Monthly Archives: June 2013

Night + Day London vs. Night + Day Berlin

Night + Day

Night + Day

After enjoying The xx‘s show in Berlin so much, I decided to make a relatively last-minute decision to attend their Night + Day event in London (a decision made somewhat easier by a pretty strong supporting lineup and the fact that a good friend decided to come with me). Having just got back from Hatfield House (which is actually about 20 or so miles north of the centre of London), here are my thoughts on how the two events compared.

The Location

Berlin’s Spreepark is a former amusement park that’s now largely overgrown – an eerie relic of times gone by. Though much of it was cordoned off, you could still see enough of the old rides and decorations to make worthwhile to take a wander round the unique location (and I’ve no doubt that many enterprising souls found ways to get a closer look). The London event, meanwhile, took place on a pleasant but otherwise fairly nondescript area of greenery somewhere in the grounds of Hatfield House – I’m sure the house is worth visiting in its own right, but the festival didn’t really manage to take advantage of that. The Berlin show achieved the band’s stated aim of providing a unique location, and this was reflected in other elements of the event too – whereas the record fair and some of the food stalls in Berlin had been sourced from local establishments, the food stalls in London had a more generic feel to them.

Winner: Berlin

The Crowd

When the three Night + Day events were announced, one of my initial reasons for picking Berlin over London (aside from the location) was the fact that British festival crowds are notoriously dickish. To be fair though, Night + Day London was doing pretty well on the twat scale… until about 20 seconds before The xx came on stage, at which point some guy pulled a prime festival knobhead move and plonked himself right in front of me with zero regard for personal space. I later managed to get a rucksack to the face after another guy hoisted a girl onto his shoulders directly in front of me. I won’t say the crowd in Berlin was perfect, but I felt like there was a bit less of the pushing, shoving, and general lack of consideration that seems to plague British festival crowds – certainly, I never considered abandoning my position in the crowd because of other people, which is more than I can be said for London.

I should also mention an incredibly pointless and arbitrary act of theft, which involved some random girl swiping my friend’s house key after he’d dropped it on the floor (unfortunately, it was at almost the exact moment she picked it up that he realised he didn’t have it in his pocket any more). We had hoped that it might be an attempted act of kindness, but a fruitless trip to the lost property ultimately proved us wrong. Why would you steal something that is basically of zero use to you?

The London crowd did contain a girl who, upon hearing the intro to ‘Losing You’ by Solange, exclaimed “this is my JAM!” in a hilarious and completely irony-free manner – so that was a consolation prize, I suppose.

Winner: Berlin

The Support Acts

Berlin had a pretty varied and eclectic support bill – Mykki Blanco was weird but strangely compelling, Kindness were fun and exuberant despite the rain, Mount Kimbie were decent in places, Chromatics were very sleek, and I enjoyed Jessie Ware as a performer even if I wasn’t entirely convinced by her songs. To be honest though, it felt like everything would sound that little bit better if the sun had come out.

Mount Kimbie and Kindness also played the London date, and while Mount Kimbie’s sets at both events felt pretty similar, I definitely enjoyed Kindness more in a rain-free environment. I’ll admit that I could take or leave Solange, but the rest of London’s support bill really was an embarrassment of riches. London Grammar made a strong claim to be the heirs to The xx’s throne with their early performance, while Jon Hopkins followed up with a thrilling set of propulsive electro. Poliça also nailed it with a set that featured a lot of new material – they’d have made a better main support in my eyes, though it’s impossible to deny the fact that Solange got the crowd going. For both quality and quantity of supports, London proved the stronger lineup overall.

Winner: London

The Headline Set

There’s honestly not much to call between the two sets The xx performed at these events. Both were well-executed from a technical and musical point of view, and both were nicely timed so that day turned to night over the course of the show (some neat touches included ‘Sunset’ being played at dusk and ‘Night Time’ being played once the darkness had set in. The setlists were honestly pretty much identical, with the only differences being a pair of rarities and your choice of late 90s/early 00s dance covers. London made a pretty strong showing with a cover of ‘Finally’ by Kings Of Tomorrow as well as the live debut of the Great Gatsby-soundtracking ‘Together’, but Berlin arguably trumped that with a rare airing of B-side ‘Reconsider’ (whose lyrics I love) and a mash-up of ‘Lady’ (by Modjo) and ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ (by Stardust) that featured Jessie Ware on vocals. Perhaps if the band had brought out Solange (or Florence Welch, who was spotted on site) for a duet then that might have tipped the balance – it’s a shame that opportunity went to waste.

