Author Archives: Tim Hall

RIP Demis Roussos

Greek singer Demis Roussos died today at the age of 68. Before a lengthy career as a solo artist he was the lead singer and bassist of Aphrodite’s Child, the prog band featuring Vangelis on keys.

“Four Horsemen” is a standout song from their bonkers 1972 concept album based on The Revelation of St. John. It’s a far better memorial for Demis Roussos’ talent as a singer that the throwaway cheesy hit that featured in the BBC period piece “Abigail’s Party”.

This is a prog classic that would probably have made Alison Steadman’s character Beverly’s head explode

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How Software Affects Behaviour

Lengthy and interesting post on Slate Star Codex titled The Toxoplasma Of Rage. The whole thing is well worth a read as one explanation as to why so-called “Outrage culture” behaves in the way it does.

One section that jumped out was the part about how the nature of social media platforms affects the ways in which people behave, and cites Tumblr as an example.

Tumblr’s interface doesn’t allow you to comment on other people’s posts, per se. Instead, it lets you reblog them with your own commentary added. So if you want to tell someone they’re an idiot, your only option is to reblog their entire post to all your friends with the message “you are an idiot” below it.

Whoever invented this system either didn’t understand memetics, or understood memetics much too well….

…. I make fun of Tumblr social justice sometimes, but the problem isn’t with Tumblr social justice, it’s structural. Every community on Tumblr somehow gets enmeshed with the people most devoted to making that community miserable. The tiny Tumblr rationalist community somehow attracts, concentrates, and constantly reblogs stuff from the even tinier Tumblr community of people who hate rationalists and want them to be miserable (no, well-intentioned and intelligent critics, I am not talking about you). It’s like one of those rainforest ecosystems where every variety of rare endangered nocturnal spider hosts a parasite who has evolved for millions of years solely to parasitize that one spider species, and the parasites host parasites who have evolved for millions of years solely to parasitize them. If Tumblr social justice is worse than anything else, it’s mostly because everyone has a race and a gender so it’s easier to fire broad cannonades and just hit everybody.

Tumblr’s reblog policy makes it a hothouse for toxoplasma-style memes that spread via outrage. Following the ancient imperative of evolution, if memes spread by outrage they adapt to become as outrage-inducing as possible.

Which begs the question: to what extent do the design decisions taken by the developers of a social network determine the culture that develops? The above example suggests the decision of Tumblr not to have blog-style comments ended up fostering the aggressive call-out culture for which Tumblr is infamous.

In a similar way Twitter became a significantly more hostile place around the time they introduced the Retweet, which I don’t think is entirely a coincidence. And Jay Allen has suggested that the anonymous imageboard culture that’s developed through sites like 4chan is responsible for the toxicity of #GamerGate. Similar things have been said about the self-reinforcing echo-chambers of parts of Reddit.

Will the next generation of social media platforms learn anything from this? It’s really a diversity-in-tech issue. If a platform is developed by a term who are overwhelmingly young and male with homogeneous socio-political views, it will inevitably reflect their biases and blind spots. Sometimes you can spot those blind spots instantly; for example ello.co’s launching without a mute or block function demonstrated that nobody there knew anyone who’d been subjected to stalking or bullying online.

Human nature and wider society being what they are, it’s not possible to design out toxic behaviour entirely by technical means alone. But social media companies do need to think what sorts of behaviour their design decisions have the effect of rewarding, what sorts of behaviour they actively want to discourage, and what wider impact they might have.

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Napalm Death: Apex Predator – Easy Meat

Apex Predator - Easy MeatNapalm Death are one of those iconic underground bands. Their blend of extreme metal and hardcore punk was never in any danger of crossing over into the commercial mainstream, but their longevity combined with their refusal to compromise has made them household names even to those who find their actual music an unlistenable wall of noise. Their appearance on BBC2′s “Arena” at the beginning of their career in 1989 isn’t something that’s easily forgotten.

Their latest album “Apex Predator – Easy Meat” proves that they still have something to say a quarter of a century later. It’s a dark, angry record about a dark world that contains plenty to be angry about.

