Keep Calm and Watch Eurovision and Don’t Vote UKIP

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One of these people is a United Kingdom Independence Party candidate for the South East of England in the European Parliamentary elections.

 

The topic of Europe has seldom been absent from the UK chatterscape in recent weeks, and I have to express my sadness that the name more likely to pass British lips is that of Nigel Farage (left) as opposed to that of the decidedly more fabulous Conchita Wurst (right). In the most unfortunate recent circumstances, I have seen the former’s face more frequently than that of my own family and friends. I have frequently stated that the two topics I have brought together here, short of a wild and ill-advised jaunt into the realm of poorly chosen presidential campaign anthems or a line-by-line dissection of D:ream’s “Things Can Only Get Better”, seldom meet in the popular mind or this blog. Indeed, their union is perhaps as fragile and unsettling as that covering our continent and is visually represented in my personal mind’s eye by the sight of our chancellor George Osborne pathetically headbobbing to the wibbly strains of Keane on The Andrew Marr Show.

While yelping about the political elements of Eurovision is something usually reserved for some vocal and largely uninformed whinging about Europe’s failure to overlook the thoroughly pitiful quality of the entries we’ve selected with all the care of a drunk pursuing his choices of post-pub scran, I prefer to discuss the notion that the popular British political stance toward Europe is reflected in our attitude toward and overall treatment of the contest. As with the European Union, Britain’s approach to Eurovision has been recently defined by hostility, entitlement and condescending arrogance. Not only are we absurdly aghast at the lack of return on the utter rot we bother to send but remain discontented with anything less than a win, as reflected by the unjust disdain towards our very respectable performances in 2002, 2009 and 2011. Although our last win in 1997 is becoming a distant memory only available to those who have at least once wondered whether they are too young to begin slapping on the Oil of Olay, other nations have toiled for many years longer and a great deal harder to bring about a swift end to their drought of victory. The Netherlands have been denied the top spot since 1975 and Teach-In’s triumph with the insatiable “Ding-A-Dong” in Stockholm. If my theory is correct, the UK’s appetite for Eurovision in 2014 should be akin to that of your average five year old presented with a dinner of anything other than chicken nuggets.

Nonetheless, the BBC have undeniably offered a considerable level of effort towards the contest this year in terms of both coverage and song selection. Aside from showing both the semi finals and the final as is custom, Auntie Beeb is stretching also to a dedicated digital Radio 2 pop-up station from Thursday to Saturday of this week, with a entirely Eurovision-themed schedule. Furthermore, a stunted realisation that the croaky tones of formerly world famous old timers weren’t quite capturing voter nor jury imagination, we have astoundingly realised that Europe are potentially more likely to like our entry if we too can sit through it without shuffling uncomfortably in our chairs. Our entrant, Molly Smitten-Downes, was chosen through the entirely legitimate and credibility-laden BBC Introducing strand. The song, written by Molly herself, is both anthemic and relentlessly catchy. We are further blessed beyond our surprisingly promising choice of song. She is a solid live vocal talent and only today she has drawn what could potentially be a plush performance slot in the lucrative second half of Saturday’s final. We are also lucky to have been to find ourselves in such circumstances in a year of no obvious runaway winner. While the hype has been thrown behind the curiously-named and definitely not homophobic Aram MP3 of Armenia, “Not Alone” is something of a meandering affair that lacks panache. Arguably our other main competitor, Sweden’s is contrastingly an entry whose victory over the UK is something I could stomach with far less complaint. Sanna Neilsen’s power ballad “Undo” has won me over with the allure of it’s face-smackingly monstrous key change and the wailed absurdity disguised as it’s main lyric (#UndoMySad).

The rest of my personal favourites are admittedly far less likely to reach the dizzier heights of the scoreboard for a variety of reasons, but are worth a look-in nonetheless. The aforementioned Conchita Wurst of Austria is going against the novelty grain and providing us with the most Bond-esque offering we’ve since Belarus’ Koldun asked us to work our magic back in 2007. Ahead of her qualifying round on Thursday, I am depressingly less than optimistic about her chances despite a placing in what I feel is the weaker of the two semi-finals due to the already existing controversy surrounding her presence in the contest. If certain competitors were able to battle the irresistible force of Dana International in 1998, then the western European jury may quite literally have to be out for Conchita. Such prejudice is perhaps no more rife than in Russia, whose entry I am shamelessly drawn to this year despite widespread panning from the majority of fans. The Tolmachevy Sisters won Junior Eurovision in an entirely hateful manner as children, and grown-up they are now seemingly Russia’s sickly-sweet and fiercely heterosexual answer to Tegan and Sara. Against all of my better instincts, I cannot help but enjoy the veiled smut that comes with a cry of “shine into my darkness!” through a thick Russian brogue. As someone who normally resents the usually unjustifiably successful presence of the Russians, it is mostly saddening that they have chosen a year in which they have been at their most politically abhorrent to put forward something that I actually enjoy. Their comparative lack of favour is threatening the sisters’ possibility of even qualifying for the final, and even that success would appear unlikely to guarantee them an admirable final placing. This year’s so-called Marmite entry is undoubtedly that of Poland. “My Stowanie (We Are Slavic)” is originally sung half in Polish and half in English, and although I feel many entries lose their impact when not sung in their native language, I am glad of the English portion of this track. It brings both pace amidst a broadly slow and midtempo show and some truly ear-testing fun with which I am convinced British audiences will happily get on board, even if they happen to mark their vote beside a UKIP candidate two weeks later. An honourable mention should go to Spain, whose contestant Ruth Lorenzo is familiar to British audiences by virtue of Simon Cowell’s appreciation for her memorable pairs of both lungs and bosoms during her stint on the X Factor in 2008. Her ballad “Dancing In The Rain” comes complete with a visually stunning video, but is probably not going to set the scoreboard alight.

Essentially no competitor here is of the goosebump-inducing splendour of Loreen or even Emmelie De Forest and thus as contests go, 2014 is definitely a year in which there could ultimately be all to play for. It inspires my confidence to be able to genuinely support a UK entry, but as always, this is with the required reasonable acknowledgement that we are competing against 36 other countries with an equal right to win. The sentiment behind this thought is perhaps something that should remain just as vibrantly in our minds as we approach the polls in two weeks time.

Who are your Eurovision favourites this year? Can the UK clinch it? And how vehemently are you not voting for UKIP? Tell me all!

Long time, no post – an Atmospop top 5 for 2013

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They found me in the car park next to Richard III

If no-one else noticed my absence from the blogosphere, it is most certain that I did. Reducing my social media activity to Facebook meandering and rapidfire tweeting has done many things, including the amassing of a great deal of short term gratification and a conversion towards support for Scottish independence, something perhaps best covered in lengthy detail by another post. But it is undoubted that nothing quite offers that satisfaction of writing something of substance for non-academic purposes. Depressingly, a few of a posts here have reached a far greater audience and offered more personal fulfilment than many an essay submission. It is for this reason, even whilst trying to keep head above water in the choppy waters of academia, that I have chosen to return to writing recreationally.

