Film: A Rainy Day in New York (Woody Allen, 2019)

I have to be honest; I didn’t understand half of the cultural references of the film and had to google while I watched. But from the dialogue alone, I was pointed towards Hieronymus Bosch, the 1945 Judy Garland film The Clock, the Cole Porter song Night and Day and the American portrait painter John Singer Sargent. So I supposed I’m more similiar to the not-so-street savy Arizonian journalist-student dame of the film, Ashleigh Enright played by Ella Fanning than the wealthy, old-culture loving but lost protagonist of the story Gatsby Welles, played by Timothée Chalamet. Chalamet’s character could be a stand in for a younger Allen, or possibly combined with aspects of Allen’s father who was also a talented gambler (learnt from reading Allen’s new memoir Apropos of Nothing which inspired the watching of this film). Other characters in the film equally seem to convey parts of Allen’s life or personality, from the Liev Schreiber’s confused art-house director Roland Pollard, who finds a muse in Ella Fanning’s journalist character after she is assigned by her university to interview him. She also happens to be the girlfriend of Chalamet’s Gatsby Welles character, and so he wanders New York depressed at the thought of loosing his innocent and naive girlfriend. Meanwhile, he runs into Selena Gomez as Chan Tyrell, an ex-girlfriends sister, who he seems much more suited to.

It’s a story of chance occurences, twists of fate and a wander through both upper class and fantasy situations in New York. It’s well scripted, funny, has a nice, relatable, emotional core, and reminded me of why I started loving Woody Allen’s filmmaking in the first place. The ensemble cast is as good as expected, with Selena Gomez not being the worst, but Ella Fanning probably out-shining slightly. Anyone looking with post-Me Too lenses for creepy moments might find them, but at it’s heart, there is a well-meaning film that speaks to those that still have a love for classic cinema. It’s not perfect and at times seems a bit sloppy in terms of editing, but the cinematography is bright and loose with lenses and grades – largely a style that I feel worked. Overall, well worth the watch, if just to take a trip through a familiar location with the director that knows it best.

Opinion: There’s no good ideas anymore, and everything is just being recycled

The ‘everything’ in the title of this blog refers to culture.

Here I am, experiencing what is a typical morning in my relatively mundane existence. Having finished some work of a routine and not particularly specialized nature, I’ve sat down to enjoy the respite of a cup of coffee and a scroll through social media on my phone. It’s what I was waiting for all morning. Work was enjoyable, not so painful or difficult, and it felt like I accomplished something, even if in actual fact I accomplished very little. But after this small amount of labour, I can of course reward myself with the caffeine fix (which after ten or so years of drinking is starting to lose an element of excitement and also become mundane), and an aimless stare at my phone for ten or so minutes, staring into the black box in my hand which is a representation for staring into the void. I expect to eventually find some sort of meaning, or some sort of answer in my time staring into this piece of communication equipment – but so far I’ve only found a temporary fix. A rush of endorphins when a message is received, or a moment of distraction when I chance upon an interesting or curious article or video.

In fact the content I’m consuming on my little hand held device doesn’t even have to be interesting. It can be any old crap –  a gossipy headline or a miss-reading of current events, it can be a lurid celebrity expose or a joke with the punch line written out in bold letters just below the video – it doesn’t matter what it is but it’s something to take my attention away for a short amount of time. And these short amounts of time will build up until hours of my life are taken away staring into the electronic device.

Quite often, the videos of the news feed of this device are of old content – interviews, clips, music – anything that can be considered interesting from the past and trigger some kind of interest or nostalgia. The way that we consume this material, the time line that has to be fueled and kept alive by more content, will have to reach into the past to satisfy the enormous demand. So if in the past we had theater, or operas, or symphonies – or even songs, albums , TV shows and documentaries as examples of entertainment in various mediums throughout the ages – now we just have constant reruns and repackagings. I exaggerate, because of course there is new material created. But in the way we consume content in the feedback loop, echo chamber of social media, more often than not it is old material repackaged. And as if we the viewers are incapable of independent critical thought, the reasons why a particular item of content is interesting for an audience is often spelled out via subtitles or captions that sit alongside the content. To be specific, the world of kids book style buzz feed stories are everywhere – all to generate clicks, and all contributing to the lowering of intellectual standards for content. Stories, images and videos in the digital world must be quickly consumable, the meaning or humour must be able to be communicated upon first glance, so to keep up with the restless attention span of the audience.

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Take the above image for example. If you were in any doubt as to why two animated characters are appearing on a 90’s late night talk show, the captions down the bottom will explain this for you. Any humor that might have been part of the original gets drowned out by a contemporary commentary. While this might seem like a trivial thing to complain about – and that watching these videos can be avoided by just not spending so much time on social media – what happens in the future if this sort consumption of culture is the norm. We will end up in a world where no original content is created but instead everything is repackaged and reproduced, given a shiny background and some new text and thrown out into the social media space to be consumed, completely separated from it’s original context. Watching Letterman in a late night TV setting, and being surprised and amused by the unexpected take-over of animated characters Beavis and Butthead, is an entirely different experience than just passively consuming the item when scrolling apathetically through-out your feed.

Perhaps what’s really being criticized here is the news feed. A ubiquitous part of our lives, and one that seemed harmless enough, if fairly addictive and stupefying when it became the norm to see what our friends lives were like 10 years ago. But a decade on, it’s still here, showing no signs of disappearing – and now infected like a plague with targeted content, advertising, and sponsored posts. We are being subtlety manipulated,  told what to like and force fed content in a way that does more harm than good to the overall quality level of the art and culture that we expect to fill out lives with. Worse still, is the targeted posts from bots, trolls and analytic corporations that intend to affect those to vote or take political action in a particular way, or sometimes in no way. Such as the Cambridge Analytica campaign to convince the youth to abstain from voting in Trinidad and Tobago’s 2010 election. One decade ago, and an event that set a precedence for how democracy would be effected by social media. Now we live in a post-Brexit, post-Trump world, and so badly repackaged 90’s culture memes are the least of our worries. But it all ties into a similar phenomenon, that of social media, the news feed and the time we spend on such modern platforms.

More people than ever will be connected to digital devices and social media in the following decade. The amount of mobile phone users world wide is now at 4.78 billion. With more and more people consuming content than ever, content could continue to be watered down. And then what will be left but recycled things devoid of content and any ambiguity?

Guide for getting the Working Holiday Visa for Netherlands (from a New Zealander)

Work and travel in Europe sounds like a great idea right!? Even better if you have a year long work visa for a country. You can stay longer, you won’t have to worry about leaving the Schengen zone after your 3 month tourist permit is finished, and you can work a little to save more money.

