Jan 28, 2013

Off to see the Wizard's Way, the wonderful Wizard's Way... oh never mind

On Friday, I popped to the BFI in Londontown* to watch a film called Wizard's Way.

Wizard's Way is a comedy about a pair of documentary makers who enter the world of online gaming. They meet Windows, a legendary dragon slayer, and his burger-obsessed friend Barry. As the movie progresses, the footage the filmers capture says more about them than it does about their subjects.

I should declare an interest. I'm an extra in Wizard's Way and I'm mentioned in the credits. I know the production team that made it, so there is less chance of me saying anything negative about this film than Hugh Grant's hopes of getting the lead role in a Rupert Murdoch biopic. Still...

If Wizard's Way doesn't end up rated as one of the funniest films of 2013, I'll eat my wizard's hat. There are so many highlights: Windows' hopeless looks to camera; Barry's earnest culinary exploits, the bickering of the film makers, and the terrible game itself. It's a masterclass in comedy editing: the low-budget production and entirely improvised dialogue is chopped to perfection. It helps that one of their editors also worked on Spaced, Slumdog Millionaire and Les Mis.

The film is also full of heart, turning its social freaks into friends you really care about. And the theme tune. The theme tune. Couldn't stop singing it all weekend.

Wizard's Way won the LOCO Discovery Award 2013, hence the screening, and is listed by LOCO's co-founder as one of the five comedy films to watch for in 2013. If Wizard's Way isn't picked up for distribution this year, I'll not only eat my wizard's hat, I'll shove my wand up somewhere unmagical. Because, although I'm biased, it really is hilarious and I want to see it again.

* Hat doff to my travelling companions Dave and Mark, to Guy and Laura for providing accommodation for the night, and to the numerous drinking chums I kept bumping into.

Further Fats: best movies of 2012

Jan 19, 2013

Whatever happened to the cheeky New Year number one?

So Bowie didn't get to number one last week.


That's that, then. Let's Dance remains his most recent musical legacy of any widespread significance. Sigh.

The thin white berk had a great chance to revive an important musical tradition in the UK pop charts: that of the cheeky New Year number one. It should be easy. No-one buys anything apart from headache pills and diet books in the week after new year, so number one should be a walkover.

The new year charts seem dull these days. A guaranteed post-Xmas X Factor chart-topper, some r'n'b guff and that's about it. A drum 'n' bass track tiptoed in at number 100 and it seems Bon Jovi got back in the top 40, but neither are worth tweeting home about.

Iron Maiden famously topped the charts in 1991 with Bring Your Daughter... To The Slaughter, followed by the ridiculous sadistic monks Enigma. Made-up people often took the chance for a cheeky early-January number one, with Mr Blobby and Bob The Builder inexplicably retaining their top positions after Christmas because there was naff all else to buy.

Cotton Eye Joe. Chocolate Salty Balls. Even Daniel Bedingfield's squeaky anthem Gotta Get Thru This. You cannot tell me that those tracks would have had the same chart-dominating impact without lower sales across the rest of the January charts, as great (or otherwise) as they were.

This weekend may well see the return to the top of the charts by Eminem, 50 Cent and that kazoo-voiced triangle man from Maroon 5. If they were covering White Town's Your Woman, or Aphex Twin's We Are The Music Makers, I'd class it as a cheeky new year number one.

They're not. And so it goes.

Further Fats:  Fat Roland's number one album chart death rant (2010)

Jan 16, 2013

If it goes bleep, it may or may not be EDM

Many things have changed since this blog first limped onto the internet: the rise of dubstep; the dominance of downloads; Basshunter.

One of the most interesting changes for someone as geeky as me is the crossover into popular culture of the abbreviation "EDM", which stands for Electronic Dance Music.

EDM was virtually unheard of before 2005, but the last two years has seen a resurgence in the phrase, driven, it seems, by a dramatic upsurge in US dance culture. Vice have a cracking article explaining rave culture to Americans, The writer looks across the Atlantic to the crazy Americans and their worship of Deadmau5 and Skrillex, and says of Europe:
"This is a continent that had Born Slippy soundtracking political campaigns and school runs alike. We have politicians who have taken pills and DJs who open youth centres. Us watching you get into ecstasy and dance music is how I imagine you probably feel when you see footage of line-dancing classes in Runcorn and hear TGI Fridays waiters "YEE-HAW!"-ing their way to lonely and inevitable suicide."
Love it.

Labels don't matter, and as soon as you discuss them, it's easy to enter a moronic YouTube clickfest that results in two people drawling "gaaaaaay" at each other until they each literally die of stupidity. Also, this blog attracts many Americans with superb taste in music.

But I'm not convinced by "EDM" either. It stands for Electronic Dance Music. In the UK, we have a name for that. It's 'dance music'. I think that article says as much. We may also call it IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) or techno or electronica, and perhaps IDM suggests a certain lineage via early Warp Records, and perhaps EDM is more energetic and commercial... but if we poke it and it goes bleep, that's enough for us. Or, at least, it should be.

Maybe I should rename this blog Fat Roland On Stuff And That.

Then again, I shouldn't bother. No-one cares anyway: just look at Google Trends.

Further Fats: The devil has all the best IDM (2010)

Jan 14, 2013

Hugely Monetarily Volatile: the decline of HMV

While journalists across the UK rush to be the first with a 'His Master's Voice silenced' headline, let me share a few thoughts about HMV, who at the time of writing look set to call in the administrators.

The news is tragic: a true end of an era for chain record shops. I work in a wonderful independent bookshop that knows a thing or two about retail the age of the internet. It is no surprise that HMV couldn't see out January: they launched a massive post-Christmas sale in an effort to avoid breaching banking covenants. It's all about cash flow and HMV were struggling.

The Chief Executive Officer link with Jessops and Threshers will be raked through by the press and maybe suggests a management problem. But let's be honest. How many CDs did you buy a year from HMV?

I still shopped at the Manchester HMV, although the last thing I bought was a while ago. Orbital's Wonky perhaps, because Piccadilly Records had sold out. I've been in since, but I'm not a gamer and I've limited need for the many accessories that adorn their once CD-rich racks. Money talks: if I'd wanted to HMV to survive, I would have spent more with them.

We don't shop local any more, do we? I remember when shop-local campaigns burst out onto the high street, encouraging us to plough our pound coins into the local economy when we began to notice the desolation of the high street caused by major supermarkets. And yet those people who still buy from grocers and from butchers think nothing of ploughing their money into Amazon, me included. Shop local be damned.

HMV will now be in the hands of administrators as they negotiate a future. The shops remain open for now, I believe. The chain sells over a third of all physical music and more than a quarter of all DVDs and Blu-Rays (dammit, modern world, we need a collective term for those formats). I worry about the impact on distributors and its effect on the wider industry. And I worry about Fopp: I hope the administrators see its value.

Spare a thought for the staff, and spare a thought for what has been lost. HMV was once great. Have a look at these kitsch photos of an old HMV from the 1960s. Maybe now this is the age of the independents and we should all finger their racks at the earliest opportunity: the likes of Piccadilly Records are more relevant than ever.

Meanwhile, old Woofy, or whatever the dog is called, sits staring into an abyss. It listens for its master's voice, but all it can hear is faint ZX Spectrum loading bleeps as an echo from the past translated as "one day, HMV, these computers will find you and we will destroy you - it just may take thirty years. Hold on while the tape loads..."

Further Fats: His master has spoken (2007)