Nirbhaya Play Review

My viewing of the theatre piece, Nirbhaya, was in a rather timely manner. The last few weeks have been saturated with debate about the documentary India’s Daughter – a documentary which covers the same event that is the focal point of Nirbhaya. That event being the gangrape and murder of 23 year old doctor-in-training Jyoti Singh.

Whilst India’s Daughter has spurned a wave of debate on a spectrum of issues, from sexual violence in India, to capital punishment, to those defending Delhi against its new label of ‘rape capital of the world’, Nirbhaya remains focused on one issue alone: breaking the silence.

Nirbhaya, a word that was attributed to Jyoti Singh under circumstances when she could not be named as the victim of the crime, means ‘fearless.’ This theatre piece, and the cast within it are beyond deserving of that title. Nirbhaya sets out to tell the story of Jyoti Singh, and how the events of 16th December became a catalyst and a source of strength for women across India. Suddenly, silence was an option no more.

 Jyoti Singh, or 'Nirbhaya' played by Japjit Kaur

Jyoti Singh, or 'Nirbhaya' played by Japjit Kaur

The piece explores four true backstories of the cast in the play. Each of them highlights the ubiquitous and rampant gender violence and injustice sweeping India, ranging from those who were abused as children to those as adults, and those for whom it was by close family to those for whom it was by a complete stranger. It was perhaps halfway through that it clicked with me that the stories being told weren’t just true stories, but were attributed to the cast members portraying the story too – a realisation that hit incredibly hard.

In a Q&A following the show, one cast member explained her feeling of regret in keeping her story locked up for so long, highlighting that Jyoti Singh may still be alive had gender violence been an issue that was challenged sooner. With all that is going on in India at the moment, and the global focus on India’s culture in the wake of India’s Daughter, this piece is harrowing but absolutely essential. Nirbhaya, indeed.

 

View the website for more on Nirbhaya and for upcoming shows.

It Follows Review

A smart and suspenseful horror that toys with traditional tropes before moving into true originality.

Year on year we are granted with the same supernatural endeavours by seemingly incestuous teams. The Paranormal Activities, Insidiouses, Conjurings, and Sinisters of this world perpetuate Tobe Hooper’s classic plotline in Poltergeist of 1) An innocent family moves into a house 2) house is haunted and gets gradually more dangerous. The threat is invariably a spiritual being, and the solution is often made gradually more tangible as the film progresses. Indeed, ideas are running so low that Poltergeist itself is set for a 2015 remake.

Enter It Follows, and we’re presented with a supernatural horror that breaks these trends and unsettles viewers like the original Poltergeist did those many years ago.

 Maika Monroe takes the lead role as Jay in It Follows.

Maika Monroe takes the lead role as Jay in It Follows.

The title of It Follows is apt, as that is the plot for the bulk of the movie. The protagonist is Jay, a 19 year old girl from a sheltered suburban environment. Just beginning to grapple with growing up, she is soon thrown into a damned future after a seemingly innocent sexual encounter. Chloroformed by her partner, she awakes tied to a wheelchair. He explains that he has ‘passed it on’ to her and he previously had it passed onto him. It never ceases to follow, and it is slow but it isn’t stupid. It can take the form of anyone, from a stranger in the crowd to a best friend or parent. The only way to rid yourself is via a sexual encounter, thus passing it on.

There is no slow build-up of gradually increasing danger over weeks in Jay’s life, as the aforementioned films typically do. Instead, the film thrusts into suspense, confusion, and fear for its remaining duration.

Jay and her childhood friends band together to try and comprehend what’s going on. This cohort aren’t savvy frat-house guys or screaming sorority girls; they’re real teenagers making it easy to develop empathy. They’re goofy but caring, making in-jokes about one another whilst never faltering in their attempts to protect Jay. In this regard the film was similar to Spielberg’s Super 8, itself a homage to 1980s childhood adventure movies like The Goonies and Stand By Me. Adults are resigned to the background or as the current chosen form for ‘it’.

‘It’ is perfectly terrifying. Inspired by director David Robert Mitchell’s repeated childhood nightmare, its origins are never explained – a bold move as that sense of closure is never reached for the viewer. Instead we know those few rules we were given.

And the concept is terrifying. It always follows and never sleeps, even when Jay does. And its shape-shifting means that the viewer is constantly questioning background characters and whether they’re shuffling slowly towards Jay or merely ambling through their daily lives. The use of human characters as the source of horror is effective, with some variations of ‘it’ being truly haunting, as with The Sixth Sense’s various ghostly creations, which similarly had the viewer guessing as to what was real and what was an apparition.

All of this wouldn’t have had the profound effect that it does had it not been for the impeccable cinematography and sound design. Dream-like hazy visuals of suburban America merge with jarring suspense-building shots of ‘it’ gradually approaching. Some of the films finest moments include beautiful widescreen shots of Jay’s sleepy neighbourhood, and panoramic visuals of the environments.

