Manchester Design Symposium: The Post Graphic Design Era

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After last year’s very successful event, Manchester Design Symposium was back bigger and better this year with the phenomenal backdrop of Manchester’s iconic town hall and an equally inspiring set of internationally acclaimed practitioners from the design world. These included publishers, font makers, educators, entrepreneurs, digital artists and even a royal designer.

The theme for the event was ‘design and the economy’ but this was consistently interwoven with last year’s theme throughout the day by all the speakers; the ever important ‘value of design’. The huge variation in specialisms across the speakers was definitely reflected in some of the dialogue that came out of the day, the stand out phrase, coined by Adrian Shaughnessy, being the ‘post graphic design era’ – an era he felt was characterised by the saturation and expansion of traditional graphic design into lots of highly specialised areas, an increase in social awareness and commentary amongst young creatives and ‘internetization’ i.e. the growth of new networks and technologies.

Adrian talked at length about some of the key factors he felt modern graphic designers had to contend with in this new ‘era’, of which I think possibly the most potent was his insistence on a ‘non-passive’ era. He gave many examples of his student’s work where social and political issues had been picked up and focussed on; a trend he said, had emerged quite drastically in the last 5 years and felt characterised the new generation of young creatives. He also talked about the saturisation and democratisation of the graphic design industry, using examples such as 99 Designs (a website offering very cheap creative and somewhat frowned upon by a lot of the industry) to show how there was now almost a polarisation of design work, from something ‘anyone could do’, to those areas which are highly specialised, particularly if the business function was fundamentally linked to that specialised need i.e. a large online company requiring a highly sophisticated website.

It was interesting to see how the different speakers felt about this democratisation and communicating value; a particularly interesting point to come out of the panel discussion at the end of the day was the idea of a ‘design spokesman’. Brian Cox was used as an example in the Science world of someone who could ‘sex up’ the subject matter and explain it to the general public in an entertaining yet understandable way. It was a common feeling amongst panelists that this was something which was definitely missing within the design community and hinted at being possibly one of the reasons why there was a clear lack of understanding from both the public and the government about the value of design. It was however noted, that as design is fundamentally subjective by nature and judged on taste, it was understandable to see why there seemed to be a lack of solidarity amongst designers and a reluctance for a uniting body or figure to come forward as a spearhead.

The Restarting Britain report was referred to more than once by some of the speakers today as an exemplary piece of writing, which really communicated the lack of understanding by the current government about the importance of the creative sector to the British economy. Professor David Crow started off the day by announcing that 7% of the UK’s GDP was from the creative industries, between two and three times more than any other country in Europe. After such an obvious example of the real value of design, it’s still astonishing to think most people who aren’t in the industry just ‘don’t get it’.

Another theme that emerged throughout the day was the feeling that designers needed to be a lot more open about their process with clients in order to demonstrate that enthusiasm for their craft and encourage stakeholders to actually take part in the process from the outset. Morag Myerscough gave an extremely inspiring talk about some of the community projects she’d been involved with, which looked at how design could be used to repurpose spaces, changing the environments and making people want to engage with spaces by getting them involved in the design process. I particularly enjoyed an example she gave of some work for a local school in which she transformed the inside spaces of the building to such a degree that student’s grades were actually higher and the reputation of the school was transformed – an example of the value of design if ever I saw one.

Vera-Maria Glahn from Field studio showed some absolutely magnificent animation and interactive visuals where by shapes shifted and took on lives of their own, creating unique identities using real time insights. You could see the huge influence of science and technology on their craft and visual aesthetic as a whole; I particularly liked their work for the Deutsche Bank in Hong Kong where they’d created a permanent video installation wall showing 8 different artworks all generated in real time so that each sequence was unique.

Other speakers on the day included Jason Smith from Font Smith, Dave Kirkwood who talked about his crowdsourcing project 3hundredand65 and Will Hudson founder of publishing platform It’s Nice That. Will was a great example of someone who had trained as a graphic designer but done on to do something completely different; something which Adrian summed up nicely by proclaiming ‘designers will find graphic design is a passport to do other things…designers are versatilists‘. The idea of mobility, of cross collaboration and of repurposing. This new era of designer seems to be one who doesn’t pigeon hole themselves and thinks strategically about their surroundings and what will work for them as a practitioner at this exact moment. As Malcolm Garrett (guest panelist) so succinctly put it, the new graphic designer needs to be ‘jack of all trades, master of at least one’.

The panel discussion concluded with the ever contentious subject of piracy and theft – something which resonated extremely strongly with Jason from Fontsmith who admitted he was currently in the middle of suing a company for ripping off some of his work. There seemed to be quite a mixed feeling amongst the panel about the idea of ‘stealing’ someone’s work, Vera-Maria made a brave point that if certain types of software or fonts weren’t able to be acquired illegally on the internet, then it could stifle a whole generation and wave of creativity and experimentation, thus preventing the industry from growing in innovative ways. It was clear there were some extremely strong views on the subject and evidently something which could have easily taken up a whole day’s symposium in itself.

There were so many other pieces of work featured that demonstrated the economic and social value of design, probably one of the most resonating being Massoud Hassani’s ‘Mine Kafon‘ – a device designed to seek out and destroy landmines.

The whole day was really a great example of the real urge and need within the design community to be listened to and taken seriously by the government. The economic, social and political values of design were evidenced in extraordinary ways at the symposium today; it’s clear that during this time of upheaval and economic uncertainty, designers and creatives are proving that ideas really are the only way out of the recession.

Empty Verbiage

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I don’t really hate many things in life, I’d say on the whole, I’m a fairly easy going person. But one thing that really gets me going, is a shitchitter. Or as my friend Matt likes to describe them, ‘those who chat breeze.’

I’m not saying we’ve not all chatted shit about something in our lives at one time or another, because we all have. I’m talking about these people that seem to pride themselves in doing it day in, day out. Having a go and sticking their nose in where it’s not wanted. Always having something to say just for the sake of it and consistently stirring up an argument on purpose.

