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MY SIEM REAP MOTOR MYSTERY TOUR

Besides the world-famous temples of Angkor, I arrived in Siem Reap without much knowledge of the city at all. I hadn't had much chance to research things to do before arriving and it was the first time I'd really been travelling completely solo since starting this journey. Luckily for me, a woman overheard a conversation between myself and some new friends about things to do off the beaten track here. I was beckoned over and handed a wrinkled paper card which read 'SIEM REAP MOTOR MYSTERY TOUR'. "If you're looking for something different, this is it," she told me, and I was immediately intrigued. 

With two days set aside for the Angkor temples and just three days in the city, the following day was the only chance to get on this tour. I arrived home at midnight and eagerly sent an email to the only point of communication on the card, worried that I'd missed my chance. 1:00am I received a reply from Bun, the creator of this weird and wonderful mystery tour, "Thanks Alex! I'll pick you up at 2pm tomorrow!". That was it. Still a complete mystery, but that was absolutely fine with me.

At 2pm I was greeted outside my hostel by Bun, a friendly 30-something local, full of laughter and animation. As we started our journey I asked him about the mystery tour and how it got its name and his reply left me feeling both apprehensive and excited. He said, "I call it a mystery tour because neither you or I have any idea what we're going to do in the next four hours." He explained to me that he had grown up around the jungle and the slums, and in turn the outskirts of the city. He had practiced locally as a monk for two years before educating himself and studying at university. He knows this place better than anyone and when people visit his home, he wants their experience to be as authentic and as real as possible. It was at that point I realised today could either be a disaster or it could be magnificent.

On scooters, we travelled outside the busy centre of Siem Reap and within a couple minutes, Bun had us speeding away from the city and into the vast open countryside. We stopped at a small farm area and he proceeded to tell me the story of the family that were working around the crops. The mother had been married twenty years ago and had children, but during the Khmer Rouge regime, her husband was murdered. He pointed to a tall palm tree and told me that he had been hung from this exact tree. The smile left my face instantly. He told me that she had eventually re-married and had three more children and before I knew it, I was being introduced. The youngest girl grabbed me by the hand as I helped her harvest the field and led me through the farm she had worked on since she could walk. All of my apprehensions about the day vanished and I was certain that in four hours time I would have experienced things no regular tour could have offered me.

We set off once more through the neighbouring villages, following the dirt roads that connected these small communities. We passed by a group of women cooking and after a few words from Bun they beckoned us in to join them, laying down bowls of rice soup before us as soon as we sat down. I asked Bun how he knew them and he told me he didn't, and that this was simply the Khmer way. After eating I walked into the garden and found an elderly lady hanging her washed clothes up on a line. She was so famished and thin. The lines of her face spoke a thousand words, but her lips were tightly sealed in a knowing smile. Bun joined me and worked as translator, explaining to me that she was a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime and had lost many family members to harsh terrors of this genocidal campaign. We shared a moment watching each other as Bun spoke, and I suddenly felt so small. So greedy. So lucky, and ungrateful for everything I've had at my feet back home.

We worked our way through the villages, heading further and further away from the centre of the city and out into the country side. We passed by temples and pagoda's, families and workers. One man was chopping up a snake he'd come across in the fields to make snake soup for his family while his son walked around wearing the most incredible Mickey Mouse one-piece. The best thing was, we never just passed by. Bun, as intrigued as I was, stopped everywhere to talk to these people and share their stories and experiences with me.

Eventually, we left the villages behind us and entered the slums of Siem Reap. A bleak and impoverished part of the countryside, covered in dry sand and half-destroyed houses. As soon as we arrived into the open stretch of the seemingly empty slums, kids started to run towards us from out of nowhere, smiles stretched across their cheeks. Guests meant food. I reached into my bag and pulled out the huge bag of Oreo's I had bought in anticipation for a moment like this and started to fill the empty outstretched hands of these children who looked up at Bun and I as saints. One of the older boys donning a Argentina kit told us of a football match about to commence. I gave Bun a nod and the kid jumped on his scooter to show us the way. Soon enough we arrived a bumpy, open lay of land. A collection of teenage boys stood in the sun, topless and sweaty with a football in the centre, waving at the foreigner to join them. I took of my t-shirt and shoes and head onto the 'pitch', but after half an hour of intense football under the raging sun, Bun and I admitted defeat and left the game to continue our adventure.

We rode fast through the bumpy serpentine roads of the slums until we reached a long stretch, bracketed by tiny wooden houses with vast lakes and fields behind them. Bun sped ahead as I took my time on this road, watching either side of me as families greeted this unfamiliar outsider. The kids yelled hello's at me with great teethy smiles as their elders nodded in welcome. Almost every single family stood out to watch me ride by on my bike and I shared smiles with all of them. It felt so surreal. I've been through places similar to this, not quite as real. The difference was, I'd always gone with a group, or on a tour, most often to places that tourists have passed through many times before. This time around I was completely on my own, and the way the people looked at me, I couldn't help but feel like visitors didn't come this way very often.

I finally caught up with Bun at the top of this stretch. He'd settled at a small area in the middle of this road, the perfect sunset spot. We stopped and watched and talked about the day as I took photos of the landscape as Bun meditated. As we made our way back home against a deep amber sky, I felt really happy to have met Bun. A single Dad, he didn't have the time or money to travel, although it was his biggest passion. Instead, he spent every day sharing his world with people from all over the globe. I would recommend his tour to anyone visiting Siem Reap, but don't expect the same experiences as I had. It will still be one big mystery for the both of you.

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A MORNING ON INLE LAKE

During our time in Myanmar we passed through Inle Lake, a wonderful destination located in the Nyaung Shwe township of Shan state. 3.5 miles long and seven miles wide, the lake is famous for its unique fishing techniques and floating markets, something I had to see when passing through.

We set out early, travelling through the town in the black of morning at 5:30am to the docks. Once we boarded, we set off into the lake in complete darkness, the only sounds were of the motor and the water breaking at our helm. Soon enough, the world was slowly brought to light. Wonderful colours of blue, pink and purple filled the sky and the lake, bracketed by silhouettes of mountains, banana trees and fishermen setting off for the catch of the day.

We spent the day in the floating villages that exist on the lake, passing through the fresh-food market, learning how to canoe on the narrow, unbalanced wooden boats the locals use daily, trying local foods and delicacies and learning how this incredible community works.

I put together a really rough capture of our morning, shot with my GoPro Hero 4+, hope you enjoy! (Please excuse my cheesy selfie moment half way through!)

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CHASING THE SUN IN PAI

Pai was most likely my favourite spot on my journey around Thailand, a small town north of Chiang Mai. It was the place that the Pai Panther Biker Club (as I called us) was born, a collection of 16-20 backpackers who instantaneously came together on the road in search of amber skies, winding highways, caves, waterfalls and springs. Here's how it went down...

Ben and I had been travelling north of Thailand since my earliest days in Bangkok. We hopped off the bus that had brought us from Chiang Mai, our heads spinning from the bumpy, serpentine route across the mountains to this small hippie town we had caught wind of. Online we had found a relaxed looking hostel to stay at over the coming days and followed our maps around the corner and down a seemingly empty alley... surely, the maps have got it wrong? Soon enough, the strumming of a guitar caught our ears and the hostel logo came into view. We turned into the hostel and were greeted by a long-haired dude at the bar and then the barman - John - an image of John Lennon if ever I've seen one. "Welcome to Common Ground fellas!". Liverpudlian too, amazing. Two guys we're singing and playing guitar from the comfort of a string of hammocks, while another guy painted the wall behind them, a psychedelic tree of life made of fluorescent greens and blues. I loved this place already.

We were introduced to Jordan, an Australian whose welcoming and laid-back attitude made it feel as though we'd been here for weeks already. "Need anything guys, just give me a shout," he said. Having come from two busy cities, full of vibrant energy and life, we happily welcomed this new environment, this perfect hub of calm, cool bohemian culture. We immediately went to fetch some scooters for hire. No questions, no license enquiries, just payment. In under twenty minutes we were driving back up our alley to our hostel, greeted by quite a few more bikes outside than before. As we walked back inside, we noticed a collection of backpackers, some checking in, some introducing themselves to others - the last bus of the day had just brought a fresh batch of backpackers to our new home. After some short introductions, the group were eager to get on the road. We all hopped on our bikes and head to the top of the alley, ready to head to Tham Lod Cave. I looked over my shoulder and smiled back at the 16 strong congregation of scooters, revving and ready... the light went green and we were off.