The end of the year offers both healthy and unhealthy opportunities for introspection, and to gaze back across all we have enjoyed and endured over the previous twelve months. It was only in the frosty breezes of the past few days that 2013 revealed itself to be a distinctly vintage year for my own favourite genre of atmospop. The untrained may be unfamiliar with the term, but a brief description of the term would encourage those people to think of pop as a sensory experience. If a pop song lacks the ability to send a shiver down the spine, or move to tears but one person, then it needn’t qualify. The production of these songs tend to operate in echo chambers, every note packed to the hilt with atmosphere and emotion, and in my personal opinion are best listened through headphones with your coat billowing in the draughtiness of a cold cityscape… a setting that my continued residency in the fine city of Edinburgh is more than pleased to offer.

Atmospop has featured at the fringes of much of the year’s chart action. Most readers will likely have noticed the very much welcome return of house to the top 40, offering a alternative model of club anthem that essentially negates any remaining purpose for FloRida’s continuing existence. Many such smashes have been laced with the fabric of atmospop, most notably in the instance of Duke Dumont and A*M*E’s excellent “Need U (100%)”, which comfortably dominated our airwaves through the chill of Spring. This diversity of genres will perhaps be reflected in my discussion more than over before. Infact, while atmospop has been recognisably absent from what might largely be as considered mainstream pop, it has found a blossoming new life this year due to a proliferation throughout the best of alternative pop, hip-hop, indie and electronica.

5. Childish Gambino – 3005

Clearly determined to cause trouble for myself already, some may wish to debate the extent to which Childish Gambino could be said to quality as pop music. While I recognise that Donald Glover is failing to trouble the upper end of the British charts, the sumptuousness of “3005”‘s bridge and chorus are rather too splendid to ignore. 2013 additionally being the year that I finally got around to falling in love with Community and Glover’s character Troy, I am similarly enamoured with this lead single from sophomore LP Because The Internet.” The track marries Gambino’s signature rapping style with a rich and modern R&B backdrop noticeably reminiscent of Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange.” I genuinely hope, as with Ocean, that Gambino is able to garner more mainstream recognition. In a year where our so many of hitmakers are interesting new characters seemingly propelled from relative anonymity, the mainstream rap genre hasn’t offered us anything more imaginative than the continuity of the astoundingly resilient career of Pitbull, and 2 Chainz offering all of us some kind of global blowjob. While the atmospop content of this number is rather restricted to the harmonious vocals and glorious synths within the chorus, these alone are enough to merit inclusion at the tail end of our countdown.

4. Haim – Falling

I don’t think any act has come close to capturing the essence of my favourite musical banshees of the past as these three sisters from Cali. Although popular, Haim continue to stand out like sore thumbs, although favourably, within the modern pop landscape. An early 2013 release, the formidable “Falling” continues to accumulate significant airplay even on an unrelentingly and self-consciously hypermodern Radio 1, despite only reaching the heights of number 30. Following on from the stellar “Forever” and “Don’t Save Me”, “Falling” delivers a refreshing and understated take on the likes of Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac for our age. The sisters make admirable use of their sublime layered vocals over fast-paced and veiled bombastic production to produce one of the satisfying and enduring releases of this year. Recent effort “The Wire” suggests a change of direction for the band, which I may not favour so highly. However, “Falling” and it’s aforementioned predecessors are enough to secure my lasting approval and the number four spot on this list.

3. CHVRCHES – Recover

It’s rather hard to articulate in words how thrilling it is to be able to get excited about a Scottish band again. While local lads such as Frightened Rabbit have found an audience and vast critical acclaim within the music press, it was unlikely that their stylings would ever capture my imagination. CHVRCHES however, have injected new life into the Scottish music scene by revitalising a genre that was threatening to implode in unto itself. The majority of the band’s rather brilliant first album features pained and breathy vocals over heady thumping synths, a combination of noise likely recorded somewhere for if I ever require immediate resuscitation with familiar, favoured tones. “Recover” has narrowly pipped the marginally more popular “The Mother We Share” into this countdown due to the sheer heartbreak conveyed over the final minute of the track, as the vocals become ever more desperate and the pound of the synths ebbs away leaving an altogether more ethereal sound. CHVRCHES are playing this year’s Concert in Princes Street Gardens, alongside the Pet Shop Boys, just one of the acts to whom they are the effective heirs. Unsurprisingly, this is one line-up that may have tempted me to stand for hours in the biting temperatures of central Edinburgh.

2. Mutya Keisha Siobhan – Flatline

Now, were I counting down the year’s most prominent chart injustices then these girls would be undoubtedly be topping the chart like a bullet. The reunion of the original line-up of the Sugababes created a brief media stir and a lasting buzz among literally tens of pop fans across the UK. It is undoubted that the unification of Mutya, Keisha and Siobhan offered a wealth of promise, with teases such as their turn on a remix of Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools (Drank)” only increased the fervour. Unfortunately, as things transpired, an excessively badly managed campaign for “Flatline” meant that even those with investment grew frustrated and a aggressive snub from Radio 1 playlisters was effectively another nail in the coffin with regard to the tune’s prospective chart success, and we now live in doubt that we will ever see another full album from this trio. Not that any of this should take away from the sheer strength of “Flatline.” All of the online hype surrounding the tune was entirely founded in the undoubted quality of the track. Acting as a complete contrast to the stylings of the latter day Sugababes, “Flatline” is an exercise in maturity and class. The band’s voices appear to forget their 10+ year estrangement and blend seamlessly together once again over the sophisticated and elegant production of Dev Hynes. As with CHVRCHES’ “Recover”, the song doesn’t get eye-wettingly delicate until it’s final third, as a choir chant buoyantly and cascade of sound softly rains down as “Flatline” takes it’s final breaths. An unabashed triumph that I sadly can only hope I hear more of the likes of in 2014.

1. Beyoncé – XO

But a month ago, I could not have envisaged the current Queen of Pop swooping in to capture the coveted “best Atmospop track of 2013″ title, nor would I have expected it. Even if any of us had been aware that Beyoncé had been planning to drop a laudable new opus, it is unlikely that any of would have expected the musical direction she has chosen as the album’s debut single. What is clear, is that our Bey has most likely been listening to or taking lessons from her own sister. Solange Knowles is already quite the master of the genre, releasing undervalued epics such as the estimable “Losing You” for over a year now. “XO” has clear echoes of Beyoncé’s sister’s material, as well as that of atmospop stalwarts such as Jessie Ware. The song is a grand and truly gorgeous lesson in contented love, with Beyoncé’s velvet voice weaving lyrics over deep piano, buried synths and misleadingly punchy drum hooks. It is unremittingly anthemic, and conjures powerful imagery rivalling the likes of Lana Del Rey’s “National Anthem” and Kelis’s “4th of July.” A late entry but a nonetheless entirely deserving winner, I am looking forward to hearing so much more of this style from the mainstream across the coming year.

I have corroborated a handy Spotify playlist of these five tracks for your listening pleasure, and it is worth noting that the original Atmospop playlist available elsewhere on this blog has been updated to include first-rate efforts released or discovered by myself since the original post.

What is your verdict on the list? Do you believe there are any scandalous omissions? To jog memory, here are a few that narrowly missed out:

Katy B – Crying For No Reason

Another latecomer indeed, but a veritable curveball of an effort from the oft more urban Miss B. This electro-tinged ballad has also taken even her naysayers by surprise.

Lana Del Rey – Young and Beautiful

This effort for the soundtrack of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby allowed Miss Del Rey to bring the goods yet again, although nothing could quite elevate this to the spine-tingling heights of 2012’s atmospop zenith “Ride.”