We all love a good debate now and again, I especially, thrive on talking about something I’m passionate about and constructing a well thought out argument about why I think the way I do. It’s healthy to want to debate and discuss opinions and to try to understand why people have conviction in their beliefs. It’s not healthy however, if all you want to do is partake in the debate, just because you have nothing better to do. I’m a firm believer in the phrase ‘if you don’t have anything decent to say, then don’t say it.’ I just wish more people were too.

I get so frustrated sometimes because I see these people jumping in again and again with their opinions, when no-one really asked for it in the first place. I wouldn’t even really mind that much if what they had to say was justified, but a lot of the time, it’s just empty verbiage. It’s like they think that by shouting it, they’ll somehow get noticed more. I for one notice people for what they say, not how loud they say it. Just because you like the sound of your own voice, doesn’t mean we all do. To quote a line from Save The Last Dance, ‘You talk a lot of shit for someone who never says anything.’

I guess their argument (a joke in itself) could be that if no-one else is going to say something, then why shouldn’t I? A fair comment on first glance, but it’s fundamentally flawed as soon as you find out they actually have no idea what they’re talking about. Just because a lot of people are wary about giving their opinions in the public domain because of how they may be perceived, it doesn’t mean they don’t have them. Next time you think about verbalising an opinion, or feel like commenting on a subject which realistically, you know nothing about, think to yourself – is this actually worth saying? People might not be calling you out about it in public, but trust me, we’re all sat here thinking you’re a bell end.

To these people I would like to say this: be wary. Carry on giving empty opinions for your own entertainment in public, and one day you’ll get caught out by someone who does actually know what they’re talking about, and will make you look like a fool. And then we’ll all laugh.

You have been warned.

Exhibition in a Day – “Quay People”

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Manchester has never been short of cultural festivals, but just in case anyone was ever in doubt, Creative Tourist hand picked a selection of great events going on over one weekend and put together the Manchester Weekender. There were some amazing things going on over the weekend, but the one that particularly took my fancy was a photography workshop ‘Exhibition in a Day‘ led by well known photographer, Len Grant.

Len has been a commercial photographer for over 20 years and is particularly known for his work on storytelling and documentary work. Over the years, he’s been involved in documenting the building of The Printworks, the regeneration of the city centre following the 1996 bomb, community based projects in socially depreciated areas such as Hulme and Gorton, the demolition of Maine Road stadium, the development of the Bridgewater Hall and most recently documenting the construction of The Co-operative’s new head office in the city centre. I had been aware of Len’s work for a while, but picked up on it particularly following a beautiful project he did last year with poet, Linda Chase. ‘Shooting The Breeze‘ was originally commissioned as part of the Didsbury Arts Festival and involved Len and Linda travelling around Manchester, inviting passers by to be photographed in their makeshift studio. Linda then wrote poems about the subjects and combined with the photographs, they produced a book.

The workshop itself took place at the new University of Salford building at MediaCityUK. As I work for the University, I’d heard a lot about the state of the art facilities based down there, but hadn’t actually visited it yet. I have to say, I was really impressed with the building itself. The ‘egg’ space on the ground floor of the building was where our workshop took place, with retro school desks scattered among interactive tables and a huge wall of micro-tiles. The first couple of hours were spent introducing Len’s work, detailing what the day involved and getting to know the other participants on the course.

   

After being so enamored with the Shooting The Breeze project, I was delighted to find out that the workshop was going to be based around street portraiture. Len advised us to go out in groups of 3 or 4 and approach passers by, trying to focus on capturing their expressions and personalities through the photos. Being completely honest, I was really intimidated by the thought of approaching strangers and taking their photo, so I was extremely glad we were sent out in groups. I actually found however, that once we got going, the majority of people we asked were really up for it! I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of people who really got into it and played up for the camera, laughing and joking and making it a lot easier to take their photo.

I’ve never really liked posed photos, so my aim for the day was to really try and capture more candid shots, bringing out peoples personalities in the short time that I had with them. Len had advised us to really think about the shot before we took it, what background would we have, would there be a theme, did we want close up shots or full body and to think about the light. The great thing about going out in groups was that some of us could engage the subjects, whilst the others took photos. In this way, people seemed to relax more and we were able to get some great candid shots. I started off using my point and click digital camera, but I actually found that I was getting better shots just from my phone (Samsung Galaxy S2), so ended up using that for the rest of the time.

   

After a couple of hours we returned to lab and uploaded all of our photos as well as group editing them on the large screen, led by Len. After we’d picked the final photos for the exhibition, friends and family as well as those we had photographed, were invited to come and view the exhibition, with all of our photos being projected onto the large micro-tiles. This was a great ending to the day and I really enjoyed looking through everyone’s photos and different approaches to the brief.

I think the main thing I got from the day was how great it was to actually take time out to focus purely on photography. I frequently take photos, but it’s always been an afterthought whilst doing other things. What was brilliant about the workshop, was that I could dedicate time purely to photography for a whole day and be surrounded by other photography enthusiasts. It’s really made me appreciate it more as an art form and definitely made me want to set aside more time to do it in the future. It’s amazing what you can achieve in just a few hours!

   

I’m hoping we can set up a Flickr group of all the participants so that we can all share each others photos taken on the day but for now, you’ll have to settle for mine. You can view my full set on Flickr.

Update: A Flickr group has now been made! You can view it here.

Can Social Technology Spur Creativity?

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After the recent announcement of Facebook’s Timeline feature, I started to think about the future of Facebook and what it could possibly mean for our social lives in years to come, and the implications for things like creativity and marketing. With the added emphasis on reliving and documenting past history in the Timeline, it’s seems like only a matter of time before Facebook start to collect information about our goals and aspirations. Something which, for the clever marketeer out there, is the equivalent of gold dust. If we know what people want in the future, then we can start to develop products to meet that need…

Dr. Robert Bilder,  Chair of Creativity Research at UCLA’s Semel Institute, recently featured in one of Facebook’s ‘Creativity Live’ series, looking at ‘Creativity and the brain‘. Within his talk, he went through some of the key factors affecting creativity from a biological perspective. These included things like a balance between having a novel idea and the actual usability of it; mass generation i.e. the most creative ideas come from those who create the most products (he used Picasso’s 50,000+ works as an example of this); the importance of the memory and working memory to retain ideas in the mind and subsequently manipulate them to yield new connections and finally, the role of drive and emotions as core motivational systems, which ultimately drive action and perception.

