Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Perfect Fit: Which Summer Music Festival Is For You?

It happens every summer: Lineup after lineup entices you to join their party, visit some distant city or town, and brave the heat and crowds in the name of music. Whether it’s trekking outside of Seattle, navigating traffic in Tennessee, squeezing onto the BART in San Francisco, or copping rides in Los Angeles — you’ll do whatever’s necessary to make that experience a reality.

Don’t you want to make it count, though?

Sometimes a festival isn’t for everyone. Maybe you’re not into mud. There’s a chance that agoraphobia of yours might act up at The Gorge. Who knows if you can handle the inner city pressure. That’s why we pared down the facts and assembled a diverse list of this summer’s biggest festivals so that you could find: The Perfect Fit.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Miguel, ‘How Many Drinks?’ Remix Feat. Kendrick Lamar – Song Review

Miguel‘s ‘How Many Drinks?’ gets a mini makeover in the form of an added verse from rapper Kendrick Lamar. It’s Miguel x Kendrick Lamar, and it’s silkier than anything you’d find at Victoria’s Secret, but it’s also got edge, like something you’d buy at Agent Provocateur when you want to get freaky with your significant other. An already good song got better thanks to the sprinkling of some rhymes.

Miguel, with his Usher-like falsetto, is one of the hottest names and voices in R&B right now, while Lamar is celebrated for his flow and represents the new breed of hip-hop. So it makes sense that the two would collide — or ‘Kaleid’ — for this new version of ‘How Many Drinks?,’ the original of which appears on the crooner’s ‘Kaleidoscope Dream.’ This reworked and remixed version is the third single from the album, and it’s all about making sexy time.

Miguel is the only voice in the game that comes close to Usher. He shifts easily from a buttery croon to a reach for the sky falsetto in this slow burning, romantic romp. He can hit those high notes without ever being shrill and he swoops back down to earth with a dreamy, rich tone. His voice has so much range, so when he asks, “How many drinks would it take you to leave with me / Girl you look good and I’ve got money / But I don’t wanna waste my time,” our knees get sorta weak.

Lamar drops his nasally verse over handclaps, adding some edge to an otherwise hot and bothered track about chasing tail. His rhymes cut through some of the thick sexual tension of the lyrics and soften Miguel’s “I’m trying to hit that” delivery. Lamar is the urban yin to Miguel’s leading man yang, and the song comes alive after Lamar’s verse. All the elements — Miguel’s croon, his falsetto, the lazy beat, Lamar’s raps — result in a fulfilling climax. No pun intended.

Friday, March 22, 2013

We speak to the real London call girl

 The meeting is arranged online. There's no mobile contact number, only an encrypted ''hushmail'' email address and instructions: at this time, be in this cafe in remote north-western Scotland. Dr Brooke Magnanti will see you now.

Magnanti, aka Belle de Jour, former prostitute, cancer epidemiologist and now author, is understandably cautious. Her anonymous 2003 blog, Diary of a London Call Girl, told how she sold sex to pay for life after college, in a series of graphic and often hilarious scenes, poetic asides and anecdotes.

The spin-off books and television series made her a big target. She was accused of making prostitution attractive to young women. One viewer said she - or at least her character, played by Billie Piper - should end up ''dead in a ditch''. The tabloids and the left-wing media don't hesitate to lay into her. She regularly gets threats of sexual violence, torture and death.

This is - to put it mildly - a shame, because Magnanti, 37, is great company: thoughtful, slightly nerdy, self-deprecating and entertaining on subjects from Doctor Who to German hikers. She tweets about Justin Bieber, food, knitting and homebrew. She gets all proud when one of her fiercest critics concedes that her husband is hot (yes, this bisexual fan of bondage, dungeons and open relationships is now happily married).

But occasionally there's a glint in Magnanti's eye, and Belle de Jour peeks out. As her alter ego, she called herself an ''alpha stiletto-wearing, lingerie-obsessed, Pulitzer-reading female'', and began book one with ''the first thing you should know is that I'm a whore''.

''Sex felt as much a spiritual calling as a biological need,'' Belle de Jour wrote.

