Thursday, 19 November 2009

ReBoot

While we're on the topic of cult TV shows, I'm going to move onto another forgotten gem, ReBoot, a Canadian animated series which ran for four years between 1994 and 2001. Set inside a computer where the principal characters were programs, sprites and viruses, had names like Dot Matrix and were subject to the godlike whim of "The User", who forced them to participate in games that could lead to their deletion, it was notable for being one of the very first productions to be entirely computer generated, predating the iconic Toy Story by a whole year.

Dot Matrix
Image © Rainmaker Entertainment

These days CGI is so ubiquitous that it's hard to imagine a world without it, so it's simply impossible to overstate the impact the show had when it first aired - at the time it seemed almost unbelievably innovative, groundbreaking and futuristic, even though the graphics, before they improved dramatically in the third season, were relatively clunky and already look preposterously dated.

One of the major reasons for ReBoot's success was that it was unafraid to outgrow its target audience. Although it remained ostensibly a "children's show" to the last, it grew progressively darker in tone, and some of the writing was decidedly near the knuckle; how the vicious anti-religious satire in "Daemon Rising", where the angelically beautiful super-virus Daemon subjugates skeptical sprites through the insidious, brainwashing power of "The Word", got past Broadcast Standards & Practices I'll never know.

Daemon
Image © Rainmaker Entertainment

After many years off the air, ReBoot relaunched last year with an unprecedented and utterly innovative concept. On a new website built almost entirely from user-generated content, five stories were picked from fan submissions and were then voted on by the public; the winning team would go on to turn their story into a webcomic. My personal favourite was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the very darkest one, set 17 years in the future, where the heroine has been forced to marry the villain, who rules over the whole system, and their rebellious teenaged daughter discovers that the hero, now a homeless bum living in the city's streets, is her real father, and becomes a resistance fighter. Sadly, this one didn't win; the public went for the safe option instead, although the winning entry, the wonderfully titled "Paradigms Lost", was perfectly respectable. At the same time, it was announced that ReBoot was being turned into a trilogy of feature films for theatrical release, the first of which is due to hit cinemas next year.

This model of involving the fans deeply in the rebirth process of the show stands as an inspiration to me in my quest to revive The Dreamstone. When fans have a genuine emotional investment in the property, they are that much more likely to follow it through many incarnations. Some balk at the idea of a Dreamstone webcomic, CGI series or feature film, preferring instead to wallow in woolly, cosy nostalgia. To me, no idea is too outlandish, no option can be ruled out, in the service of ensuring that the property lives again.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The Dreamstone

Well, one of the things I said this blog was going to be about was cult TV shows and you can't get much more cult than The Dreamstone, a British animated series that aired for four years between 1990 and 1995 and currently ranks in my top five favourite TV shows of all time.

The Dreammaker & Albert
Image © Dolphy

Zordrak
Image © Mike Jupp

The show can genuinely be called a global cult phenomenon: a completely original concept with fully realized, lovingly rendered characters including a truly horrific villain, a complex and involving mythology, and an epic, fully orchestrated score by Mike Batt (the man behind "Bright Eyes", one of the most haunting and moving pop songs of all time); superbly written, animated and voice acted, it aired in a number of non-English-speaking territories including Germany, Brazil, Israel and Russia, but sadly
never broke the States despite an alternative pilot made for the US market featuring the voice of one Christian Bale. Despite the astonishing statistic that at the peak of its popularity five million people were tuning in to watch it every week in the UK alone, it sadly petered out after four seasons, became mired in rights issues, has never been re-aired and has slipped inexorably into obscurity.

The internet age has brought about a resurgence of nostalgia for old TV shows through sites such as Toonhound and tv.com, and a small but die-hard fan community for The Dreamstone has sprung up with several fan sites, the above-referenced Wikipedia article and even an IMDB page. The main hub for fans of the show is the personal forum of its creator Mike Jupp, who in my opinion can only be described as a visionary genius.

Although a couple of DVDs have been released, most of the show's episodes are unavailable, although several have been upped onto YouTube. One of the most interesting fan productions has been the contribution of the graphic artist DS_Dreamer who has created a level for Little Big Planet based on the show, as part of the coursework for a computer game design course:



I believe that I may be one of only a handful of private individuals in the world to have almost every single episode of the series on VHS tape, and I've just bought a video conversion gadget with the aim of digitizing the whole thing.
I've recently been watching it again with my eight-year-old daughter, who loves it too - proof that the show's quality endures. (I've recently discovered, much to my dismay, that I am missing just one episode: "Auntie Again", the first episode of season four. Does anyone have a complete copy of this episode and would they be willing to do me a dub of it? If so, get in touch!)