This is married with Richard Vreeland's impeccable score. 80s synth is most prevalent, shifting perfectly between the said dream-like haziness to an unsettling noise when in the presence of ‘it’. The result is Drive-esque; rich, striking, and at times visceral. It is the third major component to a movie that is otherwise about Jay and her friends, and ‘it’.

The lingering sense of paranoia when you leave the cinema sits alongside the overwhelming sense of novelty from the movie. In recent years, many have tried to reverse typical horror tropes, such as Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, and Cabin in the Woods. It Follows doesn’t do this in such a palpable and overt way, and should be rewarded for that subtlety. Instead, it makes those tropes its own, not unlike Eden Lake, and as such sets a new benchmark for supernatural horror.

Score: 4.5/5

ind out more about It Follows on IMDB.

Serial Podcast Review

How does one even begin to explain Serial? You know that feeling you get when you’re trying to explain a magnificent sprawling epic of a book to a friend? Or perhaps a film riddled with plot twists and double-sided characters? So that when you start attempting to explain the concept it all just sounds like a jumbled mess, but you cannot stress enough that it just has to be experienced? That’s kind of like Serial, the latest podcast phenomenon from the creators of This American Life.

 The alleged perpetrator, Adnan Syed (Credit: Serial Podcast)

The alleged perpetrator, Adnan Syed (Credit: Serial Podcast)

I’ll have a bash at explaining it anyway. Serial follows host Sarah Koenig’s excavation of a 15 year old cold case in Baltimore County. The case is that of a murder of a 17 year old student, Hae Min Lee, and the convicted Adnan Syed. Adnan has been in prison since the early 2000s. A large part of the reasoning for this was a witness account provided by Adnan’s supposed accessory to the crime, Jay. Adnan himself, and many many people who knew him continue to this day to proclaim his innocence.

The 12 episode series follows the developments of the story as Sarah Koenig works through it, piece-by-piece. No stone is left unturned, as the case shifts between objective and empirical evidence about the plausibility of the murder itself, to the subjective and opinion-led scrutiny of the key constituents in the story. All of this comes with the overwhelming caveat that the case is being re-examined 15 years later, and many of the witnesses and people who lived within the community have gone from being young high school students to adults in that time.

That’s all I’ll say about the narrative of this case, as the more depth I go into, the more twists will be spoiled. There are a few things that make Serial an outstanding achievement though; a few running themes which elevate it from a real life ‘who-dunnit’ to a masterful dissection of American living.

Firstly, in terms of personalities, there are few absolutes. Nearly every witness comes across as somewhat confused about the crime. Everyone has done good and bad things. It is difficult to trust anyone. People who you feel you can put full faith in commonly do a 180 just minutes later. This is most apparent with Adnan, the supposed perpetrator, and his chief prosecuting witness, Jay. Throughout Serial’s journey you will find yourself consistently questioning both of them. We know that one of them is lying right from the get go, but Serial will sway your conviction on who is doing so multiple times throughout.

In part, this comes down to its second profound theme: memory. As mentioned, 15 years have passed since the murder. For every character, certain events stick in their mind, others have vanished. And for those that have stuck, how have they altered? How has context swayed and affected their judgement? Serial demonstrates the fragility of memory, even among events that one would think they’d never forget.

Finally, the legal system of the United States. Serial is a damning portrayal of this system, and its role in general society. This isn’t a conspiracy theory-esque exposé of corruption, but an examination of how the legal system actually works (or at times, doesn’t); it’s a flawed behemoth that can target and destroy people because... well, because. This is not a spoiler, and it is not claiming that the legal system failed as such, just that there are proceedings in this case and any case that, once understood, should shock and outrage most people. Serial brings these to light in the context of this narrative, and makes you question exactly what we mean by the term ‘justice’.

Besides these themes, Serial has achieved greatness in another sense. Rarely have I seen any series, much less a podcast series, lead to the development of such a massive, intelligent and enthused community. Google Trends shows an explosion of interest in the topic since its inception a little over 12 weeks ago. News articles are rife, and full of examination and analysis of the story. The subreddit for Serial has grown rapidly in a matter of weeks, and is home to perhaps the most interesting speculation and uncovering of the case outside of the show itself. This has reinvigorated podcasts as a medium, and indeed has inspired entire legions of people who don’t even touch podcasts to begin listening to them more frequently. For that alone, it deserves some applause.

 Hae Min Lee, the victim (Credit: abc2 News)

Hae Min Lee, the victim (Credit: abc2 News)

Before closing, it’s important to reiterate that this is a real case. Hae Min Lee really died back in 1999. Sometimes it’s easy to forget this, and treat it as though it is merely a story. Indeed, by reviewing the podcast you could say that I’m doing exactly that. But I’d like to pay my respects to Hae Min Lee here. I mentioned the series' lack of absolutes – one person who is absolute is Hae herself, the innocent victim of this crime, and in these community discussions she is often sidelined for discussions on who did it and the plausibility of witness narratives. Currently, people are trying to raise money for a scholarship fund in Hae Min Lee’s name. It's a worthy cause and deserves our support.

