World Oceans Day

This Friday (8th June) is World Oceans Day  which brings people from around the planet together celebrate and honor the sea. I believe the sea is a fascinating place pivotal to maintaining a healthy planet, however sadly governments, individuals and companies around the world are ruthlessly exploiting it. For me the sea played integral part in the birth of my green conscience and me becoming the environmentalist I am today.

The story of birth of my green conscience goes like this. At the start of 2008 like many lucky young people in their early 20’s I left the comfort of my parents home to backpack around Australia and Asia. Having studied at university in London whilst living at home, it would be fair to say my life experience to this point fairly limited.  So off I went with no real plan and like many people I spent my money quickly and perhaps didn’t do as many cultural activities as I initially anticipated doing when I set off. And so it goes.

Something I did discover during my time in Australia and Thailand was scuba diving. From the moment of my first dive on the Whitsundays islands the beauty of the coral reefs and the multicolored fish overwhelmed me. I was also overwhelmed by seasickness and spent much time at the end of the boat with the other ‘sickies’.  When I got to Thailand I ended up doing my PADI diving license at a small diving school on Ko Tao. I was on my own with my instructor and got to really explore lots of amazing caves and corals, I remember being truly blown away by the beauty and bio diversity of the reefs.

A year later I found myself spending 3 weeks travelling Vietnam with friends, at this point I still had a HUGE carbon footprint. Since getting back from travelling a year earlier I had spent lots of time reading and watching countless documentaries about the environment. As part of our trip I planned to go diving and when we got to Nha Trang I did just that. Again I was overwhelmed not by the beautiful fish and wonderful caves but the masses of coral turned white. When the sea gets too warm the intracelluer endosymbionts know as zooxanthellae leave the coral and the alga that live in the coral reefs and give it life, get up and kind of say; “this sucks we are out of here”. The coral then dies and then the fish leave. What once was beautiful is no longer.

After the dive I remember feeling physically sick by what I had seen. And when we got back to the dive school I started quizzing the dive master about what had caused this.  He told me about how due to climate change the sea temperature to rising every year. For me nothing was ever the same from that moment my green conscience was awoken.

Fast forward to 2012 and our oceans are in greater danger than ever before, lack of global action on tackling climate change, overfishing and hunting of apex predators means the future of our oceans are incredibly uncertain. With the Arctic ice melting the governments of Norway, Russia and the US are eyeing up fishing in the newly thawed out water in the Artic (I am not joking).

The organiser’s of World Oceans Day are asking people to make a pledge to help our oceans. So I have decided that after 20 months of not eating meat I am finally going to give up fish and go fully vegetarian. Check out how to make your own pledge by visiting http://worldoceansday.org/

 

 

My little drawing and this article was partly inspired by Canadian environmental artist Franke James and her book Bothered by my green conscience, I really can’t recommend it enough.

Blog: Welcome to Dave’s World

Gary Barlow in new M&S advert


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Ok, I get it we’re having the Olympics and Queen’s Jubilee but enough is enough, something needs to be said. A straw has most definitely broken this camel’s back.  What did it? Although close it wasn’t Cameron and Miliband’s 10 minute speeches telling their anecdotes of the Queen in parliament (by the way, well done on those energy saving light bulbs at Buckingham Palace Ed, that’s climate change sorted), but two nemeses from my youth; Gary Barlow and Jamie Redknapp in the new M&S advert.

This latest attempt by the giant retailer had me retching into my union jack tea mug long before the final scene. It seems M&S have been co-oped into the Tories plan to distract with a series of events desperately trying to convince us Great Britain is wonderful. We had the royal wedding, now the Olympics and Queens Jubilee. Forget the fact there are over a million young people unemployed and a NHS in ruins. We can all wave union jacks, eat strawberries and row our little boats down the stream. It’s all going to be ok, we’re in what I am going to call Dave’s world.

