ARAB STRAP | RAVELOE | JOSEPHINE SILLARS
BURD ELLEN | ETIENNE KUBWABO | THE SCRIBBLER'S UNION MUSIC | FILM | VISUAL ART | BOOKS | FOOD & DRINK | LGBT+ | REVIEW | LIFE
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A fe st i va l of c ontem p o ra ry perform a n c e m a d e i n G l a s g ow 1 1 wo rl d p re mi e re s of li ve a r t , f i l m s a n d p e rfo rma nc es .
Watch online 25 – 28 March 2021
CONTENTS WHAT'S ON | P10
INTERVIEWS | P24
ARAB STRAP, RAVELOE, JOSEPHINE SILLARS, BURD ELLEN, ETIENNE KUBWABO, THE SCRIBBLER'S UNION, ALASTAIR COLE, PHILIPPE MCKIE
FESTIVALS | P94
HIPPFEST SILENT FILM FESTIVAL, GLASGOW SHORT FILM FESTIVAL
COMMUNITY | P108
DRUG OVERDOSE PREVENTION
LGBT+ | P120
THE (NOT) GAY MOVIE CLUB, I AM NORMAN, QUEER CABARET, SOPHIE
FOOD & DRINK | P144 EMPIRE BISCUITS, VEGGIE MUFFINS REVIEW | P152
BLANCK MASS, LOUP HAVENITH, ARAB STRAP, SARYA, ONYVAA, STANLEY ODD, MODERN STUDIES, BEN SEAL, WOJTEK THE BEAR, STEREOLAB, THE MIDDLE OF A SENTENCE + MORE
CREDITS Editor/Sales: Kenny Lavelle Sub Editor: Leona Skene Food and Drink Editors: Emma Mykytyn and Mark Murphy LGBT+ Editor: Jonny Stone Design: Kenny Lavelle Front cover photography: Kat Gollock
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Hello and welcome to issue 25 of SNACK, Twenty five issues of SNACK. In normal times, I’m sure we’d be launching this issue with a get together: everyone in the same room, a few beers, some music, a celebration of all the hard work we’ve put in during the last two and a half years. You know the story by now, we’ll celebrate on the other side of this all. So this seems like a good opportunity to thank everyone who has ever been involved in the making of the magazine since we started in 2018. Everyone who has written a word, picked up a typo, sent in work for review, the interviewees, the PRs who bring gems to our attention, anyone who ever got in a van and helped delivered thousands of magazines across Scotland, advertisers, anyone who has patiently (or impatiently) listened to me or any of our contributors moan, you the reader: thank you, the mag wouldn’t be what it is without you. Hopefully, we’ll get back to a print mag at some point this year. One thing I’ve learned this past twelve months is that, for me at least, the only sensible attitude to it all is to live in hope but always with a healthy sprinkling of ‘we’ll wait and see what happens’. I'm pretty proud of the digital mag, as it goes. As for this month's magazine, I’m sure you’ll find your way around. Kenny Lavelle Editor
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WHAT'S ON Back to Contents
THE BIG LIGHT – UNSPEAKABLE SCOTLAND – TRUE CRIME WEEKLY PODCAST Get ready to wrap your earholes around Scotland’s newest true-crime podcast, featuring some deliciously grim, grand, and gruesome true tales. These include the story of Sawney Bean, known as one of history’s most notorious cannibals, ‘The Appin Murder’, and ‘The Buckingham Terrace Suicide’, plus many more besides. With plenty of blood-curdling crimes you know and countless you’ve yet to discover, ‘Unspeakable Scotland’ brings you the lurid stories behind Scotland’s most notorious and brutal murders. Weekly guest narrators include Rab Florence, Chris Dolan, renowned crime writers Val McDermid and Dame Denise Mina, award-winning playwright, poet, & Glasgow Uni Professor Willy Maley, and many more. Presented by Scottish broadcaster Janet Forsyth, the weekly podcast deep-dives into the dark and murky history buried in Scotland’s past. For more information or to check out Unspeakable Scotland visit The Big Light website.
Ballad of theHYYTS Crone Denise Mina What’s on by Gregg Kelly Page 11
SOUTHSIDE FRINGE FESTIVAL – PLUGGED IN & WIRED 26th March One of Scotland’s best community festivals, Southside Fringe has launched the virtual festival, Plugged In & Wired. Featuring 50 top local acts, headliners include Viv Gee, Becci Wallace, and Cloud of Starlings. The ‘alternative’ Southside Fringe will include comedy events, live music, cabaret, literature and so much more. Everybody is invited and you can participate from the safety and comfort of your own home. A bright light in an otherwise dark time for our shared love of culture. Check out the Southside Fringe website for full details. southsidefringe.org.uk/plugged-in-and-wired
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NOVA SCOTIA THE TRUTH
Artwork by Raissa Pardini Yellow Hair
POP MUTATIONS – ONLINE LIVE STREAM 20th March The team behind some of Scotland’s most celebrated and cherished venues and vegan bars, Pop Mutations are bringing a digital festival direct to your screen. Now in their second year, the in-house booking team behind The Flying Duck, Mono, and Stereo will be hosting live streams featuring an eclectic roster of international artists, bands, and DJs. Beyond that, the festival will be providing talks, visual art, and yoga. Performers include Shoot Your Shot, Fuse, Bobby Kakouris, The Orielles (DJ) and Al White, as well as Cassandra Jenkins and plenty more besides. Blow off the cobwebs and join in the fun. For more information visit the Pop Mutations website.
What’s on by Gregg Kelly Page 13
COLOURS TRANCE CLASSICS 4pm, 6th March Officially kicking it back ‘old school’, Scottish promoters Colours have announced that on 6th March they are hosting a live digital stream from the original home of dance music in Scotland...The Arches. With Bryan Kearney, Will Atkinson, Sander Van Doorn, Mark Sherry, and more playing live, you can be sure that trance fans all over Scotland will be tuning in and reminiscing about classic tunes and classic nights they had walking through the hallowed corridors of the iconic space of The Arches. And it’s all for a good cause. For more information on Homeless Project Scotland or to find out the full lineup, visit the Colours Facebook Page.
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Photo credit: Rory Barnes
LIVE IN LEITH 20th March, 27th March and 7th April Where there is a will, there is a way, and this is particularly true of the muchbeleaguered creative arts industry in Scotland. Through sheer determination (and a grant from Creative Scotland), Leith Theatre has produced a mini-series of digital gigs, helping to provide income for professionals and staff involved. Presented by BBC Radio Scotland’s Vic Galloway over three consecutive Saturdays, Live in Leith will be showcasing a selection of up-and-coming Scottish musicians and bands. The lineup over the three days includes Retro Video Club, Nova Scotia The Truth, Ransom FA, The Ninth Wave, and Lucia & The Best Boys. Aiming to provide a platform for fresh new music in Scotland, the three nights are sure to be a unique experience and certainly worth the £11 of goodwill from your pocket. For more information on Leith Theatre or Live in Leith visit the Leith Theatre Trust website. What’s What’son onby ByGregg GreggKelly Kelly Page 15
CAMPUS TOURS OF THE WORLD Online anytime There’s no denying that being unable to leave the house for any considerable (and enjoyable) length of time is a massive downer. This is especially true when Scotland is famed for such timeless architecture, and we’re forbidden from straying outside our own city boundaries...for now. Maybe you have an inkling that you might like to study abroad when this is all over? How about a virtual and photorealistic tour of some of the world’s top colleges and universities? With US colleges, UK universities (including Glasgow & Cardiff), and many more besides, CampusTours allows you to wander streets, tour universities, and view many of the world’s most famed buildings. Not quite up close and personal, but still (kinda) visiting places you might never get the chance to see. (And if you’ve got a VR headset, prepare to be dazzled.) For more information or to take one of many guided tours, visit the CampusTours website.
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OUT OF PLACE Till 6th April Paisley Arts Centre and Renfrewshire Leisure are offering a cracking programme of music, film, audio performance, visual arts, creative workshops, and masterclasses. There are loads of activities to choose from and both live and previous events are all accessible. Events include the Scottish Alternative Music Awards (SAMA) virtual takeover, audio plays, historical Paisley, live music, and Artists in Lockdown, as well as masterclasses and craft activities for the whole family to take part in. Ren TV's Stuck in the House back catalogue of virtual gigs is pretty impressive and well worth a dig through while you're there or thereabouts. You'll find a great collection of recorded at home gigs from Man of the Minch, Zoe Bestel, Scarlett Randle, Hamish Hawk, Randolph's Leap, Heir of the Cursed, Pictish Trail, Mt. Doubt, Campfires in Winter, Pocket Knife, Carla J. Easton, Annie Booth... the list goes on. paisley.is What’s on by Gregg Kelly Page 17
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH THE BLACK DEATH IN EDINBURGH 13th March From the team at The Real Mary King’s Close comes their new chilling virtual event. Discover the true horror suffered by Edinburgh during the Black Death, and the timeline leading up to the worst plague in Scottish history, in what couldn’t be a more fitting time to discover the fact and fiction surrounding the epidemic. Experience the plague outbreak through the perspectives of real-life characters. The event will cover 400 years, from the first epidemic in the 14th Century to the 17th century outbreak, which became known as the worst in history.With expert research by Dr. Aaron Allen from Edinburgh University, plenty of scares, and perhaps one or two comparisons to our current pandemic, the Black Death in Edinburgh is certain to be an enthralling virtual experience. For more information or to book tickets visit The Real Mary King’s Close online.
Photo: Moses Baako Desree
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ONLINE FESTIVAL 6–14 March 2021
CORSTORPHINE WINDOW WANDERLAND Trail and online – 27th February & 28th February The last entry in this month's guide is slightly ambitious, because we’re including it under the assumption that by the end of February, we’ll be allowed to socialise in groups outside. If you’re not familiar with the concept, Window Wanderland trails are community-led projects which encourage local residents and businesses to decorate their windows to create an outdoor art trail. They’re a great way to explore your local streets and community. Previous trials run in other parts of the country (Strathbungo, image above) have had musical performances in front rooms, amazing projections onto buildings, polka dot parties, disco balls, and intricate art installations. This is Corstorphine’s first event of this type, and is part of the wider Window Wanderland programme which was set up in Bristol in 2015. windowwanderland.com
more than 100 poets
What’s on by Gregg Kelly Page 19
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The Norm Project
THE NORM PROJECT 7pm 9th March The Norm Project is an Aberdeen-based collective exploring the concept of ‘normality’ in a modern world. The Project is centred around process, participation and engagement: their work asks, ‘what do you not question?’. Join them for a look back on recent projects, the process of making and a film screening of recently created short films, and a Q+A with the artists themselves.
ALL THE YOUNG NUDES Every Monday A weekly accessible two-hour life drawing session. All the Young Nudes is a perfect environment for beginners or pros, with no experience required and helpful tuition if needed. The class includes models, music and a friendly environment to experiment with a new skill, for anyone bored in lockdown.
Visual Art by Maya Uppal Page 21
GOING OUT | GOING IN An audio performance for headphones as a solo journey through an urban landscape. The performance asks the listener to take a journey through their local environment. Spoken instructions and ambient music encourage the listener to slow down and experience the space around them.
JESSE WINE: CARVE A HOLE IN THE RAIN FOR YER The Modern Institute – till 13th March New York-based artist Jesse Wine presents his first series of works in Glasgow’s The Modern Institute. In this new series, Wine demonstrates adaptable sculptural themes ranging from autobiography, existentialism, and surrealist humour. In these larger than life biologically-driven ceramic works – Wine questions the shape of the body, turns us inside out and abstracts the human form.
POTLUCK FESTIVAL 2021 Tablespoon Theatre Company – 26th till 28 March Potluck is an annual theatre festival, bringing a pick n mix of new performance to life. COVID has pushed performances out of live venues and in this year’s festival Tablespoon theatre aims to embrace this. Potluck 2021 consists of six digital performance that each, in their own way, explore and examine this new online format. From live audience interaction to digital installation, this festival showcases what performance in an online space can look like.
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Tablespoon Theatre Company
Visual Art by Maya Uppal Page 23
ARAB STRAP RAVELOE JOSEPHINE SILLARS BURD ELLEN ETIENNE KUBWABO THE SCRIBBLER'S UNION PHILIPPE MCKIE ALASTAIR COLE
ARAB STRAP As Days Get Dark
Photo credit: Paul Savage
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Hopefully, 2021 will be the year your social life makes a thrilling comeback. But if that has to be on hold for longer, so be it. However, this year is definitely the year of the comeback for Arab Strap. The duo have wowed fans with reunion shows, but it’s on their new album, As Days Get Dark, that Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton fully re-emerge. SNACK caught up with Aidan, over the phone and sadly not over a pint, to discuss the new album, satire, comedy, and the modern tragedy that is dealing with the pandemic. ‘The Turning Of Our Bones’ was a fantastic comeback song – it really stood out on release. Were you confident with that being the comeback track, and how did you feel about the reaction? That was the first song we did a proper demo of. It was pretty much together mid-2018. There was a full demo because the way technology is advancing, you can do a lot more at home. That was the starting point of the album, and we’re fond of that song; it was what we wanted to achieve. It was Arab Strap, but a different kind of Arab Strap. It gave us the confidence to go ahead with the album. I must have listened to the demo hundreds of times. We went over and over it to get it right, and when it came out, people responded to it exactly how we wanted. It was great. The feedback from people I know has been great, even from people who I never knew listened to Arab Strap. We’ve found new ears. We were on Radio 2. Jo Whiley was playing us, and I did an interview with her, and when it happened, we thought, ‘Have we fucked this up, are we a Radio 2 band now? Maybe we’re too old for this.’ I listen to 6Music, and Radio 4 sometimes, but usually on the Sounds app. That’s the way things are going these days. Music by Andy Reilly Page 27
The thing is, radio is still vital in helping people find bands, although people not being in offices like they used to might impact that. Radio is still really valuable. I don’t use streaming, I don’t like it, I try not to support it, for obvious reasons. I think people are more aware of the terrible fees we get offered. Even when I have used it, those algorithms are bullshit. I have never, never found anything I like because a computer told me. I don’t understand it all, so yeah, radio is really important for bands. You raise the point on ‘A Clockwork Day’. The overwhelming abundance of content: is it going to put a lot of people off? I think it already is. I struggle with it as well, I’m one of the people who stick Netflix on and then spend 40 minutes trying to find something to watch, and then it’s too late, and I need to go to bed. It’s all so overwhelming now. We got Disney+ as we wanted to watch The Mandalorian, and I like that one, because compared to the other ones, there isn’t too much on it. You put it on and it's quite quick to find something, especially for the kids. Stick on The Incredibles or Toy Story. But Amazon or Netflix, they’re terrifying. When I grew up, there were three TV stations! It was good culturally as the entire nation was experiencing the same things. Obviously, the internet has fractured culture now, and everyone is into their tribes and fighting. In the 70s, 80s and 90s, everyone was watching the same shit. Everyone was part of the same cultural community. Even something like Top of The Pops. Since that’s gone, everything has broken up into wee factions. It’s great that people are making music and getting it out there, but at the same time, a larger community, in a cultural sense, Back to Contents
is missing. Music is my job, so I am quite active in finding stuff. There are websites I go to, and I read reviews in magazines, I’m active, but if you’re the sort of person who expects music to find you, you will have been fucked for the past year. ‘Kebabylon’ – Are you looking for sponsorship or an endorsement deal? I’ve always wanted to get ‘Kebabylon’ into a song somehow. There are a few takeaways called that, but recently I’ve seen a few people use it to describe the aftermath of a weekend. It fits perfectly with the song I wanted to write. I was reading a book about nightlife in London, and what happens after 3am. There was a brilliant bit about the street sweepers, and all the things they find. They were saying, ‘we keep your secrets, we find the things you don’t want to take home’. I thought that was brilliant. The idea of these street sweepers, who people often don’t see, the people who get paid less. But here they are as the guardian angels. There’s been a re-appraisal of people and roles in the past year, and people are realising how important so many of the seemingly smaller roles are for everyday life. Yeah, definitely, aye. I used to work in a record shop once, it was the only job I had when I was young, and see having a shop now, and you see customers not wearing a mask! There are signs on the doors, and the staff are in the shop, however many hours a day, having to deal with that. That really infuriates me. Whether or not you have a political chip on your shoulder, they have asked you to do it, it’s for their safety. They are risking their life to sell you fags, you know what I mean?
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Image credit: Kat Gollock
‘Tears On Tour’ – Do you feel at times what you do is the opposite of being a comedian? See that wee spoken word bit in the song, it did end with the line ‘in a sense that’s what I became’ but we decided it was too on the nose, so we took it out. Maybe [that was true] more in the past than now. The way Arab Strap developed, we’re pretty much just playing the big songs and the ones you can dance to these days. I think that’s what people want to see and hear anyway. The sad songs are for the house; if you’re doing a gig, you want people to have fun. It’s a very different thing, listening to a record and being at a gig. The album features the line ‘Fuck off back to Foxland’. I’m no great political observer, but it’s not really about foxes is it? No, well, funnily enough, no! I love foxes. I live near Hampden, and there’s that bit of ground at the car park, and there’s foxes living there. I used to see them on the way to Asda. I just realised I didn’t know a lot about foxes, so I bought a book to educate myself. There’s two chapters about foxes leaving the countryside as they were getting murdered, and it was getting harder for them to stay settled there. So they came into town, and they were demonised by the press. It was the exact same way the press demonised refugees. Exactly the same tactics. There was one event where a fox bit a child, it made its way into a house and bit a toddler. Which happened, the toddler was fine but because that one fox did it, all foxes were bad. Suddenly, every single one of them had to get out of the town and sadly, that’s been the opinion of a lot of folk in the UK in recent years. Again, I think it comes back to the internet. Social media has given a voice to people who frankly aren’t qualified to have opinions.
