Arts & Culture: David Bowie Is

Unless you’ve been living in complete isolation for the past few months you will have invariably heard the hype surrounding the new David Bowie Is exhibition at the V&A. You may well be thinking that it couldn’t possibly live up to the media’s expectations and scoffing at your friends and family clamouring to buy tickets. Well then, you would be wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. It’s the best thing they’ve curated in years and more than justifies the frenzy surrounding it.

I pretty much leaped out of my chair when offered the chance to go and see this and walked around the exhibition with a big fat grin on my face from start to finish. It’s honestly that good.

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I know no one who dislikes David Bowie. His music seems to transcend boundaries and add an uncannily celebratory power when played. The end credit sequence of Lars Von Trier’s Dogville; Young Americans played over images of Depression-era families and children is so powerful with or without the context of the film it gives me goosebumps every time. And what kind of person didn’t kind of fancy the Goblin King in Labyrinth? I mean, come on now.

But I digress…

It would be impossible to categorise ‘David Bowie Is’ as simply an exhibition of music memorabilia, it is so much more. Part fashion retrospective, part art installation, it tracks a journey from small town anonymity to all-encompassing, boundless expression, floating through space and back again, through drug hazes, ludicrous outfits to piercing, stripped-down clarity. Sure, I’m gushing a tad, but rightly so. The curators have included every conceivable variety of memorabilia, from scrawled lyrics on cigarette packs to some of his most iconic images.

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This exhibition is fantastic in so many ways, a beautiful multimedia celebration of a career so varied and intertwined with popular and niche culture. Every facet of Bowie’s ever-changing image and artistic intention is lovingly explored through a mixture of photography, video installation, literature and, of course, costume. It chronologically charts his progress through varying sounds and identities yet still allows him to remain enigmatic.

I was half expecting him to be roaming round the galleries himself, disguised and slipping unnoticed around the journalists and bloggers. Alas, he wasn’t.

The breadth of Bowie’s immersion in and influence on culture is astounding and thought-provoking. Unlike the majority of today’s crop of “out there” performers, Bowie put a great deal of consideration into his influences, twisting them into something new rather than simply referencing. The exhibition pays special attention to the influence of the work of J.G Ballard, George Orwell and Stanley Kubrick on his music and image, with key pieces of their work positioned in the context of Bowie’s vision. The hollow, savage worlds of Ballard are dangerous yet fascinating, referencing the strange beauty of huge abandoned swimming pools and high-rises while emphasising aggressive sexuality in the smallest of facial curvature, magnified beyond all recognition, as in The Atrocity Exhibition. The exploration of inner space brought out by these works fascinated Bowie and allowed him to construct new identities, new worlds for his music to play in. He invites transformation and expression in himself and his fans, an aspect the exhibition pays homage to.

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His lavish and iconic costumes populate the space on thin white mannequins; of particular interest are an Alexander McQueen tyre track printed suit and the extravagant shapes and textures of  Kansai Yamamoto’s all in ones. There is such a kaleidoscope of colour and effect in these pieces it’s quite difficult to absorb all at once, but the curation places them in the context of transformation and evolution, it all somehow makes sense. For me the most impressive part of the collection is the huge video installation in the central room, thirty foot high translucent screens with concert footage projected, speakers cranked to the hilt. Completely immersive and awe-inspiring, it is an experience that will stick with me for a good long while.

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Whether or not you’re into David Bowie you can’t deny the effect he has had on music, fashion and the way we express ourselves. The exhibition is truly comprehensive, and regardless of if you view him as a highly skilled plagiarist (no) or a trailblazer who was / is way ahead of his time (yes!) it’s well worth spending a good few hours in.