So it’s a win/win. In my experience, some of the easiest countries to apply for Working Holiday Visas are Germany and the Netherlands. The UK is also an option though it’s slightly more restrictive in terms of the countries that can apply. Of course the rules are different depending on what country you’re from, and being from New Zealand I can advise mostly to people from that side of the world.

I recently applied for the Netherlands Working Holiday Visa so I can give you a run down of what it involved, what I had to provide and the steps I took, and how long it took to finally receive the visa.

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STEP 1: CHECK IF YOU’RE ABLE TO APPLY

Firstly check that you’re from one of the following countries: Australia, Argentina, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand, or South Korea. If so, then alright! You’re past the first test meaning your country has good enough political relationships with Europe/Netherlands specifically in order to secure you and your fellow country people an agreement to work temporarily in that country. In return young people from the Netherlands probably have the opportunity to work in your country.

STEP 2: APPLY VIA WEBSITE

Having made it past the first round of vigorous checks, you can apply to your nearest IND office if you’re already in the Netherlands (IND stands for Immigration and Naturalization service), but the most common way to apply for the visa is online.

The link for this is here: https://ind.nl/en/exchange/Pages/working-holiday.aspx

You’ll need the following documents

  • Valid Passport scan, showing that you’re from one of the countries this visa is available, and that you are between 18 and 30
  • A return ticket or proof of sufficent funds to buy one; I did not have a return ticket so instead I provided a pdf copy of the balance page of my internet banking account. I was able to download this statement from my bank’s website when logging in, and then converted the front page of this to a pdf for submitting. I have heard as long as you have more than 1500 in your account that should be sufficient.
  • Medical and hospitalization insurance – although you don’t need this upon first applying, just as long as you have insurance purchased after arriving in the Netherlands (the website states within 4 months)

The application is quick and easy online, fill in the forms, attach the required documents and then hit submit. Once this is all submitted, you have to wait for an email from the IND office for the next step.

STEP 3: PAY FOR THE VISA

The processing date for the working holiday visa is 3 months, but you’ll receive an email quickly after applying asking you now to deposit the required fee into an official Netherlands IND office account. I already had previous email correspondence with an IND official due to a previous application (I’ve started applied for this Working Holiday Visa several times before finally submitting it – at the end of November 2019), so it was only a matter of days until I had an email requesting the payment. It is a minimal 57 fee for the visa, which is on the lower side of payments for Working Holiday Visas (the German WHV cost 100 while the United Kingdom visa cost more than 300£. Of course it is worth what you get for any fee.

If you’re in a rush and the IND official hasn’t contacted you – I suggest getting in touch via email to ask if you can pay for the visa (you can find the contact form here). There will be a v number included when you submit your application which is the reference number you should supply in email correspondence so the official is able to easily find your application.

After payment, it won’t be long until you receive a confirmation email  – which asks you to schedule an appointment to submit your biometrics.

STEP 4: COMPLETE BIOMETRICS

You’ve sent off your payment and received a confirmation email. Now you need to travel to an IND office in Netherlands, or book an appointment as your nearest one. If you’re submitting the application from abroad you can also book an appointment at the Netherlands embassy closest to you to get your biometric details taken.

Biometric information is your fingerprints, passport photo and signature – and is a fast and simple appointment. I applied within Netherlands, so first I made an appointment on this website: https://ind.nl/en/Pages/Appointment-biometric-information.aspx

Amsterdam seems to have the longest wait time understandably to book an appointment, and if you want one for that booming cultural hub, you’ll have to book it at least two and a half or three weeks in advance. If you need one sooner, you can book an appointment at a smaller city – I for example went to Eindhoven for my biometrics and it was possible to book an appointment time just a few days after receiving the confirmation of payment email.

After booking your appointment, turn up with your passport and v number – and if you’re in Eindhoven enjoy the free coffee, tea or hot chocolate available from the dispenser there. If you’re in Amsterdam you’ll have to pay 50cents for this, but still not bad, especially if you get the appointment early in the morning.

The appointment itself is quick and easy – and straightforward. They take a finger print of each of your fingers, take your passport photo and your signature. If you need you can ask questions here of the IND officials in person. My Schengen tourist time was running out when I was applying for my WHV, so I asked if I was able to still travel to Germany (where I had family). The IND officially was very helpful and replied that as soon as applying for the WHV you change visa status’, so that of a residence seeker. I was able to travel to Germany but just to be safe, they added a sticker into my passport, with a temporary date to allow me to travel officially out of Netherlands while I waited for my resident permit card.

STEP 4: PICK UP YOUR RESIDENCE PERMIT

About a week after giving your biometric details, you’ll receive another email from the IND telling you to make an appointment to pick up your resident permit. You have to again book an appointment online at your local IND office, or you’re able to have the visa sent to an address in Netherlands, if you communicate with them regarding this via email.

This is an even more straightforward appointment, where you pick up your card (which is shiny and a bit holographic in the photo), and that’s about it. Now you’re legally able to work in the Netherlands for a year (the date of expiry will be the date exactly one year from when you started applying – so it might be a bit less than a year actual work time.

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STEP 5: REGISTER YOUR ADDRESS AT THE LOCAL MAGISTRATE AND GET A BSN NUMBER

The last and somewhat more tricky step is to register yourself at an address, and you have to do this at the local town hall or council building. You can’t get a BSN number assigned to you, which is like your tax code, until you’ve registered at an address. You’ll need the BSN number in order to work, get paid, pay your taxes and generally be a Dutch citizen.

It does seem a bit counter intuitive that you can’t look for work until you have address, when normally you would get an address once you’ve already secured an income (or maybe not normally, but for a few people on this planet that don’t like to hemorrhage money on accommodation before finding a job). Never the less, you can find a cheap AirBnb and rent there for a month, and register using this before you find a job and a permanent residence.

Of course, you’ll need proof of address to get registered – be that a letter from the home owner saying you’re staying there, or official mail with your name and address printed on it. You’ll need an address to open a bank account, but I would suggest opening a bank account with an online bank such as N26 – which you may not need a permanent address for (you will need a passport, etc).

It is perhaps possible to register using an address you’re not paying rent at, like a friends house (a non-residential address), but you will need confirmation in writing from the home owner and you should definitely make sure the person you’re staying with is fine with you registering using their address – as it may change the amount of tax they pay if another person is registered to live under the roof.

STEP 6: FIND A JOB!

Any job! Almost…

Now you’ve got registered at an address, acquired your BSN number and have found some good discount health and medical insurance for the year, it’s time to find a job. You can finally get that big career job in Rotterdam and work up the Unilever career ladder right?

