One Hour Stories and Half Hour Shows

26 Oct

I’ve got news! It’s time for another update on what I’ve been doing with my silly life, and it’s time to make excuses for why there may not be too many blog posts for the next month and a bit.

First up, I have a big announcement. I’ve started a podcast! Alongside my wonderfully talented friends Paddy Johnston and Rob Sherman, I run a podcast called One Hour Stories. The rules are simple: for each podcast, we are given a theme. We then have one hour to write a short story based on that topic. No editing is allowed, and after sixty minutes it’s pencils down. It’s a very fun challenge, and the first episode went really well. You can give it a listen here.

Meanwhile, you can find it on iTunes here, YouTube here, Facebook here, and PodOmatic here.

1393750_184721261713583_1678932190_n

 

Secondly, I’m off on frickin’ tour! As of tomorrow, Titans & Kings are hitting the road as part of a rotating headline tour with Speaking in Shadows and Autumn Ruin. We’re playing the Camden Barfly in London tomorrow, then hitting up Dry Live in Manchester on the 28th, The Bodega in Nottingham on the 29th, and finishing off with The Flapper in Birmingham on the 30th. If you’re free, please come on down, we’ll all massively appreciate it.

943345_469313733167952_966661812_n

 

Finally, it’s the start of NaNoWriMo on Friday. Even though I am stupidly busy with other things, I’ve decided to give it another go. My novel is divided up into small, bite-sized chunks written from a variety of perspectives, which hopefully will mean that I am able to get through it without it feeling like too much of a chore! If you’re taking part as well, drop me an add here.

I think that’s everything! Hopefully see you at a gig very soon!

Even More Horror Movies You May Have Missed

25 Oct

Crikey! It’s been a while. But with Halloween just around the corner it’s about time I shared a few overlooked frightening films, spooky stories, and monstrous movies. Now before I get lost under my own smug alliteration, let’s get cracking!

 

The Changeling

There’s no better way to start a Halloween movie night than with a traditional ghost story, and The Changeling is a perfect example of one. A composer loses his family in a tragic accident, and moves to a secluded manor house. Whilst there, he is visited by the spectre of a child. An atmospheric slow-burner, the payoff is worth the wait. Whatever you do, don’t go in the attic.

 

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

If you’d rather have something more light-hearted, try this instead. Two hillbillies take a well-earned holiday by a woodland lake. Unfortunately, their plans are ruined by the unfortunate arrival of a bunch of college teens. A wonderful horror subversion, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is a trope-playing laugh riot. I’ve posted a scene rather than the trailer below, as it is best to go into this film blind, to experience it all fresh.

 

Jug Face

Keeping with the rural theme, Jug Face is an interesting, character-driven horror. Living in the middle of the woods, a small commune worships a strange pit in the ground. The pit grants prosperity, growth, peace, but only as long as it gets what it wants in return – sacrifices. Ada learns that she is to be the next sacrifice, and tries to hide it from the rest of her family. Can she escape from what her religion demands?

 

The Bay

Disclaimer: don’t watch this film when eating. The inhabitants of a Chesapeake Bay town start falling under strange and deadly afflictions. Could it be tied to the deaths of a pair of environmental researchers? Told in a found footage style, from a series of different accounts, The Bay follows the mould of Jaws – the dangers of nature overlooked by complacent leaders.

 

Cargo

This Swiss sci-fi horror knows how to build tension. A skeleton crew keeps a deep-space cargo vessel running. Laura, one of this crew, stays sane through talking with her sister, who lives on the paradise world of Rhea. However, it becomes apparent that there is another being on the ship. The setting is perfect, the isolation and the dark industrial look keeping viewers on the edge.

 

Noroi: The Curse

This Japanese mockumentary already has a fearsome reputation, but it’s yet to break into the top echelons of horror imports. An investigative reporter looks into a series of strange events – supposedly psychic children, disappearances, deaths. What he discovers leads him to try and stop the manifestation of a terrible demon. Genuinely unsettling, Noroi is a real treat.

 

The Frighteners

Peter Jackson is, of course, best known for his work with the Lord of the Rings films. If you’re a horror fan you’ve probably seen – and loved – his earlier gory works, such as Dead Alive and Bad Taste. One film that is often overlooked, though, is comedy The Frighteners. Teaming up with Robert Zemeckis as Executive Producer, the film has a wonderful cartoonish, chaotic vibe for fans of Ghostbusters or Gremlins.