Let me explain, the advert starts off with a rendition of the Beatles track ‘Here Comes the Sun’. I love the Beatles but already I was feeling uneasy, working class hero George Harrison being used to pedal carrot sticks to the Daily Mail reading masses, surely not.

Then enters Twiggy carrying cupcakes topped with union jacks. I get it you’re all British.  Or am I watching an election broadcast for the BNP? The guests aren’t exactly representative of the nation. Oh, I forgot we are in Dave’s world.

The grandpa figure then turns on an old TV made circa 1980’s, displaying guess what, more union jacks, and I really hate to be technical here but since the digital switch over I don’t think that big aerial on top would be picking up much signal.

This outrage continues…  Enter enters Redknapp still wearing rather tight white trousers perhaps from the infamous 1994 FA Cup final suit and a polo shirt buttoned up to the top. He clearly is taking fashion tips from the Only Way Is Essex. Then because this is Dave’s world, we move on to tennis. We know the PM likes a game with his deputy Clegg, which got me thinking my friends and I could play tennis, then I remembered in London it’s amazing to live anywhere slightly a step up from a shoebox, I guess that idea won’t be happening then.

By this point I am desperate for this hellish advert to end before Nick Griffin jumps out of a Union Jack birthday cake. But there is a final twist, throughout the advert the soundtrack  ‘Here Comes the Sun’ hasn’t felt quite right. It’s nagged at me, I should have joined the dots earlier. Of course singing away, there was Cameron’s henchman Gary Barlow. Not resting on his laurels after urging the public to vote for the Tories at the last election and witnessing the destruction of the NHS and mass unemployment, Gary want’s to pedal more crap your way. The message goes something like this; “eat strawberries, cupcakes and drape yourself in union jacks and throw a party and you to can be one to be one of Dave and Gary’s gang”. Personally I would rather stick my head in the nearest incinerator.

So please don’t invite me to your jubilee party, I will be busy reading the Guardian and drinking organic coffee. Firmly living in the real world.

Society: Fracking Disaster

 


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Loyal readers of this blog may remember that last July I warned of readers about a dangerous new type of gas extraction called Shale Gas better known as fracking.

For new comers to this subject, last year, Sebastian Doggart summed up Fracking in an article for the Telegraph as, “Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves blasting huge amounts of water, mixed with sand and often toxic chemicals, to break up shale formations thousands of feet under the earth, to release natural gas”.

On Tuesday the 17th April a second report,commissioned by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) was released into the earthquakes caused by the first attempts at fracking in Blackpool last year.  The report gave no assurances that no further earthquakes will be experienced.

The reports focus on seismic activity, although pretty damming, draws attention away from some of the more dangerous side effects on fracking. These include widespread contamination of drinking water, as has been experienced in the US and increased levels of air pollution, which is something we can ill afford, with air pollution levels in London responsible for 4000 deaths a year. And most crucially fracking is a carbon intensive method of energy creation and will accelerate the pathway towards climate change.

Elsie Walker, a Frack Off activist, today said; “The scale of development proposed is being completely ignored. Cuadrilla want to drill 800 wells in Lancashire alone. They are one company going after one type of gas. There are several companies going after several types of unconventional gas in the UK and all potentially on a similar scale to Cuadrilla. If we allow this to happen, we will witness the total industrialisation of the British countryside and the destruction of the ecosystems we rely on for our survival. We cannot allow this to happen”.

Green groups including Friends of the Earth, WWF and the Green Party have been quick to condem the resumption of fracking activities. And rightly so. In my opinion we are blessed with great natural assets of wind and the sea and we should be investing heavily in hydro and wind power. Not pumping a multitude of chemicals into the ground, deregulating environmental laws and hoping for the best.

In the below extract Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas perfectly summed up the danger posed by fracking; “If carbon capture and storage technology is not in place, burning just 20% of the gas which Cuadrilla claims to have found in its licence area in Lancashire would generate 15% of UK’s total CO2 budget to 2050”.