Well you may have luck but as a warning on the website, since October 1st 2018, you now must change employers every 3 months and cannot stay with one employer for an entire year. I don’t know if there are any other ways around this, like once you find a good office based career employer, would they sponsor you for a regular work visa. I will attempt to find out more information and add this here (message or comment if you’re curious also).

I suppose this is to make it more of a cultural exchange visa and less of a work one. It’s similiar to the Denmark visa where they allow New Zealanders to work for 3 months for one employer and can only work 6 months total even though it’s a year long visa. I’m not sure why countries want to make these visas so restrictive as it heavily tightens the range of options of jobs available. Perhaps this makes this more of a seasonal work or bar job visa, rather than an in the city, office or marketing type visa.

It’s worded on the website as such:

The worlds you’re oyster, and if you want to work for longer, there are other visas out there like the Au Pair visa, or the option of getting sponsored for a particular job, if you’re in an in demand vocation.

The German WHV allows one years work and you can work for an employer for that entire time, and the UK allows the same for two years. Canada also allows for 2 years with any employer/time length, and you can apply for this up to 35. For New Zealanders you also have Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Austria and more on offer to apply for. Of course most of these have the age limit of 30 which is a bit agest, but at least up to your 31st birthday you can have the chance to work outside of New Zealand and Australia. A few countries such as Ireland and France you must apply for from New Zealand and not overseas (one of the benefits of Germany and Netherlands is that you can apply from overseas).

So good luck, happy working, happy traveling – happy living!

Blog: Escaping Germany for Bosnia via Flixbus, with a broken phone, to volunteer at a Hostel in Mostar (a diary entry)

Editor’s note: Some of the following blog was written stream of concious, and may not reflect the present opinions of the writer. Travel is not that bad and he is not as cynical as it may seem.

(Prologue) Before leaving Germany:

Sometimes it feels like I lurch from self-created crisis to crisis. This feels like one of those moments. I’m living in Germany, where I’ve been for the last year on a Working Holiday Visa. This ends in two days, and although I’ve been ringing and emailed New Zealand and German embassies, the rules surrounding the end of the visa are not clear. Perhaps I have to leave Schengen area, perhaps I can just move to another EU country which New Zealand has bilateral travel agreements with, for example Denmark or Netherlands. But it is not clear. The New Zealand Embassy in Berlin has even advised me that some New Zealander’s stay in Germany for a bit longer at the end of their visas, and that nothing has happened to them. Such help that is, and it leaves me thinking it will be at the discretion of whichever customs official I run into when I do eventually decide to leave Europe, and actually encounter a passport check. Regardless I believe I will leave the Schengen area just to be safe, and then when I re-enter Europe I can be sure I’m on a tourist visa.

At this stage, my in two days I must legally leave Germany if I am being very careful, yet I have not booked anywhere to go. I have emailed a Workaway in Bosnia that has space for me, yet that will involve braving a 24 hour bus ride from Berlin to Sarajevo. Just to add another layer of difficulties, to this already difficult situation, my phone has decided to break today out of the blue. Not charging or turning on. While this might seem trivial, not having a phone in this day and age when you’re planning long cross country travel across Europe, where you’ll need booking confirmations for buses and trains, google maps for accommodation or just about everything, not too mention some music to distract the 24 hours on a bus away, – makes for a considerable extra challenge.

Now in Bosnia:

So I have arrived at my destination, of Mostar in the southern area of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the main city of the region given the name Herzegovina within this country. The 24 hour bus ride from Berlin to Sarajevo went mostly smoothly, the bus was packed so I had to squash up besides a friendly older man from Bosnia for most of the ride, who spoke not a bit of English. We smiled and gestured at each other in a friendly way never the less. I managed to get a few hours sleep during the bus ride, and with no working charging points for my laptop and still no working phone, I spent most of the ride staring out the window, chatting to some other young travelers during the toilet and cigarette breaks, and occasionally read the only book I brought with me, a guide to learning German grammar. Interesting that now I finally leave Germany, I start to study.

There were several slightly nerve wracking stops at customs check points, entering and exiting Croatia and entering Bosnia, but save for being questioned on my travel plans within Bosnia, and having to produce a copy of my German Working Holiday Visa to explain my extended time spent in Germany, It went without a hitch. I received the stamps I needed to show I’ve exited Schengen at the end of my visa, and am now free to explore the Balkans and return to Germany and the EU when I wish on a tourist visa.

It’s interesting having left Germany after a year, that I don’t feel quite ready to leave. Just as I felt when I left London, it’s as if I’ve just gotten started. There was so much of Germany left to see, so much Deutsch language left to learn, and so many friends I had to say goodbye to. Hopefully I will see them again, but it does feel somewhat like a chapter coming to a close prematurely. Such is the way of the traveler limited by visa lengths.

Traditional Bosnian baking class

At the Mostar Hostel where I volunteer:

Still with no phone to guide me I eventually found my way to the Mostar hostel where I would be volunteering, after a bit of a back breaking walk, due to once again too much luggage brought with me, and have to ask the locals for directions. It was good to take my oversized travel bag and guitar off my back, and get settled in to the new Workaway (a workaway is the website where you find these volunteer opportunities). It was not much of a break however, as nearly straight away I was helping the owner set up some crates he had delivered that day for sitting outside, as well as learning how to check in guests and helping fold the laundry. I look forward to a sleep in a bed for the first time in a few nights, and to being able to explore Mostar in the coming days. The owner of the Hostel, Taso, is also helping to fix my phone, which will hopefully get me connected to the outside world again – and be able to travel with a little more ease. I’m slightly lonely, a little worried about whether I’ve come to the right place, but I guess that’s the case with travel. It takes you out of your comfort zone, and forces you to learn from new situations, as well as seeing new places and meeting people. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it for the journey… or at least that’s what they seem to say.

Mostar’s old town, packed with Tourists

Exploring Mostar:

My first experience in Bosnia and the Balkans itself has been, for lack of a better generalization, a learning experience. I had to learn or get better at laundry and making beds for example, as this has been a large part of my daily work at the hostel, and not something I realized I was so bad at. There’s a knack to speed changing multi-beds and washing piles of linen and in order to have fresh beds for new guests in the morning, and after a rocky first few days I think my laundry efficiency levels had risen considerably to keep up with the demand. I next had to master checking guests in, as it would be my job to stay and keep the hostel running while the owner is out taking tour groups to the famous local waterfalls. This job came with relative ease compared to the laundry, other than the relative boredom of staying in the hostel all day. Once I got some afternoons off, I went to do the usual exploring of a new city, doing the recommended walking tour, learning the history, soaking up the atmosphere and meeting some new traveler friends, most through the hostel.