''My friends always knew I was a slag,'' Magnanti says, laughing.

Magnanti grew up in Florida, her poor immigrant parents telling her, ''You are going to university, you're paying for it yourself and you're going to get a real degree.''

''Which, to my parents, meant science or medicine,'' she says. After maths and anthropology degrees she moved to Sheffield in England for a PhD in forensic science. But the dispiriting London job interview treadmill wiped out her savings, and she couldn't bear to cash a cheque that a friend sent as an emergency loan. So she became a call girl for £300 an hour, of which she kept £200, plus tip and travel expenses.

Magnanti writes in her latest book, ''the short hours of work I performed as a call girl left ample time to look for science jobs, finish writing my doctoral thesis, and participate in a demanding sport at high level. Juggling those things with a job as a professional waitress or behind a bar not only wouldn't have paid the bills, it wouldn't have left time to pursue a professional career.''

But she concedes it's ''a bit odd'' how her priorities work out.

''I think my moral compass is different from a lot of people's. I don't find it acceptable to take things from other people if you have literally any other option. I think it comes from my parents ... [after I was born] they went onto welfare for six months and I remember my father telling me this as if it was the most shaming thing that ever happened to him.''

 Soon after starting as a call girl she found a day job as a computer programmer. It was boring, quiet and staffed by introverted male geeks. ''I kept escorting because it was a lot more interesting than my job,'' Magnanti says. For example, she had a hilarious afternoon with a photographer taking pictures for her agency's website. ''It was awkward and weird and the pictures are absolutely terrible,'' Magnanti says. ''I was thinking, I would love to tell my friends that, but you can't explain the situation without telling them everything else that's going on.''

So she started the blog. She had online exchanges with other sex bloggers - a porn star, a dominatrix, a stripper. ''It was like publicly comparing notes ... the way you'd get together with your friends and bitch about your bosses.''

The blog became a book, and sequels, and the television series. She moved on from escort work. It all went swimmingly, until she was unmasked.

In 2009, a tabloid got wind of her true identity after years of wild speculation. She decided to head them off by going to The Times.

The first problem was telling her parents. They were in the middle of another family crisis (her cousin had been kidnapped and held for ransom, chained to a tree in Ecuador). Magnanti had to quickly update them on her secret life.

''I realised I'd lost out on a certain relationship with my mother by not being able to be honest with her. She went out and bought all the books and then she gave them to my gran, and I was horrified, but she was like, 'Oh come on. Your grandmother was a nurse in the war and she's had five kids. She knows what goes where.'''

The real blow was the media backlash. She expected it from the tabloids. But she didn't expect a feminist bloc to pour vitriol over her in the broadsheets, accusing her of supporting hatred of, and violence against, women because she refused to be ashamed of her past.

''It was very personal,'' she says. '''You, Brooke Magnanti, you cannot be a feminist. You specifically are not a feminist.' Having a bit of your identity publicly denied and taken away like that was very hurtful.''

So she decided, OK, she wouldn't call herself a feminist. It puts her in interesting company. New Yahoo! chief executive Marissa Mayer recently said she wouldn't call herself a feminist. There seems to be a new school of not-feminists, tired of angry lectures on the patriarchy, though passionate about equality.

Magnanti's latest book, 2012's The Sex Myth, has again riled feminists. She applied scientific analysis to myths that have grown up about sex, exposing the lack of hard evidence for claims such as ''the porn industry objectifies women and leads to abuse'', ''strip clubs lead to a rise in sexual assault'', ''internet porn is harming children'', and the extent of sex addiction, sexual dysfunction and sex trafficking.

She provocatively brands old-school feminists as ''agenda setters'', like pharmaceutical companies or evangelist groups, who manipulate, distort or invent statistics to advance their cause, entrenching these myths.

She doesn't see it as a top-down conspiracy, just belief systems and practical needs distorting people's judgment. Behind it all, she thinks, a new conservatism has erased much of the sexual revolution.

''Our parents were more open-minded than we are,'' she says. ''I cannot believe sometimes that some of the people I end up debating [with] are the same age as me. I think, did you not live through the early '90s? That shit was freaky!''

