What happens online after you die? exploring the digital graveyard

Life’s ultimate tragedy, death, has existed for almost as long as life itself. Digital media is but a blip when placed upon this timeline; a speck upon an insignificant dot at the end.

There have been so many extinguished lives, and so many consequences left behind by them. From the heart-wrenching sorrow felt by loved ones to dramatic changes in sanitation, the impact of death upon society has always been profound at every level.

An imminent, looming question facing those alive today concerns the footprint we leave behind. In an era in which our lives are in digitally documented, what remains of us once we are gone?

Digital documentation

One glance at your Facebook timeline, WhatsApp conversations or Instagram feed will remind you that even from birth, people’s lives are being documented in more detail, and shared in more places, than ever before in human history.

In years to come, our national governors, military generals and corporate bosses will have every single significant – and insignificant – moment of their lives available online for all to see. Today’s Beiber-loving tweenagers are tomorrow’s societal leaders.

It is practically impossible to leave no trace of your lifetime behind online, especially so if you’re seeking to make a cultural impression with any success. Such is the power of digital activity.

I went to Turkey last weekend. Without my deliberate sharing of any information, there is a scary amount of evidence to be found online about the fact that I did such a thing – not only where I went, but who I went with and what I did there.

So when I die, what happens to all this information?

The traces left behind

Though the likes of Facebook, Twitter and other older social networks, like Bebo and MySpace, have barely been around for a decade, the chances are now that most people are connected with someone online that no longer exists in the physical world.

A difficult decision for relatives is whether to remove these seemingly superficial profiles altogether, or to retain them as a kind of eternal shrine to the deceased.

The former viewpoint is perfectly valid, and a hollow Facebook account can seem a morbid, haunting facsimile of someone that ultimately may have been quite different in real life. Benign statuses about everyday trivia are jarring during a period of mourning, and may not convey the character of the person in a fair, broad or reflective way.

Prying eyes into a life they were not part of are also kept well clear if the family wish to remove a lost relative’s online presence.

Others may suggest the opposite. The footprint we leave behind is indicative of the behaviour we undertake when still alive. The photos we choose to share and the insights we opt to post are very much a part of who we are.

In bygone eras, certainly before the invention of photography, the lasting impact of 99% of people who ever lived is confined to the memories of those who knew them; memories themselves lost as generations move on.

Even those with noteworthy contributions to life leave little more behind than an invention or idea named after their moniker, itself a token of ancestors before them. The essence of who they were is easily forever lost.

A global graveyard

Our digital footprints now offer future generations the chance to peek into a window of who we are as people living today.

Sure, Flickr may close down, and Facebook is likely to undergo hundreds of updates. Devices will change, and networks with them, and the specific policies and protocols for each site will differ.

However, the nature of digital media means there will always be something of us that remains, and we will all be confronted by this sensitive issue sooner rather than later.

A childhood friend of mine, whose mother sadly passed away last week, used her Facebook account to inform everyone she knew that she was no longer alive, in a way that delivered the news far more promptly, affectionately and far-reaching than may have been the case in a pre-digital world.

In another touching tale, a child, who lost his father at six, was able to reconnect with the ghost of his parent via a recorded sequence in an Xbox game.

The list of stories concerning the echoes of the deceased will only grow as digital media evolves rapidly and more of us die, hopefully less rapidly. Indeed, it won’t be long until there are more dead people on social media than there are alive.

In any case, feelings towards digital memorialisation will differ across the globe and between different people, but the discourse surrounding digital life after death will rumble on.

Stop trying to be my friend: some advice for brands on social

Social media advice. It seems to me that for the past couple of years people have practically made a career out of sharing the same tips over and over again:

  1. Be a human brand
  2. It’s a two-way conversation
  3. Content is king
  4. Be funny
  5. Be everywhere online
  6. Go where your customers are

And so on, and so forth. But while there is validity to much of this, what happens when the same advice is spouted in every single marketing report, publication and blog, and in millions of tweets for five years? In short, everyone adopts it.

That’s why most brands you see today are still striving to sell themselves as cleverer, funnier and most importantly, friendlier than the other guy. We’ve got it down to a formulaic art, as every newcomer has tried to grab themselves a slice of the pie by being funny, engaging in brand banter and gently mocking some of their customers for comic effect, to be later lauded by the online marketing community.

The problem is that though the bar might have been raised for a while there, we’re now looking once again at a level playing field. How do you stand out now?

But are we all fooling ourselves in the first place? Do customers actually want our friendship or is this a self-perpetuating myth? Sure, a funny tweet from Tesco Mobile might make a good Buzzfeed article to show your boss, but is it really having any long term effect on the way customers see and buy your brand?

I suspect that like me, lots of people would prefer brands to keep their distance: be the faceless, corporate, selling machines they have been striving against for so long.

It first happened with adverts in the early ‘00s. Brands stopped talking about their products and specifications and started using twee music played over images of friendly 20-somethings having a good time to try and kick start a friendship with their customers.

Don’t get me wrong – I fully admit that, again, there is merit in this approach, but many brands have simply pushed it too far. I find it annoying. I want the best phone deal, not the phone that saves the CMO’s phone number into my phone book when I buy it. I don’t want to #bemoredog. I just want a phone, without ceremony, without bonding.

All brands are now doing ‘the friendly thing’ on social media. Isn’t it time one of them takes it up a notch and sophisticates the mix a bit more? This is an invitation to brands: how can you innovate and differentiate from other brands now that every brand and its #bemoredog is on Twitter having a laugh?

I’m interested to see what the next generation of Paddy Power, Tesco Mobile and Waterstones Oxford Street – all known for their irreverent Twitter accounts – is going to be, but I’ve had enough of brands larking about on Twitter trying to get on Buzzfeed and talking about their ‘award-winning social media strategy’ at marketing events.

A true story about motorways and the sheer weight of traffic

A few years back now, my father Julius and I were driving back from Dorset, having spent a couple of days selling fudge at a agricultural show, which is his business. It had been a hard weekend, with a seemingly endless downpour of rain meaning the amount of customers was as thin as the plastic walls of our tent, in which we slept each night.

