Sunday, 26 February 2012

How to: WIN A BRIT AWARD

The BRIT Awards were in town last week, and boy did they not disappoint. Well, I mean, they did not disappoint anyone who believes the physical extent of the concept of music is what is played in between adverts for carpeting firms and curry houses on Trent FM, or whatever name it goes by now. It was a celebration of the mundane, the inane and the insane. Watching Ed Sheeran change from a green Element t-shirt I’m sure was all the rage when I (therefore, himself) was about thirteen into his prom suit was one of a bizarre range of occurrences in this year’s cornucopia of crud. Previous BRIT Awards simply provided an excuse for the various warring factions of Britpop to get astoundingly drunk and start turf wars that were our British equivalent of the East-West rivalry in American Rap. Now it’s all rather like a school assembly celebrating the achievements of Year 6 pupils; which is rather fitting given that the BRIT Awards are run by the BRIT people who run the BRIT school. Now, I imagine that you, sat hunched over your electronic device, wonder aloud “I too would like to one day hold aloft a statuette and swear at ‘THE MAN’ for daring to remain within an allocated time slot”. Well, wish no more; as here is my non-guaranteed method to WIN A BRIT!

TAKE THAT YOU SUITS! THAT'LL TEACH THEM! UNGRATEFUL BASTARDS


POINT ONE: BE EITHER YOUNG OR OLD

The BRIT Awards love their extremes. Either be about the age at which education is still mandatory, ala One Direction and Edward Sheeran; or be older than the concept of mandatory education, ala Paul McCartney. With young performers, there’s always a feeling of ‘Wow, you did that ALL by yourself? Well done!’; as a parent would have towards a child who’s produced a particularly nauseatingly bright image using nothing but felt tips, glitter and enough PVA to ground Heathrow. They are also almost always universally popular, despite not being known by anyone over the age of 18 (this will be referred back to later). If you are old, the academy almost feels obliged to give you an award simply as congratulations for still being alive. Think of it as like a telegram from the Queen.

POINT TWO: HAVE HOARDS OF MYOPIC BRAINLESS FANS

Sheer numbers can win you out here, even if you’re part of a group without enough collective talent to fill an Argos biro, you can still reap unjust rewards. Imagine having a personal army of fans with nothing better to do than to constantly dredge your name up on Twitter and Facebook; whilst wasting their parents’ hard earned money on your CDs, your gigs, phoning in for you to vote for you in various pointless competitions and buying every piece of slave-labour produced tat available under the sun, all of it featuring the same dead-eyed image of yourself grinning like a lobotomised horse. Of course, your fame will be time limited, and anyone you may dare to date will be feared for their life in case a substantial proportion of Twitter issues a bounty on their head. But hey; you’ve got a BRIT! Who cares!?!?!

POINT THREE: HAVE BEEN ON A TELLY SHOW

Now, being on TV doesn’t just mean you will have had a long time to introduce the public to your sound and personality; it also means you’re probably on a record label controlled by Simon Cowell. Simon ‘Mr Music’ Cowell. There are other names for him, but I think it’d be impolite to publish them.  This literally means it is impossible for you to not pick up at least one award during your musical career, regardless of the musical merits of your warbling. If Cowell wants you to win an award, you better bring a wheel barrow to Wembley Arena…

TREMBLE AT THE POWER COWELL HOLDS. TREMBLE

POINT FOUR: GET AS MUCH AIRTIME AS POSSIBLE

Now, unfortunately, you can be the world’s greatest musician; but if you can’t display your talents in a 3:30 song which can be instantaneously identified and redistributed via every commercial radio station going, then WHAT USE ARE YOUR TALENTS!?! YOU ARE USELESS!! Short, catchy, no swearies, not challenging in any sense of the word, cheery, and upbeat (unless you’re a woman, e.g. Adele, Lana Del Ray). This will ensure that there is no gap to your airplay; and that somewhere in the UK, at any one time, your song will be belched out by some small part of the broadcast media.

