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


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


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


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.