So it was in a depressed atmosphere that we sat in the car to return back to Kent, around 150 miles away. The rain really had been relentless during our time in the West Country, and by the time we were packed up and on the road, the tarmac was already a few centimeters deep with water. As the sheets of fluid chucked down from the clouds above, darkness enveloped our car, with the violent misty vapour and unusually dim moonlight conspiring to make navigation home a tough task indeed.

Slowly but surely, my dad made his way onto the A4 amidst reports of heavy traffic across the country. We were no more than ten miles into that stage of the journey, somewhere outside Salisbury, when the other cars decelerated from their already agonising pace to an even slower one. Already in a bad mood, the pair of us despaired as we realised we wouldn’t be getting home until at least midnight. The prospect of a nice hot shower and a clean bed was all the more tempting for its ever-diminishing proximity.

Other drivers looked to be about to get out their cars and scan ahead, but the fierce winds and lashing rain meant just standing up would pose a serious challenge.

As I embraced the solemn depression, my dad instead took on an unusually angry demeanor, and began to weave in between the cars. The 5mph slug in and out between lanes was hugely embarrassing, as manyof the other drivers looked on with scorn, as my dad’s impatience grew to fever pitch. Meandering between the cars got us only so far, and so it is with shame that I report the his next plan was to cruise over to the hard shoulder and slam his foot down. I’m not sure if it was the poor show attendance, the bad weather, the lateness or just a combination of it all, but something had gripped him.

We must have bombed along for about fifty miles, and past at least ten thousand cars, before the hard shoulder began to tail off. The barely moving traffic was being whipped about by the rain, and each driver was near-invisible behind the protective glass of their windows. Here, the cars were packed a little less densely, and again my dad started weaving through the other cars. At least six hours had passed since we left the showground and we were still a great distance away from home. Once more we slowly progressed through the soaking metal gridlock, one car at a time, criss-crossing lanes by the minute.

Perhaps due to the woeful wait and cursed conditions, the drivers didn’t seem as bothered by my father’s antics as they were further back. In my bored state, I also began to notice that the other cars were somewhat uniform in style; there were no lorries or vans, or even any sports cars or estates. Every car appeared to be a Vectra or a Mondeo or something.

As we slithered our way along the A4, I think I became even more aware that the surrounding cars were lacking variety. It might have been because I was tired, or because it was almost impossible for me to see more than 10cm outside the window, but I swear every car was the same dark grey colour and looked nearly identical. I couldn’t make out which make or model they were, but they certainly all looked very similar.

My dad said he didn’t know anything about cars when I told him what I’d noticed, but he did say they were all unusually alike. And that’s when the strangest thing happened. Approaching a small crest in the natural gradient of the road, we were suddenly afforded a glance of the view ahead, albeit one severely obstructed by the ferocious weather outside. It appeared as though we were only around ten cars back from whatever was holding up this epic traffic jam. I excitedly asked my dad if he had seen what I’d seen, but he said there was no way I could have seen that far past the foreboding greyness. I insisted he carry on with his dodging and overtaking for a little longer.

We slid past the sinister charcoal vehicles, still unable to make out the drivers inside. I was nervously excited, about the anticipation of finally getting home, as it was 2am by this point. I hurriedly encouraged my dad to continue on, slithering our Zafira all the way to what seemed like a row of three cars, with no sign of another car in front. Even after I had suspected we had reached the front of the jam, I was still ecstatic to discover we had made it, and agreed with my dad that we should try and make a pass.

The confusing thing was that there wasn’t anything making the front three cars go so slowly. It certainly looked like these three cars were driving slowly along, blocking the way past and dictating the speed of the snaking cars behind, with no obvious reason to be doing so. Quite livid at this implication, in a rather dangerous maneuver, my dad squeezed the car in between two of the dark grey vehicles. Unable to wriggle beyond them entirely, I looked out the passenger window and into the front-seat of the car beside us. Who on earth would be driving so slow as to be holding up countless thousands of drivers?

I peered into the glass, trying to make out what was behind the rain-splattered veil. What I saw will stun you. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Sitting there, driving an anonymous dark grey saloon car was a human-sized mallard. Yep. A massive male duck, with big, black eyes and a large, smiling beak slotted behind the steering wheel. It was hard to tell if he had wings, or how he was controlling the vehicle, but I swear to you – it was a fucking mallard driving a reasonably-priced family car.

As I began to splutter out my discovery to dad, he turned to me from the other side and looked at me with wide-eyed horror. He had seen the same thing. Scared, he trie to accelerate, but was locked in position. Braking offered no escape either. I was so scared. There was no way out. We were surrounded by the ducks.

No sooner had I started to think about picking up my mobile, when the cars to the side of us immediately sped off in front. All around us, the dark grey cars shot forwards and drove off into the distance. We moved into second gear and tried to catch up with the rapidly accelerating cars around us. Slamming his foot on the pedal, my dad had reached 100mph a few moments later, but still the grey cars were zooming off past us. Within five minutes, the only cars around us were normal vehicles: red, white, blue; cars, vans, lorries; Fords, Vauxhalls, Fiats.

The traffic jam had eased off, and everyone was relieved to be finally on their way home. The weather cleared up almost instantly after the mallards left and we were left bewildered as to what the fuck just happened. I’ve never told anyone about this story until right now. Seriously, traffic jams are caused by mallards and shit.

Privacy is terminally Ill, and it’s all your fault

One particular area of interest for me is what has been called ‘the internet of things’.

In short, this is the name for the trend of the ever-increasing volume of internet-enabled things.

I don’t just mean yer tablets, yer smartphones and yer PCs; this also concerns yer brand new Wi-Fi toaster and yer 4G washing machine.

According to IBM, there will be 1 trillion connected devices by 2015. Sounds like a lie to me, but to say I am ill-equipped to make an accurate assessment would be a glowing compliment to my abilities, so let’s assume that IBM know what they’re talking about.

We’re already seeing the pervasive nature of intelligent, connected devices. Think of the Nike+ fuelband, or Tesla’s car-charging units.