I've also been posting on many of the
above-mentioned sites in an attempt to see the show revived in some fashion. Mike Jupp himself has said he would love to do a new CGI series, but as the rights to the show are currently owned by Cookie Jar, who seem to have no interest in it, any forward motion is stymied. I urge anyone who has fond memories of the show to get involved - join Jupp's forum, post positive comments on IMDB etc., and petition Cookie Jar to a) re-release the whole series on DVD and b) sell the rights back to Jupp so he can make a new series. A show this good doesn't deserve to languish in obscurity.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Julie Fowlis

I went to see the sublime Julie Fowlis in concert at the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith a few weeks ago and I have to say I was absolutely blown away. This was by far the best gig I have ever been to - better even than Rachel's at the Union Chapel. Fowlis, who sings exclusively in Scottish Gaelic, is renowned for her beautifully sweet, clear vocals and her virtuoso whistle playing, and she absolutely did not disappoint. Showcasing material off her new album "Uam" ("From Me"), together with her band she tore through a set of raucous jigs and reels - despite clearly being heavily pregnant - as well as presenting some of the saddest songs in the world. It was her only London date of the year and the venue, one of the smallest on the tour, was wonderfully intimate. Fowlis literally has the voice of an angel; the entire audience, most of whom could not understand a word she sang, were enraptured from beginning to end. The sheer quality of the musicianship on show was undeniable - the whole band had that effortless brilliance that comes from having played since they were old enough to stand, and what shone through was their sense of humour, the fact that they didn't take the music too seriously and weren't stuffy or precious about it at all. Sadly my copy of the album had not yet arrived so I wasn't able to take it along for her to sign, but I did get to meet her after the gig and try out my Gaelic on her. She was ever so nice, and my classmates were green with envy! Fowlis deserves every single bit of the praise and adulation that has been heaped upon her, not least for single-handedly raising the profile of Gaelic worldwide. Watch this short film about her new album...



...and then buy it immediately - you'll be doing yourself an enormous favour.

Franky is finished!

My brother and I finally finished mastering my new tune "Franky" a few weeks ago and as promised, I upload it here for your delectation. Please be patient - it takes a little while to load, but it does play eventually.


It's in my classic usual style of bright pop-rock juxtaposed with exceptionally dark, blackly comic lyrics, which in this case are inspired by the German cannibal killer Armin Meiwes who cooked and ate a man he met on the internet. Meiwes was originally acquitted of murder on the grounds that his victim Bernd Brandes volunteered to be killed, but was later convicted in a retrial. He is currently serving a life sentence. The story, both horrific and tragic, continues to fascinate me and I wrote this song from Meiwes's point of view, using only his own words in order to make it as real as possible; in this sense the song can be regarded as "autobiographical" even though he didn't actually write it himself. Anyway, I hope you all enjoy it, please comment.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

I strike a blow for international freedom of speech

This morning I went onto the Belgian-based online music magazine Side-Line, one of my favourite sites for news about electro-industrial music, and was shocked to discover that they had made it impossible for anyone other than Facebook users to post comment on their news items. Being, as I am, an opponent of the corporate might of Facebook and other "social networking" sites, which I view as intrusive and unnecessary, I immediately sent an email to them to complain, denouncing the move as a dangerous and ill-advised attempt to curb freedom of speech. I felt this tremendously ironic given that the site has long held itself up as a bastion of that very thing, even refusing to condemn the extreme right-wing views of Croat rocker Marko "Thompson" Perkovic. Shortly thereafter I received an email from Side-Line's chief editor Bernard Van Isacker, whose rationale for the move was that "it avoids that people hide themselves behind anonymous accounts like what was the case in the past on Side-Line and where Side-Line was the only one to take responsability [sic] for comments that appeared on the site". However, after I argued that he was denying the right to comment to the many people who do not wish to have a Facebook account, he changed it back, with the caveat that "if abused it goes down immediately", which I thought was perfectly reasonable. Ultimately, however, his argument just doesn't wash with me. Everyone who leaves a comment has to give an email address, which I accept could be fake, but I see no reason why Side-Line should have to "take responsibility" for comments that appear on the site - surely they could just have a corporate-style disclaimer saying something like "All views expressed in comments are posters' own and do not necessarily represent the views of Side-Line and its affiliates". I suggested this to Mr Van Isacker, but have yet to receive a response.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Ash charge fans £130 for double album