 

Antiviral

If you prefer something high-concept in your horror, then try Antiviral. Directed by Brandon Cronenberg, son of the acclaimed body horror master David Cronenberg, Antiviral shows us a world where celebrity culture and genetic engineering have disastrously combined – allowing true fans to infect themselves with the same strains of disease as their idols. It’s a fantastic debut, a terrifying world imagined well – Antiviral is bound to get under your skin.

 

Lie Still

A low-budget English horror, Lie Still follows John Hare, unemployed and recently single. He moves into an old apartment building, but soon realises that he may not be alone. Extremely low-key, it’s a surprisingly effective film, helped by the suitably dark setting and tapping into genuine fears of what goes bump in the night.

 

Sauna

A historical horror, Sauna is a Finnish film set at the end of a war between Russia and Sweden. Whilst negotiating new borders, two brothers come across a village in the middle of some marshlands. There, they are faced to confront the acts they have committed.  Bleak yet artistic, with a fantastic and open-ended plot, Sauna is a real gem – not only terrifying, but a great film all round.

 

Have a Happy Halloween, everyone! And guess what? There are more horror recommendations to come!

You better believe it!

You better believe it!

What Previous Google Projects Can Tell Us About Calico

6 Oct

On September 18th, Google announced the launch of its most ambitious venture yet; tackling the aging process of the human body. California Life Company, or Calico, will be led by Arthur Levinson, current Chairman of Genentech and Apple, and promises to try and “improve millions of lives.”

The project is ambitious, and certainly a far cry from what the technology giant is known for. However, Larry Page and Google have regularly tried to push forward into new frontiers – funding electric cars, augmented reality glasses, and even asteroid mining. But what, exactly, can we learn from Google and Page’s previous undertakings?

Google

The most obvious comparison to make is with Google Health. A service for storing personal health information, similar to Microsoft’s HealthVault, it was supposed to merge medical records with a variety of partners to allow for a centralised, integrated profile. Google Health launched in 2008, yet was discontinued as of January 2012, Google’s cited reason being that it did not “create the impact we wanted.”

Although the project was a failure, proponents of Calico can still be upbeat. The new enterprise is focused on long-term goals, whereas Google Health was clearly aimed at the more immediately reachable target of creating an empowered user base in control of their own medical history. Expecting short-term definitive results from a project whose goal is to combat death would be a bit inflexible, to say the least.

There have also been other recent closures. Google Reader, a RSS interface that was still popular with a large base of power users, was discontinued in July of this year. Although the main reason given for the closure was the steady decline of membership, there have been reports that Page personally had no interest in continuing Reader – and because of this, no manager wanted to take on the project and move into an area that their own CEO saw as unessential.

google2

Google Labs, too, was abandoned. A system to help promote, distribute and test prototype Google features to interested parties, it was eventually ceased in 2011 – soon after the announcement of Google Health’s closure – with Page citing a need for greater “focus” on areas of advancement.

Both Labs and Health closed soon after Page officially became CEO of Google, and tied in with a new Google strategy: “more wood behind fewer arrows.” This was, essentially, to put more support behind the projects that truly mattered. Will this include Calico? Is it a venture that Google will want to put time, effort, and money behind indefinitely? Or could it eventually become a project dropped in favour or something deemed more worthwhile in the future?

Perhaps hints can be found in Page’s other recent investments, all of which fall into the areas of future technology and humanitarian enterprise. There was, for instance, the high-profile investment in Makani Power, the research and development company aiming at creating airborne wind turbines to produce renewable energy. In 2013 it was taken into the fold of Google X, a division that has given us Google Glasses and is working towards the creation of self-driving cars and neural networks.

google3

As an individual, Page has also made a series of private investments in future technology, including Tesla Motors, an electric car manufacturer. Then there is Planetary Resources Inc, a company with the aim of mining precious materials from asteroids. It sounds far-fetched, but so far the celebrity venture – other investors include Ross Perot Jr. and director James Cameron – has had great success, raising their target of $1 million from a Kickstarter campaign, and Planetary Resources Inc is currently planning for a launch in 2014, to test out technologies for their asteroid-locating satellite.

Given this continual, philanthropic strategy, can we be positive regarding Calico? Time will tell. Progress is unlikely to be apparent for decades, even with such a respected expert as Arthur Levinson on board as CEO. Google and Calico are exploring a revolutionary territory: precisely the sort of area that excites Page, but with many pitfalls and dangers of becoming a time – and money – sink. But given how different these recent projects are from those abandoned since Page took over Google’s reins, perhaps there is a long-term cause to celebrate. The Calico project is, after all, a noble one, and one with the potential to change the face of medical science.

Who Owns Slender Man?

