Spike Magazine http://www.spikemagazine.com Books, Music, Art, Ideas Sat, 24 Mar 2012 14:47:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 An Interview with Safety First Records http://www.spikemagazine.com/an-interview-with-safety-first-records.php http://www.spikemagazine.com/an-interview-with-safety-first-records.php#comments Sun, 18 Mar 2012 21:45:13 +0000 http://www.spikemagazine.com/?p=4109 //www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JiB45EIy2A

Once upon a time, the term ‘indie’ described a philosophy rather than a genre and an indie label meant a way of doing things, not an identifiable sound. Xanthi Barker meets the people behind Safety First Records, a passionate attempt to live up to the ideals that come with independence

The night before Guy Fawkes’, as 2011 drew to a close, a hundred or so people gathered in a scaffold-built amphitheatre in a converted warehouse in Hackney Wick for the launch of Safety First Records. The obscure location, the cold, damp night, the autumn leaves scattered across the stage, all added up to something unusual, eery, spiritual. And the musicians did not disappoint. For two hours the audience sat in silence as each act wove another strand into a beautifully composed tapestry of authentic musical expression.

Born of the need for artistic independence and a feeling of being musical misfits, Safety First provides a base for artists who by essence may go undetected by major labels. Three of Safety First form the core members of Klak Tik, a band whose debut album Must We Find a Winner, was released on Safety First in 2010, to critical acclaim. Subsequently, they have released the five-star second album, Copenhagen from singer-songwriter Jack Cheshire, Swedish duo Polly Tones’, second EP The Toast, and the debut album, Ethereo by Danish group, Hanuman 5.

Currently, Safety First are nearing the end of their three-month residency at The Gladstone Arms in Borough. The final concert will be on Sunday 1st April, with Klak Tik and Felix Holt.

Felix Holt

Felix Holt

When and why did you start Safety First Records?

John Beyer: Safety First Records was started in early 2010. Søren, Matt and myself were at the tail end of the process of creating Klak Tik’s debut album and were starting to think a little about how it was going to be released. The album was made as independently as possible. The idea of recording when we wished, with no constraints from others, was an absolute must to create the album that we did. The idea of spending time searching for a label and trashing out a contract seemed so contradictory to the recording process that we decided to do that ourselves as well. Using the knowledge we’d gleaned releasing records for previous musical venues, the core members of Klak Tik took our first step into the unknown world of business and created Safety First Records. All in all, this first release was a success and just about a bearable workload.

Things then progressed very organically. We’d come to realise London isn’t the answer to all a musician’s dreams, and could be, in fact, a slight hindrance. There is no real sense of community and musicians fight for survival rather than help each other out. So we decided to turn Safety First Records into a platform for our friends and kindred musical spirits to release their work and hopefully all benefit from any success.

So is there a common thread running through all the acts you have signed?

Matt Mitchinson: In essence, it is just music that we love to listen to. Through playing in Klak Tik, we get to see and play alongside a lot of great artists, but every now and then you chance upon someone whose music is so good that it takes you to that place you almost stopped believing existed, and satisfies, elevates, or wounds you in a way that only music can. So far that’s how the relationships have started.

On top of that I think all of our artists have something in common stylistically. This probably has a lot to do with personal taste, but it’s also to do with their music not necessarily fitting precisely into any established ‘scene’. It’s part of our aim to build up a community and make sure we don’t just slip through the genre cracks.


You said that the artists take you to a place you almost stopped believing existed – does this imply that you are disillusioned with many successful (or unsuccessful) bands and artists that are around today?

Matt: To be honest, yes, although I’m always loath to say so as it can come across a bit negative, or worse, superior. The musical and commercial structures these days mean that to be a successful artist, or to be supported or promoted to a given level, you have to represent a calculable and pretty much guaranteed return on investment, which is never a good environment for artistic evolution. This idea is mirrored in the film industry with the fourteenth remake of Spiderman 8 or what have you.

The internet and the advent of social media does go a long way to diluting the power of major labels. It’s a much-touted axiom that these days someone’s music can be heard by anyone, anywhere, regardless of their budget or connections, and this is for the most part true. But this has also led to a saturation, and to people’s dependency on computers as a primary method of listening to and discovering music (myself included). Consequently, people’s attention spans have shortened and the internet has become a breeding ground for gimmicks. This is at a cost to music that requires a bit more effort on behalf of the listener, but also offers proportionate rewards.

In relation to being taken to that special place by the Safety First artists, that comes from a love of their music, not a disappointment with everything else. Even with an absolute abundance of great music around, there’s still room for those rare moments when you find something particularly special.

Do you think it is harder for artists who don’t fit into a specific genre?

Matt: It just makes it harder to locate your audience really – for instance with Klak Tik, we’ve found we’re not folk enough for most folk circles, but are definitely not appropriate for a loud indie night. So satisfying gigs, and I guess also publicity, are harder to come by.

Your artists could be described as folk/alternative folk, how do you think they fit into the current folk landscape in London (or not at all…)?

Matt: As above, I think all the artists share our dilemma, hence why we’re trying to establish something ourselves. I’m not sure whether this is an accurate observation, or it’s just my awareness that has increased, but it seems that the number and range of ‘folk’ promoters and gigs has been increasing, especially around East London, where we’re based. But again because the musical spectrum for that term is so large, you’re never quite sure what it entails. Whatever you label it though, I think music of a quieter nature is getting more of a showing these days, which is something we’re very keen to be involved in.

Can you tell me a bit about the artists you’ve signed?

Matt: I think listening to their music will offer the best insight into that. I fear my descriptions wouldn’t do them justice. On a personal level though they’re all, strangely, really lovely people, which I suppose is pretty important for the way things work.


Maybe you can tell me about their Safety First releases instead?

Matt: Our first release after our initial Klak Tik album was Jack Cheshire’s sophomore full-length Copenhagen. It’s an absolutely fantastic album. One of our first experiences of Jack’s music was when he opened for us at our Must We Find A Winner album launch and I can still remember the frustration at being stuck in the green room warming up whilst hearing these gorgeous songs wafting through. We feel honoured that we could be involved in releasing those songs to a wider audience. He has another album in the works right now, a few songs of which we heard at the Safety First label launch night, so we’re very, very excited to hear that in it’s entirety.