Sophie Ellis Bextor – Young Blood

A welcome return to the music scene from Ellis-Bextor brought this heartfelt number wound with luscious strings particularly over the end section. The production is of a lower key than I would usually prefer, clearly designed not to alienate the Strictly Come Dancing audience she was trying to court.

Tegan and Sara – I Was A Fool

I know little of this duo’s musical output, but am reliably informed that effectively selling out with latest album Heartthrob has been instrumental in aiding these sisters to produce the best work of their career. “I Was A Fool” is a wonderfully simple piano mid-tempo with a healthy dollop of emotional drama and svelte harmonies.

Please do rush to welcome me back to writing, and critique my selections thoroughly and viciously. Tell me everything!

Backbenchin’

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I have just realised that I have forgot to mention rather an excellent development in my blogging trajectory on here. Since last month, I signed up to contribute additional political articles to the new collaborative political website “Backbench.” So from now on, i’ll probably link here to other articles that I have submitted there also.

For a sample of what i’ve written there so far, please check out my article on the recent rare and surprising Scottish Cabinet reshuffle and a piece I submitted last week on my hopes for the Labour party conference. I encourage you to check out the work of the other excellent commentators also!

Please feel free to tell me what you think of my initial Backbench efforts via the comments box!

The difficult second… single.

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“Oh sorry, you just caught us lying around in clock formation…”

As most of us will know, things vary greatly in music depending on what type of act you are. There’s different rules for different schools, as it were. Whilst those that would describe themselves as “discerning” are this week concerned with the follow-up album of a corduroy loving, cow-milking, banjo-strumming entity known only as “Mumford & Sons”, the rest of us are busying ourselves with something altogether more different. Following the relative success of first single “Wings”, Little Mix have uploaded a lyrics video for their follow-up and album title track “DNA.” Many fans were concerned when they heard that “DNA” was being touted as a mid-tempo affair, but the result certainly needn’t have worried them as much as it did. Those who followed the X Factor will be pleased to know that the track pays homage to their performance of “ET”, which, incidentally, I happen to think is the strongest release from Katy Perry’s ridiculously long “Teenage Dream” campaign. It doesn’t even contain a guest rapper! So for this latest blog, as opposed to merely giving my opinions on the single using terms that have probably been stated far too many times on Twitter and internet forums, i’m instead going to explain why I believe this single is perhaps even more important than their debut, and the reasons I think “DNA” has given them rather a strong chance of a positive outcome.

You see reader… in pop, the second single is in many ways what the second album is for your average indie or rock band. Because the singles charts are the main measure of a pop act’s success, their test of longevity becomes apparent a great deal quicker than other artists. Although occasionally fondly remembered, it is definitely not desirable for an act to join the ranks of one hit wonders. This is especially true of an act like Little Mix. Being the only group and the third female act to have ever won the X Factor in right series, there was more hype behind these girls than many. Unlike many other winning acts, I think the majority perceived Little Mix as a group that fit nicely into the pop landscape of 2012, and capable of huge success with the right songs and marketing. Now before I go any further, I will point out that I am aware that this is not technically Little Mix’s second single, as they released “Cannonball” immediately following their X Factor win too, but with X Factor winners it seems safe to ignore the “winner’s single” as it were. It doesn’t follow the proper conventions of single releases and always hits number one regardless of quality. Little Mix’s first real test was “Wings”, which i’m happy to say safely made the number one spot, but unfortunately only for one week (though i’m quite convinced that part of the explanation is owed to the stupidly long wait for the commercial availability of the track.)

Why is the second single important for an X Factor act? Well, isn’t it obvious? This is where things usually go tits up for X Factor alumni, and tends to determine whether they’re set up for a sustained career or otherwise. The two winning acts directly preceding Little Mix are quite perfect examples of such. Both geordie pixie Joe McElderry and hat cardie Matt Cardle’s second (technically third) singles completely bombed, reaching a peak of 68 and 84 in the singles charts respectively. In contrast, everyone’s second favourite horse-faced celebrity Leona Lewis and one-time “Jane McDonald’s Star For A Night” contestant Alexandra Burke’s follow-ups charted at numbers 2 and 8. It’s clear that “DNA” needs to make the top ten at the very least to prevent Little Mix from becoming another on the long list of reality write-offs.

Another reason that the second single is particularly important? Simply the fact that Little Mix happen to be a girlband. Unlike their male counterparts One Direction, whose fans broke pre-order records buying new single “Live While We’re Young” before they’d heard a second of the song, new girlbands tend to have a harder time of it. Though Little Mix obviously have a loyal following of their own, girlbands obviously cannot appeal directly to the loins of their fans and thus are more reliant on smarter marketing and better songs. Let’s look into this by examining two of their most successful predecessors and most obvious fore bearers. The Spice Girls arguably had an even bigger task on their hands than Little Mix do. They had come from complete obscurity to seven weeks at the top of the singles chart with a song that was effectively an earworm. Mel C herself admitted in the magnificent documentary “Giving You Everything” that even she thought Wannabe “had one hit wonder written all over it.” Their follow-up single had to be a showstopper and define the band beyond the gimmicks. In this sense, “Say You’ll Be There” was a masterstroke. It was about slightly more adult themes and is undoubtedly sexier also, but this is done in a fun way and without alienating their young fanbase. The song hit number one and the rest as they say, is history.

A perhaps even more apt example is that of Girls Aloud. Like Little Mix, they came from a talent show also but one could say that there were definitely less expectations of them. The whole premise of “Popstars: The Rivals” entered them into a direct contest with their male counterparts “One True Voice”, who most people expected to triumph on the basis that boybands are easier to sell. In addition to this and again unlike Little Mix, the girls had not heightened people’s perceptions of them with showstopping performances on their show. Indeed, one might argue quite the opposite. (As an aside, doesn’t Popstars: The Rivals look a bit like it was filmed around 30 years ago in an especially impoverished Eastern European country? How things have changed!) Therefore, Girls Aloud left Popstars with the public not expecting a great deal of them whatsoever, but then came “Sound of the Underground.” Now, it certainly helped that the effort of their opposition, the almost painfully bland “Sacred Trust”, was thoroughly dreadful. Saying this, i’d argue that “Sound of the Underground” is not only comparatively better but fantastic in it’s own right. It’s edgy modern sound took almost everyone by surprise. Pop fans felt that we might just have another success story on our hands… just as long as the follow up was as good. Thankfully, it was. Unlike the Spice Girls, Girls Aloud didn’t vary their sound too much for the second single, but instead essentially chose to prove that they had more where “Sound of the Underground” came from. “No Good Advice” had a similarly brilliant hook and was packed with attitude. I believe this release set the band up for the long run of popularity that they enjoyed.

So what chance do Little Mix stand? Based on “DNA”, a pretty good one, i’d say. Whereas “Wings” exuded Summer bounciness, “DNA” is darker and sets a sombre mood as the calendar heads towards Hallowe’en. Like the Spice Girls, Little Mix are playing with slightly more grown-up lyrics here, moving away from the all-age-applicable themes like friendship and self-esteem. And like “Say You’ll Be There”, it must be said that I expect a truly memorable video for this song too. If this is the case, the band will succeed in clarifying their overall message and showing that they mean business, in the manner that “No Good Advice” did for Girls Aloud. I believe the band have time and place on their side also. The slow demise of the Sugababes means that the band’s only real rivals for the nation’s girl group affections are The Saturdays, who are as disparate in their appeal than All Saints were to the Spice Girls.