2 Oct

On Monday, a fascinating article regarding commodification of memes was posted, in particular surrounding the use of a phrase from Hark! A Vagrant (a damn, damn fine comic that you should all be reading) on Grumpy Cat merchandise. It’s raised questions about ownership in the online sphere, about content created and adapted by the faceless creative collective of the internet. Is it moral to sell merchandise and content that has been built upon the ideas of other, uncredited people? Is it even legal?

So, speaking of faceless things, let’s take on this issue by picking a single online presence to go under the microscope: Slender Man.

slenderman1

For those of you who don’t know, Slender Man is terrifying. Often dubbed the “first internet urban legend”, it has reached far beyond the expectations for an internet scary story, particularly one with such humble beginnings. Slender Man actually originated on the website Something Awful, in a thread where members were challenged to create paranormal images. A user called Victor Surge, real name Eric Knudsen, created a series of images showing a tall, tentacle-armed figure that kidnapped children. It took the thread by storm, and before long Slender Man had moved beyond Knudsen’s vision.

Marble Hornets is the first, and most popular, Slender Man YouTube series. Its creators, Joseph DeLage and Troy Wagner, also used Something Awful, and were inspired by Knudsen’s images to create a vlog series that would evolve further into an ARG. The series was an instant hit, and is still one of the most frightening things to be found on the web.

Interestingly, the term ‘Slender Man’ is never used in the series – the being is called The Operator – and some parts of the Slender Man mythos, such as the tentacles, were removed. Marble Hornets, now in its third season, spawned various further Slender Man narratives, all adding and subtracting parts of the character to suit their own needs. Two more popular YouTube series were created, called EverymanHybrid and Tribe Twelve, as well as various blogs and stories.

Then, in 2012, Slender Man made its largest jump into the cultural consciousness. A free-to-play game called Slender: The Eight Pages, created by Parsec Productions, was a smash, loved by horror fans and picked up by a number of gaming sites. Before too long, Slender Man was a household name in geek circles, and with that came more projects. Many derivative games, including other strange, tall characters. The Slender Man, a Kickstarter project to make a feature film that successfully reached its target of $10,000. World domination beckoned for Slender Man, which is a terrifying thought for a creature that is partly deemed to get its power from the number of people who believe in its existence.

slenderman2

However, with these latest projects, the issue of ownership and creation really came to a fore. With Marble Hornets, Knudsen was accepting of their use of his character – after all, it was for a free series, certain aspects had been changed, and it was even born out of the same space – the Something Awful Photoshop thread. Knudsen even found it “interesting” that people were able to build upon his original images to create something more, although over time he has become more hesitant over his praise of other uses of Slender Man. One thing is clear – Knudsen has generally been happy for people to use the character, as long as it is not for profit.

And as such, there have been teething problems for a number of other projects. Although Faceless, a video game based on the Slender Man mythos, received the consent of Knudsen before creation, Steam – the online distribution service – refused to allow the game to be shared through their system until they had received permission from Knudsen themselves. Slender: The Arrival, a sequel to Slender: The Eight Pages, has licensed the character from Knudsen. This appears to have been necessary because unlike its predecessor, The Arrival is not free-to-play. Interestingly, the game was also written by the creators of Marble Hornets, meaning that the three largest influencers on the urban legend were all involved in the project.

Slenderman

The Slender Man movie has had less luck. After achieving its Kickstarter target, the film was completed and put online in 2013. However, the film was forced offline after legal action. This, in spite of the fact that the film was originally going to be a free online release. What caused the need for legal action by a mysterious third-party rights owner? The use of the name Slender Man? Or is it that the project had already gained money via Kickstarter? Either way, the film has had to change a variety of components before re-release, which we are told is coming soon.

And that’s the saga of Slender Man ownership up to date. So far Knudsen has, generally, been able to protect his creation from outside use, albeit with difficulty. But if Slender Man continues to grow as a narrative, how much longer can he keep control?

A Romance of Skin and Pins: An Excerpt

25 Sep

Hello again! Here’s another little extract for you, from the latest short story I have been working on.

But first, a few bits of exciting news! First up: I’m going on frickin’ tour! That’s right, Titans & Kings are off on tour at the end of October. We’re sharing the stage with a pair of absolutely fantastic bands, so if you’re in the area for any of the dates please come along and say hi!

943345_469313733167952_966661812_n

Next news, the White Birches EP is coming along swimmingly. Recording will be finished in early October, a music video soon after, and then the fun bit: sorting out physical copies and distribution. We’ll hopefully have a few live dates lined up, too!

And finally, there’s something big in the works. A project I am extremely excited about, related to writing (and these short stories), and not just a simple collection from myself. It’s going to be brilliant, and hopefully I’ll be able to tell people more very soon.