All of this is all very well, but unless you’re studying Psychology or Biology, then you’ll probably struggle to see the relevance of it. The thing that was most interesting about Bilder’s research, was the application of these factors to the social web, namely Facebook. Bilder concluded that because of Facebook’s enormous user base (now 800million+ users), the mass generation side of creativity production was definitely achievable. Each day, millions of people share their ideas on Facebook; what Bilder thought would be useful, was if Facebook was able to develop the tools to mine these ideas, thus weeding out the ‘bad’ ideas, and discovering new connections to foster the ‘good’ ones. The opportunity for marketing and advertising professionals here is huge – they could potentially crowd source ideas for campaigns directly from their target audiences.

Facebook’s recent development of their Open Graph announced at the f8 conference, also means that now even more information about people’s interactions and social behaviour will be recorded via 3rd party apps like Spotify. Instead of just ‘liking’ something, there are now a range of actions someone can do to an object e.g. ‘run’ a marathon or ‘cook’ a recipe, all of which are deeply integrated into key points of distribution on the platform. The implications of this mean that, in terms of creativity, there are far more ways to share social habits and inspirations in the public domain. People will also no longer have to rely on just their working memory to make new connections and ideas. A computer, after all, has a lot better memory than a human ever could. Again, relating this back to the introduction of the Timeline, the development of personal maps of ourselves over time will be used to create better representations of our self identity, but also to create an almost infinite resource of behavioural information about users. The likes of which, cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

This is why, to introduce apps which look at future goals and achievements into the Timeline, and thus the Open Graph, would be an invaluable resource for marketeers. Advertising could be specifically targetted at those wanting to for example, achieve a goal weight of x by y or doing said course to achieve x,y and z outcomes. But it would also be useful for creatives wanting to map out their journey and process. Bilder clearly emphasises the need to have drive and emotional responses in order to foster action; what better way to do this than to obtain emotional reactions to your ideas and goals from your friends and family?

It’s clear that Bilder’s research into the social tech applications of brain biology is in it’s infancy, but I for one am extremely excited to see the developments, in conjunction with huge social companies like Facebook, to inspire and foster creativity amongst users. The possibilities can even stretch to things such as Healthcare, where data and understanding of social behaviour on such an in-depth and international scale, could potentially revolutionise for example, areas such as psychology and the treatment of mental disorders.

I guess the main criticism of Facebook has always stemmed from issues around privacy controls and what they would be doing with all this social information they had collected about you. Bilder’s research is a way of looking at this in a slightly different light, and thinking about it from more of a nurturing and positive perspective, which I for one, think is a refreshing change.

You can view Bilder’s talk in full by clicking here.

The Importance of Self Promotion

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As part of my day job, I organised a day of industry talks by local creatives for our incoming first year freshers. The talks would be an inspirational introduction to the art and design area and a way for students to engage with industry, right from the beginning of their studies. We had a range of people talking from very different backgrounds and disciplines; everyone from a graphic designer turned film director, to a music PR professional, to a social media architect. I wanted students to understand, right from the start, that having a degree is not enough, you have to do more than just complete your coursework and turn up to lectures. I wish when I was at University, or even before University, someone had told me that the key to success, is not necessarily what you know, or even who you know, it’s how you shout about what you know, to those people. In other words, the art of self promotion.

A consistent theme running throughout the talks today, was that none of them would have got where they are today without some form of self promotion. Matt Booth, a freelance designer well known on the Manchester creative scene for setting up the Northern Digitals networking meet-up, stressed in his talk the importance of putting yourself on as many different networks as possible and connecting with like-minded people. He told us how many of his first freelance projects came about from simply writing a list of people he wanted to work with, and actively emailing them to introduce himself.

He also reiterated the importance of just getting out there, and doing something. He detailed many side projects he’d done which weren’t paid or commissioned by anybody, but were simply something he wished to do. Some of them were tools to help him design more effectively, others were personal websites just for him and his close friends and family. The interesting thing about it, was that Matt achieved a lot of recognition and coverage in magazines for some of the projects he never even got paid for. A great example of how, particularly at a student level, producing your own personal projects alongside your required course projects, can be a great way to build up your portfolio and get noticed.

In the afternoon, we had a panel discussion around the general topic of social media and how creative students could and should be utilising these platforms for things like self promotion and networking. I was extremely keen to find out the panel’s thoughts on how they thought students should be using these platforms, which platforms in particular they thought were worth being on, and how they felt social media could help students get noticed and ultimately, get work. The general consensus was that Twitter is an extremely good way of student’s being able to engage with industry, in a very noninvasive, informal kind of way. The panel encouraged students to search for ‘key’ players in their chosen field and start following and interacting with them. They stressed this was a great way to contact those people in the industry, at the top of their game, that otherwise student’s would not necessarily get access to.

Another great point that came out of the panel discussion, was the need for following up online presence and engagement with face to face contact. All of the panel actively attended networking events and explained to students that Twitter was a great way to find out about people before meeting them in person. They advised that attending and participating in industry events was a great way to make friends and contacts and set up potential employment opportunities in the future. I cannot agree with this more. Having actively attended industry events for around 18 months now, I can’t stress enough how important it’s been for not only my professional life, but personal development too. I’ve made numerous friends, gained contacts and got familiar with how to promote myself based on who I am and what makes me tick, as much as what I can do.