This was my first time riding a scooter, ever. Before I knew it I was on the open road hitting 60mph and it felt amazing. The wind beat against my chest as I rode past other members of the group, looking out onto the most fantastic landscapes. Pure and complete freedom, that was what it felt like.

We extended our time in Pai from three days to seven and in that time, the Pai Panthers shared many great rides together, often riding back on winding highways, beside a blanket of deep orange sky and a vast green bed of forest and jungle. We shared some of the best days and nights with this group of people in Common Ground hostel, my favourite home in my journey so far. If you get a chance, go to Pai. Stay at Common Ground. You won't regret it. 

 

 

 
 

 

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TWO DAYS IN THE JUNGLE

Whilst staying in Chiang Mai, it won't take long to realise there is much adventure to be had here. Entering your hostel, you'll be met by hundreds of glossy folded leaflets full of excursions, tours and activities - colourful and visual, before you know it you'll be making the tough decision of weather to zip-line through the jungle or go cliff jumping in the Canyon. We chose to spend a day with elephants. And then we chose to spend two days hiking and living in the jungle.

We chose to go for the more pricey trip with 8Adventures as it included water rafting and we're so glad we did. We were introduced to Sak and Not, our guides, at basecamp and they really made the excursion what it was with their knowledge of jungle and how to survive off raw materials, as well as their humour and character. Here's a little inside peak into our two days in the jungle...

After two hours of trekking uphill through a maze of thick, tangled bamboo we finally reached our first checkpoint - a clearing in a rice field offering views of the village in the distance. From the muggy and humid interior of the bamboo jungle to the clean and crisp air of this open space, we quickly realised how difficult this hike could become.

We came across some local villages harvesting their rice in front of a glorious mountainous backdrop. They laid down a wide blue mat, bound together their rice stems with string and smashed them down on steel barrels, forcing all the rice to come loose, discarding the stems. I asked the eldest of the group if I could help and as soon as I finished one band of rice stems I was immediately handed another, and then another, much to the amusement of our guides!

After about six hours of gruelling trekking uphill, we finally reached our base for the evening at around 1600m. Constructed with wood and bamboo, with a small room full of thin mattresses and mosquito nests, we found our home for the night fascinating. Reaching 6:00pm we realised we needed to find our spot for sunset, so we set out about the village, coming across a set of bamboo houses mid-construction; floors, roofs, but no walls - perfect. We set up our camera's and took in the view before a curious young Thai boy found his way to our spot, immediately reaching for the camera's, turning our village sunset into a welcomed photography lesson.

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After sunset, the skies colour disappeared pretty quickly until we were left with torches and a fire as our only sources of light. We had an amazing home cooked meal around our fire, with soups, pork belly, sticky rice and more, all cooked over a fire and with bamboo sticks. After food we asked Sak questions which were greeted by many stories of his life living in and around the jungle and these remote villages that function here. 

At around 9:00pm, in the pitch black of night we were given a question: bed time, or night hike? Sak, excited as ever, grabbed his essentials and we head to the ATV. Five people in one quad was far from comfortable, so i had to sit on the front hood as we climbed the steep hill, also far from comfortable! After a short drive and an hour and a half hike upwards, we reached the 5500 ft summit in pitch black. You couldn't see where you stepped on this tiny base without a torch, all you could see was the stars.

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CHIANG MAI'S ELEPHANT SANCTUARY

Coming to Chiang Mai, I knew that spending some time with the incredible Thai elephants was something I had to do. I've become very aware of the cruelty that goes on in a lot of zoos and parks in Asia and was reluctant to throw money at an organisation that advocated these customs, so I was so happy to come across the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. Here, we were able to join the team of Karen village-people, helping feed and bathe these wonderful animals, getting a bit muddy in the process...

The day began with an hour journey to the sanctuary, meeting all the other backpackers and getting changed into the swaggy hippie attire provided by the Karen hosts. And then came the elephants...

We fed and played with the amazing elephants, which were so lovable, friendly and active, from the eldest to the youngest, a 1 month old called Lady Gaga. Before we knew it, it was time for a bath. Here's a little video of the day...

 

After we got all cleaned up, we had some amazing pad thai and rice, courtesy of the Karen village people. This also gave us a great opportunity to speak to them, learning a little more about their lives and the lives of the elephants. For example, did you know that elephants fall pregnant for 22 months?! Yikes.

What a day! I had the best time meeting these wonderful animals amongst loads of other travellers, talking to the village people who run the camp and spending some time in the great outdoors. To anyone visiting Chiang Mai, i'd definitely recommend a day of mud baths and banana feasts with Thai elephants, best experienced at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary!

 

 

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A THREE DAY JOURNAL OF BANGKOK

November 23rd

During the weeks that led up to this journey, every day would pass in similar fashion. My dreams would be distrubed by the unavoidable pitch of my alarm at 8:00am and I would reach for the post-it note sticking to my bedside table, featuring a list of things that I needed to accomplish in that day. Constructing this the previous night had become a staple part of my bedtime ritual, and this would be the first thing I’d address as I wipe the sleep from my swollen eyes. My days would be fleeting, a messy rush and a failed mission as four or five things would be added to the next days list before bed, and new ‘must do’s’ would be grumpily made note of.

November 23rd was very different. There were no more lists, no more notes to reach for. No more time to prepare and no more time to worry. Every day leading to this one had a plan and a strategy, but as my sleepy fingers trailed over the snooze button on my all-to-familiar 8:00am alarm, my stomach was met with something very unfamiliar. Nerves. Panic.  Anxiety. How much hadn’t I done? How many failed ‘to-do’s’ would come back to haunt me after this day? There wasn’t much time to dwell on it - it was time to pack. 23kg. 19kg. 12kg. I strike out the unnessessary items I once deemed essential one by one as I aim for the lightest possible backpack. Still full to the brim, but 12kg will do.

Dad makes it to mine early and again, the reality of the situation dawns on me a little bit all over again, but that’s nothing compared to how I felt saying my goodbyes at the gate. Mum and Dad are in tears. Luke is smiling at me, for me, excited for what he knows I’m soon to experience.  I hug Mum and she says “If anything happens, if anything happens to you, if you get hurt you come straight back home to me!” This cuts through me. It does all over again as I write it down. I felt myself shiver, and I feel my eyes squeeze back any tears - I don’t want to show my parents the slightest trace of fear. Then there’s Dad, so overcome with sudden emotion I can’t make out his muffled words as he buried his face into my sweater. I feel a wave of emotion rush through me once more. My eyes squeeze shut again. One more hug. One more glance. One more look over my shoulder as I head inside alone. Solo. That’s me from now on and for the foreseeable future. My hands tremble slightly and my eyes are damp as this wave follows me around the corner, but I stop. Inhale. Look up from my feet to straight ahead. And then there is a new wave, one filled with confidence, positivity and excitement.  One that is screaming for adventure, knowledge and life. I take my first couple steps with this new wave to make sure it fits. It does. 

 

November 24th

Fast forward from the twenty minute run through the enormous Dubai airport to my final call, to the seat-belt sign flickering on, followed by an announcement from the captain. Time to land. The twelve-hour journey is over and now I face the challenge of navigating through Thailand’s infamous capital. Passport control and baggage claim take mere minutes and I’m out in the Bangkok air, it’s thirty degrees and humid as hell. I head back inside and hop on the city link to the center, my eyes are met by every new person who arrives through the doors nearest to me. They’ve seen thousands of me, I’m sure, but a smile is still met by a smile and that’s always a good omen. I see trickles of rain appear on the windows. Before I can finish my negotions with the Gods, the sky opens and unleashes a thunderstorm that would have Londoners scrambling like ants. Thunder, lighting and the thundering drum of rain against the steel barrel we speed into the city in. Jacket on. Raincover on. The locals laugh at me as they pull out their umbrella’s, all too prepared.

I reach my stop and laugh to myself as I head out into the unforgiving conditions that arrived to greet me. I follow my map from memory for ten minutes with my head down before realising it was the opposite direction. Twenty minutes back and my shoes, shorts and front-pack are drenched. My face is soaking, it’s still 30 degrees. I turn a corner and there it is. Bed Station Hostel, the only light on the corner of the street and I follow it. I feel like Colin from Love Actually as I burst into the door and pull off my hood. Just swap the snow for rain and the horny american girls for frat guys. I’m shown my room and 15 minutes later, I’ve showered, unpacked and am ordering my first beer. I sit down at a table full of backpackers, but no one turns their head so I simply listen to shared stories of travel and sex, for now that’s fine with me. Eventually, I get talking to a guy from Croatia. Then a girl from US and a guy from London who’s lived in Thailand for five years. Then some locals. Then some Germans. Before I know it, drinking games are in full flow and we’re heading to Khao San road – the amazing, trashy, glorious, alcohol-ridden elite home of the drunk backpacker. There is no better place to start, so it seems.

