Monday, 23 November 2009

Red Hot Entertainment

Dan Hancox is a journalist currently living in London. He's published articles in Fact, Dazed And Confused, The New Statesman and The Guardian as well as being a contributor to several rather good blogs, like this one. Last year saw 'My Fellow Americans' released, a collaboration between Hancox and comic artist Tom Humberstone detailing their journey across the US following the presidential election of 2008. He's one of the good guys basically - interview after the jump.

-What's your background in the music industry - was it always intentional to become a writer?

I don’t have a background in music or the music industry, I can’t play any instruments or DJ – I’m just a fan. There was a guy at my university who only owned three CDs, because, he said, “I don’t really like music”. I always found that pretty extraordinary. That’s like saying “I don’t really like food”, isn’t it?

As for writing, I won a competition at school when I was 13 where we all had to write a 400-word review of Dragonheart, this god-awful kids film featuring a CGI dragon voiced by Sean Connery. I won a Down Periscope hat and a Nutty Professor long-sleeve t-shirt. So obviously with incentives like that I knew I was onto a winner.

-What journalists inspire the way you write?

So many of my friends and peers, too numerous to mention... most of them are linked on my blog. As for journalists I don’t actually know in person, people like Gary Younge and Barbara Ehrenreich I like a great deal in terms of their subject matter. Jason Burke and Jon Boone I find fascinating because they write about things I would know nothing about otherwise... but for style my main inspiration is PJ O’Rourke, whose libertarian politics I cannot stand, but he’s so brilliantly witty that I can’t help but read and re-read his stuff. I’ve just noticed that not one of those are music journalists. There might be a reason for that.

-As a music journalist do you still think bands see you in the old stereotype of the enemy?

They’re generally just a bit sceptical (understandably so, really), rather than oppositional or defensive. But then the people I interview have never been sitting in a hotel room all day doing 300 interviews in 15 minute slots – they’re musicians who are grateful for any sort of media interest, usually. So my job often means chasing grime MCs whose mobile numbers seem to change every week, waiting at Leytonstone tube station in the rain for two hours, going on wild-goose chases through the Isle of Dogs... but better that than dealing with handlers, minders, PRs and managers – and bored, boring ‘artists’ who’ve nothing to talk about but the quality of the room service.

-Your articles often focus on sometimes overlooked but nevertheless, important parts of urban youth, like food and music, are you trying to embrace the culture in London around you or is more tongue in cheek than that?

Er, there’s nothing arch or condescending about it – well, the Junior Spesh blog is very tongue-in-cheek (and also deadly serious, sort of), but that’s quite obvious – not least because it’s inspired by a brilliant novelty grime song. If you’re asking whether it’s patronising or condescending for me to write about ‘urban youth’ culture, well then no, it’s not. In census terms I’m a 28 year-old middle-class white male… but this is London. I’m not ‘road’, but – for example – I went to school with Neutrino from So Solid Crew, who among other achievements shot himself in the leg “cos I’m fucking crazy like that”, as he once spat. My point is that compared to most megalopolises, London doesn’t discriminate or segregate – it throws everyone together. Apart from the bits that voted for Boris Johnson – they can fuck off.

-What's the most exciting thing in British music right now?

First, the fuzzy, inchoate areas in the middle of the Venn diagrams of UK dance music. These grey areas between and beyond existing genres are larger and harder to define than ever before. We’re at a stage where grime, house, dubstep, and funky are bleeding into one another – what do we call it? I don’t know. But search for mixes and tracks by the likes of Bok Bok, Jam City, Untold, Roska, Scratcha, Mosca, Ikonika, Brackles, LVis1990, Cooly G and the Hessle Audio label.

Secondly, the much more clearly-defined world of funky bashment, which has been created, curated and nurtured by Gabriel Heatwave, with the help of a lot of great producers and MCs – it self-consciously connects the dots between Jamaican MCs and London electronic music culture – in this case, funky. There are a couple of great ‘primer’ mixes out there by Gabriel I’d really recommend downloading.

Tom Humberstone (left) and Dan Hancox by Humberstone

-In a recent blog post you mention how its very easy for the extraordinary to become normalized. Looking back at the US election it's pretty obvious why Obama won, but at the start did it feel like you were making a book about his journey to the Whitehouse?