We released Polly Tones’ EP The Toast in November last year, as part of the label launch night, but they also have their debut album in the pipeline. Viktor and Mal are currently going through the puzzling and oft-times painful process of mixing the album themselves but we have heard one of the mastered tracks already and it sounds fucking great so I’m sure they, and anyone who gets to hear the result, will be duly rewarded.

A couple of weeks ago was our first release for Hanuman 5. The album is called Ethereo. It keeps getting better and better every time I listen to it, and I liked it a lot the first time! It has been described as ‘weirdfolk’ and ‘freakfolk’, but whatever the style it’s a really, really great record (if more than mildly alarming at times, on first listen, which I won’t spoil by explaining why).

As for Felix, we just can’t wait to release some of his music, and I think we’d collectively give up our firstborns to do so. A Felix Holt record is something my stereo and ears are eagerly anticipating and it looks like we might be getting closer with some of the recordings he’s just made.

We also have the much anticipated (by us and our mums at least) second Klak Tik album coming out, before summer hopefully. So far we’ve got about five of the tracks back from Mark, the poor man in charge of mixing the album, and after a long period of slight disillusionment with the process it is extremely exciting to hear the nearly finished product. We have (almost) settled on an album title now, which, although it took eight months and a few too many counselling sessions to decide on, helps to make everything that bit more concrete.

Jack Cheshire

Jack Cheshire

How does the actuality of starting a record label compare to how you imagined it would be?

Søren Bonke: Starting a record label is the easiest thing in the world – particularly whilst enjoying a nice, cold pint (and not the first one) in the company of good friends. Later it gets a bit more involved. If there is one thing we are constantly having to re-learn, it is that stuff doesn’t tend to get itself done. We meet roughly once a week and set tons of tasks, most of which get completed the next morning, some of which become glowing symbols that procrastination can be shared between people.

Most things involved in running a record label seem fairly straight forward, though I think we benefit hugely from the previous business experience each of us brings to the table.

Previous business experience is unusual amongst musicians, no? What kind of experience do you mean?

Søren: Previous business experience among musicians is probably not as unusual as you would think. It is, however, probably not something most musicians would want to stick on their band bios – ‘Søren Bonke: guitarist, singer, dentist’.

We all still work our day-jobs, and nothing suggests that this will change any time soon. John works for a live music organiser/promoter, which has its benefits for the label, although not as many as you would imagine. John is, disappointingly, very careful not to give us any unfair ‘advantages’. I say – the first rule of nepotism: just don’t mention the word nepotism. His cotton-coated heart will be sucked dry by the industry in time, oh yes.

Matthew works for Cancer Research UK and his righteous heart pounds tirelessly for good causes, even if he sometimes has to nip off early to come play a gig. That makes me feel bad, come to think of it.

I work as a music composer for film, TV and advertising and also as a film title designer and animator. I have good experience with general design, web and video things, which is helpful for the label and the band.

Do you think it is unwise to believe you can make a living as a musician?

Søren: I think it is good to believe you can make a living as a musician. We all need to do it to an extent. Expecting to make a living as a musician would be an altogether more frustrating experience for the majority of people.

Most of us are not going to make a living off music, but we should all aim to do so. I mean, you can’t really put in the kind of effort that it takes to push a band forward without the powerful petrol of faith. A belief that the next album will be the one that changed everything is essential, perhaps even for the song writing in some cases.

Conversely it is important to be happy with the stage you are at, as well. Sometimes the dreams of the US tour bus cruising down the All-American Road, or European summer festivals with mountains of chorizo on the rider, can make the bus journey on a packed 149 down to London Bridge a little sour. Then it is important to remember to focus on the music. The music is what will make you happy, not those other things. It is too hot in Spain anyway. And America – don’t even get me started.

Given the current financial black-hole we are in, do you think it is a difficult time to start up a label?

Søren: Yes. Arguably it is a terrible time to start up a label. Unless, like us, you choose to largely ignore the financial aspects and focus on the musical ones. Then it is a wonderful time. There is endless good music yet to be created and heard by the world. We would like to help.

At the risk of causing a minor earthquake when all the business-heads cringe their feet at the same time, I will say that our ‘philosophy’ of just plunging in head first, seeing what happens, worrying about the finance later, is just right for us.

Spot the artists making business. If I was a mayoral candidate I would campaign against me. Probably quite successfully, as well. I know a story or two.

What difficulties do artists face with record deals from major labels?

John: When an artist releases through a major record label they have to work within a major label framework. These systems are still a little old fashioned and rely, in part, on lots of money being thrown at an artist to help boost their chance of success. Alas, this means sales figures necessary to break even (let alone make money) tend to be massive. With record sales declining by fifty percent in the last ten years, hitting this level of sales can prove difficult. So this leads to a scenario where bands are signed up, then swiftly dropped if they don’t sell enough, or if it looks like they won’t sell enough. This is especially frustrating when we are talking about 10,000 sales being viewed as a failure.

Did you have any dealings with major labels for Klak Tik before the birth of Safety First?

John: We’ve not even had as much as a sniff from a major label with Klak Tik. In a previous band we did have some interest and it was an extremely frustrating situation. A&R love a long courtship and have a wonderful way of not being committal in any form whatsoever. I think it’s because many are actually too afraid to take a risk and sign somebody, so what else can they do with their time? To be fair I’ve never been past that stage of the game, it could get easier… but I doubt it.

How good a measure of artistic merit do you think commercial success actually is?

John: I don’t. Nowadays, commercial success is a good measure of clever marketing and efficient project management. Madonna, for example, keeps having to reinvent herself to stay “current” and maintain success. In my opinion, there is no artistic merit in that, just a lot of focus groups.

If it was a good measure, then the recording industry as it stands would be redundant and we could just enjoy making music without the need for all this nonsense.


How do bigger labels view the artists and releases of smaller labels? Do you think it can be a stepping stone? Or a completely different route?

John: Once upon a time (the ’80s) I’m sure major labels didn’t care about smaller labels. They had mountains of cocaine and Phil Collins to occupy them. However, when some of the record buying public turned their back on them in favour of independent music, the big boys began to take note. Major labels then started buying up or starting smaller labels as subsidiaries to release music through, to give artists that independent smell and hopefully to ‘fool’ some of the disgruntled listeners back into purchasing (such as Sony did with Creation Records). They are now fully aware of the importance of smaller labels and still will swoop in and pinch a little act that starts making medium-sized waves.