The advent of social media has meant that ‘online’ has become synonymous with ‘social media’, and the omnipresence of Facebook and Twitter-enabled services has developed in tandem with the advance of the internet of things.

One company doing a decent job of articulating what I’m harping on about is EVRYTHNG, who made this 77-second video to explain the concept a bit more succinctly.

The picture I’m seeing is a world where devices are ingrained entirely within our lives, and social media embodying a large chunk of that.Consider that even today I could be getting the bus into town, paying using a contactless card, playing an online game on my 2DS, messaging a friend on my Samsung smart watch and watching some dancing tutorial videos on my tablet.

Then once I get to the Youth Club, I could be boogeying down the local disco with my Google Glasses to work out which song is playing and using my phone to find out the Klout score of all the honeys I’m dancing with.

Extrapolate this, and you have a life that is closely integrated with technology and associated cloud services.

Perhaps your medication tells you when you’re due a new dose. Maybe your TV informs you of when its warranty expires based on your specific purchase history and usage, and could even update you with recommended local repairmen should it break.

4G and other wireless tech’s introduction to the scene will accelerate the seamlessness that humans will begin to live with the internet, but also the digital footprint that they leave behind.

The synchronicity of these devices and connections will only become more intricate, and businesses will be able to aggregate and analyse a dataset of consumer behaviour like never before, and adjust their entire operations accordingly.

Amid the hysteria surrounding PRISM and other digital surveillance programmes, and an apparent rising distaste for Government monitoring of our actions, an interesting observation for me is that directly parallel to this is an abundance of data that is being willingly broadcast by citizens.

Just logging into my Google account reveals a scary amount of information about myself. It knows where I work, where I live, how many emails I get, who I most frequently have meetings with, which devices I own, where I’ve been on holiday, how long it takes me to get to work, how many hours I spend at work and so on.

Couple this with the issues I was discussing up there ^ and we find ourselves in a state of something like a collective cognitive dissonance.

We’re complaining about the decreasing perceived civil liberties and personal privacy, yet simultaneously broadcasting every aspect of our pathetic little existences on social media.

The internet of things will only amplify this, with our devices assisting us in updating the cloud with the minutiae of our lives.

Privacy is dying. And it’s all your fault.

Interview: Big Grey from Fire Tusk Pain Proof Circus

I caught up with Fire Tusk Pain Proof Circus’s very own Big Grey to discuss the finer things in life. For those wondering – he really is a hardcore mental clown man. With petrol-scented fire breath.

So do you like getting hurt or do you simply do it all for entertainment purposes?

Yeah I absolutely love it! To me, this sort of thing is just normal; I do it all the time. When I’m at parties or raving at techno nights, I always give things a go. It’s just a natural thing for me to do.

How many hours a day do you spend practising your acts?

To be honest mate I don’t spend any time at all. Maybe I’ll do a couple of hours before a show. Basically I spend my time drinking and fucking about and generally having a good time. I chuck knives at people in my normal life! I reckon that if you’re focusing and thinking too much about things like the knife throwing then it can become too much; you become nervous and that. If you just get tanked beforehand you can do it more naturally. I’m not trained or anything. They say I’m shit at knife-throwing cause I keep missing!

Right. So do you see other people’s acts and say ‘I want to do that’, or does your show develop organically and independently?

We make up all our ideas ourselves. A lot of what you see is completely invented by us – for example the trick where we balance the lawnmower on my chin and fuck about with it. We’re the only ones who have done that in the world. Also with things like the knife-throwing, we are one of the only people in the country doing that. There are very, very few practising knife-throwers in the UK.

How about the glass-walking bit? Was that real glass or sugar glass?

Real glass! We don’t use any fakery at all. Someone gets injured every twenty shows or so. It’s part of the job. We all get injured – that’s what we get out of it.

So where can our readers catch you next?

Well our next show is in Oslo but you can usually catch me doing all sorts of things. I’m always going to punk gigs and raves. I’m a hunter and I’m a martial artist, but I do love doing these shows. I love the massive ones – we played to 65,000 people with Take That in Milton Keynes and 55,000 at the City of Manchester stadium. They were fuckin’ awesome.

Review: Fire Tusk Pain-Proof Circus

Part of the awesome Fringe City festival, FreeRange consisted of a giant orb-like marquee erected alongside a small smattering of smaller tents, bars and food outlets. The highlight and headline of the festivities (which included a show from Nicholas Parsons and an Insect Circus) was undoubtedly the ‘Fire Tusk Pain Proof Circus’, a supposedly dark, adult twist on the traditional circus show.

Entering the stadium not knowing what to expect, the audience were quietly shown which bits of bench to cram themselves into, while a small assortment of dark jester-like clowns entertained those already settled with illusory and slick tricks. After a handful of minutes the show was all set to begin; the crowd were soon treated to an opening cinematic in the guise of an X factor parody, cleverly named ‘The Clown Factor’. Five minutes of embarrassingly poor attempts at humour later, the performers rampaged onto stage in a frenzy of bizarre acts. One oddball man was lowered from a harness onto the stage while the others fannied about swiping at him and generally causing havoc. Just what the fuck was happening in narrative or even literal terms was almost impossible to ascertain.

After this much ado about nothing, a sultry burlesque-esque lady, the host for the evening, stepped up to the stage and explained, in quite possibly the worst (Scottish-Russian?) accent of all time, the general plot of what had came before and what was to follow. I won’t bother repeating it here, suffice to say it was rather contrived and pointless. The show itself consisted of disgusting acts of self-harm and humiliation, ranging from classics like lying on a bed of nails and run over by a motorbike to more unusual and vomit-inducing acts like hammering a 5-inch nail into their fucking faces. Some moments such as this were genuinely unique and awe-inspiring, if a little gross, so it was a shame that so much of the show felt like filler. All too often tens of minutes went by with needless exposition playing out or one neat trick would be repeated until all the effect had been lost, in particular their heavy reliance on whip-related stunts.