Not at the beginning, not at all. His role in the story in January 2008 was clearly defined: he would be a noteworthy supporting cast member to the central narrative of Hillary Vs The Republicans. For the Democrats, he would motivate those few young Americans whose political spirit had not been entirely crushed by eight years of President Bush, revive the black vote a bit, teach the Washington mafia some new tricks in terms of online fundraising, and recede into the background like Howard Dean in 2004. Or possibly be Hillary’s VP candidate. Tom Humberstone (my illustrator/travel buddy/Ralph Steadman) and I bought this logic too – until the epiphanic moment when we saw him speak, in a snow-caked school gym outside Iowa City in early January. He was really that good.

-'My Fellow Americans' sold out of copies in UK, what do you think captures British peoples attention about the American political system?

Bigger fireworks, louder shouting, and shinier suits. This sounds glib – and it is – but it’s also true. Irrespective of your political views on the two of them, who would you rather watch a news item about: Sarah Palin, or Nick Clegg?

'The Cover'

-You released MFA last year and started it the year before that, do you ever think you'll be doing something like it again? What would be the next step from here?

Tempted though I was by the idea of writing My Fellow Kashmiris, I’m not really that kind of journalist. But the ideas that motivated My Fellow Americans are more pressing than ever: as the old media continues to die off, genuine grass-roots reportage is suffering. Time-challenged staff reporters are increasingly tethered to their desks, regurgitating press releases and doing phone interviews with official spokesmen – and editors half-heartedly temper this by sending their hacks on brief, surgical strikes to somewhere outside of Westminster for an afternoon. I’m not sure what the next step is exactly, except that I want to see more journalists doing genuine grass-roots reporting, and I’d like to be one of those journalists.

-I may have focused unfairly on you being a music journalist here, but you also write a lot for the New Statesman (amongst others) - are their any similarities in the types of people you meet and write about?

I suppose so. The musicians I interview very very rarely have publicists, agents, managers, or eyebrow technicians – and the people I talk to for political pieces in the New Statesman, Prospect, etc don’t either; in the sense that they’re not politicians, but normal people.

Dan Hancox can be found online via Twitter and Blogspot.

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Crumbling The Antiseptic Beauty

Really really brilliant video of Girls meeting Lawrence Hayward in London last month. Highlights including but not limited to:

-Girls genuinely being massive fans of Felt/Denim
-Girls opening up about the difficulties of simply being in a band
-Lawrence explaining how he refused to give autographs for a small period of time
-Lawrence ripping on the guy from Red Krayola
-Lawrence loving the Iggy Pop Insurance ads
-Lawrence in general
-Lawrence still caring about getting popular and having fans above everything else

Parts 1,2 and 3 - with thanks to Magic RPM
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Monday, 2 November 2009

Sterling Crispin

Sterling Crispin is an artist living in Denver, Colorado. Using the Buddhist belief of the Sunyata as a common base for his output he creates installations, video loops and illustrations that focus on the infinite and unknown. Crispin also recently worked with musician Picture Plane to create the music video 'Gothic Star'. Interview after the jump

-Circles and symmetrical shapes seem to be key elements in you work, what fascinates you about these forms?

I'm interested in the ancient, primal and infinite feeling of geometry. It exists outside of time and space. It's an underlying invisible force making itself visible through interaction with matter.

I think that when you encounter a highly symmetrical form like a seashell or a crystal it can be a profound because it's this underlying force that's way beyond you suddenly saying "Hello". It's like pulling the wrapping paper off of a box that contains the infinite. You only get to see a very small slice of it, and you'll never unwrap it all, but what you do see allows you to infer what you cannot see.

And so I've been imagining a lot of the art that I've been making recently as tools for prodding into the void.

I also tend to imagine geometric forms as living entities or figures. When say "sphere" to someone they visualize a beach ball or spherical object, or they imagine just the idea of a sphere without any particular form. The thought of a shape just floating out in space somewhere that doesn't consist of anything is funny and interesting to me. That somewhere in some universe or dimension there is a realm of perfectly formed triangles or spheres sort of loitering about or doing whatever spheres do.

I like the idea that if a circle had a life / soul / consciousness, each time you drew a circle on a sheet of paper, you would be channelling the spirit of the ancient "one true circle" out there somewhere rather than creating a new life for each circle. And to clarify I'm more interested in the idea that a perfect shape could be a living or maybe conscious thing than in the idea of a perfect shape in general.