As I write this we are experiencing the worst drought in the UK since 1976. Climate change is real and is happening in the UK. Energy suppliers and the government need to focus on investment in renewables not hard to reach fossil fuels with a dangerous reputation. It’s late in the day in the battle to tackle climate change and we cannot afford any more mistakes.

For more information read this press release issued by activist group Frack Off.

Style: McQ AW12

While the menswear at McQ AW12 was beautifully tailored, this collection was really all about the girls. Taking the label’s dark romantic heritage as a starting point, Creative Director Sarah Burton invited us into her stunning winter fairy tale vision. As the models crunched over golden leaves, we were presented with a collection that started with severe military outerwear and progressed through embroidered velvet skirts and dresses to the grand finale of tulle ballgowns.

This was the first time the McQueen label has shown in its hometown and the first ever catwalk show for the diffusion line McQ. Still riding high from an amazing 2011, Burton showed us a brand that is confident and strong; in keeping with its heritage, but looking to the future. Only six years old, McQ is their affordable line but the stunning detailing in embroidery and embellishment, and precise cutting showed that affordable can still be luxury.

The New Look shaping in the ballgowns showed a significant departure from last season’s main line collection, which was more architectural. This season was all about  exploring the balance between hard and soft femininity. The last two looks were matching black and white tulle ballgowns with lace overlay in winter florals and brought to mind the evil sorceress and the princess from a fairy tale. As the last model, Kristen McMenamy, made her way back, she grabbed a rope from under the leaves and followed it to a little hut in an illuminated forest at the back of the runway. Was this the woodcutters shed? As she left, we heard dance music coming from backstage. At McQ the happy ending wouldn’t be complete without a good party.

All pictures from Style.com

Style: New Fashion Interventions in Materials and Techniques

New Fashion: Interventions in Materials and Techniques is the newest exhibition at the Fashion Space galleries at the London College of Fashion. This is the first in a series of three exhibits; starting with fashion design, then moving on to illustration and finally photography.

New Fashion explores how eight fresh designer labels are pushing boundaries in how they create contemporary womenswear, with garments chosen from both graduate and recent collections. It is interesting to see how the exhibition has been put up; it’s divided into four categories (emotion, tradition, form and forward thinking) instead of having them presented per designer.

Una Burke

I would say the by far most interesting piece at New Fashion is by Una Burke. Being leather and studs, and very much restrictive in how they are worn, they can almost remind a bit of S&M. They are the only two pieces under the category emotion. Burke had one piece called ‘Praying arm’, which certainly made me think twice, as at a first glance the first word to pop into my mind was a straightjacket. Beautiful non-the-less.

One label I can’t go without mentioning is Fyodor Golan, who won this years Fashion Fringe award. They had two outfits on show, one of which was a beautifully crafted embossed leather dress. Even though made of such a harsh material it looked elegant, sleek, and even feminine.

Fydor Golan

The same terminology can be used to describe both of Nicola Morgan’s dresses, both of which were an eyesight made out of silk jersey in deep red and black.

Nicola Morgan

Nicola Morgan

Derek Lawlor (main image above) also had two pieces showcased; one from his graduate collection from Central St. Martins, the other one from his A/W ’10 collection. He said he really enjoyed being involved in the exhibit, him being an UAL student himself. For him the garments showcased were all about pushing his technical skills, and further developing what he did through his masters. Lawlor specializes in knitwear, adding wax cord to his knit to make loops and patters, which results in a very curious 3D effect.

Derek Lawlor

Derek Lawlor

The turn up for the opening was great, the gallery stayed packed with people until it closed, and to end with the words of Leanne Wiarzba, one of the curators, ‘you shouldn’t expect anything less with such incredible talented designers.’

Music: Arrows Of Love

Flannel shirts, Alice in Chains, Love Buzz – no this wasn’t one of my grunge wet dreams, this actually happened. Nirvana, Live Tonight was playing on the TV screen and post it notes with song requests adorned the wall. It seemed Soundgarden, Mudhoney and L7 were the flavour of the day. Touch Me I Am Sick had arrived at the Victoria in Dalston and there wasn’t a synth in sight.