Overall this clowncore gypsy clusterfuck was shocking and thrilling in equal measure at its best, though ultimately rarely transcended routine stunts padded by truly awful intros and set-pieces. Although I cannot knock their ambition, ballsiness and hardcore attitude, a 5-minute compilation of the core four members would have been way more fun than this 9-person, 150-minute snorefest. Interestingly, although I knew not what to expect from the Fire Tusk Pain Proof Circus – it was somehow almost exactly what I had imagined it would be.

That time I climbed the highest mountain in California

I’ve been experiencing a minor communications blackout, thanks to being largely stranded in the middle of nowhere for the past week. I’m currently in Palm Springs, a town of 40,000 people in the centre of the Californian desert. I walked the two mile journey from my hotel to this branch of Starbucks, so that I can once again spout my babbleshit to the world via the global tubes.

Food in the USA: counting the calories

In hypothetical word association, obesity is one of the first things that springs to mind when the USA is mentioned. It’s perhaps surprising then, that looking around the streets of LA I found that people are not much fatter here than they are in the UK. Of course in my generally healthy home towns of Tunbridge Wells and Brighton there is a much lower average weight, yet it wasn’t too long ago that I found myself in the West Country. If there were a fatness competition out of all the places I’ve been, I think the final would be between Somerset and LA. The prize is a pint of Bovril. And the glory.

I had my first true, all-American McDonalds yesterday, whilst in the rather gangster district of Inglewood. It was fucking great. Although it was slightly more expensive and used a shitty ticketing system that took ages, the actual food itself was deliciously unhealthy. McDonalds has never been about health, so I wasn’t concerned about the fat content or the calories.

It’s always been about the taste, and the fries are the same lovely strips of grease as the British ones, but every element of my burger (fillet) was better and bigger than its English counterpart. The best bit of all was the milkshake, a creamy dream that was little more than melted ice cream. They also topped it with squirty cream and a glace cherry. I suppose that’s what you get when you’re in the gateau, right? In one of the unsavoury parts of town?

The propagated myth that American portion sizes are huge also turns out to be true, and I’ve rarely been able to finish a meal since I’ve been here. Also, I noticed that a triple whopper meal is 2600 Kcals here. Heart attack material. I think they have some kind of law meaning that most food outlets have to display calorie counts of their products. Not fat content or sugars or anything, just the amount of energy they have in them.

Today I visited my first US supermarket. It was a Target, and about the size of a big Asda. It had all the TVs and clothes and shit that you’d expect, but after nearly a week in the States I was a-hunkering for something wholesome but light so I walked a mile or so down the road to find some French bread, carrots and humous. The Target was located just off from Hollwood Blvd, and was pretty massive, so I was certain I’d have no problem finding my bits.

The fruit and vegetable section left a lot to be desired. The only unwrapped things were apples, at 79c each. The entire section was just half of a short aisle, and had mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, strawberries, apples, bananas and tomatoes. All were covered in plastic and uniform in weight, colour and size.  There were some other vegetables too, though in multi-selection style packs, and not sold separately. I was so dumbfounded that I tried to take a picture, but an employee stopped me and said I wasn’t allowed. I finally found some carrots, which were pre-cut and packaged of course, but get this – they came with a caramel dip! A low-cal caramel dip, of course, but what the actual fuck? What a ridiculous combination. They weren’t for glazing, they were for dipping.

Moving on to the cheese section, I was mock-mortified to discover that over 95% of the cheeses available were either grated or processed. You could even buy a block of processed cheese, which made me feel a bit sick. I don’t like the thought of cutting into that, for some reason. One of them was made by Disney, with a Mickey Mouse on it. I kept thinking I’d ask for some more ‘mature’ cheese, but I didn’t, because it isn’t funny.

Finally, this is what happened after I couldn’t find the humous.

– Could you please tell me where the humous is?

“The what?”

– The humous.

“I’m sorry sir, where the what is?

– The humous, like the Asian chickpea thing.

“I’m sorry but I don’t know what you’re asking for”

– Humous. It’s a kind of dip

“Oh! You mean hummers.”

– Yes. That’s right. I mean hummers. My mistake.

“It’s right over there.”

– Thank you.

It wasn’t right over there.

Review: Game of Thrones

At the moment I’m clocking three simultaneous TV shows that are currently being broadcast. That may be a lifetime record, as I hate TV. Number one and two are comedy shows, the excellent Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle and the brilliant South Park, now in its 15th season. The third show, and the topic of this blog, is Game of Thrones, a super-hyped cross between Lord of the Rings and [insert long-running TV show that you like].

Forever the sceptic, I dismissed most of the Twitter brigade when the show first came out in the States, but finally caved in to curiosity just after the fifth episode was broadcast. Now those who know me will be aware of my distaste for fantasy and its illogical nonsense. I don’t even like LOTR very much. It annoys me with its lack of relatable content.

So step forward Game of Thrones, a TV show that doesn’t feature Orcs or Trolls. It’s a programme that’s light on the supernatural and heavy on the super natural. Lengthy political dialogues and complex interweaving storylines make up the bulk of the plot, with stylish flourishes of fighting and grandiose environments simply enhancing those moments, as they are contrasted with the generally mundane regular scenes. Mundanity doesn’t mean boredom though, and it is clear that GOT is in it for the long haul, perhaps in a similar fashion to The Wire. It’s believable; realistic within the context of its own world.

The show is based on an as-yet uncompleted series of books, denoting that the story is paramount to the whole thing. The narrative comes first, and the features and language of the medium follow. When you create a piece of art, a TV show, with the format in mind and not the story, you end up with things like 24 or CSI, where the form dictates the content. GOT is blessed in the sense that the story does not buckle to the formula – climaxes of each episodes that must end with a cliff hanger, or accessible, exposition-drenched episodes for newcomers to the series to dip in and out of. There’s no ‘previously, on Game of Thrones’. Well, actually there is, but it’s the type of show that shouldn’t.

The parallels to real life are the clincher for me. I simply cannot grasp Middle Earth. It doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s entirely removed from reality and I subsequently cannot relate to the characters, the story or the setting. GOT is quite obviously set in ancient Britain, sometime after the Romans left but before the Tudor monarchy. Fables of dragons and exotic myths remain, though are (as yet) unsubstantiated, much as they were at the time. Races are not the silly child-like Dwarves or Hobbits, nor are there wizards or elves; rather there are Targarians and Dothraki, basically ethnic human groupings.

