I feel that even better things are about to happen. It's all bubbling under the surface, ready to erupt. And, finally, the puzzle will start to make sense. Form the edges first, then fill in the rest. 


I can hear the crinkling sound of a packet of crisps being opened. Crunch. Crunch. We're speeding along the left side of the road, and my bladder is cursing me for that cup of lukewarm mocha so inconveniently consumed right before the journey started.

The couple in front of me are joined together in holy naptrimony, and I can't tell if that little snorty snore that just escaped from its olfactory prison was from the man or the woman.

The seats are upholstered in a tacky velour fabric, royal blue with yellow and orange geometric Pacman-esque shapes. It complements the shiny shell of the exterior, in the same shade of royal blue, with bright yellow letters spelling out "MEGABUS."

It reminds me of Santa Clara High School's colors, and I feel a twinge of nostalgia for my high school days across the other side of the world.

As I turn back to see if the bathroom is vacant, I notice that everyone is sleeping. Some people have their heads rested back, and others are sprawled across both seats.

It's funny how, no matter what age or gender, everyone looks so serene and innocent when they're sleeping. Normally furrowed brows become uncreased. Nervous, shaky limbs become tranquilized. Tranquil eyes?

Heads gently bob from the movement of the bus. Mouths are relaxed, neither smiling nor frowning, slightly parted to let warm air out. Expressions are even more neutral than Switzerland.

Some people are stirred awake by an unexpected bump in the road, or change in speed, while others soldier on through their slumber.

Next stop: London!

Sunrise In Northwick Park

We just witnessed the "double rainbow" of all sunrises. Stumbling our way across Northwick Park, the night before melting into the morning after without a wink in between.

Morning dew adorns itself to the freshly cut grass, as if someone came during the night and took a microscopic bedazzler to every perky green blade, willing or not.

A thick white fog envelops us as we descend into the misty unknown. Time and worries are temporarily suspended, just like our warm exhalations hitting the brisk Harrow air. It's as if we've ascended into the clouds, and we've become infinite.

Somehow the darkness of night managed to slip away, like a regretful one night stand, before we had a chance to realize it.

The skyline is fading from deep magenta, to shades of violet and baby blue; the backdrop of the glorious sun that's about to take center stage. Beams of warm light cut their way through the fog and trees, hugging our bodies and dancing across our retinas.

We become momentarily frozen in awe, before breaking out and running and twirling and skipping and laughing in the golden light.

We admire our black silhouettes against the rising sun, like shadows ripped off of the ground and given a corporeal form.

The caked-on beer on my boots has been replaced by a 5 o'clock shadow of grass clippings.

A single white dandelion stands on the field, daring to be plucked, beads of moisture disguising it as a mini disco ball. "Make a wish."

California’s Cannabis Culture

It's been a couple of months in the making, but my final MA dissertation/final project documentary, "California's Cannabis Culture" is officially done! And it can be viewed here:

[vimeo 13381803]

It's a journey into California's marijuana scene, which could take a pivotal turn in November, when Californians vote on whether or not to legalize marijuana.

Please watch, comment, share, and enjoy!

Ghetto Tamales: An Experiment in Procrastination

I've blogged about making tamales before, and how they're a Mexican tradition during Christmastime. But on this lazy Sunday afternoon, I've decided to forget about doing anything productive (school-wise), in favor of trying to recreate the delicious tamales that were made during Christmas. I don't know what's weirder: making tamales in July, or making tamales in a country where most people would think it's pronounced tah-mail-ees (for the record, it's tah-mah-lehs).

So what inspired this sudden urge to make these delicious Mexican treats? I was recently browsing the sale rack at Sainsbury's, and came across a single, glorious bag of masa harina. Seriously, this stuff is harder to find than a shirtless Brit in Hyde Park who isn't glowing shades of white and pink and sporting a paunchy beer belly.

And it was only 92p! The only corn tortillas that they sell here are actually flour tortillas with just a little bit of cornmeal added. Massive failure for the gluten-intolerant! So I figured I would pick up a bag of this stuff and attempt to make my own corn tortillas.

They didn't exactly turn out how I had imagined, so I thought I'd try my hand at tamale-making. The only problem? Tamales are traditionally made in corn husks. Luckily, a quick Google search told me that aluminum foil makes a decent substitute. Huzzah!

I didn't really use a recipe for the masa. Instead, I was winging it based on what I had learned from my friends in December. Water, masa flour, dash of vegetable oil, brown sugar, and cinnamon.

I divided half the dough, and made the other half the traditional pink color and filled them with raisins.