 

 

November 25th

I wake up at 1:30pm, sleepy, groggy and filling in the blanks. This isn’t my usual style, to waste a day of travel and of exploring so I drag myself to the showers, and eventually out of the front door. The hostel is a complete contrast of the night before, maybe I wasn’t the only one having a much-needed recovery sleep. I head straight to the famous Bangkok temples to start, Wat Phom and Wat Arun, but it begins to rain again. With the temples covered in grey and my head still banging from the night before, I can’t help but feel a bit deflated. I take refuge in a nice looking restauarant close by to have my first meal of the day, Pad Thai it is. The food is great, but as a stare out to the stormy streets with a sore head and tired eyes, I feel loneliness creep in. These are the days travel companions are essential. Raincoat back on I trudge out once more, telling myself that the first days are always like this and that it’s nothing to go by. And I was right, I head home and have shower number two, getting into my comfiest clothes ready to relax and plan my trip to Chiang Mai for the following day when I see a familiar face. A german girl I met the night before called Laura. She was very sweet, reading to me from her Bangkok travel guide as I sat next to her and opened my laptop, which closed just as quickly at the mention of a rooftop bar. She was going with two other German guys and a girl, and now me.

I head back to my room to change clothes and we set on our way. Benjamin, Laura, Hannes, Suzie and Me. They were nice, probably the nicest people I’d met so far. I asked questions and learnt about them, who they were and what they did and the places they’ve been, one by one. Then we reached Cloud47, the rooftop bar on the 47th floor that opens up to incredible views of the whole city, its towering skyscrapers sinking down into brightly coloured steets. We ordered our Chang’s and enjoyed the atmopshere of the rooftop, all well aware of the gem we had stumbled on. After we’d finally had our fill of the mesmirising views, we head to a market for some food, passing down countless offers for ping-pong shows as we went. Food down, goodnights said, I crept into my bed at 1:30am. I felt like I’d made my first friends and things were taking shape. I felt good. I felt excited for the next day and all I wanted was for sleep to disappear and to wake up to a sunny sky instead of grey.

My alarm went off at 9:00am and I felt the rays of the sun squeezing through the gaps of the blinds. Sun.

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I MISS THE OLD KANYE, STRAIGHT FROM THE 'GO KANYE
CHOP UP THE SOUL KANYE, SET ON HIS GOALS KANYE

 

Travelling into London this morning, my brother and I fell into discussion. We talked about Kanye West, an artist which we've both grown up adoring. Sharing one headphone each, we journeyed into central from zone 6, shuffling through Ye classics,  Last Call, Never Let Me Down, Homecoming and Family Business, to name a few. We exchanged opinions on his influence on music, the hip-hop genre specifically, and the impact his catalogue of work has had on some of the most talked about artists to grace headlines in the music industry today.

Let me start by saying this piece is no dig at Kanye, despite what its title may imply. Some great artists you are introduced to late. You're given a taste of something and you either bite or you don't, and if you do, you often crave more. I've listened to the likes of Queen and Michael Jackson for as long as my memory stretches,  but late greats like Bowie I fell into much later, encouraging almost a sonic journey through an extensive catalogue of albums, songs and styles. Along with so many of my friends who appreciate Kanye like I do, I grew up with his music and fell in love with it all on my own, it was never introduced to me later or force fed. For a kid that grew up on rock and pop, I had never ventured deep into the realms of hip-hop. I didn't know who N.W.A were, I hadn't even heard any of Hov's early stuff. I'd listened to some Tupac and Biggie that I'd liked, but the genre was barely existent in my every day listening, especially in comparison to now, with my iTunes library full of its most influential and distinguished records, from Illmatic, to Stankonia, to Straight Outta Compton. It was Kanye's The College Dropout that created that bridge for me, leading me into a long-term relationship with hip-hop that has since never wavered and probably never will.

This early work was a perfect intro into the genre. Along with Late Registration a year later in 2005, The College Dropout showcased Ye's natural mastery at chopping up soul beats to make a more widely accessible, jocular breed of hip-hop. Since his earliest days on the scene, before he may have even known it himself, Kanye has been a futurist, never a conformist. Fast-forward to present day and look over his catalogue of music, eight albums spanning twelve years, all showcasing Kanye's huge influence on the transforming trends of the genre and it's place in pop culture. Think back. Hip hop wasn't relatable to the everyday fandom, Kanye made The College Dropout. He predicts the imminent wave of EDM culture and samples Daft Punk on Stronger. He sees a need for love and melody in rap and creates 808s and Heartbreak. Hip-hop isn't experimental enough, he introduces Yeezus. Kanye has always been the first. Whilst his first three records we're instantly adored, 808s was something new and entirely unique. A hip-hop artist exploring themes of loss, heartache and a disaffected fame through love songs and electronic beats? It took a bit more time, but it wasn't long before it seeped through the cracks of street-rap, influencing emerging artists and thus, transforming a part of the genre in a massive way. Would we even have hits like Hold On We're Going Home without 808s? Kanye has been a constant pioneer of change in the genre and today, the hip-hop world thanks him for it, often. 

How many contemporary artists do you think could achieve what he has done with The Life of Pablo? The album was completely self-marketed, regularly prolonged, name-changed (four times!), and had successfully caught the attention of the world within its first whispers. The pop-culture juggernaut, who once upon a time rapped about his desperate efforts to sign a deal, now has the world at his feet, selling out Madison Square Gardens in mere minutes, along with cinema tickets all over the world to premier his new album. 

But what about the music? Whilst listening to tracks spanning Kanye's twelve years of music, this became the sole focus of my conversation with my brother on our journey into London. Listening to the bracketing albums, you'll certainly hear the difference. The College Dropout emblazons a hungry, talented, meticulous artist striving for success at all costs, and as you would imagine over a decade later, The Life of Pablo showcases something completely different. This is not to say that it's bad, or that I didn't or don't enjoy the album. I do. Most of it, anyway. I remember starting my first listen chronologically with Ultralight Beam and feeling chills at its opening gospel sonics, as well as pure elation when Chance's genius verse drops. I was immediately sold. But as I reached the end of the album, whilst I enjoyed it greatly for what it was, something was missing for me. Straight up rap. Many may disagree, but as much as I hugely enjoyed the album for many things, including its production value, style and synth-heavy electronics, I desperately longed for quality lyrical content and good old fashioned rap that I don't feel existed. The elite verses found on tracks like Made In AmericaNo Church In The Wild, Runaway or All Falls Down were replaced with forgettable features from Ty Dolla Sign, Young Thug and even drooly verses from Ye himself.

For as long as i've been a fan, i've been able to quote Kanye. I quoted Graduation endlessly, and I still rap along to so much of My Beautiful Twisted Dark Fantasy. When tracks from Watch The Throne came on in clubs I could rap a whole verse along with my friends with ease and confidence. Did that exist on this album? There was no Family Business flow, no brilliant metaphors like that in Homecoming, or anything like the genius construction of Lost In The World, featuring one of my favourite Kanye verses. Kanye had brought together over ninety contributors on this album, is that perhaps why his own light, as a rapper, didn't quite shine as bright? As a producer trying to make it as a rapper, Kanye worked tremendously hard early on to show his worth, but his knack for clever wordplay, fluid rhyme patterns and vivid imagery were still hugely present in later works like MBTDF and Watch The Throne, so why couldn't I find it in The Life of Pablo?

Personally, I enjoy music for its sound and its melody, but I love it for its words and meaning. As far as rap goes, delivery and lyrical content are what appeal to me. That's why I love J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, two artists that have such a raw talent when it comes to telling a story, vividly and intelligently. Kanye has always had that. It's one of my favourite things about his music, but I didn't find it here. The Life of Pablo is a great album, and yeah, I love the new Kanye. But sometimes, I miss the old Kanye.

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LAST NIGHT, THIS MORNING

We've been waiting for it for five years, persisting through countless delays, endless trolling and false drop dates. But late last night, it came.

My little bro and I were heading home from a family dinner, blasting Nikes in the car while we discussed his latest visual album Endless and the style of new music he'd been putting out. We got in, still talking about Ocean and about the provocative Nikes video that dropped earlier that day.