Ultimately, I believe “DNA” is a solid effort that matches the group’s debut, and maybe even surpasses it. To Little Mix’s credit, any failure of this single would be entirely down to the poor taste of the record-buying public.

What do you think of “DNA”? Does it reach the bar set by the Alouds and the Spices or sullenly limbo under it? Air your views in the handy comments section below!

In appreciation of Atmospop.

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Russ Abbot wants an atmopop. He loves a party with a happy atmospop.

In the vast myriad of genres, it’s hard to determine what is one’s favourite. I tell people I like pop music but it just seems too vague. The problem with pop is that it is a bloated genre by this point in time. At least half, but probably considering more, of the music on my iPod could constitute pop. So what does music do at this point? It invents the sub genre. This is absolutely necessary in today’s pop landscape. Heck, even a genre that is comparatively very youthful has already felt the need to splinter. The rapid expansion of dubstep has meant many enthusiasts are keen to differentiate between it’s diverse types. Some acts even explicitly invent their own genre, such as the seemingly club-obsessed LMFAO and their new genre of “party rock”, a label that features relentlessly in their lyrics, and even figures in their song and album titles.

So what is my favourite branch on the wise old tree of pop? You may have guessed already from the title of this piece. But what is atmospop? I have heard the term used before to describe haunting mid-tempo tracks from the 1980’s, such as Duran Duran’s “Save A Prayer.” Similarly, I have seen it likened with the genre of “dream pop”, popularised by artists such as the Cocteau Twins. Whilst I fully incorporate these areas within my definition, I also find it limiting. I personally classify atmospop as any piece of popular music that tends to have the same sensual effect on you as the passing of a light cold breeze. I am talking precisely about those now-cliched hairs on the back of one’s neck standing up. The genre is named as such because of the atmosphere it creates when one listens to it, a kind of powerful ambience. Chill out that bays you to tune in. Vocals can have a distinct echoed effect, strings and electronic production also feature heavily. What all of these songs with one another in that they have been meticulously formed. Every vocal inflection, every beat of every drum, every strum of a guitar, every blip and every blop, has been thought about and incorporated expertly. Without delving too far into my own pretentiousness, I also associate a great deal of these songs with Winter… every one of them is definitely best accompanied best by a brisk walk outside in frosty sub-zero temperatures.

One of the most fantastic things about the genre is that it is without a limitation within a particular time period. It can be one of the highlight phases in the careers of our most versatile artists, or the launch and trademark sound of a hot new talent. For some pop acts often taken less seriously than they deserve, I believe the genre often delivers some of their most critically acclaimed work. I refer back to my last pop-based blog regarding the Spice Girls, in which I discussed the praise received by their final effort as a five-piece, “Viva Forever.” The layered classical intro and beautiful harmonies cement this song’s place in my mind as an atmospop classic. The genre also perfectly suits the melancholic mood of the group at the time, following the departure of Geri.

It is at this point that I will describe a few more bastions of the genre.

Oft-compared to the Spice Girls simply for being the other major girl group of the time, All Saints were actually rather different. Seldomly seen without their beloved combat trousers, the flavour of the band was altogether more R&B sound on the whole and as a result, a great deal of their material hasn’t aged well. Excepted from this however, are there atmospop efforts. The best known of these is arguably “Pure Shores“, memorable for it’s inclusion in the soundtrack to Leonardo Di Caprio’s The Beach. Unlike the other entries in their discography, the William Orbit production on this track is lush and as fresh as ever. This song is overshadowed by “Never Ever” for the title of the group’s biggest hit, but I far prefer this. Another notable atmospop contribution of the All Saints girls comes in the form of “Black Coffee” from the same album, also benefitting from the masterful production of William Orbit.

As we all know, Madonna has experimented with a great deal of musical styles both successfully and unsuccessfully. Her longevity is a source of admiration, but also of anguish for some people. However, even her critics appear to be in agreement that the “Ray Of Light” album is amongst her finest works. The album itself is brimming with atmospop, as one can see without having to look any further than the singles it produced. Both “Drowned World/Substitute For Love” and “The Power of Goodbye” add depth and style to the ballad genre, whilst “Frozen” stands out as the mid-tempo gem of the piece. Yet again, the production benefits considerably for the trademark influence of William Orbit. Despite immensely enjoying later efforts such as “Confessions On A Dancefloor“, I am personally of the opinion that Madonna has failed to better these songs since.

In more recent times, other artists have been keen to jump on the atmospop bandwagon. Whilst several of the artists involved remain outwith the upper echelons of the charts, others such as Lana Del Rey has made a significant transfer over to the mainstream. Her unique brand of faded Americana coupled with hip hop production stylings make for a winning combination. Many of the tracks on her debut LP (as Lana Del Rey, at least) convey ethereal melancholy at various tempos. A favourite of mine, recent single “Blue Jeans” feels like the natural successor to the similarly atmospheric “Wicked Game” by Chris Issak.

She is amongst one of the many artists I have included in this special atmospop Spotify playlist. There are around 90 tracks on there from all corners of the musical spectrum, but that I feel all exemplify the idea i’m trying to convey. My serving suggestion for this playlist is that it is listened to either on headphones or in the wonderful acoustics of your most likely non-carpeted bathroom. Enjoy!

And here’s the link to see the whole list more easily and play within your Spotify software.

I urge you to use the comments box to debate the true meaning of the genre, discuss their favourite tracks on the playlist and suggest new inclusions!

Why do so many Americans vote against their economic interests?

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The elephant in the room.

Mitt Romney’s recent choice of Paul Ryan as his Vice Presidential nominee has brought forward question I have oft-considered back to the forefront of my mind. The reason for this simple. If Mr. Ryan is known for anything, it’s his ruthless economic ideal. It’s no secret that Romney has had to adopt a more hardline stance on several occasions throughout his campaign. His not-so-secret past as a relative moderate is something he’s trying to leave behind as he runs for president. The most recent issue of The Economist suggests that what Ryan brings to the campaign might just be Romney’s biggest challenge of this ilk so far. Whilst much discussion of the Republican move to the far-right has focused on ethical problems, Ryan represents a brutal economic stance and commitment to small government. In the event of a Romney-Ryan administration, it is undoubted that many of America’s poorest would suffer profoundly as a result of Ryan’s plans to shrink welfare spending. This is obviously not to say that this is a direction for the Republican Party. This is merely a radical extension of the economic-right, neo-liberal Republican heresy of the past 30 years. And yet throughout this time and including the present, a specific branch has remained loyal to the party. Millionaires and corporates, you say? Well, yes them. But we mustn’t forget another set that vehemently put their a cross next to that GOP candidate… the white working classes. Only recently have we started examining this apparent contradictions of interests. Simply why is it that white Americans on the lower stratus of society seemingly buy into the big business ideology? I am also going to attempt to understand why British people like myself cannot comprehend what we observe across the pond.

