Wednesday, 27 June 2012

EIFF 2012: The Ambassador

It sounds like the start of a bad joke: how does a “caucasian, pigment-challenged” Dane become Liberia’s diplomatic representative in the Central African Republic? According to Mads Brügger’s The Ambassador, surprisingly easily: with a mercenary resolve and enough dollars, a seat at the table is apparently open to anyone.

Though a known media figure in Denmark, UK audiences will mostly be unfamiliar with Brügger, whose brand of ‘performative journalism’ is loosely akin with prankster documentarians like The Yes Men: setting the world to rights with outrageous stunts, provoking laughs then making them stick in the throat. Brügger never lets his mask slip: as he inveigles his way into diplomatic circles via title brokers and cash bribes (or, if you prefer, “envelopes of happiness”), he embodies exploitation in order to expose it, and while there may be limited political impact to making a corrupt elite look foolish, his gonzo tactics raise uncomfortable questions of liability without the need for off-putting self-righteousness.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

EIFF 2012: The Lifeguard

Though ostensibly documentary, The Lifeguards shrewdly observed drama unfolds as precisely as any plotted fiction. On a busy Chilean beach, dreadlocked attendant Mauricio rules his stretch of sand with sarcasm and stubbornness. Whether chastising a man for wearing unsuitable bathing wear or antagonising teens who’ve encroached on his roped-off runway, he’s an engaging subject: an unconventional exterior tethered to a conservative core. But beneath his jobsworth veneer lies messy anxiety – why, a colleague ponders, does Mauricio never venture into the sea?

As the dedicated lifeguard scans the waves for signs of distress, director Maite Alberdi combs the sand and eavesdrops on visiting beachgoers: insults are thrown Mauricio’s direction; busy-bodies gather and gossip; choppy waters auger ill. It’s a simple set-up, but one ripe with microcosmic potential – society laid bare and bronzed – and Alberdi skilfully teases out the scenario’s subtle tension. Even at a concise sixty-four minutes its slight components feel overstretched, but it’s nonetheless a fascinating vignette.

Monday, 25 June 2012

EIFF 2012: 7 Days in Havana

Portmanteau films like 7 Days in Havana are inherently inconsistent, but while the bundling together of multiple short films precludes coherency, done well, they offer other attractions. Unfortunately, 7 Days... isn’t done all that well. 

Benicio del Toro’s opening segment is one of the better efforts (surprising, given he’s a debutant director amidst accomplished auteurs) - a charming but slight Cuban travelogue with a weak punchline, that it ranks among the highlights only emphasises the lack of spark elsewhere. Applause is also deserved for Pablo Trapero’s Emir Kusturica-starring instalment ‘Jam Session’ and Gaspar Noé’s ‘Ritual’ – a nightmarish, hallucinatory vision of a witch doctor at work, which adds a darker current to the ‘rum + sun’ vision on display elsewhere. But from the rest there’s coasting (a disappointingly flat offering from Elia Suleiman) and kitsch (Julio Médem’s melodramatic piece), while attempts to weave loose connecting threads are weakly realised. Consequently, 7 Days... remains significantly less than the sum of the talents involved.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

EIFF 2012: Tabu

Where The Artist recently resurrected historic filmmaking grammar for laughs, Miguel Gomes’ third feature Tabu parodies with more ambitiously philosophical aims. In an early scene, a tour guide intones “all I’m telling you is not reality, but tales”, allowing the script to highlight its central, redolent theme: the interlaced nexuses between memory, cinema and fable.

An unconventional and challenging structure splits the film in two: the first part (titled ‘A Lost Paradise’) set in present-day Lisbon; the second (‘Paradise’) in colonial Africa, with dialogue muted and replaced by an extended voice over that tells a tale both romantic, yet softly cynical. There are echoes of Almodovar’s Broken Embraces in Tabu’s heady mix of melodrama and meta-artistry, while its crisp monochrome cinematography and Spector-pop soundtrack provide more direct pleasures. Though the two halves don’t ultimately elicit the depth of profundity pledged in the early stages, they nonetheless weave a hypnotic and innovative narrative, rich with enigma.

Friday, 22 June 2012

EIFF 2012: Kid-Thing

I've spent the last few days at the Edinburgh Film Festival: seen some good films, seen some rubbish films. This falls squarely in the former category, and has a public screening on Saturday if you like the sound of it...

We are introduced to Kid-Thing’s titular tyke via a pair of scenes that effectively distil the film as a whole. In a dream-like opening, Annie (Sydney Aguirre) watches stock cars smash into one another; shortly after, we see her eating breakfast (a bucket of Froot Loops, spooned with an ice-cream scoop) while reading a story that runs on non-sequiters. What follows combines these two elements: in a string of non-causal sketches, Annie asbos around her neighbourhood, smashing porcelain, shooting cow carcasses with a paint gun, and thieving from the convenience store.