It’s also worth pointing out that I enjoyed the actual act of standing and watching The xx more in Berlin, but that’s down to the crowd as much as the band themselves. Still, that factor combined with the the inspired, Jessie Ware-featuring mashup means that Berlin takes the prize.

Winner: Berlin

So basically, if The xx hosted an event in Berlin with a lineup as strong as the London one, they’d be on to a total winner. Ultimately, I was glad to have gone to both – but while I probably enjoyed the music overall at the London event, the Berlin show definitely felt more special.

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Review: Islet – ‘Triangulation Station’

Islet - Triangulation Station

Islet – Triangulation Station

So last month, Shape Records were kind enough to send me the new single from Islet, makers of one of last year’s most intriguing albums, Illuminated People (which I reviewed for Muso’s Guide here). Of course, I then repaid that kindness by not getting round to talking about it until after it had already come out… sorry about that guys.

The single in question is called ‘Triangulation Station’, and as the title might suggest it sounds like three songs once. The opening act switches between a surreal, carnival-like ambiance, and a more progressive, math-rock influenced feel – the former all tumbling percussion and high-pitched vocals, the latter founded on skittering beats and half-spoken, almost stream-of consciousness lyrics. Halfway through, these two facets of the song begin to converge, with the end result being an energetic post-rock climax.

Islet – ‘Triangulation Station’

Perhaps even better is B-side ‘Inlet’, a more measured piece that menacingly hums along on hyper-distorted bass and pulsating synths, while Emma’s vocal takes on a more floaty, sinister tone . The end result straddles the line between soothing and haunting, as if the song is trying to lull you in to a false sense of security.

Islet – ‘Inlet’

The single also includes a couple of bonus remixes – a suitably chaotic take on the title track by Welsh musician and producer R. Seiliog, and Islet’s trippy take on a track by Danish neo-psych quartet Pinkunoizu entitled ‘I Chi’. All in all, more than enough delightful oddness on offer, and it’s an exciting taste of what’s yet to come from Islet.

‘Triangulation Station’ is available now on Shape Records, via Bandcamp.

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Unconventional Storytelling And Worldbuilding In Videogames

The current Humble Indie Bundle (available on a pay-what-you-like basis here until Tuesday 11th June) contains a number of games that take quite different approaches to story and worldbuilding than the general “defeat the bad guys, save the world” tales that are often associated with video games. Let’s have a look at how some of these titles tell their stories, and even, in some cases, challenge the very idea of what a video game is. Possible spoilers ahead for all the games I talk about below, so proceed with caution – Little Inferno in particular is probably best experienced without any knowledge of its content.

Thomas Was Alone

If ever there were an instance of a game needing its story in order to have any real substance, Thomas Was Alone is it. Stripped of all narrative context, the game would be a fairly straightforward puzzle platformer with some subtle but pretty graphical touches. However, the game really comes to life thanks to some excellent writing from creator Mike Bithell – not to mention the enthusiastic (and BAFTA-winning) narration from comedian Danny Wallace, who avid gamers may also recognise as sarcastic historian Shaun Hastings from the Assassin’s Creed series. The personification of these otherwise ordinary-looking quadrilaterals leads the player to form an unlikely bond with them – some characters are confident about their abilities, while others are neurotic about their perceived inferiority, or believe that other characters may just be using them. The game’s puzzles become the characters’ personal struggles, and the story is constantly compelling the player to discover what might be beyond the next portal – there’s even some thought-provoking meta-commentary about the idea of AIs becoming self-aware. Thomas Is Alone isn’t a particularly lengthy or difficult game (in fact, it rarely even features an outright fail state), but it’s definitely worth experiencing for yourself.

Thomas Was Alone... but not for long.

Thomas Was Alone… but not for long.