11:37pm, we're watching Community on Netflix, both unwinding whilst scanning twitter and blogs we follow. That's when I stumbled upon something peculiar. A twitter post by Pigeons and Planesone of the music blogs I love reading up on. 

'Frank Ocean announces pop up stores on the eve of BoysDontCry release'

Since Endless dropped, every blog I followed said the album was coming this weekend. I didn't get my hopes up. But, did this mean...? I scour the rest of my feed with absolutely no other signs of a pop-up in existence. Is it real?I opened the tweet to the promotional image for the magazine, the material being released at these pop-ups, the zine promised by Ocean at the albums earliest announcement years ago. At the bottom of the image were cities. Los Angeles, New York, Chicago... London.

I'm shouting at Luke now and he's getting equally as hyped. An exclusive pop-up store in our city! I'm racing through the web in search of more clues that don't come. No-one else is even tweeting about it yet, this can't be right. We can't be the only ones. It's 11:59, 12:00. I right click. boysdontcry.co, loading. It opens. Blonde. Album cover. No text. Luke and I say nothing, we just stare at my screen. I tell him to jump onto iTunes NOW. And it's there. The album is real, it's here. This is not a drill.

 

We become hysterical and over-excited. We feel like the only ones in the world who know, and we have to spread the news. So we do. As much as we can anyway before curiosity trumps sheer excitement and we decide the time has come, we need to listen. So we do. The lights turn off, the only existing glow exuding from our laptop screens. Nikes plays out loud through our speakers. We spend the next hour almost in complete silence, interrupted only by the occasional outbursts of appreciation of what we were hearing. After the album plays out we sit back and discuss for a brief moment, before remembering the pop-up. We need to get there! 

1:23am, we jump back onto Twitter searching for anything. An hour and a half's passed since our first glimpse of Blond on Frank's website, all the blogs are reporting about it now, everyone is talking about the album. Everyone. But still, nothing about this London pop-up to prove it exists; no pictures, no tweets. Fuck it, we'll have to go and see for ourselves, we decide, and we'll camp out if we have to. And then it comes. The first tweet, with a video touring the inside of the London pop-up. It's real. Only 400 copies, we hear someone say. We quickly learn it opened at midnight. Shit. What the fuck have we been doing the past hour!? We grab our jackets, my keys and head out. 

Laptop plugged in, we're streaming the entire album all over again as we race from Harrow to Soho. Street lights fly by, as we drive to the epic tones of Self-Control blasting through the speakers. We're digesting Ocean's unbelievable voice and poetry as we near our destination. Ivy is an immediate favourite, Solo, Skyline To, Andre 3000's wild contribution on the Solo (Reprise), the black depths of Ocean's mind that Seigfried ventures into and the heaven-sent melodies on Godspeed. This album is masterful. Before we know it we're just a couple of roads away. It's 2:12am and we get our first glimmer of the scene, as a young guy races past us down an empty street holding a shiny, thick packet across his chest. As we park and start to run closer to 66 Charlotte Street, we start to see more of them. Trendy-as-fuck kids running with these packets in the opposite direction to us. It's surreal. The closer we get, the more there are, until we're there. We see a glow from the only store open on the street in the early hours of the morning. 

As I walk passed the opening, I glance inside at empty shelves. Are we too late? These glossy packets are staring at me, I need one. What treasures are held inside? Stories, secrets, insights into the worlds most popular enigma. The line is about 100 people long, tiny in consideration to what is actually happening right now. The queue moves fast as we converse in depth with strangers. 

"Two versions! We got two versions...."

We hear a phrase that has come to be a staple throughout the albums tangled promotion, exclaimed from around the corner. People who have already picked up their issue cling to it tightly, almost as if in fear it would vanish somehow. We're so close now, we're almost in touching distance. That's when the announcement comes. The final packet is handed over. 400 free copies. 405th in line. We didn't make it. 

Reluctantly, after lingering among our other brokenhearted, but still admirably hopeful, peers in the queue, we find our way back to our car. Miserable, distraught. We were given the chance to be a part of this album's history. 400 limited edition copies released, with a brand new CD inside. We could have been part of 400 out of 8.6 billion Londoners to get the physical insight into one of the world's most talked about contemporary artists. Something we would hold onto for years, once this album breaks records, knowing we were part of 'the in crowd'. But we missed out by five people, by our foolishness and desperation to hear the album before we left. Regardless, it's here and from what I can tell from my many listens so far, it's special. 

We get lost on the way home and find ourselves at a dead end, in the middle of nowhere. Our silent misery is deafening, so we decide to get out and celebrate the release of a beautiful album thats been five years in waiting, listening and talking in depth, one more time, before heading home.

5:00am.

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MY THOUGHTS ON CHANCE'S THIRD MIXTAPE

I’m gonna take you back to last Thursday evening. I was driving late and had around fifteen minutes ahead of me before I made it home. I’d been listening to the recently released James Blake collaboration with Bon Iver. An amazing, somber, soul-searching track that leaves you pondering where you are in life and all other kinds of deep shit. Anyway, the sun was setting around this time, filling the skies with deep pink hues which led my mind straight to Chance 3, the third studio project by my favourite Chicagoan, Chance the Rapper.

In anticipation for the upcoming tape and appreciation of Chance’s unrivalled artistry, I immediately traded Blake’s dulcet tones to the gospel-great, I’m-ready-to-take-on-the-world pin-ultimate track from Surf, the masterful free album from The Social Experiment. I had Sunday Candy on repeat until I reached my house, belting out the lyrics through a smile and feeling that nervous excitement for the following day. It had been three years since the release of Acid Rap, the free mixtape that granted Chance a worldwide stage and huge respect and acclaim amongst the many aficionados of the hip-hop world. And tomorrow, its follow up was due to drop.

Fast-forward about twelve hours and I’m sitting at my desk at work, waiting for the last of the “good-mornings” to pass so I could comfortably hit play without any predictable distractions. It was time.

The all-too familiar trumpet work of Donnie sets us off and immediately gets me gassed up, followed by Chance’s distinguishable yelps. There’s something so familiar and yet so disparate about this opening. I put it down to Chance’s noticeable development over the past three years. Since the release of his sophomore album, Chance has performed all over the world, collaborated with his greatest idols and become a father, an experience that has already had generous references in his latest songs. As his album artworks exemplify, Chance has definitely gone on a journey and it really shows in the opening moments of Coloring Book. He enters the track with his trademark quips, but with a gratified, relaxed tone instead of his usual hyper-energetic style. Chance is at the peak of his career, unchallenged by the shackles of a corporate label, free to take his music in any direction he wants to and distribute it however he likes. The opening moments to this album embody this sense of freedom perfectly.

I follow through the whole album, undisturbed and completely engrossed. I find myself falling in-love with songs like Summer Friends, Blessings, Same Drugs, Juke Jam, How Great and Finish Lines. They represent all that Chance has become. Amongst these songs, Chance shows off his versatile style, bouncing from that slow-tempo, thought-out spoken word to energetic verses over-flowing with effervescent whips and wordplays. He illustrates the blissful summers running around Chathem as a kid on Summer Friends but somehow manages to balance it with the dark tone of violent life in Chicago. He has mastered rapping along side brass and gospel choir backdrops and switching up his styles to compliment whatever shape or form the production has taken. Tracks like Angels leave me wondering whether there is any other rapper in history that can convey the feeling of joy like Chance does. This album often feels like the ultimate jam session with close friends, probably going on in a church after service has long ended. This is the style of Chance’s music that I love so much.

But there are definitely moments on this album where my frown burrowed and I had to really listen to shit closely. I couldn’t simply ride the euphoric wave of Chance’s sounds that I’ve become so accustomed to. For me, my initial feeling was that the bigger artist names, such as Kanye, Wayne, 2Chainz, Young Thung, and Future completely changed the tone and feeling of a sound I’ve grown to love so much. Chance’s music is full of versatility, but it remains within a distinct style that sets him apart from almost every other rapper I know of that are big right now. For me, no-one quite comes close to replicating what Chance does in his music, making his style entirely unique in that sense. To hear him mimic the low-tone and lethargic sound of Young Thug on Mixtape really killed my vibe. As did the moment 2Chainz featured on a Chance the Rapper song. I just didn’t think it would ever happen. These were the moments during my first listen where I felt a little bit like Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith – “You were the chosen one, Anakin! You we’re meant to bring balance to the force, not destroy it!”