How do you think a start-up label compares to more established independent labels in terms of attracting attention and bringing the music to a wider audience?

John: We all begin small and grow up. A label in its infancy cannot usually offer the same level of attention as a more established one. I suppose that the internet has helped level the playing field when it comes to distribution of music. An independent artist can get their music up on all the major online music retailers easily. To an extent though, it’s also just a numbers game. The more money you can afford to spend on a release, the more ground you can cover, simple as that.

How much say do you have in what the artists release?

Søren: None. That’s the idea, anyway. We have ideas. If an artist is signed to us it means that we are into their music and so will always be able to offer an opinion if asked. Generally, we like to think of our label as a music collective, rather than a label label.

Where does the music you release get sold?

Søren: Safety First releases are mainly marketed and targeted to the UK, and are available digitally in most countries, but with myself being Danish, we also have strong ties to Denmark, where Klak Tik are signed to a Danish label. Having just signed our first non-UK act, the Danish group Hanuman 5, these ties should strengthen in the future.

Can I buy Safety First releases in the shops?

Søren: We focus on digital distribution, generally, although it depends on the release. Less and less physical CD’s are flung over the counter these days. The vinyl industry, on the other hand, seems to be thriving.

What are the differences between here and Denmark in terms of musical prospects?

Søren: Being a musician in Denmark is probably not too different in terms of prospects from the UK. And this is saying a lot about Scandinavia, as London has previously been the absolute Mecca for musicians. Copenhagen has an unusually thriving music scene with more Danish bands doing well internationally than ever before. A fact, I believe, that can be largely attributed to a very healthy community of musicians, where it is more common to play in two, three or even four bands, than just the one. This causes the lines of genres to be warped and merged, broken and reconstituted, with incredible results. I am genuinely excited about the Scandinavian music scene and am almost sad to say that most of my favourite bands are not from London, but from Copenhagen.

To return to your question, I think it is also a little easier to live off your music in Scandinavia, as government subsidies, and a perhaps more general appreciation of the craft of music, means you get paid (quite well) for every gig you play, no matter how small. In London the small bands music scene is so backward. It seems the bands are almost expected to pay for playing at a venue. Or at least bring four hundred of their thirstiest friends. This is a problem which is compounded by lazy ‘gig promoters’ who just don’t really seem to care about music (or know anything about it), and will put together foul tasting cocktails of genres on the same nights and charge people way too much money for the pleasure.

How much has the download culture made it harder for musicians to make a living?

John: Making a living as a musician has always been notoriously tough and with downloads having an adverse effect on sales it now looks even tougher. However all is not lost as independent musicians seem to be constantly coming up with new ways to adapt in this changing climate.

The real damage is in the changing way we listen to music. The download culture has generally stopped us from listening to albums as a whole and hence has an effect on our musical attention span. Being given access to music instantaneously takes a lot of the magic away from the discovery of new artists and therefore has led to a perceived devaluation of recorded music.

Klak Tik

Klak Tik

From listening to the Safety First musicians, it seems they are all artists that require focused attention in order to get the most from listening. Is this something you guys look for?

John: I don’t think we look for this intentionally. It must just be to do with our music tastes. I’ve always been into slightly more progressive styles of music, which has definitely shaped the way I listen to songs. However it could also be a complete coincidence.

Do you think people should work harder when listening to music? Do you think they’re able to?

John: People should work harder finding music. I am honestly sick to death with the way we are spoon fed new music. I have a family member who only discovers new music through the X-Factor. It’s shocking. I don’t mean that we should all become music super-geeks, but that people should try to scratch the surface a bit. Dig deeper and take a chance. If you put a little effort into finding something, you’ll probably put some more effort into listening to it.

I don’t really think you can combat people’s snap judgements. Some will give an album a few listens whilst others won’t. I have had classic albums that I abandoned after the first spin and then picked up again a year later and loved (Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde for example – seriously).

Another thing I noticed at the launch night was that everyone was sat down, focused, listening. Is it harder for artists who require this kind of attention in a musical landscape that often entails alcohol and shouted conversations?

John: It’s really hard, especially if you are trying to win a new audience over. Sometimes the stars align and everybody shuts up to listen but most of the time it just doesn’t happen. You cannot blame audiences for it. When mob mentality (plus booze) kicks in, all our IQs get dragged down to the level where we feel an overwhelming desire to talk about the newest episode of The Apprentice at the least opportune moments.

With our Safety First Records launch night we tried to gear the whole evening towards considerate listening and it worked really well. Maybe more venues and promoters should aim to achieve this.

Do you think people are getting tired of the alcohol and shouted conversations? Do you think this focused attention is something people are craving?

John: They are craving it but as yet don’t know it. By the time they do, we’ll probably be into shouting again.

Malin from Polly Tones with Jack Cheshire

Malin from Polly Tones with Jack Cheshire

Do you organise Safety First shows?

Matt: Shows, plural, is a bit generous so far, but we put on the inaugural Safety First label night in November last year at The Yard in Hackney Wick. In spite of entailing a lot of hard work and some unexpected obstacles, it turned out to be a magical night. It was a lovely venue and, in front of a full house of 120 or so attentive and appreciative listeners, everyone played amazingly. It felt good to provide an opportunity for the music to be heard in an environment it’s worthy of, and hopefully we’ll be able to do more of the same in the future. Though I have to say, London doesn’t exactly make it easy for such occasions to be regularly viable, at least for a small label like ours.

We’ve also just completed the second of three monthly shows at The Gladstone Arms in Borough. Each night has been Klak Tik joined by one of the other London-based Safety First artists. In February it was Polly Tones, in March, Jack Cheshire. The last will be with Felix Holt on Sunday April 1st.

Rory, who runs the nights there, understands exactly how our music should be given and received in a live setting, so the pub has a truly lovely atmosphere. Everyone has really enjoyed the experience and it’s inspired us to continue this kind of set-up, so hopefully there’ll be more to come.

Do you have any future plans for Safety First?

Søren: No, not really. We are no masters of visualisation. To us the future is an ocean size play-pit of multi-coloured balls that we are splashing through. We don’t really set goals or expect anything particularly, but we get huge enjoyment from seeing our project grow noticeably all the time – slower than Google but faster than a tree.

What is the biggest safety hazard of being a musician and what is your advice to counteract this?

John: Late nights. I like to operate a one-night-on/one-night-off philosophy. Remember an hour’s sleep before midnight is worth two after.

