The Mercury Music Fringe Festival

From what I can work out, there are, in total, 31 people in contention for this year’s Mercury Music prize.

And here’s my main observation on that: that’s 31 heads and 31 haircuts and, apart from five people, they’ve all got a massive fringe slapped over the front of their face.

To illustrate this, I have created the visual aid below. On this, I’ve graphically struck out the face of every single nominee with a fashionable fringe stuck on the front their hair. (Due to a technical hitch, three of the artists involved in this year’s competition – one from the XX, one from Wild Beasts and the other from I Am Kloot – have dropped off the diagram. No one knows what kind of hair they’re sporting, so, for the purposes of this, we’ll just assume it’s some sort of fringe.)

That’s 26 fashion-hugging fringes. Wild Beasts, the XX and Mumford & Sons win some points for at least having some swept-away-from-the-eyes hair. But they’re basically cancelled out by their bandmates’ follicle farting around.

So that just leaves Dizzee Rascal and Corinne Bailey Rae. One of those may as well win for originality of hair, then, because, as we all know, the Mercury Music prize has never really been a prize about original music anyway.


Voulez-vous le vuvuzela?

It’s brought a new meaning to the phrase ‘getting the horn’ for football players, it’s taking up more column inches than Pamela Anderson did on that boat that time, and, right now, it encapsulates perfectly everything that’s wrong with our media, our country and us.

Newspapers and TV shows are going bonkers to crowbar vuvuzela ‘coverage’ into their products. There are stories about the slender plastic noisemaker spreading cold and flu viruses, concerns that it will cause tinnitus or make fans’ ears drop off or something – it can’t be long now before someone inks out a spurious link between vuvuzelas and heart attacks or cancer…

In the past week, you couldn’t make up some of the ‘zela’-related hoo-ha. Seriously, here is a quick list of some of the things I’ve read and seen:

• 14 different vuvuzela iPhone applications
• A man playing a vuvuzela on NEWSNIGHT
• Ostensibly serious studio debates about the ‘hazards’ the instrument poses
• A massive space on today’s front page containing an ‘idiot’s guide to the vuvuzela’.

OK, so some of those things could be considered fun reporting of current events, to be filed in the ‘and finally’ category. But enough’s enough; it was funny to start with, now the endless time and space being dedicated to the so-called ‘controversial’ instrument just smacks of the same old media desperation. And they accuse the vuvuzela of droning on.

Much worse than all that, however, is the news that the BBC is considering offering ‘vuvuzela-free’ coverage of games via the red button. Er, you what now?

There’s surely some sort of lingering imperial arrogance happening here. Something you don’t like or understand happening at a sporting event in Africa? It’s OK, we’ll just edit it out and pretend it’s not happening. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time in our relationship with the continent that we’ve done that…

As Shaun from Shaun of the Dead neatly observed on Twitter: “Complaining about the vuvzelas [sic] is embarrassing. It’s part of their game and we are their guests. Suck it up and stop whinging. Hooooooooonk!”

He then went on to make this equally trenchant observation: “Of course if an enormous swarm of mutant, weaponized bees were to attack, now would be the time.” Something to bear in mind, I suppose.

Now if, for some reason, you live in a cave – actually, it would be especially annoying in a cave – and haven’t heard a vuvuzela yet, it sounds a bit like Amy Winehouse gargling Listerine while doing laps of your local one-way system on a 25cc scooter. So I’m not about to pretend it isn’t grating.

But, while we might view the vuvuzela as either a quirky idiosyncrasy or an evil pipe that channels the sounds of hell directly on to the earth and into our ears, it is a fundamental part of supporters’ enjoyment of the game in South Africa. What’s more, aside from the football, obviously, it will characterise this tournament.

Much of Britain still, it seems, needs to realise that we can’t just erase stuff we don’t like or understand. Please leave the noise in the games, BBC. It wouldn’t be the same without it.

Words in Boxes is one!

The title says it all, really: Words in Boxes is a year old. To celebrate, I’ve picked 10 of my favourite bits from the ‘archives’ and stuck them back at the top of the blog.

You might call re-posting old words in this manner lazy but I call it recycling, which, as we all know, is important. In a way, by reading these old posts, you’re sort of saving the world.

Click on the pictures to read the rants that go with them.

This again

I started this blog a year ago because there was a tube strike on in London and I wanted somewhere to rant about it. Twelve months on, almost to the day, there’s going to be another strike.

A lot’s changed in a year. At the beginning, I was hammering away at the keyboard and posting all manner of seething diatribes and reports of my propensity for landing in all kinds of Larry David-esque situations, sometimes every day. Now I’m down to a few a month and even those fail to muster any serious level of vexation – maybe I’m just not that angry about stuff anymore, or maybe London’s shit side has been perniciously chipping away at my subconscious for the past three years and I’ve finally capitulated to accept that living here will generally just be a bit of a pain in the arse.

Conversely, though, I’ve checked my first post, a snarly but good-humoured riposte to tube union boss Bob Crow’s last commuter-bothering decision, and I was actually quite sympathetic to the tube drivers’ cause.