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Did you see that guy going around Govanhill? He was taking a picture, someone had dumped rubbish outside their flat, and he said, ‘if you’ve been to Romania, you will know this is part of their culture’. I’ve been to Romania, is it fuck. I was in Bucharest not too long ago and it wasn’t any dirtier than Glasgow, let me tell you that. It also had some of the most beautiful countryside. We went to some stunning castles, including Dracula’s castle in Transylvania, it was gorgeous. He’s never been to Romania; he’s just making that up. You get to a point when everyone can upload and broadcast, but 80% of those broadcasting aren't qualified to talk about it. They don’t know what they’re talking about. There’s a terrible need for supposed balance too, isn’t there? Balance isn’t asking what an idiot thinks. It’s like the environment, if you try to find balance in the environment issue, you can’t find a single scientist. If you’ve got someone sitting there saying the environment is in a dire situation, they never get a scientist to argue against it, it’s always a politician. Someone getting paid by the oil companies. The stories on ‘Here Comes Comus!’ and ‘I Was Once A Weak Man’: are they based on real people, or an amalgamation? Yes and no. Comus is the Greek God of Nocturnal Excess. Basically, a good excuse to blame someone else for bad behaviour. That’s probably about me. I’ve not been out in a while, and even when I was out, I was certainly nowhere near as lugubrious, I’m calmer these days. At my peak, Comus came to me a lot, around about midnight. That said, I'm still the person who cannot go home. If I’m out, I’m always the person begging folk to stay out. Which isn’t a criticism of my home, once I’m in the zone, after three fucking Back to Contents
pints, I’m out. I don’t agree with people who can go out for just the one. If I’ve put trousers on, I’m out for a while. Aye, if you’ve gone to the effort, you’re staying out. It’s very moreish, that lager stuff. With ‘I Was Once A Weak Man’, I need to ask, what’s your favourite Carry On line? You’re the first person who has picked up on that, thank you. Nobody has mentioned that as a Carry On punchline yet, well done. I’ve explained it to so many people, and they’ve not got it, but then again, many of them are quite young. That is my favourite line. I grew up with Carry On films – they were always on the telly in the 70s. I’ve a real fondness for them. They were often denigrated as pathetic and sexist, but I don’t think they’re like that at all. When they came out, it was very rare for women in films to have libidos. Women in Carry On films want to have sex, and you didn’t see that anywhere else. Hollywood films didn’t do that. And it’s a class thing as well. Virtually all of the Carry On films were about the working classes revolting against their paymasters. It’ll come as no surprise to anyone that I’m a big Sid James man. Kenneth [Williams] and Hattie [Jacques] got the best lines, but it’s funny the way everybody talks about Sid. All the women who worked on the films loved him. In the films, he was lecherous and annoying, but no-one’s got a bad word to say about Sid James, it’s amazing.
Image credit: Alasdair McLellan Music by Andy Reilly Page 33
Image credit: Alasdair McLellan
Should bands split up to allow themselves to appraise what they do – can you properly assess yourself while being in a working band? It certainly helped us. At the time we split up, we felt we didn’t have anywhere else to go. If we hadn’t split up, we could have got another album, maybe another tour, and then just faded out, and that would have been it. Also, we were both working on our own stuff, and I don’t believe in side projects. I don’t do side projects; everything gets the same amount of care and love. I’ve always hated that term. That was a problem, if we kept going, everything we do would still have been a side project; it gave us space to do our own stuff, and learn new things. When we came back to it in 2016, we were both surprised at how much we enjoyed the old records. I hadn’t listened to them, I don’t really listen to my old records – once it's out, it's out. It was good, and we started to understand why people like us. You don’t think about that when you’re in a band, you just try and enjoy it. The stuff we chose for the set, and the compilation, it gravitated naturally to more electronic stuff. I think that’s why the new album sounds the way it does, that influenced the sound of the new one. I think with the gigs...who wants to go to a festival and listen to sad songs about a girlfriend I had 20 years ago? If you’re coming to a festival, you want to have a good time, so we’ll play the fast ones. You were involved in the Whole Lotta Roadies project – was that good to be part of? It was a brilliant idea. Rod [Jones, from Idlewild] did a great job there. Obviously, it's hard for musicians right now, but there’s a whole system of workers that are deeply affected by it, and it’s harder for them. They don’t have records out to make the little money you make from music these days. There are so many people I know; our regular sound man had to get a job Back to Contents
for a wee while. The thing is, he got a job in a pub and then a month later, the pub fucking shut! Aye, it must be really hard for them, so Rob did a great job. There’s going to be a lot of bittersweet moments when we move forward, isn’t there? I have to wonder on that. I go through phases of thinking, I really want to go to the pub, and then on the other hand... My brother moved during lockdown, but before it all kicked off last year, he was living round the corner. Every Monday night, we would go out for a pint, and it was great. It wasn’t about going out and getting pished; it was a quiet night. But now, I feel kind of scared about the whole thing. On the one hand, I can’t wait to go back out and sit in a pub, but it’s been so long now. I’m also scared it’s going to be fucking mental. See when Glasgow opens, Jesus Christ, it’ll be insane. I think it’ll be hard to get back into the rhythm of it. It’s not as easy as just going out. A lot of stuff has happened to everyone psychologically. We might not notice it, but it’s there. The way we live our lives has completely changed in the past year. We’ve got a tour booked for September, and I think that’s the edge of possibility, right now. It’s one thing we’re looking forward to. Ironically, it’s a good time to put out a record right now. People are at home, and I think people have readdressed the value of recordings. They are more engaged with recorded music. Obviously, we should be out on tour, we should be playing a gig next week. It’s definitely the one thing we are looking forward to. There’s a couple of songs we never finished on the album that we might put out at some point, just for fun and to keep it going. Who knows what will happen in the next year? We aren’t concentrating on doing anything new just now, we’ll get theMcLellan gigs done, and hopefully next year, do some more, do Image credit: Alasdair Music by Andy Reilly Page 37
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some festivals, play Europe, and other places. Fingers crossed. That’s the dream right now. We’ll continue. If it turns out it’s all postponed or cancelled again, we’ll just make another record, and we’ll have plenty of new songs to play. That said, I’ll be in my 50s by then! When you started the band, did you think you’d still be in Arab Strap in your 50s? When we started, I didn’t expect it to last more than a year. All I wanted was a Peel Session, and our first ever gig was recorded live on John Peel. We were like, where the fuck do we go from here? I’m very lucky at this point in life. 25 years making a living from music. I really feel for younger bands, especially in the past year. They must be really struggling. Young bands can’t live on music, and they have other jobs, so now they’ve lost the music income and if they’re working in bars, they’ve lost that too. I hope people aren’t put off making music because of the situation. I’m hoping there will be a surge of amazing music coming out, that people are working on right now. Not that I’d like to hunt for a positive from a pandemic, but that could be something? There is one positive. People realise the value of recorded music. The Government is talking in Parliament about Spotify payments, so for music, that is one small positive. But of course, it in no way outweighs the negatives. As Days Get Dark is released on 5th March via Rock Action Arab Strap will play Glasgow Barrowlands on 10th September
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Even though it seems as though time is moving slowly these days, it isn’t always on your side. Nor is it always the right time for certain things. It took a few listens and a couple of days for Notes and Dreams by Raveloe to hit home, but when it did, it quickly burrowed into the heart and head. This past year hasn’t been easy, but when music and mood align, the world feels a bit brighter and easier to manage. SNACK was delighted to catch up with Kim Grant, Raveloe, to chat about her debut EP, online friends, and the importance of connectivity, now and going forward. How’s it going? I had quite a long day of lectures online, but it's nice because I'm done for the day! What are you studying? I’m studying Music and Sound. It’s not bad, but this part of the course should be in a practice room, collaborating with other musicians. So, it’s different, but I’m glad to have something to keep me busy. When your last band, Tongue Trap split, was it obvious you would go solo? Yeah, that was the reason I decided to end my previous band. I had so many ideas and I had a different direction in mind.
Music by Andy Reilly Page 43
How was the recording process for the EP? Yeah, it was a really nice way to stay in touch with friends. Jacob [Tomlinson] had drummed with me before; we were just kind of jamming and he had to move to Derby from Glasgow because he lost his job because of Covid. He was sending me stems of drum parts, and I was putting them in. I hadn’t done much of that before, so it was a real learning curve. My friend Erin [F. Watt], who used to be in Tongue Trap, she’s in Melbourne, and she was sending me over parts. My other friend Izzy [Rose] was sending me parts from Dumfries and Galloway, and then Jen [Athan] was in Glasgow. We were all over the shop! While I’m namechecking everyone, I should say ‘Steady’ was mixed by Jason Riddell, and the mastering was by Mark Jasper, so thanks to them as well! Were people bringing their ideas to the process? They asked me what I was going for, and I sent them lots of demos; but I very much wanted them to have the freedom to write parts that they wanted to write and create. They had creative control for their parts. On ‘Steady’ for example, I wrote that bass part, and Izzy added bits on. We managed to do that one live before the lockdown. Was there anything which inspired you to change things? When Jen sent me the string parts. I’ve never had strings on any of my songs before, and that made me feel differently about that song. It opened it up, made it wider, and I wanted to layer some textures over it. That was quite fun to hear! Back to Contents
Music by Andy Reilly Page 45
A lot of reviews reference the songs with respect to lockdown, isolation and loneliness. Was that your thinking when you were writing the songs, or do you think people are projecting their feelings onto the music? A bit of both. As a writer, I would hope for both those things to happen. It’s a big thing for me to know people are connecting with it, and so projecting what they’re doing is part of that process. You know, it was quite unavoidable that this was seeping into the songs, but they came from different places too. Any bands/acts you’ve been listening to of late? Over lockdown I listened to an album called Mia Gargaret by an artist called Gia Margaret. She used a muddle-up of her name. It’s an ambient instrumental album; she only sings on the last song, as she lost her voice, and decided to make ambient music. That really transported me during the whole lockdown time. Adrianne Lenker and Big Thief; I listened to them a lot. Also, Jill Lorean, she’s a Glasgow artist. I listened to her EP, and I loved that. It was exciting to hear these great songs coming from Glasgow. You’ve played a few live online sets – have you enjoyed these shows? The first ones were a bit unusual, getting used to the format. I found the first one quite challenging, and then I had a realisation. I realised that I’m in the most comfortable place I can be in, my bedroom, and I reminded myself of that and of what I wanted to get across. That helped a lot. Back to Contents
Having an audience, but not in front of you, which is usually the big thing, was nice. I played with Withered Hand, Chrissy Barnacle, Molly [Linen] and Jason [Riddell]. It was such a nice community feel, and I was missing that. I like meeting bands and having a chat. There are some positives about live gigs and shows that would be good to retain as we move forward. It’s a good way to be more accessible. I can see a more blended form of gigs going forward, with artists doing live shows online, as well as in venues. Before you played your set at the Govanhill Street Music Festival, did you think it would lead to your EP being released? Ha! I did not, no. That was a really big surprise. How was the festival? It took place in August 2020, so social distancing was in place. It was a surreal experience. It was amazing, but I felt a bit nervous. When you’re gigging every week, you are wellpractised, so there was that element to consider. There was a really special atmosphere, but it was bizarre. It took me a while to relax, certainly for most of the first song. And that is where Lloyd [Meredith, from Olive Grove] saw you? He is so encouraging and supportive. It was amazing to meet him; he came up to me with his son. I think Lloyd was going to be Music by Andy Reilly Page 47
a bit coy about it, and then his son said, ‘My dad runs a record label,’ I still wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but I was like, ‘That’s really nice.’ I then met up with Lloyd and Carla [J. Easton] and we went for a walk in the park. I sent an EP over to Lloyd; I wasn’t thinking he would put it out. I just thought I’d share it. What’s been your favourite part or parts of releasing the EP and the promotion? It’s all been a lovely experience. Going from doing something in my bedroom to placing it out into the world and then connecting with people. That’s more than I could have hoped to happen, and it’s been really reassuring. It’s been nice to feel that sense of community and support. That’s been brilliant. It’s a bit nerve-wracking; I’m not used to talking about my music, but I’m getting used to it. What are your next plans? Apart from leaving the house? Yes, that would be a good one! I managed to record a single in Glenwood Studio – I think I can share that – which will be released soon. I’m excited, because that was with a producer in the studio, and Peter Kelly was playing drums. I think he’s a great drummer. I want to keep recording. I have a bunch of songs written. The plan is to record them when studios open up again. I have a few gigs coming up. One is for The Glad Live Sessions, the date for that is still being confirmed. And then The Hug & Pint. I just can’t wait to play again. Notes and Dreams is out now on Olive Grove Records Back to Contents
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Scottish singer-songwriter Josephine Sillars makes a solo comeback with her new EP Desperate Characters, set for release on March 26th. With successful singles ‘Enemy’ and ‘California’ getting great reviews and plenty of plays on streaming platforms, the EP is sure to do equally as well. Sillars sat down with us to discuss her writing process, how she found recording from home during a pandemic, and how she came up with the EP’s unique style. I really liked how different this project was from what you'd done before. You described it as experimental: can you go into more detail about that? What are you experimenting with? Yeah, it was an interesting project to work on. I guess when I say experimental, I meant for the kind of music I usually do, I’m experimenting with the style and genre. There is much more of an electronic vibe to this EP than to my previous music. Recording from home and learning to record on my own was something I experimented with too. Do you think you would record from home in future or are you missing the studio vibe? I’m not sure. I didn't have much choice this time round when it comes to recording. A bit of both, to be honest, but I’d definitely record from home again. There are songs that would suit a studio vibe more, especially the songs that are written and performed on piano. Music by Ross Wilcock Page 51
Topics like climate change and the current political landscape are present throughout the songs, and you introduce them in such a clever way, using clips and speech from interviews. Why did you choose this approach and how did you source the samples? The samples were from interviews I conducted during this time, which discussed how people view the political landscape. Each song was written about themes that were found in the interviews. ‘Enemy’ is a song about fear and anxiety that came through when I was interviewing the person. In a way it was easier to write this way during lockdown, as I was basing my writing on others and their thoughts. I gave myself a challenge and it got my mind off everything going on in the world. But of course, some of my personal views made it into the songs as well. It's hard as a songwriter not to have that happen. How do you think this mix of styles you have chosen will go down with audiences? I’ve been a fan of yours for a while and I like that you took a different route with this EP. I don’t know, to be honest. That's the thought with any new piece of new music: you’re always going to wonder about what an audience will think. The first half is more electronic and the other half is like a singer-songwriter style, so it's hard to tell, but I hope there’s something for everyone. Back to Contents
Music by Ross Wilkinson Page 53
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What was the creative process like for this EP, while dealing with everything else? I can't imagine it was the easiest thing in the world to find the headspace and energy for, while there's so much happening. Yeah, it was a good distraction and a good focus point for me. [In a way] I almost wrote a brief for myself for this project, planned it out a lot more than usual. It gave me a creative outlet. I don't think I could do it this time around; I think it was something that I had to do at the beginning of the pandemic. Yes, I can see that. I think everyone is getting a bit fed up and it's harder to focus on things at this point. That's so true. I am just glad that I managed to be creative. As a Scottish artist living in Leeds, do you think that this experience is reflected in your music? I feel cheated in a way. I only moved to Leeds a few months before the pandemic hit, and all my gigs were cancelled. So it was difficult to get a proper grasp on the music scene down here. I did manage to get a couple of gigs in, though!
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‘Enemy’ is a great first single, in my opinion, and I love the contrast with the second single from the EP, ‘California’. You and I were chatting before about that and you felt a bit worried about the style difference between the songs. How do you decide on the singles? Haha, yes. I think it's because ‘Enemy’ is so different from what I have done before and I was worried about how people who have followed my music would react. These are the songs I feel really highlight the EP the best, as they are the perfect songs to describe the two main styles that go through it. I will say ‘Enemy’ was always going to be the first single. It was nerve wracking because I wasn’t sure how people would react to the song, but the reactions exceeded my expectations. I think it has more of a shock factor as it's different from what I’ve done before. ‘California’ has also done rather well, which I’m pleased about. This will be the first time I have released singles for a project, so it was a somewhat new adventure for me. You have been selected as one of the new BBC Music Introducing artists for West Yorkshire. Firstly, congrats on that! What is that process like? How does an artist get involved with that? I’m really new to it, in all honesty. It wasn’t a thing in Scotland until recently. And it only became a thing when I was on a break from releasing music. What’s interesting is that there is only one show for Scotland and there are region-to-region shows for England. I am of course excited. I think as long as you're frequently releasing and the music is of good quality and radio-friendly you should be eligible. Back to Contents
As we see the world slowly but surely get somewhat back to normal, what do you hope to see for Scottish musicians as we come out of this time? Oh, that's an interesting question. For Scottish musicians over lockdown I’ve seen that there’s been a rise in online events and creative spaces for performers. I’m involved with one called Pop Girlz. I’ve noticed some exposure of the inequalities in music faced by artists, with this coming to light during the pandemic. I hope this all continues and more artists are better protected and know their rights. I hope the scene goes forward and not backward, remembering the lessons that were learned during this time. With real-life live gigs out of the picture for a while, would you consider doing streaming shows? Yes, I have done a couple with some band mates and I don’t mind those. It is nice to do them from time to time. I think doing an online tour would be a lot of work, but a pre-recorded show in a live venue is something I would love to do. Do you have a favourite gig of your own? Oh wow...I have been able to gig in such incredible places and venues over the years. But there are a couple. The festivals we played at were some of the highlights. Kelburn Garden Party, where we performed at midnight, was amazing and such a great experience. And we played Belladrum on the Hot House stage. It was really lovely to play there as I come from the Highlands originally, so it's my local festival. We also got to play a show overseas in Sweden. Music by Ross Wilcock Page 57
Is there any venue that you haven’t had a chance to play yet that you hope to once we get back to some sort of normality? I know for me, when I saw you at the Blue Arrow in Glasgow, I felt that it was such a good venue for your music and a great night all over. I loved the Blue Arrow! It was such a fun gig as well. I think there are so many to choose but I want to play at the Hug and Pint in Glasgow again. I really love and miss that venue a lot. Do you have any advice to those wanting to break into the music scene? I think especially as we're digital just now, if someone is starting out I recommend reaching out to online spaces and events, get involved. People will be fairer with artists and I hope that people will be kinder. Come in and make friends, make connections. Also, I recommend checking for local opportunities. Online open mics have been a big thing over lockdown and a great way to get your name out there. Doing research on the local scene is always a great place to start.