Anyway, to whet your appetite for more bizarre fiction, here’s my latest.

* * * * *

You are what you eat. That is why he called himself Skin. It was just a little compulsion. It didn’t affect anyone but Skin, himself, alone. And like most compulsions, it had roots in childhood. Skin had once had a father, a cruel man. Not physically – not that particular cliché of childhood hardship – but mentally.

See, his father had told him very particular but impressively devastating lies; lies that were very difficult to eradicate when drilled into the mind of a child by the one that he most idolised. Skin had once believed that Daylight Savings Time was only for Roman Catholics, and that his family, the average, non-believing sort, did not have to change their clocks. One lie, that pillows were for the feet rather than for the head, had been so well planned that its groundwork had been laid for ten years, Skin’s father sleeping backwards for a decade. All to cause Skin the upmost embarrassment at his first sleepover night.

Most of these lies had been expunged by the time he was an adult, but a few held deep, where Skin could keep them secret, where society could not judge him. One in particular was so potent that it became his mantra, became his name. Skin was told, at five years old, that his hair was not supposed to fall out, ever. That his nose was not supposed to run. That his skin was not supposed to shed. Each time he lost a part of himself unconsciously, anything that was not deliberately expelled, that wasn’t obvious waste, he lost a part of who he was. He lost a part of his identity. He lost time off his life expectancy.

A running nose from the flu was a sign that someone was truly, insidiously ill. Cancer patients’ hair fell out because it was a sign they were about to die. Eczema was not a condition in itself, but a symptom of a greater illness. And the only way to stop from losing this identity, losing life, was to re-ingest everything that had been lost – fallen hair, dry skin, trimmed fingernails, snot, eye sleep, ear wax.

You are what you eat. Skin was himself.

Over the years he developed various strategies to stop from losing himself. Age eight, he cut his fingernails into tiny pieces and added them to his breakfast cereal. Age eleven, he cut his hair as short as he could without getting expelled from school, to avoid losing rogue hairs, asking for the bag of clippings as he left the barbers. Age fourteen, he started to shave, using melted butter instead of shaving foam, making sure to collect every hair, every drop of blood, every scratch of skin.

At age eighteen, he started carrying the vial.

The one problem he had always found was being able to save skin flakes and small hairs. He would lose them in public places, at restaurants, on trains, at work. The only option had once been to eat it, there and then. It was easier whilst dining – carefully push the bodily debris onto the plate, and eat it with a mouthful of the actual course – but there was always the danger of someone spotting it, looking to a friend, pointing to the young man who had just deliberately eaten a scab.

So, the vial. He carried it with him everywhere, in the pocket of his navy blazer, or in the main compartment of his leather satchel. He would sneak whatever part of himself he had lost into it –much less noticeable than raising a hand to mouth – and when home, mix it in with a blended protein shake. It not only saved his life, or so he believed, but it saved his career. Skin was, as you can probably imagine, quite a strange man. And that was even before a co-worker had witnessed him eating his own eye discharge.

He coasted from job to job, contract to contract. Always given good references – he was a hard-worker and surprisingly intelligent for a man who regularly ate his own snot – but was never given a profession. But, when he started using the vial, he found a calling in the Human Resources department of a security solutions firm. His severe haircut, strong muscles from a mixture of health-obsessed workouts and protein shakes, and analytical mind meant that he fitted in well with the company. And without the obvious ingestions, with only his surface level quirks, he seemed positively sane in comparison with some of the violence-obsessed sociopaths that his team interviewed for positions manning the most secure locations.

He lived a happy, solitary existence. The routine of regular work, with hints of career progression, kept him focused. Two hours workout a day at his home gym, mopping up the sweat with pieces of bread. He had no time for a twenty-something bachelor’s regular modes of fun. He despised clubbing – too many mitigating factors that could distract him from any leftover body matter. He had no time for music, or any media. He owned no television, only an ancient laptop he used to hack in to the wireless of the coffee shop next door. Skin did, however, have a form of entertainment: he broke women’s hearts.

* * * * *

Until next time!

I Write About Pornography, and it Gets Awkward for Everyone

27 Jul

By now, you’ll have heard the uproar over David Cameron’s call for a pornography opt-in from UK ISPs . Of course you have. It’s the internet, and the moment anyone calls for any form of censorship the keywords of “tyranny” and “liberties” light up immediately. It’s caused uproar over suppression and internet access. After the death of Tia Sharp, Maria Miller called for a crack-down on online pornography, linking it to the savage attack. It’s a plan that has been on the cards a long time, though. So, if these regulations do come into effect, are they genuinely going to make a difference?