Matt: Empathy and Gout. Adopting a less regal lifestyle can decrease the chances of gout, but with empathy, once the first symptoms are there, it is probably already too late.


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Go West: An Interview with Jonathan Evison http://www.spikemagazine.com/go-west-an-interview-with-jonathan-evison.php http://www.spikemagazine.com/go-west-an-interview-with-jonathan-evison.php#comments Fri, 03 Feb 2012 12:00:57 +0000 http://www.spikemagazine.com/?p=4063 Jonathan EvisonRooted in the history and traditions of the Pacific Northwest, Jonathan Evison’s West of Here rethinks the epic American novel for the 21st century. Dan Coxon talks to the author about the difficulties of selling his American vision overseas. Portrait by Keith Brofsky

For a New York Times bestselling author, Jonathan Evison has remained remarkably true to his origins. Those who are familiar with the literary scene in the Pacific Northwest – and particularly in Seattle and nearby Bainbridge Island, where Evison has made his home – will undoubtedly have crossed paths with him at some point. At times he seems to be the connective tissue that holds Seattle’s growing literary culture together, and it’s not unusual for Evison to appear unannounced at readings and events around the city. Speak to any author in the region, and you’ll almost certainly find that they know ‘Johnny’.

When it came to selling his novel West of Here overseas, however, Evison has encountered more resistance. The market for a sweeping, widescreen novel about the Pacific Northwest wasn’t immediately apparent, and publishers repeatedly shied away from committing to such a locally-rooted epic. Luckily Evison’s bold, energetic style of storytelling was enough to win them over, and West of Here is now – finally – heading east across the Atlantic.

You’ve just had a pretty incredible year, including the release of West of Here in the US and your first appearance on the New York Times bestseller lists. Has this brought any major changes with it, or is life pretty much the same as before?

This year was a dream come true. Life is the same but even better. In spite of all the touring and other public stuff, I’m dealing with less financial anxiety, so I have more time and energy to focus on my art, which is bliss. Also more time to chase my boy around. And a cabin in the mountains to inspire me.

But really, I’ve been living the dream all along. I’m simply grateful to have the work, the focus, the sense of purpose writing provides me. As odd as it sounds, I get a little wistful when I think of all those late nights in Kinko’s collating stories and packing them in envelopes, and sending them off like little packages of hope – even though they invariably came back as form rejections. I was perfectly happy living off pot pies and cheap beer. I just like being in the game, you know? Not that I wouldn’t be stoked to be so rich that I could finally buy that thirty foot inflatable duck in sunglasses I’ve always wanted. That would look badass in my yard.

You’ve been in a variety of ‘games’ over the years… radio host, comedian, punk rocker. Do you consider these to all be part of the same progression? Or is your career as a novelist totally different to what came before?

I’ll be honest, all the other stuff, besides the punk bands, was just stuff I did because nobody was publishing my novels. All I ever wanted to do was write novels. I wrote my first novel when I was 18 years old. Nobody published me until I was 40. And I’m still considered a “young” writer – ha! I learned a lot writing screenplays, writing comedy, doing talk radio – stuff that has informed and instructed my writing in various ways, but it was all vaguely dissatisfying. If it weren’t for my career in radio, I’d probably have a couple more unpublished novels sitting around.

West of HereWest of Here has been a huge success in the US, but it’s taken a while for it to be accepted overseas. Why do you think this is? Did you always intend to write such a region-specific novel?

I’m perversely proud of the fact that every single non-English speaking European country dismissed West of Here as “too big and too American.” After all, I did set out to write a big American novel. If I would have written a big Chinese novel, I doubt this would be the case. America literature just isn’t considered as relevant as it used to be. Fine. Whatever. Neither is Bordeaux wine or German engineering. Or clogs. That said, the themes in West of Here are universal – personal destiny, national identity, reinvention. I’m a believer that if the themes are universal and the characters live and breathe, nationality shouldn’t get in the way.

Do you think American literature will have to change to remain relevant? Or is this, in fact, the time to turn back to the classics?

America is in the throes of a massive re-invention, and I think it will make for fascinating literature, and if the rest of the world is smart, they’ll pay attention. What is our national identity now that we’re no longer the world’s producer, that we’re no longer at the head of the world order? What is our new idealism? How will we adjust to a new standard of living? Politically, how will we restructure and reform from within? These are huge questions!

Whitman and Emerson used to talk about the “American Experiment” – and guess what? It’s still a big experiment! I think American Literature is poised for a big comeback, and I think the west, particularly the northwest, is going to be the nerve center. Between myself and Patrick DeWitt and Vanessa Veselka and Benjamin Percy and Jess Walter and Jim Lynch and Joshua Mohr and Jenny Shank, etc, etc, I think over the next decade the world is going to see an incredibly rich and dynamic body of work coming from the American west.

Did you purposefully set out to write a big Pacific Northwestern novel with West of Here? What was the original inspiration?

Oh yeah, I totally set out to write a northwest epic. The Olympic peninsula is a fascinating and rugged place. I wanted to write a story about how the land shaped the people, and how the people shaped the land. My goal was to write a sprawling egalitarian novel which would subvert many of our accepted notions about history, and to frustrate readers expectations about what we expect from “historical” fiction. I didn’t want to write historical fiction – I wanted to write a story about history and how it works.

And do you feel that you succeeded in achieving that? I know that I loved the book, and it dealt with many of those ideas – but I also know that the writing process is a complex one, and the end result isn’t always what you originally set out to achieve.

To be honest, I feel like I accomplished more than I set out achieve. That said, not everybody gets it – including some critics. Readers who lose sight of the big picture run the risk of getting lost in this novel. The first 175 pages might feel like one character introduction after another. But if you keep your eye on the big picture, you’ll begin to see all these characters and story lines converge and coalesce. In order to create the effect I was going for, I had to have 70 characters and 40-odd points-of-view – that was the whole point! History is not some linear progression peopled by a few great men, history is the sum of all the small vividly realized moments in each of our lives, and how they interact and relate to one another. History is connections and convergences and shared themes.

Can you talk us through your writing routine? Where do you write, when, how many drafts… and has this changed much as you’ve progressed and changed as a writer?