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Are there any other independent artists you think we should be listening to? I would recommend Hinata, who are really great and are based in Leeds. And, as always, Conor Heafy, who is brilliant and worth checking out. Desperate Characters is out from 26th March
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BURD ELLEN Photo credit: Audrey Bizouerne
Last year saw Burd Ellen’s album Says The Never Beyond receive five-star reviews and be praised as a top ten folk album of 2020 in both The Guardian and Folk Radio UK. SNACK magazine caught up with creator Debbie Armour and discussed the origins of Burd Ellen, the Our Stories Falkirk evening, and Debbie’s creative process.
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How did Burd Ellen form? A lovely friend sent me a message saying, ‘I'm playing a show in Glasgow, would you like to open for me?’ And I was like, ‘sure!’ The sound engineer bootlegged that and somebody I knew sent it to a couple of other people. And then we booked Sidmouth Folk Festival and opened for Stick in the Wheel off the back of that bootlegged set. I phoned some people and was like, ‘do you want to come and be in my band, by the way? We've got loads of really scary gigs.’ We’ve been so lucky, and people have been so kind and so supportive. And it's been really validating and gratifying to have such a consistently open and generous response from people. The Our Stories Falkirk evening is in a couple of weeks and you’re performing a solo set drawn from the back catalogue of Burd Ellen. What’s going to inform the tunes that you pick? The festival have asked for songs that talk about people and places, [which is] everything that I write about and everything I'm interested in, so I imagine that I'll do a song about the place where I grew up. Where is it that you grew up? In Tobermory, on Mull. I'm from Glasgow originally, but we moved there when I was nine or ten. And I stayed until I was maybe twenty-five. There's a lot of things that I did there that I would never have had the opportunity to do in the city, particularly artistically. I learned how to sing in the Mòd – I learned how to sing unaccompanied, in harmony, in primary school – and everything was taught to me by ear. You can't buy that kind of education, that literally embodies Music by Sam MacAdam Page 61
your relationship to sound, and other people's sound, and communication through sound. Singing in a language that is not native to you, having to find ways to use musical cues to enhance your and other people's understanding. Says The Never Beyond has a range of languages, from English to Gaelic to Welsh. How did you choose your tracks? The album's heavily themed around winter song, especially winter song from the British Isles. It's reflective of winter as a time of darkness and uncertainty, and also stillness and hunkering down. There are wren songs in every language of the British Isles, which I find a fascinating fact. I've always sung in languages that aren't my own. More often than not it's musically driven – it's just because the tune’s nice! I've very neatly truncated the Welsh song down from ten verses to just one to minimise the impact of my bad Welsh on everyone else. Did I notice Benjamin Britten amongst all of the traditional song choices? He adapted a whole bunch of folk songs. I think it's so important to keep your influences really catholic, with a small c, and listen to all sorts of stuff. Things that you don't like, things that you wouldn't even consider relevant to your practice and just keeping that really open. It encourages a diversity of end-product that I think the Scottish trad scene in particular can miss a little bit sometimes. As it was recorded under the COVID-19 restrictions, what was the process of making the tracks? I wrote all of the vocal arrangements. All of the arrangements for this album have been written for a very long time – long before Burd Ellen was even a thing. I tracked all of the vocals by myself and sent them to all of the other Back to Contents
musicians and said, ‘just do whatever you want, and send it back to me’. And then it all went to Jim McEwan, my engineer, and Jim and I sort of glued it together with string and chewing gum. And he's done a beautiful, beautiful job. I would like to do a Highlands tour. And what I would like to do is to make some visuals and have a proper full band tour with some nice film. And just make it a bit of an extravaganza. But I think it’ll be 2022 now. Or we could just all stay at home and film sets for nice people that want to do it, like the lovely Great Place Falkirk! Debbie Armour is performing at Our Stories Falkirk on Friday 12th March 2021. Tickets are £2. eventbrite.co.uk
Photo credit: Audrey Bizouerne Music by Sam MacAdam Page 63
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Etienne Kubwabo is a filmmaker, DJ, and comic book creator who has introduced Scotland to its first black superhero in his comic book Beats of War. SNACK spoke to Etienne to learn more about this exciting and ambitious project. Tell us about Beats of War and the inspiration behind the story. Beats of War is inspired by my experiences of living in Glasgow and Scotland. When I moved here in 2009, I never knew what to expect. I remember getting off the plane and meeting my family and it snowed for a wee bit – I was super excited to see the snow! When I joined college and university, I made some amazing friendships, but I was also struggling with low self-esteem, struggling to fit in due to the language barrier. Over the years I was able to settle and know how things work in Glasgow. But I still faced discrimination in some way, like being stopped by the police a number of times in one week, being followed by security while I was in shops, etc. So I decided to channel the anger I was feeling into creating and that's how Beats of War was born. Why tell the story as a comic book, and what and who were your comic/superhero inspirations? Comic books are a medium I always loved growing up, but I didn't really have access to them until I was in Glasgow. Being a filmmaker, I was trying to find ways I could make films about what I was experiencing and I realised that I needed a lot of resources to make a film. One night, at 3am, I was going to get some water from the fridge. I had an idea to create a comic book but I just wrote it down and kinda forgot about it. Then Stan Lee's Black Panther character was made into a movie, and once I left the cinema, I sat down and wrote the first script of Beats of War. My character inspirations are Spiderman, Black Panther, Batman, and Kick Ass, and you can tell that I’m a big fan of Stan Lee and Mark Millar. I think their work is incredible. Books by Alistair Braidwood Page 65
Comic books rely on collaboration with others. Who did you work with, and how did the process work? With Beats of War I have a small team of four, which includes Gary Chudleigh who co-writes with me and is in charge of production and design. Ben Wilsonham is our artist, and he is the one who takes our scripts and sketches and turns them into the epic coloured comic book. And we have Rob Jones who is in charge of lettering. It always starts with me having conversations with myself. Then I write the first draft of the story, which I later send to Gary. Gary is very experienced in the comic book world, so he reads through, sends me suggestions and ideas to structure the story, and then he polishes it up properly. After we are all happy with the script, it's sent to Ben who starts drawing sequences based on the script, and he constantly updates us till it’s all done. Then comes the lettering. It's such an amazing process, especially working with people who are so passionate about their craft. Your villains are the Razor Gangs – part of Glasgow's notorious history. Did you have to do research to find out about them, and if so what did you find? First of all I never knew about the Razor Gangs until I was chatting to my friend Liam, who is a big fan of Peaky Blinders. In the process of creating my villains from Glasgow, I wanted characters that had a bit of class through how they dressed and talked. So when I told my friend about these ideas he was like, ‘go research the Razor Gangs’. I found out that they were street gangs who existed in the east and south sides of Glasgow in the late 1920s and 1930s, and they used knives. So I decided to make it more fictional, but paying homage to the history. I felt that having them as villains would set the tone of the story and also make it a bit relatable to people in Scotland who knew more about the history. Back to Contents
Glasgow is beautifully depicted in the book, using recognisable landmarks and places. Was it important to represent the city in this way? I feel like a lot of filmmakers come to Glasgow and use it as backdrop to other cities, like New York, London, etc, which is great for the economy but they never mention Glasgow. I wanted to pay homage to the city I have grown up in because it makes me feel close to the city. I want all the cities of Scotland highlighted in this way. When I get to direct these superhero movies in future, it will be a superhero story set in Glasgow and that will take our city to the next level. I mean I love this city, so why not show the beauty of it? There are other aspects to Beats of War, including a musical one. What can you tell us about that? Music has always been part of my life. I believe it's a universal language. The character finds music on Earth, which is something that he hasn't experienced before. That's why with every issue there will be a soundtrack – to help give a glimpse of what's happening in the comic. I love music and stories and how they bring people together, and also help them escape. I always wanted to go an extra mile and give people something that will go with the book, to remind people that music and stories are the best way to change the world. Many comic books have been turned into films and TV shows, some of them becoming the most successful of all time. What plans do you have for Beats of War? Beats of War will definitely be turned into films, animation, and TV shows. The story is fresh, and as we go through the next releases of the comic you will get to see how different the story is and why it’s important to have it on big screens. Books by Alistair Braidwood Page 67
Are you pleased with the reaction to the book? I am so happy, grateful, and pleased with the reaction to the book. I honestly love that people received it this way, because my team and I put our heart into it. I even received a letter from a wee seven-year-old boy called Ciaran who wrote, ‘I love Beats of War because it's about a Scottish superhero and he is Black and it's just so, so good’. This is why I do it, to inspire the youth for a better future generation. Beats of War is available from mileawayfilms.com
Photo credit: Hannah Houston
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THE SCRIBBLER'S UNION Photo credit: Steve Brown DCT Media
The last year has proved taxing for everyone as the boundaries between our leisure spaces at home and work spaces became blurred. Finding the motivation and creative energy to work on our own passion projects was, for many, difficult as we felt the burnout that comes with working from home. Back to Contents
But many artists, writers, and other creative folk sought to build online spaces where people could be social with other like-minded artists, and find the encouragement they needed to keep on going. One such space is The Scribbler’s Union, run by Kevin P. Gilday. Kevin founded The Scribbler’s Union during the first lockdown: ‘I was looking for a way to put my skills to good use and create some connection between people I knew would be feeling isolated by the circumstances. I decided to start a series of workshops with no real plans as to what we’d do next or where it would lead. Now here I am, a year later with a combined total of 30 students – all part of an amazing community.’ As writers first started to take part in workshops, Kevin says they were reticent to share their work. They were all faces new to each other, and there was the added disconnection of meeting strangers through a screen. It seemed that no one really wanted to take up space, and many students seemed to feel that they weren’t good enough to perform. So, there was a desire for the workshops to build confidence as well as writing skills. Natalie says that the 30 students are all now very close with one another, which is down to not only sharing poetry, but pieces of themselves, too. Kevin says: ‘Our most recent showcase featured some exceptional performances from people who had really bolstered their confidence through their hard work. It was incredibly gratifying to see the process.’
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Each session consists of Kevin teaching a new form, element or device of poetry or performance before providing examples of these elements in use, and challenging the Scribblers to write something themselves in that style. After the challenge, Scribblers can share their work and have it peer critiqued. Sessions usually end with open discussions about new pieces for their upcoming performances, and they also hear first drafts and share more feedback. ‘In between there are lots of bad jokes and dirty laughs,’ Kevin adds. Natalie says, ‘the structure remains the same in the latest session as in the first, just that we are all much better poets than when we started!’ Both Kevin and Natalie have seen massive improvement in the Scribblers – Kevin hails it as remarkable. He believes the quality of work being produced by the Scribblers is a testament to the new tools they have as well as the confidence gained from workshops.
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Natalie has even seen a difference in her own attitude towards writing thanks to the union: ‘I have never consistently written but I have written on and off when I felt like it, when inspiration called or catharsis was required. I now write almost daily, and not just poetry. Not only that, I have now complete confidence in my own performance skills thanks to Kevin’s scaffolded approach which developed my comfort in using my voice and performing to others bit by bit over the sessions. ‘I came second in my first ever poetry slam in January this year! I can’t speak for the other members, but I know they have had similar profound journeys in unearthing more of their raw performance and writing talent.’ In February of this year, Kevin and Natalie released The Scribbler’s Union Volume 1, a collection of poetry written by the Scribblers over the last year. The pair worked with writers directly to discuss the language used in each piece, and they worked to draw out the best elements of every poem. Along with the editing process, Natalie enjoyed listening to each Scribbler talk passionately about their work and the messages they hoped to convey. ‘Collating 28 poets’ work was a challenge, but an enjoyable one.’ Kevin says, ‘it was a really fulfilling process. We got to look at each piece in detail, providing editing notes and guiding it to the final draft that appears in print. Once we put it all together we realised just the level of talent involved. One great poem is a beautiful thing but a book full of different voices is something else entirely.’
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Photo credit: Steve Brown DCT Media
As the group is geared primarily towards performance poetry, Natalie found that some poets needed advice on improving the performance piece to be translated to the page; sometimes all that was needed was some spelling or punctuation tweaks. Other times, attention was brought to what made a piece a performance piece, so the style of the poem itself had to be edited. Natalie and Kevin also wanted to make sure that each Scribbler received the kind of feedback that supported each individual best. Now that the first volume of poetry is out, the group is taking some time to enjoy the newly published feeling. There are no immediate plans to publish a second volume, and Kevin is eager to make sure his students feel minimal pressure in their creative space. Whenever the group feels ready once again to capture their work on page, they will be encouraged towards that.
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As for solid plans, the Scribblers can’t wait to meet one another in person when it’s safe to do so, as many only know each other virtually. They are also eager to host in person performances in venues. According to Kevin, being a member of the Union is about community, connection, and sharing – it’s being a part of a collective and helping fellow Scribblers flourish. Natalie says being a part of the union has meant ‘you have had the incredible Kevin P. Gilday as your poetry mentor for nearly a year, that you’ve benefited from over 80 hours of his teaching, support, and feedback, that you’re part of a beautiful collection of kind and wonderful weirdos.’ Members of the collection do feel enriched for being a part of it: Scribbler Katie McPeak says, ‘The Scribbler’s Union has been a great source of community during this isolating time. It has given me the opportunity to develop my skills in a nourishing environment and meet like minded creatives. ‘Our weekly meetings have been the highlight of lockdown and I’m so grateful to Kevin for bringing us all together!’ Scribbler and fellow SNACK writer Ross Wilcock says, ‘It was an incredible and well needed experience working with this group. We went from people who didn’t know each other and some who hadn’t written anything to being really close friends with a published book. ‘I wouldn’t take any moment of it away and I hope to continue to socialise and work with these people in the future, and I can’t wait to see where they all go.’ Buy The Scribbler's Union: Vol 1 at goodreads.com Poetry by Holly Fleming Page 75
IORRAM (BOAT SONG)
The Gaelic-speaking fishing communities of the Outer Hebrides, past and present, are the stars of Iorram, a modest ode to language and community from Edinburgh-based New Zealander Alastair Cole. Composed of audio anecdotes and songs recorded in the 1950s, accompanied by contemporary footage of working boats and a soft Celtic score, the piece is half-documentation and halfcelebration of enduring language, lore, culture, and fishing techniques.
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The quality of the anecdotes fluctuates between Abe Simpson-esque to striking tales of tragedy, as we hear of man after man lost to the sea. Slow, fully spoken, and without plot, there is no denying that Iorram was not created for the easily distracted. Those who enjoy films with a museum’s temperament will find this trip to Barra et al a relaxing and intriguing exercise in anthropology. The first fully Gaelic-language feature-length documentary may be a niche claim to cinematic fame, yet Iorram treats its responsibility to its Hebridean setting – from past to present – with understated enthusiasm and an academic’s eye. Director Alastair Cole, 37, is an academic filmmaker with an interest in language. His previous work includes Colours of the Alphabet, a look at the challenges facing local language speakers in Zambia’s English-dominant education system. Alastair is a lecturer at Newcastle University, and holds a PhD in Trans-Disciplinary Documentary Film and a degree in Social Anthropology. How would you describe Iorram? I would describe it as a film about language and the Hebrides. Language, storytelling and fishing. At the heart of it are the islands themselves, but also the Gaelic language: they are totally tied together in the Outer Hebrides. And it is a film that uses sound archive and a contemporary visual portrait to link the contemporary and the past. What sort of audience are you hoping comes to Iorram? We obviously hope that this speaks to the Gaels, because the archive itself is the family of everyone living in the islands. In fact, to clear the archive we had to get the signatures of the next of kin of the 80 voices in the film, although we quickly realised the small communities knew all the voices and the people. But we want this to speak to both Scots and to an international audience that has an Film by Jamie Wills Page 77
interest in language, or what a modern Scotland might look like, because this is a part of the identity. Also storytellers, and people who want to escape to the Outer Hebrides for 90 minutes. How did the idea of Iorram come about? Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time in the Outer Hebrides – not so much a family connection as curiosity. I have made films around the world, but the story of the Gaelic language and its historical relationship with Scotland was on my doorstep. Also, I was working with Magnus Course, a linguistic anthropologist at the University of Edinburgh, who was researching the relationship between fishing communities and Gaelic. His argument, and what underlines the film, is that if you lose fishing you lose Gaelic. But really it was spending time in the Hebrides and realising that what I was seeing – the people, the boats and the community – just has this rich history. The film uses archive audio and contemporary footage. Why use this technique? To explore history in a way that is not just talking heads is actually quite difficult. But the sound archive – I sort of found out this existed at the University of Edinburgh – is huge, a really massive repository. There are 30,000 clips, even more that haven’t been digitised yet. I had this idea: ‘How would you look at the contemporary world if you were hearing stories that are hundreds of years old?’ What was the filmmaking process? It took a long time to go through the audio. There was just so much of it. They had done a remarkable job of digitising it, and vaguely categorising it, so I could get the fishing material, the storytelling material, and pinpoint general Back to Contents
clips. But a lot of them are very long pieces, people going to the islands in the 1950s and just sitting in kitchens recording everything: a lot of songs, a lot of stories, and a lot of the same things – you would hear the same story told three times over 15 years, sometimes by the same people. I made a long list, which was 10 or 15 hours of material, then Colin [editor Colin Monie] and I, before we even touched the visual material, worked through the sound. When we started editing that, I had already filmed about 80% of the visuals, so then we started to match up the sound and visual sequences to see how they spoke to each other. How did you approach which audio was going to sync up with which images? You often had visual metaphors. For example, there’s a great story about a fisherman that got taken to work in the West Indies, and we suddenly realised we had this footage of scallop guys bringing in their haul, and what was really evident about that was the chains. Suddenly you were seeing and hearing a story about a guy basically being forced into slavery. And obviously some of the landscape stuff suddenly comes alive hearing stories of the Clearances. When you see an abandoned croft and understand people were simply cleared on to the boats like cows, it takes a whole different turn. Film by Jamie Wills Page 79
A third component is the score. What did you want the music to convey? The score was always fundamental, a way to tie the past and the present together. Aidan O’Rourke is from Oban and knows that world very well, and he had an amazing group of musicians. There were a few eureka moments with recordings of people singing in their kitchen in the 1950s, and Aidan was scoring with them. The score is going to be released as an album with Reveal Records, and we hope that the film can get played with a live band. It is part of the film and we would love it to be played live. There are quite a lot of tragic stories in the audio. Do you think the tragedy affects the modern fishing communities there? It is a dangerous occupation and they are very aware of it. They knew those stories. How it affects them? Well, they are tough guys. But underneath that is how much they love the fishing as well. They love the sea. There were some guys who absolutely could have been doing other jobs, but they loved being on those boats. So the tragedy is not to be understood as something in the past – it is a very present world, and a keenly understood one.