The exhibition opens on the 23rd, as far as I know tickets are selling fast so get in there swiftly…

For more photos check out my Pinterest board at http://pinterest.com/nadiaramoul/david-bowie-is-press-viewing/

@NadiaReads

Music: Sabrina Altan

There are rumblings afoot in the bars of Brighton that one of their best-kept secrets is about to explode all over everyone’s face whether they like it or not. Sabrina Altan is a singer songwriter with an impressive voice that gives vent to frustration and heartache without beating you over the head with it. She’s got a fresh clutch of songs available to listen to on her new website, and I think they’re pretty goshdarn good.

Originally from the glamorous climes of Loughton, Essex, Sabrina bid a not-too tearful farewell and developed her own unique sound through constantly writing, recording and performing in her adoptive home.

It could be said that Sabrina has her fingers in musical pies of many flavours. Recently she has been touring with Karl Phillips and the Midnight Ramblers providing some soaring dance vocals for their track ‘Dangerous’ on sold-out gigs around the UK, playing the odd solo jazz gig and performing with her new all-girl group. Her own style is a mixture of jazz and soul with a bits of Pixies-ish edge thrown in for good measure. Oh yes.

Before the launch of her site we had a brief natter:

How would you describe the sound of your new tracks?
The ‘sound’ of them? Like a pissed off Turkish essex girl. Who loves R&B/Soul and everything in between.

What would you say your main influences are?
Well I learnt how to sing to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and The Writing’s On The Wall by Destiny’s Child so I’d say they were the biggies. What inspires me to write is annoyance and a need to express it. I like creating something pleasurable to listen to and I feel like I’ve done that with these recordings.

How has it been touring with Karl Phillips and co..?
Uhhhhhhhh. Interesting. Between the incessant banter, swearing on air, stage ceiling destroying, and endless boozy nights it’s been cool! I love those boys and playing with them is a blast. I get to party whilst they play then perform to an electrified audience; best of both worlds really.

And lastly, what are your hopes for your career?
My hopes for the future are to spread my groovy rage far and wide. There’s so much dance music around at the moment, and don’t get me wrong I love a good boogie but sometimes I just feel like we need to chill out!

Music: Kyla La Grange

I  first came across the haunting sounds of Kyla La Grange last month, when I caught her single release show at the Hoxton Bar and Kitchen. The East London venue had been transformed into a magical overgrown world filled with jewelled vines and hanging skulls, a hint of the ethereal and enchanting world of Kyla that we were about to experience.

“I just really enjoy creating my own little world onstage,” she explains. “My favourite way to perform is when you sort of lose yourself onstage, creating an atmosphere around me helps with that. Also I think it makes it a bit more special for the audience – they also feel a bit transported hopefully. I love tree and plant imagery. My Dad’s photographs that I use for my record sleeves are all of bodies in trees, and the house I grew up in is full of overgrown plants and strange objects that my parents have hoarded over the years. It feels like a part of me.”

Kyla describes her sound as a “sort of sad choral melodrama” and her debut single Walk Through Walls is a wonderfully euphoric track that, at first, can’t help but remind the listener of early Florence and the Machine but then moves into a rockier sound. Does it bother her that people keep making these comparisons? “Comparisons to talented musicians that you admire are always very flattering,” she says. “I don’t always see the similarities, but still! It’s nice. It doesn’t bother me at all to be compared to acts that have come before me. That’s what everyone does, in all spheres of art. It is interesting to compare what’s gone before with what’s just arrived. It’s just a part of how we talk about music.”

 

Kyla grew up in Watford before attending Cambridge University to study Philosophy, which may go some way to explaining her deep lyricism.  “I definitely never thought I would get the chance to go to Cambridge,” she says. “I went to a normal state school and lived in a boring bars and clubs sort of area. I think Watford shaped me as a musician insofar as I didn’t really feel like I belonged there, so I enjoyed being creative on my own rather than going out much, and Cambridge shaped me because it was where I first plucked up the courage to perform my own songs.”

Having already received significant attention on the blogosphere, is she wary of the over-hyping of new artists? “I suppose I am wary of ‘hyping’ artists too much, because then if people don’t like them they tend to be quite cruel and mean and write about it,” she explains. “People love to reject the general consensus, or what they see as the mainstream. But to be honest, I really feel like if your songs are good enough, and they manage to connect, then the opinion of the blogosphere, whether negative or positive, shouldn’t matter.”