Magnanti's position on sex work is like her position on sex. ''You could call it a simplistic view, but it basically comes down to: is everybody consenting to this?'' she says. ''Is everybody an adult? Is everybody alive? Is everybody human?''

She knows consent is tricky. Circumstances - often financial - make all of us do things we otherwise wouldn't. ''This is where a lot of opponents to sex work have a problem,'' she says. ''I think they believe that there will be some amazing revolution where people only make decisions uninfluenced by anything that goes on in human society.

''I get very frustrated. [Sex workers] don't have very many choices, so what we need to do is take their choices away?''

Magnanti's Twitter feed is, she sort-of jokes, ''basically hooker CNN with a bit of knitting and homebrew''. She believes the information age helps expose the shaky foundations of the agenda setters, hopefully leading to more rational public dialogue.

''You have to remain hopeful because if you lose hope ... why do anything?'' she says. ''I would just stay under my duvet all day.''

After the success of 'Fifty Shades of Grey', Magnanti's publisher asked her if she wanted to write a ''saucy book''. She said no. ''It wouldn't work. People would see it as being cynical, and it would be cynical.''

But still, Magnanti sometimes wonders if she should have written her life as a novel, to avoid the political blowback.

''I should have fictionalised my experiences, then people would love it,'' she says. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Spring Arts Preview 2013: Classical Music

Dateline: Paris, 1913. Russian composer Igor Stravinsky debuts his orchestral ballet The Rite of Spring (with choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky) to a packed and eagerly awaiting house at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. But the audience is reportedly so confused and infuriated by the dissonant chords, unusual time signatures and freaky tonal structures that it begins to riot, rendering the music nearly inaudible. Such is the curse of being ahead of your time—since then, the piece has become revered as one of the most influential of all time.

The year’s only local performance of The Rite of Spring already happened (at Meany Hall in January), but this spring offers several chances to experience the trailblazing composer’s other notable work.

The Seattle Symphony brings Stravinsky’s music to the stage twice: First, in a mixed-bill matinee featuring his Concertino for String Quartet (4/14; Benaroya Hall, 200 University St.; 206.215.4747;, a jarring piece that may test even his most die-hard fans; and second, his masterful, sweeping Firebird Suite (4/18 and 4/20), which first established him as a composer of note (this was before the Rite of Spring ruckus).

In May, as part of the Director’s Choice bill (5/31–6/9; McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St.; 206.441.2424;, Pacific Northwest Ballet presents Stravinsky’s “Agon,” which he composed for legendary choreographer George Balanchine. Stravinsky’s love of abstract experimentation is in full evidence here. He based the piece in a “12-tone technique,” meaning all notes of the scale are emphasized equally; hence, the music is neither major nor minor, and has no set key. Listen carefully to his inventive genius—but monitor yourself for riotous impulses.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Real Housewives of Atlanta Recap: Sweet Revenge

Oh, thank goodness — these past two weeks of boring booty talk were just prepping us for the return of the off-the-wall craziness this group of women does so well!  

Right off the bat, we’re given a nice juxtaposition of Kenya actually working out versus Phaedra’s talk of working out as they both start preparing for their competing butt-related workout videos. Since she literally cannot help but tell everyone in her line of vision about Phaedra’s unwillingness to pay her, Kenya informs her trainer, Mumbles McGee, that she is making a workout video. He agrees that no one wants to see a “chunky doody on a doggone video tape” — they want inspiration! They want Kenya!

Meanwhile, Phaedra is strapped into a peapod-green spandex halter getting her picture taken in a celebrity photographer’s dungeon with Apollo. She thinks that the packaging is more important than the actual workout she keeps threatening to unleash, so they engage in a number of classy poses like his ACTUALLY BENDING OVER AND MOUNTING PHAEDRA, and Phaedra licking Apollo’s shirtless body. So far, the only workout I will get with these two are the 2,000 calories I burn each week by laughing at their misguided attempts to be relevant. In the meantime, Kenya tosses around a medicine ball while doing crunches and discussing production values. There is no doubt that Kenya stole this idea, but I am intrigued by how much better equipped she is to actually see it through to completion. I have no horse in the stallion-versus-donkey race, but I’m probably not going to get much of a workout with the couple masking foreplay as a pathway to getting rid of my bingo wings.