I think that was one of the main points to come out of all of the talks today; it’s all very well being amazing at your particular area of speciality, but when you’re going for a job, and you’re up against someone with an equally impressive skill set, what’s going to tip it for the interviewer, is if they know you. Or are at least acquainted with you, whether that be from meeting you at an industry event, following your tweets, or reading your blog. A phrase used several times today was ‘people buy people’ and it’s true. I think one of the key things educators need to incorporate into their teaching is showing students how to sell themselves, and reiterating the importance of doing so. It’s not an easy skill to acquire and I still have a lot of trouble with it myself. How do you sell yourself without sounding like a arrogant prat? I’m not sure I really know the answer to that yet, but it’s certainly something I think should be addressed as a core skill to learn within an education setting.

What I wanted students to get from the day, was that yes, their studies are important, but I think (and it seems the industry also thinks) that what is equally, if not more important, is learning that you have to go that extra mile. Don’t be complacent. Be motivated, get out and meet people, engage on and offline with like-minded individuals, share content you think they’ll like and be interested in, be yourself, go to events, do projects for free, be the first one in and the last to leave and finally but by no means least, talk to people. Find out what they like, who they admire, where they draw inspiration from, what they’d like to achieve in the future and see where you think you could help them along the way.

I really enjoyed the event today and it seems the students did too. Considering they haven’t even had any proper lectures yet, I think it was a pretty good way for them to kick off their creative education in style and will definitely be looking to put on more events like this in the future.

For more info on the Industry Speakers event or to find out about other projects happening at Salford School of Art and Design, please follow us on Twitter @createatsalford or visit our blog at http://createatsalford.tumblr.com.

#Media2012: Citizen Journalism Project

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Yesterday I attended a training day at the Cornerhouse run by Lets Go Global  and AND Festival as part of the #Media2012 project. The project aims to create a citizen media network to operate during the London Olympics next year. Each region will have a community led media hub made up of volunteers from the local area interested in citizen journalism, with the aim of affecting the way the Olympics are covered by core media outlets overall. Considering the London-centric nature of the Olympics in general, I think something like this is a really good way of letting the whole country experience the games and get their stories heard.

The day started off with a session on video blogging, interviewing and editing. For me, this was something I was extremely keen on learning more about – I’ve always been interested in documenting my life, mainly through photos, but video is a format I’ve never really dabbled in that much. I’ve always presumed it’d be fairly hard to create good content for videos and that it’d be even harder to edit. The workshop started off by showing us of a similar kind of project for the Vancouver Games last year and the huge amount of citizen journalism that was produced as a result of social housing issues surrounding the games. It was great to see the diversity of content produced from this, and the different styles of reporting that were used. I think the thing I got from today’s workshop was that actually, it’s pretty easy to create videos if you just have a go and don’t take it too seriously. Me and my housemate had a go at filming a few voxpops off my phone, trying different shots and angles. Here’s a few examples…

 

 

The next session was led by social media trainer Chi Chi of RealFresh TV. The session covered social media basics such as the difference between some of the networks, what the ‘social object’ of each platform was and how platforms such as blogs can directly impact on search rankings. Having used social media for a while and already started on building up an online presence, I found a lot of the information wasn’t new, however I think for beginners it was a great introduction to the area. Chi Chi mentioned that this course was the basic level, and that she also delivered Level 2 and 3 courses which were more specific and tailored to particular elements of social media – I’d been extremely keen to go on some of these as it was clear she was very knowledgeable in the area.

The final session was on blogging, again, because I’m already a frequent blogger, I didn’t really find this session that useful. I felt a lot of the content was just common sense and more of an English lesson if anything in terms of keeping sentences short, having an attention grabbing title etc. Despite this, I found the trainer to be extremely approachable and again clearly knowledgeable about the subject. I’d be interested to see more focussed sessions in the future dealing with particular areas of blogging such as copyright and infringement issues (touched on sightly in the session) and publicity/ self promotion for bloggers.

Overall I felt the day was a great way to bring like-minded people together and thought all of the sessions provided a great introduction into the different areas relevant to citizen journalism. It’s always a hard job to know what to cover in these kind of sessions when the audience have a very varied experience in the different areas – most of the people that attended didn’t seem to have that much experience of social media and blogging so found these sessions really useful. As I was completely new to video blogging then this was the session I got the most out of. I’m looking forward to attending more focussed sessions, pitched at a higher level in the future and increasing my skill set as the project continues to flourish.

If you want to learn more about the Media 2012 project or get involved, check out their website at: http://www.media2012.org.uk/

Sounds From The Other City 2011

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Sounds From the Other City is an independent, new music festival based around Salford’s Chapel Street area; uniting the cream of local talent with some of the city’s best loved club nights for a super duper musical extravaganza. Now Wave, Postcards From Manchester, High Voltage and Hey! Manchester were just some of the regions hottest promoters hosting stages at this year’s event and my god it was good.

For me, working at Salford University for the last year has given me the opportunity to really explore this area of the city and understand some of the rich heritage and culture attached to Salford. Some of the pubs along Chapel Street have played host to Mancunian legends in their own right in the past and although #sftoc itself has only been running since 2005,  it’s seen occasions such as the first ever gig by the Ting Tings (2007) and career-making sets by Marina and The Diamonds (2009) and The Whip (2006). Despite all this culture and fantastic history, I had yet to attend a #sftoc so was really looking forward to the day’s events and was quite happy to drift from venue to venue, taking in some of the industries brightest new talents.

First up on the bill was Money playing for Now Wave at Islington Mill. Whilst researching Money, I came across an interview with them for Dummy Mag earlier this year, in it, when asked about whether their environment has an affect on their music they say this:

‘Manchester is interesting. It is a melancholic but strangely beautiful place – a kind of gloominess and gritty attitude and landscape…It’s artistic heritage is world-renowned as well as it being known as a place of menace and violence… You are constantly being forced to mix with all kinds of people here. It is a confrontational city…It’s poetry is in the REAL Manchester pubs full of real people, in the rain, in the hedonism, its boisterous intellect, attitude, community, a struggle, a hopelessness. These sentiments are synonymous with the music and art that has been produced here.’