"You! Stop masturbating!"

“You! Stop masturbating!”

The answer is a complicated one. If the government’s true aim is to stop child abuse by blocking violent pornography and only allowing ‘regular’ pornographic content by opt-in, then probably not. By attempting to stop child pornography through conventional online access points, they are targeting precisely the wrong area. Most illegal pornography is not found via Google searches and usual online means – instead via password-protected forums and even more regularly via the deep web, an area outside of the regular web and only accessible through specific browsers, full of illegal and immoral activities – drug dealing, abusive and illegal pornography, wild animal trading, even the ability to hire hitmen. If the government really want to target the sharing and growth of child pornography, then they are going about it the wrong way. There is even an argument that by restricting search terms at surface level web access, it could make it harder to find and convict paedophiles. Cameron’s proposals also correlate violent adult pornography with violent attacks against children. Is there any genuinely link or causation between violent fetishes and these kinds of attacks?

The success of Cameron’s plans rests on two things: shame and fear. Shame from adults unwilling to opt in to allowing porn access on their own networks, unwilling to announce themselves to an ISP as a pervert. Fear from parents, worried about their children coming across material entirely unsuitable for them – or even material unsuitable for anyone. But in the case of concerned parents, surely this is a moot point; parental guidance locks already exist, allowing mothers and fathers to regulate what sites a computer can access. And if a child can get around these, they can get around any ISP block.

A further problem: any photo of Titans & Kings counts as pornographic content.

A further problem: any photo of Titans & Kings counts as pornographic content.

Of course, one of the worrying things about these measures is the precedents they set. We’ve already learned that pornography is not the end, that there are other long-term goals. The government will be restricting access to something they consider unsavoury, so what else can they, or future governments, deem not suitable for public access without a conscious opt-in? Violent film and television? One thing that has always astounded me, personally, is that sex is seen as a more adult taboo than seeing a man blown apart in a 12A or 15-certificate film. Fans of video games have a right to be concerned, too, given previous Conservative Party leanings on the subject. Subversive and extreme material could already come under the opt-in, for instance the hilarious yet pornographic webcomic Oglaf. Or, speaking more high-brow, documentaries such as Graphic Sexual Horror, an intelligent piece of cinema looking at the role of violent pornography – both positive and negative – yet containing examples of pornography within it.

Some, too, have issue with the hypocrisy of this move. The measure is meant to try and stop the access of pornographic material from everyday society, out of the eyes of those who shouldn’t see it. Yet, the government have laughed off Page 3 protests, dismissing the objections of Caroline Lucas. Surely if the end goal was one of respect and a limit on negative sexualisation, these arguments – and those who mention the negative body image and gender roles given in publications such as the Daily Mail (not to mention the Daily Mail’s dubious content about female teenagers) – would be taken more seriously?

r-CAROLINE-LUCAS-large570

This brings me on to something else. Could these plans have some merit? Stepping away, objectively, from concerns over future censorship over other areas, could this opt-in actually have a positive societal change in relation to sex and pornography? Because pornography is, well, nasty. Violent porn is a fetish (or, indeed, a group of fetishes) in itself, but even with ‘vanilla’ porn there is often violence, violent imagery, or subjugation, as if it has become a sexual norm in the industry. A horrendously exploitative industry at that, equating human beings to objects to be discarded after use. The shelf life of a female porn star is tiny, with odds stacked against having a safe, ‘normal’ life afterwards and awful working conditions. If the woman is not a star, it is even worse, but with equal amounts of the collective stigma. And worse again for the male porn star or male pornographic actor – less pay on average and an even shorter career. The industry itself is oftentimes rotten, and the imagery that it creates – particularly in terms of normal sexual practices and the treatment of women within sexual relationships – could be dangerous if gleaned as gospel by young, impressionable minds.

For instance, not every man is this attractive.

For instance, not every man is this attractive.

Pornography itself, as a concept, is not sexist. It’s not immoral. It is a form for creating the sexual gratification of others. But certain aspects of pornographic content, even mainstream, could have a genuine, negative effect on society. But, is this opt-in block going to change what the true issues of the industry are? Will restrictions on forms of pornography actually help curb these tendencies and help create more well-rounded content for those who want it? We will have to see. But I, personally, am dubious as to whether any kind of block will help with the end-goal of the campaign – to stop horrendous attacks against the most vulnerable. Surely the time, money and effort could be spent in other ways – education and rehabilitation, helping to develop a mutual respect within relationships and within society. Instead of open eyes to the seedy underbelly of our society, of misogyny, a minority with a lack of sexual respect and violent tendencies, it seems as though the government have decided that the best strategy is to draw the curtains on the matter entirely.