Afterwards, I prepared the steamer. One trick of the tamale trade is to put a coin in the part of the pot with the water. When you stop hearing it rattle, that means you have to add more water.

I spread out all of the masa onto small sheets of foil, folded them up into little packets, and placed them in the steaming basket.

It didn't occur to me until, after over an hour and they were still uncooked, that I should have probably put a lid over the pot. Whoops. Well, after I put the lid on they cooked up pretty quickly.

And the verdict? Mehhhh....the taste is sort of almost there, but there's a definite taste difference from not using corn husks. Damn you, aluminum, you've FOILED my tamale-making attempts!

The Futureheads: Live at Pure Groove Records in London

"Ok, this next song is going to sound very Russian, and when we start it will become very clear why," explains Barry Hyde, with the same mischievous grin as The Grinch when he's slinking around Whoville, stealing all of the Christmas decorations. The lead singer of The Futureheads has successfully captured the attention of the crowd packed into the tiny Pure Groove Records shop and cafe. It's a quiet Thursday afternoon in London, and a mixture of students and young, suited professionals on their lunch breaks are gathered to catch a rare, free acoustic performance of the normally raucous Sunderland-based indie rock quartet.

As the group launches into "Struck Dumb" from their newest album, The Chaos, which was released in the UK on April 26th, the Russian reference becomes very clear indeed. Without the aid of electric guitars, band members Ross Millard and David 'Jaff' Craig harmonise "ra da-da!" sounds--making sure to heavily roll the R's--and occasionally display Russian-inspired dance moves, alternately squatting and popping back up with flailing leg kicks and arm thrusts. The only thing missing from the scene is black, furry hats and shiny, red voluminous trousers.

Hyde joins in by singing, "Misery, is a little line, of a little dash, it's a subtraction sign." Meanwhile, drummer Dave Hyde sits off to the side, providing a rhythmic beat without the aid of a drum kit.

With influences ranging from new wave and post-punk greats like Fugazi, XTC, Devo, and Gang Of Four, The Futureheads normally perform upbeat-yet-aggressive sets that often result in moshing, crowd-surfing, and pogo dancing. But despite not having the usual array of electric instruments, amplifiers, smoke machines, and brilliantly-coloured stage lights, their performance doesn't feel any less exciting.

The Chaos Here, the excitement comes from admiring the power of their voices and poetic lyrics, like "Every time I listen to my heart/It's like a cartwheel in my head but my legs are made of lead" from "Heartbeat Song." This is The Futureheads stripped down to their rawest elements.

And, today, those elements consist of one part concert, one part variety show--the band members seem to be in a jovial mood, joking around with each other and encouraging crowd interaction. It's not every day that a band turns one of their songs ("Hounds Of Love", from 2004's self-titled debut album, in this case) into an audience participation game. Millard's side of the crowd has been instructed to sing the "OH oh-oh"s, while Craig's side of the crowd has the dueling "oh-OH!" melody.

It's here where it becomes clear that this isn't your ordinary British indie rock band, with generic melodies and a pretentious attitude--the band's vocals alone intertwine in perfect harmony, almost like a throwback to a-Capella barbershop quartets from the turn of the 20th century.

Although the audience members may not possess the same level of vocal talent as the band, hearing the entire shop singing along to "Hounds Of Love" is a testament to the band's showmanship. Moments like this make you remember why you bother going to shows in the first place. It's easy to sit back and listen to an album on the bus, while working, or at a club, but without the smoke and mirrors of studio productions, some bands just can't cut it live.

But whether they're playing an intimate acoustic set, or performing at Europe's largest festivals, The Futureheads have consistently proven that they can do more than cut it live--especially with the occasional, impromptu kalinka dance moves.

An Inspector Calls

As eerie bomb sirens wail, and artificial fog crawls off the warped, wooden stage--completely enveloping the unsuspecting audience--it’s hard not to feel instantly transported into a desolate, shambled world. But Stephen Daldry’s West End revival of J B Priestley’s 1945 play, “An Inspector Calls”, does just that. From the moment Stephen Warbeck’s chilling Hitchcockian score begins, and the haunting, almost post-apocalyptic setting, designed by Ian MacNeil, is revealed—which fuses together a 1940s, bomb-blasted landscape with a 1912 oversized dollhouse on stilts—it is clear that this production is set outside of one single time frame.

Daldry, best known for directing award-winning hits such as “Billy Elliot” and “The Hours”, has given this revival a uniquely postmodern twist that serves as a vitriolic commentary on society.

Young street urchins scour the rain-slicked, littered streets outside of the Birling household for scraps of food, establishing that this family represents a typical, individually minded, industrialist, Edwardian household.