This dark, intellectual commentary is reflected in their music and really came across particularly through the lead singer, who frequently lost himself to the music throughout their set. Closing his eyes and drifting away to that higher plane, their ambitious and abstract melodies are extremely complex with multiple layers of sound and depth. In all honesty, at first I wasn’t sure whether it worked, but after a couple more songs, I really started to get it. It was hedonistic, over indulgent and almost orchestral at times. These guys have only touched the surface of their capabilities and I definitely think there’s much more to come from them. They seem less bothered about the success or recognition that comes with being in a band and more focussed on making a commentary on their surroundings and ideas – an admiral quality for a band relatively new to the scene. Definitely ones to watch.

Next up, we luckily stumbled upon Those Dancing Days‘ sound check at The Old Pint Pot. Having loved this band since they released their first self titled EP back in 2007, I was extremely eager to see them live. However, looking at the line up of headliners that evening, I was finding it increasingly difficult to see how I was going to make their set. Although I’m fully aware a sound check is no comparison to the real thing, they were still excellent. Their catchy, summer anthems can’t help but make you tap your feet and get up and dance. Won’t say too much more on them, except that they’re totally ace and you should all have a listen to their new album Daydreams & Nightmares available on Spotify and iTunes. Here’s their latest single ‘I’ll Be Yours’…

After a swift pint in the glorious Salford sunshine we made our way back over to Islington Mill for Breton. A prime example of the mp3 generation of musicians created from open access software programmes and collaborative playlists, this group of 5 young lads have been around for a couple of years in different guises, before forming the multi-instrumental and visual collective they now call Breton. Their in your face, thumping beats and matching hoodie/luminous shoes combo at first comes across as a little too ‘scene’ and try hard, however once they get into their stride they actually produced some surprisingly abstract yet catchy tracks. I did feel that some of the tracks had a bit of an identity crisis half way through and didn’t necessarily flow in the way you expected them too, but I guess this is not necessarily a bad thing. Overall I was fairly impressed by them – the crowd at Islington was fairly subdued, however in a bigger club like venue I think they could really blow the roof off. Below is their track ‘December’

After trying to get into Willy Mason and failing, we made our way over to The Salford Arms for From The Kites of San Quentin- having not heard of them before, I had no idea what to really expect from their set. I can honestly say I was seriously blown away by how good this band are live, at times I felt like my head was genuinely going to explode into a thousands little pieces all over the small grimey pub in Salford. It was such a surreal atmosphere to hear a band like this play, they wouldn’t be out of place in a much bigger venue, the likes of the Warehouse Project or a huge dance festival tent. To compare them to any one person would be foolish as it’s blatantly clear this band can’t be pigeon holed into one specific genre, but if I was going to give it a go I’d probably throw around names like Burial and Tom Vek but with a much harder, bigger edge at times and yet the eerie, warped vocals by their female vocalist definitely channels that of Beth Gibbons at times. I found this interview with them from City Life and thought it was amusing that even the band themselves fall massively short of explaining exactly what it is they do:

How would you explain your sound to someone’s 90 year old grandmother?

Depends if that Grandmother has her wrinkly old finger on the pulse of “forward thinking electronic music with warped female vocals and live guitars that don’t really sound like guitars” or not.

I honestly cannot recommend this band highly enough, if you do one thing off the back of this blog post, GO AND SEE THEM LIVE. This is a band that really does need to be experienced in the flesh to fully understand the sheer impact their music has. Watch out for their digital EP release coming later this summer, but in the meantime, get your ears around this recently released remix collaboration with Borland on Gulf Records. It’s dirty.

After being pretty blown away by From The Kites Of San Quentin, we thought we’d get a bit of fresh air and walked up to The New Oxford to catch the second half of Brown Brogues set. They were playing in a tiny little back room covered from wall to ceiling in beer mats – the perfect setting for this famously quaint gig loving duo. We barely made it into the room as it was absolutely rammed and couldn’t see the pair at all, so I stood leaning against the wall, furiously nodding my head and tapping my feet to their drum thrashing excellence. I don’t think I need to describe the band’s sound as they’ve received a lot of attention recently in the press and blogosphere so I’ll their music do the talking. Nice video recorded for MCR Scenewipe in a toilet in Fallowfield. Classic BB.

After the Brown Brogues we were all feeling pretty shattered from the constant walking up and down Chapel Street so decided to head over to St Phillips Church a little early and take a well deserved rest in a pew ahead of the headlining performance for High Voltage by Glaswegian band, The Twilight Sad. The church itself is a fabulous venue and backdrop for gigs, having seen Perfume Genius here late last year, I was intrigued to see how a much bigger, rockier sound would come across in this huge open space.

The band didn’t mess around, they launched straight into 2 numbers before even saying hello and pretty much kept up this pace throughout their performance. Their passion and genuine emotion and sentiment portrayed in their performance was second to none, with their lead singer James Graham delivering an enigmatic stage presence. Already 2 albums in, I’m amazed this band hasn’t received more attention within wider circles than it has, as their sound seemed fairly accessible to those outside of the underground scene. Their music’s very atmospheric, with Graham’s raw Glaswegian accent soaring above the building buzz of guitars and carefully intertwined piano. Lyrically suggestive and metaphorical, their songs give glimpses of bitter experience and romantic failure, with their songs at times verging on the anthemic or celebrative. It’s all very emotional and inspiring, if I hadn’t of been so tired, I think I probably would have got rather overwhelmed by them. The video below is of their track ‘Wrong Cars’.

The final band of the night were Rainbow Arabia at The Old Pint Pot. In all honesty I was ready to go home after Twilight Sad as I was just so exhausted but had heard good things about Rainbow Arabia and wanted to check them out. Predictably, most other people had also heard these good things and as such the Pint Pot was absolutely rammed. We managed to get into the room but couldn’t see a thing. We stayed for a couple of tracks, and I really liked what I heard – a kind of upbeat Warpaint, mixed with a bit of MIA and a dash of CSS for good measure, but I found it really hard to connect with them without being able to see them perform. As such, we took the view to leave and vowed to try and check them out another time. Unfortunately, after checking their tour dates this morning it seems they’re not returning to the UK any time soon which is a bummer. Below is the title track of their recent album Boys and Diamonds.