Taking a cue from all of the other stretched-entirely-too-thin Housewives, Cynthia has now decided to get into pageants, as most of the people who come to her agency won’t have a snowball's chance in hell of actually becoming professional models. Rodney, the director of the Bailey Agency School of Fashion House of Pancakes, looks on as Cynthia meets with Cy, a delightful pageant imp brought in to tell Cynthia how to squeeze between $75 to $1,200 out of hopeful, desperate Georgians. Cynthia’s pen burst into flames as she quickly scrawled notes on what to charge for pictures, talent, makeup artists, and hairstylists; her eyes turned into dollar signs and strained against her skull, not unlike a cartoon wolf in a zoot suit salivating when a woman walks by. I’m actually really disappointed by this; I know that her agency needs to make money, but this pay- to-play pageant business just seems purposefully exploitative.

For some reason, Porsha agrees to meet Kenya for lunch even though they hate each other, and the inevitable shit show ensues. Porsha comments on the weirdness of the meeting, but Kenya insists she’s just looking out for Porsha since Phaedra is clearly taking advantage of her friendship. Porsha (surprisingly! accurately!) tells Kenya that she’s not a pawn, and she does not want to be part of this he said/she said malarkey. Naturally, Kenya cannot take being shut down, so she raises her voice; they both make a scene, grab their bags, and take it to the street, where Porsha insults Kenya’s ashy feet and sashays away on her hideous wedge sneakers, proving that there is no real winner in this fight.

NeNe and Gregg trampled around a furniture shop filled with alpaca goat footstools and bronzed monkey paws giving the middle finger looking for “ass-essories” while they simultaneously broke glass globes and thoroughly bored a doughy, humorless sales clerk, so their life in Los Angeles is still a train on the track to stardom.

Speaking of stars, Cy the Pageant Whisperer — bedecked in a casual faux-hawk, professionally ripped jeans, and a button-down Ed Hardy–esque shirt that is straining against his tan, slicked-up, distended belly — takes Cynthia to look at a potential venue for her Miss Moneybags 2012 show. For some reason ($$$), Cynthia has decided to invite Porsha along for help, since she technically runs the Hosea Williams Feed the Hungry and Homeless and the Star-Bellied Sneetches charity that Cynthia is giving a portion of her proceeds to. Both women salivate as Cy shows them crowns and sashes, since “that’s what makes the girls pay an entry fee,” and Porsha traipses around like a unicorn princess; she forcefully declares that she will be singing at the event, but frowns when Cynthia actually gives her a to-do list to help get this pageant in order. You see, all Cynthia has done is picked out a name and set up an offshore account, so she’s leaving the venue, entertainment, prizes, and contestant duties to Porsha, who, if nothing else, has absolutely demonstrated her unique ability to pay attention for five solid seconds and count as high as 40, so she’s perfect for this highly controlled and stressful job.

Elsewhere in Atlanta, Kandi rolls up to the Imperial Fez, a club that features belly dancers and food, to meet the rest of the crew. Porsha brought along her friend Shamwow! and no one sent Kandi the memo to wear a jeweled headband. There is a woman dancing around them with a lit candle on her head, but all eyes and ears are turned toward the center of the circle as they doggedly engage in a gossipy conversation about Kenya and Phaedra’s fallout from last week. Phaedra says her video is moving along, and not to worry about her, America! She knows everyone “from the vice-president on down and even Tyler Perry a little bit,” so she is sure to be successful in this and all of her dreams. As Porsha rehashes the lunch she had with Kenya earlier in the week, Kandi "Voice of Reason" Burress jams some grape leaves in her maw and quietly asks why the fuck she would agree to do that when they clearly hate each other. Porsha changes the subject to her crucial role as pageant songstress, giving everyone an opportunity to put her on the spot and ask her to belt out a tune. Kandi points out that everyone in Atlanta thinks they can sing, and I have to agree that it must be annoying for someone like her (who has actual vocal talent) to live in a city where everyone thinks they’re the next Whitney Houston. Shamwow! encourages Porsha, who managed to compare her sound to “Mary J. Blige, Beyoncè, and Rihanna” with a straight face, and after hearing her warble out exactly TWO NOTES before she was saved by the belly-dancing bell, I hope each of those singers hires a Wiccan high priestess to cast a spell forbidding their names from ever coming out of Porsha’s mouth again for the duration of her life, even in casual conversation.