The famous 24 meter high old bridge, now a main attraction to watch locals and risk taking tourists jump off

For Mostar, the most interesting revelations came because of the not so long ago war and genocide that tore through this city and split it apart. The Bosniaks and Croatians largely still live on separate sides of the river, separations which occurred due to the Croatians turning arms on the Bosniaks, although they were previously allies in expelling initial attacks from the Serbian armed forces. After years of bloodshed, with concentration camps set up at the hands of the Croats, regular civilians taking up arms to protect their families and not one citizen of Mostar spared from loosing a family member or friend, the fighting eventually ended. These people who fought against each other just over 20 years ago now live again side by side from each other, and some have had to show an incredible amount of forgiveness in order to continue with daily life. This terrible history has now become embeded in the tourism of Mostar and Bosnia more generally, and those coming to this land for the sun, activities and cheap beer with also inevitably find themselves engaging with the past and present politics of the area.

The remains of the old bank building (opened just before the start of the war) also known as the ‘Snipers Tower’ for the use of the tower by Croatian soldiers as a vantage point to target civilians

While gazing at the somewhat touristy Minaret’s of the Bosniak Mosques on one side of the river, and the dominance of the Christian bell tower recently built on the other side, it is impossible not to be confronted by the separations, but also this separation has become part of the touristic charm of the city. Therefore, even as things are getting deep on the free walking tour, where the brilliant guide Sheva tells of the traumatic past (he himself had to carry a gun when the war broke out, even though he was a student in the city at the time) – tourists begin to discuss the horror of the events, and grapple with the remaining corruption in the city, while enjoying all this as some kind of pleasurable spectacle to go hand in hard with the Gelato and sun-tanning sessions. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that the scars from the war in Bosnia have not had enough time to heal, yet the city relies on tourism for the majority of it’s income, so the citizens end up commodifying their tragic recent past. I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing, one side of me thinks the reliance on tourism will keep any violence from occuring again, but at the same time the interests of the tourists run at a shallow level mostly. They would not be learning about this history if they weren’t here for the beer, and the closeness to the more hyped up Croatia. Many tourists seem to become history or political experts, or so they act, but it is not the reason why many of the them travel. Mostar is a fascinating and beautiful place, but in some ways still a very troubled one. Hopefully the economy will get better and there will be more fair job opportunities for regular Mostar-ians beyond just capatilizing off the interests of passive tourists. Then perhaps they will resent the tourists less (there is some rudeness in hostels and restaurants, perhaps as a result of the share amount of tourists), and be able to rebuild in a way less focused on the issues of the past.

  

Epilogue:

One week after staying at the Mostar hostel I start to get wary of all the young explorers, traveling for weeks or months at a time, sticking together with fellow international tourist friends met hours or minutes before, ticking off all the same landmarks, monuments, activities and tours. Perhaps the truth is that we’re a mob blindly chasing some original travel journey story, or to tick off our bucket-list to a more impressive degree than our neighbour. We could be buying into the travel dream because that’s whats being marketed to us, because a generation of youth chucking in their jobs and traveling the world equals profit for banks, travel companies and economies. Regardless, volunteering remains a valuable experience, and a continued learning one as that – as I learn that my cynicism and jadedness knows no bounds, and that even in a beautiful place like Mostar, I must over-think everything until the point that I don’t enjoy it much anymore, and feel like perhaps traveling is not for me. I guess that’s why they say ignorance is bliss (i.e. an ignorant traveler is a successful one).

Volunteering at Roskilde Festival 2018

Music festivals are about the bands, yes. I should know this being the live music obsessive that I am. But they can be about so much more than just music and partying, and Roskilde for me confirms this. Even though there is a great proportion of the festival geared up towards the hedonistic – the humanitarian side, which includes being run by volunteers, and with all profits donated to charity, gives a positivity and generosity to the festival that the other massive entities lack (with the exception of Glastonbury and maybe Poland Woodstock). I’d known about this highlight of the Danish party calendar for many years – there’s not many festival fanatics who haven’t heard of a festival with such an illustrious history (not overlooking the occasionally tragic moments). When a friend offered me the chance to volunteer at the festival – I knew I had to go. Even though logistically it wasn’t easy, I found volunteering by far to be the best way to experience a festival, and Roskilde to be quite possibly the most worthwhile festival experience I’ve ever had.

Action at the outdoor Apollo stage

Roskilde, being nearly entirely run by volunteers means that there’s a huge percentage of them on site – nearly 30,000. In return for their hardwork, they’re provided camping spots in a volunteer only area, which is a lot more quiet than the near apocalypse party vibe of the main camping area. This access to a bit of peace outside the near complete immersion of noise elsewhere in the festival, is a welcome respite. There are also free showers which are to a surprising level of quality given the amount of volunteers – think high quality summer camp group showers as well as access to discounted food and drink and a special volunteers only area within the festival site. This itself has a cafe with plenty of phone charging space, and tables to keep working if you have any laptop based work you can’t get away from during the period of the festival, but more importantly, there’s free coffee and tea at all times on the festival site in this volunteers area. As well as free lemonade. Anything free is a blessing when at a potentially costly 8 day festival of the likes of Roskilde. If you needed any more incentive to volunteer, there is of course the fact that for four 8 hour shifts, at times you chose, you can see all of the music you wish, including many of the best acts currently touring, and for your efforts, hundreds of dollars will be donated to charity. Millions of dollars in profit is donated to charity by the Roskilde Foundation after the culmination of the festival, meaning your hard work is not just going into partying, but helping the world as well.