Her banal destruction is drolly funny, with brothers David and Nathan Zellner (director/writer and producer/cinematographer respectively) adopting a stylishly detached tone. A Mark Mothersbaugh-ish soundtrack from fellow Austinites The Octopus Project enhances Kid-Thing’s unusual allure, while the discovery of a woman trapped down a pit (voiced by Susan Tyrell, who sadly died last week) adds allegorical mystery, leading to an ambiguous climax likely to illicit groans as well as gasps. 

Sunday, 17 June 2012

the songs we played: part 48

1. mary onettes - our love's taking strange ways
2. the chills - rolling moon
3. crocodiles - neon jesus
4. david bowie - fashion
5. guided by voices - class clown spots a UFO
6. eels - novacaine for the soul
7. japandroids - the house that heaven built
8. sebadoh - weird
9. new order - ceremony
10. house of love - i don't know why i love you
11. mercury rev - delta sun bottleneck stomp
12. sonic youth - kool thing
13. future of the left - goals in slow motion
14. the clash - death or glory
15. the jam - a bomb in wardour street
16. the slits - heard it through the grapevine
17. roxy music - all i want is you
18. churches - lies
19. crystal castles - baptism
20. twin shadow - five seconds
21. sparks - no 1 song in heaven
22. shonen knife - pop tune
23. still flyin - the hot chord is stuck
24. prince - raspberry beret
25. the replacements - bastards of young
26. pavement - date with ikea
27. patti smith - because the night
28. eux autres - other girls
29. the velvettes - needle in a haystack
30. kenickie - classy
31. sleeper - nice guy eddie
32. talking heads - wild wild life
33. the fall - there's a ghost in my house
34. wire - eardrum buzz
35. why - fatalist palmistry
36. tv on the radio - wolf like me
37. dinosaur jr - freakscene
38. prince - i could never take the place of your man
39. fleetwood mac - you make loving fun
40. xtc - earn enough for us
41. mint royale - don't falter
42. manic street preachers - kevin carter
43. tom tom club - genius of love
44. beastie boys - sabotage
45. the police - so lonely
46. the smiths - girlfriend in a coma
47. m.i.a. - jimmy jimmy
48. le tigre - deceptecon
49. blondie - i'm always touched by your presence dear
50. the b-52s - cosmic thing
51. michael jackson - man in the mirror
52. pixies - tame
53. bon jovi - bad medicine
54. bruce springsteen - hungry heart
55. david bowie - sufragette city
56. lcd soundsystem - all my friends
57. elvis - viva las vegas

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Friday, 15 June 2012

GFT programme note: A Royal Affair


In Denmark, the events depicted in A Royal Affair are well known, with the scandal and its consequences taught in schools, as well as inspiring numerous books, an opera and a ballet.[1] For viewers in the UK, however, the tale is likely less familiar, unless acquainted with either Per Olov Enquist’s novelisation The Visit of the Royal Physician (1999), or Stella Tillyard’s historical overview of George III’s extended family, also titled A Royal Affair (2006). At a push, some may recollect The Dictator, a British adaptation directed by Victor Saville in 1935 (not to be confused with the recent Sacha Baron Cohen comedy). But despite the handful of precursors, it’s fair to say the source story does not carry the same popular recognition that supplied The Other Boleyn Girl (Justin Chadwick, 2008), Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola, 2006) or The Young Victoria (Jean-Marc Valée, 2009) – to offer a handful of recent monarchic releases – with ready-made audiences. To summarise: the erratic and troubled King Christian VII presides over 18th century Denmark with an unsteady hand, manipulated and side-lined by his council; physician Johann Friedrich Struensee uses his close relationship with the King to implement liberal reforms, whilst conducting an affair with the Queen; the exposure of their trysts threatens both Struensee’s legacy, and his life. As far as royal dramas go, it offers considerably more interest than a damp flotilla down the Thames.

A Royal Affair fulfils multiple genre expectations: handsomely-dressed courtiers walk gilded hallways; primped kings and queens inhabit opulent ballrooms and take horseback jaunts through enormous fiefdoms; corseted passions give way to lust. Throughout, opulence fills the frame, yet director Nikolaj Arcel (who also co-wrote with regular collaborator Rasmus Heisterberg) insists that such trappings are mere background details, choosing to instead subtly align the film with a more contemporary style of filmmaking. In his director’s statement, Arcel writes: “my creative team and I were… fired up by the idea of bringing the Scandinavian historical drama into the new century. We didn’t want to ‘show’ history, didn’t want to dwell pointlessly on… the fancy dresses and hairdos, or the way the food was served. Rather, we wanted people to simply experience the story through the eyes of the characters, taking the 1760s for granted. Even though the period is obviously there in the set designs, the costumes… it was filmed and edited as we would have filmed and edited a film taking place in modern Copenhagen.”[2] In interview, he reiterates the point. “What we really wanted to do,” he explains, “was to bring the historical Scandinavian film into the new Millennium.”[3]