POINT FIVE: BE AROUND FOR AGES

Linked in to the idea of ‘if you’re old, you’ll get an award’; if you keep going for an extraordinary amount of time, continually producing albums, like clockwork, every 18 months; then eventually someone at the BRIT academy will give you an award. Possibly to celebrate the huge and continued contribution to the musical landscape of the nation you have made. Or possibly to get you to stop.

POINT SIX: HAVE GONE TO BRIT SCHOOL AT SOME POINT

This is a no brainer. If you went to the BRIT school (as covered earlier, the same people who run the BRIT awards); the chances of winning a BRIT Award is much greater than if you went to St. Heathen’s Comprehensive School in Uttoxeter. Whilst the government is faffing around with the issues of Oxbridge favouring pupils from independent schools, they should tackle the real issue of the preferential treatment that ex-students of the BRIT school receive at the BRIT awards. Talk about friends in high places. Instead of giving people like Adele awards, I should win one. It’s only fair. And I’d value it more. She has, what, about 30? She’ll just dump them in some IKEA plastic box on wheels and shove it under her bed.

Those are just some possible routes into winning the ‘Dairylea’ of music awards. If you don’t want really fancy selling out on any of your core values, go for the Mercury Music award (although you will have to actually have some degree of musical competency and creativity). And if you can’t be bothered, but still want to win an award, simply turn up to the National Television Awards, and you get one in a party bag.

Speaking of awards, the Oscars are just about to start over in the land of Nicholas Cage. The one where no-one speaks will win. Probably.

Or Adele.

Should have brought a couple of carrier bags, really.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Pissing in the Wind

Remember the good old days of the internet. Waiting for about 40 seconds for your PC to make play some low rent techno music whilst a little diagram told you were about to be connected to the rest of the world. You knew your parents were expecting a call later, so you couldn’t be on for long. The anticipation grew as, very, very slowly an explosion of primary colours emerged on your screen; like someone pouring several bottles of paint through the top of your monitor. You were suddenly connected to everyone else in the world (well, the rich parts of it). You had almost unlimited power (as long as you were off by 6pm, as your gran is going to call then). You were on THE INTERNET.

One problem. There was fuck all on it.

There were millions of shoddy, garish and ghoulish pages about stuff no-one really cared about. Geocities? AOL? Lycos? Jeeves never really answered any of my questions. Images took about 3 minutes to load; the idea of illegally downloading music was laughable, unless you were the kind of person who had unlimited free time and no friends wanting to ring you. Coincidentally, computer nerds ticked all those boxes; but just had no interest in music beyond the bleepy horror of games such as ‘BLUDGORR FOUR’.

Fast forward to the now, and all has changed. The internet is slick, fast, easily accessible and no longer prevents double glazing firms from cold calling you. Youtube lets you view the creative efforts of billions of cats and tone-deaf idiots singing. Facebook lets you people you have absolutely no interest in post up photos of their disgusting, inedible, grey piles of organic material that they like to name ‘NOMNOMNOM’. Why should that impress me? You’ve managed to feed yourself; well done. You’ve attained a level of self-sufficiency that rocks can only dream of. But the biggest, most bemusing and confusing webviathan of the past few years is Twitter.

'YUMMY TEA I MAID AL MISELF NOMNOMNOM'

Twitter shouldn’t work. Ever. It is the equivalent of listening to strangers shouting out loud in public. Whoever shouts interesting, thought provoking, humorous and profound statements will be overshadowed by a person famous for being an idiot, telling the entirety of human civilisation that they are ‘WELL UP 4 A NANDOS #ILOVECHICKEN’. My favourite analogy for twitter is to imagine you are stood on a hill, pissing into the wind. Only if you’re famous, will people want to be spattered by your urine. 140 characters is just enough to dig your own grave, as many users have discovered at their peril.

For some of the inhabitants of twitter (and others who use and abuse the internet); the laws of reality do not extend into the virtual world. This is the wild west, the final frontier, the ultimate clich├ęd metaphor. Fancy sending some abuse to a person you’ve never met? Twitter is the ultimate outlet. Want to tell a footballer he should ‘Fuck Off And Die’? Tweet it. Inform a politician that they are ‘Scum. Subhuman scum’? Tweet away. However, bear in mind that the authority of the police doesn’t end at your keyboard and ‘It was just banter, innit’ won’t stand up in court.