So, I listened again. And again. And I definitely found the beauty in those tracks. I began to understand Smoke Break and started to feel the party vibes of No Problem, regardless of 2Chainz unsurprisingly dead verse. However, I still feel like spots on this album for a Favourite Song, a Sunday Candy or a Juice were replaced or wasted on large-name collaborations that were simply Chance paying homage to music he likes. And there is nothing wrong with that. Who am I to say he can’t play with music he enjoys, or artists he admires? I can’t. But as a fan, they certainly changed the album experience for me and not exactly for the better.

Regardless, Coloring Book still feels like an incredible gift to the music world and is undoubtedly a project I’m going to be listening to for a long time. It is a great addition to Chance’s immaculate catalogue of work.  My only plea is that he never loses his uniqueness and his talent to the mainstream trends that have, in my eyes, distorted the genre. The final harmonies of the album softly croon the question “Are you ready?” leaving me once again eager and impatient for more from hip-hop's new crowned prince.

Listen to Chance The Rapper's new album, Coloring Book, here...

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SHARING THE VIEW, 03

Its been a while since I last shared what I've been watching... I've been stumbling across some great content, but here is a little snippet of some of my favourites!

Remember to comment if you have any videos to recommend! :) 

 

1. GOPRO 360 DEGREE SURF BY GOPRO X FACEBOOK

One of the coolest things I've ever seen in the video world. GoPro 360 and Facebook have collaborated with a Facebook page that allows viewers to experience completely 360 degree footage. Find yourself captivated by the Manhattan skyline from a helicopter or travel through Alaska's melting ice mountains. But my favourite, and the first I watched, is this amazing surf video filmed in Tahiti!

 

2. MEXICO 4K BY JOSH COWAN

Young JacksGap videographer Josh Cowen recently released a stunning 4k video of his trip to Mexico. Up until this point sombreros and desperados where all I associated with Mexico, and this video has opened my eyes to how rich in natural beauty the country actually is. Lush green landscapes, caves, coves, beautiful culture. Thanks to Cowan's video, Mexico is now officially on my travel bucket list.

 

3. WE ARE #WOMENNOTOBJECTS BY WOMEN NOT OBJECTS

Having studied gender and identity in my media and comms course at uni, I had written about representations of women in the media quite a bit, touching on exploitation, sexualisation and the male gaze. With exploitative photographers like Terry Richardson still in business, it frustrates me to see how often women are over sexualised within the media. This was a great visual campaign, which is still on going on twitter and instagram!

 

4. WOODS BY TIM KELLNER

Similarly to Cowan, Kellner is part of a young elite group of filmmakers that run in the youtube circle that. He curates short and unique films with original music and posts them online. This particular one caught my eye recently. I love how its imagination and how it's framed and composed. To think that one dude with an idea just went out into a snowy forrest and shot this whole thing alone is incredible to me.

 

5. DAVID FINCHER'S EXTREME CLOSEUPS BY JACOB SWINNEY

David Fincher. Director of Fight Club, one of my absolute favourite films of all time. Undoubtedly one of my generations most recognised auteurs and a creative whose work can be immediately identified through style and composition. His notorious close-ups are known for making the audience feel completely overwhelmed with discomfort. Director and film buff Jacob Swinney has skilfully created a compilation in homage to Fincher's unique work. Check his vimeo out for similar videos - the Spike Jonze compilation is especially good!

 

6. TOKYO, IPHONE 6 PLUS BY JOSH COWAN

ANOTHER Josh Cowan video, but i just love the diversity in this guys work! So the last video was a gorgeous introduction to Mexico filmed in 4K with aerial shots and glorious landscape footage. This piece however, presents the emergence of mobile videography. The work was featured on FStoppers online magazine, commended for its style and vision, regardless of being filmed on an iPhone. I think its pretty amazing, and if it wasnt in the title I wouldnt have guessed this was filmed on such a basic peice of kit. To see more of Josh's work, check out his website at www.joshuacowan.com

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IT'S THE NEW SOUND

I can't believe it's a week into March already, 2016 is breezing by with plenty of fresh new faces on the music scene. The last three months have seen artists fairly unknown make some big waves in the music world, with Annie Mac debuting Nao's newest single as her Hottest Record and Honne earning some regular radio exposure. If you ain't heard of these guys yet, who you been sleepin' on?!

 

1. HONNE

This London duo are finally, finally getting the exposure they deserve. Releasing their first single on iTunes last summer, their unique electro-soul sound simmered through East London, swiftly reaching the ears of some of the city's best DJ's. Since then, they have released three EP's, all laced with the flawless combination of deep, distinct vocals and complex, skin-tingling synth beats.

Splitting their time between two home studios, the duo have delivered a plethora of breezy, hazily addictive tracks that veer between lust, love and all out romanticism.
— Class Music

 

2. NAO

Described as 'neo soul' combined with '90s RnB', the arresting sounds of Nao have successfully leaked all across London. Two years separate her two bodies of work, with February dropping in the summer of 2015 to critical acclaim. With obvious 90s influences, her production is nostalgic and diaphanous, but it is her distinct vocals that make her music tick. With effortless instinct, Nao can charm with you with melodic, dulcet tones, then in an instant show off a powerful range that takes you back to the sounds of 90s greats. 

 

3. THE JAPANESE HOUSE

I first heard about The Japanese House through The 1975s effervescent frontman and Dirty Hit label-mate, Matty Healy, parading her music on twitter. I was instantly hooked. My first listen to the Clean EP put me on a natural high, feeling every beat, note and tiny detail of the masterful production. Amber Bain, the genius behind the music, has remained somewhat of an enigma until Zane Lowe showed her to the world, choosing her track Still as his last ever Hottest Record In The World.

Vocals sound like they’re coming up from underground. Fragments of synth and outside noise circuit around. But with every song, somehow Bain lands on something pure, free of distraction.
— DIY Mag

 

4. MURA MASA

Only 19 years of age, Alex Crossan is already considered as one of the front-runners of electro-pops next gen. Producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, his career as Mura Masa began on soundcloud, with an ever-growing audience latching onto his exotic, echoing beats. Two years later his page has 20m followers, with his sound becoming more addictive with every new release - definitely one to watch this year!

 

5. KAWALA

Still fairly unknown, this North-London duo reached my ears through the dulcet acoustics of Mahogany Sessions youtube channel. With a rough, barely rehearsed track titled Roads, Kawala completely sold me. Jim Higson's addictive, sedative vocals are so well complimented by the acoustic melodies of Daniel McCarthy on guitar. So far, they have about four tracks on youtube, leaving my desperately waiting for more. Until then, Roads will continue to grow in play-count on my iTunes...

 

It's The New Sound - Soundcloud Playlist:

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SHARING THE VIEW, 02

Here's me, Sharing The View, for the second time. I hope you enjoy it!

Just click on the image to go straight through the video, and please don't hesitate to share if you like the collection, and to comment if you have any cool videos for me to watch! :) 

1. KAWALA - ROADS BY THE MAHOGANY SESSIONS

I'm a subscriber to the Mahogany Sessions channel on Youtube which features regular updates of young, relatively unknown artists performing their music in beautiful, tranquil nature settings. Recently, they posted a video of a London based band titled Kawala, who don't seem to have any music online elsewhere as of yet, but this song is really great! So give it a listen :)

 

2. WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IN? BY JACKSGAP

As you may already know, I'm a big fan of what JacksGap and what Jack and his unit represent and attempt to achieve. Two days ago they posted this video titled 'What Do You Believe In?'. It features a crop of beautiful, incredible human beings from our generation, openly speaking about what they believe in. This video is a positive video, that hopefully will help our generation realise what we can achieve and what kind of difference we can make.  

 

3. #PROUDTOLOVE BY YOUTUBE

This is a video that Youtube presented through a #ProudToLove campaign celebrating the acceptance of gay marriage in all 50 states of America. Despite all the negative events that have happened this year, I feel overwhelmingly proud to live at a time when the world has taken such a huge step closer to equality, and acceptance. This is such an incredible collection of videos by YouTube to celebrate this achievement and all the people that are now able to feel enlightened and liberated! #ProudToLove

 

4. MOVE BY STA TRAVEL AUSTRALIA

STA introduced a trilogy of videos way, way back by a trio of travellers and filmmakers. They were each titled with a different verb; MOVE, EAT, LEARN. Within the short time of the video you're taken through a journey that takes place in so many different cities, all decorated in wonderful, colourful and fruitful cultures. I stumbled upon this video again recently and loved it even more as my wanderlust is so strong at the moment, and the editing is just so perfect. I'd definitely recommend watching all three films in the short trilogy.