Black Crown. Or, How I Came to Know A Genuine Pioneer

16 Jul

For once I will not be promoting the various ‘creative’ projects that I have come to acquire over the years, shoving them down your throat like so many overcooked pieces of broccoli. Instead, I would like to talk about one of the most fascinating, original pieces of writing and gaming to appear in recent years.

It’s called Black Crown, and it’s a bold storytelling experience from Random House. In its simplest form, it is horror. One way to describe it is as a completely modernised, innovative multi-option choose-your-own-adventure story, taken to its highest, most thrilling, literary ceiling; a multitextual new media narrative with ARG elements, requiring both gameplay interaction and a deep involvement with the story. And it is a story which will send shivers deep down your spine.

I discovered this project by not discovering it at all. I know the author. Rob Sherman, the creator of the world of the Black Crown project. At home playing delicate acoustic guitar at a folk festival, yet who you could see quite at home on top of a mountain, wearing woad and yelling insults at the old gods.

He also plays some of the greatest music you have never heard.

He also plays some of the greatest music you have never heard.

I met him at university, both studying English and then Creative Writing. Even then, when surrounded by people with that glint of imaginative spark, of untapped potential both hindered and cultivated by having so much time to both think and drink copious amounts of alcohol, Sherman was immediately recognizable as being damn special. He not only had an incredible creative drive, determination, but also an original way of thinking that constantly kept him ahead of the curve. If any of us deliciously inventive types were going to create a great work of fiction, art, music, it was going to be him.

We were given an early glimpse of what would become Black Crown at the end of our Masters, tasked with completed a creative dissertation. Most of us played it safe, writing a novella, a long piece of non-fiction, screenplay, a poetry collection. I chose to write a film script, a supernatural mystery that, in spite of very good marks and feedback from both academics and fellow students, is currently gathering dust on my bookshelf, waiting to be re-edited.

blackcrownRob Sherman’s project, though, was different. He kept it secret from the rest of us for a long time, only dropping hints when necessary. Non-linear, he would utter. A collection of first hand sources. Mystery was intensified when we were asked to contribute. A select few of us – band members, course-mates, friends – arrived at a retro shop to meet a photographer with a very vintage camera. Rob then threw bizarre clothing items at us, asked us to change. I was given a vest and braces, another band member a gas mask. We were photographed next to backdrops, ancient versions of ourselves, scratched with sepia. And still the end goal was unknown. Sherman had unconsciously perfected, within real life, the key to mystery: for every question that is answered, two more need to be asked.

Eventually, submission came round, tomes carried to campus. Metal-wound scripts for myself, delicately-bound poetry and graphic novels for others. And then came Rob Sherman, carrying a red case. A case covered in arcane signs, tattered notes. It caused a bit of a storm, this unique creation. A story of a lost town, told via a series of half-connected clippings, photos, documents. All of it tied up in a physical, tangible item. A work so brilliant that there was even a workaround made for the English office’s requirement of two copies of each assignment being submitted. After all, how exactly can you hand in two copies of such a unique work, whose sheer presence is part of the storytelling experience?

areatest3

After that, Sherman slaved, modified, augmented. The project morphed slowly, over thousands of hours of dedicated work into Black Crown, the devastating horror that is available to experience, for free, now, online. It’s what would happen if HP Lovecraft had written House of Leaves as a series of emails late at night. If the SCP Foundation had grown up in to a living, breathing, literary entity. If Nine Inch Nails’ Year Zero had built upon the eldritch abominations of the past, not the future. A monster, made complete by its absolute originality. After all, the most important part of all great horrors is the unknown – and Black Crown breaks so many barriers that you half expect it to claw through your screen into real life.

Rob’s Glastonbury Schedule (From Someone Who Isn’t Going)

19 Jun

Hello everyone!

It’s festival season. There have already been a few absolute stonkers (Download and Isle of Wight both looking as though they were particularly beastly), but just around the corner is the granddaddy of them all, Glastonbury. So, here’s my run-down of the bands to go and see, from one of the poor saps who isn’t going. Definitely wasn’t writing this with gritted teeth.

 

"Bestival is my festival of choice, anyway..."

“Bestival is my festival of choice, anyway…”

 

 

Thursday

Glasto opens its doors to music-lovers on Wednesday, but the main acts don’t really kick off until Friday. That said, Thursday night has a hidden treat: Six By Seven are playing on the Spirit of ‘71/Glade stage. Don’t know them? Well, they were an iconic band of the early-to-mid nineties, with a sizeable and devoted follower base. They’re very cool, quite simply, and definitely worth a listen.