For me, discipline is the key. I approach writing like an athlete. Some mornings I don’t feel up to the task, but I strap on my trainers nonetheless and do my workout rain or shine. My optimum writing day begins at about 5am., that quiet hour when most of the world is still asleep and I don’t have any distractions. I’ll write until about noon. That time literally seems to pass in an instant. If I can write a page a day I’m feeling pretty good. I like to spend an hour in the evening going over the day’s work with a red pen – making notes in the margins and whatnot. I begin the next day by addressing these notes. That way I’m never stuck, I always have a starting point. I’m an obsessive revisionist. I must write 20 drafts of stuff. It’s never finished. At some point somebody just has to pry the manuscript out of my hands.

I know you’ve been working on edits of your next novel over the past few weeks. Has that process changed for you at all, now that you’re with a bigger publisher? Have you found that your approach towards edits and rewrites has changed over the years?

Nah, my approach is pretty much the same as always. I’ve been lucky to work with amazing editors, and also with an agent who gives great editorial. The key is to work with people who want to help you make the book that you want to write the best book it can be. I’ve heard horror stories from writers whose editors try to make the novel their own. I was fortunate enough with West of Here and The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving to work with the editor of my choice, Chuck Adams. When I was entertaining offers, I talked with each of the editors at great length about WoH, and Chuck was the guy who best understood my vision for the novel and how to make it better.

All About LuluYou’ve used the places you’ve lived in as the settings for your two novels to date: the Pacific Northwest (West of Here) and California (All About Lulu). How important do you think it is for authors to draw upon the environments that have influenced them? Do you think you’ll stick with these settings, or do you have plans to write further afield?

I’m going to Alaska for research on my next novel, but part of the novel will still be set here in Washington. I’ve got a bunch of notes for a novel that takes place in Montana, too. I also want to write a novel that takes place in Baja. Mostly because I want to live down there for a year and get fat on fish and tequila.

Is it too early to ask about The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving? What was the inspiration for it, and when can we expect to see it on shelves?

Galleys for The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving are going to print any day, and the novel will be released in October 2012 in the States – not sure about UK. It’s a very different book than West of Here. While West of Here represented a huge technical challenge for me, TRFoCG was a huge emotional challenge. It’s a coming-of-middle-age about a male nurse in crisis. Without talking too much about the subject matter, I’ll just say that the novel really took a lot out of me emotionally. In the end, it’s probably my funniest book because it had to be. I’m really excited to get the novel in people’s hands because I feel like it’s one of those novels that’s going to be cathartic for a lot of readers.

Not that you asked, but I’m almost finished with another novel now called The Dreamlife of Huntington Sales, which is another departure in that it actually employs something of a thriller apparatus to frame 16 different limited points of view. I’m really excited about this one, too. I thrive on pushing myself into new and uncomfortable places as a artist.

Do you think it’s necessary for a writer (or any artist) to keep pushing the boundaries of their craft in that way? Or is that more of a personal decision to keep things fresh and interesting?

I don’t think it’s fair to make it some kind of general edict, but as an artist, that’s certainly what I’m after. I want to be developing tools as I go along, surprising myself, frustrating my own intentions, learning, facing new problems all the time. Otherwise I feel like I’m just going through the motions. Sometimes this can make novel-writing an excruciating exercise that leaves me totally exhausted, but I feel like it’s always worth the effort in the end. Especially for the reader. They say hard writing makes for easy reading and I believe that on every level. I do think there is a danger of alienating your readership at times, or at least those readers who have certain expectations for a specific artist. But I can’t worry about that. I just need to keep pushing myself.

I know that you’re constantly reading new writers, and you’re noticeably active in the writing community. Whose books have you particularly enjoyed over the last year?

I read two Ron Rash books this year which really impressed me: Serena, and the forthcoming The Cove. I also read two by Stewart O’Nan this year: Emily Alone, and the forthcoming The Odds. These two guys are among the best American novelists working in my mind. I’m also a big fan of Dan Chaon, along with Adam Ross.

And finally… you’ve interviewed a lot of authors yourself over the years, so what’s your favorite question to ask? And what would be your own answer?

Hmmm. I guess I don’t have a favorite question. I suppose if there was one question I’d ask every writer it would be: Why do you do it? Why do you endure all the heartache and frustration and financial duress and existential discomfort that comprises devoting your life to writing novels (which people may or may not ever read)? And I guess my answer would be that it makes me a bigger person – a more expansive person, a more understanding, thoughtful, empathetic person. A better problem solver, a better husband, a better dad, a better son, and a better friend.

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Gauge: Hustler on the Move (Aqua Boogie Records) http://www.spikemagazine.com/gauge-hustler-on-the-move.php http://www.spikemagazine.com/gauge-hustler-on-the-move.php#comments Fri, 27 Jan 2012 15:00:21 +0000 http://www.spikemagazine.com/?p=4016 Brian

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

Texas rapper Gauge knows how to compact syllables, but that won’t separate anyone from the current pack, especially given all the dried-up roto-tom-filled beats on this docket, the worst of which is Beat It Up, an Usher-blingy makeout number with a feat. by Miss Myke. Chicago-house (and tenuously Tupac-connected) producer Mr. Lee handled this stuff, and he adds a few phoned-in lines to two tracks Slim Thug got roped into as well, but despite any ambivalence he made sure his name was all over Shake It (Make It Bounce), being that its rumbly EBM sound has the strongest pulse of anything here. Basically it’s what you’d expect from a hiphop assembly line, which has resulted in little more than Gauge having to explain away scumbaggish booty-bagger lines, things of that sort; if you live and die for this kind of stuff there’s no reason at all to stay away from it, but pardon my snoring. Lots of B-list guests – in the widest clash of speeds, fellow Houstonian Scarface adds his mouf-fulla-hamburgers drawl to Gauge’s full-auto flame-spitting for the ballroom-twinkletoe soul of Hot Love.

Grade: B


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Kiyomi: Child in Me (self-released) http://www.spikemagazine.com/kiyomi-child-in-me.php http://www.spikemagazine.com/kiyomi-child-in-me.php#comments Fri, 27 Jan 2012 12:00:54 +0000 http://www.spikemagazine.com/?p=4013 Kiyomi

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

Interesting little vanity release here in that it stars a Japanese-American chick from New Yawk doing an unintentional Forrest Gump routine. I’d expected jazz, but this is straight piano pop, open-hearted, almost like something you’d hear during lovey-dovey scenes in an anime cartoon, ie, believe it or not, there’s a market for it. Her voice is like Aimee Mann after taking a few Pat Benatar lessons, unadorned, doing it for the heck of it. The melodies are church-social in their limited but adamant joy, and overall, as a songwriter, she’s not bad at all, really – she kicks Rebecca Black’s ass if that helps any.