Well, this time it’s maintenance staff threatening to not turn up to get me to work on time and I’m not smiling. In fact, I’m getting a little sick of all this strike shit. They want job security and good working and pay conditions. Don’t we all. I want to be able to get to work without having to leave three hours early to ‘allow for delays’. Obviously we can’t always get what we want.

Expect more on this on 23 June.

Three, totally unrelated, facts about Danny Dyer

1. He has starred as an organised-crime-loving youth in The Business and an organised-violence-loving football hooligan in the Football Factory. He has presented TV shows called things like Football Hooligans International and The Real Football Factories, that probably either had some violence or some violence-loving people talking about violence in. Oh, and Danny Dyer’s Deadliest Men, which definitely featured violence on some level. He also did the voice for a crime-loving Brit called Kent Paul in some of the violence-loving Grand Theft Auto computer games. There was also I Believe In UFOs: Danny Dyer, where he visited ‘UFO hotspots’, presumably with the intention of finding a little grey fella with a big head and long fingers to “fill in”. Presumably.

2. In May 2010, in Danny Dyer’s readers’ advice column in melon-heavy lads’ magazine Zoo, his name was above some text that advised a reader who was having trouble getting over his girlfriend as such:

“You’ve got nothing to worry about, son. I’d suggest going on a rampage with the boys, getting on the booze and smashing anything that moves. Then, when some bird falls for you, you can turn the tables and break her heart. Of course, the other option is to cut your ex’s face, and then no one will want her…”

Dyer later said, “I do not condone violence against women.”

3. He’s got a new film out on DVD. Here’s the poster:

As I said, three completely unrelated facts.

The sour side of Apple

In the interests of full disclosure before I start this: I love Apple. The company makes beautiful technology that is a joy to use. In fact, I’m writing this on a MacBook, and it might just be the best thing I’ve ever bought.

But recently, what with all the brouhaha around the – in my opinion lovely looking but probably fairly pointless – iPad and now iPhone 4 fever, I’m getting a little cheesed off with its marketing.

The clapping staff in the shops, applauding customers as if they’ve just crossed the finish line after 26 gruelling miles simply for buying what is essentially, as Charlie Brooker coined it, the World’s Most Expensive Rectangle; getting the world’s tallest couple, for some asinine and inexplicable reason, to dress in wedding threads and embrace on the store’s steps while holding up ‘their’ new tablets – it’s all getting a bit smug, a bit silly.

But the straw that broke the camel’s back was this message the firm gleefully emailed me today:

Now come on, Apple, seriously? What’s the thinking here, that you can say anything you want as long as it’s written in sleek sans serif under a big picture of a shiny new gadget? If so then what’s next, ‘iPhone 4: made in space’? ‘iPhone 4: contains angels’ souls’? ‘iPhone 4: yes, you really are going to buy this even though you’ve got three virtually identical ones in a drawer at home’?

And is it just me, or have the company’s marketing people become so sure of their new products’ inevitable success that they’ve actually started to be visibly bored of their own bombastic spiel in the actual advertising? That again right after ‘this changes everything’ seems to suggest so. It’s so nonchalant it’s almost sarcastic.

Martin Luther King was revolutionary. The iPad isn’t. Steam power and the combustion engine changed everything. The fourth iPhone doesn’t. Stop it now Apple and get back to making cool stuff without the ego, please.

How to cut and paste

In case you haven’t heard, Wallpaper* magazine has handed the design reins to its readers and given them the chance to art direct the front cover for its August issue. Sort of.

To complement the issue’s ‘handmade’ theme, the glossy style title has created an online application which allows readers to design their own personalised cover, which will then be printed, bound to the rest of the pages and dropped on to their doormat as would any other issue.

Today was the last day to give this a go, bringing the rather asynchronous nature of this blog to light once again. But I sneaked in a quick go before the deadline, and my attempt can be seen above.

Basically, the process wasn’t 100% personal. Wallpaper* put a clutch of artists and designers on the payroll to create a special range of textures, type, illustrations and backgrounds for the project for the user to select and drop into the ‘cover-making’ application. These can then be adjusted with some rudimentary manipulation features, such as rotate and scale.

So how did I fare? The selection of images wasn’t exhaustive and to begin with I was a tad disappointed with what was on offer. But the more I played about with and tweaked my design, the more I found the restrictive nature of the application forced a bit of lateral thinking; in fact, it also got me thinking about cut-and-paste culture – sampling etc – and how moulding scraps of someone else’s work into something new shouldn’t be considered any less inventive and credible.

Boring postulations aside, though, for me the best thing about this Wallpaper* project/promo is the way it combines new and old media. It uses the web to take the readers back to and get excited about print, which can only be a good thing.

I know I can’t wait to see my cover in the ink.

Oh, and as for what I was thinking with my design? Well, I was at work and after around 45 minutes of brief spells of designing peppered with lots of frantic window-minimising, I settled for this: a kind of Saul Bass-influenced music theme just in time for festival season, complete with a Vertigo-referencing vinyl-style swirl for all the people that will be getting dizzy and dancing in fields this summer. Or did I make that up afterwards? You decide.