The land mass of the more tanned, tribal beings is akin to Europe. Menial things happen, not just Earth-shattering events, and the biggest fears are intra-kingdom wars and overseas coups, not evil omnipotent magical spirits that want to take over the world and kill people and shit (yet). The bad guys have motives and are not just inherently evil. Every character has their own set of goals, desires, histories and social standings, but most importantly, they are all flawed in some way; they are human.

It’s good in the same way 300 or Gladiator are good. It’s a warped version of essentially historical things, with artistic storytelling flourishes to excite and entertain, with a mild distorting of reality the penalty. The plot and characters would remain strong even in another setting, much like Battlestar Galactica would if you took it out of sci-fi. Maybe I’ll change my mind by the third series, once the paranormal and the dragons are all over the place, wreaking havoc on my ill-placed dreams of semi-believable fantasy. There is definitely still room for dragons though.

Also, whoever the casting director is, they have incredible taste in actors. Especially the sexy girls, who are naked for a nice amount of screen time. Don’t worry ladies, it’s not all macho-sex-lads-stuff: not only has it got Sean Bean in it, but you also get to see various scantily-clad hunks all the time and the occasional cock ‘n’ ball.

It’s great. Watch it.

Reviews of artists at The Great Escape 2010

Egyptian Hip Hop

Egyptian Hip Hop are anything but what the name implies. In fact, for a band that sounds interesting and unique, they are actually infinitely dull and standard. Take any four band members from any modern run-of-the-mill band out there, clad them in skinny jeans, snip and dye their hair into something trendy and extravagant and voila! There you have your Egyptian Hip Hop. Although I may be being harsh here, the band failed to captivate any sense of wonder or engage with the crowd, as each song blandly blurred into the next.

Admittedly, Horatio’s on the pier is a fascinatingly odd and surreal venue; a weird, scummy function room complete with fake stained-glass, thick, garish carpets and a cheap polished wooden decor, but the place was still full to capacity at the start of the gig. The end of the gig however, was another matter, with only around 50% of the initial turnout still absent-mindedly bobbing along to the songs. While Egyptian Hip Hop were by no means a bad band, or indeed did they give a bad performance – it’s just there was absolutely nothing remarkable about either their stage presence, appearance or the music itself. I suppose it goes someway into explaining why they chose such a mysterious name: to mask the mediocrity of this uninteresting Mancunian musical four-piece.


Gold Panda

East London DJ Gold Panda has a small but dedicated following, whose ranks are slowly growing with every gig he performs. It seems the organiser’s faith in Life providing an adequate venue for this early evening set was misplaced, as although the location is fine for traditional clubbing scenarios, the back room allocated to Gold Panda’s gig was far too small and claustrophobic.

Swathes of fans piled into the boiling room, packing it so densely that dozens had to make do with simply listening from the adjacent hall, as the only room affording a visual on Gold Panda was at capacity. Nevertheless, those that made it in were rewarded with the DJ’s trademark tunes, which pounded through the speakers with deliberate distortion and digital noise. Despite the high quality of the music, it should be noted that he is not a natural performer, rather he fits into the ‘hood-up, head-down’ mould of DJs, which is disappointing considering not only the modern trend to perform but also that many of the tunes would be well-suited to some DJ-audience interaction. Gold Panda’s awesomely sampled songs were truly fantastic, ranging from joy-filled melodies to dirtier, heavier bass-led beats. The songs invited the crowd to dance; the compulsion to nod your head in time to the music was almost irresistible – it’s just a shame that the place was too fucking full to do so.

DJ Shadow

There was a slight change in the Great Escape format to last year. This year, wristbanded people who had forked out their cash to attend the festival were expected to pay an extra charge to see some acts, including all the headliners, as places at those gigs were offered to the unwristbanded public as well. I thought it was a pretty terrible thing to do actually.Regardless, I headed to the DJ Shadow set on the Thursday night with the ring of acclaim sounding through my skull, as the iconic Shadowsphere tour is drenched in critical fluid. I was not disappointed. The basic premise for the show is that there is a giant orb on the stage, which looked rather splendid in the opulent Brighton Dome setting. Projected upon a screen that fills the entire backdrop of the stage are a series of images and videos, which feature all manner of interesting settings and set-pieces.

A second projector illuminates the sphere itself, which is designed with the backdrop in mind. The end result is a brilliant experimentation of shape, perception and depth, with highlights such as the earth spinning in space and a factory producing a metal ball proving quite spectacular. These impressive visuals are all perfectly synchronised with the music too.

Of course, no gig review would be complete without a mention of the setlist, which was exemplary. Twisting old Shadow classics into contemporary beats; morphing sombre trip hop tunes into floor-filling anthems, Shadow had the enthusiastic, but largely immobile, crowd wrapped around his finger.

The icing on the cake was the moments when Shadow revealed himself from the orb, first with silhouetted teasers, then a wave from the roof, before finally spinning the whole sphere 180 degrees to complete the set facing the audience. The cherry on that icing was the 25 minute encore, comprised almost entirely of unusual songs, from classical jazz to recent hip hop hits. Great Job.

The Big Pink

The Big Pink enjoyed a headline slot at what is one the best venues on the seafront – Digital. Starting late, the band was forced to cut their set short which displeased both them and the fans. Digital is perfectly set-up for gigs of this scale; the sound system and light set-ups are certainly superior to most of the other Great Escape locations. The gig was powerful and intense, with the slow, drums-driven ‘Too Young To Love’ opening the band’s setlist, which gradually intensified throughout before climaxing in the fan-favourite ‘Dominoes’, provoking a fun and wild sing-a-long from the crowd at the end. Disappointingly however, was The Big Pink’s heavy reliance on synthesised and pre-recorded sounds. The drummer, while surely talented, often only played half of the beat, leaving the more complex rhythms to the electronic drum machine. Similarly, fabricated vocal tracks were used in place of a female singer. These small issues coupled with a short 30 minute set may have left many somewhat let down, though as long as ‘not enough music’ is one of the complaints aimed at them, I’m sure The Big Pink will be happy.