Headlining the evening were the Arrows of Love. I was definitely intrigued by this band as they definitely had the look down, but the real question was, could they play? I quickly discovered the answer was yes,. Arrows of Love had adopted the soft/loud model pioneered by the Pixies 25 years earlier and constantly changed tempo, keeping the audience on edge.

The lead guitar work was exhilarating throughout, cutting through the power verses without dominating the tempo of the songs. At times the bass was used as like a lead guitar reminiscent of long forgotten grunge band Failure’s album Magnified. And above all, it was really noisy; the lead vocals however probably owe more to Julian Casablancas than Kurt Cobain. By the end of the gig the crowd of mid twenties grungers were bobbing around furiously.

In true grunge tradition the band attempted a bit kit destruction set which saw the lead guitarist in with the crowd throwing around his guitar. It certainly sounded and looked impressive. The band exited the venue with their instruments still ringing, although the guitar lying on the floor looked like it would live to play another day.  On writing this article I discovered Shellac’s Bob Weston will be mixing their upcoming album and I have to say I can’t wait to hear it.

 

Society: Why The Occupy Movement Matters

Every morning in my pre-work slumber, I do what every twenty something surely does and I listen BBC 4’s the Today Show. I have to admit it had all become a rather depressing.  Whether it was Nick Clegg, trying to convince us he isn’t a Tory or hearing how Greece needs to impose a unhealthy dose of IMF economic shock medicine, it seems not even my sugary weetabix can make me feel better.

But recently my mornings have become a bit brighter, the reason being the global Occupy movement. Since the first protesters set up camp on Wall Street, the movement has spread to 1500 cities across the globe. Their political slogan We are the 99% has spread around the world capturing the imagination of people from all walks of life and from all over the world.

In the UK politicians such as Louise Mensch have been quick to scorn the protesters for drinking Starbucks or using Apple Macs. Her argument of ‘how can you be against capitalism then take everything it provides’, is in my opinion ridiculous. Capitalism is the system we currently, for better or worse, live under. The Occupy movement isn’t advocating  that we get rid of all financial transactions and move into the nearest cave. This week Occupy London put their demands forward to the City of London.  The demands have been created with the aim of creating a fairer society and call for increased transparency and removal of the special powers that businesses have to vote in elections.

If the occupy movement which pledges to no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%, can harness the sprit and talents of the local communities to produce democratically created demands like those made to the City of London, we will end up with a fairer and more equal society and that can only be a good thing.

What is clear is that the last 30 years of neo liberalism has pushed society to the brink. The world is in a desperate state with the vast majority of western economies grossly indebted. Inflation is soaring and unemployment, especially for young people, is at staggering levels. Oh and for anyone reading this thinking let’s raise some income by a healthy dose of privatisation, the news is there is nothing left to privatise – that gravy train has passed.

Politically the tide has started to shift against “predator capitalism”, a term both Ed Miliband and David Cameron are desperate to take ownership of (apparently it polls well). For me Occupy represents the beginning of the end for neo liberalism. The Arab spring has inspired the occupy movement and throughout the world people are now starting to believe we can stand up to uncontrolled greed from businesses and individuals. Around the world people are realising that they are not alone in wanting something different for themselves and for future generations. For too long the interests of big business have been thrust upon the electorate. It has left us as a society battered and bruised but the fight back has started and any business or politician that chooses to ignore this changing of the tide is in for a surprise.

Tomorrow because of the occupy movement I will wake up with hope and perhaps one day I will no longer need the morning sugar on the weetabix to get me through the day.