The capitalisation of ‘Millennium’ is accidental, but it has pertinent allusions. Arcel and Heisterberg are best known for adapting Steig Larsson’s Män som hatar kvinnor, retitled The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Niels Arden Oplev, 2009) in English. The source novel and its sequels form the ‘Millennium trilogy’, the monumental success and popularity of which is well documented (in brief, approximately 55 million copies sold worldwide as of December 2011,[4] supported by a hit film adaptation that broke domestic box office records). During approximately the same period, another type of Nordic thriller has cultivated a comparably fervent fan-base, with Danish television drama shipped abroad to cultish praise: from The Killing (Forbrydelsen, 2007 – present) through to Borgen (2010 – present), Those Who Kill (Den som Dræber, 2011) and The Bridge (Broen, 2011 – present). A Royal Affair provides, of course, a very different viewing experience from Sarah Lund’s grim sleuthing or Lisbeth Salander’s vengeful agenda (though fans of either will spot many recognisable faces amongst the cast, including Dragon Tattoo’s David Dencik and The Killing’s Cyron Bjørn Melville). Nonetheless, it’s worth noting the way certain articles and reviews have sought to distinguish A Royal Affair from its ostensible genre: for instance, SBS paraphrase initial press reactions to its Berlinale premiere as “a period film for people who don’t like period films.”[5] Similarly, in an interview with The Huffington Post, Arcel stresses that his film is, first and foremost, a love story, but then goes on to emphasise its political-thriller credentials.[6] Such statements seem designed to petition multiple markets – both period drama enthusiasts, but also those with a more contemporary, voguish interest in Danish cultural exports.

A final point of comparison is Arcel’s directorial debut, King’s Game (Kongekabale, 2004). Like A Royal Affair, its plot features conspiracy in the corridors of Christiansborg – though not the lavish palace of Enlightenment-era Copenhagen. Rather, King’s Game takes place in the second replacement building to stand on the same ground (the original palace burned down in 1794; its replacement was likewise destroyed in 1884). The third Christiansborg continues to house royal reception rooms, while also acting as seat of the Danish Supreme Court and the country’s parliament, the Folketing; it is in the latter that the journalists and politicians of King’s Game conduct their schemes and counter-schemes. Betrayal, treason and sedition: the thematic similarities between the two films is clear, with both scrutinising the machinations of power, and the lengths some will go to acquire (and maintain) it. That the two are set on the same geographical site adds nuance to each film’s respective political portrait; though based on events 200 years removed, A Royal Affair ultimately feels modern in more ways than one.

Christopher Buckle
Researcher and Journalist
June 2012

[1] Nikolaj Arcel (2012), ‘A Royal Affair: Director’s Statement’, accessed 12/06/12 at
[2] ibid
[3] ‘The Perfect Mix Between Passion and Power’ (2012), accessed 12/06/12 at
[4] Alex Godfrey (2011) ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: Steven Zaillian on the difficulties of adapting Stieg Larsson’, The Guardian, accessed 12/06/12 at
[5] Helen Barlow (2012), ‘A Royal Affair: Nikolaj Arcel Interview’ accessed 12/06/12 at
[6] Stephen Applebaum (2012) ‘Nikolaj Arcel – Writer/Director of A Royal Affair’ accessed 12/06/12 at

Monday, 11 June 2012

june skinny


issue 81 of the skinny magazine has been out a few weeks already - here's what i wrote:

- the science of sleep: interview with happy particles (read here!)
- live music highlights column (read here!)
- errors/mermaids/mother ganga @ the arches live review (read here!)
- perfume genius/cate le bon @ captains rest live review (read here!)
- holy mountain/happy particles/body parts @ mono live review (read here!)
- future of the left - 'the plot against common sense' album review (read here!)
- volcano! - 'pinata' album review (read here!)
- mina tindle - 'taranta' album review (read here!)
- variety lights - 'central flow' album review
- the grand gestures - 'the grand gestures' album review (read here!)
- the turin horse film review (read here!)
- the squad dvd review (read here!)

Saturday, 9 June 2012

The Science of Sleep: Interview with Happy Particles

Doctor Who and candy canes; tinsel and tantrums; boozy chocolates and just straightforward booze: we had a lovely Christmas day 2011, since you asked. Yet amidst this hectic schedule of sitting around and rummaging through tins of Quality Street, something slipped our mind. See, while children across the land were nestled snug in their beds dreaming of dancing sugar-plums / Ben 10 merchandise, something special was slinking its way online. Flying insouciantly in the face of convention, Steven Kane, Graeme Ronald, Al Doherty, Gordon Farquhar, Ricky Egan and James Swinburne – collectively, Happy Particles – decided that rather than hold out indefinitely for a label to step up and put out debut Under Sleeping Waves, they’d cut to the chase and do it themselves. And what better date to unwrap such a gift than December 25?