Delphic held the privilege of headlining The Great Escape’s Friday night at The Corn Exchange, an honour shared with the festival’s main act the following evening, Groove Armada. So what makes Delphic so worthy of basking in the same level of exposure as that seasoned and unquestionably talented duo? At their best, Delphic really do invoke a sense of awe, marrying the two holy disciplines of guitar music and dance music in perfect harmony, in a blending of genres that so many bands attempt but ultimately fail to achieve. In the way that previously ‘innovative’ acts like the Klaxons, Hadouken and Bloc Party have made indie music a digital and dancey experience appropriate to play in clubs, Delphic played some tunes that elicited not only the karaoke-type crowd response usually found at The Kooks gigs, but also the shape-making, dance-inspiring beats of a Digitalism or Simian Mobile Disco set – a pretty tough, yet potent combination. When the marriage worked, things were beautiful: just enough lyrics to avoid dull repetition but also a filthy bassline and beat, which is all anyone really wants. In moments like this, it is clear that Delphic love making music and know exactly what they’re doing; making it unfortunate that at times they seemed totally lost.

These genuine sparks of innovation and immaculate production only lasted to the mid-point of the performance – the end of the 45 minute gig was actually quite boring. So many of the songs simply failed to capture that spark that made the first few songs work so well, as it became clear that with even the smallest of imbalances (too many vocals, not enough bass), the aforementioned marriage began to fail miserably. For all the band’s skill and talent, it was evident that if you took away the strobe lights and huge crowd you would have a very ordinary band that only hinted at glimmers of excellence. They certainly have the ability it seems; sustaining across a full set is the problem.

Interview: James New from Mirrors

With half their members scavenged from the corpse of over-too-soon Bexhill band Mumm-ra, four piece Mirrors are a Kraftwerk-esque pop noir.outfit. With highly emotional, catchy songs like “Look At Me” and “Fear Of Drowning” they look like a dead cert to wow the crowd at Meadowlands this May. Hyped by various magazines across the country, James (synth, vocals), Ally (synth, vocals), Tate (synth) and Josef (electronic drums) are the maestros making up this sharp suited band, and are proud of their image and rightly so.

You’re on tour at the moment and are playing the green door store later this month. How are you feeling about that?

Well it’s an excellent little club so we’re pretty excited. For me personally I think it was the one thing Brighton was missing; a genuinely good club with its own unique vibe. The gig itself should be great; it’s a chance to celebrate our record, which is coming out the following week, finally getting out into the world. We’re going to attempt to play everything on the album which means a 50 minute show. We usually keep our show short and sweet. I’m just trying to sort out DJs for it now. It’s hard when the only thing you can offer them is free beer and the fact it’s very near the station!

Who have you supported or played with so far in your gigging and touring?

When we started we decided we didn’t really want to do support slots. We wanted to make our show something special and to do that you need full control; but of course that wasn’t really possible.  We supported Delphic on their UK tour. We also supported OMD around Europe; obviously this was a really great time for us being that they are true synth pioneers. Coming up we’ve got White Lies, Gary Numan, and then we’re touring with fellow Brightonians; Fujiya and Miyagi.

You’ve just said that you don’t really like support slots, but if you could go on a big tour with anyone and have your own show who would you pick?

JN Well we are always hopeful to not have to support other bands forever but obviously it is essential in building a bands profile. The problem for us is we don’t get to do everything that we’d like to at these shows. I have no real ambition to tour with anyone. If my heroes turned out to be human I’d be very disappointed.

How would you define the theatrical element that you bring to your shows?

JN Well I think it’s to do with the atmosphere we bring to our show. We sort of become different characters which I understand can annoy people. Luckily, we don’t really care because for the other half it makes our show one of the most exciting to watch right now. We don’t talk because there is no space to; once the music starts we rarely let sound stop. We incorporate slow, hypnotic visuals into the show, again to give it a certain atmosphere. We wear suits. Not just at the show but in our lives, but again it helps in building this more theatrical approach to live music. We make sure it’s dark, usually requesting all of the house lights be turned off and a couple of small lamps, submerged in smoke be turned on to replace them, giving the room a feeling of warmth and intimacy.

What can you tell us about your music?

Firstly, regardless of whatever anyone says about Mirrors, we’re a pop band: we write pop songs, and rather catchy ones at that. They’re just presented in a slightly unusual way. The music is dark and electronic, but vitally they’re warm and soulful. We incorporate a whole load of acoustic and organic sounds to give it this atmosphere. We try to make something that although has an electronic backdrop, also has a lot of warmth to it. I guess it’s a kind of dense, heavily layered electronic soul music we’re looking to make. I’ve described it recently as a big cake; it’s got a lot of really tasty layers in it.

How would you describe yourselves as a band?

Well we’re opinionated. We’re perfectionists to the point of bordering on OCD. We’re smartly dressed, professional and dedicated. We believe in what we do. At its best being in Mirrors can be a pretty life affirming thing

You’ve got an album release coming up very soon. What can you tell us about it?

It’s good. It’s really good. It feels like we’ve made something we can work from. The album certainly has its own identity, a certain atmosphere to it. That was very important to us; that it had its own unique qualities to distinguish itself as Mirrors. But it’s a big pop record. After a couple of listens we’ll have it stuck in your brain. The song “Listen” is the big standout track for me. A lot of my friends can be impatient with music but it’s quite epic. It’s ten minutes long but we think it’s ten minutes worth indulging in.

There are a lot of great bands floating around in the music scene, have u had time to experience any of them?

I think we tend to live in our own little world, which we’re pretty comfortable with and I have to admit there aren’t that many bands in Brighton that interest me. With Mirrors we tend to keep ourselves to ourselves; it’s part of the idea that what we do is our own so we’re not inclined to form close affiliations. It’s our own little world outside of Brighton that we’re interested in.

I know the band is from Brighton, but what is it about the area that you like?