Arts & Culture: Figures & Fictions at the V&A

'Babalwa', (from the series Real Beauty), Jodi Bieber, 2008. Courtesy of the artist and Goodman Gallery

It seems like a cliché, or a dreadful pun, to say that a medium which began in black and white might offer a particularly clear window into a country in which, more than any other in the world, a preoccupation with colour has poisoned social relations.

Recalling her childhood in Cape Town, the curator of Figures & Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography, Tamar Garb, observed that “one’s way of negotiating the place was over determined by the social and political structures that taught you who you could talk to, how you could talk to people, how you could behave.” In this profoundly disturbing, disturbed society, photography offered the possibility that the social, cultural and moral distortions of Apartheid could be exposed by a documentary art form that could bring those contradictions right into the viewer’s face.

In South Africa, Garb argues, photographers have traditionally used three distinct modes of representation to tell the story of the place. One of these, dominant during the middle of the twentieth century, is the documentary mode described above. Another is the tradition of portraiture – I have a photo of my great-great-great-grandfather shot in a studio in Cape Town at the turn of the last century that can attest to the long roots of this genre. The third is the ethnographic, which collected and catalogued people, particularly non-whites, as nothing more than types, exemplars, specimens; almost an extension of the flora and fauna, Garb argues.

Having begun to think about the richness of contemporary South African photography after curating a show on contemporary art in London in 2007, Garb approached the V & A with the idea of putting on an exhibition which could challenge the dominance of these three modes, and show the subtleties and richness of contemporary photography in South Africa. She has succeeded in unearthing a number of photographers who are well aware of the role of these three traditions and capable of exposing the ironies and contradictions in South Africa’s photographic heritage.

'Blitz Maaneveld', David Goldblatt, 2008. Courtesy of the artist and Goodman Gallery

Roelof Petrus van Wyk deliberately subverts the ethnographic tradition with his series of pictures of Afrikaners – including Yolandi Vi$$er of Die Antwoord – who are depicted as though being subjected to examination or to measurement in a series of profiles and headshots. He thus parodies the fascination of ethnographers with native South Africans by his portrayal of twenty first century members of Africa’s only white tribe. Pieter Hugo and Jo Ratcliffe produce interesting reflections on the rest of Africa, and of the influence of their home country throughout the continent. Ratcliffe’s Angolan landscapes reflect on the aftermath of South Africa’s ‘Border War’ in the 70s and 80s, while Hugo depicts a worker at a toxic waste dump in Ghana with the words ‘Sun City’ (a gambling resort near Johannesburg) on his t-shirt.

A number of the works are deeply introspective, personal and sometimes ambiguous. Santu Mofokeng’s portraits, including of his HIV-positive brother, raise the spectre of human mortality, while Berni Searle’s work clearly reveals her background in sculpture, installation and video.

Graeme Williams’ work is the highlight of the exhibition for me (and I haven’t even mentioned David Goldblatt, easily the most famous photographer in the show). Seeking to move beyond the documentary tradition and capture a mood rather than an event, Williams shot street scenes that were deliberately confusing and difficult to interpret. “I wanted viewers to be slightly unsure of what was going on in each photograph, and this reflects how I felt about change in South Africa at the time,” he said in an interview with Garb.

Zwelethu Mthethwa’s photographs of young Zulu men dressed in ceremonial clothes remove them from their ceremonial context, placing them alone or in small groups in the landscape. This highlights the individuality of the subject and probably reduces the likelihood that the London audience will assume that they have seen this before, as perhaps they might if presented with a more familiar portrayal of Zulu ritual. The exhibition challenges our expectations of what South African photography should look like, and is the stronger for it. (For example, there are no pictures of rich white people walking past beggars with a just-in-focus Coca-Cola ad in the background, or of black men selling ice cream to white sunbathers on Camps Bay beach.)

Indeed, the viewer’s expectations are the elephant in the room. Sometimes it feels like the photographers have tried too hard to challenge these, as in a number of portraits of LGBT South Africans. The act of challenging conventions can sometimes in itself become a cliché. However, it’s important not to overstate this objection, and in general the quality of the work is consistently high.