An enigmatic man, dressed in an unassuming trench coat and tilted hat, lingers outside of the bizarre-looking household. Handing a fresh orange to a young boy in ragged clothing, he becomes the symbolic representation of aspects of humanity that the Birlings have long forgotten—or perhaps never knew in the first place.

The Mysterious Inspector Goole The mysterious man is revealed by Edna, the elderly parlour maid, to be Police Inspector Goole, brilliantly portrayed by Nicholas Woodeson. When he calls at the house of the affluent Birling family, interrupting a dinner party celebrating the engagement of daughter Sheila to the successful Gerald Croft, the family’s lives are altered in a completely unexpected way.

One by one, the Inspector interrogates the members of the Birling household as part of an investigation of the apparent suicide of a young, working-class woman. Not one to bite his tongue, Inspector Goole reveals the deepest and darkest secrets and actions of each member of the family that led to the girl’s ultimate demise.

By collectively failing on the basic essence of humanity and compassion—from Mr. Birling firing the young woman for demanding a raise, to Gerald Croft having an illicit affair with her—the family members are all accused of contributing to the young woman’s death by the vehement Inspector Goole.

A Goole-ish Message

Perhaps even more vehement than Inspector Goole is the overall message of the play—a seething critique of individualism--and the lack of subtly in its delivery. Although slightly overacted at times, the ensemble manages to effectively capture the selfish essence of the industrialist stereotypes.

Most resistant to accepting an ounce of responsibility and shattering the ostentatious illusion is the immaculately put-together Mrs. Birling—dripping with jewels and a perfectly coiffed, fiery red bouffant hairdo—portrayed by Sandra Duncan.

In contrast, Marianne Oldham, portraying the Birling’s young, egotistical daughter, Sheila, is most affected by the Inspector’s interrogation. Sick and tired of putting on airs, she becomes the chief voice of reason among the clan, encouraging the others to break out of their elitist facades and reveal the truth to Inspector Goole—and, most importantly, to themselves.

From Justin to Hitler: Waxing Poetic At Madame Tussauds

"Oh, mom, look it's Hitler! I'm so gonna take a picture with him!" A giddy American tourist, with a digital camera strapped around her wrist, drags her mom over to a wax figurine of the infamous megalomaniac, trying to figure out the best pose to reflect this unusual meeting. She opts for a wide grin and a hand artfully arranged upon the Führer's shoulder. Just a few feet away, President Obama and his wife Michelle stand smiling in the background, in a replica of the Oval Office. For over 200 years, London's Madame Tussauds Wax Museum has housed hand-crafted wax figurines of history's most infamous people, giving tourists the chance to feel like they are included in a world that is otherwise very exclusive.

Madame Tussauds wasn't always a spot for ordinary people to mingle with celebrities. It wasn't until the early 20th century that the museum started functioning as a commentary on popular culture, rather than a source of direct news, due to the rapid growth of print news and public literacy making current affairs more accessible.

And, although the museum was hit by three major disasters in the 20th century, including the Blitz bombing in 1940--in which Hitler was one of the few figures to survive unharmed--millions of visitors have still flocked to the museum. Since first opening in 1835, there have been over 500 million visitors--more than the combined populations of North America and Australia.

Setting The Stage From the moment you step out of the gilded elevator and into the first exhibition, where a display of fake paparazzi furiously flash their cameras, the illusion is set. No longer are you an outsider to this glitzy and glamorous lifestyle, you are the guest of honour in one of the hottest soirees in town.

Rounding the corner of a wall with a 'Madame Tussauds welcomes you to our A-list party' sign, you enter a chic grand hall, complete with Swarovski crystal chandeliers, waterfalls, and flattering low-lighting.

Hollywood's hottest celebrities, from Johnny Depp to Nicole Kidman, are dressed in their finest ensembles. Without ropes and bodyguards, you can literally rub shoulders with the stars. But you may have to queue for the chance to get up close and personal with pop singer Justin Timberlake--he is the museum's most-hugged star, running up the most expensive dry cleaning bill for his stylish white Savile Row suit.

The Horror, The Horror! Besides letting museum-goers mingle with celebrities and world leaders, Madame Tussauds also provides a more gruesome experience in its Chamber of Horrors. Not for the faint of heart, the Chamber is a spooky, prison-themed labyrinth where live actors, dressed as deranged prisoners, pop out at unsuspecting customers, just waiting to illicit shrieks of horror.

The final stop in the museum is the Spirit of London tour, in which visitors ride in an old-fashioned black cab and are transported through 400 years of London's history--ending in a strategically-placed gift shop where you can purchase the perfect frame for your photos with Justin and Hitler.