I’m not actually from Brighton originally. I’m from down the road in Bexhill-on-sea which is a little retirement community. I do love Brighton though it’s been my home for 3 years now. It’s rich in culture and opportunity for all kinds of talented people. I’ve never known anyone who lives here to be negative about the city in the way you find in other parts of the country. I like that. We’re very protective of it and with good reason. We’re living in the most liberal, exciting, and generally delightful city in the country!

Charlie Brooker and how videogames became normal

I originally wrote this article in 2009, as a kind of ode to one of my favourite public figures. I chose to republish it here because I think it’s interesting for two reasons.

One is that this decade has probably been the first real era of games hitting the mainstream – regular people talking about gaming not as a geeky hobby, but as recreation as normal and common as reading a book or watching a movie. A big part of that change has been that as the first generation of millennials – those raised by the House of Mario – have reached a high profile status in society, they have brought with them a familiarity, respect and understanding of the medium of gaming that previous generations simply did not have. Newspapers have gaming sections, the moral panic has been and gone and games have simply become normal. In 2018, many if not most emerging journalists, politicians, celebrities and sports stars consider themselves gamers of some kind, and it’s not even noteworthy to see an MP tweet about playing Red Dead Redemption 2 or to spot Drake livestreaming his Fortnite session with Ninja on Twitch.tv.

The second is that Charlie Brooker has gone on to achieve big things, and is now unmistakably a household name. As well as appearing regularly on primetime TV and hosting Channel 4’s election night coverage, Brooker’s breakout hit was the truly excellent Black Mirror. That show is now into its fourth season and although it’s just a personal preference, I happen to think it’s the best TV production in years.

Anyway, here’s the slightly fanboyish piece I wrote on this subject a decade ago, which was written in the context of a perception that videogames had to fundamentally change for the worse in order to appeal to a wider audience (ie. with the Nintendo Wii)

You may have never heard of Charlie Brooker, especially if you happen to dwell in the land mass to the west of the Atlantic, but Brooker is someone I have loved for years. Brooker currently writes editorials for the UK newspaper The Guardian and hosts a BBC4 review show, which has recently switched from general TV reviews to a critique of the news.

He used to write for PC Zone, a UK gaming magazine and regularly wrote laugh-out-loud features on the latest news and releases. This ultimately led to his sacking however, when Brooker made a comic strip entitled ‘The Cruelty Zoo’, which focused on Lara Croft’s apparent obsession with slaughtering animals. The comic highlighted Croft’s vendetta against the animal kingdom by depicting a zoo where children could visit and torment the animals, with semi-realistic images of kids stabbing badgers, hammering the skulls of monkeys an chainsawing an orang-utan.

This kind of irreverent humour often gets Brooker in trouble (in this case the magazine was pulled from shelves) and he has received dozens of death threats from patriotic Americans after his anti-Bush musings.

Perhaps the best thing about Brooker is that as he enters the mainstream public sphere in the UK, his views upon games become wider spread. His awesome and extremely successful TV shows Nathan Barley and Dead Set , which was based on a zombie outbreak during a season of Big Brother have made Brooker something of a popular icon, if not yet a household name. While Brooker’s main attention has been turned to TV, he never forgets his love of gaming. Indeed, almost every TV show he reviews gets chastised and he appears to actively hate the medium, instead suggesting that games are a more favourable for of entertainment. He often reverts to discussing gaming in his column and is one of the few individuals responsible for bringing gaming to a wider audience in the UK, and fortunately only recommends the good ones. Some of his recent coverage of games in his column can be found herehere and here. He’s not only a funny SOB, but he shows that it is okay to talk about Fallout without being labelled as some kind of social outcast or nerdy freak.

This widening of videogame audience demographics is obviously a far greater thing than Brooker, but I feel as though unlike Nintendo, Brooker is achieving some success in steering the industry’s growth in the right direction.

Review: Halo ODST

The usual hype and fanfare that has surrounded the release of Halo ODST hasn’t been as positive as that of its 2007 predecessor, with much of the attention focused upon the perceived poor value of a game initially planned as DLC. This has been compounded with Microsoft’s decision to bundle in the Halo 3 map packs with copies of ODST, which many have seen as an attempt to compensate for the supposed paltry new content. With this in mind, and although it’s a Halo game bereft of its renowned protagonist and its campaign is little over six hours, Bungie have somehow produced another title well worth the full retail price it demands.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Halo ODST is that despite all the changes that have been made, it still feels exactly like a Halo game. Gone are the regenerating shields, the dual-wielding of weapons and Master Chief’s grand story-arc , instead replaced with a stamina-health system and an intricate blending of individual tales to form what is so far the most compelling Halo story yet. Controlling as a variety of different ‘Orbital Drop Shock Troopers’, the player is tasked with unite with the others and ultimately investigate the Covenant goings-on around them.

This air of mystery is coupled with a much darker aesthetic than ever seen before in a Halo title, and the influence of film noir and the likes of Blade Runner are plain to see. Sombre jazz riffs accompany the player as they explore the sleek but desolate metropolis, an atmosphere which is heightened even greater when juxtaposed to the game’s many other more vibrant levels. Other environments are entrenched in more familiar territory for the franchise, with both the vast, rocky vistas of Africa and the purple hues of the Covenant providing the setting for the action during different sections of the game.

When assessing the various failures and successes Bethesda had when forging new backdrops, balancing and themes to Fallout 3 with their DLC content, it’s a real testament to Bungie as to how they have managed to take an established game series and create something that still feels somewhat different. Even by using the same engine and acclaimed gameplay mechanics, the small tweaks in the game, such as the weakening of the player’s non-Spartan abilities and the increased intimacy of the story, really work to create a campaign that is both thrilling and fresh.

There is little more that can be said of the quality of ODST’s multiplayer in this review, as it has no standalone multiplayer mode distinct from Halo 3, and unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know all about the acclaimed matchmaking from that game. There is however, the new Firefight mode, a welcome addition that invites players to work together to combat ever-increasing numbers of Covenant forces. It’s great fun and is likely to be a popular choice amongst gamers; it’s almost certain to be continued in future Halo releases, and rightly so.