A happy volunteer and Roskilde festival goer

If this is at all getting you interested in volunteering at Roskilde, and keep in mind I haven’t even got to the music yet, the first thing you have to do is find a company to sign up with. I signed up with Mellemfolkelig Samvirke or MS Roskilde, which I can highly recommend. Founded in 1944, they are a politically independent non-government organization whose aims include “understanding and solidarity between the peoples of the world, as well as promoting global development based on the sustainable use and just distribution of wealth and resources” (taking from the Wikipedia blurb). All the money raised by MS Roskilde from the volunteers was to be donated to causes in El Salvador. Signing up to volunteer was a straight forward and painless process, and as well as signing up with a company hosting volunteers at Roskilde, you must also sign up at the Roskilde volunteer website, which can be found here. Once you sign up, it’s a matter of following the steps. Emails will be sent out stating when you have to sign certain forms, complete any learning documents that are necessary for your job roles, and when the time is right, chose your shifts. Choosing shifts happens on a first in first served basis, and getting in just as the places were open allowed me to chose shifts that were all largely before the music days. One night shift had to be completed, which I chose for the night I arrived, which gave a pretty epic initial experience – arriving via a 5 hour bus from Northern Germany, setting up my tent, and checking in to the charity base before starting an 8 hour shift that was to finish at 7 in the morning. One of the shifts had to be placed during a music day in order to meet requirements, but this could be taken in the morning, which means next to none of the music had to be missed. Work wise, our charity was involved in running a volunteer camp ground, so the work was not too difficult and involved either patrolling a camp ground, keeping festival goers happy, observing any incidents and keeping noise to a minimum. There were also times where we had to help lost or drunk campers find there tents, which while minor gave a sense of satisfaction in helping the overall friendly feel of the festival be maintained. Other jobs included manning entrance gates, checking wristbands and checking that any vehicles entering the site or campervan camping parks had the correct documents. All pretty basic but fun, and you have a good team to work with, friends to make and free food, coffees and all that good stuff during the shift. I have to admit that signing up and volunteering seemed a somewhat daunting prospect to begin with, and I couldn’t have achieved this without a much more organised Danish friend of mine, so shout out to them for opening up the possibilities for me to experience this. I can recommend you take the plunge and give the volunteering a go as well, if you enjoy festivals, or just charitable experiences.

Party goers take a rest outside the Arena stage

Once your in, the festival opens itself up in a way beyond what it would if you were just merely buying a ticket and camping with all the debaucherous revelers. Having a quiet place to camp is a blessing, unless you want to be surrounded by the hundreds of thousands of Danish youth in the main camping area, who compete in creating their own stereos, blasting them at full volume nearly constantly (except for relatively late mornings hours when a nap to delay the hangover is attempted). These campground parties are part of the history of Roskilde and have grown to an impressive degree, even if to a unbeknownst spectator unfamiliar with such traditions, it may seem something akin to partying amidst the actualization of hell on earth. Deep house booms next to obscure Danish in-joke music, young people engage in drinking games such as beer bowling in the alleys between the camps, partying and dancing goes on all hours as the toilets overflow and the condition of the tents deteriorates with each night. How the Danish youth have the stamina for this level of full of sensory immersion, combined with drinking and recreational drug use is beyond me, but they manage to keep it together for the 8 days of the festival, and although there are occasional tragic occurrences, assaults, overdoses and reported rapes, this would be also the case at any major music festival. Especially within a gathering of people large enough for a week to be Denmark’s 5th largest city. There are plenty of volunteers, safety officers, medics and police working in the background to look after those who need it and keep the festival moving as safely as possible. If camping in a full-blown dystopian wasteland youth party such as this doesn’t sound appealing, but the prospect of a brilliantly curated music and arts festival does, then the amenities in volunteer camping will come as a welcome reprise.

David Byrne at Roskilde 2018

I haven’t even got to the main draw of the festival yet, which for most is not the youth camping raves, but the main festival site with 6+ main stages, 175 acts, and various other events, including lectures, workshops and art installations. The major reason for attendance is the music, the headliners which in 2018 included Eminem, Bruno Mars, Gorillaz, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Massive Attack, David Byrne, Anderson Paak. and the Free Radicals, Nine Inch Nails, Stormzy, Khalid, Dua Lipa My Bloody Valentine, Mogwai and Danish acts such as Nephew, C.V. Jorgenson and The Minds of 99. The production value of the stages is extremely high, with state of the art lighting and huge screens on the main Orange stage (which itself is nearly as iconic as the festival). The sound on all the stages is brilliant and bands are afforded fees clearly large enough to secure their most complete stage designs, with all the lights, screens and prop elements that make concert attendance an immersive and exciting experience. Many performers seemed to be putting on special shows for Roskilde, Eminem for example brought out his Bad Meets Evil co-rapper Royce da 5’9″, Massive Attack brought with them reggae vocalist Horace Andy for perfect versions of his songs with them including a personal favourite Hymm of the Big Wheel, Gorillaz brought with them an absolute plethora of guests (which to be fair is not a rare going on for them) including De La Soul, Little Simz, Booty Brown, Jamie Principle and notably Del The Funky Homosapien, although his performance was cut short by what must go down as one of the strangest stage fails in festival history. I also caught memorable shows from artists such as Clutch, Chelsea Wolfe, PARTYNEXTDOOR, Danny Brown and Fleet Foxes on stages scattered throughout the festival. Genre wise, the festival is hard to down, the most EDM of concerts are side-by-side with the most metal. For example, Phil Anselmo, ex-lead singer of Pantera was at the party, performing with his new black metal project Scour (who made no mention or apologies for his previously racist behaviour, but did perform 2 Pantera covers in tribute to the later Vinne Paul). This could be followed by the likes of rising Swedish pop artist Sigrid. Therefore, ecclepticism is a strong point of the curation of the Roskilde line-up.

Groove-tastic Danish artist Iris Gold in action at Roskilde 2018

That’s only scratching the surface of the performances you can catch at Roskilde, To bring this back to my original point – volunteering at Roskilde can be about so much more than the opportunity to see music (even though there is a lot of music), some of the most memorable moments were the unexpected ones. I witnessed talks by activists such as Chelsea Manning, met friends through volunteering that have opened up whole new avenues of possibilities in Denmark, and put myself into situations that I believe I can learn and grow from. For example, one night the group I volunteered with hosted a dinner and quiz night. Through the socializing at this quiz night, friends were made that I kept seeing without planning throughout the festival, not to mention that our group got 3rd place in the quiz, just about the best placing I’ve ever managed for quiz night. On a personal note, I also managed to give myself food poisoning by eating salami that had been carried around in my bag, getting hot and sweaty for a week, which knocked out nearly a whole day of festivaling from all the vomiting. A mistake I won’t again repeat at a major music festival. And without the volunteering at Roskilde, it might have taken me a lot longer to learn that lesson.

If your looking to see top class entertaining, party with crazy tall and beautiful Scandanavian people with hilarious and cute accents, meet people and contribute to good causes with your volunteer time – then look towards Roskilde Festival. It could be one of the best reasons to travel up to the land of the Danes, and certainly one of the most simultaneously exhausting and rewarding reasons to.

