Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The politics of fancy dress

Do I love fancy dress? Yes. Am I tired of it? Also yes.

Maybe I'm being a show-off - "oh GOD I've got too many fancy dress parties to go to, too many friends, too much FUN, it's a nightmare!!!". But seriously, everyone in Wellington knows someone who knows someone, and the people of Wellington LOVE fancy dress parties. So if you live in Wellington for any length of time, chances are you'll get invited to a fancy dress party.

The thing is, I reckon there's about 1 or more every month of the year. Okay, no-one's pointing a gun at my head to go, but they are with/through close friends and they are the kind of thing people ask about if you don't go along. And while fancy dress is fun, pressure isn't.

Don't get me wrong. I went to a "B" party this year as a Bat - I spent thinking-time, crafting-time and money getting it together - didn't take too long, looked pretty cool, job done. Had a great time. There've been a couple of others this year I think, including a safari-themed stag party day (that really was a lot of fun). And as for the denim + fanny packs + visors night, who'd pass up an opportunity like that?

It just seems like whenever someone has a party, it has to have a fancy dress theme, and everyone has to turn up in fancy dress, on pain of death! Or pain of embarrassment or something. And look, sometimes I want to go to a party just wearing what I want. Because people can have fun wearing anything (or nothing?).

Really, don't get me wrong. Whoever is holding the party - well, it's their party, they can pick whatever theme they want, I'm not stopping them. And sure, I understand that if you use the dreaded word "optional", then a lot of people start muttering "oh I can't be bothered", then "nah neither can I" and next thing you know, you've got a whole fancy dress party with no-one dressed up. So I see why it's tempting to put on a bit of pressure.

But this is Wellington, and as I said, people love fancy dress. Even with cynics like me getting a bit tired and bored of it, you'll still get a bucketload of people ignoring the word "optional" and wearing a costume come rain hail or shine.

Halloween is here. And yes, there's a party coming up this weekend. It looks pretty good and there's some pretty cool people I know going. Unfortunately I've been told "everyone MUST dress up", which I think is just pressure that people don't need and quite off-putting. Is this party going to suck unless everyone's got plastic fangs or a zombie mask? Are people really not capable of having fun without props reminding them what time of year it is? Is this America?

So, call me a grumpy old fart but I wasn't thinking about dressing up for it, and with that kind of warning I certainly don't feel like it.

I'm interested to see what happens. Will I be thrown out? Will my friends there see me being carried out and say "hey Jez, sorry man but it's their party and you didn't play by the rules, did you?" (Because every party has rules!) Maybe everyone will just do the traditional British/New Zealand thing of glaring and trying to make me feel embarrassed?

Or maybe, just maybe, people might say "oh yeah, no worries, let's drink and dance like idiots!" Because whether it's fancy dress or not, that is what parties are all about.

If you've got the energy and/or time and/or money to dress up every month in fancy dress for a party, good on ya. That's some serious dedication and I'm impressed. I just find it a bit more special when it's not so frequent, so regular, and without the added social pressure.

Monday, 25 October 2010

The Simple Fun of Being Evil

I'm currently reading Iain M. Banks' "Matter", one of the more recent books in the rock'n'roll sci-fi space-opera "Culture" series. And something I can't help wondering is why this book and M. Banks' amazing previous book "The Algebraist" (not part of the Culture series) have such obvious bad guys.

Banks is an excellent writer and clearly capable of drawing characters with depth and personality. So why in these 2 books does he have bad guys who are quite clearly Bad Guys? They have no morals, and cause pain to achieve their selfish ends, or even just on a whim. They are definitely Bad Guys.

Now I think I know. I think he enjoys writing Bad Guys.

Despite Banks' writing skills and his leftist, liberal political views (as far as I know of him), he's also quite a personality himself. These evil characters he creates are simple, straightforward, and perfectly happy to do whatever they need to get what they want.

The Culture, on the other hand - the loose projection of Western human civilisation in space - is full of guilt and self-doubt. Is it right to interfere with this civilisation? Is it wrong to use force to prevent someone else's war? Who are we to judge and act over other species?