 

5. STATE OF MIND BY ADY SULEIMAN

Ady Suleiman is a Nottingham native who is slowly breaking through to the mainstream. With a unique soulful and tongue and cheek sound, it's easy to find yourself nodding a long to a quick spoken word verse and then suddenly vibing to some crazy melodies in the chorus. I first saw him at Dot to Dot this year, and then a couple weekends ago supporting Chance The Rapper in Brixton Electric. Definitely go check him out. This is his latest single - State of Mind. 

 

 

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SHARING THE VIEW, 01

As someone interested in photography, film and music, I try my best to stay tuned with my favourite filmmakers, YouTubers, photographers or bloggers, and always find myself searching for creative inspiration online in my free time. I titled this series of posts 'Sharing The View' as they will become my own little way of sharing some of my favourite videos that I've come across that week, with you! I hope to do this as often as possible, so that I can share creative work that I really admire, in a hope that someone might appreciate and enjoy them as much as I did. 

So, this is me, Sharing The View...

 

1. SUPER 8 - TOKYO & NEW ORLEANS BY ADRIEN BLISS

 

This short film follows a group of young filmmakers on their trips through Tokyo and New Orleans, two very different places. What drew me to this particular film was the use of a Super 8 camera. There's a undeniable magic in film photography and filmmaking. Although you can't focus on so much detail and you can't capture the beauty of great landscapes, shooting in this style has a unique character. The other filmmakers versions of this adventure were beautiful, filmed stylishly, with smooth editing and some truly incredible shots, however, Adrian's Super 8 footage brings out adventure behind the camera. The candid, everyday, unspectacular moments that everyone forgets about until they watch it over on film, that hold just as much value. 

2. WATER BY MORGAN MAASSEN

 

Morgan Maassen is a filmmaker and photographer with a unique creative style. Most of his work is themed around surfing and skating, providing him with opportunities to film some of the best professionals in those categories. This particular film titled 'Water' is, for me, incredibly captivating. Maassen manages to capture the beauty of the underwater world like nothing I've seen before, turning waves into mountains and the sea into a galaxy. Featuring some truly gorgeous underwater camera work, this film is unique and special in so many ways. 

3. PHOTOGRAPH MUSIC VIDEO BY ED SHEERAN

 

Ed Sheeran released his new music video this week for the song titled 'Photograph', which is the fifth and final single from his award winning album 'X'. Until this point in his career, Ed's music videos have often been noticeably different, original, and usually wonderful. I watched this video and was smiling from the moment it began to the moment it ended. The video is so personal and so relatable, with footage from Sheeran's whole life leading up to this point. I love that it is purely home-footage, raw and real and so close-to-home. It is simple but brilliant and a real heart-warmer. 

4. LONDON NIGHT SKATE BY TIM KELLNER

 

I'm someone who has always wished I could skate. I've tried so many times and failed so many times. But regardless, it's still something I enjoy watching. There is so much that I love about skate culture and the attitude, the grittiness and the freedom involved in it. Tim Kellner, a youtuber and filmmaker documents a single night in London skating with his friends, passing through East London and Southbank. The film is simple and short but I enjoyed how Tim captured the culture through his point of view, through a first person view. In black and white, the grit and grind of the culture is heightened. Maybe I'll try and learn again... just once more.

5. VOLCANOES AND NATIONAL PARKS, IN THE PHILIPPINES BY JOSHUA COWAN

 

Joshua Cowan is part of the team that currently work on JacksGap, the incredible channel created by Jackson Harries, with his twin brother Finn. The channel has gone further than they both could have anticipated, which has in turn given them the opportunities to really grind their creative gears and develop some really brilliant work. At only 21, Josh really has a remarkable eye for filmmaking. I admire his editing style for being so unique and fresh and vibrant, against a lot of sleek and stylish slow mo that I've seen so much lately. Featuring Jack Harries himself as the subject, Josh introduces us to the Volcanoes and National Parks of the Philippines for a campaign run by STA Travel titled 'Reel Philippines'. The video tells a story and follows a traveller, with some truly gorgeous landscapes and really captivating camera work. This film massively developed my already existing sense of wanderlust. This is a place I can't wait to visit. Make sure you check out some of the other Reel Philippines videos, such as Beaches In The Philippines by Mollie Mills.

 

I hope you enjoyed the first post in the Sharing The View series. Please let me know what you thought of the films by commenting below! 

 

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CHICAGO'S FINEST: LET'S TALK ABOUT CHANCE THE RAPPER

I discovered Chi-Town native Chance The Rapper last summer on a dance choreography video by my favourite choreographer, Ian Eastwood. I didn't know much about Chance at this point, except that he was the "allsheneededwassome" guy on the Childish Gambino track The Worst Guys, but after watching Ian's choreo to Good Ass Intro (the first track on his mixtape, Acid Rap) I was hooked, and to say I’ve become somewhat of a disciple of Chance is an understatement.

Hailing from Catham in Chicago Illinois, Chancelor Bennet first rose to prominence by performing at open mic nights hosted by YOUMedia, a city-funded youth center in Chance’s area that aimed to take kids off the streets and teach them how to, essentially, become creators.  He speaks on the organisation with deep appreciation discussing how "the majority of the dope, young artists that are in Chicago came out of that bitch. I came out of there, Vic Mensa, Nico (Donnie Trumpet) from Kids These Days" and expressing how through YOUMedia he was able to challenge his creativity and harness it, along with people from similar backgrounds, with similar aspirations. 

Chance perked ears with his release of his mixtape 10 Day which he wrote and recorded during a ten day suspension from high school. His sound was unique, and his vision was beyond his years. But it was mostly due to his second mix, Acid Rap, that Chance was recognised as major new talent. The mixtape has opened a lot of doors for Chance and allowed him to meet and work with a variety of big names in music, but despite these collaborations, and touring aggressively since the mixtapes release, Chance hasn't quite followed suit of a rapper on the come up. I read an article in Fader magazine recently titled 'Why Chance the Rapper Is Foregoing Solo Fame To Make Jazzy Songs With His Friends.' It discusses how Chance has the opportunity to promote himself and make it big, but instead, ops to create art with his friends and to help other artists in Chicago to find their beat. 

Chance has started hosting his own Open Mic nights in Chicago (Labeling them ‘Open Mike’ nights, in honor of his fallen mentor Brother Mike) allowing young Chicago talents to come and showcase their art and make a name for themselves. Through this venture and by becoming an integral part of the Chi-Town community, Chance has helped bring attention to a lot of young artists trying to make an impact on the music scene. Using his new platform as a critically acclaimed artist, he's been able to promote other Chicago based creatives trying to make it...and some of them are really, really good. So I've put a little list of some of them for you to listen to!

 

 

Kehlani

This artist is going to blow.  Kehlani released her debut mixtape Cloud 19 in 2014 and her latest You Should Be Here just last month. Already developing a large community of online followers and local fans in Chicago, Kehlani's music is spreading a rapid rate. Her sound brings back the Pop RnB vibes we were hearing at the start of the millennium from the likes of Jo Jo, whilst maintaining spiritual themes and melodic rap that has been brought to the forefront by Jhené Aiko. It's rare for a young RnB artist to be able to present such a wise, experienced and full body of work. Definitely check out Kehlani's soundcloud for more music as her sound is really diverse. 

Towkio

Another Save Money member along with the likes of Chance, Nico and Vic, Towkio was given the heavy task of following in the footsteps of his squad members and after releasing his mixtape ‘Wav.Theory’ last month, it seems he’s succeeded. Towkio’s sound is rich with positive mantras, with the aim to ‘free the mind’. 

 

Eryn Allen Kane

Currently residing in Chicago but originally from Detroit, Michigan, Eryn Allen Kane takes influence from the soulful sounds of Arethla Franklin and others of that era. Kane has only released one official single, the powerful ‘Have Mercy’, with the rest of her solo releases being mainly covers. She has, however, contributed to Towkio, Chance The Rapper, Donnie Trumpet and most notably Prince’s latest projects, and has been labeled by Chance as “The first lady of the Social Experiment”

Noname Gypsy

Another Chicago Native, Fatimah Warner was, like Chance, a frequent YOUMedia Open Mic performer, mostly expressing her artistry through spoken word poetry, and later, rap. Noname and Chance befriended each other and not long later, she was featured on Lost’, a track from Acid Rap that quickly became a favourite of mine and many other Chance fans. 