South Africa is an endlessly fascinating place; troubled, poor in a lot of ways, but rich in lots of others. It’s also incredibly diverse, (much more than most people in Britain probably realise), and in this sense at least is probably more comparable with, say, Brazil than with Zimbabwe. I began this article by talking about black and white; well, you should see what people can do with colour film nowadays.

Figures & Fictions is on until 17 July at the V&A museum
www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/figures-fictions/about/

Society: ITV’s Strangeways

The Strangeways riots in 1990 led to breakthroughs in the prison system

In some ways, HM Prison Manchester (more commonly known as Strangeways) is a Manchester icon. After all it gave its name to a Smiths album (Strangeways Here We Come). The prison itself was built in 1868 by Alfred Waterhouse, who later designed the town hall – and if you think about it these two buildings are a neat embodiment of Victorian urban life. On the one hand, public works, clean water, slum clearances and municipal socialism; the promise of reform, and on the other hand a dysfunctional system riven with violence, upper class moralising, authority; the threat of punishment. The carrot and the stick. So it’s easy for a Manc to think about Strangeways in symbolic terms.

At first glance the recent three part documentary on the prison broadcast on ITV (‘Strangeways’, 9th, 16th and 23rd May) appears to belong somewhere in this tradition. In the opening credits the camera slowly zooms in on a shot of the prison gates at twilight, while over the top we hear the voices of a group of prisoners in prayer: “I confess to almighty God, and to my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned…”

Music plays while a young man is led through a yard with his hands cuffed behind his back, a child of about five wearing her best outfit to visit her dad is searched and scanned with a metal detector, a man is carried along a corridor by his hands and feet, a voice shouts “move to the back of the cell and drop your weapon”, a young black man folds his arms in front of him and bows his badly bruised head. A heavyset man in an Everlast sweater spreads his arms wide to be searched with a look on his face that seems to carry all the sorrow of the world, a dog barks, a man in a gym lifts weights, a visitor holds a prisoner’s hand. Then the shadow of a cell door shuts against a black background and the word comes up on the screen: ‘Strangeways.’

With these kinds of images, and the powerful use of close up, cutaways, and sound effects, you could say that the producers have gone for a cinematic effect, but it’s less nouvelle vague and more angry young men. It’s ultimately a blunt piece of social realism and at times the grimness is unrelenting. The producers have chosen to fill the three hour long episodes with the personal stories of a limited number of individual prisoners, some of whom make one-off cameos, others who appear in more than one episode or throughout the series. Episodes are loosely structured around particular themes like the experience of Category A prisoners, the healthcare unit, and the prospect of rehabilitation and work after release.

Some of the prisoners thus depicted are quite sympathetic characters, often in surprising ways, and there’s a degree of unguardedness about some of the interviewees and an oddly endearing quality to their responses. “If I had a choice of getting plenty of [use of the] gym, or drugs all the time, I’d pick me gym,” says a meatheaded murderer serving a life sentence, before he stops and thinks for a moment; “I don’t know… I like both to be honest.” The prison staff also tend to come across well, and sometimes show their frustrations at being in effect the welfare state’s last port of call in the case of some prisoners. “I personally don’t think prison is the right place for [a particular mentally ill prisoner]… all we’re doing is keeping him behind a door because he’s too volatile and unpredictable to allow out,” says Sandra Fraser, the prison nursing manager.

Sometimes, with the camera in their faces inmates are disturbingly, heartbreakingly honest about their lives. A 29 year old homeless man, a drug addict who commits petty crimes as often as possible in order to get into prison, explains that he cuts himself “as a form of stress release – for about ten minutes…I’m 29, nearly 30, I’ve got no qualifications, I’ve got no one I can really call a friend. Out there I’m more concerned with getting money for drugs than what I am about my health. I’ve just come to terms with the fact that this is my life. This is how it’s going to be until I die, basically.”