The Culture are undoubtedly the good guys in "Matter" and all the books before and after, and you do want them to win, and they inevitably prevail in some form or other. But Banks makes them so awkward, so indecisive, so boring. In contrast, the Bad Guys know what they want and they're going to kill, connive, murder, slaughter, pillage and destroy partly because that's what happens in the daily pursuit of power, and partly because it's fun.

Banks is a rationalist but he's also a human being, and has a fiercely human personality. By drawing a techno-utopia in the future where most or all desires are satisfied, he raises the possibility that the important Good Guys who want to achieve balance and keep everything stable could be horribly, horribly boring.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Why can't you buy from Wholesalers?

It's a genuine question - I've never understood why you and me, the unwashed public, aren't allowed to buy from many/most/any wholesalers, those people who buy in bulk and sell to retailers and services.

They has the things you want. You has the money. Job done, surely?

Quite often, wholesalers are located in walking distance of homes in large towns and cities.

So what's the problem?

Some wholesalers might sell to the public, so long as you don't walk in screaming and shouting "I am from the public". But the root cause is some unwritten, unspoken rule that wholesalers don't break ranks or whatever and stop people buying stuff they want without paying more for it on the high street.

The only reason I can think of is to save the jobs (and presumably shareholders?) of the high street (that's main street for you yanks) shops and services most people get their stuff from. If you buy direct, many of them are out of a job.

But HOLD UP. Defending inefficiency to protect jobs is SOCIALISM. I'm not against socialism, but it'd be a big surprise to many people in the capitalist Western world if that was the real reason.

Especially with this here thing called Teh Internetz, surely high street shops and services should be exposed for the clunky, inefficient and/or thieving middlemen they are? The extra price I would pay in the UK for hair wax in Boots (as just one example), rather than the or supplier wholesaler on an industrial estate 10mins walk away, is not worth the luxury of shiny white walls and 16-year-old shop assistants who know less about the product than I do.

Is it about contracts? I'm assuming not, since I've been into said wholesaler and they've never asked me for ID.

So, serious question. Why can't, or shouldn't, the public allowed to buy from wholesalers?

Monday, 18 October 2010

Robots LIVE video

Thanks to @HoccusFoccus for videos from the I Believe In Dinosaurs launch. "Robots" is a cracking tune and, despite some dodgy tuning and us still warming up, it was awesome to play it as a full band. Thanks guys!

The Mainstream is the Average dressed up as the Glorious

The Mainstream is the Average dressed up as the Glorious.

It's the mediocre and mundane posing as the exciting and necessary.

It's the junk of the past re-packaged as "retro".

It's the great ideas of the past duplicated and watered down.

It's the same magazines who deride the fashions of 5 years ago as ridiculous celebrating the fashions of 20 years ago as "vintage".

It's a fraction of the important questions re-told without intelligence or long words.

It's the Superficial relying on hype like a wheelchair.

It's culture cut up and pre-digested for you, so you don't need to expend any effort to consume it.

It's music where the vocals are the most important thing and the lyrics are the least important.

It's the Average dressed up as the Glorious and sold to every person, everywhere, every second of the day.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Tui & Pohutukawa!

This really crappy photo cannot express my joy at seeing the first pohutukawa (spelling?) of the year with a beautiful tui sitting on the line, with a bright blue sky and all. More please Wellington!

Friday, 15 October 2010

Airfix Democracies tracklist

I am quite excited to reveal the tracklisting for my next album "Airfix Democracies":
  1. I Brought Down The Average
  2. Lighthouses
  3. Sunshine
  4. The Boy With X-Ray Eyes
  5. When Robots Cure Cancer, We'll Talk
  6. I Believe In Dinosaurs
  7. It's Not The Wine ... Or The Bourbon ... Or The Vodka
  8. Pre-Digested
  9. Shark In A Goldfish Bowl
  10. 5yrs + 45mins
  11. Surgery For Symmetry
  12. (and possibly, not definitely) If I Can Be Wrong, Maybe I Can Be Young

What's cool is that almost all of these songs have been around in one form or another for a long time; seeing them together, even unrecorded, is pretty exciting for me.