It starts off in deeply experimental territory. The opening title track with it’s eerie soundcapes with clanking percussion and robotic chanted vocals come over like some kind of Dalek marching band. With the second number “Smash a Single Digit” the guitars and machine-gun drumming come and batter down down the door. Individual songs blur into one another in a wall of ferocious guitar and angry screaming vocals, aided by a production that tears out of the speakers and nails you to the opposite wall.

It’s not quite all unrelenting high-speed barrage. “Dear Slum Landlord” slows down the pace, with Mark Greenway almost singing clean vocals,”Hierarchies” even features gregorian chant style vocal harmonies, and the monstrous closing “Adversarial/Copulating Snakes”, at five minutes, is something of an epic by their standards.

This is a record that manages to combine the visceral fury of punk with the dexterity and precision of metal, all played with such an intensity that it’s hard to take in the whole album in one go. Easy listening it ain’t. Napalm Death show absolutely no signs of mellowing in their old age, and they’ve made a record that’s utterly uncompromising, at times it almost making even Slayer’s “Reign in Blood” sound pedestrian.

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RIP Edgar Froese

Edgar Froese, mainman of Tangerine Dream, died last Tuesday. One of the true greats of the worlds of both electronic music and progressive rock.

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“My Tribe, Right or Wrong” is a really bad cultural anti-pattern.

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Fox News Facts

The radical preacher who controls Birmingham

#FoxNewsFacts was a trending topic on Twitter a few days ago. The hashtag stated that the radical Islamist preacher pictured above controlled Birmingham, there was another dangerous radical cleric called Jaspur Q’rat, and people were being forced to study The Kerrang.

This was British humour’s response to the claim made by a talking head on Fox TV that the city of Birmingham was 100% Muslim, and non-Muslims were forbidden to enter.

I posted a few myself, stating that it was punishable by death to confuse Birmingham with The Black Country, but nobody outside the area knew the boundary, that the soccerball team “Wolves” were made up from werewolves, and that Prince Philip really is an alien lizard. Many of them got retweeted a lot, and a few people claimed the last of those might actually be true.

Liberal England gives some background on the talking head in question.

Steve Emerson, the soi-disant terrorism expert who told Fox News that Birmingham is a “Muslim-only city” where non-Muslims “don’t go”, has apologised for his “terrible error”.

That is to his credit, but Emerson will be a busy man if he is going to apologise for all his terrible errors.

Steve Emerson not an expert on terrorism as such. His mission is not to inform but to spread propaganda. He’s a professional charlatan, a “court prophet”, who has made a successful living telling whatever his sponsors want the gullible to hear.

His “terrible error” was not being wrong about Birmingham, but not stopping to think that such an obvious and easily-disproven lie would escape from the Fox News media bubble. Birmingham should throw his insincere false apology back in his face.

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With the news that Toblerone is to be made in Birmingham at the same factory that makes Creme Eggs, I’m beginning to wonder if this will become the chocolate equivalent of Interbrew’s lager.

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Lonely Robot pre-order

Lonely Robot is the new project from guitarist, vocalist and producer John Mitchell, of It Bites, Arena and Frost* fame. It features a rhythm section of Nick Beggs and Craig Blundell, with guest appearances from Steve Hogarth, Nick Kershaw, Heather Findlay, Kim Seviour and Jem Godfrey. It’s released on 23rd February, and Burning Shed are now taking pre-orders.

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So, American right-wingers are robustly defending a group of French Communists, while others who identify as liberals are making excuses for the religious fundamentaists who murdered them? Have I just woken up in Bizarro-World?

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Best Gigs of 2014

Chantel McGregor at the 2014 Cambridge Rock Festival

Unlike almost everyone else, I didn’t get to see Kate Bush’s already legendary shows at Hammersmith in the summer. But I did get to see plenty of other bands, from festivals to free-entry pub gigs, so many in fact that I lost eventually lost count. I do remember nine in thirteen days in December, after which I collapsed in a heap.

These are ten of the best of the year, listed in chronological order save for the gig of the year. Several of them are from festivals, where I’ve highlighted individual sets rather than the festival as a whole.