A couple of years ago Ash, the Northern Irish rockers once touted as saviours of British indie, announced that they would no longer be making albums and would only release singles instead. They have held true to their word and starting next week they are releasing a series of 26 seven-inch singles, one a fortnight, and doing an A-Z tour of obscure UK towns from Aldershot to Zennor. Each of these singles has one track (the B-side is etched) and retails for £5. This means that if fans choose to buy them all, they will pay £130 for a double album's worth of material. Way to screw your fans, Tim! Now I lost interest in Ash years ago but even if I was a fan I would stick two fingers up to this shameless cashgrab and download the whole lot for free just to teach them a lesson, which is exactly what I hope happens. And what's the bet that at the end of the year, all the tracks will be released on a double CD retailing for a tenth of the cost of the vinyl? "Oh, it's not really an album," they'll say. "It's a compilation."

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The trouble with Gaelic

People are always bemoaning the fact that young people don't want to learn Gaelic. Well I'll tell you why - it' s because they're not seeing anything in Gaelic culture that they can connect with. And when the pinnacle of Gaelic popular culture is these guys, who can blame them? What is needed is something ultra-hip and trendy, that kids actually like. To this end I have decided to write and produce a Gaelic pop-trance tune in the style of All Around The World Records called "Cuan Eadarainn" ("An Ocean Between Us"), have it sung by an attractive young lady and shoot a sexy video for it. The kids will lap it up! Is anybody interested in getting involved? To start with, my friends in my Gaelic class are going to give me some help in translating the lyrics (as my Gaelic isn't that great, I've written it in English first), and then I'll be looking for a vocalist.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Visual Kei

For a couple of years now my favourite genre of music has been visual kei, a form of rock music from Japan. “Kei” translates variously as “type”, “style” or “system”. As you can probably imagine from the name, the look of the bands is pretty important. It’s probably best described as a cross between glam metal, goth and new romantic, with some of the bands wearing ridiculously elaborate stage costumes. 99.9% of the bands in the scene have exclusively male members but the aim seems to be to look as "androgynous" (read: feminine) as possible. This is probably because the target market for the music, in Japan at least, is predominantly teenage girls, who, presumably, fancy men who look like teenage girls.

Matenrou Opera
Image © 2009 Sherow Artist Society

However, as far as I’m concerned, music is an auditory medium, not a visual one, and it’s what the music sounds like that matters. Many suggest that VK is not actually a single genre of music at all, that it’s more like what I have called a “virtual genre” like emo, nu-metal or clicks ‘n’ cuts – that is, a catch-all term for a number of essentially unrelated genres that just happen to be thematically linked in some way. I beg to differ - you know immediately when you’re listening to a VK band. What I like best about it is that unlike in the West, there is no taboo about mashing different genres together, so you can have pop, punk, metal, industrial, electronica and Japanese traditional influences right next to each other, even in the course of the same song. Also, lines or even single words of English will be randomly dropped into the lyrics, presumably for aesthetic effect. In my opinion, the very best bands are those who balance the darkness and power of modern metal with the melodic immediacy of pop. When it’s done right, it doesn’t sound at all forced, but natural. At these moments it becomes obvious why this is swiftly becoming my favourite genre of all time. Watch this space for regular updates on the new VK albums I’ve bought, along with my views.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Tha beagan Gàidhlig agam

