Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The Playlist: Aldous Harding



It's rare for a musician to have the ability to transport you instantly; to be able to silence a room with the very first note they play. Aldous Harding is one of those musicians.

I discovered the New Zealand folk singer when my housemates, folk noir duo Jep and Dep, supported her set at The Vanguard recently. Her voice is instantly beguiling – comparable to Julia Stone, or Joanna Newsom perhaps, but much earthier.

Her debut eponymous album is melancholic and gothic, opening with the heartbreaking 'Stop Your Tears', which references small domestic details as naturally as it does dark gothic imagery. The album continues in an austere, fairytale-like manner; all strange beasts and brave hunters, and trying to find peace in a world of dusky metaphors.

By all accounts Harding was determined not to follow in her musician parents' footsteps, but came round to songwriting at the age of 15 anyway. A few years later, the story goes, she was busking on a pavement in Geraldine NZ to earn enough money to attend an Anika Moa gig when Moa herself walked past and ended up inviting her to open the show. It's not an implausible story at all when you hear Harding's voice and the way she writes songs. Anyone would want her supporting their set (and then ruling the stage in a headline tour).

Now she is getting a name for herself, having recently toured Europe and returned to the Southern Hemisphere for gigs in Australia. You have to try and see her. Or listen to the album via the link below. Happy (solemn) listening!




Visit: www.facebook.com/AldousHarding






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• Some thoughts on what it really means to be gay


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Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Some thoughts on what it really means to be gay

This article originally appeared on Medium on 16 August 2015




"I like to look at how people work together when they are put into
stressful situations, when life stops being cozy"
– Jeanette Winterson –



A friend of mine recently said, "when you are queer, you have more empathy because you have already been through more than most people just to accept yourself."

What she meant is that gay, transgender and other queer people have usually been on a journey to discover, learn and accept who they are before they even get to where your average, happy-go-lucky straight guy or gal is through conforming naturally with normative social influence – that is, 'the influence of other people that leads us to conform in order to be liked and accepted by them' (Aronson, Wilson & Akert, 2005) – which they happen to do much more easily just by being themselves. 

"When you are queer, you have more empathy because you have already been through more than most people just to accept yourself"

Before they even leave their house to walk down the street, then, a queer person has discovered they are profoundly different from what they are expected to be, accepted that they are different and learned what it means to be different, for both good and bad.

Think about what that really means for a moment.

Small talk is another forced opportunity to out yourself (something that is so big some people never have the courage to do it) or, at best, a new opportunity to tell a lie. Even if you are 'out' as queer, it is still an awkward subject that will come up again and again with every new friend, interviewer, interviewee, colleague, manager... And so on through every network of humans you ever connect with. 

A lunch with your extended family is a farce in which your sister is asked about, and congratulated on, the newest Prince Charming while you sit quietly in the corner, picking paint off the side of an old wooden table.

A walk to the bus is a torrent of verbal of abuse, a heavy fist to the eye or a thick kick in the ribs. 

All of this, a possibility – and reality for so many – before you are even at the same level as average Joe, remember. It teaches you a world of compassion, insight and comprehension that some people never have the opportunity to even comprehend.* 

Small talk becomes another forced opportunity to out yourself

Eventually us gays just get over it and stop caring what people think. But take a moment to imagine what living with this fundamental difference really means. It means before you even have to worry about being different in a way a 'normal' straight person might – like the way you speak, the way you style your hair or what colour skin were born with – you still don't fall into line of what you 'should' be. In a society that quietly demands you wear similar clothes to everybody else ("stand out, but not too much"), prepare your body as close to perfection as you can to meet the 'right' man or woman to marry, and be as friendly-yet-successful an all-rounder as you can before planning your career around when you raise a family of two relaxed, but high-achieving children, you are already a huge step behind. But at the same time, it teaches you a set of invaluable lessons in acceptance, survival and how to really think.

Some people reading this will start to be saying, "Yes, but it's different now, being gay isn't that hard; get over it!" Of course I agree with this to a certain extent: I can live with my girlfriend and introduce her to all my friends and family, and even walk down the street holding her hand without causing too much of a stir – but I am privileged; many are not. 

I am privileged; many are not

And while I am writing this from my home in Sydney, the largest city of the last English-speaking developed country not to have legalised gay marriage, I can't help thinking how important it is for people to not say "it's different now, the battle is won; get on with it." While I and other queer people have had to learn myself in a more profound way than someone who more naturally complies with the norm, the leader of this country won't even allow a free vote in parliament to legalise gay marriage. It makes for a powerfully complex symbol of repression. The whole picture isn't marriage itself, of course. It's choice and fairness. People shouldn't be penalised for being themselves and for loving the people they love. It's as simple as that. Experiencing this kind of discrimination first hand is as profound a lesson as anyone will learn in a lifetime. Anyway, Australia will get there. It's just a matter of time (and saying 'adios!' to a certain Liberal party leader, no doubt).