Its beauty and mystery was lovingly received, with dreamy slowcore-influenced melodies setting hearts aquiver. The meticulous clarity of tracks like Come Home All Dead Ones and AM Sky twinkle like brilliant baubles, emotive and evocative, with lead Particle Steven’s vocals a heavenly nucleus around which other elements orbit: scintillating guitar lines, glockenspiel, strings. At a time of year when ‘best of’ lists were already long-committed to print, the pesky Particles had blundered in and forced a re-think.

Five months on, we catch up with the band for an overdue chat. After introductions, we decide to tackle the conversation’s potential elephant head-on. In April, a post on the band’s Facebook read thus: 'Our album came out in December last year. The Skinny who document Scottish culture and music haven’t touched it.  Seriously ‘The Skinny’, don’t even bother now we are nominated.' Ouch. We read the quote back to see if we can clear the air, and get about four syllables in before the penny drops and the band burst into laughter.
“Busted!” cries Ricky as Steven shifts uncomfortably. Does the fact we’re doing this interview indicate forgiveness? “No,” Steven instantly deadpans. Darn – how can we make amends? There’s a long pause; thankfully, it’s for comic rather than malicious effect. “It’s fine,” he eventually replies. “Youse are forgiven. It was just a wee joke, but then people got a bit nasty. I don’t advocate nastiness.”

Cheered by the clemency, we move on to less self-centred lines of enquiry. Like: why Christmas? Weren’t they concerned that Saint Nick would overshadow their efforts? Not really, it turns out: as the band matter-of-factly point out, “People at Christmas are on the internet now.” Why wouldn’t an interested punter take time out from overeating to add a file to their download queue? “Nobody cares about Christmas anymore, and we can buy into that,” grins Ricky. Graeme goes one better: “We single-handedly saved Christmas!”

The band talk sarcastically of market research and analytics when we ask what expectations they had for on-the-day downloads. “Basically we’re clueless,” say Steven. “We didn’t even approach that mentality. It seemed to snowball, but we had no idea it was going to do that.” So you weren’t surreptitiously checking its progress throughout lunch? “None of us had access to it!” says Ricky – only Gordon had log-in details, and he “didn’t check for days.” Not that the album was entirely absent from dinner table conversation. “I was at my dad’s house for Christmas and I was like ‘Dad, the band I’m in have released an album,’” shares Ricky. “I let him hear a song, and he was like ‘Is that a girl singing?’ And I was like, ‘He’s proud of me!’ Well, he was proud of him…” He gestures towards the owner of said seraphim tones. “He was just proud that you knew a girl,” suggests Steven.

The album was recorded over the course of a year with producer Robin Sutherland – once a month, for one day at a time. “We just had to break it down to fit whatever days we had,” says Graeme. “I mean, as a band we’re not exactly rich, so we were just recording as and when we could, and when Robin was able to make time, so it had to be that kind of slightly piecemeal approach.” “I think we were all mentally ill” muses Steven. “To just keep something going in the back of your mind for that long, you start to go a bit mental.” Graeme warns of more specific dangers. “I think when you’ve been working on something that long, it’s no longer fresh to you, so you start doubting it. You start thinking, ‘Oh, I need to change this, I need to change that,’ when actually it’s perfect.”

Others evidently agree with the ‘perfect’ tag, including members of the panel for fledgling initiative the Scottish Album of the Year Award. A hundred nominators from across Scotland’s music scene were asked to submit their five favourite albums of 2011; from this a long list of twenty was drawn. “The fact that an album that was self-released on the internet was even considered is amazing,” says Steven. “Most awards say that it’s not about a competition, and they’re kind of talking shit because it usually is. But this one doesn’t seem to be, because, well, if it was they wouldn’t give the bands distribution deals and all that stuff.”

He’s referring to the organisers’ decision to turn benefactor, and fund the pressing of a limited run of CDs (a similar arrangement was made with Muscles of Joy, whose self-titled debut was previously only available on vinyl). “It’s insane – I’ve never heard of something like that happening before,” Steven continues. “I think it was partly that Stewart [Henderson – former Delgado, current Chemikal Underground boss, and the man behind SAY] wanted bands who didn’t have physical stock to be able to get something in all the displays in HMV and stuff. Having something there means people might take a chance on our record, find out about it just by walking in… so for him, as well as us, that was a big important thing, to have it set up so we could have stock available.”