 

Friday

Now we’re talking. Let’s get the main show on the road! There are a few must-see acts on Friday. First up is the absolutely ruddy fantastic 65daysofstatic. Half-six at William’s Green is the place to be. The post rock/electronic mixture is absolutely hypnotic and if you’ve not heard them, you’re in for a treat. They’re one of the best live bands around for good measure. Here’s a little taste:

Bastille is up at half seven on the John Peel Stage, belting out some outrageously catchy yet musically fulfilling tunes. If you want something a little calmer though, Glen Hansard is on the Acoustic Stage starting at eight. You might have heard his music before – as the lead in the fantastic film Once, or because of his songs with band The Frames.

Finally, I’d recommend ignoring the Pyramid Stage for the headliners on Friday. Instead, go to the Other Stage for half ten and see Portishead. One of the best bands of the nineties, completely unique and absolutely brilliant. They also don’t play often, so make damn sure to take this chance when you can.

 

Saturday

Wake up relatively early – providing the hangover isn’t killing you – and get to the Other Stage for 13:40 to see Dry the River. Wonderful harmonies and beautiful musicianship from these folk-rockers, and you’re bound to enjoy it. The next must-watch is Daughter, on at five on the John Peel stage. Her album, released earlier this year, is one of the standouts of 2013 so far, and she gives a wonderfully intimate live set.

Primal Scream up next, at seven on the Pyramid Stage. Prepare for a mix of the old with the new – there will be plenty of Screamadelica no doubt, but expect a fair chunk from More Light as well. After that, go and see Calexico on the other stage at quarter to nine. They’re so ruddy good that I’d even recommend missing the start of The Rolling Stones’ set (they start at half nine at the Pyramid Stage) to make sure you stay to the end.

 

 

Sunday

Another early start, I’m afraid. The Heavy are on at ten past twelve on the Other Stage, and they’re excellent. Then there’s Rufus Wainwright at two on the Pyramid Stage. If that’s not your cup of tea though, I Am Kloot are on at ten to three on the Other Stage. Great indie songs and a wonderful rapport with the audience to boot.

They may be a safe bet, but I’d still say Editors are worth a watch. Soaring vocals and eighties-tinged indie-pop – you know exactly what you’re going to get, but that also includes a very good live performance. Seth Lakeman is on at eight at the Acoustic Stage, if you want a bit of mellow in your Sunday evening.

And now the final two recommendations: Smashing Pumpkins are on at twenty past eight on the Other Stage. It may not be the entire line-up that made such iconic albums as Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Siamese Dream, but you will get to see one of the most influential alt-rock acts of all time playing through their various forms. And, last but not least, it’s worth seeing the Sunday night headliner. This year it’s Mumford & Sons, and regardless of how you feel about their music it’s going to be a wonderful end to a wonderful festival.

 

 

So, those are my recommendations! Feel free to take them on board or do your own thing. You’ll notice a fair few gaps in time as well – and here’s my final, most important bit of advice: go and see bands that you haven’t heard before. Like the description of an artist in the schedule? Well, go see them! Fancy a bit of a dance? Go to one of the DJ stages. Festivals are the perfect place to find new favourite bands, so make sure you take advantage of this wonderful chance.

 

Enjoy! And don’t think of poor old me, stuck away from all these fabulous bands. Then again, at least there’s no potential for me to be caked in mud. Hopefully.

 

Just a festival-goer making their way to the main stage...

Just a festival-goer making their way to the main stage…

Titans, Tumbleweed and Temporary Employment

22 May

I’ve not been around much, and for that I apologise. EyesAreOut has been accumulating dust at an alarming rate, but I swear it’s not a permanent thing. Anyway, I have some news!

First up, Titans & Kings are set to release our debut EP! It’s called Hold Your Tongue, and it looks a little something like this:

holdyourtonguecover

Plus, it sounds a little something like this:

 

If you like the sound of it, then it’ll be available on Amazon MP3, iTunes, off our Bandcamp page and also available in a limited edition CD print. Get them while they’re hot! It’s set for release on the 27th May, but you can order a physical copy from our BigCartel page and order the MP3s over here on Amazon on the day.

Not only that, but recording for my other project, White Birches, is going well. Just heard back one of the finished songs, and it’s sounding rather darn lush, mainly thanks to the wonderful production that Paddy Johnston has added, as well as some lovely work from Rob Sherman. Three songs have been recorded, with three more to go. It’s going to be all very nice and chilled, too, which makes a change from my usual grumpy solo stuff.

It's coming, and it hopefully will be good.

It’s coming, and it hopefully will be good.