The programme makers are clearly keen to avoid the accusation that they are excusing prisones of their crimes, and the narrator’s script makes it clear that there is a “hardcore element” that refuses to change. Thus they delight in interviewing the prisoner that shrugs when his television is taken away for dealing drugs: “Telly’s not a problem, it’s not an issue. I’ll lie on the bed for four and half hours, sleep for four and a half years… It’s a game of cat and mouse. I know that, all inmates in Britain know that, and the officers know that. There’s nothing they can do to you.” This isn’t just ‘feel bad’ telly, and it’s certainly not ‘feel good’ either. It’s just ‘feel lots’, and that’s the problem with this individual-focused, anecdotal approach.

By flitting from story to story, person to person, we lose sight of the social context and it becomes more difficult to draw conclusions that relate to larger matters of public policy. So we see a lot of Anthony Fielding’s kids, but what about the other 160,000 children in Britain with a parent in prison? It’s striking how many of the prisoners on the programme suffer from mental health problems, but the narrator never really highlights this issue or puts it into a broader context. According to a study by the Office of National Statistics 10% of male remand prisoners, 7% of sentenced men, and 14% of women were assessed by clinicians as having a functional psychosis (such as schizophrenia or manic depression), against a frequency in the general population of 0.4%.

Three quarters of female remand prisoners have significant neurotic problems such as anxiety, depression and phobias. As depicted in ‘Strangeways’, prison staff are generally aware of the issues around mental health, and they try to facilitate proper assessments of inmates who appear to be mentally ill, but it is abundantly clear that a significant proportion of prison inmates are not receiving the care that they need, and are not accessing that care quickly enough. Prison is the wrong place for most mentally ill people, but a lot of them are spending a lot of time there. A recent report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons found that mentally ill prisoners in OhDearism’s local jail, Brixton, sometimes have to wait more than six months for a place at a suitable secure health centre? Why is that? This programme won’t give us any clues.

There’s nothing wrong with using story telling to structure a documentary film, but you have to know what the story is supposed to illustrate. What, crudely speaking, is the moral? Granada’s World in Action documentary on Strangeways (‘Banged Up’, 1979) simply told the story of one day in the life of the prison, but used it to illustrate that training and rehabilitation of inmates were impossible in the grossly overcrowded conditions of the time. (Predictably, no one in Thatcher’s government paid any attention, and overcrowding continued through the 1980s and eventually lead to the Strangeways riot of 1990).

The 2011 documentary seems to show repeatedly that for some inmates ‘prison doesn’t work’, as Michael Howard wouldn’t say, but the producers are too nervous to come out and say it. Instead they try to provide resolution for the viewer with some ‘what happened next’ text over the end credits of the final episode: “Mark Greenwood stayed less than a month at his job at the Marriott Hotel before breaking his parole and going on the run…Anthony Fielding has been granted his move to Buckley Hall prison…David Charlton remains in Strangeways.”

Music: Bonjay

Bonjay is vocalist Alanna Stuart and producer Ian "Pho" Swain

Canadians are so nice.

That was our resounding impression of meeting Canadian leftfield dancehall duo Bonjay. Even when they kept us waiting hours (not their fault, some cheeky journo grabbed them during our slot), it was certainly the best interview we’ve ever done sitting on a park bench…

Vocalist Alanna Stuart and producer Ian “Pho” Swain dragged us to a spot out back of their Canadian Blast show at Relentless Garage to talk Lady Saw, fake patois and mid-2000s parties:

OhDearism: How does the name ‘Bonjay’ (meaning ‘Bon Dieu’/’Good God’ in Grenadian patois) express your music?

Alanna: In Grenada, whenever something unexpected or exciting would happen my mum and my aunt would be like “bonjay, watch de gyal!” – that’s what we want people to feel when they hear our music.

OD: You just got back from SXSW? How was it?

A: Great! It was our second year there. A highlight was performing on the street corner for CBC [Canada’s answer to the BBC], with a little speaker for a sound system.