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Safety and processing have changed a lot. Did you worry that technology was going to affect the tone of the film? To show the coastguard, which is a massively technical centre, was really important. To see the screens. To see the technology that is there. To see the lifeboat. Those lifeboats are like Formula One cars. Incredible. But what that said to me was that there have been massive steps. People were dying in a big way back in the day, and it is still one of the most dangerous professions in the UK, but it’s not like it was. But progress was part of the story – not a hindrance, but another layer. And while they use processing plants now, there is still a camaraderie amongst the ladies – a lot of them are the wives of the fishermen. So while it looks different, there is a much stronger connection underneath all the technology than you expect. Film by Jamie Wills Page 81
What do you think has been carried through the most generation to generation? On a bigger level, language. The songs and the funny stories are the ones that stay. Everyone likes a laugh. And the archive is one side of the story. There was always another. If it was a comic story they would say, ‘yeah, that is quite funny’, but there was always another version and it would be filthy. There was the dirty version that they would never have told the recordists in the 1950s.
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What is the future for Gaelic film? The first Gaelic fiction film, The Inaccessible Pinnacle, was 2008, but you have to remember that the Gaelic Language Act was only introduced in 2005, and BBC Alba was 2008. I think recently there is a shift towards embracing multilingualism. For example, 600,000 people have the Gaelic Duolingo app, and 200,000 are in Scotland. There are only 11,000 habitual speakers! Yes, people will say only 2% speak it, but it is over a thousand years of history that absolutely should be celebrated – and that includes Scots, and Doric, and Glaswegian. Of course cinema has a commercial imperative, and a distributor will say people are scared of subtitles, but the fact that this was made, and Screen Scotland supported it, BBC Alba supported it, we had great support from the community, from the university, and it was for cinema, is testament to the culture of creative documentary in Scotland. It has been interesting seeing who has been responding to trailers, because it is well beyond the Gàidhealtachd. If we can watch Parasite, why not a Gaelic film? Iorram is released in the UK on 5th March Film by Jamie Wills Page 83
DREAMS ON FIRE
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To say that Dreams on Fire is a simple tale in stylish furs would be both true and underplay the enjoyment it delivers. Its premise isn’t complicated: rural girl Yume heads into Tokyo’s night economy to follow her dream of being a dancer – the jeopardy being whether a good soul can survive the big city. Yet once there, Canadian filmmaker Philippe McKie assembles a wonderfully vibrant experience, passing through nightclubs, hostess bars, and even an Irish dive. Touring genuine Tokyo locations was a wise choice, second only to casting real-life dancers, such as lead Bambi Naka: like a sports film in which an actor can’t actually play, actors faking dance would not do. McKie’s feature debut is not perfect, and 15 minutes could have been cut from the centre as Yume’s dream wavers, but the film contains numerous victories, not least a well-judged final act that opts for beautiful modesty rather than unrealistic destruction or victory. Made for anyone who enjoys dance, Japan, clubs, feeling young or feeling hope, the tale of Dick Whittington has rarely been so visually or sonically pleasing. Philippe McKie, 32, is a filmmaker from Montreal who has lived in Japan since he was 21. Dreams on Fire is his first feature film, following on from successful shorts such as Breaker and Be My First. The film will receive its world premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival, before being released in Japan on 15th May prior to global distribution.
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How would you describe Dreams on Fire? I guess the easiest gate to enter from is that it’s the first Japanese urban dance film. There have been other Japanese dance films – the most famous example is probably Shall We Dance?, which is a film I love – but those films dealt more with social dancing and often the main characters were not dancers themselves. They were outsiders taking dance lessons. Here, we worked with a lot of the most famous dancers in the country and this is their first time on screen. Why did you cast genuine dancers? In Japan right now a lot of the production formulas are based purely on numbers of fans, and the people with fans are idols, models, and singers who used to be models. But I was like: ‘No, I am going to cast real dancers because no actor can go through an intensive course and dance like one of those dancers.’ They have been dancing and training their whole lives. I wanted to show what Japan had to offer in dance, so it was important for me to have the best dancers I could find.
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How did you find your dancers? There were a couple of ways. Firstly, for the last couple of years I’ve been exploring the dance scene in Japan, going to a lot of the biggest shows. These shows can last three hours, where it’s crew after crew after crew after crew. I love it! So I would go to those and be like, ‘them’. The other way was straight up talking to dancers and being like, ‘Who is the absolute all-star in this genre?’. For example, at the start of the film there’s a footwork battle between a guy and a girl. That girl had just won best house dancer for all Japan, a competition that lasted a year, starting in towns and leading up to this battle on this crazy stage in a stadium. When she won she was crying – it was really beautiful. So I was deeply honoured to work with dancers who are the stars in their fields. Film by Jamie Wills Page 87
Yume, the main character, gets a job in a hostess bar. How much research had to go into the hostess culture? Oh my God, I love that you went there. Here’s the funny thing about the hostess research: I think that the film itself is a story that could have been told in any city, the story of someone with a dream trying to make good. It is a classic theme. But the hostess world is the one thing that international audiences are going to be like, ‘ha!’, and where Japanese audiences are going to be like, ‘ah yes, this is a very familiar world.’ My research in that world came mostly from having friends who work in it, so not as a customer but as a confidant getting to hear the juicy stories and tips. There is a scene where the more senior girl is like, ‘I’m going to teach you some tricks.’I learnt those from a hostess.
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How many people come from the countryside, like Yume, and get lost in the night economy? It is a problem in Japan. If you are crazy ambitious, it is always Tokyo. Yes, Osaka rocks, but if you really want to make it you go to Tokyo. It is a huge world, the hostess world and beyond, even going into the sex trade, and a lot of people do come from other cities and prefectures and work those jobs. The funny thing is that if you are outside of Japan it is like this weird exotic industry. When you are in Japan it is part of the landscape. Every station has the hostess bars and the legal brothels and the love hotels. It is as normal as seeing someone in a business suit. As well as the hostess bar, Dreams on Fire goes on quite a tour of Tokyo nightlife. This sounds a bit cheesy, but is it a love letter to Tokyo? One thing I love about Tokyo is that there are many secret worlds to discover. The Irish pub, for example, is a real place that sits like six people. The place is like the size of a UK bathroom maybe, but for the master-san, the owner, it is a complete commitment that the inside of that little shrine feels like you are in Ireland. And Tokyo is full of those. So it all came together in Dreams on Fire as this buffet where you can see many dance styles, hear many music styles, and taste some of those Tokyo secret worlds. 100% love letter, yes [laughs]
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One character, ChoCho, is not Japanese. Is she speaking in your voice? I am so happy you picked up on ChoCho, because sometimes people don’t catch the fact that she is not Japanese. And yes, it is completely one aspect of myself. ChoCho’s visa thing is a struggle – I have been kicked out of Japan twice over the visa struggle! [laughs] Even the actress who plays ChoCho went through some visa issues during the shoot and we almost lost her. It was almost like this meta thing where the problems of the character were happening to the actress.
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How do you approach the visual setup of a film before you arrive at it? For me, it’s not that I have one style that I want to impose on every project. I do like when it is stylised, but the subject matter and the soul of the story will dictate the style. Dreams on Fire has a lot of different flavours: we have crazy rave lasers, and then we’re on a train going to the countryside and seeing leaves for the first time. I approach it trying to be holistic about capturing the mood, and it goes through the cinematography, it goes through the art direction, the music, sound, and even the locations. And we tried to experiment and push things as much as we could. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but there are scenes in the film where it is all in camera – no CG, all in camera – with putting crystals in front of the lens and getting freaky with the tools.
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For you, how different is shooting a feature from shooting a short? I think a lot of filmmakers put pressure on themselves, thinking that their first feature has to be epic, like it is going to represent them forever. It’s good to have a healthy amount of pressure, but at the same time I believe we are never ready. That is something I remember with Breaker. I had always wanted to make something cyberpunk and it took seven years because I was like, ‘I’m not ready, I’m not ready, I’m not ready’. Then I had this epiphany where I realised I could spend countless more years obsessing about it. I just needed to jump in and do the best that I could and see what happened. So yes, making a feature is bigger, but at the same time, if you have previously been committed to putting so much energy and love and time into a short, the pain gap isn’t that big. What is going to be next for you? Right now my life is all about Dreams on Fire and its release. It’s about to have a theatrical release in Japan, so that is really wild and I am excited to be there for that. I feel that how Dreams of Fire lands in Japan will steer how my career goes in a way. Personally, I like to be ready for different scenarios, so am ready in the event that I have to do something myself outside the system. But let's see if Dreams on Fire is well received in Japan. Dreams on Fire will be available to watch as part of Glasgow Film Festival: 6th March to 9th March Full release: 15th May (Japan) followed by TBC international releases
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HIPPFEST SILENT FILM FESTIVAL GLASGOW SHORT FILM FESTIVAL
HIPPFEST SILENT FILM FESTIVAL This year’s Silent London Awards presented HippFest with the ‘Best Real-World Film Screening of 2020’ prize, for their showing of 1915’s Filibus: The Mysterious Air Pirate. Festival organisers previewed the film, accompanied by live music from pianist Jane Gardner, at Bo’ness’ Barony Theatre one week before 2020’s HippFest was cancelled amidst the pandemic and subsequent lockdown. 2021 sees HippFest make a triumphant return for its 10th anniversary celebration, with events going online for the first time. Running from Wednesday17th till Sunday 21st March, the programme features a cocktail of curated favourites alongside obscure gems from the silent era of cinema, accompanied by music from stellar international talents. The new virtual format could attract a larger audience than those usually able to attend Scotland’s oldest purpose-built cinema in person, and should entice those curious about silent film to take a punt.
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If you’ve never ventured into a viewing of a silent film and assume it’s all jangly frames and ham acting, you may be surprised to find the genre is as innovative and varied as anything being put out today. Hollywood’s first ladies are again front and centre: this year’s programme features the incomparable Marlene Dietrich, the ‘Queen of the Movies’ Mary Pickford, and iconic star of the era Louise Brooks, as well as the original Hollywood sex symbol Rudolph Valentino. The rich programme is bursting with myriad reels from all over the world, and kicks off on opening night with Oscar Micheaux’s Body and Soul. Starring Paul Robeson, the first African American actor to achieve star status, this audacious 1925 melodrama was a contentious piece of cinema when it was released. Presenting the story of a demonic ex-con using the righteous facade of a minister to swindle townspeople to ruin, Micheaux unapologetically made the film with a Black audience in mind at a time when Black culture was attempting a more integrated approach. Micheaux’s films are complex and tackle social issues, including racism, head on. This will be explored in an introduction by film historian, documentary filmmaker, and Yale University Professor Charles Musser. Also featured is accompaniment from acclaimed international jazz musician Wycliffe Gordon.
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One of Thursday’s highlights, Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life is a showstopping record of an almost impossible-seeming journey. Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, directors of King Kong, portrayed half a million animals travelling across Iran, accompanying the Bakhtiari tribe on their epic seasonal trek across harsh terrain to reach summer pasture. The film highlights the extreme hardships the Bakhtiari faced, as well as their bravery and ingenuity, with intimate insights against a staggering backdrop of beautiful scenery. Guilty love and erotic obsession take centre stage on Saturday with Marlene Dietrich’s turn as the femme fatale in 1929’s The Woman Men Yearn For. Rearranged from the cancelled 2020 programme and with a new score from Frame Ensemble, commissioned in collaboration with Yorkshire Silent Film Festival, this drama sees main character Henri, on honeymoon with his new bride, glimpse a woman through a frosted train window. Instantly bewitched, he’s soon drawn into a seedy love triangle with Dietrich and the menacing Dr Karoff. Director Kurt Bernhardt’s expressionist style paired with Deitrich’s enigmatic presence will have you absorbed, along with the pre-screening introduction from Hannah McGill.
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Image courtesy of Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Stiftung
Sparrows Photo courtesy of The Mary Pickford Foundation
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For those of you engrossed by the child prodigy tale of Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit, you’ll be transfixed and tickled by Chess Fever on the Sunday. Chess Fever was released in 1925, the same year as the International Chess Tournament was held at Moscow’s Hotel Metropol, when Soviet citizens became gripped by the game. This fast-paced Russian comedy short from Directors Vsevolod Pudovkin and Nikolai Shpikovsky explores a couple’s love affair reaching a stalemate because of the hero’s chess obsession. The film’s showing will have musical accompaniment from John Sweeney and an introduction from Festival Director and Falkirk Community Trust’s Alison Strauss.
Image credit: Sharron Wallace
Sparrows will have you chirping on the festival’s final day, as the world premiere of a brand new restoration is screened, with a score from Taylor and Cameron Graves specially commissioned by the Mary Pickford Foundation. For those not familiar with Pickford’s gothic masterpiece, she plays Molly, the oldest charge of Mr. Grimes’ dismal baby farm, who attempts to provide the loving maternal care the orphans need and leads a daring escape across an alligatorinfested swamp in a sinister and suspenseful package. With a festival pass enabling you to take advantage of the entire programme and participate in interactive events throughout the five days, get ready for March’s unmissable season of silent film. HippFest 2021 runs from Wednesday 17th to Sunday 21th March Visit hippodromecinema.co.uk/silent-film-festival for further details and to book
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GLASGOW SHORT FILM FESTIVAL The trailer for the 14th Glasgow Short Film Festival, directed by James Price and starring Jonathan Watson, is designed to emphasise one key point: this is not the Glasgow Film Festival. Like a red-haired royal, the Glasgow Short Film Festival has struck out on its own after outgrowing its sibling relationship. It now wants to be loved on its own merits. It was 2019 when GSFF and GFF separated, the former now too successful to be an undercard. That was unfortunate timing: two years later, GSFF still has not had its debutante ball, due to COVID restrictions. Nonetheless, the quality of the short programme remains arguably the highest in Scotland. This year marquee names include Palme d’Or short winner I am Afraid to Forget Your Face, by Egyptian director Sameh Alaa, and Letter to My Mother by leading Iranian filmmaker Amina Maher, who first came to prominence as a child star in Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten.
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Other highlights include Sun Dog by Dorian Jespers, which was nominated for last year’s European Film Award and has taken prizes in Vienna, Kosovo, Hamburg and Rotterdam. Life on the Horn is a beautiful black and white film from Somalia by Mo Harawe. Scottish talent on display includes 12th Man by Caitlin Black, Expensive Shit by Adura Onashile, and Do No Harm by Douglas King. Scottish animator Will Anderson, who won the GSFF Scottish Jury Prize last year for Betty, will contribute to the opening event.
Do No Harm Such a diverse selection should elicit approving nods and ensure GSFF’s four awards (jury and audience prizes for Scottish and international submissions respectively) will continue to celebrate talent such as Anderson and Price. The latter won the audience gong himself in 2020 for Boys Night. Yet gravitas may not be high on the agenda for all, admits GSFF co-director Sanne Jehoul, and this year especially programme diversity has needed to incorporate mood diversity. ‘People have gone through a lot. People are kinda tired.’ she says. LIMBO Film by Jamie Wills Page 103
Consequently GSFF is counterbalancing its more cerebral works. One strand at GSFF is Barbed Wire Love, a collection of works about The Troubles curated by Irish filmmaker Myrid Carten and Peter Taylor, Festival Director at the Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival. Conversely, another strand is about dogs. ‘It’s pet therapy!’ Jehoul says of the canine collection. She does, however, stress these are quality films that happen to include dogs, not YouTube zaniness.
Have a Nice Dog! Other strands for an eclectic week include No New Normal, which explores emotions and concepts elicited by lockdown, and Black Spatial Imaginaries, Polystyrene: I Am A Cliche showcasing works about geographic spaces and black identity, which is curated by Natasha Ruwona and returns for a second year. Cult Canadian filmmaker John Paisz is also on the card, presented by Matchbox Cineclub, while tension is tightened and relased by an array of late-night horror and comedy. Those seeking family animation will find it split into two categories for 2021: a general all-ages collection, and pieces aimed at 7+. A code for animations will be distributed via primary schools to grant parents access without requiring a full ticket. Back to Contents
Chatter about the strength of a programme is beneficial. Yet films alone do not a festival make, and for a gathering renowned for its punk personality and welcoming attitude to new filmmakers, Jehoul wants to avoid her baby becoming simply video-on-demand. Replicating the joy of an in-person event is impossible, Jehoul concedes: ‘I think people are tired of trying.’ But GSFF is reaching into the toolbox to inject a sense of occasion. One handy device is a medium already successful in the digital sphere: the podcast. This year, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its Bill Douglas Award for International Short Film, not only will all past winners be showing, but past juries will interview the nine previous recipients for an auditory experience. ‘I think that will be quite interesting: it is a nice celebration for us, but also provides a different way of engaging with the festival which is not just on your screens,’ says Jehoul. To ensure a hint of ‘you had to be there’, a further move is to limit certain sections of the week to 48 hours’ availability. Other works will be uploaded for the duration of the week. All films will have sign language or captioning by Matchbox Cineclub, films can be accessed through the GSFF website, and entry is covered by the single-fee festival ticket. That ticket is priced on a four-tier sliding scale between £7 and £14, although for those who wish to offer more a supporters pass is available.