Experiencing this kind of discrimination first hand is as profound a lesson as anyone will learn in a lifetime

It's a desire to live as normally as possible that drives us. When you realise you're queer, you don't feel different. It's like when somebody asks you how it feels to turn 30. It doesn't feel like anything in particular. It's after making the realisation that you're queer that you feel it.  The force with which external forces push you into questioning every ounce of your being is crushing. And then you rebuild and emerge stronger than ever.

I am a gay identical twin and when I was interviewed by Gay Star News recently, I was asked if I find it weird when people start bringing DNA into the gay debate. Of course I do. "It’s funny, people don’t say ‘you’re born fancying tanned men, let’s do a test’ or ‘it’s in your genetics to fancy ginger haired men, that’s why you married Mike!" is how I responded. 

But it got me thinking: when will being attracted to the same sex – or indeed identifying as gender queer – become part of Aronson, Wilson & Akert's normative social influence I have already mentioned? The answer is: when we have enough role models – role models who have the empathy of the profound experience of learning themselves deeply simply to exist in society – to make 'queer' the new norm. People are doing wonderful things every day to make this look more and more possible – we're just not quite there yet. 


____________________

* This statement is not supposed to negate the hundreds of straight people I have met that are unendingly supportive, inspiringly empathetic and endlessly intelligent to the hopes and dreams of the queer community


Read further thoughts of mine on this subject on The Debrief and Gay Star News.


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Wednesday, 5 August 2015

The Playlist: Jamie xx




Before I connected him with The xx, I knew Jamie xx (AKA Jamie Smith) from a fantastic remix album he had produced of tracks by legendary soul and jazz poet Gil Scott-Heron. XL Recordings approached Smith to remix Scott-Heron's 2010 album We're New Here, which he apparently did while on tour with The xx, writing to Scott-Heron for approval and advice every so often. The end result is pretty mesmerising – I urge you to give it a listen.

Jamie xx was back in a big way when he dropped his debut solo LP, In Colour, at the end of May this year. It opens with a real belter, Gosh, which is all soaring synths and glitchy beats. Other highlights on the album are the ethereal Hold Tight, Loud Places featuring Romy from The xx, Obvs where the steal drum is king, and Stranger In A Room, which features Smith's other xx chum, Oliver Sim. But don't just listen to those – it's all good.

Smith seems to really break music down and enable us to appreciate all of its disparate elements – melody, rhythm, texture, timbre, etc – in an isolated way, while at the same combining them in a perfectly balanced whole in beautifully produced, polished tracks.

Good vibes for the summer.








Visit: jamiexx.com



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Thursday, 16 July 2015

The Playlist: Alpine



Apart from the fact that the album art (above) is fantastic, Alpine's new album, Yuck, deserves some huge praise. Tracks like 'Foolish' and 'Shot Fox' are instant crowd pleasers, with choruses that are as catchy as they are uplifting. And 'Jellyfish', 'Much More' and 'Need Not Be' are all beautiful and insightful in equal measures.

I was lucky enough to see the indie six-piece live at Sydney's Metro Theatre last Saturday. You don't usually expect electronic artists to match the sound of their studio albums note-for-note when they perform live, but Alpine really does. It's a rare skill, I think. They even invited brass and string players to the stage when needed.

Lead vocalists Lou James and Phoebe Baker both have powerful voices that more than endure their stage antics (Baker often leans right down over her microphone, making regular contact with the stage floor, while James leaps across the space unhindered). They performed a good mix of old and new stuff as well, which is always good.

They're Yuck album is a brilliant collection and I implore you to have a listen. It's proper summer soundtrack stuff.







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Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Keep up with my life 'Down Under'




I have been living on the other side of the world for exactly two months now. From meeting koalas at Featherdale Wildlife Park to experiencing the bright lights of Vivid Sydney, I have seen enough to make me start falling in love with this amazing place.

I have to apologise for going quiet here, but I would like to invite you to read about my adventures on my dedicated Aussie blog, A Year in Australia, and see it all on my travel photography Tumblr, The Explorer.

Whilst I have been adventuring and settling into my new home, I have also enjoyed my work interviewing inspiring business owners for Sydney-based business communications company Business Switch Pty Ltd. Read my most recent published work at blog.honcho.com.au.

In the meantime, follow me on Twitter for all my updates and find me on Facebook for a chat. Thanks for reading!

R x


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Art: Pulp Confidential, State Library of New South Wales
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