My first argument is that these supporters have become so entangled with the other aspects of the Republican ideology that the economic policy evades their concerns. As America moves through groundbreaking social change such as legalisation of gay marriage in several states, perhaps New York most significantly, moral issues have come to dominate the political dialogue. Republican politicians especially are accentuating their religiosity and communicating their evermore ardent commitment to strong viewpoints on these concerns. In reaction to the brief surge of the strongly conservative Tea Party, our average Republican candidate has had to step into this realm to appeal to remain in correlation with the rhetoric seen to be dominating popular opinion. It is for this reason that he or she is now not only anti-abortion, but anti-abortion even in relation to cases of incest or rape. Issue politics are no stranger to those on all sides of the political spectrum, but this is inarguably one of the most prominent demographic-related examples of such. These working class whites see themselves so morally disparate from the socially liberal Democrats that voting for them is entirely unfathomable. It is important to think of it in these emotive terms, for these qualms are something that the layman is more likely to think about on a personal level. And without trying to offend, I feel it’s quite reasonable to suggest that these are political choices that your average person feels they actually understand. Ultimately, most Americans are unsure as to how they would fix the economy, but exactly how they feel in relation to moral quandaries. And this is without delving into the importance of religion. For many, religious beliefs trump political preferences without exception… despite many Republican proposals often not resembling anything Jesus might have condoned. Author Jonathan Haidt, writing in The Guardian, even compared US the stylings of US politics to that of religion, in line with other scholars of nationalism that suggest patriotism in the states has distinctive religious characteristics. I personally believe that these things have become intertwined in the minds of certain Americans (with more than a little help from the “Pledge of Allegiance”). Whilst no political party can afford to shy away from demonstrating what makes it truly American, the Republicans have tended to succeed more in doing so in extremely basic terms.

One example of this is their successful branding of anti-interventionist policies as what freedom and liberty really mean. Whilst I find it rather difficult to comprehend this definition of freedom and why it is considered desirable, the idea prevails as one of the overarching foundations of the US mindset. By linking their current policy ideas to the lynchpin that is the US constitution, you convince some that you represent what America was designed to be. Sometimes I wonder if this could possibly still be linked with lingering anti-communist sentiment. Policy in the United States throughout the latter half of the 20th century was after all essentially designed to be everything that the USSR was not. This is why the US places “individual responsibility” in such high esteem… as any form of safety net on part of government is automatically seen to resemble their Soviet adversaries. But surely this could not still be an issue in 2012, when the end of the USSR is slightly older than the 22 year old writing this blog? Party-political mud-slinging of the last five years tells us us the contrary. Republicans would not be so quick to label Barack Obama as a “socialist” if they didn’t feel the word still carried a wealth of negative connotations for large sections of the American population. Such tarring can lead swing voters to err on the side of caution. Even though the Democratic party cannot genuinely be considered socialists in any true sense of the word, it’s far easier for Republicans to argue the case that they present the least socialist option on the ballot paper. After all, if some believe that any government intervention whatsoever equates to pure socialism, the Democrats really do not possess a counter argument.

Additionally, there is always an case to make for the effects of habitual voting across time. There are undoubtedly swathes of people out there that vote in a particular way simply because they or their family always has in the past. This is often despite huge changes in a party’s outlook across time. This is a common trope I found on the doorsteps as a persuasive canvasser, but I genuinely implore a Labour party supporter to tell me that the party is the same one now that it was 25 years ago! I often see accusations of this ilk in relation to the GOP, markedly with reference to the party’s ever more radical values. Some have suggested that the party of today would be entirely unrecognisable to former stalwarts such mid-century president Dwight Eisenhower. Jeb Bush, best known as a former governor of Florida and as George’s brother has even suggested that Ronald Reagan would be not be chosen as a GOP candidate in modern times, an assertion repeated by the current president also. This is despite the party and conservative commentators’ continued reverence or Reagan. But why do these people continually evoke Reagan?  Surely the working class Republican support are only angered by mention of the man owing to their treatment throughout his term of office the 1980s?

Well… not quite. See, whilst the working classes in the UK and in the US suffered rather similarly under Thatcher and Reagan respectively, this demographic in the former nation haven’t forgiven the related political party, whilst in the latter they never significantly drifted. In the UK, it could be argued that the working class Conservative is dead. To people of my generation, it seems amazing that they ever comprised a mentionable proportion of the electorate. The only one that i’ve ever known was my late grandmother, whose tiny flat was never without a copy of “The Spectator.” But her generation has passed on and with it, so has the last bastion of working class conservatism in this country. One cannot help but believe this comprises part of the reason why modern Brits are so baffled by this notion stateside. I suppose we can find solace in the fact this is not the only aspect of US politics that leaves us truly befuddled. And considering my inability to come to a definite conclusion here, it seems that this matter will have to remain on this very long list for the time-being.

However, this does not mean I do not invite anyone with thoughts on this matter to ponder with me. Why not do so via the comments box?

Let the Olympic legacy be respect.

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Now over a week has passed since the vaguely shambolic Olympic closing ceremony (the clear highlight of which being featured as the subject of my previous post.) Without the ongoing day-to-day excitement of the Olympics to verbaciously detail and a good fortnight remaining until what promises to be a stellar Paralympic games, the broadsheets have progressed through a specially modified four stages of grief. Basking in the afterglow, anxiety about returning to normality, then lapsing into cynicism before slowly returning to our everyday routine of complaining about everything the government do.

That last step has been particularly involved in the discussion about Olympic legacy. It was decidedly inconvenient for both David Cameron and education secretary Michael Gove that the media had readymade anti-sport dirt on the government for directly after the Olympics. The “playing fields” controversy has therefore featured possibly more prominently in the news that it may have otherwise. However, I would say that it’s certainly one small negative feature amongst the “Olympic legacy” on sport. Yet again, such an event puts focus once again on the next generation, and the prominence once again falls to school sports.

I find this almost amusing, as I have with all discussion of school sport in terms on lasting effect on human wellbeing and contributing to the overall fitness of kids. It is true that there has been a great deal of success in increasing the hours spent doing sport in school in recent years, but the pervading dialogue that surrounds the discussion of it is painfully simplistic. It’s convenient for our politicians to view school sports in this way, despite the fact that none of them are stupid enough to genuinely believe is coming out of their mouths. The consensus is a step-by-step process that assumes that school sports are making a child more healthy and creating a positive attitude towards sport within the child, one that is likely to encourage participation in later life.

This is contrary to mine and what I safely assume to be swathes of other people’s experience of school physical education. Before venturing into detail, it is probably best to highlight that this does not incorporate primary school gym sessions. I can safely say that I enjoyed those years and remained a fairly active child throughout that time, a child that enjoyed running, cycling and a kickabout. This was until the tyranny of high school came into play. See, high school physical education was different. The first thing I noticed is that both teachers and physically gifted pupils took the pursuit entirely more seriously that I had been used to, thereby sapping any morsel of fun to be had clean out of the process. Sporty classmates became ferocious in their quest for victory, and quite obviously came to see those that may be considered mediocre sporting talents to be a downright hindrance to them, rendering their attitudes extremely abhorrent and childish. I guess this is something to be expected from teenagers, but i’d argue that those in charge were almost as bad.