Twitter trends also expose the very worst in humanity, regularly, at scales varying from individual cities to the globe. The sheer number of trends that spring up simply celebrating a clutch of three or four pop acts; controlled entirely by a cohort of tweenagers who are the real-life embodiment of the child-spies from Nineteen-Eighty-Four. Repeating propaganda phrases that further the cause of really, really annoying the hell out of normal people. If the members of One Direction were to begin instructing their mini-minions to begin stockpiling weaponry, I’d be the first to start digging a fallout shelter. And even, even if a trend begins that has *nothing* to do with The Wanted, Bieber, or whoever has clawed their way into the public consciousness from the vast pond of bilge that is commercial radio; in about 4 minutes, it will either be hijacked by the fans of one of those acts, or replaced by ‘#OneDirectioneersLoveOneDirectionInLotsOfDirections’, or something as equally vile.

But, twitter is brilliant. I love it. I can chat utter rubbish, and no-one has to listen. No-one really cares about my thoughts on Steve Cotterill’s awful reign as Forest manager; but the point is no-one has to care. If they do, then that’s even more brilliant. Do I want to know what Person X or Y says? I don’t know. But I better keep on following them in case they maybe one day reply to me. Or even better, gives me a retweet. It gives everyone the grand delusion that, at some level, we might actually be important in the scheme of things.  Twitter can elevate anyone to any level of fame or infamy; as easily as it can hurl them back down; the thrill is in the ride. Your day of twitter fame could never come, but it might, just might, emerge.

Can I have a RT please?

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Cooking up an entirely predictable storm

The other day, I caught the end of Heston Blumenthal’s latest cookery bonanza on Channel 4. The egg-cooking; egg-headed egghead was somehow transforming a potato (of ‘waffle’ fame) into doughnuts (not renowned for their high potato content). Even for a culinary-cynic such as myself; it was intriguing viewing. Heston was promptly followed by ‘The Fabulous Baker Brothers’; which appeared to be a pair of models from the Next catalogue who were teaching us how to make hot dogs. Of course, these two televisual feasts (an ill-fitting metaphor if any existed) are just some of the latest variations of the celebrity chef TV formulae. Like a supermarket cheese sandwich; the recipe for TV chefs has remained unchanged since the invention of bread. If you fancy yourself as the next Mitch Tonks or Trish Deseine; here’s my step-by-step guide to becoming every TV celebrity chef ever.

STEP ONE: IDENTIFY YOURSELF

First you’ll need a unique selling point. What? Thought you’d get on telly just by being a good cook. BORING FOOL. You have to be able to ‘brand’ yourself in one word. Let’s look.

Heston Blumenthal: THE ‘SCIENCEY’ ONE
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: THE ‘FARMY’ ONE
Delia Smith: THE ‘MUM’ ONE
James Martin: THE ‘YORKSHIRE’ ONE
Anthony Worrall Thompson: THE ‘SHORT BEARDED’ ONE
Nigella Lawson: THE ‘INNUENDO-Y’ ONE
Jamie Oliver: THE ‘MOCKNEY’ ONE
Gordon Ramsey: THE ‘SWEARY’ ONE
Nigel Slater: THE ‘INTELLIGENISTA’ ONE

And so on. You need to create a simplified identity that people will instantly recognise. Enjoy reading? You could be ‘THE ‘BOOK’ ONE’. Enjoy downbeat music sung by men with long hair who have a grudge against the world? ‘THE ‘GOTH’ ONE’. An ex-convict? ‘THE ‘MURDERER’ ONE. These are all available in the world of TV chefs, I believe.