Is it purely about consumer availability, or is having a material version of the album important to them in other ways? “We wanted a physical release for the album regardless,” says Graeme. “We still ultimately want to release it on vinyl, and it basically just comes down to, personally speaking, the fact that it’s really nice to have made something that you can hold in your hands, something tangible to look at. I mean we all grew up buying CDs, and buying records and stuff, so it’s not like we’re totally used to this idea of downloading music… [Online] was a way for us to get it out there, but it’s great to be able to look at your record and say, ‘Yeah I made that.’”

Happy Particles are joined on the SAY long list by Remember Remember, with whom there’s overlapping membership (Steven, Graeme and James play in both – “It just increases the odds a bit for some of us,” smiles Graeme; “If The Quickening wins, you can take us out to dinner,” jokes Al). And that barely touches upon the matrix of affiliate acts: past and present projects include Tangles (Ricky), Neighbourhood Gout (Ricky again), Tesla Birds (Steven), Prayer Rug (Al – “doesn’t exist anymore” though), Teenage Ricky (take a guess), Stapleton (Gordon)… Does having all been around the block, so to speak, affect your expectations for Happy Particles? ”Yes, but just so that we don’t make the same mistakes that loads of wee guys make in other bands,” says Steven. “We don’t care that much about the industry to be honest; we’re just making music together. [But] we’ve all been in bands and so we know all the kind of shite that goes on, in that way it changes it.”

When you’ve got a large group of experienced musicians with different interests, how do their ideas come into fruition?  We ask Steven how far he develops songs before bringing the band in to collaborate. “It totally depends – it’s different for every song really. Some songs can be quite far down the line before they get them, and then they start morphing a wee bit, but each one’s different.” Will he vary the approach further in future – for instance, does he expect initial song ideas to originate from other band members on subsequent releases, or does he have ownership of Happy Particles’ musical direction? “Yeah, I think we’ll probably start doing that more. I don’t want to make the same thing again, so it would be good to fragment it a wee bit so other people get more involved maybe.” Graeme’s got ideas already. “Ricky and Gordon get some wicked jams going in the studio, so we definitely need to start building them into songs…” Ricky smiles. “We do, we really do.”

A few days later, SAY announce the ten albums that have made the leap from long to short list. Both Happy Particles and Remember Remember made the cut – impressive when bands of the calibre of FOUND and Muscles of Joy were left behind. We caught up with Steven again via email to offer our congratulations. “The three of us involved in both albums – me, James and Graeme – spent a whole year doing those two records, living in those two worlds at the same time [so] they’re kind of inseparable to me in a memory-related way…  Honestly, the fact that they are both there is too bizarre to dwell on without losing your perspective.”

The winners are announced later this month; we know that the competition element isn’t the award’s priority, but we ask the band whether they have a hunch as to who’ll scoop the top prize. Say, if we asked them to place a bet on our behalf. “I honestly don't care who wins,” says Steven. “Everyone has won – the publicity, the celebration of great art and music,” (though he did put in a personal vote for Aidan Moffat and Bill Well’s Everything’s Getting Older). And the wager? “I'd take the money for the bet,” he writes, “and buy some of the albums with it instead.”

written for the skinny

Friday, 8 June 2012

reviews: the grand gestures, mina tindle, volcano!

The Grand Gestures – The Grand Gestures 

The Grand Gestures - The Grand Gestures (***)

There’s No Place Like Home: both a song title and a maxim for Jan Burnett’s new project The Grand Gestures. The Spare Snare founder invited six collaborators round to his to drape their vocals across lo-fi instrumentals, and the results are as diverse as his guest-list. On spooky opener Deer in a Cross Hair, Sparrow and the Workshop’s Jill O’Sullivan flits between spoken-word verses and a sung chorus, but any assumptions as to the album’s presiding lyrical tone are immediately challenged by Sanjeev Kholi’s witty rumination I Wonder What Chris De Burgh Is Doing Right Now, which forces a left-turn into a more flippant register.

Evocative musical foundations from Burnett stop these oil-and-water bedfellows from immiscibly clashing, the domestic Svengali fostering a degree of consistency that carries through contributions from Emma Pollock (the brooding A Certain Compulsion) and Calamateur (the drifting Baiting). Appealingly imperfect, this is a curio worth exploring.

Out Now

Mina Tindle - Taranta (cover)

Mina Tindle - Taranta (***)

With a stage name adapted from twist-laden, Michael Caine-starring thriller Sleuth, Mina Tindle (born Pauline de Lassus) seems keen to preserve a little mystery on debut Taranta. The singer’s cosmopolitan background – Spanish heritage, French upbringing, a musical awakening in Brooklyn – has cultivated an appealing air of disaffiliation, as she plays with a variety of semblances and freely switches tongues (mostly English, with occasional French and the odd snippet of Spanish).

Naturally, some guises suit better than others: she carries off ‘upbeat indie-popper’ beautifully on To Carry Small Things; ‘melancholic folkie’ a little less so on the Nick Drake-ish Echo, which though pleasant, seems pallid against the more potent emotion exhibited elsewhere. Indeed, inconsistency is Tindle’s only significant foe: she already has both the vocal talent and the compositional wherewithal to nip the heels of express influences like Regina Spektor; now she just needs a steadier identity to channel them.