I'm also really interested in the idea of visible and invisible things, making the invisible visible and vice versa, perception really.

Crystal Field

-Digital images and videos seem to be another prominent medium that you work with, do you find yourself being able to do more on a computer or is it more aesthetic than that?

Well there's an appropriate time and place for everything, and I'm interested in all of it. Honestly If I had a bigger budget I know my work would look very different. I generally dream very big and then have to compromise. I consider all of the work I've done so far to be a maquette or sketch for something else I'm trying to get at.

So right now I'm driven to working digitally because I can execute my ideas quickly and its relatively cheap. There's an upfront cost obviously but pressing File > New is next to free.

Although that's not to say I'm not interested in computing. I'm very interested in emerging technology and theories of what the future will bring. Computers are really powerful tools, I think society as a whole is just slowly waking up to the potential of the technology we are developing. We are accelerating very quickly up the curve. I was born ten years after the release of the first home computer and I think that in another 50 years we may be faced with a computer based intelligence that surpasses every human mind on the planet combined. Or entirely synthetic or laboratory produced humans. How can anyone not be interested in that?

Prehistory Series

-Your illustrations, especially the Emergent Organic Form series (top of page) has some amazing detail to them, what are the processes like for creating such images and what influenced you in making them?

I draw them with fine point pens into a sketchbook, usually while traveling on the public transportation system in Denver. I've been using 005 Microns but I have been thinking of trying other pens, the tips are too fragile.

After they are drawn I photograph them and digitally edit them to become bilaterally symmetrical. I want to print them out in a limited series at a 16x20 inches with some high quality digital printer and mount them somehow but I'm too financially challenged to realize the series in any meaningful way right now.

Picture Plane Gothstar

-You've also directed a music video for Picture Plane, how did that collaboration come about and what do you think to the outcome?

Well Travis and I went to art school together and after graduating were both accepted into RedLine where we shared a studio in Denver for a while. We've been friends for a while and have a few shared interests and influences.

He asked me to produce a video for an album he was going to release, we threw a few ideas around and I put together a sort of video sketch. We had the video shoot afterward that was intentionally free form and sort of haphazard. I wanted it to feel like recovered footage from some sort of Stevie Nicks cult in the near past that had tried to capture or summon her spirit. Yet at the same time feel fun and light hearted and keep the ethereal and textural things going on in the song.

Overall it was a lot of fun and I think I'll probably be doing more projects like that in the future.

-Do you think you'll be doing more work with video?

It's hard for me to imagine losing an interest in video, maybe if I live long enough to see true virtual reality or the technological singularity I won't care much for video anymore. But its hard to say, who knows.

Water Particle

-I'm always in interested in different cities and the people who live in them, what's Denver like as hometown? I read an interview with Picture Plane and the interviewers perception of Denver seemed to be you spend all day Skiing, only stopping to watch The Denver Broncos occasionally, are things really that great?

I'm sure that there are people out there doing just that, but that's not the average lifestyle here. Actually I had to check and Coloradans mean income is among the highest in the country and the poverty rate isn't too bad, so maybe I'm wrong. There's a decent public transportation system here and there's a lot of good art in town. Denver is really supportive of the arts, I wish there was more support but it's pretty good. And of course the sky, mountains and land is just beautiful here. I just wish there wasn't so much suburban sprawl.

Gateway - 2009 Installation

What do people think of when they think of Denver? I think people perceive Denver as a cow town, they think of John Denver, the Denver Omelet, skiing and mountain men?

I actually grew up in Maui, then spent a few years in Pittsburgh and moved to Denver in 2005. I'm still acclimating to seasonal weather and I may never get used to it.

-You also do graphic design work as well, is it hard to make a living solely as an artist then?

Well I think graphic design is art, but yeah the term "starving artist" didn't come out of the blue, its tough.

Primordial Figure Series

-What projects do you have planned for the rest of the year and 2010?

I'm currently working with the Gates Planetarium here in Denver developing content for their full immersion dome as part of an arts and science collaboration between some local colleges and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. I'm really excited about that project right now.

I'd really like to get my hands on some rapid prototyping machines, or get into industrial fabrication, injection moulded plastics, large scale digital photographs and make a few more light boxes

Also I want to break into public art, and do whatever I can to avoid a 'day job'.

Sterling Crispin can be found online at

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