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Convincing the public to reach into their wallets is not always easy for short film, where the stereotype of free-to-view art school experimentation and its eye-bleeding results can dissuade those more used to watching features. However, Jehoul has a short answer and a long answer for why shorts are where standards fly. Her short answer for watching shorts is, simply: ‘Because they are better! And they don’t eat up as much time!’ The more serious rationale is that shorts possess a freedom that is impossible when larger investment is involved. That is why GSFF has been able to build a reputation strong enough to go independent, and why this year’s programme, broad enough to include Northern Ireland, a podcast, a wealth of Scottish and international films, and a side helping of dogs, will continue that success. ‘People need to see short films outside of the marginalised space that they imagine they’re in, and see they are not just wee tryouts,’ Jehoul concludes. ‘They are works in their own right, with something for everyone across every genre.’ Glasgow Short Film Festival 2021 runs 22nd March till 28th March Full programme details released 10th March – glasgowshort.org Polystyrene: I Am A Cliche Spotted Yellow
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DRUG OVERDOSE PREVENTION
DRUG OVERDOSE PREVENTION
Scotland is in the midst of a drugs crisis. National Records of Scotland recently reported that 1,246 people suffered drug-related deaths in 2019. Figures for 2020 aren’t yet available, but it’s looking like the picture will remain grim. Overall, Scotland currently has the highest number of drug-related deaths in Europe. We are also in the middle of an HIV outbreak which, according to John Campbell of the Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership, is ‘due to people sharing drug-taking equipment’. Back to Contents
It is clear that we’re in urgent need of legal, safe and clean consumption facilities with empathetic and trained staff to tackle our immediate issues. We can learn from other countries who have ventured down a similar path, such as Portugal, Canada, Denmark, Australia, and Switzerland. Their facilities and support networks have decreased the numbers of drug-related deaths and drug-related crimes, reduced the spread of HIV, and increased the numbers of people in recovery programmes. Peter Krykant is someone with first-hand experience of Scotland’s inadequate provision for overdose prevention. A former drug user himself, Krykant spent years working in community drug outreach projects. Last year, after becoming frustrated with the red-tape surrounding a promised Glasgow-based Overdose Prevention Centre which never materialised, Krykant visited Copenhagen, where he visited unauthorised community-funded mobile drug units. On his return to Scotland, Krykant bought his own van and had it converted to a mobile Overdose Prevention Centre. The unit now operates in the Glasgow area and provides a safe, sterile environment for drug users to inject. Krykant has since held talks with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Angela Constance, the new Minister for Drugs Policy. Both have pledged their efforts to tackle Scotland’s spiralling drugs issues. All agree that there are key areas that need to be addressed: community engagement, frontline services, access to rehabilitation, and support for people living with addiction. A budget of £250 million has been promised over the next five years, provided that the current administration sees a successful result in the May elections. Community by Donald Shields Page 111
Krykant holds some reserved optimism, telling the Falkirk Herald: ‘It feels, for the first time, like we’ve got the funding and equipment. They’ve put up the money. We just need action now.’ Krykant spends 4 days a week, unpaid, operating his mobile unit. The van recently failed its MOT and through the kindness of supporters, he was able to use donations to purchase an old ambulance. Krykant explains, ‘This ambulance has been used to save lives before and it will continue to do so.’ The symbolism is not lost on him either, saying to The Big Issue: ‘ There’s no mistaking what we are and what we’re doing. We’re not hiding – this is a health response to a health issue.' He has bold red letters on the side of the yellow ambulance which state, ‘GLASGOW OVERDOSE PREVENTION SERVICE’ – a stark reminder to all who question the immediacy of the issue. Until direct funding is made available it is still vitally important that people donate, if they can, to Krykant’s GoFundMe page. The details can be found at the end of the following interview.
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What led you to start an un-sanctioned, mobile, safe injection site in Glasgow? I’d worked in health services in Glasgow City Centre, providing rapid, point of care, HIV testing for homeless injecting drug users. Doing that showed me the insanity of the current approach. Testing them and giving them clean injecting equipment but then leaving them to inject drugs in really dirty, horrible conditions. Conditions that increase their chances of contracting HIV or Hepatitis C but also of getting infections from injecting in conditions that are not sterile. The current HIV outbreak in Glasgow started in 2015. I couldn't stand back and see this happen anymore. It’s always been about a push for Scotland to have an official site; we can’t service the estimated 500+ people that are publicly injecting from the back of a van. We don’t have the capacity to support all of those in need. They need additional support, which is also access to recovery treatment. Community by Donald Shields Page 113
What services do you provide? We provide clean injecting equipment, and each time the van it is used, it’s cleaned down afterwards and seat covers are replaced. We get people to agree to not deal drugs in and around the premises, there’s no violence or aggressive behaviour and everyone who uses the van agrees to an intervention should they overdose. We do ask about types of drugs being used, as we see a lot of powder cocaine being injected as well as heroin. We need to know how to respond in the event of an overdose. We’ve got volunteers who help: Paul Sweeney the former Labour MP has been out regularly. I’ve got an ex-nurse who volunteers every week for the full day and has been my main support with actually running the service. There are others who don’t want the limelight but are out every Thursday and Friday.
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How important is Naloxone [a medication used in overdose situations, which blocks the effects of opioids] and the training to use it? Police Scotland are running a trial of officers carrying this medication. The wider Naloxone is carried the better. Unfortunately, due to the criminalisation aspect of drug use, the police are normally first on the scene, so the fact the police can have naloxone with them when responding in the case of an overdose is fantastic. The quicker someone is treated with naloxone the better. It’s only on a trial basis at the moment, so that's one thing we could improve quickly, by encouraging the wider rollout of naloxone being carried throughout Police Scotland.
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How many people are using your safe consumption van? Is there greater demand since you started, and what do the people using your service say about it? The numbers fluctuate: restricted movement due to lockdown has affected people coming into the city – for many their main source of income is from begging on the street. We have a lot of regular visitors as they know where we are and they’d rather be somewhere warm, safe and protected, instead of an abandoned car park for example. The demand is there for an official facility; we’d see a lot more regular visitors. A lot of people have a perception of the van being monitored by the police, but actually the police intervention has done nothing but make our van more popular. My own background as a public injecting drug-user, being homeless, and the fact people know that about me [is reassuring to them]. Some of the stories we hear are really traumatic. A lot of adverse childhood experiences like sexual or physical abuse and some of the things people tell us are that this is the first time they have been treated with respect. They’re so grateful that we’re there, but wish we were there more often. This means they could potentially engage in treatment services as well. Less than 40% of people with problematic substance issues are in treatment. Which shows that the current treatment services aren’t working properly.
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What are your hopes for the future with regard to frontline response, in conjunction with the new appointment of Angela Constance as Minister for Drugs Policy? Should much attention be paid to drug laws being under the remit of Westminster, as a hindrance to anything proactive up here in Scotland? I hope that in 2021 we will see an official facility. Devolved drug laws don’t stop us from opening a supervised injecting facility. The laws are outdated – they talk about opium being prepared to be smoked and no mention of heroin being injected. Opium and heroin are two different drugs. We can clearly see that a safe injection facility for the preparation of heroin or cocaine is not against the Misuse of Drugs Act – just simply the possession of the drugs from the people coming to attend [is the issue]. This is the common thread coming from most drug policy and legal experts, so if Scotland has the desire to do this, they can. I’m really glad about the appointment of Angela Constance to the Minister for Drugs Policy role – we need a minister dedicated to this issue. The last minister had to deal with drug deaths one day and then attend a football match the next day or deal with a sporting issue. This needs a 100% focus, and hopefully the new minister can put her full efforts into this and we can get some short, sharp, action to reduce these drug deaths immediately. The last minister [in the role] and the drug task force haven’t implemented any real changes to affect frontline services – changes that are needed to get those people not in treatment into treatment. Getting people into treatment is where we are failing at the moment. We know that the more people that are in treatment, the less will die. Community by Donald Shields Page 117
How can someone concerned show some support for your work and positive change around drug reform? The most positive way people can support this is just by talking about it. As will removing old stereotypes and realising that safe consumption facilities do not encourage drug use and do not encourage anti-social behaviour in the areas that they are located. Businesses and residents in areas where these facilities already exist – like those in Sydney or the Dr Peter Centre in Vancouver, Canada – heavily support these facilities, because since they’ve started in these cities across the world they’ve seen drug use actually decline, as more people engage and then get into treatment. Of course, they see less discarded equipment [needles] in public spaces, fewer hospital admissions due to infected wounds or complications to drug use, and all of that adds up to less crime and less police time. This is because they are not criminalising street-level drug users; they’re engaging and getting them into treatment. All round, what society can do is research, look at the evidence and talk to your friends and family. Email your MPs or MSPs and ask them if they support these facilities and if they don’t, then ask them why not?
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Peter Krykant has set up a crowdfunding page where all money raised goes to support the set up of sites in Glasgow, and potentially other areas of the country where they may be needed. This money buys medical bandages, defibrillators, heating equipment, lighting, gazebos, storage units, seating, tables, and fuel.
Donate via gofundme.com Twitter @PeterKrykant_OPC
FURTHER ORGANISATIONS TO SUPPORT LEAP UK Global network of law enforcement figures which seeks an alternative to failing, punitive drug laws. ukleap.org Transform Drug Policy Foundation A small team dedicated to reducing the risks associated with drugs, promoting evidence-based policy, and improving the lives of those harmed by ineffective drug laws. transformdrugs.org All Photo credits: Mark Gillies
Community by Donald Shields Page 119
THE (NOT) GAY MOVIE CLUB I AM NORMAN QUEER CABARET
ROMY AND MICHELE'S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION
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I don’t want to make this all about me…but I am celebrating a milestone birthday at the end of March. You don’t need to know the exact figure, but I can remember the Spice Girls first-hand, I struggle to remember Clarissa explaining it all before re-runs appeared, and can’t afford a house, so you can piece the figure together. But in the spirit of celebrating this momentous occasion, I have felt a little nostalgic and figured this month’s entry into The (Not) Gay Movie Club deserved be one that I loved growing up, one that’s emblematic of its era, and is of course, incredibly gay without actually being gay in theme or characterisation. A handful of names came to mind, but reflecting on how fixated I was with this movie’s poster – two women in the girliest dresses, the chunkiest platform heels, lifting their feet, grinning at the camera – and how insanely enjoyable it has become as I have gotten older, there really was no option but to welcome Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion into our illustrious, exclusive movie club. Romy White and Michele Weinberger are living their best lives in L.A.... in some ways. Romy works in a car dealership and Michele is unemployed, but they have each other, and enjoy an enviously indulgent lifestyle. One day, they bump into one of their pseudo-friends from high school, Heather (Janeane Garofalo), who informs Romy that their ten-year high school reunion is coming up. However, they realise that they have accomplished very little since graduating and have nothing to showcase at the reunion – they were unpopular losers and have a lot to prove. So, they reinvent themselves in a desperate bid for acceptance from their former peers. My favourite white lie – that they invented the Post-It, of course. Lisa Kudrow was two years into Friends when the film was released, riding a wave of unbelievable stardom, and Mira Sorvino was fresh off her Academy LGBT+ by Jonny Stone Page 123
Award-winning turn in Mighty Aphrodite. It is difficult to imagine anyone else embodying these characters so perfectly. Their connection is so authentic, as seen in their off-screen reunions, that we wish desperately to be part of their gang of misfits. Romy and Michele are a parody of vacant valley girls and they so easily could be mean-spirited and cruel, but the duo has such heart and sincerity that we are always rooting for them. Rather than applauding vapidity for the sake of a cheap laugh, we’re celebrating their journey to becoming their best selves. And their best selves happen to be hilarious. Like Heathers and Clueless did before, Romy and Michele cemented its pop culture classic status because of its one-liners and camp sensibility. Here is a Love Amazon? short selection of some of our favourite quotes, served without any context: 47 of 60
‘Do you have some sort of businesswomen’s special?’ (in the grottiest of roadside diners) ‘I hate throwing up in public. ‘Me too!’ ‘Let’s fold scarves!’ ‘Remember when I had mono? That was such a great diet.’
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The screenplay is hilarious and Kudrow and Sorvino have such impeccable timing that every scene feels iconic in its own way. Special credit should also be reserved for Romy’s hilarious accent. Sorvino was inspired by her sister’s ‘pseudo-Valley Girl’ voice and spun it into comedy gold. On how she created Romy’s voice, Sorvino told Vulture last year, ‘I just made it a little bit lower, because I felt that Romy is the guy in the relationship. She’s the John Wayne, in her head. So it made sense to have a more masculine tenor to her. And I wanted her physicality to feel like a football player in drag. Like, when you see her marching to places in her high heels, it shouldn’t ever look graceful.’ One could lazily create a comparison with the similarly iconic 90s classic Clueless: a female-led, quotable time capsule adored by queer audiences 25 years after its release. But as amazing as Clueless is, it feels ‘straight’ compared to Romy and Michele, maybe because our heroes are such outsiders, and Cher, while charmingly flawed, has her act together. Romy and Michele don’t have an ounce of Cher’s confidence or savvy gift of the gab. They’re a little more relatable, and their experience feels more authentic to that of the queer fans who adored it so passionately. LGBT+ by Jonny Stone Page 125
However, as fiery as my passion for the film has burned for th of my life, I confidently admit the film is far from perfect. There is an enormous chunk of the movie that is revealed to be an extended dream sequence, which adult-me
watching the film for the first time would find exceptionally irritating. And you could argue there’s no real message to take away from the film. But maybe that’s where the beauty of the film lies: there is no suggestion that this is intended to be Love Amazon? a thoughtful, brow-furrowing masterpiece. It’s a jubilant celebration of female friendship, pure and simple. So what, then, made it such an impactful film for me 56 of 6 and a generation of gay kids? It's hard to decide where to start. The cast speaks for itself: Janeane Garofalo, 90s icon adored by gays and lesbians everywhere, and Alan Cumming, Scotland’s premier pansexual poster boy, are flawless in their roles as the women’s former classmates and bring an inexplicable queerness to the table.
Images courtesy of Touchstone Pictures
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I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t discuss the costuming, and Romy and Michele does not disappoint. The women dress in hyper-femme, bold, shiny looks when they’re being authentic to themselves, but even their conservative ‘businesswomen’ outfits – straight out of a 90s Versace catalogue – are glorious (Romy’s updo…). However, the gayest element of this film is undeniably the dance sequence between Romy, Michele, and Sandy at the end. This interpretive dance at the reunion to ‘Time After Time’ (courtesy of certified gay icon Cyndi Lauper) is probably the film’s most iconic scene, one etched in even the most casual viewer’s memory. It’s stupid, hilarious, and everything you could possibly want from a film. What drew me to Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion growing up? At the risk of overreaching, a few things spring to mind. ‘Two ditzy blondes in absurdly camp, quintessentially 90s outfits’ feels like the most immediate answer to that question. And maybe seeing two eccentric, unconventional female friends having fun, supporting each other, and ultimately showing that they are the real deal to their former bullies is particularly satisfying to queer audiences. But sometimes wee kids are just drawn to something special without questioning it too much, whether that’s Romy, Michele, the Pink Ranger, Storm, Gwen Stefani, any female video game character…I digress. Endlessly quotable, absurd, and heart-warming, I welcome Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion with open arms into The (Not) Gay Movie Club, and hope I get as many Post-Its as possible for my birthday.