Out Now

Volcano - Pinata (cover) 

Volcano! - Pinata (***)

Instantly appealing on the outside, but with treats at their core: the piñata not only provides a name for Volcano!’s third album, it’s a cracking metaphor for the band’s musical ventures more broadly. The Chicago trio have successfully pushed their sound in two not easily-reconciled directions, sounding both more experimental and more accessibly pop at once.

Unusual syntheses result: take closer Long Gone, the first track to our knowledge to simultaneously recall both Talking Heads and Sisqo’s Thong Song; or St Mary of Nazareth, in which quivering vocals and a crazy cosmic narrative about alien nuns suggest Muse, though with guitars set to ‘afrobeat sway’ instead of ‘turbo Queen.’ Throughout, arrhythmic percussion, busy melodies, and Aaron With’s feverish vocals are consistent signature elements, and if Piñata ultimately lacks the standout track or two needed to elevate it into the major leagues, it’s not for lack of imagination.
 Out Now

Thursday, 7 June 2012

repeat after me...

Michael's turn to woo you to our dancing party...

Post-Jubilee blues getting you down? Need another pointless, self-indulgent piece of nonsense to take your mind off all the real things that are actually going on in the real world of the 21st century? You're in luck!

Yes, BR is here to fill that monarch-shaped void in your life. While we don't have Lizzie herself, we can give you Prince, the Thin White Duke, and some more indiepop, new wave, rock n roll music that is not royal-themed but is still quite good. Here's the lowdown:

11:30pm - 3am!

Gary Barlow ain't in charge of this bad boy, so if there's anything you wanna hear stick it on the facebook wall.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

live highlights: june

i had a bash at the skinny's live music preview column this month - here it is...

Summer's on the way, and it's the perfect time to grab a beer and stand in front of a speaker stack. We take a look at the upcoming live music highlights for June.

Signed to Sub Pop, lauded by broadsheets – THEESatisfaction are 2012’s leftfield rap-crossover of choice, and for good reason. Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White meld sounds from the past into retro-future jams, with tight lyrical content and beats aimed at the hips. They'll bring their loved-up grooves to Sneaky Pete’s on the 3 Jun; to misappropriate lyrics from fly single QueenS you better bring yourself.

A decade since it first trickled in from East Fife, Domino have awarded James Yorkston’s Moving Up Country a bells-and-whistles anniversary re-release. Having recently revisited its tender blues, we’d say the fuss is well-merited – his softly-softly folk has branched in various directions since, but his debut captures Yorkston at his most earthily eloquent. He’ll perform the album in full at Òran Mór on 3 Jun – one day later and it would have been ten years on the dot (sheesh, is no one checking these things?).

New(ish) venue on the block the Berkeley Suite continues to snap up cool bookings, while remaining hot-as-all-heck inside the closer it gets to capacity (if last month’s Grimes gig is anything to go by). Toronto electro-trio Austra will be setting up their synths and looking dead moody on 4 Jun – their last couple of UK tours didn’t make it past Manchester, so this will be their first trip north of the border. Their second Scottish show follows close behind, as they M8 over to Sneaky Pete’s the following evening.

Raw of throat and twiddly of riff, Cloud Nothings' lo-fi power-pop has plenty of kick. Their last couple of albums were as lean as singer Dylan Baldi’s T-shirted frame, so there’s both time and appetite for a comprehensive set when they visit the Captains Rest on 5 Jun.

As amazing as third album The Plot Against Common Sense is, it’s only ever going to capture a fraction of the energy and wit that marks Future of the Left a must-see live act. They’ve expanded to a four-piece, so expect a beefed-up sound when they lay siege to King Tut’s on 11 Jun. Keyboards are a new fixture, but other things remain awesomely consistent: with recent lyrics like 'I’ve got a hole for Sebastian Coe/ Saddam Hussein won’t be needing it now,' Andy Falco is evidently not for mellowing. Weather his snarling sarcasm, just don’t heckle him – you won’t win…

Having successfully translated the project from peripheral solo experiments to full band, Malcolm Middleton brings a touring Human Don’t Be Angry back to the central belt for a pair of gigs at Electric Circus (15 Jun) and King Tut’s (16 Jun). A couple of months on, we’re still finding new reasons to love the album; expect further facets to emerge as the rest of the group get stuck in. Recruit Martin John Henry doubles up as support, so don’t be dilly-dallying.

Lyrically, Glasgow and Best Coast are sometimes a less than seamless match (Bethany Cosentino was born with sun in her teeth and hair; we with inherent Vitamin D deficiencies), but a lingua franca of golden, fuzzy pop songs transcends all that. If your boyfriend/girlfriend is being a total jerk, seek solidarity at the O2 ABC on 16 Jun.