Grade: B-


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Reverse The Curse: Hither and Yon (Paper+Plastic Records) http://www.spikemagazine.com/reverse-the-curse-hither-yon.php http://www.spikemagazine.com/reverse-the-curse-hither-yon.php#comments Fri, 27 Jan 2012 09:00:35 +0000 http://www.spikemagazine.com/?p=4010 Reverse the Curse

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

Take a bunch of Cleveland-burb kids who wish they were in either Airborne Toxic Event, Unsane or Thursday, let them yell, holler and flog themselves in a studio and it’d sound like this. If I’m reading their blurb sheet right they’re moving away from the indie-punk that was their original formative glue and fumbling for their inner pop stars, and that approach works for the first song (Bell Book & Candle). But this maturity gets quickly lost, as they gradually and visibly become possessed by their favorite Seether videos, and by the sixth song it’s a contest to see how ragged the singer can sound – okay, whatever, “ragged and powerful simultaneously.” It’s an admirable attempt, really; I suppose if I were in the miserable position of being 21 again and trying to add a little hard-ass credibility to my emo-pop I’d be sold on this angle (To Dig A Hole is particularly cool). And there you’d have it, integrity maintained, rock-star dreams invariably crushed.

Grade: A-


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TV Eye: 30 Rock and Jonathan Meades on France http://www.spikemagazine.com/30-rock-and-jonathan-meades-on-france.php http://www.spikemagazine.com/30-rock-and-jonathan-meades-on-france.php#comments Thu, 26 Jan 2012 00:06:08 +0000 http://www.spikemagazine.com/?p=4093 30 Rock

Jacob Knowles-Smith on homophobia in elitist liberal comedy and nationalism in polymath documentaries

After the inconvenience of creator Tina Fey’s pregnancy, the new season of 30 Rock (NBC) has finally aired. If there was one impact of her pregnancy on the show it was Fey’s slightly fuller face – which, I should say, was only noticeable when compared to Alec Baldwin’s now deflated head and less-substantial figure. At first I feared a slimmer model Jack Donaghy might lessen his comic presence, but, after watching the first episode twice and the second episode, I was too busy listening out for the rapid-fire dialogue which makes a second viewing a must when it comes to 30 Rock. One question, however, still remains, who now will spearhead the campaign for weightier, middle-aged men to be considered as sex symbols?

Gay fans of 30 Rock who haven’t already switched off because of Tracy Morgan’s homophobic comments last summer, might well be dissuaded by Jack – though he’s still very much a ‘daddy’ – no longer being so much of a ‘bear’. Furthermore, I’m not sure Tracy Morgan’s character, Tracy Jordan, having his own homophobic controversy will draw back the LGBT audience, but I’m sure he regrets his comments and it’s a pretty good stab at a public apology.

As ever, the show’s subplots remain inventive and anarchic – from hayseed zealot Kenneth’s disappointment over the Rapture failing to transpire, to Kelsey Grammer reprising his role as conman-extraordinaire. There’s also an ever-welcome slap in the face to Simon Cowell in the form of Jack’s new reality TV vehicle: America’s Kids Got Singing. I leave the only comment that needs to be said about such ‘talent contests’ to panel judge D’Fwan: “You need to remember reality television is formulaic.”

When the Republican candidates vituperate their inflamed rhetoric against the ‘elitist liberal media’, one can only assume that 30 Rock is high on their lists of targets. Of course, in reality (somewhere far from the primaries), those targets are a pretty narrow field – the vast majority of America media products – from TV to newspapers – do have an underlying message of the primacy of family values, patriotism and Christianity. 30 Rock, however, is heretical because it dares to suggest that all America is equally, well, American. There is no bucolic heartland that remains sheltered from tendrils of the east and west coasts, and New York and Los Angeles are not completely peopled by cosmopolitan hipsters and pro-choice heathens. But there is a reason the presidential hopefuls are required to expound on this cultural divide – to distract people from remembering that that the Gingriches and Romneys are also part of the elite.

Another oft-presumed elitist, Jonathan Meades, returned to BBC4 this week with Jonathan Meades on France. Not that you’d really know about it because, though his previous documentary series about Scotland, Off-Kilter, was widely reviewed and praised in the press, a wordy-overachiever talking about France is clearly a step too far. Susan Sontag described a polymath as someone who is interested in everything and nothing else. This might be a fair description of Meades, but, as Jonathan Miller once pointed out, ‘polymath’ is more usually a slur in Britain, as if being interested in more than one thing is catholic indulgence.

Nevertheless, BBC4 is the welcoming home of people who are interested in things – even multiple things – and Meades’s first-of-three films about France was as diverse in content as a week’s schedule for that channel. All the subjects were things beginning with V; Valise, Vedette, Voltaire; and if there was a loose thread running throughout – but not all of them – it was the OAS, the far-right nationalist terrorist group that tried to prevent Algerian independence in the 60s. Meades seems to have mixed-feelings about the group and, if not sympathy, understanding of their aims. He has, however, no understanding – certainly no sympathy – with nationalism, and this is a theme throughout many of his earlier films. Illustrated overtly in documentaries about Nazi and Stalinist architecture and more subtly in ones about British culture, the message Meades tries to convey, and rightly so, is that identifying too closely with where one comes from stymies progression of culture and diminishes us as individuals. Modernism, for example, has no ‘nationalist etiquette’ attached to it and was thusly despised by the far right; fascism allows its subjects no identity other than homogeneity. This might sound unpatriotic, but people (those Republican candidates especially) should consider whether they’d rather be defined by their background or by their talents and individuality.

On France has a much more personal perspective than Meades’s other documentaries; the country – where he now lives – became his, he says, in 1962, when the OAS declared their war. At that time, the architecture of France also inspired ‘wonder and delight’ in his fifteen-year old self – he didn’t make the connections then that he describes for us now, but he has tried to make a career out of making us wonder about things, and, for me at least, that is a constant delight.