LGBT+ by Jonny Stone Page 127
I AM NORMAN
This feature discusses gay conversion therapy and suicide. ‘You may find the following scenes disturbing. But that doesn’t always mean you should turn away.’ So states the honest and resonant disclaimer for docu-fiction short film I AM Norman, a dark tale that explores the consequences of gay conversion therapy for the lives of its victims. Directed by Darius Shu and writer Arron Blake, who plays the eponymous character, I AM Norman follows a man living in his car who takes a filmmaker into the woods to share a dark secret. The duo’s previous film His Hands was met with critical acclaim, nominated Best Narrative at Tribeca Film Festival in 2019. Often challenging to watch, I AM Norman is a blistering, deeply affecting snapshot of the irreparable damage caused by gay conversion therapy. There will be spoilers from here on out. The film was made during lockdown in August 2020, with only a two-man crew and the shoot lasting three days. The cinematography is especially impressive considering the size of the crew and the unimaginable pressure of filming in such a short space of time (and in the middle of a global pandemic). The setting of the English countryside is beautifully captured by Shu and the serenity of the forests Norman works in provides an eerie contrast to the uneasy close-ups of Norman’s face, grizzled by poverty and trauma. The directors certainly create discomfort and tension with their mockumentary style, allowing Norman to stare unflinchingly right through you. There is something perplexingly endearing about Norman. Blake and Shu establish in the first five minutes a charismatic, off-beat, LGBT+ by Jonny Stone Page 129
handsome character – he draws puppies using crayons, lives in his car, mourns the disappearance of his dog – which provides a jarring juxtaposition with the figure we know quite intimately by the end of the film. He takes such care in erecting a shrine for these victims, using clichéd cards and teddy bears he has accumulated, and this in fact becomes one of the most moving, heartbreaking scenes of the film. Norman is a sensitive victim driven to committing disturbing but strangely heroic acts of service to people like him. The film, while undoubtedly powerful, isn’t perfect. The image of the cut rope, used to hang Norman’s clients, as a symbol for the cut ties between the victims and their oppressors feels a little on the nose, as does the Christ-like position he adopts in the middle of a field when lifting a body from the forest. But Shu and Blake manage to
achieve so much with the few resources at their disposal, and in terms of presenting a complex character and concept, with such beautiful cinematography, the film’s few missteps certainly don’t detract from its impact. There is a powerful sequence in the film’s final moments, scored by Shu and Matthew Barton. Their song ‘A Peaceful Killing’ (performed and produced by Barton) is a moving backdrop to Norman dancing in the forest, interspersed with stunning shots of the English countryside and the vigil Norman keeps for the victims he assists in their final moments. The film ends poignantly with a reminder that gay conversion therapy is bafflingly still legal in the UK and over 100 countries around the world, and that LGBTQIA+ individuals are 8.4 times more likely to commit suicide and suffer from mental health issues because of family rejection. Since 2018, two UK prime ministers have promised to ban conversion therapy, but no concrete legislation has moved forward. Norman may be an unnerving work of fiction, but he is a symbol for the trauma inflicted upon people in our community. Bold, disturbing, and deeply impactful, I AM Norman is a brutal portrayal of emotional trauma within the queer community at the hands of their oppressors. Blake and Shu are immensely gifted storytellers who have created a powerful film that will hopefully remind its audience of the adversity we still face, and our responsibility to put pressure on lawmakers to bring an end to the practice. Their haunting short film signals Blake and Shu as tremendous filmmakers to watch. silverprincepictures.com/iamnorman LGBT+ by Jonny Stone Page 131
Photo credit: Simon Crawford
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Nostalgia is both friend and enemy during a lockdown. In certain moments it can provide a portion of relief; in others a stark and unwelcome contrast to the often lonely times we are living through. Everybody misses their favourite venues, of course. But the LGBT+ community may feel the absence of these spaces more acutely precisely because their existence in the open is so recent. It is a commonly levelled criticism that queer people are always harping on about their identities: ‘I don’t mind if they’re gay, as long as they don’t go on about it’. Yet the rainbow flags outside friendly venues, the queer art displayed on posters around cities, and the club nights dedicated to queer music are not valuable simply because they emphasise hard-won pride in and acceptance of a community. They serve as physical embodiments of social, cultural, and political legitimacy. Without them, queer people not only lose an appreciated space for socialising; they lose a ballast that reminds them their identities are valid. Dean Cargill started Queer Theory – a cabaret show with a focus on the more experimental performers within the LGBT+ community – back in 2016. It is one of the few queer nights in Glasgow that has sustained itself long term, partly by attempting to bring together different elements of the scene under one roof: drag queens, comedians, actors, performance artists, poets, musicians. ‘Our aim’, says Cargill, ‘is to bring gay, lesbian, bi, trans and non-binary people, and anybody else, into an environment that welcomes and supports their art and identities.’
LGBT+ by Ross Hunter Page 133
Queer Theory isn’t like any other cabaret event in Scotland. It takes risks, gives first-time performers a chance, and never shies away from subject matter that other shows might deem too political. ‘We’ve done anti-monarchy shows, shows criticising Brexit and the criminal justice system', Dean says. 'We try to unite people but also push a message.’ Dean is a musician by trade: a piano teacher and member of the band Melisa Kelly and the Smokin’ Crows. He is soft-spoken and unassuming, the kind of hard-working organiser who tends to go under-appreciated. Indeed, his next project, TRANSCENDENCE, emphasises this kind of selfless effort: an online festival that aims to bring together queer voices that have been without much of a public platform during the pandemic.
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TRANSCENDENCE, an online livestream broadcast from Bonjour, a new profit-sharing workers’ cooperative queer bar in Glasgow, will feature twelve performances ranging from a Tracey Emin impersonation to the world’s only queer Oasis tribute act. ‘These places’, Dean says. ‘Whether it’s Queer Theory or Hot Mess or wherever, they’re like a kind of church for queer people. And I wanted to make that explicit. To present these performers as saints worth celebrating.’ Drag queen Ruby Waters has been involved in Queer Theory for over four years, attracted to the event’s politics as well as its friendliness. Ruby moved to Glasgow in 2016, after the closure of two queer venues she had worked at in East London for years left her feeling deflated: ‘It was really depressing. The venues closed for a number of reasons but mainly to do with gentrification and the expense of operating a bar in London. Not because they weren’t popular’. LGBT+ venues in Scotland are feeling the financial impact of lockdown just as much as any other hospitality business. But the temporary loss of these places has also highlighted their value. The past year has even seen the birth of new businesses like Greenwood Café in Edinburgh and the Pink Peacock in Glasgow, showing the desire and need for more queer communal spaces. The opening of Bonjour was in the works pre-pandemic, but coronavirus has only served to spotlight its transformational potential.
LGBT+ by Ross Hunter Page 135
‘We haven’t seen many spaces like Bonjour yet’ Ruby says. ‘A space ran by and for the community. It’s going to provide a place for queer people to develop culture. Queer Theory does this already and it does it well. Bonjour gives us a place where this development can happen seven nights a week’. It is yet to be seen whether the re-opening of venues will see the explosion of creative energy portended by some to be another roaring twenties. But the perseverance of creative’s such as Dean and Ruby provide a far more concrete optimism than nostalgic daydreams about the past. They give us hope that not only will queer venues survive and continue to amplify voices that are neglected or silenced; they show us that they might just be better than ever. TRANSCENDENCE will be broadcast live on the Queer Theory Twitch channel on 26th of March
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Image credit: Laurie Brown
LGBT+ by Ross Hunter Page 137
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Photo credit: Charlotte Wales
Zakia Fawcett reflects on the Grammy-nominated Scottish musician and producer’s impact and legacy. SOPHIE sadly passed away in January 2021, too early at the age of 34.
I remember the first time I heard SOPHIE’s music so vividly. I was about sixteen, I had started out at school, everything was exciting and new, and I began to make friends who were interested in queeradjacent culture. They were telling me about the music they listened to, then someone asked, ‘Hey, have you heard of SOPHIE?’. This was shortly after the release of PRODUCT, and the visceral soundworlds of ‘BIPP’, ‘LEMONADE’, and ‘HARD' were completely unlike anything I had ever heard before. Growing up I always had a desire to experience things as intensely as possible – whether that be falling deeply, madly in love, eating the most delicious food, or creating art obsessively. These tracks fulfilled that desire in a completely new way. The music was surreal and clean, tidy and glossy, and yet there were these harsh and ugly metallic sounds which were abrasive, almost physical. At that point, SOPHIE was still relatively underground and was my ‘cool thing to show people’ as I got to uni. There’s a fanmade video to go with ‘LEMONADE’ which was hard to top in bizarreness – it’s a pulp novel-esque, hot pink mannequin-centred romantic tragedy – which I just loved to shock people with.
Music by Zakia Fawcett Page 139
While at uni, though, I came to a point where repressed feelings from my past began to resurface, and many questions rose about my personal identity. I had one friend who was trans when I was a teenager, but aside from that and what I could find on YouTube (and the show Transparent), transness wasn’t a concept that was readily accessible to me. However, as I became more immersed in the Glasgow music scene, I met people who identified as non-binary and that really changed things. I had always had intense issues with my body, which I just couldn’t understand, and I felt so confused. I would frequently cry when getting dressed or if intimate with others – something as simple as a bath or a shower was an incredibly intimidating experience. I had always thought of it as a general dysmorphia, but understanding the experiences of other trans/nonbinary people (n.b: not all nonbinary people identify as trans, however, I personally do) brought so much of my experience into question. It was simultaneously terrifying and exciting. It made me realise ‘Wait, I’m not alone, and maybe there are things I can actually try that would make me feel better.’ At a similar point in time to my seriously questioning my gender identity, SOPHIE released the single ‘It’s Okay To Cry’, with accompanying video. This initiated a complete transformation of the cultural understanding of who SOPHIE was – previously they were an anonymous person who used vocal filters in interviews and altered their voice to sound like a child. One of my favourite moments was when they were asked, ‘Why do you sound like that?’ in a radio interview, and SOPHIE simply replied, ‘I’ve got a cough.’.
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Artwork for SOPHIE's BIPP by Remote Music by Zakia Fawcett Page 141
Suddenly, they were associated with an image and a face and a voice that was quantifiably theirs. Most importantly, this was the moment that SOPHIE arrived publicly. In the past they were someone who worked as a producer for notable names such as Madonna, and now they were SOPHIE: the icon, a new Madonna for current times; the immaterial girl who was shaking things up. To suddenly have someone who was so openly themself in the public eye was just mind-blowing. This was followed by SOPHIE’s Grammy-nominated album, OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES, a beautifully moving, frivolously playful, and unashamedly queer debut. The album developed the in-your-face, cartoonish timbres that we came to know as SOPHIE’s signature sound from the PRODUCT era – with songs such as ‘Faceshopping’ and ‘Ponyboy’ pushing this aesthetic even further. However, it also brought out a different, more vulnerable, and subtly experimental side to SOPHIE, with tracks such as the hauntingly bittersweet ‘Is It Cold In The Water?’ After getting in from work around a month ago, I bought my first pair of clippers and decided to cut my hair the shortest it has ever been. I wanted to look as masculine as I could. I spent hours researching hair editorials to find inspiration for a haircut that felt truly me. After I finished cutting my hair, I cried. I couldn’t believe that I could just be myself and that things could (and would) be okay. I was so happy and proud to finally be the most okay with myself, and my transness, that I have ever been.
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I went to bed late, and the next morning I woke up to messages from friends to tell me that SOPHIE had passed away. I was crushed. I didn’t know how to handle the information. SOPHIE had completely changed my relationship with music. I had spent hours and hours over the past few years trying to figure out how to create sounds as visceral as theirs. There’s something about SOPHIE’s sound work that, as soon as they are involved in the production of a song, you can instantly hear it. SOPHIE’s music was unbelievably original and unapologetically unique. They had completely changed me, and ultimately had helped me to accept myself by being so undeniably themself. Loss is so difficult. I was excited about a future with SOPHIE being involved in the art world, and it seemed like everything was changing so much. The representation of trans artists in the public eye is so much more present than ever before, with the likes of Dorian Electra, 100 Gecs, and Arca. The world will never be the same after SOPHIE’s influence, with fans all over the world creating tribute concerts, digital club nights, and other responses to pay tribute after their passing. SOPHIE has transfigured culture for so many people – not only myself. They encouraged us to laugh, cry, dance and understand ourselves better than ever before. So, if you have never heard their work before, go out and listen! If you have: re-listen and feel everything. SOPHIE will not, and must not, ever be forgotten.
Music by Zakia Fawcett Page 143
EMPIRE BISCUITS VEGAN VEGGIE MUFFINS
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Much like the British Royal Family, who were once ‘Saxe-Coburg-Gotha’ but are now the very English-sounding ‘Windsor’, Empire biscuits were once known as ‘German’ biscuits in the UK. Actually, before that, they were called Linzer biscuits, named after the Austrian city of Linz and an existing popular holiday treat, the Linzer torte. Usually eaten at Christmas, this famous crumbly pastry was covered with fruit preserve, typically raspberry or redcurrant jam, and then topped with a pastry lattice. The Linzer torte is recorded as early as the 17th century, and at some point a similar but smaller jammy treat with added icing and cherry emerged. This ‘German’ biscuit (Linz is just under 40 miles from the German border) possibly got its name in a similar way to those thin strips of deep-fried potato in Belgium becoming ‘French fries’. The story goes that US soldiers first tasted chips when stationed in the French-speaking part of Belgium during World War I. Food and Drink by Mark & Emma, Foodie Explorers Page 147
Similarly, ‘German’ biscuits were renamed to be on our side of the war effort. They couldn’t revert to Linzer biscuits, as we were also at war with Austria. So what name could be more appealing to the British Empire than simply Empire biscuits? Interestingly, they are still known as ‘German’ biscuits in Northern Ireland. And to add to the confusion, they are referred to as ‘Belgian’ biscuits in New Zealand!
INGREDIENTS 300g plain flour 200g butter 180g icing sugar 100g sugar 1 large egg Raspberry jam Glacé cherries for decorating, or sprinkles if you prefer.
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METHOD Preheat your oven to 180°C / fan 160°/ Gas Mark 4. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Cream together the butter and sugar until they are combined. Add the egg and mix well. Sift in the plain flour and mix together to make a dough. At this point, I usually get in with my hands as it's easier. Roll the dough on a floured surface to around 1cm thick. Using a round cutter or a glass, cut your biscuit shapes and add them to the baking tray. Place in the oven and bake for around ten minutes, or until the edges of the biscuits are just golden brown. Leave to cool on a wire rack. Pair up the biscuits and add a teaspoon’s worth of jam to one biscuit, sandwiching the other one on top. Make the icing by gradually adding water to the icing sugar. The icing should be thick but not stiff, with a gloopy consistency. Add a dollop of icing to each biscuit and top with a halved glacé cherry.
Food and Drink by Mark & Emma, Foodie Explorers Page 149
VEGAN VEGGIE MUFFINS
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This easy peasy vegan muffin recipe is customisable, using mostly dry ingredients plus whatever fresh or canned ingredients you’d like to include. For the vegetables, we used two fresh tomatoes, a carrot, a bell pepper, and a handful of kale, as that’s what we had in our kitchen at the time, plus a can of sweetcorn as we always keep a supply for recipe-making.