Over in Los Angeles, NeNe tries to meet with her acting coach, Lee, and is momentarily thwarted once she sees Lee’s dogs in the yard. After the dogs are sequestered, Lee talks to NeNe about whether or not she should see race in her characters, and encourages NeNe not to see color, only to see character. NeNe is worried her “super blackness” is getting in the way of her finding the “white woman in her.” I was hoping Cornel West would pop out of the bushes and trounce them both with a copy of Race Matters, but instead Lee gives a raspy laugh and thinks out loud about how funny it would be to have a Freaky Friday–style switch allowing NeNe to access the whitest of all white women, Gwyneth Paltrow. If we have to deal with NeNe in L.A., I hope Lee is in every episode, particularly after hearing her throaty “These lips are made for kissing, bitch!” directive. God bless you, Lee! I hope your Marlboro points buy you the turquoise necklace of your dreams.

Back in Atlanta, Cynthia meets Kenya on the golf course to tell her alllll about the conversation the crew had at Imperial Fez the night before. This is why I cannot stand Cynthia; for all of her talk of loyalty, she is the shadiest motherfucker on the playground. Who is she actually friends with, and why does she feel it is her role to fill everyone in on every conversation? Do you remember last season in Africa when she practically broke her ankles running back into the room to tell NeNe and Marlo what Sheree said about them? Take a knee, Cynthia.

Later, Kenya meets Miss Lawrence at HerpDerp’s, where they have to compliment each other’s hair and outfits for two hours before they can get down to the business of drinking and gossiping. They immediately move the conversation to Phaedra and how she is going around town telling people that Kenya has a drinking problem, needs medication, and is chemically imbalanced. Lawrence points out that Phaedra never reveals anything about her past, making her a bad friend, and that he personally dislikes her because she apparently doesn’t like men who wear high heels. My favorite diss was Lawrence saying that Phaedra “is not up to par with what she should look like as a woman of 2012,” as if she should be floating around in a motorized bubble à la Judy Jetson.

Finally, Kenya and Porsha face off at NeNe’s charity event for Shoedazzle. Cynthia rolls in with her biggest Diane Ross–circa–Every Day Is a New Day weave; Derek, with his hot-dog pack of a neck, asks NeNe why she was not wearing her own shoe. As they’re driving in, Kenya and Lawrence exchange a bunch of “mmm hmmms” and “yes ma’ams” while discussing how Kenya’s outfit was going to shut Phaedra right up. When the outfit (if you can call it that) is fully revealed, we can see that Kenya went to comical lengths to prove her ability to laugh off her haters by wearing a giant wedding-cake hat, a deep-V bathing suit with a fishnet cover-up, and visible booty pads stuck to her ass. She looked like a cross between Sindel from Mortal Kombat and an extra from J.Lo’s “On the Floor” video. It was brutal. At first, NeNe was pissed — this was a charity event! — but she eventually fell out laughing. Kenya put her stanky, exposed butt crack directly down on a plush chair that any decent venue would burn immediately after she left, and started yelling at Phaedra about the slanderous claims she has been making all over town. Kenya finally insults Phaedra by saying she shouldn’t even be doing a workout video because “her body isn’t there,” even if she claimed in her confessional that she would never tell Phaedra her body “looked like shit.” Um, you just did.