What I believe the Olympic legacy could be, is an overhaul of teaching methods. I found it both amusing and sad to hear athletes such as Mo Farah laud their old PE teachers so heavily when so many people consider their’s to be amongst the least inspiring characters they’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter. My overarching memory of physical education is that the dismissive attitudes were not restricted to the pupils. I am absolutely resolute in my belief that Physical Education teachers do far more harm than good when it comes to inspiring a dedication to sport in pupils that may not have developed that passion otherwise. Infact, one thing I do notice is that they are exceptional at motivating those with an existing drive and clear passion in a particular field of sport, and this is why people need not worry too greatly about Team GB’s future stars. However, their instense concentration on these students is mirrored by what I consider an ambivalence at best and contempt at worst for pupils that aren’t quite so gifted. It is for this reason that I remember an overwhelming number of those ever-so-valuable hours of physical activity involving a depressing amount of standing around doing very little that could be described as such. I believe also that this negative experience of sporting authority is arguably one of the primary factors that people choose not to continue with it once free of the constraints of compulsory physical education. Unpleasant experiences from school darkly colour people’s perceptions of sport. Why would one voluntarily put oneself under this critical gaze of my own volition?

However, the Olympics has changed me in one way. Namely, I no longer think negatively of all of those blessed with sporting talent. For years I have tarnished athletes as either repugnant or simply banal. I’ve long thought “Sports Personality of the Year” was an oxymoron. However, seeing the Olympians on television brought their humanity to the forefront of my mind. I’m hoping that another legacy is that tolerance is offered in the opposite direction also. Both regular participants in sport and those teaching it are amongst the guilty parties in something I find all too common. The lack of acceptance for novices and the physically untalented even within adult sport and leisure pursuits is rather upsetting and all too similar to the school playing field or gym hall. It’s something that us beginners notice and take to heart. It’s often what stops many of us from progressing beyond beginner status at all. I myself have recently taken up swimming, and I still can’t help but feel paranoia ebbing in under the critical gaze of the supervising instructors and more competent swimmers. It felt disheartening, despite the fact that my performance is entirely reasonable and perhaps even impressive for someone that has not swam for 10 years and has never attended formal lessons. It is for this reason that I have vowed to persevere. It’s an obvious observation but carrying on is the only way any of us without natural talent or pre-existing experience will ever improve.

So I implore that the legacy of the Olympics be just that. Whilst very little can be done about the intolerance of teenagers, those in authority have to take a stand and resolve for improvement. If the majority believe a sporting Britain is a better Britain, we have to allow everyone a chance.  It’s about increased participation and not alienation. The display of some astounding Olympic prowess has inspired scores of people whose eyes previously glazed over at the mere mention of sport in a way none of us had previously thought possible. If the government can convince PE teachers to find a way to do the same, or even simply not to dash the hopes of these people before one can say “Fosbury Flop”, Britain gets the gold medal.

Why the Spice Girls deserve reverence

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Victoria Beckham in “normal weight” shock.

In a post that may have perhaps been more topical a week or so ago, I am going to explain my admiration of the Spice Girls. The general aim is to try and contend with the swathes of naysayers facing the girls before their performance at the Olympic Closing Ceremony last Sunday. One couldn’t navigate Twitter without colliding with someone bitter and angry about the prospect of a Spice Girls appearance, especially in conjunction with the concert’s theme, that being “a symphony of Great British music.” I can understand why many were of this mindset. Enough time has passed now since what i’m going to call the “Spice Age” of 1996-98 for their momentous fame and impact to have faded. Many young adults are now too young to even remember this particular period. The reason I wish to discuss the Girls is because the week following their reunion has reminded me of a huge glut of childhood moments that only highlight to me why the Spice Girls have more than earned their place not only in the ceremony, but in the long and prestigious history of British pop more generally.

As I have stated previously, I have spent the week with a flurry of distinct Spice-related memories ebbing their way into my brain. Receiving the cassette of the first album to appease my boredom as the parentals dined with friends downstairs, watching the video for “2 Become 1″ on TV on Christmas Day 1996, discussing the vulgarity of Mel B’s tongue stud in the toilets at school, forcing my mum to get my navy Adidas tracksuit bottoms with green stripes because Melanie C had worn them in the “Wannabe” video, thinking that the girls had tied the man to the car in the video for “Say You’ll Be There” so they could kiss him, reading my friend’s Spice Girls annual in her bedroom, the poster in the corner of my childhood bedroom, visiting another friend just after Christmas 1997 and listening to her single of “Mama” together, dancing to “Stop” in the bottom right hand corner of the hall at the Summer disco, actually being jealous that my neighbour had been given the “Spiceworld” album as a present after being knocked down by a car, Melanie C on he cover of the “Top of the Pops” magazine World Cup ’98 issue,  listening to the charts as “Goodbye” became their third consecutive Christmas number one, even merely seeing their dolls in shops and their faces on Pepsi cans. The point I have summarised from this myriad of recollections is that the Spice Girls figured so heavily in mine and everybody’s lives during that period of time that it genuinely feels somewhat like an era. Those that aren’t fans of the pop music find it incredibly easy to amalgamate the Spice Girls with the barrage of bubblegum that followed them. The reality is that they were so much more. They were a phenomenon that transcended the world of pop music and fast inserted themselves into the realms of international popular culture. It’s a level of ubiquity usually reserved for solo stars, and I feel comfortable claiming that no group has achieved this since. It’s for this reason that comparison to similar groups, such as Girls Aloud for example, are entirely null and void. Whilst I extremely enjoy the output of Girls Aloud and they are similarly respected by appreciators of pop music, the comparisons tend to fall flat if one dares to venture any further into this analogy. The obvious disparity in international success is only one of the factors that sets the groups apart. For me, it’s the embedding of the Spice Girls into the public consciousness in such a short space of time that makes them so impressive. Your friends, your family, everyone you knew, regardless of age, regardless of their place in life, regardless of everything, were familiar with the Spice Girls. Even if they were consumed with loathing at the very sight of them, they could name every one, whether it be by their real names or their enduring novelty monikers.

What is even more significant than this is the timescale in which the all took place. The Spices were essentially as close as you could get to an overnight sensation before widespread internet use. Their rise was meteoric. This sentiment brings me to my first video of this piece.

This now infamous clip is just astoundingly enjoyable even with endless watches. It also never fails to make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It of course helps that “Who Do You Think You Are?” is quite easily my favourite Spice Girls track, but just sensing the electric atmosphere of the arena and seeing the reveal of the now iconic Union Jack dress is a delight. I chose the version with Ben Elton’s full spiel beforehand on deliberately. Dodgy jokes aside, I feel it encapsulates what i’m trying to put forward. More specific contextualisation helps here also. One has to consider the fact that the girls were relative nobodies only 8 months prior to this recording. My assertions about their remarkably swift ascent into British popular culture can be observed in the following example from only a month after the events of the above video.

To be lampooned on such a scale was a sign that Spicemania had truly arrived. Not solely via a “French & Saunders” sketch but a nationwide fundraising opportunity. Whilst I was younger than the girls that the comedians appear to be portraying, the idea that they present remains very familiar to me. As a 10 year old, myself and some classmates tried to make our own themed girlband as well. It represents, albeit humourously, what was genuinely occurring across the country at the time. The Spice Girls by now represented accessible family humour, as in only 9 months they had made themselves familiar to a widespread and diverse audience with their simple appeal and quirky gimmicks.

By the time the “Spiceworld” album rolls around, the girls are now given the opportunity to remark upon the scale of their unprecedented conquering across the previous year. They chose to do so through what I now consider my favourite video of their’s.