 

Meanwhile, Chance's latest project, which he's worked on with the collective he calls The Social Experiment, is titled Surf and is due for release any time now. Here is a little preview with the latest release from The Social Experiment. 

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EX MACHINA - FILM REVIEW

Directed by Alex Garland. Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alica Vikander.

For the first time in his career Alex Garland takes center stage, promoting himself from novelist and scriptwriter to director, for the stylish, sleek, cerebral science fiction thriller Ex Machina. The film draws from some very old ideas, but Garland breathes fresh new life into this story, giving the classic sci-fi theme of man-plays-god an ingenious and modern spin.  

Our protagonist, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), is a geeky coder who works for software giant Bluebook, a search engine that provides for 95% of all online searches worldwide. After winning an in-house competition, he receives a ‘golden ticket’ for a weeks stay with the company’s reclusive CEO in his private Alaskan estate. Intelligent, arrogant and sardonic, Nathan (Oscar Isaac) can be considered as the most modern variation of the Dr. Frankenstein persona, a solitary scientist attempting to manipulate nature. He introduces Caleb to his latest project: a state-of-the-art robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander), fixed with a gentle human face that is the perfect depiction of feminine beauty, a frame, human in shape, with enough mechanics exposed to remind us that she is made out of wires and metal. Caleb is invited to participate in the ultimate stage of Ava’s testing, by undergoing ‘the Turing Test’, an experiment that determines whether a machine has the ability to exhibit intelligence comparable to, or indistinguishable from, a human. After slight hesitancy, he accepts.

What follows is a series of ‘sessions’ between the enthusiastic Caleb and the inquisitive cyborg, the first being very much centered on their fascination and curiosity towards each other, all the while being monitored by Nathan in a separate room. After the initial excitement expires, the conversations between the two becomes truly mesmeric, especially when it becomes apparent that Ava is very much conscious of what she is, the magnitude of her mental capacity, and the influence she has over Caleb. As these sessions progress, the challenging sci-fi is slowly traded for horror as the walls of Nathan’s confinement-style home gradually begin to cave in around Caleb. It becomes evident that there is more going on in this solitary facility than meets the eye. From this point onwards we are delivered a smart and sophisticated science fiction thriller, with every conversation and scene laced with tension, constantly building around the power play between the three central characters, stuck together in a claustrophobic environment, not sure whom to trust. All the while the tension and potential for violence is rapidly rising until, of course, it brims at the boil and the film reaches its unpredictable climax, and all truths are revealed. 

The film is very dialogue-driven, which puts large responsibility on the performances of its cast, however, I felt as though the cast in question were near perfect, as well as the written characters themselves. Oscar Isaac’s presentation of the bullish, egotistical, tech-mogul was delivered with confidence and expertise, with a lot of the tension rooted early on within the film, spawning from his character. His smile, deliberately duplicitous, and his mind always seemingly conspiratorial, along side his abrasive nature and obvious physicality. His boxing regime, partnered with his constant alcoholism and sharp temper fueled a constant sense of foreboding in every scene he was in. At first glance Gleeson’s Caleb comes across as Nathan’s polar opposite. He is formal, polite and pure, “a good kid with a moral compass.” But its more so once his connection with Ava develops that his character really takes shape, and Gleeson takes the challenge well. He manages to make the transition from Caleb’s early passive and innocuous character, to someone who is demanding, questioning and defiant whilst still maintaining the morality of the character that becomes important within the films final third. 

Lastly, Alicia Vikander brings a flawless performance as Ava. The Swedish born actress puts her ballerina training to good use as her every movement, every footstep and facial twitch seems to be delivered with pinpoint precision, not to mention her complete stillness at times. Her discipline within her role is superb and it’s difficult not to follow Caleb and find yourself fascinated by her. Engaging and captivating in her scenes, Vikander brings an element of humanity to her character, making us feel real emotions of sympathy, compassion and infatuation, which our vital to our engagement with the story. 

More impressive still is Alex Garland in his directorial debut. The intricacy of the story, and the precision in which it is told makes it feel as though Garland has been honing his craft for years. He is able to deliver a story that raises complicated philosophical questions on nature vs. nurture and the future of humanity, and, as the great Christopher Nolan has done in the past with films such as Interstellar (2014) and Inception (2010), he has managed to make them easily accessible and comprehensible whilst remaining utterly entertaining from the off. He seems to balance the meticulousness of Nolan’s work and the complexity of character and setting that almost feel Kubrickian, with his blend of low key naturalism and hi-tech stylization. Not to mention his ability to put the audience within the suspenseful drivers seat, through his use claustrophobic framing and lighting, as well as progressive soundtracks.  

The story continues science fiction cinemas experimentation with the notorious Frankenstein story, however adapting the seasoned tale to one that is sharper, darker, more thought provoking and ultra-contemporary. Despite searching endlessly for flaws I haven’t been able to find any, and am seldom left in complete awe of Garlands work. Ex Machina is a masterful science fiction thriller that draws fantastic performances from its three leads. A must watch.

9.0

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10 FILMS I'M LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS YEAR

Every New Year comes with new hopes and aspirations, resolutions, dreams and big plans… as well as a lengthy list of newly announced movies that are going to be released that year. I remember heading back to University in January 2012 with a long list of films that I needed to make sure I saw. It featured the likes of Django Unchained, Avengers Assemble, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Dark Knight Rises and Silver Linings Playbook. The list was long, and by December that year I had made a brand new one, and did it all over again.

This year promises to be no different, with some exciting things happening within the movie industry.  There is a fresh lineup of new material from big directors, continued franchises and under-the-radar independents all set for release. Let me introduce you to some of the big films that should be on your radar for this year...

 

JURASSIC WORLD

Dir. Colin Trevorrow. Starring Chris Pratt and Judy Greer.

I remember being introduced to the world of Dinosaurs through watching the first Jurassic Park film on video when I was five, and then again through The Lost World a few years later. I became obsessed with the world that this franchise presented to me, filling my room with posters, toys and books. When Jurassic World was announced, I was skeptical. The third film was enjoyable, but it didn't have the same classic edge of the first two, and I feared this film would be the same, just another money-making addition to the once great franchise. The trailer changed my mind. The trailer takes the magic of the original films and makes it bigger. The tag-line 'The Park Is Now Open' suggests that this is made for lovers of the original films and the down-tempo re-curation of the classic theme tune adds to that, provoking the idea that this film takes quite a sinister twist on the children's classic. Finger's crossed that it does just that. JUN 12.

 

THE HATEFUL EIGHT

Dir. Quentin Tarantino. Starring Channing Tatum and Samuel L. Jackson.

This is a film by Quentin Tarantino. And that is enough reason to be excited by it. The first time I watched a Tarantino movie was when my Dad sat me down to watch Pulp Fiction and it was like nothing I'd ever seen before. Although at one point this film was called off due to a leaked script, we've been lucky enough for it to be re-announced. The Western completes the “rewritten history” trilogy and features a plot that weaves racial tensions in post-Civil War Wyoming. So far this trilogy has provided us with Inglorious Bastards and Django Unchained, so I'm confident Tarantino won't disappoint with this closing episode. Despite the surprising casting of Channing Tatum... NOV 13.

SPECTRE

Dir. Sam Mendes. Starring Daniel Craig and Christoph Waltz.

Casino Royale remains one of my favourite action films to date, re-introducing one of Britain's most popular heroes of the genre. It maintained all of the franchises distinctive allures but modernised them, and Craig impressed with his sharper, rougher, grittier Bond. He worked his British charm once again with the acclaimed release of Skyfall in 2012 and I'm sure, with the talent of Christoph Waltz on board as his supposed adversary, we're onto another winner. Spectre refers to an ominous organisation that have a past with Bond and dark plans to destroy the MI5 for good. NOV 6.

TRUE STORY

Dir. Rupert Goold. Starring James Franco and Jonah Hill. 

Currently premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, True Story looks to be one of those rare indie films that bridges the Hollywood divide. The film stars Jonah Hill as a New York Times writer Michael Finkle, who suddenly comes to the knowledge that a Most Wanted List murderer Christian Longo (Franco) has been living out of the U.S. under his identity. The two develop an odd and disconcerting relationship that is set to spiral out of control as Longo's intentions become apparent. APR 10. 

THE REVENANT

Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.