The game of course is not without its drawbacks. For all its sinister mood, sophisticated narrative and adjusted play tools, it’s impossible not to feel as though ODST is a complement to the main event. The epic climaxes and galaxy-shattering plots of other Halo games are noticeably absent, and the game is certainly shorter and easier than what could normally be expected from a fully-fledged sequel. Furthermore, the friendly AI appears to have learnt no lessons from the past, with the erratic driving and useless shooting skills of the UNSC still present and correct.

Ultimately, for all the diversions and innovations it has, Halo ODST is still absolutely a Halo game. Those who have played and were unconvinced by past Halo titles are sure to remain uninterested in the series, but with ODST Bungie have showcased their versatility as developers and equipped with one of the greatest foundations ever made, have created a game as good as any other sci-fi shooter out there.

Graphics 75%

Sound 91%

Gameplay 85%

Originality 85%

Longevity 72%

Overall Score 8

Review: De Blob 2

The best blob since Mr Blobby has made his return in Blue Tongue’s sequel to the Wii-exclusive De Blob. De Blob 2 picks up where its predecessor left off, with players once again tasked with adding colour to the drab, monochrome world that is under the control of the evil Comrade Black.

Assuming the control of Blob, you are cast into the familiar whites and greys of the first game. After splashing around in some conveniently-laid pools of paint, Blob is now able to fill the world with colour, as each building, tree and citizen is returned to triumphant saturation by his touch. The game has a stronger focus upon platforming than ever before, and players will soon find themselves in a wide range of locales, from futuro-metropolises to University campuses. The gameplay is not entirely restricted to enriching an otherwise dull world however, as the developers have thrown in a handful of new elements to vary the experience.

Comrade Black’s ardent followers are all intent on preventing Blob from succeeding in his revolutionary cause, and there are at least a dozen different enemy types to defeat. It’s disappointing then that Blob’s technique of lock-on-and-smash has echoes of the 3D Sonic games, and that few of the enemies require much more thought or skill than pulling the left trigger and hammering A or RT.

Other novelties in the formula are the various power-ups and transport nodes that can be used. Some, like the multi-colour power, can provide a grateful shortcut when painting buildings whilst others, like the wrecking ball, feel stale and exist merely for the sake of existing. Some of these end up adding to the monotony of the task in hand, rather than enlivening it. A fantastic feature in the game is the implementation of 2D side-scrolling segments, of which there are at least two or three in each of the game’s ten levels. These sections are a hybrid between a puzzler and a platform game, and make for an enjoyable and interesting distraction from the main event.

Similarly brilliant are De Blob 2’s animated cut-scenes, which are not only stunning to look at, but also manage to provoke a few laughs and tell the story despite not using any legible dialogue at all. It’s the game’s great sense of humour and light-hearted tone that will keep players interested, as De Blob 2 frequently delves into Pixar-esque territory, where the jokes that may well be missed by kids still find their way to more mature players. Gags include allusions to leaving a brown surprise on the Dean’s doorstep, references to LemonParty.org (NSFW!) and some smart character-based antics. Moreover, the story in general is actually rather sophisticated, much of which will certainly be lost on younger gamers. The mix of overt anarchistic, anti-capitalist sentiment and twee, childish visuals is quite striking, and although the story is well-thought out and delivered, it should be noted that the content is perhaps a little controversial at times, especially considering its target audience. Indeed, one spectacularly hard to navigate level is largely focused at the dismantling of a ‘Cola’ bottling plant and is laden with anti-corporate ideology.

As Blob flicks his way around the level, the once drab environment is morphed into a beautiful, fun place to be. Amazingly, the music manages to match this transformation; the sombre, sparse jazz tones of the start are gradually and seamlessly modified into a bustling melody, replete with fills and riffs every time Blob paints something. The sound design overall is as good as the aforementioned cinematics, and the isolated sound effects are an absolute pleasure. A real sense of reward is felt as the world is coloured in, akin to perhaps something from the house that Miyamoto built.

The game does indeed borrow heavily from Nintendo throughout, and it’s not an overestimation to say that De Blob 2 is the closest thing you’ll get to the Nintendo experience on another platform. The two-player addition is little more than the welcome but limited-control given to a companion in Mario Galaxy. Many of the gravity-experimentation and 2D sections feel like Galaxy too, and Mario Sunshine’s Isle Delfino has definitely had an influence upon the world of Prisma City.

Unfortunately however, De Blob 2 never manages to quite pull it off as well as Mario. Jumping feels frustratingly sluggish compared to the fat little plumber, and there are many points at which the level design is very frustrating. De Blob 2 is not a short game, though by the halfway point the game begins to feel tired. The same old mechanics are thrown around and even though the game does its utmost to compel you to soldier on with its relentless charm, it can soon become a chore.

Despite efforts to change enemy types, power-ups, music, locations and contexts, De Blob 2 is essentially the same level played through ten times. It’s a testament to the original template that the game still just about stands up stretched over the fifteen hour playthrough time, though it also serves to show the innate weakness in the formula.

Blue Tongue have put together a really good effort with De Blob 2. The simple gameplay concept has been improved and packaged together with superb sound design and an artistic flourish. Apart from a few niggles, there is little more that could have been done than what is on offer here, though the stagnation that occurs after a few hours does prevent the game from being much fun for long.

This title would be far better suited to an XBL or PSN release. A four-hour game length would suit the mechanic well, and the developers have shown they can put something together to be proud of. By padding the game with unnecessary features and time-sapping scenarios, enjoyment of the game suffers. The biggest criticism of De Blob 2 isn’t the shortcomings of the sound, the presentation, the art or the gameplay, rather that that it just drags on forever and becomes far too repetitive. In this case, less would be more.

De Blob 2 is at times, everything that is great about video games. Rewarding gameplay, smart visuals and a decent attempt at innovation combine to create a game that is great fun. However, the modest challenge and increasingly repetitive gameplay conspire to highlight the game’s other flaws, meaning most players will soon tire of the saccharine charm of De Blob and his surprisingly adult revolution before the monochrome regime can be toppled.

Graphics: 72%%

Sound 88%

Gameplay 71%

Originality 70%

Longevity 46%

Overall Score: 6