Music: Death From Above 1979 play HMV Forum

So here it is, folks. After almost a decade of lying dormant the legendary Death From Above 1979 have resurrected themselves like super cool bearded zombies from their self-imposed grave.

Rare is the band who can produce one solitary album many moons ago yet still command such respect and anticipation. It’s been a long wait, and with no new material to speak of, it is a triumph that the Kentish Town Forum (or as it is now known, the HMV Forum) is packed out for two consecutive nights.

Following the limited run of E.P ‘Head‘s Up’, debut album ‘You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine’ is a strange beast. With only ten tracks and a modest running time, it did all it needed to. Deceptively simple, just two instruments creating an almighty racket of the rawest basslines and most vicious beats around.

DFA1979 left their mark on the alternative scene then vanished without a trace, citing musical differences before popping up again in various side projects. The announcement of a reformation, playing just ten dates around the world, sparked a ticket buying frenzy among those hungry for a bit of dance-punk nostalgia, and wow, judging by the crowd, nostalgic it was indeed.

Tighter than tight jeans and artfully scruffy beards crammed into the Forum, contending with overly aggressive Agent Smith-like security guards and confusing ticket allocation. Those of us relegated to the seated balcony looked down with anguish and envy at those standing, while the burly security kept their sharp eyes peeled for any escapees daring to make a break for it and dash into the crowd.

Like a bad prison break movie, the guards were joyless and stern. ‘Surely,’ one would think, in these ever-changing times, ‘Bin Laden has been caught! He’s not hiding out at a North London venue evading titanium-jawed sniffer dogs and American rage here, chill out you guys..’ Their thinly veiled contempt for the crowd was certainly jarring.

The support, Young Legionnaire, were instantly forgettable, the odd tune sticking out at the time, but overall an uninteresting prospect – a shock considering the (semi) all-star lineup of Automatic and Bloc Party members. But it is a pretty tall order to impress a crowd so intently focused on enjoying the headliners. The sound was controlled and clear, but Paul Mullen’s rockstar posturing was irritating at best, his voice as shrill and yelpy as in his Automatic days.

The crowd surges forward as DFA1979 appear on stage. Dressed all in white much like a Clockwork Orange droog, Sebastien Grainger beat his drums senseless through opener ‘Turn It Out,’ while the more diminutive Jesse Keeler stood head down, beard on, focus entirely on his bass. For just two guys they make a riotously huge sound, continuously thudding as little circle pits formed then dispersed in the crowd.

Despite the sound occasionally wandering into fuzzy incoherence, they powered through a speedy set of pretty much every track ever released, with the sad exception of ‘Sexy Results’. “Most bands’ discography would take all night. Ours takes less than an hour!”, Grainger proclaimed to the grateful crowd. Each song was greeted like a long lost, smelly but well-loved friend, even lesser known EP tracks receiving rapturous admiration. Time hasn’t dampened DFA1979’s spirits in the slightest, their energy and sense of fun as great as back in the day at the Mean Fiddler.

Crowd interaction was pretty minimal, though Grainger found time to joke about the royal wedding (“I hear some guy got married?”). But no matter, they could have run through ‘Black History Month’ several times before anyone got bored of hearing it. DFA1979 played like their lives depended on it – a chugging, thudding set that refused to let up, making the cavernous Forum seem like a flimsy shack as tribal beats and massive walls of distorted bass echoed around the building’s structure.

Closing the main set on ‘Romantic Rights’ and ‘Do It!’ was a wise move. Crowd surfers threw themselves with reckless abandon over the barriers and into the enraged arms of waiting security while the band extended the songs with extra synth and a bizarre little dance. Lovely.

Watch DFA1979 live at the HMV Forum on Song Kick

Image from Clash Music