We began this month’s column with hip-hop’s new blood wunderkinds; we conclude with a veteran grand master. Still a force to be reckoned with nearly two decades after the incendiary Illmatic, Nas brings a full band and a whole lotta hype to the HMV Picture House on 26 Jun, for what will be his first ever Edinburgh show. We’ve done the maths – if this establishes a pattern, he’ll be pushing sixty before another such opportunity comes around. So nae whinging if you choose to sit this one out, basically.


Since 1996, Glasgow’s annual West End Festival has expanded year-on-year, enveloping an impressive array of gigs across the city. It closes its 2012 edition with a frankly staggering line-up that catches the eye partly because of its quality, and partly because of quantity: just listing the participants constitutes a fair whack of text. For the humble price of 1.5 tenners, Oran Mor will serve up the following: We Were Promised Jetpacks, Aidan Moffat and Bill Wells, RM Hubbert, Remember Remember, Withered Hand, Miaoux Miaoux, Monoganon, Wounded Knee, The Apples of Energy, John Knox Sex Club, Olympic Swimmers and Gav Prentice (Over the Wall), spread throughout the building (and, if the gods play ball and offer a break from wind and hail, the beer garden as well). I know what you’re thinking: ‘Is that it?’ Well no, actually – further additions are promised, providing they can find somewhere to put them.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Sunday, 3 June 2012

dvd review: the squad

The military-horror genre is a tricky nut to crack. Reducing hardened combatants to blubbering wrecks is an effective way of fostering fear in an audience, but there’s always a niggling feeling that war is horrific enough without the need to lay on, say, ghosts (2004 K-horror R-Point) or undead Nazis (a perennial favourite, appearing in 2008’s Outpost amongst others). The Squad does a better job than most at reconciling conflict’s grisly realities with a supernatural undertow, chiefly by keeping its cards close to its chest.

The squad of the title are anti-guerrilla forces in the mountains of Columbia, wrestling with suspected curses and their own consciences after discovering scenes of slaughter at a remote garrison. Director Jaime Osorio Marquez lets fog-bound isolation and inter-unit tensions ratchet up an ominous atmosphere, and though the soldiers’ respective fates feel somewhat inconsequential due to broad-stroke characterisation (the superstitious one, the nervous one, and so on), their grim and gory discoveries are memorably staged.

Out 18th June

Saturday, 2 June 2012

review: future of the left - the plot against common sense (skinny album of the month)

Future of the Left - The Plot Against Common Sense (****)

Brace yourself: Andy Falkous has some things to get off his chest. The Plot Against Common Sense sees him exercise his caustic humour on a variety of irritants: trust fund rioters, false icons and the human race’s inherent fucked-ness, to name a few. Yet Falco saves his blackest ire for the hilariously unhinged Robocop 4 – Fuck Off Robocop; a howl from the edge of sanity directed squarely at Hollywood’s bilge pump (the one syphoning product from Michael Bay’s anus directly to your eyes). It’s both terrifying and spit-out-your-coffee funny.

Such apocalyptic calls to rights (or arms?) receive suitably ferocious musical casings: brace as opener Sheena is a T-shirt Salesman pummels the solar plexus with machine gun drums and thick distortion; wince at Failed Olympic Bid’s industrial squeals; get swept up in Notes on Achieving Orbit’s dense crescendo. But there are opportunities to catch breath as well: Goals in Slow Motion features their poppiest riffs to date, while Sorry Dad, I Missed the Riots shows off the extra textures supplied by new members Jimmy Watkins and Julia Ruzicka, with keyboards from the latter extending the band’s parameters persuasively. Ever askew, their intelligence and fiery passion is invigorating, volatile and essential.

Out 12th June

Friday, 1 June 2012

GFT programme note: The Angels' Share


With opening credits barely complete, The Angels’ Share unequivocally marks its geography. As a Scottish accent makes mention of ‘strong fortified wine’, director Ken Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty re-enter postcodes last visited in 2004’s Ae Fond Kiss. Of the duo’s twelve collaborations to date (if we include the short films contributed to 2002 anthology 11’09’’01 – September 11 and 2005 portmanteau Tickets), this is their sixth to feature Glasgow or its denizens, a creative affinity that has inspired some of Loach’s finest work.