INGREDIENTS 190g chickpea flour 3 tbsp nutritional yeast 1 tsp garlic powder 1 tsp baking powder 1 tsp salt 1 tsp chilli flakes (or more if you like it hot!) 350ml water Vegetables - use whatever you like. We used two tomatoes, a carrot, a bell pepper, a handful of kale, and a can of sweetcorn as it was handy Optional vegan margarine for greasing (else the muffins stick to the cases)
METHOD Preheat the oven to 190℃/fan 170℃/Gas Mark 4 Grease a muffin tin or muffin cases after placing in each muffin tin cavity Add the dry ingredients to a large bowl and mix them together Add the water to the mixture, making sure that the mixture is combined well The mixture should look like a pancake batter Add your finely chopped vegetables to the bowl, then mix together Add the mixture to each muffin case Place the muffin tin into the oven and bake for around 30 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean Leave the muffins to cool, then remove from the tin and munch Food and Drink by Mark & Emma, Foodie Explorers Page 151
BLANCK MASS LOUP HAVENITH ARAB STRAP SARYA + RUFUS ONYVAA STANLEY ODD MODERN STUDIES BEN SEAL FISKUR WOJTEK THE BEAR INDOOR FOXES STEREOLAB BLACK GIRL, CALL HOME THE MIDDLE OF A SENTENCE CREATION STORIES HIM & HER CYBER SHADOW
BLANCK MASS TRACK BY TRACK IN FERNEAUX
The thing about using a formula in a recurring feature, like, say, reviewing records track-by-track, is that you don’t want to stick too fervently to a convention you’ve created for yourself. Similarly, you can’t deviate from the absolute rules of the named medium or it loses all sense. If we don’t name the tracks in order in the track-by-track review, nothing will make sense anymore. Reality will broadly invert. Cats and dogs will become eligible for public office, cloning moths will become fashionable, and fireworks will only be available in mauve. Back to Contents
Nobody wants any of this, and sometimes we’ll go to subtle yet cerebral extremes to make records we like fit the format. This becomes a bit of a scuffle between linguistic brevity and the word count whenever it’s a double album. Anyway, Blanck Mass, always intriguing, has released an album with two tracks. Two stupendous tracks to which no amount of padding the intro with lexicographical vomit could do justice. Therefore, I’ve decided to save everyone the torture and just name the sections of the two tracks with the worlds and landscapes they aurally paint. Blanck Mass is known as Benjamin John Power on his driving licence and was 50% of influential Bristol duo, Fuck Buttons. His particular brand of ambient dronetronica, when that’s what he’s doing, can shift from dreamlike to nightmarish, skipping most of the shades between. At its beating heart, In Ferneaux uses over 10 years’ worth of field recordings gathered by Power and regurgitates these into a flowing, narrative sonic journey which will take you from oceanic realms of despair to gentle hillocks of optimism. In Ferneaux kicks off with ‘Phase One’ and its unsettling, syncopated synth loops are reminiscent of Plastikman’s Consumed-era adventures in intersecting rhythmic tides. The drums (and everything else) appear after over four minutes, completing the first six minutes – now called ‘Dustbin Kicking At Dawn’. An extended exploration of overlapping harmonics and atmospheric sampling forms the intro to ‘Sunrise on a Planet of Milk’ before merging into what is now called ‘Erudite Bee Rabble-Rouses Through a Didgeridoo’. The synth pads surge and retreat over samples which could be anything from waves lapping on a beach to a school canteen. The effect is both dazzling and bewildering. Unsettling, yet hopeful and massively dependent on what your other four major senses absorb at the same time. Music by Stephen McColgan Page 155
‘Phase Two’ presents itself in its opening minutes much the same way a wee guy hanging about outside a train station would approach someone looking to blag a smoke. In a starting section that I’m calling ‘Moments of Clarity’, a cacophonous intro fades away into samples of people recounting positive spins on lives lived hard. The journey from these first-person interactions into a relative sea of dreaming consciousness is more subtle than it has any right to be. The next, self-explanatory, ahem, new track is called ‘The Agony Machine’. ‘The Agony Machine’ gives way to ‘Skip The Harmonium Clouds’ which, in turn, gives way to ‘Noisy Pagan Thursday Night In’. ‘NPTNI’ doesn’t overstay its welcome, instead allowing its organic but aggressive drums to recede into ‘Trapped Inside an Old Television’ which, in turn, moves almost seamlessly into anthemic closing track, ‘The Feeling of Achievement After Doing Something Previously Put Off Through Sheer Procrastination’. The two separate phases, rather than one being a road out and one a figurative journey back, are more like a unified piece, undulating yet indivisible. Much like other Blanck Mass recordings, there are moments of near perfect harmonic tranquillity battling it out with moments of prolonged, multi-wavelength assaults. What is different this time around is that the interspersal of found and manipulated sounds is so much more prominent, which gives In Ferneaux a more focused sense of humanity than its predecessors. In Ferneaux is out now on Sacred Bones Records
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LOUP HAVENITH SINGLE: SAILOR
Supercloud’s Abandon All Reason EP caused quite the stir around these here parts when it was released during the heady days of 2020’s weird, claustrophobic summer. ‘We can’t wait to see what they do next,’ proclaimed the last line of our review, so, of course, they promptly split up. It’s a temporary break, we’re assured. However, out of the earth of something promising have sprung multiple things of even more promise. Supercloud frontman Loup Havenith has gone solo and 'Sailor', his second single after last year's 'SEATTLE 2', is produced by bandmate Lloyd Ledingham (better known under his solo pseudonym, Lloyd’s House). What’s evident from ‘Sailor’ is the structure and nuance of Loup's writing. On first listen, it’s not entirely clear which bit is the chorus or whether there properly is one, but it still manages to sweep you along before becoming the textbook definition of a grower. As it turns out, the chorus almost sounds like a middle eight before hitting a relatively noisy bit which is all the better for its restraint. There’s a vulnerability to the vocals, a comfort in the descending arpeggio accompaniment and an ache in the song’s final minute that could fill anyone’s contemplative night-time headphones. We can’t wait to see what he does next. ‘Sailor’ is out now via Bandcamp Words by Stephen McColgan
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ARAB STRAP ALBUM: AS DAYS GET DARK
Photo credit: Paul Savage
The return of Arab Strap has been rapturously received, and if you thought the live shows featured an act on form, wait until you hear the comeback record. As Aidan Moffat said, this version of Arab Strap is older, wiser, and probably better. Whether Aidan is turning his focus on the overwhelming amount of content in the world, xenophobia, or even himself, he does so with wit, charm, and enough hooks to ensure the songs dig into you deeply. It’s inevitable listeners hear songs through a filter, and right now, virtually everything has a grimy sheen. That’s long been the group’s playground, and in ‘Kebabylon’, they’ve a song that was made for these times. An ode to a night out and the debris left behind might seem like poking an open sore right now, but Moffat shines a romantic light on the street sweepers: men and women who keep our secrets, and who peek through the neon filter and creeping daybreak to find us in our cracked glory. If we’ve taken anything from the past year, it’s hopefully a realisation that society is dependent on everyone playing their role in keeping us going. The song’s title suggests another lost weekend Back to Contents
and the depressing aftermath, but in the wreckage, we gain a greater insight for the world around us. And it’s this interplay that frolics throughout the album. It’s an Arab Strap record, you know there’s shagging, drinking, regret, and introspection. And that’s just the sublime opener, ‘The Turning Of Our Bones’. With a title like As Days Get Dark, it would never be plain sailing, but it’s an album capable of leaving you in an optimistic mood. Malcolm and Aidan’s music is thoughtful, light-footed and beguiling. For a band who have enjoyed their live return, it’s no surprise the new record features many moments that are made for the stage. As Days Get Dark is released on 5th March on Rock Action Words by Andy Reilly
Photography: Rene Passet
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sarya + RUFUS SINGLE: 6075 // I MISS YOU
Bittersweet longing with a biting undertone of frustration are combined in '6075 // i miss you' from Sarya, feat Rufus. Discordant low-fi electronics mesh with haunting vocals to create a lamenting yet insistent track that repeats ‘I miss you / you know / I don’t want to go.’ Sarya, who has been impressing with their lyrical poetry on Edinburgh's night scene for a few years, said: ‘I wrote this in preparation of leaving Scotland, knowing that I wouldn't be able to come back for a while, given the current pandemic circumstances. Taipei and Edinburgh are 6075 miles apart, a 16 hour plane ride. There's sadness and longing but also a lot of love to express to my adopted home… it's just a shame that it's never been easy to live in Scotland without jumping through a lot of expensive bureaucratic tomfoolery. It's a lament of uncertainty and reluctant abandon.’ The artist's talent for perfectly capturing emotion is on point here with refreshingly honest simplicity, as Sarya's love song to their favourite place reminds us that music can take us anywhere, even if we’re miles away from where we want to be. '6075 // i miss you' is out now on Spotify Words by Lindsay Corr
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ONYVAA EP: LOST ANGELES
Memorable record labels have an identity, a sense of consistency that ties everything together. You don't need to like everything on that label, but you should at least comprehend what it stands for and what it delivers. The KNTXT label doesn’t venture far, but it delivers what it does extremely well. Onyvaa is the latest DJ to feature, and her Lost Angeles EP ticks all the boxes for lovers of punishing yet pleasing techno. If you are looking for techno that is too well-mannered for the hardcore and yet too brutal for your grandparents, you’re in the right place. The four tracks are hard, melodic and will leave you pining for sweaty moments in poorly-lit basements. Places that sound horrible when described, but which are magical when encountered. ‘Lucid’ practically skips with indecent haste, but there’s barely a misplaced step on this collection of murky monsters. Lost Angeles was released on 19th February on KNTXT Words by Andy Reilly
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STANLEY ODD SINGLE: THE INVISIBLE WOMAN
‘Try telling this woman to behave’, is Veronika Electronika’s challenge in the latest single from hip-hop anti-heroes Stanley Odd. The band are currently releasing a new song every six weeks from their anticipated fourth album, due to be released this spring. ‘The Invisible Woman’ allows Veronika to showcase her MC skills alongside frontman Solareye, as they deliver an ode to revolutionary examples of female rebellion throughout the ages. As Solareye explains: ‘She is a disruptor, a freedom fighter, an activist, a dissident; appearing in some of the most striking, ingenious and earth-shattering scenes through the ages, then disappearing into the ether when the history books are written.’ The clattering beats and flowing lyrics combine in rebel fashion, inspired by the women they're celebrating, with catchy oxymorons such as ‘Calm like a bomb’ hitting home the point that some of the most powerful moments in modern times (many, predictably, omitted from the history books) have taken place when women speak up. Saffiyah Khan's smile, inches from the face of an English Defence League activist, is a recent, beautifully defiant example. Provocatively obstinate, with a catchy chorus, you’ll find yourself nodding along in agreement, and maybe searching out some of these lady legends while you learn the anthem. ‘The Invisible Woman’ is out now via Handsome Tramp Records Words by Lindsay Corr Email: email@example.com Page 165
MODERN STUDIES EP: THE BODY IS A TIDE
The Body Is A Tide offers you a seat alongside an experimentalist on a journey, with brief pit stops along the way for some thoughts on mortality. The three track EP, created during the height of lockdown, captures a sense of the dreary psyche we may have stumbled upon during these darker days. The EP is introduced with titular track ‘The Body Is A Tide’, allowing you to feel like you are travelling through the plains of an episode of True Detective. One can only picture Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle having an existential crisis in the front seat whilst T Bone Burnett takes control of the AUX cable as you follow signs for judgement day. And with Emily Scott’s melancholic vocals, what a soundtrack to the journey it would be. ‘The Body Is A Tide EP is the darker, doomier sibling to the Life Flows in Endless Song EP. ‘It nods at the idea of our collective bodies weathering distant times, played out with massed strings, prepared guitars, slow bass grooves, hypnotic drums and wobbling saw and mellotron,’ said the band. Wondering what a ‘wobbling saw’ sounds like? Track two ‘The Naked Eye’, lets us hear – it’s just like it was in the cartoons. From here you delve deeper into the EP, thanks to ominous piano loops and delicate vocals. Seamlessly it flows into the penultimate track ‘High Hymn Summers’ as if there had been a change of seasons. The finale grabs you with a seductive cello and brings our thoughtprovoking ride to an end with the sound of birds chirping. Leaving you feeling as Rust Cohle and T Bone would have wanted: retrospective.
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These addictively gloomy tracks are well-suited fit with its label, Fire Records. What is almost a 40 year old label has been described by Billboard Magazine as ‘the most elegant psychedelic pop label in the world’ is home to an evergrowing list of names. The Black Lips, Josephine Foster, Vanishing Twin and art punk band Half Japanese, to name a few. The psychedelic Scottish quartet consisting of Emily Scott, Joe Smillie, Pete Harvey, and Rob St John recorded both EPs partly at Glasgow’s Glad Café Following the success of last year’s critically acclaimed album Weight of the Sun, under normal circumstances, Modern Studies would have been busy touring. In the absence of this however, it’s clear that they have used these murky days meaningfully and added to an already powerful collection. This record should be kept in the back pocket, handy for a drive through the Scottish Highlands. The Body is a Tide is out now via Fire Records Words by Paul McTaggart
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BEN SEAL SINGLE: I WANT
‘ I Want’, their first single since October’s Death & More album, sets the tone for Ben Seal’s punky disco phase as the Fife-based musician takes us on a journey into gender identity, playfully straddling disciplines and refusing to fit in with subjective arbitrary niches. Ben’s love letter to their friend, a trans-woman skateboarder and custom hot-rod builder in California, transports you to the Golden State with 80s influenced synth pop and catchy harmonies repeating the overarching message of want, urging you to grab your shade and strut your stuff unapologetically. ‘As a gender non-conforming surfer/skateboarder myself,’ explains Ben, ‘I like nothing more than getting my plaits in a tangle at a skate park or attempting to surf one of Scotland’s easier east coast breaks. The lyric ‘I wanna go surfing I wanna be perfect’ reflects on the nature of desire in lockdown and a person's need to be able to express themselves. It’s also a call to anyone struggling to marry their diverse identities, whether that’s cis or trans, masc or femme!’ On the back of February’s LGBTQ history month, this is a pop anthem celebrating queer culture which honestly attempts to reflect the human need for authentic connection. You’ll have trouble getting the clever ‘all this straight acting got me bummed out’ reprise out of your head. 'I Want' is out 12th March via Piggery Records Words by Lindsay Corr
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SINGLE: AT THE END Fiskur is a collaborative project between Ross Clark (Three Blind Wolves) and Andy Monaghan (Frightened Rabbit). Following their spacious and gently soulful debut album, Cold Hands, Burn Slow in 2020, any further news of a Fiskur project should be met gratefully. Unbefitting to the usual songbook of heartbreak, their new single evokes contemplation about an acceptance that can be found ‘At the End’ of a relationship. Clark’s lyrics and modulation capture the essence of complete vulnerability as the track builds in delicate layers which gently nudge in and disappear without fanfare, with its payoff being a moment of sheer tranquillity. Andy provides the track with its elegant piano and these warm, shy synths. Lyrics such as ‘Loneliest people stand hand in hand’ have an overwhelmingly relatable feel to them, and routinely carry the weight to sucker-punch the listener right in the gut. Fair play to the former Three Blind Wolves singer for his apparent ease and dearth of self-consciousness when it comes to his songwriting. 'At the End' is out now via Monohands Words by Paul McTaggart
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WOJTEK THE BEAR SINGLE: FERME LA BOUCHE Glasgow based band wojtek the bear’s latest single ‘ferme la bouche’ is a sunny-sounding, 90s-tinged offering, with the band’s signature guitar sound pepped up with lively strings and brass. A slight change in direction for the band sound-wise, this release seems perfectly timed for longer days and warmer weather. In this, the band’s first single to be released with independent label Last Night From Glasgow, the upbeat sound counters much darker lyrics about getting comfortable and losing yourself in a toxic relationship, and the overthinking and self-blame that often goes along with that. Not ones to shy away from difficult topics, wojtek the bear once again handle things with grace and a personal angle that doesn’t make light of a serious situation. Their second album heaven by the back door is set to be released in July, and the band hope to have a launch show at Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA). Whether or not that will be possible is in the lap of the gods. Still, their latest single is sure to provide the summer vibes wherever you are. ‘ferme la bouche’ is out now via Last Night From Glasgow Words by Lily Black
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INDOOR FOXES SINGLE: MR YELLOW EYES Indoor Foxes (Martha Barr) is back with this confidently self-produced single, ‘Mr Yellow Eyes’. It’s written as a letter to her dad, telling him about the ups and downs of her relationship, and asking for the emotional comfort of home to reassure. The last year has stretched and worn the ties that bind families and friendship – jealousy brews niggles grow into new spaces, and asking for help can be difficult – and this track seems to be rooted in this experience. With the line ‘Dad, please tell me something that feels like home.’, Martha gets to the heart of a feeling that’s pretty common these days. While it doesn’t have the immediate niggling earworm quality of her previous release ‘Peach Stone’, it’s definitely a bit of a grower. Matha’s vocal delivery is as easy and as adaptable as ever. Singing well within herself, there’s always the feeling that she has another three or four gears she could easily access if she so wished – when she turns the sunshine on in the chorus, it’s a wee moment of bliss. ‘Mr Yellow Eyes’ is streaming now on Spotify and is available to purchase on 7" vinyl with 'Peach Stone' on the reverse via Classy Lassy Words by Kenny Lavelle
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ALBUM: ELECTRICALLY POSSESSED [SWITCHED ON VOL. 4]
Few bands navigate liminal spaces quite as easily as majestic avant-pop act Stereolab. There has always been an effortlessness to their music – a breezy insouciance in Laetitia Sadier's creamy vocals – no matter what murky waters their lyrics often dip into. It's hard to imagine current bands like Jock Strap, Toro Y Moi, or Hen Ogledd existing without their influence. This, the fourth installment in the Switched On series, takes tracks from sessions in the period 1999-2008, and is a delight in sonic exploration. But this time there is less emphasis on the Situationists and the Paris riots of '68, and more focus on sci-fi. For every catchy indie floor filler in the band's 30-year career, like 'French Disko' or 'Ping Pong', there has been a more esoteric response, a 'John Cage Bubblegum', or 'How To Play Your Internal Organs Overnight'. Here, in the band's more fragmentary musical angles, is where Electrically Possessed sits. Stereolab have never been afraid of blurring genres, or being playful or perverse regarding song direction. Co-founder Tim Gane has spoken about enjoying the porous nature of analog synths, in terms of what shapes can be created, and these instruments are ubiquitous here. 'The Super- It' could be one of the more conventional tracks here; yet even so, its spongy funk rubs up between chanson and electronic pioneer Delia Derbyshire's space age squelches. Elsewhere too, the odd vacillations in sound persist, from 'Dimension M2', a hypnotic incantation which melts halfway through, transforming into a locked groove with a choir seemingly from outer space, through to the woozy exotica Back to Contents
of 'Nomus et Phusis', and the frantic meanderings of ‘Fried Monkey Eggs’, represented here both in its instrumental and vocal forms. The clear highlight though, comes in the brilliantly titled 'Free Witch and No Bra Queen', a trippy, chopped-up jazz slink which comes on like soundtrack music to the most sexy sixties sci-fi film you have yet to see, evoking both the wide-eyed passion of Jane Fonda in Vadim's Barbarella, and the danger of a dystopian future in Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451. Never taking the easy route is Stereolab's raison d'etre – who else could start a new album with a nine-and-a-half minute epic called 'Outer Bongolia'? With 25 tracks, they could have run the risk of testing the attention of the listener, but there are no such concerns – there is enough audacity to satisfy the most diehard Stereolab fan, and even more intrigue and hooks to draw in newcomers. To quote lyrics from an earlier track of theirs, 'Heavy Denim', reprised on the album as a deconstructed loop: 'We're not here to get bored / We are here to disrupt / To have the time of our lives'. Electrically Possessed (Switched On Vol. 4) is out now via Warp/ Duophonic Words by Lorna Irvine
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BLACK GIRL, CALL HOME POETRY
Photo credit: Redens Desrosiers 2020
Jasmine Mans is a Black American poet who hails from Newark, New Jersey. Her debut collection of poetry, Chalk Outlines of Snow Angels, was published in 2012, but she returns with her incendiary, highly-anticipated collection Black Girl, Come Home. Many will be familiar with Mans' ‘Footnotes for Kanye,’ a cultural commentary on Kanye West in which she aired her grievances with him after marrying Kim Kardashian and going against everything he mocked in his earlier music (she was pretty astute in her observations, in hindsight). Black Girl, Come Home sees Mans explore the narratives of different aspects of her identity as well the ‘narratives of women of colour that I need to speak upon,’ as she stated in a January interview. Back to Contents
Mans takes her reader through a full range of emotional experiences using touchstones we can relate to in our own way. She explores, for one, the complex dynamic between mothers and daughters, acknowledging that they are at once not the same person and more similar than each party may care to acknowledge. She presents loaded sentiments such as ‘I resent my mother for the things she sacrificed on my behalf.’ Many poems touch on lesbian identity and relationships. Powerful pieces like ‘1,000 Questions on Gender Roles for a Lesbian’ examine the common tropes and questions women who love women are forced to endure – lazy assumptions and ignorant blunders every queer person has experienced too many times to count. Each part of this female coming-of-age narrative is interwoven with Black identity and cutting socio-political commentary about Black lives. One of the collection’s most powerful poems is ‘Black Son,’ which portrays the fear Black mothers possess at the prospect of the lives awaiting their sons. The poem ends: “I am just afraid to raise a Black son.” / Who will spend the rest of his life praying for a melody, or a melanin safe enough to scream in, a son who has to be a martyr for a war he never asked for. Present this alongside her poem ‘B’Nai’s Three Babies’ (‘She prayed to God / for her babies / that they’d earn / the vocabulary / she didn’t have’) and the reader is presented with an intense and complex picture of Black parenthood.