Here’s a compilation of all the footage I shot during my 8 days at Roskilde:

Travel: Leaving New Zealand (again) – Returning to Europe; albeit with some hesitance

Last year I found myself working on a farm in Germany for several months. As the seasons changed from Autumn to Winter, I felt the draw to return home – to see family and friends that hadn’t seen in nearly three years, and attend a friends wedding. I booked a return flight, assuming I would find some work and save money and be able to return either back to the farm I was working on, or somewhere else in Europe. Truth be told, I hadn’t really thought the plan out, and the impulse to return home led me to some really great revisits with old friends and old places, and spending invaluable time with my Grandma, Mum, Brother, Dad and extended family. Those seven weeks spent in New Zealand summertime were great, albeit full of unsettled-ness as I tried to work out what to do next. Would I return to Europe? I had the return flight booked and this stayed in my head as something I couldn’t waste. Though while being home, the extent of my student loan debts that had been building up became increasingly aware to me, as did the life I was missing not being in my home country. Friends were settling down, moving up the ladder in their careers, pursuing hobbies – all while I continued to live a somewhat nomadic and financially irresponsible lifestyle. The down side to the life of the vagabond traveler became aware to me.

In Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport

While I tried to find jobs or reasons to stay in New Zealand, I left the decision to the last minute, and under 11th hour pressure, it became impossible not to take the flight. It’s true – there may have been someone in my hearts interest pulling me to the other side of the world. So here I am, at Shanghai airport, on a seven hour stop over, waiting for a connecting flight to Paris and from there an overnight stop over before another flight to Hamburg – and I am unsure what is to come next. My financial debt still weighing heavily on my mind, I will try and find a job in Germany and save at least something to get back home. There’s more of Europe I would like to see – and I guess I’m in the privileged position where I can see more. Of course I’m well aware that at some point I need to settle and get a real job. Now that I’m 28, and have been living in this state of unsettled migration – it seems I’m nearly past the point that I can keep doing this, without have little to show for my future, in terms of assets, savings or the manifestation of longer term dreams.

Sitting in Shanghai Airport writing this blog on a seven hour stopover

So this is less of a travel blog and more of a discussion of the emotions of a person in their late 20s, torn between perceived responsibilities and youthful desires. I don’t think I was ever that great as a traveler anyhow, I enjoy being settled and being able to be productive in my hobbies, with music making or film making. I’m gaining experiences from this travel, but I think there is a point where I’m no longer traveling for the right reasons, I might just be running from real life. That being the life where I get a job, and am actually able to be of help to my family and friends and not just a stress and a hindrance. My family, particularly my Grandma and Mum supported me for the seven weeks I was in New Zealand, feeding and housing me and listening to my various anxieties. I owe them an incredible debt, one which I may never pay off. So as I depart into the next stages of my late-20s travel journey, I have some hesitance, and I wonder to an extent if my impulsive decisions may have taken me too far in this direction. It’s true there are many things that I don’t like about New Zealand – but I feel there might be some time soon that I have to commit myself to the place, and really make something substantial happen.

For now, I have a few more months (or maybe years) of wandering ahead of me. Here’s hoping this is productive wandering at least, maybe getting better at German, perhaps making some contacts for my music, writing songs and playing shows. And maybe some more good times with the person who holds my heart. If you’re ever reading those lists of why to quit your job and travel, as ideal as it may seem, just know that as I am expressing, there is a downside. The downside is the lack of stability, increased anxiety from not knowing where you’re heading next and a decreased foresight and security blanket for the future. At some point we all have to retire. I wonder if, looking back, I will be proud of my decision to keep traveling, or If I will wish past me put a little bit more effort into hardwork and preparing for the future. I’m guess it will be a little of both, as it currently is now.

Saying Goodbye to my family (Mum pictured here) at Auckland Airport

If I sound overly negative or pessimistic, perhaps that’s partially due to the worries i have of whether I’ll be able to find work in Germany, or if it will be more of the same. I have a habit of seeking out opportunities but then not following through – perhaps due to fear, or self-doubt. If this European adventure turns out alright, and I manage to find work and not completely crumble in a mess of abject poverty, perhaps I will have a more optimistic story to tell. I hope this is the case. For sure, it is not easy leaving the warm of home in summer, for the cold and uncertainty of an unknown Europe in winter. Maybe it is indeed madness, that someone would leave warmth and security, or something so uncertain as adventure.

The Warmth of New Zealand

Travel: Volunteering through Workaway on a farm community in Germany

In the current part of my last-20s travel journeys: I’ve left London, my television office job and extremes of living in such a large city, and have some how stumbled upon farm life in Northern Germany.  How does a city slicker like myself cope with life in an agricultural environment such as this? Better than expected it turns out.

There were ups and downs in the first 6 months after leaving my office life in London, but I was able to fall on my feet thanks to the decision to become a volunteer worker to fund my travels. Using the site http://workaway.info  , I searched until a found a community that interested me. This happened to be in Lower Saxony, about one hour south of Hamburg via train, at a little village called Sammatz. It was actually closer to Luneburg than Hamburg, and in terms of address it was situated in the area of Neu Darchau (a nearby town, nothing to do with Dachau), but disregarding geography, in turned out to be a great place to volunteer. There were lots of other fellow travelers working in order to have free food and accommodation, in fact in summer we had up to 85 volunteers on the farm! This is not to mention the 90+ permanent residents. Sammatz (google map it here) is a community unlike many you’ll find on the Workaway database – it’s well organised, with much varied work, cooked meals every lunch time, a fridge always full of food to cook your own, good accommodation, really friendly locals and some beautiful surroundings in the Northern Germany forest. As well as an organic farm, they have farm animals including many rare breeds (horses, cows, sheep, goats, pigs, donkeys, an avery, chickens, turkeys, ducks, dogs, cats, people), a bakery for fresh bread, dairy for making organic yoghurt and cheese, an excellent cafe with deserts drinks and meals and also home and schooling for special needs and disadvantaged children. The volunteers can get involved with any or all of this, from caregiving with the special needs kids, to gardening – weeding is somewhat of a prerequisite when you first arrive, there’s plenty of stables and animal work to get involved in and also construction and larger labouring type gardening. Oh, I forgot to mention the kitchen as well, with prepared meals everyday the catering is fantastic from the cooks. These are served Monday to Saturday and you can also get involved cooking there.

Daniel, my friend and blogger, check his hot blog out: https://www.failingforward.today/

So there’s a lot to do within this little (but in a sense, big) community in the heart of Lower Saxony. When I arrived, I was but a mere volunteer, but soon my plan to stay 2 weeks had sped by and it wasn’t long until I found myself staying 6 months, until nearly Christmas. I eventually had my own room to myself, used lent instruments such as Piano and Guitar to continue writing songs, and had gotten the basics of German down thanks to one of the mentors on the farm who also teaches German. I probably would have stayed past Christmas as well, if it wasn’t for a nagging call to return home to my birth land of New Zealand. Coming back to New Zealand had an element of shock to it as well – after the freedom and social environment of the farm – I feel the experience changed me. I will no longer be able to return to the confines of the usual 9 to 5 office job without the knowledge that other, more communal ways of life can exist.