The first thing I saw about this film was a twitter picture a friend of mine uploaded commenting on Leo's scruffy new look. He stars as Hugh Glass, a frontiersmen who enacts revenge on those who left him for dead after a bear mauling. Ah, that must explain the scruffy look. The film, so far, seems like a classic revenge tale, however, with Leo at the helm, alongside Tom Hardy, I'm sure this will be one to watch. TBC.

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

Dir. Joss Whedon. Starring Robert Downey Jnr, Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson.

Okay. Where do we begin with Avengers: Age of Ultron. The first instalment to this much anticipated super-hero team up was pulled off well, with some laugh out loud gags, incredible fight choreographies, and strong action/hero genre spectaculars. There were however, quite a few negatives too. The film was very light-hearted and it felt that the heroes were never really under much serious pressure from their adversary Loki. Through the trailer of Age of Ultron, it seems that problem has been resolved. The introduction of the antagonist, Ultron, was truly sinister and surprisingly chilling, especially alongside the slowed down and eerie rendition of 'I've Got No Strings' from Disney's Pinocchio. The worlds favourite super-hero team seem to have met there match, and with the plotline being kept under wraps, this film has me thirsty to find out more. MAY 1.

 

THE SEA OF TREES

Dir. Gus Van Sant. Starring Matthew McConaughey and Naomi Watts.

Not too much light has been shed on this film as of yet. The title takes its name from a notorious suicide forest in Japan called Aokigahara. The Sea of Trees tells the story of an American looking to end his life, until he runs into a Japanese man, also in Aokigahara. The two form an unlikely bond and work to find their way out. The plot is intriguing, and with McConaughey's recent stand out performances with the likes of Dallas Buyers Club, Intersteller and True Detective it seems his acting potential is heading in a very good direction. I'm hoping for the film to be an intimate depiction of human vulnerability through a two-man cast with strong performances and a well-written script.  TBC.

PARTISAN

Dir. Ariel Kleiman. Starring Vincent Kassel and Jeremy Chabriel. 

When I first read of this film, I immediately rekindled with my appreciation for both Leon (1994) and Emperor of the Sun (1987). Both films feature young and brilliant characters that are living in very violent worlds, and through Kleinman's story we are re-introduced to that narrative, through Alexander. Playful, curious and naive, just like every other kid. Except he is also a trained assassin. Raised in a hidden paradise, Alexander has grown up seeing the world filtered through his father, Gregori. Vincent Cassell always delivers performances of an epic scale and I have enjoyed his work since first seeing him in the incredible French film La Haine. The film received a lot of positive hype at the recent Sundance Film Festival. JAN 25

MIDNIGHT SPECIAL

Dir. Jeff Nichols. Starring Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Joel Edgerton.

Midnight Special is an upcoming american science fiction film which was written and directed by Jeff Nichols. With Mud, Shotgun Stories and Take Shelterunder his belt, Nichols is being renowed as one of most promising and exciting new directors in Hollywood. More so though it's the unconventional plot that appealed to me, and the mystery around it. The film seems to follow similar tones of the chase film, which we've seen in No Country For Old Men and Catch Me If You Can, a popular genre of action films. The twist comes with the films sci-fi elements, as the plot is centered around a young boy who finds out his is supernaturally gifted and suddenly, being hunted. Along with the interesting story-line, the film is graced with performances from Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton who in recent years have really impressed. NOV 25.

STAR WARS: EPISODE VII - THE FORCE AWAKENS

Dir. J. J. Abrams. Starring Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher.

As usual, Abrams has kept this film very quiet. Which, as usual, has got the world talking about it. Regardless, this is the seventh instalment to one of the most epic franchises in film history. We don't know much, but what we do know is that the saga's original heroes are back on board, that the film is set 30-or-so years after the Return of the Jedi, and that there is a new line of Sith who are entering the field of play. And they have a cool new lightsaber. Widely considered as the most anticipated film of the year. Stay tuned for updates on this film throughout the year. DEC 18.

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THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING - FILM REVIEW

Directed by James Mirch. Starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones.

Imagine being at the peak of your education. Imagine falling head over heels in love. Imagine being on the midst of greatness, endless possibilities ahead of you, then suddenly being told you have but two years left to live. 

Professor Stephen Hawking is one of the most famous and remarkable scientists of our time, and his tale is a miraculous one, full of hardship, love, perseverance and hope. James Marsh’s biopic about the Cambridge cosmologists tells the story in fine fashion, honouring the achievements of this great scientist, professional and personal. The film stars Eddie Redmayne (Les Miserables, My Week With Marilyn) as our renowned lead, and Felicity Jones (Like Crazy) as Jane Hawking. 

It is through Jane that we are given this charming version of Hawking’s trials and accomplishments, as the script by Anthony McCarten is adapted from her own memoir, Travelling To Infinity: My Life With Stephen. The candid account she delivers us is what provides the film with so much heart and relatability, and is also why love is such a prominent theme throughout. 

We are presented Hawking in his early twenties, as an awkward, jaunty doctoral student in 1963 Cambridge. In the opening scene of the film, he apprehensively introduces himself to a young Jane Wilde, a friendly soul preparing for a PhD in medieval poetry. They bond over their shared intellectual curiosity, and flirt about matters of religion and science, and as the night begins to die, a romance blossoms. Before long she has met his family, and accepted his invitation to the May ball, where the unlikely pair share their first kiss under the stars. Alas, as young Hawking’s life takes shape, being the top of his class and on the verge of scientific greatness, not to mention falling in love, the world around him suddenly comes crashing down as he plummets, crumpled and prone, onto Trinity Hall’s flagstones.

His formidable sickness strikes hard. The diagnosis: motor neurone disease, meaning his muscles will progressively waste and he most likely has only a couple of years to live. When Hawking asks whether his brain will still function, in a desperate plea for something positive, the doctor replies – oh yes, except no one will know what you’re thinking. Although Hawking seemingly gives up on himself, Jane battles his stubbornness fiercely, instilling a sense of hope, which in turn, sparks the determination and perseverance that Hawking is now renowned for. Accordingly, we are able to marvel at his personal and professional successes, which run in parallel to his physical decline.

This is where the films greatest strengths become most apparent, as Redmayne’s character takes on his fierce physical regression that demands great dedication from the young actor. However, this is certainly a triumph for Redmayne, who is completely convincing in his physicality, and credible in his pain and struggle. But most of all, what I found most compelling about his performance, is how the actor expresses Stephen’s infectious personality (his jocularity, his aloofness, his stubbornness) so effectively, regardless of the physical state of the character. This is reflected through his tears when he and Jane silently recognize that their half a lifetime of love has come to an end, and as they mourn it, the scene hits home.

Beside him is Jones, who depicts a woman who dedicates so much to helping Hawking battle his disease, whilst raising three children and still trying to live her own life. The role demands tremendous emotion and grace, which Jones delivers naturally, especially in her personal battle of love vs. responsibility that comes near the end of her relationship with Hawking, through her growing feelings towards kind choirmaster, Jonathan. 

Addtionally, Benoît Delhomme’s cinematography is an imaginative and visually glorious feat, giving us the ultraviolet glow of a Cambridge May ball, the cosmic swirl of cream in a coffee cup. Not to mention the first-person perspective of the radiant fireplace through a hole in Hawking’s knitwear, that inspired one of his greatest breakthroughs.  In partnership with Marsh, Delhomme captures a certain sequence in the style of old-fashioned home recordings, while others are given a more traditional and polished cinematic look that impress without distracting from the story. 

Despite these admirations, it seems as though the film detracts away from Hawking’s point of view once the film begins to focus closely on Jane’s personal battles and inner heartaches. The film presents a close and rather sincere insight into the relationship between Hawking and his wife, yet at times it feels sanitized, and somewhat undramatic, given the circumstances. Did they never fight? Or disagree? Most of their dissimilarities are expressed in a polite spirit of wholly academic debate, or through silence. Furthermore, the film concentrates closely on its themes of love and romance, which at times draws away from Hawking’s personal trials, leaving some questions unanswered. Was he ever completely lost? Did he ever lose hope? How did he feel when Jane was slipping away from him?

Overall, the film delivers masterful performances that pull hard on the heartstrings of the viewer. Marsh provides us with a story thatworks best as a study of human vulnerability and love's way with us all, and as such, a handsomely mounted, slightly hollow picture by the end becomes a very affecting one. The Theory of Everything is inspiring, honest and moving. Brilliantly worded by The Guardians Catherine Shaord, it is ‘a universal story, extracted from a unique one.’  

8.0

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