What else happened? What about next week — why is Walter back on the scene? Why is Kandi “Queen of the Dildos” Burress singing gospel now? Why are Cynthia and Porsha fighting? Why is Bravo putting me on an emotional seesaw by showing Kenya getting a biopsy? There is a lot to discuss — see you next week!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Grimes @ The Corner Hotel,Melbourne (05/12/2012)

So Claire Boucher is a star. The 24-year-old’s emergence as the genre-taunting Grimes has confirmed a few things that I was beginning to suspect, but namely this: Charisma counts for a hell of a lot. Boucher has released an ever-more assured string of releases in seemingly no time at all, but I’d hazard to say that the main reason that we’re all crammed into the low-slung surrounds of the Corner’s bandroom on a Wednesday night is because, quite simply, she is compelling.

Supported by [aa.artist:Geoffrey O’Connor], Boucher was playing the first of two sold-out shows at the Corner prior to her Meredith appearance over the weekend. Boucher, rocking a super-endearing teen-with-a-crush lisp, announced that, “Melbourne is officially the farthest I’ve ever been from Canada”, and her excitement was palpable.

Hype being hype, Boucher had attracted a pretty eclectic crowd. There were kindred spirits: Hardcore fans, cosplay types, queer kids and crusties; there were envious musicians and sceney types, trying to figure out whether to hate or to take notes; and there was the more workaday set, looking for a beer and a chat while some freaky shit went down onstage. All got what they came for.

But firstly, a word on Geoffrey O’Connor.

O’Connor, as always, was suave, absurd and a bewildering sight for the uninitiated. As always, every song sounded like a hit from a parallel universe, with his new material sliding in seamlessly alongside tracks from last year’s excellent Vanity Is Forever. Borderline piss-take? Yes. A seriously limited singing voice? Yes. Best pop songsmith in Australia right now? Arguably, yes. The second-coming of the Fariss brothers? Steady on now…

The move from bedroom producer to international headliner has been rapid for Boucher: She would have been forgiven for palming off some responsibility for her multi-layered compositions to a backing band, but here she stubbornly takes on much of the keyboards, vocals, and sample triggers herself. What’s more, rather than settling for the not-unimpressive task of bringing her studio compositions to life, Boucher takes great pleasure in stretching, extending, distending and deconstructing her songs, even dancing gleefully throughout. It leads to a decent number of glitches (the expletive-laden, and yet somehow endearing, monitor-related meltdown in final song ‘Be A Body’ was the most conspicuous example), but it also ensures that the set rises above the karaoke-ish vibe that often afflicts programming-heavy acts when performing live. Helping out in this regard were a pair of bodacious dancers, looking like hallucinations from Game Of Thrones, who stepped out of the heavy blue mist to throw shapes while Boucher operates her console.

‘Oblivion’, given an airing early in the set, was given a startling new dubstep outro; great polyphonic choirs of Grimeses connected one song to the next; and piercing bleeps, squawks and drones periodically shot through the room at unexpected intervals. The newly renovated songs remind you that for all her K-Pop influences and the crossover potential of Visions, Grimes’ instincts still tend towards “witch-house”, or “grave-rave”, or whatever term we’re currently using to describe dark, gauzy electronica with dance beats that aren’t really for dancing. This was fine, as the pop moments forced their way through anyway. Boucher’s solo take on ‘Phone Sex’ (a collaboration with Blood Diamonds) was one such moment, a strangely effective, straight-faced appropriation of seminal ’90s band The Vengaboys.

This was perhaps the most striking thing about Boucher’s performance – its sincerity. She flagged that she had no intention of doing “the thing where I go offstage, then you all clap, then I come back onstage”, and requested the audience’s approval to ignore said ritual (there was approval). When the beat finally kicked in during ‘Genesis’, Boucher danced like a kid at a slumber party, feeding off the audience’s excitement.

Her eclectic, up-to-the-minute influences and so-unpretentious-it’s-pretentious tastes have led to back-handed labels such as “post-interne”’, and a general suspicion that Grimes is a little too good to be true. Not so. Boucher came across as a fan, as in love with the music that she was channelling as her audience was with her (excluding the talkative bros that the dotted the periphery of the room). Boucher’s enthusiasm – and her charisma – were infectious.