The Pineapple Thief, HRH Prog, March

The first day of HRH Prog was somewhat patchy, with rather too many rather one-dimensional acts. The Pineapple Thief were the exception, with a magnificently intense set that stood head and shoulders above anyone else on Friday’s bill, including headliners The Flower Kings.

Riverside, O2 Academy, April

Poland’s finest proved they’re every bit as good live as they are on record, the perfect band for anyone still missing Porcupine Tree, but with enough of an identity of their own to sound like any kind of pastiche.

Panic Room, Gloucester Guildhall, April

2014 saw Panic Room back firing on all cylinders again after a somewhat shaky 2013, with the new lineup with then-new guitarist Adam O’Sullivan fully bedded it. They kicked off with an impressive performance at HRH Prog in March, and were on consistently good live form thereafter. It’s hard to single out any one show, but this early one in Gloucester was as good as any.

Magenta, Trinity Live, May

Magenta were only added to the bill of the all-day charity gig very late in the day when Christina’s cancer treatment was progressing well enough to allow her to perform. It’s always remarkable how good Magenta are live considering how infrequently they perform; but this time they completely stole the show. And they deserved it.

Jeff Lorber, Swansea Jazz Festival, June

Most of this years gigs have been prog and metal, so the Swansea Jazz Festival was a change of pace. Among others it featured the veteran trumpeter Dick Pierce, the violin-driven gypsy jazz of Sarah Smith, and the jazz-rock of Protect the Beat. But the highlight of the weekend was Friday night’s set of jazz-fusion from pianist Jeff Lorber. The world of prog contains plenty of virtuoso musicians, but jazz can be on another level.

Mostly Autumn, The Box in Crewe, July

Mostly Autumn have bounced back very strongly after a hit-and-miss 2013, touring to promote the best album they’ve made in years and for the first time playing the new album in full on tour. Despite a fluctuating lineup in the early part of the year due some members’ prior commitments, which saw former flautist Angela Gordon standing in for a couple of gigs, they were back to the sort of live form they displayed in 2011 and 2012. An early highlight was their long-overdue return to Crewe in July.

Mr So and So, Resonance, August

Resonance was a strange festival, with an eclectic mix of bands playing across multiple stages, including a small room tucked away at up at the top of the building. One of the bands in that small room, Mr So and So, were an unexpected highlight, a band who have improved immensely over the past couple of years, with Charlotte Evans coming into her own as a singer.

Chantel McGregor, Cambridge Rock Festival, August

The Cambridge Rock Festival was another highlight of the year, with strong sets from Mostly Autumn, Mr So and So, The Windmill, Cloud Atlas and others. One of the highlights was the guitar-shredding set on Friday from Chantel McGregor, who simply owns the main stage at that festival.

Fish, Reading Sub89, December

Fish had planned to tour the UK in May but was forced to cancel due to Guitarist Robin Boult’s injury. The rescheduled shows in December looked in doubt at one point when the man himself went down with viral laryngitis on the continental leg. But in the end all was fine, and the band were on fire, with a completely new setlist compared to last year, with old favourites like “Big Wedge” and “Incubus” as well as the powerful High Wood suite from his newest album played in full.

It’s hard to narrow things down to just ten, so honourable mentions to Touchstone and IOEarth’s Christmas show in Bilston, The Tangent’s mesmerising performance at Celebr8.3 in Islington, Tarja rocking out the O2 Academy, Steve Rothery at Bush Hall, Opeth’s oldies-heavy set at The Roundhouse, and Alestorm’s booze and piracy in Reading.

It’s even harder to pick the best of the lot, but there can only be one, and this came towards the end of the year.

Marillion, The Forum, December

Even after more than 30 years in the business, Marillion never disappoint live, and their sell-out December Christmas shows were no exception. What was surprising was the number of real oldies they haven’t played for years; “Slàinte Mhath”, “Warm Wet Circles/This Time of the Night” and even “Garden Party” from the Fish era, and several song from “Seasons End” including the magnificent title track. It gave the impression of a band comfortable in their own skins and reconciled with their own past in a way they weren’t a few years back.

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