“Spice Up Your Life” is probably the most (or only!) concept-heavy video that the band released. The setting is a futuristic dictatorial dystopia in which the cult of Spice has taken over. The combination of these themes with the sentiment of the song feels almost like the group sticking two fingers up to those that were becoming increasingly fatigued with their omnipresence. It may sound absurd but I do feel that the video shows us hyper-exaggerated elements of the reality of the time. The band were now, in essence, inescapable in many ways. Even if one avoided the music, their corporate deals and the endless line of branded tie-in products were everywhere. By the end of the year, the group would even have forayed into cinema. Tensions were beginning to run high and saturation point was nigh.

When we get to 1998, things begin to slow somewhat. However, this less manic period produced one of the girls’ most critically-acclaimed releases. I feel as though “Viva Forever” might be the only Spice single capable of convincing “real-music”-loving skeptics that the girls possess the credibility required to be so highly lauded. Although clearly recorded before Geri Halliwell’s shock departure in May 1998, the song managed to perfectly capture the sombre mood of the group after this event. Put simply, “Viva Forever” is an irresistible piece of engaging “atmospop” and should appeal to anyone with a fondness for the genre. The meticulously created and beautifully stylised video is memorable also for being entirely unlike the band’s prior efforts. Once again, it’s almost as if the makers anticipated Geri leaving, with the entire video featuring no appearance from the group other than in animated form.

This is where I explain why I earlier limited the “Spice Age” from 1996-1998. Essentially this is because it feels clear to me that the band never recovered after saying farewell to Geri. The magic was never quite captured again. Third album “Forever” disappointed many fans as the songs were weak and the group were forced to grow up and abandon their original personas in the absence of their fifth member.

In re-iterating this brief history, I hope that I have succeeded in illustrating why the Spice Girls deserve both acknowledgement and recognition in a history of British music. For those 2 short years in the nineties, they more than certainly conquered the world. Moreover, they were not only a British group but unabashedly so. Not only in blatant gestures such as the infamous dress, but in their entire demeanour. For a particular generation they represent 1996-1998 better than anything else, and I can unashamedly say that they will always signify something special to me and undoubtedly to many others.

“And then she banned me from drinking Sunny Delight…”

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“Don’t they know we sell carrot sticks now?

The first thing that people should know about 21st century middle class parenting, is that it is certainly a multi-faceted endeavour. As our society complicates itself even further, it seems that there are ever more aspects of child-rearing that parents need to consider. I observe that those most keenly worried about, include technology, education, outdoor play, and the subject of the post, diet.

I first began considering the subject following some brief comment amongst this Guardian article discussing the now infamous Olympic Park branch of McDonald’s, known for it’s status as the biggest in the world, and for the draconian rules that they have tried to impose on neighbouring food outlets within the grounds. The article itself begins with cautious observations on part of some new customers that we can assume are relatively well-to-do. One thing I noticed immediately (that will become more significant later) is that these families are exceptionally quick to point out their status as new customers to the establishment. Entirely unsurprisingly, the attached comment stream was largely filled with the right-thinking Guardianista remarks that I expected. Just as the people featured in the article had been, those assembled were fervent in stating their opposition to and abhorrence of McDonald’s. One comment that piqued my interest was an anecdote referring to the author’s friend who lived in Poland. He explained that his friend had a three year old son whom she had taken great care over the diet of (including only allowing him to drink water), who had come home from his nursery asking if she would take him to McDonald’s. This was a result of Ronald McDonald himself having visited his school and offered the children free toys. He detailed in horror that even though the mother had tried to feign ignorance of the existence of the Golden Arches, the cause was lost. Other contributors to the comment stream were similarly perturbed by the incident, as was I to an extent, myself not being a fan of aggressive marketing to children. However, I found myself alone in being somewhat more concerned that the aforementioned mother figure only allowed her child to drink water. Not only does this strike one as hideously over-zealous, but also raises concerns as to how healthy such a regime is for a growing child!

These objections tapped into my more general annoyance with the levels of paranoia mounting in 21st century middle class parenting. Among this, is the catastrophising of minor childhood nuances into incidents catalysing long term negative change in a child’s life. The problem of diet sits at the very core of this issue. Of course, I understand and respect the everyday basics of the trope. Children shouldn’t eat too too much food that is prone to affecting their mood or weight to an unhealthy degree, they should eat fruits and vegetables and try and get all their required vitamins and minerals. But I can’t help but feel that these concerns have evolved into something altogether more dangerous. We have gone from broadly wanting the best for our offspring, to obsession over minor detail and treating any lapses as some kind of trauma. You may wonder why I have chosen to pick on the middle class specifically. It’s simply because I see this as a thoroughly middle class phenomenon.

This notion became set in my mind whilst watching the 2nd episode of Grayson Perry’s excellent series of Channel 4 programmes regarding class and taste. This edition focused on the middle classes, and amongst the many eye-opening visits Perry makes on his travels, is one to a mother-and-baby group in a place now more a cliche than a real town, Tunbridge Wells. In a conversation between the artist and one of the new parents, a mother admits that her and her husband had spent the evening researching fromage frais with low sugar content after being aghast at the amount of the bad stuff lurking in the Petit Filous that her daughter enjoyed. I must admit, that as someone who has often considered herself lower middle class, I was relatively shocked by what I saw as ludicrous fretting on the part of this mother.

However, I knew already that this existed and is not something restricted to food. The mothers mentioned above were also all in resounding agreement over their worries about “toxic” baby clothing. And this subject first caught my attention when thinking instead about the decline of unsupervised outdoor play. All of these branches can be brought back to a central theme of control. Every parent wants what the best for their child, but in many cases it tends to come back to what they perceive to be the best. I believe that the mothers and fathers of today use the excuse of “responsible parenting” to introduce ever-more control into their children’s lives. Outdoor play is supervised supposedly for safety reasons, as opposed to parents wanting their children’s actions remaining under their critical eye at all times. Social lives and extra-curricular activities are organised in a manner    that prioritises parental preferences and even allows them to weed out their child’s social contacts into the ones they most approve of, not wanting their kids to become attached to company that has the potential to lead them astray or influence them in a contrary manner. And keeping with the subject of the article, parents are desperate to instill their own beliefs in their children, including those regarding diet.

One of the replies I received when citing these objections was from one of these mothers, who took particular issue with the fact that I cited going to McDonald’s as a “treat” when trying to explain that letting your children eat food that is bad for them (but that they enjoy) every so often is not going to ruin their diet, nor is it going to ruin them as a person. She pondered why we couldn’t just tell children the “truth”, that McDonald’s is terrible, cheaply-made, overpriced food and that wasn’t special just because it came in a brightly coloured box. She felt that children needed to know that “decent ingredients prepared with skill and love is what makes food special.” Whilst I don’t necessarily disagree, I personally found this sentiment so sickly that it was harder to digest than the majority of the McDonald’s food this woman so loathes. Directly following this she suggests that having a homemade pizza-making party is an excellent alternative because it’s “great fun.” But what irritated me is what this woman presents so hardily as “the truth” is all merely her opinion. I’m not saying that she shouldn’t make her opinions known to her child, rather that she also allows the child to form their own. For example, it is for the child rather than the parent to decide whether they consider pizza-making parties “great fun.” Some parents not only appear to forget about their children’s autonomy, but are latently afraid of it, incase of the unthinkable instance that their son or daughter disagrees. This is something so evident in the mother’s later remarks suggesting that she is up against “sugar, salt and peer pressure”, inadvertently removing all responsibility from her own child for making their own decision to consume some food stuff, or indeed do anything, that she disapproves of.