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Not that working at the Sammatz community in Germany was a holiday, we would work 7.5 hours a day, starting at 8am and going until 5pm, with the 1.5 hour break for lunch. This was a little on the excessive side as most Workaway’s have the guidelines that there should only be 5 hours work a day, but the extra work was made up for by the good social environment and good food. The work was rewarding as well, perhaps not the excessive weeding, i.e. ripping grass out of the ground (which could be fun in summer as an excuse to flirt and bond with fellow workies, but was pretty tough by cold Autumn).  With the larger construction tasks, care giving, labouring around the farm something could always be learnt, about team work and individual skills. Cow herding was a highlight of mine, something I took the lead on for several months, along with a Scottish friend of mine. Cow’s turn out to be highly emotional and interesting creatures, not unsimiliar to what a dinosaur might be like. This lead to a screening of Jurassic Park with the borrowed farm projector, which in turn led to an impromptu road trip with the friends group I had at that time, up to the city of Lubeck. Lubeck was in no way connected to dinosaur’s but the trip was a lot of fun, and an indication of the cool things that you can do with the cool people you meet in community volunteering experiences such as this.

Will I volunteer on farms or community’s again? Yes I probably will. Now back in New Zealand I have the choice of staying here, getting an normal job to pay off my ever escalating student debt, or escape back overseas on a flight I’ve booked to return to Germany and start the traveling once again. Since I’ve turned down the job and thus the opportunity to make money, I may as well go for broke and see what will happen in Europe for me in 2018. This time I think I’ll try find a workaway closer to the city, like Berlin and perhaps get involved in the sights and sounds of city life once again. But I have a feeling it won’t be long, until I’m back at that farm in Lower Saxony once again…

Au Hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson, 1966) [Film Journal 2017 #2]

A film about an abused donkey in small town France, leading a saintly life that parallels that of it’s young owner Marie. An intriguing plot synopsis, one so specific that it could probably only be attempted by a master filmmaker. Bresson’ is a master indeed, expanding upon Eisenstein-esque montage theories to produce a uniquely film language, implying plot events with poetic edit choices and manipulating his untrained actors to be the conveyor of emotions for audiences to place themselves within, rather than forcing emotional performances onto audiences. His is an incredibly refined and deliberate style, one that screams to be studied by students and critics, and it’s probably unsurprising that he’s a favourite of film school courses worldwide. Also being one of the key influences on French New Wave filmmakers and subsequent followers such as Martin Scorsese or Terrance Malick, Bresson’s films deserve to be discovered by a wider audience – outside of just the elitist art house clique.

This is the 3rd Bresson film I’ve seen, and I’ve been lucky enough to have seen each of his on the big screen. The first being the prison break film A Man Escaped (1956), screened in Film Studies 101 in my first year of a Film and Media Studies degree as an example of a filmmaker using diegetic sound and uncommon camera framing devices to tell a narrative. Bresson spent over a year in a prison camp in WWII which gave him an experts knowledge to tell such a story. A Man Escaped is the most accessible and straight-forwardly entertaining I’ve seen of his and would be a good entry point. Diary Of A Country Priest (1951) was screened during a spirituality in film paper as an example of transcendent cinema. Transcendence being something above a normal earthly or physical level. The country priest of the title, known just as the Priest of Ambricourt, is a sickly man who struggles with his parish duties and become increasingly unwell throughout the film. His faith being tested, he receives no respite, and experiences a journey comparable to that of Christ. In his suffering Bresson insinuates he experiences transcendence of a sort.

I don’t know if the experience of watching a film can truly be said to be a transcendent experience – but this is something frequently stated about Bresson’s best films and their effect on the audience, and many critics state Au Hasard Balthazar as his best. Andrew Sarris exaggeratedly said of the film in 1970 – “No film I have ever seen has come so close to convulsing my entire being … It stands by itself as one of the loftiest pinnacles of artistically realized emotional experience.” Perhaps praising a film to that extent help to justify film as a serious art-form at a time when it’s reputation was still being solidified. But for a reknown critic and academic to be that passionate is perhaps a hint as to it’s place in the canon of classic cinema.

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Marie rejecting the affections of the earnest (or perhaps boring) Jacques

All of Bresson’s stylistic signatures are present in this film and perhaps mastered, but does that make the film groundbreaking or entertaining for a modern audience? In some ways yes, although research into the tools Bresson is using and his place in film history significantly increases an appreciation of the film, beyond a surface level. The use of untrained actors and the way in which Bresson directs he cast, filming take after take until the performance is diluted to it’s subconscious essence is in theory genius – rather than treating actors like stars, he uses them like a substance is diluted in homeopathy. During my initial viewing of Balthazar I could enjoy the performances as very naturalistic, documentary-like (neorealist perhaps) and understated. A character might say something dramatic, such as Marie refusing the love of her returning childhood sweetheart Jacques – but the lead actor Anne Wiazemsky talks as if she was hypnotized. As fascinating as this is, I would not have known the craft behind the performances without the research after watching the film.

As mentioned, the core narrative of the film concerns the saintly life of the donkey Balthazar, who suffers a life of servitude at the hands of it’s human masters, sometimes receiving kindness and sometimes abuse. Marie takes a shining to Balthazar and their lives are compared to each other, with the donkey’s life of abuse and mistreatment being paralleled by the somewhat tragic fate of Marie. The key sections of their lives are presented in separate segments almost like an anthology film. Within these segments, montage is used to imply meaning – to provide an example, a town drunk Arnold at one point takes owner ship of Balthazar. In one shot he says how he is going to quit drinking. The next shot is a close up on his hand holding a glass at a bar, the glass being filled with spirits. Such a cut caused laughter to erupt around the theater, showing that Bresson had a deft comic touch that is rarely noted.

Town drunk Arnold with Balthazar

 

Recovery not an option for Arnold is spite of his declarations

Recovery not an option for Arnold is spite of his declarations

Marie lives on a farm with her father and mother, known not by name, but they don’t own the farm. The farm-owners daughter dies in the opening sequence of the film, leading the family of the owner to leave the farm, which ends the brief childhood romance of Marie and Jacques (Jacques who is the son of the farms owner). Marie’s Dad is given responsibility over the farm and entitlement to the profits, yet the town bank enforces taking payments from the father which leaves the family in a state of destitution. A trouble-making gang of youths, led by Gerard (Francois Lafarge) soon enter Marie’s life, torturing Balthazar by tying fireworks to his tale, of which Marie does nothing to deter. Gerard seduces Marie, which is implied through his point of view gaze on her skirt, and a montage cut to blowing on a small horn in triumph, implying a successful conquest. Marie’s life becomes increasingly entangled with Gerard, which her family disapproves of yet is unable to dissuade. Gerard uses Balthazar for sometime, taking him from the family just as Gerard takes Marie.