STEP TWO: GET A KITCHEN

No, not a normal kitchen. We all have a kitchen; but could you imagine seeing it on TV? Nope; I thought not (unless you appear to live in the pages of the Ikea catalogue). You need a TV KITCHEN! A TV kitchen always has a massive island counter, on which you can prepare the swan to be stuffed into a horse, or something. You need access to a cooker so large you wonder whether some variation on Narnia is located towards the rear. Lots and lots of black, marble effect counter tops; into which light is trapped for eternity. You need every pointless kitchen utensil featured from the pages of the cheap mail-order catalogues that fall out of trashy newspapers. Massive windows that offer the proles at home glimpses into your sunny, perfect garden and your sunny, perfect life. Sound familiar? Well, you’ve seen it here:

Jamie in a kitchen


And here:

Anthony in a kitchen


And here, here, and here

Hugh in a kitchen


Delia in a kitchen


Guess where James is


STEP THREE: YOU NEED A THEME

You have your personality. You have a kitchen dramatic enough to beam into the nation’s homes on a Wednesday at 8pm. You need a theme for your show. You thought you could cook some of your favourite dishes? Well, you could do, but make sure the series is entitled “MY FAVOURITES” or something similar. You want to tie together all the foodie nonsense with some pretentious theme. Broad favourites are:


SIMPLE AND CHEAP COOKING: Telling the audience the way they cook food is too complicated and pricey; and they need to do it more ‘simple’ and cheap.
POSH AND PRICEY COOKING: Like theme 1; but tell the audience to make food ‘less simple’ and ‘more costly’. 
IF YOU DON’T GROW IT ALL YOURSELF YOU’RE POISONING YOUR KIDS: This is pretty much Fearnley Whittingstall’s patch; but he might share.
LOOK I’M IN A FORRIN LAND AND LOOK HOW THEY COOK!? WEIRD HUH: You get to go on holiday in this one! Jamie did a budget one round Britain.
I’M DOING ONE INGREDIENT A WEEK: Quite simple; but you try and find 6 uses for a tin of tuna.
IT’S CHRISTMAS/EASTER/SUMMER/EVENT!: Self explanatory

But why not experiment with new themes; be inventive. But not too inventive. That’ll scare away TV companies.

STEP FOUR: GET YOURSELF SOME NORMAL PEOPLE

Every chef, in every TV program now, ends up doing a bit where he/she cooks for a bunch of ‘normal people’; BUT they must be members of a club with the skills, expertise and experience to evaluate the quality of your cooking. The cast of a production of ‘West Side Story’ by a local amateur dramatics society, for example. You have to cook food for them. Then get them to eat your food, stare into the camera and tell them how good it is. Like some messiah entering the village hall, clutching sacred sausage rolls baked from a recipe inscribed in stone by John the Baptist. They will literally have an out-of-body experience upon tasting your food; therefore justifying to the audience that you really are the canine’s testes.

STEP FIVE: HAVE ENOUGH RECIPES TO WRITE A BOOK

Again, simple really. In the birthplace of the English language; the second bestselling author is Jamie Oliver. This provides a chance for you to really rake in the cash.

STEP SIX: DON’T RUN OUT OF IDEAS

You’ll need to produce a new series and tie-in book about once a year; so don’t enter the business with a post-it note of recipes. Make sure you can come up with enough different material to justify people watching and buying your new stuff. If they want repeats, they can go on the internet, or one of those weird channels that shows nothing but cooking programmes.

You know.

Channel 4.


Well done, you’ve just sat my ‘HOW TO MAKE IT AS A CHEF’ course. Please mail me 10% of your earnings as chef as token of your appreciation. Of course, you can look at this list, and realise just how oversaturated, overfamiliar and overboring the whole TV cookery game has become. There must be a reason why, as a nation, we're continually wishing to be taught better and new ways of cooking; as though a cloud of culinary self-doubt hangs over every kitchen in Middle Britain which can only be solved by taking the sage, broadcast advice of a TV Chef. 

However, despite all my moaning and cynically grumbling; I’ll still be watching in wide-eyed fascination as Heston turns a potato into a doughnut.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Skins: Realistically Speaking...

Welcome to my new blog. On here I’ll be attempting to dissect the current shambolic nature of television, music, film, and the internets; as well as other current events which merit a cynical dressing down. So without further ado; let’s talk Skins...