I think the reason this incenses me so much is because I appear to remember my own childhood somewhat more than the new parents I am contending with. They seem to heap praise upon their bright little ones without crediting them with any real intelligence. As a youngster, I was given the freedom to do a lot of things that would probably make a lot of 21st century parents faint. Whilst I was raised primarily on a relatively healthy diet, I also consumed swathes of complete crap, occasionally against the wishes of my parents. I was allowed to play around outside extensively with a large ragtag group of kids from the local area, aged between 4 and 14. When I occupied the younger demographic of that crowd, around the age of 7 or 8, the older ones even told me about and my similarly aged friend about sex and swearing and all manner of other terrible things. However, the most important lesson I take away from this is that neither my diet nor this precarious experience of playing out has affected me negatively into adulthood. If anything, the latter provided me with valuable freedom and socialisation skills, which were particularly important considering my status as an only child. What bothers me the most is that the childhood experiences of these parents are often unlikely to be dissimilar to mine. It’s common to hear people of the generations slightly older than my own come over all nostalgic about their own unregulated childhoods fondly whilst completely denying the same to their own offspring. All of this whilst failing to realise that they have grown up to be successful and healthy adults completely unaffected by these aspects of their upbringing on the most part.

The middle classes seem to have got their wires crossed somewhere along the line. The parents’ concerns for their children’s wellbeings have become melded with their innate snobbery. They look to the less meticulous working classes and the way they raise their children, and have somehow managed to conclude that every feature of that lifestyle that they deem “wrong”, no matter how unassociated, contributes to a lack of academic and occupational success later in life that they so arrogantly associate with the working classes. This is obviously nonsense, but nonsense that I am increasingly convinced is unspoken received opinion amongst the middle classes. This is why the earlier Guardianistas were so determined to demonstrate their disapproval of McDonald’s to their highly critical peers. Internally, mum and dad are aware that one trip to McDonald’s is not going to kill little Jemima, but what would Tim and Felicity next door say if they found out? This all ties in with the attention to detail that Grayson Perry discovered was the utter preoccupation of the middle classes.

I am not asking middle class parents to throw caution to the wind, all I ask is that they learn to concentrate their infatuation with detail in areas that will evidently affect their children into adulthood, such as education. I also suggest that occasional experiment with risk is not the worst thing, if they truly want their kids to grow into the learned and well-rounded adults that they so desperately want them to be.

Did you spend your childhood eating crap and yet still have achieved success in adulthood? Please tell all via the comment box. I feel the intended audience for this piece will require more substantial convincing!

If it weren’t for one game, i’d be a fatter person than I am today.

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“Badly dressed child not included.”

Those of us with sufficient long term memories and a dollop of rose-tinted nostalgia for our video game obsessed childhoods will know that physically healthy video games were not established at the advent of the Wii. We are also aware that dance-based games were not invented with the launch of the “Just Dance” line. For around the turn of the century, Playstation were desperate to secure a winning franchise that involved you having to buy a plethora of additional equipment just to play with it… Buzz!, Eyetoy, and all manner of other nonsense too. Arguably the most fondly remembered of these games is the subject of this post.

Still prevalent in many an arcade to this day, Dancing Stage (or Dance Dance Revolution, as it was known in the Americas and Asia) became exceptionally popular amongst my peer group in the early noughties. Utilising the dance mat required to play the game, players had to move their feet in often insanely complicated sequences along to a combination of chart hits and a larger selection of bizarre original tracks composed specifically for the game. And this is where I get to the real purpose of the blog. I imagine up until this point you may have been wondering why I had been rambling about gaming on a site designed for the discussion of pop and politics. Well, I will enlighten you. Last year I decided to investigate the music of the “Dancing Stage” games for the purpose of a nostalgia trip and was pleasantly surprised that many of the tracks are very oddly listenable in their own right. Being around a minute and a half in length, I find some of them are like perfectly condensed versions of the crowd-pleasing dance and mindless drum and bass tracks that I enjoy otherwise. It is overwhelmingly likely that many of you will disagree, as the type of music i’m about to feature does cater to somewhat niche tastes. I will however, push ahead with an exceptionally exciting countdown of what the maniacal game announcer would undoubtedly call “cool Konami sounds!” Special mentions go out to Scotty D’s “Drop The Bomb” and Factor X’s “Wild Rush” for their narrow failure to be included my compilation of the very best. Nonetheless…

HERE WE GO!

5. NAOKI – Brilliant 2U

The first entry in this countdown could have been one of many by composing mastermind NAOKI. “Brilliant 2U” is only one of several tracks that he produced for the game, others of which include “Dynamite Rave” and “B4U.” His prolific nature on the games make him one of the most fondly remembered artists featured on the games, and I will admit that his compositions were certainly the most appealing to myself as a child. I believe this is primarily because pieces like “Brilliant 2U” owe much more to pop music that many of the others on the games. I chose this song specifically because it was the first I ever played on the game at my childminder’s house, and it fills my mind with fond memories of watching her 40-something frame utterly failing to keep in time.

4. DE-SIRE – SP-Trip Machine (Jungle Mix)

Just the very fact that the title of this track mentions it’s jungle music credentials cannot help but remind me of the brilliant Adam and Joe’s hilarious guide to making your own “edgy Brit film” many moons ago. But there is clearly nothing hip about this game original, it sure is enjoyable for a bit of fast-paced walking. The punchy majority of the song is complimented by beautifully pointless bursts of vocal and small interjections of what can only be described as “muzak.” Worth a listen if only to placate your curiosity about what on Earth the above description might actually sound like.

3. DWI – Afronova

Whilst doing the minimal research required for this piece, I discovered that this track is unsurprisingly one of the hot favourites amongst the Dance Dance Revolution enthusiasts. I will admit that it did present a real challenge for this slightly chubby 11 year old when it came to gameplay. However, it’s appeal is entirely understandable. In my later years, I have been seduced by the stupefying BPM and the strange psuedo-ethnic allure of Afronova. The attached video for this entry is a viral video of a young Asian boy I saw a while ago, completing Afronova with the skill and precision that literally no-one reading this will ever manage in their time.

2. NO. 9 – End Of The Century

Now, here is a piece of music that would likely never have existed were it not for this game. The charm of “End Of The Century” lies in it’s sheer absurdity. This panic attack of a song combines drum and bass, modern dance stylings and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. It was amongst my favourites for gameplay, and I certainly spent many an afternoon exhausting myself trying to conquer it, even if only on intermediate level! It is not a piece recommended for those of a nervous disposition, but is nonetheless relentlessly fun and represents everything that made the Dancing Stage games weirdly brilliant.

1. NAOKI – Burnin’ The Floor

And finally, we reach the nadir. I was genuinely torn as to whether this merited the top spot, but in the end was won over by it’s relentless enthusiasm and energy. I would suggest that, ludicrous middle eight aside, this is easily the entry on the chart that sounds most like an actual song. Despite the composition duties falling once again to Japanese whizz kid NAOKI, the vocal pattern and lyricism remind me hugely of the golden era of Eurodance in the early nineties. Because of this, this track is most certainly the easiest to listen to outwith the context of the gameplay itself. I strongly urge you make it a feature on your iPod in the near future!

Have you ever been a player of Dance Dance Revolution or Dancing Stage? If so, please comment with your most keenly remembered selections!

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