Little Inferno

It’s difficult to pin down exactly what Little Inferno is. At a very basic level, it’s a game about watching things burn, with a side order of puzzles – figuring out which combinations of items to burn together is not only a brain-teaser, it’s also essential to make progress within the game. But on a narrative level, the game could be a lot of different things. It could be a satire of the kind of free-to-play games that you might see on Facebook, or even a commentary on consumerism in general, reducing it to its bare bones – buy things, then burn the things to get money to buy more things. It could also highlight the fact that we spend most of our days staring at screens – in Little Inferno, pretty much the entire game takes place infront of a fireplace, with news of the outside world filtering in via letters sent by other characters. Indeed, the unsettling picture we get of what’s going on away from our cosy fireplace could suggest that the game harbours an environmental message too. Ultimately, the game’s story is about breaking the cycle and discovering the truth for yourself – and I’d best say no more than that for fear of ruining the experience entirely.

Little Inferno lets you burn all the things.

Little Inferno lets you burn all the things.

Proteus

When is a game not a game? Proteus almost seems purposefully designed to raise that question. Taking the kind of exploration you may have found yourself enjoying in say, Skyrim and stripping it back to its bare component parts, it gives you a world to wander around in and seemingly very little more. There is more than meets the eye, however – your exploration subtly influences the world’s soundtrack, whether that be via climbing mountains, walking through forests, or interacting with the strange wildlife. It may not seem like it at first, but there is a sense of progression through the game. Your curiosity will inevitably lead you to discover a way to change the seasons, from vibrant spring to desolate winter – and as time went on, I found myself asking questions of the world I was in. Are these rows of gravestones I’m walking through? Who could have lived in this cabin I’ve come across? There are no answers, of course, leaving you to create your own story. Eventually, seemingly unbidden, the game brought about a fittingly strange and wonderful climax. There may not be any clearly defined objectives, story, or enemies, but I would argue that Proteus is a game in as much as you shape your own experience – an experience that, thanks to the game’s procedurally-generated worlds, will be a little different each time.

Proteus provides a minimalist art style that's still somehow beautiful.

Proteus provides a minimalist art style that’s still somehow beautiful.

Hotline Miami

The first thing that’ll grab you about Hotline Miami is its surreal, gaudy presentation, and things only get weirder from there. The violent, highly stylised, blink-and-you’re-dead action is interspersed with bizarre story moments that raise more questions than answers – the most obvious one being “why am I killing all these people?” Without wanting to spoil too much, the game isn’t particularly forthcoming with answers either – though even in the early stages, there’s the nagging suspicion that it’s trying to make you feel like a terrible person, much in the same way that Spec Ops: The Line did when it so successfully deconstructed the ‘bro-shooter’ genre. Or is it simply pointing and laughing at the very idea games requiring a narrative meaning? It’s probably best that you play it yourself and make up your own mind – but if you do, be prepared for some twitchy, trial-and-error gameplay and occasional frustration when you miss at what appears to be point-blank range, or die over and over again on the same level. Ultimately though, the gameplay is slick, stylish and compelling enough that you’ll want to keep playing regardless of your thoughts on the story.

You'll be seeing the words "You're Dead!" a lot while playing Hotline Miami.

You’ll be seeing the words “You’re Dead!” a lot while playing Hotline Miami.

Dear Esther

Like Proteus, Dear Esther will also cause you to ponder exactly what the nature of a ‘game’ is. Your ability to interact with the world is limited to simply exploring it – the game is essentially an interactive story that takes place on a deserted Hebridean island. You’re free to explore the island at your own pace, and the game gives the impression of being quite open-ended at first – but you’ll find that ultimately there’s really only one route that the game wants you to take. There is no running, or jumping, just a fairly ponderous walking speed that certainly gives you time to reflect on your surroundings, even if it can feel frustrating at times. As you navigate the world, the protagonist narrates his story and that of the titular Esther in florid but fragmented prose, leaving you to slowly piece together the narrative. The incredibly limited gameplay means that, apart from the story, your focus is on the game’s impressive visuals and stirring score, which wouldn’t be out of place in a big-budget title – indeed, with no distractions, you find yourself examining the world in more detail. Ultimately, it’s an unconventional but intriguing experience.

Dear Esther presents a stark but wonderfully realised landscape.

Dear Esther presents a stark but wonderfully realised landscape.

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