Dripping with something every week: SKINS


Skins, E4’s vivid stumble through the nether regions of the lives of several teenage Bristolians has been on our boxes now since 2007, coincidentally, the same time the ‘Nu-Rave’ revolution hit our eyes, ears and taste receptors. Initially it was notable for being vaguely similar to Grange Hill, except pumped full of Jaegermeister, Pro Plus and Ketamine; and with considerably fewer corpses in the school pool. It also starred the ‘Boy’, from ‘About A Boy’; which provided TV critics with an easy angle from which to cover the show. The escapades were rather, well, imaginative, but then it didn’t promise to be an account of a life anyone on this earth could realistically experience. And so, rather like the rash of bands that were promoted under the ‘Nu-Rave’ banner, the series was initially rather popular and well received all round.

However, the march of time continued its inexorable lurching; and ‘Nu-Rave’ disappeared down the plughole of obscurity. Topman swapped neon coloured t-shirts for Mickey Mouse in ironic situations. The Klaxons, considered the Kings of ‘Nu-Rave’ themselves publically denounced ‘Nu-Rave’. But yet, 5 years on, Skins has still survived. As the sixth season began a few weeks ago, it had to be seen whether it still held the little relevancy it had when it began. Oh dear.

One of the quieter moments of life in Bristol.


The first episode featured ‘the gang’ on a summer holiday to Morocco. Now, this itself was a stumbling block. Morocco. Morocco. Not Magaluf. Not Ayia Napa. Not Cromer. Morocco. Now, I understand that tourism is the second largest industry in Morocco (behind Phosphates); and maybe it just demonstrates the limited horizons of myself (and everyone I know); but Morocco doesn’t scream out “A-LEVEL SUMMER HOLIDAY DESTINATION”. Their accommodation, it transpires, is a dilapidated concrete shack in the middle of an arid landscape, with no water (proof as always that those glossy travel brochures can make anywhere look appealing). At first, I thought they were staying in the charred remains of Uncle Owen’s Moisture Farm on Tatooine; but in the Skins universe, a lack of basic amenities wouldn’t stop them having a ‘sick’ time.

They found themselves a beach rave (luckily they chose to stay in the same semi-arid spot that every other middle-class A-Level student was), where they ran into a very nice boy, who had, whilst on his lads holiday, been able to establish a significant drug smuggling operation. I must say, after two-weeks on holiday, I’ve usually just about managed to find the closest ‘Supermercado’ and worked out that I want my Agua 'sin' gas; so this guy must be very quick at adapting to new locations. To cut to the chase; a car is loaded up with drugs; one of the group is blackmailed to drive the car, but ends up flipping it, putting ‘Grace’ into a coma. Then the second episode happens. I must admit, despite playing witness to the entire episode, there were only certain parts that I feel merit mentioning.

‘Rich’, who is going out with ‘Grace’, is distraught to find his girlfriend in a coma (Morrissey got there first guys). He attempts to see his girlfriend through engaging with some harmless grief-driven stalking. He decides to squat in Chris Addison’s house (which I must say, is just how I imagined it), and eloquently demonstrated his delicate love for his girlfriend by inviting his friends round to trash the place (the phrase 'Free Drugs' being daubed on the wall in white paint was a highlight). Let’s hope Chris Addison knows a good insurance company! But, in all seriousness, I was hoping for a scene where 'Rich' had to explain to the police his actions; before receiving some large court-ordered fine. In a twist so predictable I’m sure it was in the Radio Times listings, Grace is dead, despite Rich seeing her, it turns out he was just hallucinating. Which leads to an uncomfortable question, as when ‘Rich’ and ‘Grace’ have sex in the hospital, is he just being very imaginative; or is something much more grim occurring (think ‘Buck’ in Kill Bill).

Skins has never been a fountain of realism, and the ludicrous events could be argued by some to be simply a vessel for the exploration of ‘feelings’ and ‘emotion’. But I don’t see any emotion, just some materialistic, hedonistic kids doing rather inexplicable things in some grand ‘Tour de Farce’. Watching it provides the same eternal questioning of 'What IS going on' throughout, and every time sanity threatens to rear it's comforting face; it is beaten out by some ludicrous plot line. Only someone completely out of touch with several realities can believe the events in Skins even get close to portraying your average 'angsty teenage' life. It is enjoyable, but not in the way anyone associated with the program would have wanted it to be.

Skins is to sixth form what Emmerdale is to the farming industry.