The voice belongs to a judge, and references an incident in which a track-suited eejit named Albert (Gary Maitland) stumbles onto a railway line after imbibing rather more tonic wine than HEBS would recommend. While this blend of drunkenness and court-room opprobrium might suggest further affinities with the likes of My Name is Joe (1998) or Sweet Sixteen (2002) – similarities that extend beyond location – The Angels’ Share is an altogether breezier affair. And while trappings of Loach’s default socio-realist register are present – poverty, alcoholism and gang violence feature prominently – The Angels’ Share is, in the director’s own words, resolutely ‘feel-good’.[1] Its characters may face many of the same challenges as Peter Mullan’s Joe or Martin Compston’s Liam, but the outlook is significantly brighter. Within the filmmaker’s own oeuvre, its closest kin is 2009’s Looking for Eric, in which fantasy alleviated grim realities; outwith, the latter half is effectively a de-glossed Ocean’s Eleven (2001) – a scuffed tartan heist flick, with glass Irn Bru bottles instead of fake SWAT gear, and a highland distillery standing in for the Las Vegas Strip.

As indicated above, the film’s motley protagonists are introduced via court appearances: alongside Albert, Rhino (William Ruane) is found guilty of various under-the-influence offences (including urinating on Buchanan Street’s Donald Dewar statue), Mo (Jasmine Riggins) is an habitual thief, while Robbie (Paul Brannigan) is in the dock for an assault against local hard-case Clancy, with whom he has a long-standing rivalry. Interspersed are other convictions – a litany of petty crimes and alcohol-fuelled transgressions, for which community service sentences of varying length are distributed. In introducing the characters thus, the opening seems to spur the audience to make judgements based on first impressions alone – presenting members of civil society’s disorderly fringe as the sum of the accusations brought against them. Thereafter, however, this assumptive mind-set is challenged, as characters are softened from public nuisances into likable rogues. Robbie is made particularly sympathetic: when his girlfriend Leonie (Siobhan Reilly) goes into labour, he worries he won’t be allowed into the hospital to see her, due to a prominent facial disfigurement that telegraphs a chequered, violent past. ‘They’ll just take one look at my scar…’ he explains to sympathetic social worker Harry (John Henshaw). ‘It happens every time I go for a job as well’ he adds despondently – a point reiterated later by Leonie’s disapproving father, who notes ‘even the army wouldnae touch ye with a barge pole’. Robbie’s community service thereby becomes a metaphor for his self-improvement: tasked with renovating a disused community centre, he scrapes clean rough surfaces, paints over cracks, and fosters a convivial ‘community spirit’ with his fellow convicts in the process.

In certain respects, the character of Robbie is an extension of Liam, Sweet Sixteen’s feckless Greenock teenager: smart, resourceful, good-hearted, but oppressed by both circumstance and his own terrible temper. The latter factor is important: while Loach and Laverty stress mitigating factors in Robbie’s history of violence, a brutal flashback in which he hospitalises a man without provocation ensures his own culpability is not overlooked. He may be disadvantaged, but he’s also capable of extreme aggression, complicating our empathy. After establishing Robbie’s charm and apparent commitment to rehabilitation – making him a hero worth rooting for – we are asked to reconsider him in light of his most horrendous actions: as a ‘wee thug that doesnae even know any better’, in the words of the victim’s outraged mother. The film’s fairy-tale trajectory may contain its fair share of plot-advancing coincidences and all-too-neat resolutions, but in important areas, it is careful not to oversimplify.

Robbie’s road to redemption begins with a thirty-two-year-old Springbank single malt, offered by Harry in toast to Robbie’s son. ‘Tastes like shit’ comes the unimpressed verdict; ‘you philippine!’ splutters whisky aficionado Harry in response, batting away requests for a mixer. But with interest kindled by distillery visits and whisky meetings, Robbie quickly cultivates a palate and appreciation for the water of life, and with Rhino, Albert and Mo in tow, hatches a plan to profit from the sale of an extremely rare cask of ‘Malt Mill’. The kilted quartet’s highland caper takes them to the Balblair distillery – one of many elements likely to make the film a favourite among whisky societies as well as film clubs. To ensure accuracy, whisky expert Charlie Mclean acted as script consultant; later, he was asked to portray his fictional equivalent, Rory McAllister, in two key scenes. Elsewhere, Glengoyne and Deanston stand in for a single, fictionalised distillery (representing its exterior and interior respectively), at which the characters (and the audience) are given an abridged tour and potted lesson on distillation; a blind tasting of a Cragganmore, meanwhile, is the first indication of Robbie’s ‘nose’ for uisge beatha. As a result, whether you’re a malt connoisseur or an indubitable ‘philippine,’ you may well end up craving a dram by the film’s close – luckily, film-specific tasting notes have already emerged online. Blogger ‘Miss Whisky’, for one, recommends accompanying your viewing with a Balblair 1989, praising its ‘spicy, caramel-dipped apple and banana flavours’.[2] Sounds delicious – just don’t ask for ice.

Dr Christopher Buckle
Researcher and Journalist

June 2012

[1] Rosie Millard (2012) ‘Scotch and Robbers’ FT Magazine, accessed 29 May at
[2] ‘An Angelic Whisky Celebration’ (2012), Miss Whisky, accessed 30 May at