I've played most of these songs live at some point, whether acoustic in Chelmsford's Two Brewers in 2008 or electric at Wellington's Bar Medusa a couple of months ago; some are already in semi-acoustic form on "Without Fear", some are already in full rock production on "I Believe In Dinosaurs".

Most importantly, all of them are big BIG tunes.

I'll be blogging the tracks one by one, either putting up existing videos or doing my own Youtube acoustic versions so you know what the songs sound like.

Different people will recognise different songs, but here's 3 almost no-one will have heard of:

"If I Can Be Wrong" is a tune that's been creeping around my head for a while now, and could well be a great closing track. While the others are mostly 95%-100% written, this is just an idea for the moment.

"Surgery For Symmetry" is an idea I had for F451 at one point that just never became real. It's about 80% written, and has the perfect mix of summery-feel and punchy lyrics for the album.

"It's Not The Wine" is a bright instrumental I have had for a while. I made a demo in early 2009 while learning how to use Reaper before I started recording "Without Fear".

I'm also hoping to add bonus tracks in the same way as the "I Believe In Dinosaurs" single, i.e. remixes or different versions to add value-for-money. I've got a feeling there'll be an acoustic version of "Pre-Digested", and quite possibly a techno and/or metal version of "Shark".

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Te Papa, Maori, and the Menstrual-Seeking Missiles

Baffled? You will be!

Protecting cultures is generally awesome, but you can end up catching all the little crap from a particular era, like flash-freezing a dinosaur when it's taking a crap. It's important to allow room to develop, a little flexibility.

See if you can decipher this article on It's about Te Papa, the national NZ museum, warding away pregnant and menstruating women from a special exhibition of "taonga" (Maori and Pacific cultural/historical treasures). So far, so weird. But what makes an odd case odder is the article isn't exactly helpful for people like me, who only know a little bit about Maori traditions.

It mentions that the policy is "for the safety of women". Safety eh? I started thinking, wow, these taonga must be the military BOMB (see what I did there?). Years before the British arrived/invaded with shitty rifles made of lego and bits of twigs, Maori had highly-developed weapons that could detect women who are pregnant or menstruating and cause them serious harm!

"I'm hungry for blood ... of menstruating women and unborn children! Mwahahaha!!!"

Back to the confusing article. It explains "hapu" (pregnant) and "matu wahine" (menstruating women), but it doesn't explain this mysterious "tapu". Apparently they're powerful, these tapu, but what are they? Sacred objects? A set of cultural rules? Are they a bird or a plane?

Unfortunately, after wading through a lot of the comments, it turns out that Maori don't and have never had a secret weapon for wiping out a whole enemy tribe's menstruating and pregnant women - it's just an old wive's tale. I know. If you're disappointed, think how the Pentagon felt. These taonga aren't dangerous, unless they're big and you whacked someone round the head with one. They don't have magical reproductive-radar properties. They're don't even give you a +1 on your D6 roll in Dungeons and Dragons.

The comments section is an interesting mess. First you get the predictable backlash, some of which is actually quite reasonable - "oh what a load of old hogwash" - and okay there might be some racists in there using it as a cheap score against Maori people, but there's very little obvious racism. Then you get the more predictable backlash-backlash, consisting of "how dare you criticise Maori culture, it's all precious, even the bits with ghosts and dodgy attitudes towards women".

Many comments rightly point out that Te Papa is not actually banning women from seeing it, and it's not discrimination because "it's because women are sacred". *Sigh*. Throughout history, religious and cultural restrictions over women's menstruation and reproduction have been justified either because women are "sinful", or because they're "sacred", which isn't quite as bad but certainly is insulting.

Telling women they shouldn't do X Y and Z because it's about "protecting them" really puts the patriarchy into patronising.

I really like Maori culture - it's largely awesome, and since my brief visit in 2003 even I can tell how it's enriched mainstream NZ life with its art, language (Te Reo) and culture. Even some of the bits I don't quite like, like the official national Maori-only rugby team, are well-meant. And despite the numerous outcries in the article's comments section about discriminatinon against women, there's plenty of other cultures round the world with far worse records on women's rights, Europe included.