That’s pretty much all I’ve had time for recently. I’ve been working a temporary contract earning sweet, sweet cashola. The work is not the most glamorous – cleaning cameras and data units that were used as part of the 2012 Olympic games, repackaging them and databasing them for storage and whoever uses them next – but it is strangely satisfying. I’m also working with one of my bestest best friends, which means there is always an opportunity to argue over which Indiana Jones movie is the best one.

There is, however, one major flaw to the job: the storage crates we’re working out of are full of gosh darn poisonous spiders. Us Brits aren’t used to things that definitely look like they’re meant to hurt us. The closest we get to dangerous wildlife in this country is the odd mythological beastie and the occasional angry badger or daddy long legs. The crates, though, appear to have come from abroad, and are full of eight-legged monsters that just look mean. Having wikipedia’ed our nemeses, some of them are definitely dangerous – although thankfully none are fatal. That said, we’re still double-checking our hard hats and jackets before putting them on and incurring the wrath of any spider taking a snooze.

No lie, this is basically our reality.

No lie, this is basically our reality.

Anyway, that’s all for now! Haven’t done much writing as I haven’t had a permanent base of operations for about two months, but there is more of that to come soon. Looking at my list of New Year’s Resolutions, I’m doing pretty well on them so far – although Porkins here still needs to lose a bit of weight.

‘Til next time!
(PS – here is MY suggestion for the Titans & Kings artwork. I wonder why nobody liked it…)

titans and kings ep 2

Ghosts ‘n Goblins: Rockin’ Awesome Retro Reviews

24 Feb

It’s time for another Retro Review! It’s a Capcom classic full of spooky goings on and awkward underpants-wearing moments, it’s Ghosts ’n Goblins.

For your lovely viewing, here’s my review in video format:

 

But, just in case you prefer to read stuff just to be difficult, then here you go!

Don't worry. There will be pictures.

Don’t worry. There will be pictures.

I’m not going to lie to you. I don’t like this game. I know it’s one of the glorious standouts of the 8-bit era, but there are a few things about it that I’m just not a fan of. Sorry, internet.

Anyway, I’m not one to be a negative S.O.B, so let’s crack on with the positives. First up, Ghosts ’n Goblins looks bloody fantastic. For the late eighties, it’s vibrant, varied, vivacious, and many other words beginning with V. Ghosts ’n Goblins really has a classic horror feel, with monstrous enemies right out of a Hammer Horror classic. Then, of course, there is the music. Ghosts ’n Goblins has some of the best music of the system – it’s up there with Duck Tales in my humble opinion. The sound effects, too, are great, although personally I could do without the noise made whenever you throw a weapon.

And you will throw your weapon a lot. Particularly against these mofos.

And you will throw your weapon constantly. Particularly against these mofos.

So what’s wrong, then? Graphically it’s good, musically it’s excellent. What about the gameplay? Again, I can’t really fault it here. It’s an exciting game to play, with plenty of edge-of-your-seat moments. The action is fast, frenzied, fun and many other adjectives beginning with F. Unfortunately, one of those words that comes to mind is ‘frustrating’. Also, ‘fricking infuriating’.

Let’s face it. This game is hard. It’s pretty much the unelected leader of the committee of ridiculously hard NES titles. You’d have thought that someone, somewhere, was exaggerating about how gosh-darn difficult it is. That people had played it when they were a wee whippersnapper and had massively overstated how hard it is. Nope. It’s a total nightmare.

You will see your own skeleton an awful lot. Prepare yourself.

You will see your own skeleton an awful lot. Prepare yourself.

The enemies are cheap, you die after two hits, some of the weapons are absolutely useless, and to top it all off, the stages have a goddamn time-limit. When you play this game, you will die a lot. Get ready for controller-throwing frustration.

And you want to know the best part? After you’ve made it to the last level, fought your way through leaps of faith, overpowered bosses and awkward jumping mechanics, you’ll be treated to the news that it was all an illusion! Or something. I was too busy raging and frothing at the mouth to pay full attention. Ghosts ’n Goblins then sends you back to the start of the game. You’ll have to go all the way through again, and then kill the evil beastie once more, to get the true ending.

Oh shucks! Don't be silly, thank YOU, Capcom!

Oh shucks! Don’t be silly, thank YOU, Capcom!

Is it worth it? Well, no. No it is not. Don’t bother, unless you want the honour of being one of those people who has completed the game. But you won’t get a medal or badge to wear, just the knowledge that you dedicated a large amount of time and effort beating a game that is now older than a fair few professional athletes. Ghosts ’n Goblins will always have the last laugh. And that’s the beauty of this nightmarish game.