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John Warner: The Funny Man http://www.spikemagazine.com/john-warner-the-funny-man.php http://www.spikemagazine.com/john-warner-the-funny-man.php#comments Mon, 23 Jan 2012 13:43:32 +0000 http://www.spikemagazine.com/?p=4087 Reviewed by Declan Tan

The Funny Man

John Warner’s debut novel, about the rise and fall of an unnamed American comedian known only as “the funny man”, is a mulchy broth of satire, cultural commentary and La-Z-Boy philosophy that simmers away on lukewarm, only ever threatening to come to the boil, though not without ambition, before bubbling back into quiet soup, despite a satisfying crouton rising to the surface now and again.

By switching between courtroom scenes, where the funny man is on trial for murder, and flashbacks, where we learn of said funny man’s trawl through the dehumanising backstages of ‘the comedy world’, Warner, in his quintessential American voice, attempts to blend one too many disparate elements in fashioning an over-elaborate whole, without quite succeeding.

There are, however, moments of literary revving, a story that builds as shearing layers, but ultimately there is too much slippage, and the story’s foundations turn out to be a little uneven and cracked, perhaps even hurriedly laid.

It sounds simple enough: The funny man is happily married; he and his wife share a wry humour that feels warm and true. They also have a young son, of whom they are most proud. And in his work, the funny man is reasonably successful on the stand-up club circuit. But he wants more and more, to be a world-beater, worshipped as one of the greats (Bruce, Carlin and Pryor, in the funny man’s opinion).

After a gig he meets a talent agent who tells him he needs a “gimmick”, a thing recognisably his, to take him to the next level. His son unwittingly provides this gimmick – a most moronic one – yet the funny man becomes a runaway success, earning millions with his act. He is roped into making studio movies, then a sequel, all while having to do “the thing” that of course he comes to hate. Meanwhile, he becomes unassailably detached from reality. When his celebrity reaches unmanageable levels he begins to rely heavily on medication, which in turn leads to the breakdown of his marriage, an incident with his son that is hugely played up (but sags when revealed), and eventually, a secretive long-distance relationship with a female tennis star.

Warner provides some readable if often familiar asides throughout these aspects of the plot; on what happens away from camera; the anatomy of a cynically made Hollywood comedy; and the demands made on a touring comedian. His commentary sends up both the executives that fund the big-budget idiocy, and those people who pay to watch it. Though his message is often delivered with an over-inflated belief in the veracity and humour of his words, it does flow quite smoothly on the whole.

But too often it seems routes that could have been taken, to explore more dangerous or original ideas, were instead avoided. The novel reverts to platitudes (1. Be careful what you wish for, 2. Fame ain’t all that), along with the employ of some dry narrative devices (1. The unreliable narrator, 2. Observational stand-up bits disguised as conversation) which occasionally grind to a halt the reader’s enjoyment.

The social media aspect of the trial for example, is played for a couple of laughs. A theory from his lawyer, Barry, about “not guilty by reason of celebrity” is toyed with. Then there is the other musing, also from Barry, on there being no such thing as ‘emergencies’, only ‘eventualities’, and how the funny man believes this theory to “reconcile both free will and predestination” (an idea perhaps inspired by the later works of St. Augustine). Is it the occasionally patronising tone of some of its delivery that makes it unconvincing? Perhaps, because there is something that dims the message. Making it all sound a little beige. Like a book review based on ill-conceived soup and construction similes. Which brings us back to those courtroom scenes, unfortunately reading like those parts of a novel where one plot strain is indeed a strain to get through. Whole passages you want to skip over to get to the riper elements of the plot.

The second half further mixes in the possibility of the funny man’s delusions, taking the form of a classic reality/fantasy conundrum, as he is mysteriously blinked away to a celebrity retreat (or “advance”, as it is explained); a place recalling Patrick McGoohan’s surreal 1960s TV series The Prisoner, crossed with the titular utopia from Huxley’s parting gift, Island. There the funny man meets the love of his “second life,” Bunny, the tennis star, with Warner attempting to leave some mystery as to the fate of his protagonist.

Yet what Warner really is good at, turns out to be played down. The relationships and interactions between the husband and wife, and their child, are touching, full of feeling and honesty, transcribed as if straight from real-life. But the novel’s efforts to instead excoriate the minor components of a rotten corporate system, rather than explore the possible source of American society’s slide toward post-cultural obsessing, is a choice that eclipses the inherent humanity of this everyman journey.

Warner’s point seems to be that this fame thing happens to once-grounded individuals, but the impact of that message fizzles when the wayward nature of its plot must be elucidated. While doing little to explore the true cause of that delusional state of mind.

This is only Warner’s first novel-length fiction, and a misfiring run-out first time round is by no means disaster (look at HST’s The Rum Diary). There is space to develop, and potential to fulfil, demonstrated fully in this story’s ability to have you hooked, at times, be it not even necessarily the ‘style’ that does it.

And if there is a kind of moral here, in this more nibbling than biting satire, then at least efforts have been made to avoid it becoming a preachy one, which is admirable. (But now I’m the one being condescending.) Nevertheless I’ll still be trying out Warner’s follow-up. There are just enough tasty croutons here to warrant that.

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Benji Kaplan: Meditacoes no Violao (Circo Mistico Productions) http://www.spikemagazine.com/benji-kaplan-meditacoes-no-violao.php http://www.spikemagazine.com/benji-kaplan-meditacoes-no-violao.php#comments Fri, 20 Jan 2012 15:00:10 +0000 http://www.spikemagazine.com/?p=4007 Benji Kaplan

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

New York-bred Brazil-o-phile Kaplan provides a sort of life-travelogue here, soloing nonchalantly throughout the entire album on his nylon-stringed unplugged guitar. It’s so relaxed and unhurried that it can come off as improv, and reading some of the blurbage here I believe that’s the case with some of it. No matter, of course, if you’re lazing in a hammock trying to visualize your last time on an uncrowded beach or whatever; this record’s perfect for that, asking nothing of its listenership other than to put its brains on screensaver. Slow purposeful strumming ending in speedy fractal flourishes is the core formula, little deviation to be found aside from the bouncy up-and-down Baiao rhythm in Baiao For Gershwin, the title of which hints at what Kaplan would like to be thought of, a sort of oldschool-jazz-meister with advanced knowledge of world music, but it’s perhaps best viewed as an exotic form of baroque.