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Mans successfully creates stories that extend over various poems, allowing her to explore the given concept with depth. The ‘South 14th Street’ poems present a moving, heart-breaking snapshot of her grandparents’ lives – reminiscing on her grandmother’s house, then the passing of her grandfather, before the inevitable selling of their property. She dedicates substantial space to Black pop culture in her collection, notably a deeply affecting section commemorating Whitney Houston. ‘Whitney: Fairy Godmother’ celebrates the power the singer held (and still does) to inspire Black women. ‘Boy Can That Girl Sang’ equally champions the majesty of a woman crowned ‘The Voice’, but it is ‘Hologram’ which is the most haunting, critiquing the tour in which Houston was carted out digitally to entertain thousands from beyond the grave: ‘Reactivate a dead woman’s / social media, promote. / You don’t have to be alive / to make a living, / or a killing.’ Mans writes with blistering urgency, shedding brutal light on concepts like the treatment of trans bodies. ‘Trans-Panic’ presents unflinchingly the violence trans women face at the hands of cisgender men who turn on them, while in ‘Maybe We Can Fool God’ she reflects on the relationship between God and trans individuals, hypothesising: When a transwoman is murdered no one cares because we assume God doesn’t either. She is similarly succinct in pushing to the forefront the way women have historically been mistreated, as seen in ‘Ledger of Women Patients Sterilised Back to Contents
Without Consent’, a medical report in stanzas of 4 or 5 lines. Most harrowing is the listing of ‘anonymous woman #1 and #2,’ reminding us of the perpetual violation of women’s reproductive rights. Mans covers a lot of ground, and while some of the singular, untitled lines between poems feel at times jarring, taking the reader out of the moment from the previous poem, the collection never lacks direction or focus. Invigorating and provocative, Man’s exploration of all parts of her identity – her body, her race, her family, and more – connects profoundly to the reader and challenges us to question our own sense of self. Black Girl, Call Home is a powerful and affirming collection that everyone needs on their bookshelf. Black Girl, Call Home will be published on 9th March 2021 by Penguin Random House Words by Jonny Stone
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THE MIDDLE OF A SENTENCE BOOK
Every so often a short story or prose collection comes along which helps to define a particular period in Scottish literature. In the 1980s there was Lean Tales, which brought together three of the great writers of the day in Alasdair Gray, Agnes Owens, and James Kelman. The 90s had The Children of Albion Rovers which introduced many to the work of those who became known as the Chemical Generation of writers, and 2011 saw the publication of The Year of Open Doors, where the writing reflected the greater range and breadth of Scottish culture evident in the early years of the new millennium.
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The Middle of a Sentence feels like the next link in that chain, bringing together writers from all of the above, and introducing new voices to the conversation. It opens with two pieces from Jenni Fagan, ‘Ida Keeps Falling’ and ‘The Ship’, both of which work as a great introduction not only to the book but to her writing, with themes of horror, the surreal, and as with her recent novel Luckenbooth, the secret lives of others. James Kelman’s ‘A Hard Man’, brings to mind his famous half-page short story ‘Acid’ from Not Not While The Giro, as one man’s reaction to another man’s death is distilled to its very essence. As with most of the pieces, few words are wasted. Janice Galloway wrings emotion out of everyday domestic conversations between three generations in ‘Moving On’, and Graeme Armstrong explains what it means to be ‘Landit’ as he introduces us to life lived in ‘Heroin Heights’. Ron Butlin tells us of ‘The Legend of McGinley and the Seven McCanns’, men who are made from ‘Cement, anger and cement’ and who come from the hills to terrify the town. Bernard MacLaverty ponders what has fundamentally changed between losing ‘The Fountain Pen’ and finding it, and just what he can do to try and fix it. Other well known names include A.L. Kennedy, Duncan McLean, Alan Warner, Regi Claire, David Keenan, and Kevin MacNeil – each reminding us why they are among Scotland’s most exciting literary figures. There are also extracts from works by literary legends who are clearly inspirations for The Middle of a Sentence, including Anton Chekov and Katherine Mansfield. And publisher The Common Breath’s Brian Hamill sets out the ideas and ideals behind the book in a beautifully written introduction.
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But it is the new writers, from home and overseas, who take this collection to another level, proving that while the present is built upon the past, the future is one of even greater promise. Julie Rea sets out how the little incidents in life often take on great significance in ‘The First To Leave’, a heart-breaking story of family affairs. Joey Simons tells a tale which could be either psychological or fantastical; either way, the character in ‘The Catch’ has reached his wits end. Rachael Fulton’s ‘Blood’ is a horrific tale of prejudice and violence passed down from father to son, and Kris O’Rourke gets to the twisted truth about a poltergeist called ‘Victor’. Kirsten Anderson’s ‘The Space Between’ is almost tangible, with the emotion on the page heightened by the way she allows the words to breathe, in a manner not dissimilar to some of Jenni Fagan’s and Janice Galloway’s work, once again suggesting that there is a conversation going on between the writers in The Middle of a Sentence. As such, it’s the perfect snapshot of Scotland’s literary landscape for the new decade. The Middle of a Sentence is out now published by The Common Breath Words by Alistair Braidwood
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CREATION STORIES FILM
I’ll always remember the first time I listened to era-defining albums such as My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless and Primal Scream’s Screamadelica, as many others will, given their influence and importance. Without Alan Mcgee, one of Scotland's great musical icons, they may not have had the impact they did, and the landscape of popular music may have been very different. He produced and discovered so many great era-defining bands, so his story is ripe for feature film treatment, especially considering the legendary status of some of the stories associated with him. Director Nick Moran’s OTT, at times hilarious and riotously fun movie hits a lot of the right notes, but lacks a little something in delivery. Ewen Bremner plays Mcgee with an energy and glee that pops from the screen, as he goes from new wave band member wannabe to finding his place by founding Creation Records. The film is at pains to portray Mcgee’s rebel status, and becomes both Back to Contents
a celebration of the rock n’ roll lifestyle and a cautionary tale when the wheels come off and he finds his way to rehab. It often reminds me of 24 Hour Party People, the tale of Tony Wilson and Factory Records, and is similarly fast moving and knowingly humorous. The sights and sounds of Glasgow town centre are present, and the film does a good job of giving the viewer a sense of the city at that time. Some of the classic stories, such as Mcgee discovering Oasis at King Tut’s and his encounter with Peter Mandelson, are lovingly recreated. The film certainly has some money behind it, and through this is able to create an immersive portrait of Mcgee. However, I found the writing lacks a little when it comes to getting a full sense of the man. At times he appears two dimensional and cartoonish, bolstered by the films at times surrealistic, psychedelic visuals that go for a 90s Trainspotting-style vibe. Despite Bremner’s charm, his performance and the approach of the film are at times too OTT, and distract from the riveting story being told. Still, if you’re looking for a frantically-paced, 90s music nostalgia-fest that tells a tale more than worth telling of a Scottish music legend, Creation Stories is a good bet. Creation Stories had its world premiere at the 2021 Glasgow FIlm Festival, and will be released on March 20th via Sky Cinema Words by Martin Sandison
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THE SWORDSMAN FILM
The Korean period swordplay movie is one that has been put to bed in recent years. Consequent to the release of the classic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Korean film makers tried their hand at the genre, with mixed results, and the style of film went out of fashion sometime in the late Noughties. Director Choi Jaehoon has resurrected the genre to impressive effect with The Swordsman. Jang Hyuk plays a swordsman who lives on a mountain with his daughter, his failing eyesight a concern for her. She persuades him to take a trip into town, and try and find a cure for his ailment. Soon they are mixed up in court intrigue and she decides to take a job as a maid for a Lord. She is captured, and Hyuk must track her down, finally taking on her captors.
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The Swordsman opens with stylish intent, as a young swordsman takes on a skilled exponent. Being a lifelong fan of this type of movie, I know a good fight scene when I see one. From the opening intense, intricate exchanges, pinsharp editing and neat camerawork, I knew this movie was going to be above average for a martial arts film. There is some good variety in the action styles, with unarmed combat as exciting as when Hyuk takes up his sword, and group fights as prevalent and well-filmed as one-on-one duels. Minor faults within the fights are some jarring editing and bad CGI blood, but these don’t happen often. The movie marries myriad action scenes with some good drama and tension, and the actors pull off their roles well. The baddie is played by Joe Taslim, whom viewers may recognise from The Raid: Redemption, the ground-breaking Indonesian martial arts film from a decade ago. He convincingly chews scenery and has charisma to spare, and in the end duel shows his undoubted sword skills. Hyuk is a likeable, stoic hero who says little and lets his blade do the talking. Kim Hyun-soo as his daughter is also good to watch, and she handles her dramatic scenes well. A simple plot line, some subplots that are uninteresting and a lack of depth in characterisation are the film's real foibles. If you like period action films, here is a good example from the country that everyone is getting excited about when it comes to cinema. The Swordsman screened at the 2021 Glasgow Film Festival Words by Martin Sandison
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HIM & HER SHORT FILM
Him & Her (2020) is a punchy, seventeen-minute love-hate story written by Asya Fix and Daria Geller, also directed by Geller. Based on Chekhov’s 19th century short story ‘He & She’, the film acts as an examination of a dysfunctional, bordering on toxic, relationship, and stars Evgenyi Kharitonov and Miriam Sekhon. The piece bagged Best Short Film and Best Cinematography at the 2020 India Short Festival, and Sekhon secured the award for Best Actress at the Cinalfama Lisbon International Film Awards. Back to Contents
Kharitonov and Sekhon are as believably loving and tender as they are cruel to each other. Their mutual verbal abuse is portrayed as almost an intimate ritual for the pair, like their own unique love language. In fact, Him & Her competently explores a different side of love languages – their acts of service for each other are lovingly done but mirrored by resentment. The quality time they enjoy together manifests as bursts of respite when the vitriol is briefly forgotten. The two actors complement each other brilliantly, displaying similar habits and mannerisms while spouting hatred for each other, and chase the disgust by holding one another softly – they’re exciting to observe. By the end of the short, we have a clear grasp of who these two people are. When talking to an interviewer, we hear each of their takes on the other. Largely, she has the same complaints about him as he has for her – they both drink too much, they’re both barely functional as human beings. But they do things for each other, and these little gifts, like her singing or him playing with her hair, ground them and bind them to one another.
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It's carfeully and beautifully shot, the camera is often held still for long moments, as though we are there with them, watching them from the front of the car as they sit in the back, or from a corner in a room that they don’t know we inhabit. This really builds on how intimate the subject matter is, and gives off a ‘we shouldn’t be witnessing this’ sort of vibe. As the ‘her’ character feels sick before her show, she and her husband make a point of dismissing their assistants from the room they’re in, and even bar one from re-entering after being summoned. This is clearly a moment where they want to be alone: we watch her sink into his chest and him caress the naked skin of her back in an act of comfort. To a degree, this was an uncomfortable watch. We’re shown these two sides of the couple: the public image they’re comfortable showing to the world, where they badmouth and verbally abuse each other (who roots for a couple who act like this?), and the tender secrecy when they’re alone. Still, Him & Her is beautiful and soft, like a chaotic lullaby. It’s deeply cynical of love in its presentation of two people bound together by their work and their marriage vows, who can seemingly only show affection in moments where they need comfort, or when they’re drunk, or guaranteed to be completely alone. This cements its place as an Anti-Valentine's Day Film. With every second of the short being emotionally effective and productive, it is certainly worth a watch. Words by Holly Fleming
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CYBER SHADOW GAME
Soaked in faux 80s nostalgia and pixelated graphics and backed by a thumping soundtrack, Cyber Shadow propels you through a technological hellscape, as you face off against mechanical enemies and toe-curlingly difficult platforming. The game is brought to you by Finnish game devs Mechanical Head Studios and published by Yachtclub Games, who were behind 2014’s pixely platformer Shovel Knight. Cyber Shadow is a neon-infused dash, side-scrolling through a 2D world of machines and spikes in which you must hop, slide, and slash your way through each level. Back to Contents
The game takes a lot of inspiration from classic side-scrollers, with Ninja Gaiden being the clearest inspiration. Cyber Shadow is super challenging, with enemies that can and will send you right back to one of the game's checkpoints, knocking you into a locked animation of pain as you tumble into instakill spikes below. While there are some elements of exploration, these mostly extend to optional collectibles and secrets, with the story being pretty linear. The combat takes centre stage and features a variety of skills beyond the starting slash. You’re able to unleash fire to strike foes above you, or use a shuriken, the ninja throwing star, to hit enemies at range. The game’s setup encourages the player to learn how each enemy functions in order to take them out soon as possible; trying to run past them will often result in them catching up to you, sending you back to the checkpoint.
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The combat is probably best showcased in the boss fights, which bookend most levels, and test players’ combat and platforming skills prior to facing off against each boss. These bosses fall into two main categories: one is sized roughly the same as the player character, relying on area of effect attacks, and require timing to take down. The other type is a large and mostly unmoving enemy, which requires the player to avoid attacks which track their movements. While the bosses usually pass by without much fanfare, each one is brilliant and challenging in their own way, with my only complaint being that there are too few.
The story in Cyber Shadow definitely takes a back seat: basically, you quest to save your ninja master / romantic interest. This isn’t much of an issue here, as other aspects of the games are so enthralling. The story is perfect for what it is and I was pleasantly surprised by the kind of schlocky action movie fare that fits with the game's tone.
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While completing Cyber Shadow I died 863 times in just over 17 hours of play. I spent my time with the game perishing again and again against what should have been simple enemies, or falling into spikes, or electrified water. The main key is to not let up, keep on your toes and try to find ways to sweep the level as cleanly and quickly as possible. When this is done correctly it's supremely satisfying. With kickass combat, gnarly visuals, and killer soundtrack, Cyber Shadow is a game you really should have a go at. You should especially give it a try if you need the nostalgia hit of Super Metroid or Ninja Gaiden, but also if you’ve enjoyed the combat, platforming and general vibe of games like Hollow Knight or Xeodrifter. Don’t expect a grand epic, but if you’re into badass action games that test your reflexes and tenacity, strap in and enjoy. Cyber Shadow was reviewed on PS4, but is available on all platforms
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COMPETITIVE COOPERATIVE GAMING Animal Crossing: New Horizons Video games are something that many consider a solitary endeavour, but a wide selection of games are best played on the couch (or remotely) with some buds. Over lockdown, most of us are not able to meet up with friends or loved ones, and I know that I’ve jumped into video games much more than before. Cue long hours staring at a screen, only exercising my thumbs, with no daylight. While this was cool for a bit, the cliche of the lonely nerd does start to kick in, and this is where multiplayer and co-op gaming swoop in to save the day.
The old assumption that video games create violent behaviours has started to wane over the last ten years or so. One study supporting this trend is ‘Video game play is positively correlated with well-being’, published by the University of Oxford. The study argues that playing games, especially over the various lockdowns, has had a positive impact on people’s sense of wellbeing. One of the games it looked at is the ubiquitous Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which was released in March of last year. The paper studied, amongst other behaviors and experiences, each player’s approximate time spent playing, and how much enjoyment, satisfaction and fun they had while doing it. In short, the study actually found that in general, time spent playing the game improved the player’s well-being. The game was let loose on the world at the ideal point in time, and gave many people, including myself, something to immerse themselves in and look forward to. This is in part due to the way the game is structured. Its tight gameplay loop demands the player revisit their island each day to collect new crafting recipes and wait for projects to be completed. Another draw is befriending your cutesy anthropomorphic animal buddies – or having your friends visit your island too. This element of having to wait a day, if you are playing the game as intended, adds another layer of chillness, almost mimicking a real-life loop of having to take time to complete tasks. Only instead of waiting to hear back about that job, it’s setting up a new bridge to explore more of your island. Gaming by Dominic Cassidy Page 195
While I have always enjoyed hunkering down and losing myself in a pixel world for a few hours, my partner is less so inclined – but not when it comes to Animal Crossing (their hours played is currently just shy of 500). The sense of enjoyment I got from heading over to their island by seaplane, helping with menial jobs such as clearing weeds, and their pleasure from showing me, a novice, how to get things done was just lovely. Helping someone and being helped just for the sake of it was one of the only genuinely nice moments of the last few months. It was this sense of carefree exploration and growth that prompted us to start our own Minecraft world. While carrying out mining missions for diamonds, my partner noted that we weren’t arguing as much, and in hindsight, this was completely true. As they would mine out coal, I’d kill the monster. They’d throw up a barn, and I’d add a roof to our house – it was all about teamwork. The sense of escapism and peace you get from solo games can also be found in co-op. This can be a great way to chill out and take the edge off staring at the same four walls with someone for months on end.
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While these kinds of life/survival sims might not be everyone’s cup of tea, there is plenty more out there to scratch your co-op itch. If you’re looking for something squad-based, check out Destiny 2: a large part of that campaign is now free to play. This gives you some time to try it out before getting too invested, and with online play only it allows you to reconnect with pals you might not have seen in a while. Maybe you’re looking for something a bit more story-focused? If so, give A Way Out a bash. This prison break story centres around two characters, played by separate players, as they try to break out of prison and get off scot free. You can play A Way Out using couch co-op, or online. If you’re feeling a bit fed up of who you’re around, why not give gaming together a go? You wanna kick their head in? Load up Smash Brothers or Street Fighter. Want to build bridges and work together? Load up a new world in Minecraft and build some stuff. Co-op gaming lets people work towards a goal as a team, and just having that in mind can do wonders.
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Arab Strap, Raveloe, Josephine Sillars, Burd Ellen, Etienne Kubwabo, HippFest, The Scribbler's Union, SOPHIE Scotland's wee what's on and c...
Published on Mar 5, 2021
Arab Strap, Raveloe, Josephine Sillars, Burd Ellen, Etienne Kubwabo, HippFest, The Scribbler's Union, SOPHIE Scotland's wee what's on and c...