Pho: It was like an acoustic set, which is what the opposite of what we usually do.

A: Yeah we were like “Fuck it!” We didn’t even have the drummer and the crowd kept building and building. It was a sea of cameras. There was this one old guy with white ankle socks dancing like crazy! We were like “Hey Grandpa!”

OD: You started out as a club act in Ottowa in an Italian restaurant. Tell us about the famed Disorganised parties.

P: I started it with a couple of buddies who’ve now gone on to become a techno duo called Jokers of the Scene, and the guy who ran the local record store in Ottowa in the mid-2000s. The era is so over now, but it was what we dreamed of when we were 16. Friends inviting friends. There were people literally falling out of the windows, and all these cute girls…It was like a beer commercial. But it was hard to keep the energy going. People start looking for fresh sounds.

A: I miss that mix-up party style. Different people bringing their own sounds from different scenes.

OD: Stumble is an ode to the mid-2000s party scene. What music do you hear when you think back to that era?

A: I hear The Rapture House of Jealous Lovers, Decepticon by Le Tigre. That’s one stream of those parties.

P: I remember the first time I heard Temperature by Sean Paul. He’s the best guy, he’s fucking hardcore! He was a big influence, I started running the hand claps from that song through my sets and that’s where dancehall started to come in.

OD: How did you two meet?

A: I was at one of the first parties and I rudely interrupted his mixing because I was so excited by what he was playing. I was like “I’m a singer…” and he totally brushed me off with “here’s my card.” But then we bumped into each other again and we decided to do something together. I introduced the dancehall riddims but also some indie stuff, and Bonjay was born.

OD: What part does dancehall play in your music?

P: It’s still the core of the direction we’re going in. But we’re kind of finding a new sound. Alanna does not have that standard dancehall swagger. The Bonjay sound is a mix of me being all about the beats and Alanna about vocalists like St Vincent and Kate Bush. Dancehall is our common thread.

A: It’s the dancehall attitude and openness to anything. The kick-drum and the bass.

P: If we ever meet again you have to see Alanna’s impression of a dancehall diva!

OD: Alanna, The Guardian has been calling you the new Lady Saw. What do you think of the comparison? It’s pretty lazy if you ask us.

A: I can’t do a Lady Saw chat! If people see the live show they’ll see me wining and think my stage presence comes from the dancehall but it comes more from my experience as a gospel singer, where it’s raw emotion. When I was singing in the church, sometimes I would be so overcome by the music I would black out. That’s where the attitude comes from. But I write from a vocalist perspective. I am way more concerned about how I sound than how I look. I can wine in between verses! I’m not a Lady Saw.

OD: You two once put together a collection of fake patois accents…

P: Yes! It was for a video we were making for Fraudulent. This guy we know at our local leftfield video store helped us collect all these movies where American actors do really bad West Indian accents. There’s a Steven Seagal movie called Marked for Death where the bad guys are this gang of yardies…

OD: Have you had a chance to pick up any London slang while you’ve been here?

P: Blud? Teach us some!

OD: I’m 25, not 16! Er…peng? Moving on…Would you like to collaborate with more artists?

A: I’d love to work with more female vocalists. Or Simon from The Black Ghosts [Simon William Lord, formally in Simian]. But mainly I love the idea of females collaborating. It’s frustrating that the dance music genre is such a boys’ club. We shouldn’t have to wait for a male DJ to champion us, we should work with each other.

P: We don’t really fit with any scene. We just want to work with people whose music we’re into. But I want to finish our full-length album first.

OD: Will it be out this year?

P: Early 2012, hopefully!

OD: Thanks guys! We loved the show

P: I wish we’d done this interview before the show. It was so energetic! Is this the first interview you’ve done sitting on the ground in a park?

OD: The first of many, hopefully!

www.myspace.com/bonjaymusic

Feature image by Rosie Cowling for OhDearism