Grade: A


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Abyssal Creatures: Social Awkwardness (Independent Records) http://www.spikemagazine.com/abyssal-creatures-social-awkwardness-independent-records.php http://www.spikemagazine.com/abyssal-creatures-social-awkwardness-independent-records.php#comments Fri, 20 Jan 2012 12:00:33 +0000 http://www.spikemagazine.com/?p=4004 Abyssal Creatures

Reviewed by Eric Saeger

A vanity release in more than one sense. Colorado kid Ian Garrett Fellerman is a lonely geek with a score to settle with jocks, chicks who read Dostoevsky, pretty much everyone of his generation, so he’s attached his own Hoobastank emo bleating to his own Postal Service-like cheese, beat it with his own out-of-place stun-guitar lines and now hopes for the best, which would be me saying that I feel his pain but kindly either take out the whiny/cheesy guitars or fix their mix levels. Obviously a bedroom project, but that doesn’t mean anything negative nowadays with bands like Salem and whatnot around; we pause to honor Fellerman’s reckoning of his place in the world (there isn’t one, nor is there one for anybody else who blindly questions the world’s constant roiling tide of BS) and hope that next time he’ll replace the Flying V with more subtle ProTools or whatever he’s using to make his Atari-techno.

Grade: B-


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Shame (Dir: Steve McQueen) http://www.spikemagazine.com/shame-dir-steve-mcqueen.php http://www.spikemagazine.com/shame-dir-steve-mcqueen.php#comments Mon, 16 Jan 2012 12:00:52 +0000 http://www.spikemagazine.com/?p=4071 Steve McQueen Shame

Reviewed by Declan Tan

Steve McQueen’s second feature is a visually arresting, thematically dense piece of cinema, that may, and probably will, prove to be an important film in years to come. That is, if enough people get to see it. Having been cursed with a NC-17 rating in the US and a limited release in the UK, it seems those it may have been intended for will be largely unaware of its arrival.

From the opening frames it becomes clear there is again, after Hunger (2008), a meticulous method at work, both in front and behind the camera; McQueen’s fine arts training fixes every image immaculately, as if leafing through a glossy (yet depraved) coffee table book, a look which works as irony for its subject matter, and the extension of McQueen’s intention to interrogate his audience.

Then there is Fassbender as Brandon, a long-time sex-addicted New Yorker running the hamster wheel of untameable urges and the subsequent self-loathing, his demeanour and quiet menace recalling fellow-pointy-face Christian Bale in American Psycho, only less cartoonish and more sinister.

Brandon’s condition worsens when his younger, ever-vulnerable and needy lounge-singing sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), comes to visit. The pressure of her presence and her constant encroachments on his territory adds to the strain he already feels. Her re-appearance twists him in new ways, not helped by her dalliances with his boss, Dave (James Badge Dale). Brandon gradually crumbles into himself.

And there is much to admire in its telling. Shame is something of an orchestral symphony, all of the components coming together to form a cohesive and remarkable whole, made from the music, and the visuals, and (most of) the acting. One notable sore spot, however, is the mildly irritating dinner scene, in which Sissy performs a heart-wrenching number in front of her brother and Dave. The camera trained on Mulligan’s quivering face, the film’s flow is interrupted. A long long shot of just too much supplicatory ‘acting’. We are made fully aware that what we are witnessing is an actor’s attempt to state her claim as being ‘the brightest young thing’, the scene far too drawn-out to leave any sympathy remaining in this particular instance. That is not to say Mulligan won’t be praised. She surely will be; it is the kind of thing that critics go for, this false attempt at intensity behind a look of painful worldliness.

Despite this, what co-screenwriters McQueen and Abi Morgan have managed is to make real, living, breathing humans of Brandon and Sissy. You may not like them; one is an arrogant bully, the other a needy liberty-taker, but somehow you reach some state of empathy.

Of course, as you may have heard, a lot of the film is sex. That almost goes without saying. (It is like the filmed memoirs of Dan Fante.) But the way McQueen has worked it disconnects the viewer from the sex, even from the sex in other films, this sex for gratification, the cold relief sold as ‘love’. It is the same with Brandon, and we arrive again at empathy. He cannot resist his urges to abominate himself, using hookers, masturbating at work, spending the in-between watching internet pornography, sat with a beer as if looking at a football game, completely on automatic. While, at work, his computer is confiscated as a result of the material found on it.

As he goes on, Brandon has more and more emotionally numbing sex, his pursuit leading him eventually to physical injury and homosexuality (with an odd and subtle implication that homosexuality is rock bottom, if we are to go by the music and intended drama. But it is little trips like these* that make you realise this film was actually ‘made’, that it didn’t just fabricate to teach our society a lesson.)

Shame seems not only about sex addiction as a distancing affliction, but also about alienation in general, though it does too hint at familial problems, sexual or otherwise, as the root cause of the siblings’ troubles. But McQueen is less interested in working the psychological aspects, opting instead to document, not explain: Here is a man who is of no value to himself. He has lost touch with any sense of worthiness, any purpose, other than fleeting and momentary gratification. What is he worth, if he is nothing even to himself? This is why it seems as if this is an “important” film (in quotation marks as how important a film can get has its obvious limitations), and completely of this era of commodified sex. An issue of the times.

Quickly the glossy sex becomes abhorrent to watch, because we are with Brandon, and it’s as equally degrading to the viewer as the participant, made most obvious in the clips of porn flickering on Brandon’s screen. McQueen merely shows this to the audience, does not tell it, by taking us from our awareness of his commercial-like images, which open the story, to the grimy opposite, but filmed in the same style, while simultaneously the world that Brandon inhabits becomes as glossed over and false as the sex and pornography that clouds him.

“These days it is not realistic to limit yourself to one partner”, Brandon says at one point during a date with a girl from work in which he also expresses his pessimistic view of long-term relationships, that one becomes bored with the other. It is clear that he is constantly reaching for the now, the instant gratification. This is what makes this film of our time. It sounds like social commentary, and it probably is. Fassbender’s Brandon is an icon of modern man, a symbol, while the final effect of Shame has some kind of reverb with Tarkovsky’s (disappearing) idea of having a film hopefully make the viewer turn to ‘good’. Shame is the sound and sight of an artist speaking and moving, yet without didacticism or lame solutions. And by the end, we are given a sense of hope, of man resisting himself, gaining control. Shame that a lot of people probably won’t even get a chance to experience it.

[*How many times can the distorted reflection of a protagonist be used as a metaphor in film, without someone piping up and saying something?]

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