We finished our night watching drunken skinny white boys dance to indie classics upstairs at The Old Pint Pot and reminisced about our day. Highlight for me had to be From The Kites Of San Quentin, however there wasn’t one band I saw that I wasn’t really that impressed with. The organisation of the festival itself was brilliant and everywhere you looked people seemed to just be really enjoying getting together with like minded people to share a day of wonderful music and gorgeous sunshine. Sounds From The Other City really is a true asset to the city of Salford and something which I hope continues to get bigger and better in the future. Coinciding with the regeneration of the Chapel Street area, and the opening of MediaCity, I can only hope that more events like #sftoc start to pop up throughout the year to really put Salford on the map as a innovative, creative and inspiring place to be. A city which, even those sceptical BBC employees may now think twice about…

For more information on the artists and bands as well as the festival itself, please visit –  http://soundsfromtheothercity.com/


The Amsterdam Experience

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I went with a company called Outgoing – my friend Emma works for them as a Trip Co-ordinator and basically organises everything from hostel bookings to coaches, to ferry crossings and even bar crawls. The company themselves do trips to loads of European countries, they’re mainly aimed at student groups and are low budget, quick stop tours involving copious amounts of alcohol and if they’ve got time, a bit of culture too. We went as Outgoing reps for the weekend, despite the sheer amount of students going (400+), our responsibilities were fairly minimal; we had to get the students there, get them into rooms at the hostel and then get them to their club night on the first evening. Apart from this, we had to be available for general queries and questions most of the weekend by phone but we found group leaders and students were fairly self sufficient. This was great, as it freed up the weekend for us to explore the city and take in some culture.

We were staying at the Hans Brinker hostel in the centre of Amsterdam. Having had a brief glance at their website before we went, I was unsure whether to be amused or terrified for what was in store but having spent 4 nights there now, I’d recommend it to anyone. The rooms were basic but more than adequate and the place had a really nice vibe. Staff were really friendly and helpful and it was in a great location for the centre of town. On the first day we arrived we had a walk around the centre, went down by the canals and in some of the cool vintage shops. We stumbled across an amazing antique shop and spent a good half hour looking round at the charming desks and baroque style mirrors – the place was like Aladdin’s cave, it just kept going back and back with more great rooms full of antique gems to explore. We headed back to the hostel to get ready for the club night and escorted all the students across town to Dansen bij Jansen – a student club with a 42nd street kind of vibe. As Outgoing regularly bring their students here, Emma had a good relationship with the owner and we soon found out he’d got us on the guest list for The Black Keys after party who’d been playing in Amsterdam that evening. This was a huge win.

At around midnight, we went to a café next door to the club and purchased our first ‘special cake’. I feel I should state now, I’ve always had a pretty strong opinion about drugs and had purposely never tried anything before. As such we were a little apprehensive but figured if there was anywhere in the world to try it for the first time, it was Amsterdam. We shared a cake between us and then went back into the club and waited for it to take effect. After about 40 minutes, the giggling started. After about 80 minutes, the giggling continued but a bout of paranoia had definitely started to kick in. We started to be very aware of the fact we were laughing and that all the students would know we were high. As we were supposed to be ‘authority figures’ for the weekend, it was making us really conscious. I started to feel like I wanted to lie down, the whole club was starting to spin and contort and I just wanted quiet. We started walking across town back to the hostel, laughing all the way home. I don’t think my mouth’s ever been that dry in my life, I felt like a lizard licking my lips constantly and twitching, a side effect I’d definitely not expected. Once we got back to the hostel, I felt more at ease but was still shocked at how much it had affected me and how long it was lasting.

On reflection, it probably wasn’t the best place to try it. We’d been drinking, were in a strange, loud place with people we didn’t know and were certainly not prepared for the after effects. I’m glad I tried it and will definitely look back at it with fond memories of giggling fits and feeling like one massive cliché, but I don’t know whether I’d do it again. I honestly don’t know how anyone does it on a daily basis and feels that rubbish the next day. For me, the lack of control was fun for about half an hour, but after that I just wanted to ‘sober up’. The thing I disliked the most, was that I wasn’t able to. I’m glad that I had the experience I did with someone who was doing it for the first time as well, we were almost channeling and feeling the same thing at the same time. Having always been against drugs however, it was good to know that after having that experience, I still pretty much feel the same. The lack of control’s just not appealing for me.

The next day was one long hangover – despite wanting to curl up in bed and die, I managed to get myself up and about and we had a walk into town for breakfast and I got some great photos of the buildings along the river. I fell in love with the architecture when I was there, I love the way that all the houses were completely different. In one row, each house was unique and individual, with really skinny ones, tall ones with turrets and coats of arms and wide ones with a multitude of colours and shutters. It was all so picturesque. On the way home we stopped off at Wok to Walk for some top class noodles – this place was awesome. You could choose every part of your dish from which noodles you wanted, to meat/veg/sauce etc – definitely recommended if you visit Amsterdam for a quick meal. Saturday night arrived and the students were all going on a bar crawl organised by an outside promoter. We got them all to the first drop off point and then headed out ourselves with the plan to go to the Red Light District. On our way, we were exploring some of the back streets and came across a gorgeous little bar and stopped off for some hot chocolate to warm ourselves up. We ended up staying here all night, got a bottle of champagne and watched the world go by. The bar itself was fairly small but clearly not somewhere tourists would normally stop at. We got chatting to two girls who lived locally and talked about everything from British politics to Twitter – we really felt like we’d stumbled across a gem of a bar and had such a great evening.