I've been learning Gaelic at City Lit in London for the last year. It's the summer holidays now, but there's one more year of the course left, which I'm going to sign up for. I'm really enjoying learning it; I think I caught the language-learning bug after studying German for four years as part of my linguistics degree at Birkbeck. As a Celtic language, Gaelic is quite hard to learn if you're used to learning Germanic or Romance languages like most people in this country do in school. It has verb-subject-object word order, which means the verb usually comes first in the sentence. It also has some weird idiosyncracies, such as having no verb "to have", which means that if you want to say you have something you have to say it's "at" you or "on" you, and if you want to say that you are something, you have to say that it's "in" you. There are loads of these prepositional constructions and in addition, all the prepositions can combine with all the pronouns to create scores of "prepositional pronouns" which you also have to learn. Having a linguistics degree is a definite advantage because then you understand how languages actually work and fit together. It's a real challenge but hey, I like that sort of thing and there are loads of resources to help, most prominently BBC Alba, the BBC's Gaelic-language TV channel. I've also joined two fora for learners, Fòram na Gàidhlig and mygaelic. Despite a recent increase in institutional support, many people (primarily Scots, I'm sorry to say) seem to feel there is no value in learning Gaelic. I am proud of my Scottish heritage and I think of Gaelic as a link to my ancestors, who would have spoken it. But it is also an intrinsic part of the culture and history of the British Isles and as a linguist, I will fight tooth and nail to prevent it from going the way of the dodo.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Recording

I was in the studio with my brother the other evening working on recordings for my new tune "Franky", which will hopefully appear on the debut release from my long-lived, on-again-off-again musical project Listed Buildings. Hopefully I'll one day get around to finishing the band's website; in the meantime I'll post regular bits about it here. My brother is the former frontman of sadly defunct Croydon indie rock band Free Flights Up and is friends with a guy who has built a fully-functional studio at the bottom of his garden and lets us use it for free. Recordings are going well, this was our third session and we've pretty much done most of it - only the guitar solo, keyboard and backing vocals left to do. Hopefully we'll finish it next time and then I'll post it here for your delectation.

My bro at the mixing desk...

...on the acoustic guitar...

...and me in the vocal booth. Attractive, eh?

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Nicola Roberts

The members of Girls Aloud were in the paper again last night for some reason or another. After careful deliberation, I can categorically state that Nicola Roberts, the "ugly" one, is the only genuinely good-looking member of the group.

Nicola Roberts
Image ©
2008 Michael Labica & Sandrine Dulermo

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Yoga

I've been doing yoga for about six months and I went again last night. I don't do a great deal of exercise so it's a chance for me to get a good workout. The first time I went I thought "Oh this'll be easy, it's just bending and stretching" but at the end of the class I felt like I'd been hit by a truck! Last night wasn't so bad but it was still a workout - my teacher is very sweet but she's a hard taskmaster! My favourite pose is probably kakasana, a.k.a. "the crow".

The Crow
Image © Barry Stone


Other poses I also like are the fish, the camel, the bow, the half moon and the warrior II, images of which can also be found on Ann Pizer's yoga guide. I like yoga because as well as increasing "supplety" and muscle strength, it has the spiritual dimension of a martial art, but without all the bowing and scraping ("Hai, Sensei.") I did jujutsu for a few weeks a while back but they all loved it too much, it was like the evil dojo in The Karate Kid.

"The Karate Kid" © 1984 Columbia Pictures

Yoga is definitely more up my street!

Monday, 13 July 2009

Zach

I have enjoyed writing creatively for many years and I'm currently working on my first screenplay, a thriller tentatively entitled "Zach". My mate Bill and I came up with the characters and the story about 15 years ago and since then I've been trying to turn it into a novel until I realized that I simply don't have the patience to finish a novel. Screenplays are much cooler - although you don't get so much control over the finished product, they're a helluva lot easier to write because you don't have to write 500 pages, you only have to write about 120 pages and most of it is dialogue. I've been using an online thing called Scripped Writer which is really nice 'cause it does all the fiddly formatting for you, allowing you to just write the damn thing. However you do have to be online to use it so I'm looking into an installable one called Celtx as I do a lot of writing on the Tube and you can't get internet access underground (yet). Once this one's done I'm going to try to sell it on WordHustler while I set to work on some more, I've got I think about twelve stories lined up so I'm not short on ideas. At the moment I'm finishing my story treatment and will soon be able to start blasting the thing out in earnest - I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

First Post

Well, I finally did it. After literally years of agonizing over whether it was worth getting involved in blogging, I finally decided to take the plunge, having decided that there was just too much interesting stuff going on in my head, and not enough people in "real life" that I felt I could share it with. This will be my forum for talking about any and all of the stuff that fascinates, amuses or repels me. Take a look at my profile to get an idea of the things that I like (they're many and varied). I like to think I have an interesting mind - if you have one too, start following this blog and prepare to get bombarded with a totally random collection of cool and interesting stuff.