Many crimes are caused by Gerard, and his at one point accused of a murder, yet this plot thread remains inconclusive. Arnold, the town drunk is also tormented by Gerard, yet later in the film Arnold surprisingly comes upon a fortune due to the death of an uncle. Gerard takes this opportunity to cause destruction to a bar, smashing mirrors and the entire collection of glass bottles, knowing Arnold will use his inheritance to pay for the bill. The scene of Gerard destroying the bar is one of the oddest of the film. The destruction is quite complete, and takes place around dancing townspeople. None of the extras dancing react at all to Gerard’s needless destruction. They have been directed not to show any awareness of it. Touches like this contribute to the dream or fantasy mood that Bresson conjures. Dramatic scenes occur, yet they do not occur as in real life, they take on more of a metaphorical role and therefore are more powerful, yet at the same time from a modern audiences perspective, are somewhat difficult to initially understand.

Balthazar at one point is sold to a local circus. He has a brief and seemingly successful career as an entertainer, and encounters other persecuted and subjegated circus animals – the eyes of an Elephant, Tiger and Chimpanzee staring mournfully back at Balthazar. Bresson apparently cared about the rights and lives of animals, sensibilities which fellow master director Ingmar Bergman apparently didn’t share. He famously said of Balthazar; “this Balthazar, I didn’t understand a word of it, it was so completely boring… A donkey, to me, is completely uninteresting, but a human being is always interesting.”

Brutal words, which serve to split Bresson and Bergman fans. Bresson ends the film with the saintly death of Balthazar, who expires surrounded by sheep, having been stolen by Gerard to steal goods – Balthazar’s demise occuring after being exploited one last time by the human’s who care not for his well-being. Marie’s narrative is left open, she at the very least escapes the village, but we are not if this is due to death or her own choice. The cruel characters of the film, notably Gerard never receive punishment for their deeds.

milking-machine

Is it a film that will still be regarded as a classic in 50 years time? That remains to be seen. It’s certainly an intriguing and well-executed premise featuring Bresson’s master touches in terms of cinematography, acting, editing and sound design. But it is very much a melodrama and the moments of comedy are overshadowed the main tragic plot of girl and donkey. It is perhaps most entertaining as a snapshot of life in mid-20th century small town France, with traditional village life ontrasted with growing modernity (such as Gerard carrying around his portable radio, playing Rock n Roll in an imitation of an american bad-boy like James Dean). It may be dated, but if you’re willing to invest in the film some time, you’ll find a more rewarding watch than just about everything else currently being produced for celluloid.

9/10

 

Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008) [Film Journal 2017 #1]

After completing, and being fascinated with Shame (McQueen’s 2nd film from 2011) last night, I decided to not stop there and continued straight on to the first collaboration between director Steve McQueen, actor Michael Fassbender and cinematographer Sean Bobbit – all three would later work together on 12 Years A Slave.

I think it’s safe to say that I hold McQueen very high in my list of currently working directors. These are three of the most demanding and provoking films I know of in recent memory, it’s hard to pick my favourite of the three – but I think it’s Shame, for it resonated the most with me. Addiction, especially to that of pornography and other instant gratification-giving mediums is so common and not discussed enough in cinema. The relationship between Fassbender’s successful-on-a-surface-level corporate character, and his equally broken sister is tragic and I’m still running it through in my head a day later.

But onto Hunger, which I was intending to write about. McQueen is a master of the long-take, just like Kubrick or Welles. He lets the camera linger on fictional moments long enough that they start to feel real. He documents realities that we can’t visit in a way arguably more penetrating than a documentary filmmaker could.

Hunger tackled issues of Northern Ireland, not something I’ve been that exposed too. Bobby Sands’ tale of self-sacrifice for his nation, bethren and beliefs is evidently an influential one, a modern day myth. I find it hard to believe how a country could be so split down the middle by religious divide, and reading more into Sands’ life after watching Fassbender’s harrowing portrayal of him, I understand the kind of torment the man must have faced to lead him to make such an extreme decision for his own fate.

If a film like Hunger exists to educate the historically and politically naive such as myself, then it is serving a higher purpose than just to entertain, and that therefore makes it not just great cinema, but great art.

[Blog] New Single: Seperations (Produced by Stakker)

A couple of months ago myself and a mate of mine Richard Baldwin, who produces and writes under the aliases Stakker, The Soviet Union and Belville (check out his tunes here), had our first jam, which immediately produced some promising sounds and ideas. We’d previously bonded at a party over a shared interest in old-school audio hardware, and learning that Richard owned not one but two mint condition Roland 808 drum-machines, I knew I had to get together and see what our minds could create.

I was slightly nervous at first to be jamming with such an experience musician, but we kicked straight into it and gelled quickly over some 808 pattern experiments. Quickly laying a beat into Ableton, I scrapped previous verses that I had brought to the jam, and wrote something on the spot to fit the sparse, mid-80s dark electro vibes that Richard was cultivating. Taking some ideas from previous incomplete verses, discussing the refugee crisis, I initially went down the route of the partying-at-the-end-of-the-world theme, that  I had previously explored in End Times. We sat on this rough initial draft for a month or so, having a few jams in between to remix tracks and hang out. Then, after the EU referendum decision, I decided it was appropriate to pick up this jam again and lay something down while the topic and inspiration is fresh. The upcoming US election adds another level of perverse inspiration behind the content of this track.

What we’ve come up with is called Separations, and I’m pretty proud of it. This is the first time I’ve finished a track for my ongoing solo rap project over a beat made not by myself. It felt particularly collaborative due to Richard taking particular interest in how I was delivering the vocals, honing it on specific line delivery as well as the tone of whole verses. We tracked all the vocals in about 3 hours, split up with pizza and cider, and I think the extra production input has taking the track up a notch. It’s still loose, there’s some improv at the end which Richard and I decided to keep in, and there’s a few vocal flubs we’ve kept in there for the hell of it. Stop it sounding too laboured or whatever.

I hope you’ll dig the message of the track – don’t want to be too preachy, but taking influence from political rappers of the past, this is all about unity in the face of the divisions placed upon us by the media, politics and negative rhetoric . Check the track out above, or on bandcamp.

Hamish Gavin and Richard Baldwin Stakker recording Separations

Dicking around at the recording sessions