The next day we were up bright and early as it was checking out time for all the students. Check out went fairly smoothly and by midday we’d got all the coaches on their way. We jumped straight onto a boat tour and spent the next couple of hours sailing down the canals taking in some of the beautiful scenery. After our boat ride we had a walk round Vondelpark and stopped off at a café inside the park for lunch. The park itself is huge – it was buzzing with people making the most of the sunshine and we spent a while just people watching. I’ve never been to NYC before, but it seemed a lot like how I imagine Central Park would be, a huge calm in the middle of the city.

Sunday evening arrived and with it our last night in Amsterdam. We’d got tickets to a standup comedy show at Boom Chicago, after turning up slightly late we got ushered to seats right at the front and sat there trying to sink down into our seats as far as possible. The show itself was all about improvisation, the 4 comedians would ask the audience for different pieces of information like a girl’s name, a famous actress, an action, an occupation etc then perform sketches based on these items. Some of it was unsurprisingly pretty poor and a bit try hard but there were some funny parts – one highlight was a video clip from their new show ‘Social Media Circus’ – a sketch about the dark side of social media use (currently trying to find the video online, will post later if I’m successful!). My personal favourite of the show however, was when Emma got called up on stage and ridiculed for her middle class upbringing and ‘rambling’ hobbies. They proceeded to improv’ an entire song about her, wish I’d got it on video.

After the show we went for some dinner and found without a doubt the best restaurant I’ve ever been to. Red looked like a member’s only club from the outside; there was no sign and just a huge black door with a lamp outside. We pushed the door and came into a tidy little room with lush velvet curtains surrounding us. We parted the curtains and walked into the main dining area where we were greeted by our waitress. They didn’t have a menu, they just served two things: steak or lobster(!) We were seated at a table by the window and given an extensive wine list with some of the most expensive wines I’ve ever seen available – we went for the House white. The restaurant interior was gorgeous, mint green velvet chairs, mosaiced ceilings and spectacular flower displays, this was definitely not your average steak joint. Our steaks arrived and my god they were good. Best steak I’ve ever had by a long way, just perfectly cooked and really tender with just the right amount of blood – I honestly tried to distract myself from eating it so it lasted longer! We were there for hours savouring the wine and reliving our tales of the weekend – a brilliant end to our last evening in Amsterdam.

Monday morning came and we were up and out of the hostel by ten. Emma had a few meetings with suppliers to go to so I wandered round and made my way to the Van Gogh museum, after seeing the epic queue outside I decided to check out the Rijks Museum instead but kinda’ wish I hadn’t bothered. It was fairly dull inside with only a few paintings I liked, mainly an Andy Warhol piece of some Dutch royalty. The rest of the art in there was not to my taste, a lot of portraits and war related art – in hindsight I would have been better sticking with Van Gogh. I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering round shops and then stopped off at a café for a hot chocolate and pancakes – the patisseries in Amsterdam were amazing, I’m seriously going to miss the doughnuts and custard croissants we had every day whilst we were there! Emma finished her meetings and we headed straight to the airport for the trip home.

All in all, a bloody fabulous weekend was had in Amsterdam. There’s so much that we didn’t see that I’d like to go back and check out and other stuff I’d like to do again (mainly the Red steak), but it couldn’t have really gone any better. It’s such a gorgeous, picturesque city and has so much more to offer than prostitutes and drugs. I could have easily spent another week or so there exploring the museums and art galleries and more of the boutique shops. I didn’t really get to see the Red Light District when I was there so that’s something I’d like to do next time and I also really wanted to check out the flower markets and gardens too, so that’s another for the list. If you haven’t been to Amsterdam before, I really would recommend spending at least a week there to really get a feel for it; it really is a magical place.

I’ve posted a selection of pics here but I’ll be posting my entire collection on Flickr shortly once I get my Diani Mini film processed J

Allure of The Crazies

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I think we all know one, or worse, have had to endure one. You know, that annoyingly pretty girl who’s all creative and talented yet tortured and emotionally unstable? Some call them ’quirky’ or ‘a bit different’; I like to just call them crazy. I’m sure I’m being rather unpolitically correct right now, but what the hell I’m going to carry on regardless. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing quite a few of these girls, in fact I’d go as far as to say I seem to naturally attract them as friends. As a pretty levelheaded person, I think my stability and willingness to become an emotional crux is somewhat attractive to them.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of meeting one, there’s a few telltale signs to look out for. They’re usually stunning, quite often promiscuous and extremely good at manipulating just about everyone they come into contact with. They’re often creative, whether it be with their fashion sense, musical talents or designing abilities and almost always witty and sarcastic. I know what you’re thinking, what’s so bad about that right? The one major flaw with girls like this is their emotional stability, or lack thereof. They can literally be the happiest person you’ve ever met one minute, and crying in the bathroom cutting themselves the next. I think 80% of them probably have some kind of undiagnosed bi-polar disorder. Again, some of you may be thinking that this is not necessarily a bad thing, and I do agree to some extent. Their biggest flaw is also their biggest allure.

They’re extremely fun to be around and have an ability to let go more freely and embrace life to its fullest. They’re great at meeting new people, and can make you feel really loved and needed. They’ll do nice things for you, and make you little presents just because ‘you deserve it’. Their enthusiasm for life is infectious, and you can’t help but feel more fun when you’re around them. They’re kinda addictive. At least, this is what it’s like on a good day.

But as with most things, the good comes with the bad, or in their case, the downright suicidal. Their ability to feel so intensely ultimately means they experience extreme bouts of depression and loneliness. When I was younger, I had a friend like this. At first, she seemed like a really funny, loveable person to be around and despite a troubled upbringing seemed to be making the most of her life. One night, I found her unconscious and bleeding to death on her bed from all the cuts she’d made on her arms. I took her to hospital and stayed up all night worrying. The next day, I found out she’d been getting with my then boyfriend behind my back. From that day on, our friendship was never the same. I was still there for her, and helped her through it, but she became increasingly jealous and needy and in the end, I had to cut her out of my life for the sake of my own health. That’s the thing with these girls, when they’re having a down phase, they can literally suck the life right out of you. Like an addiction, they become dependent; your stability is like their cocaine. After a while though, all the things you initially loved about them seem to disappear and what was at first really fun, just turns into one long come down.