My problem is that while Te Papa is not actually forbidding pregnant women from attending the tour, they are propagating a piece of - to be frank - superstitious bullcrap under the important umbrella banner of cultural values. Cultural sharing and caring is very important, but in a national museum you really do need a filter for the bullcrap.

You could argue it would be a good idea to warn people before they attend about how Maori traditionally see these objects, and maybe Te Papa thinks that's all they're doing - saving people a trip in case they worry about causing cultural offence.

But for every pakeha (white European-NZ) on that comments board misguidedly "defending" Maori tradition, there must be a dozen or more Maori people out there, both men and women, thinking "god I wish we could dump this mystical nonsense, what a load of claptrap".

To bring it full circle. As I've said, the little that I know and have seen about Maori culture I think is awesome, and the more we share and understand each other, the more fruitful our lives and (arguably more importantly) the better we can get on with each other. But it's incidents like this where a culture risks getting trapped in amber.

Maori culture isn't about paddling around in a waka wearing a flax skirt and doing a haka every time you meet a stranger. It would be patronising of any white person to suggest the whole of Maori culture today was the same as it was 200 years ago, but more importantly it would be simply inaccurate: Maori people get on, do jobs, live lives. They play X-box. And it would be just as wrong for both Te Papa and Maori people themselves, of all iwi and tribes and whanau, to mix up the good practice of preserving their culture with maintaining the backwards little traditions that do no-one any favours.

[Note: I have a feeling this may upset some people, who will probably get the wrong idea and think it's just about respecting Maori culture. I realise this blog is on the light and possibly even dismissive side, unlike posts like this from Elpie which have detail and information. But when you're on the subject of superstition and nonsense, I think the only right attitude to take is to be dismissive. Things like this are not inseparable from the rest of Maori culture - it's not all or nothing. I'd deride anyone for believing in ghosts or spirits or pixies or fairies, and I can do that without causing disrespect to whatever culture and background they're from.]

Monday, 11 October 2010

Free gig @BarMedusa, Wellington this Wed 13th!

I'm playing this Wed at Bar Medusa in dear old Wellington, and it's FREE! Medusa is at 154 Vivian Street, just off Cuba St (map below), kicks off at 8:00pm (early for weeknight!), and there's lots of other acts playing including As Tall As The Trees, Project H, Johanna and Gabriel George-Baker. If you're in Wellington do come along and please share this with your Wellington friends. P.S. Did I say it's free?

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Sunday, 10 October 2010

Lighthouses LIVE video

Thanks to @HoccusFoccus for videos from the I Believe In Dinosaurs launch. "Lighthouses" is a cracking tune and it was great to play it with a band for people, thanks guys!

Friday, 8 October 2010

Surveillance bill march Wellington

Just joined the march down Willis St, a small but vocal crowd as protests go. Feel like a bit of a hanger-on, but thought I'd turn up. (Back to work shortly!)

Thursday, 7 October 2010

"Animals" LIVE video

Big ups to @HoccusFoccus for videos from the I Believe In Dinosaurs launch. "Animals" is always a live favourite, but I never knew it could rock so hard! Get your groove on!

Free album download!

To celebrate joining Bandcamp, you can download "Without Fear" for free! But just for 1 week only! Go here:

Just click the link that says "Free Download" and hey presto! Job done. Please feel free to tell people and share this around :)

"Without Fear" is my debut album and is made entirely of sounds created by acoustic guitar recorded via webcam mic, mixing elements of indie, rock, blues, punk, electronica and even a touch of hiphop. Check the minisite for more information:

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

I am now on Bandcamp

It looks like this, and you can listen to my music in high quali-TAY. Huzzah!

"Sunshine" LIVE video

Big ups to @HoccusFoccus for Videos from the I Believe In Dinosaurs launch. This is one of my favourite songs that I've written and it was a joy to play it live with everyone singing along. Cheers guys!

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Project Airfix - Blog added

Brief update - I've now added an iFrame for Airfix blog posts to the PA website. You may have noticed I like iFrames. I find them functional and user-friendly for you the audience out there.

Hopefully soon I'll be able to start on adding videos for the tracklisting. (I already have 11-12 songs ready for the album, so at least you won't have to watch the tedious process of songwriting!)