Although this is an extreme case, it’s always made me weary of getting too close to girls like this again in the future. The problem I find though, is that for some reason, I’m strangely attracted to this kind of person. Maybe I like all the drama, I’m not sure, but one thing’s certain, you’ll never get bored. And this is why I can kinda understand the appeal of them for guys. I have so many male friends that find themselves trapped in the cycle of falling for this type of girl over and over. As a fairly predictable, easy going girl, it frustrates the hell out of me that pretty much all the guys I seem to like go for these crazies. Yes they’re good looking, and yes they’re ‘quirky’, but do you really want a bunny boiler ex two months down the line? I know all their emotionally charged messages and blog posts seem intriguing now, but come on, do you really want to be the topic of them when things start to take a turn for the worse? And yet, their unstable nature is still devastatingly alluring.

And so, herein lies my dilemma – from a purely singleton perspective, they’re the competition. I want to scream to the world that they’re not as cool as they seem and to date me, the one you can take home to your parents, instead. But from a friendship perspective, they are actually that cool. I find myself going back to these girls again and again because they’re bloody good fun! And who doesn’t want a bit of fun right?

To all the boys wanting to date these mysterious creatures I would advise caution, and say that eventually you’ll realise you’re just getting a bit too old for all this drama and want to settle down with someone who won’t call your dad a sexy fuck. But whilst your young and have got the energy for it, then why the hell not. As for me, I’m going to continue to be friends with these girls for now and just wait around for the days when boys decide stability and loyalty are more attractive. But until then, let’s be honest, I’m pretty much always going to lose in a battle against a quirky, fun loving, creative whore.

Dating? No thanks, I’d rather be a Leper.

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Spurred on by a conversation I had last night with a fellow date hater, I felt the urge to write about how much I dislike dating and why. I would definitely class myself as a ‘relationship’ person and have been in a string of long term ones for most of my adult life. I used to love hearing about the exploits of my single friends and laugh at some of the awful, devastatingly mortifying situations that they’d got themselves into and thank god that I didn’t have to deal with stuff like that. Having been single for around 6 months now, the tables have turned and I’m increasingly finding friends in couples advising me to ‘get out there’ and go on dates, if not for any other reason, to entertain them and their boyfriends.

Now as much as I appreciate their concern and ‘Leper’ looks, I am fundamentally against the act of dating for a number of reasons. Firstly and probably most importantly, it’s all just so cringe worthy! The thought of going for a meal with a guy I barely know and having to order a salad even though I want the double cheeseburger and chips is bad enough, but to top this, you then have to engage in that wonderful thing called ‘small talk’. I struggle talking about myself in an interesting way to my actual friends at the best of times, let alone to a potential Mr Right. So the thought of explaining what I do, where I went to school, what degree I did etc seems just so tedious and unnecessary to me. And who gives a crap anyway? I’d much rather sit there for 3 hours and talk about cheese or badgers, at least it’d ease the nerves that way.

Secondly, what happened to spontaneity? Maybe I’m just a hopeless romantic, but I do still believe that I will bump into someone on the metro and get talking, or reach for the same pepper at Tesco’s, or even just get introduced through mutual friends. The problem I have with dates is that they’re so planned and predictable. There’s so much expectancy and pressure on that one evening to have a good night that half the time, you forget to actually enjoy it. And then there’s the whole, do we kiss, don’t we kiss at the end of the evening, the thought of which literally sends shivers down my spine in horror.

Before you even get to the date part, there’s the whole issue of how you ask. As a woman, it’s been drummed into me from a young age that it’s definitely a man’s job to do the asking, yet I’ve increasingly found that guys are equally as nervous about the asking as us women. I probably don’t help myself out – I don’t know whether it’s because I’m an English graduate, or had lecturers for parents, but I can’t stand grammatically incorrect texts. Is it so much to ask for, for a guy to take time and effort to think about what he writes, how he spells and punctuates it and then read it back a couple of times for good measure? Ok, maybe it is…but come on, do you really think I’m going to respond to a message that says ‘soz to be rude, but can i have ur numba?’ when we’ve never met? I want a bit of intelligent banter, something that’ll make me laugh, keep me intrigued and wanting to know more. After all, the chase is half the fun anyway.

I have recently been the victim of a number of, shall we say, ‘bad experiences’ with guys trying it on. Much to the amusement of my coupled friends, I somehow find myself in situations where the only guys that actually try it on are the ones you don’t like or are quite frankly, weirdoes. It never ceases to amaze me how persistent some guys are despite you turning them down on several occasions – I’d like to think that all this is just someone’s way of testing me and making sure when the right person does come along I’ll spot them a mile off but in all honesty, these so called ‘bad experiences’ have if anything, made me more weary and nervous!

I’ve always found in the past that I’ve been friends with a guy first and it’s just naturally progressed into something more, but I’ve recently been struggling with how to let that ‘friend’ know you’re interested. If you don’t like dates, hate small talk and don’t want to make the first move for fear of getting shot down, then what can you do except sit it out and hope something eventually happens? I think the reason I don’t like being single and hate dating is because I simply don’t know what I’m doing! I have male friends coming out of my eyeballs because I always go for the same ‘arite dude’ approach and am instantly seen as ‘one of the lads’. Although this is great and I love all my guy mates, at some point or other, it’d be quite nice to actually be seen as something more than ‘just friends’.

And so here is my dilemma – how do you attract guys you actually like without going on dates, or outrageously flirting (which again is something I seem incapable of doing without cringing at myself) or making the first move? I want to be myself, but at the same time I feel like the only way to ‘put myself out there’ is by doing things that aren’t me, which kinda’ defeats the object. So my conclusion is this – after much consideration, I have decided that I am in fact destined for a life of male friends and Leperdom and will just have to live in hope that one day, one of them will accidentally fall in love with me.

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