In essence, Serial is a groundbreaking achievement. It’s with no hyperbole that I say that it’s one of the finest podcasts to have ever been made, from its structure, to the analysis of the case itself, to the community of would-be detectives it has inspired. Quite simply, you must listen to it, and form your own judgements on topics ranging from the case itself to the macrocosmic issue of America’s legal system - perhaps the real criminal at the heart of this crime.

Score: 4.8/5

iconic
 
 

You can listen to Serial at http://serialpodcast.org/

Modern Life Is War - Fever Hunting

Modern Life Is War
Fever Hunting
Deathwish Inc.

Modern Life Is War were one of the defining bands of my youth. My Love. My Way. still sends me back to the summers my friends and I spent going to every show we could, listening to every band we could. We didn’t know it then, but we were looking for answers, we were defining who we were and who we were to become. Dead Ramones was the soundtrack to more than one of my summers and each MLIW album became a part of my life as much as my friends and family. If I were to listen to their back catalogue with fresh ears, I’d just hear an above average hardcore band. But I listen with nostalgia and affection. I lived in those albums, I found positivity and I found cathartic solace and I still do.

For those like me who were of the right age and mind-set to be so affected by MLIW, the release of Fever Hunting 6 years on is a trip. I reflect on how far we’ve come; how we moved on or moved away, we stopped hanging out, we stopped just listening to punk and hardcore. And yet still MLIW has the power to stir something in us.

So I won’t try to objectively review Fever Hunting. Musically, it’s probably their best album. Lyrically it’s up there. It doesn’t touch me quite how their past releases did but I think that’s to be expected; the albums of your youth have a glow you rarely feel in your 20’s.

Like Have Heart, Converge, Give Up The Ghost and Black Flag, love them or hate them, every fan of hardcore has an opinion of MLIW. Fever Hunting won’t to win over those who didn’t get the band the first time around. It probably won’t even make it onto my albums of the year list. All I know is I’m glad it’s here and I’m glad music has the power to effect people as profoundly as MLIW has me.

Radical Face - The Family Tree: The Branches review

radical-face.jpg

 

Radical Face

The Family Tree: The Branches

Self-released

The Branches is the second album in Ben Cooper's (aka Radical Face) trilogy - The Family Tree. A set of concept albums tracking a family tree (not dissimilar to hardcore band, Defeater's, first couple of LPs), this is as ambitious a project as any, not least because every Radical Face release so far has been close to impeccable. Can Ben Cooper keep up the quality? In short, yes.

The Branches is the kind of album you'll know whether you'll love or not within the first 3 minutes of listening. The intro track transitions into Holy Branches, the first full track, with a simple piano and guitar chord combo and Cooper's voice gently breaks into the album with the opening verse before wrapping up a more energetic chorus. At this point it's safe to say you can decide whether or not to ride out the next 40 minutes. This is not to say that the album is boring, monotonous, or never shifts pace, but rather that it's consistent. There's a certain feel and style that Cooper manages to never lose throughout the entirety of the album's playtime. Not a single song feels out of place, not a single chorus feels unusual. This is an accolade that I've seen even some of the most talented musicians struggle to achieve. The album knows where it stands and it stands there firmly.

I think, fortunately, that most people will choose to keep listening over that 3 minute mark too. The Branches is one of those albums which is easy to consume but takes a little work to truly digest. On it's surface, it's a pleasant ensemble of catchy indie-folk singalongs. The instrumentals wouldn't sound out of place in the stereotype of a Kickstarter product video, whilst Cooper's voice is gentle and unobtrusive and rarely demands your attention. But it's in your best interest to give it to him.

Under those easy-to-peel layers lies a real gem of an album, smarter and more beautifully composed than anything indie-folk has offered this year.

Every song has a powerful story behind it, whether it's the struggle to belong in Holy Branches, the inner monologue of an autistic boy in The Mute, or victims of 1900s child labour in the stunning The Gilded Hand. On occasion the narrative is given that extra push by added effects, such as the story of a chain-gang prisoner in Chains - a song which opens to the hum and clanking chains of prisoners. Give this album your attention and it will reward you.

For those who've already heard The Roots, the previous entry into The Family Tree trilogy, The Branches is ready for you to dive right in and enjoy. It will be familiar territory, but as mentioned, that's no bad thing when the territory is so divine. For those who are new to the trilogy, or indeed, new to Radical Face, then that's no problem either. This makes a great place to start listening. I have little doubt that the music and stories will sweep you up, and you'll be waiting in anticipation for The Family Tree's final offering as much as the rest of us. Let's hope Ben can keep it up.

Score: 4.3 / 5

 

Best albums of 2013

Ahh, the intro to a best albums of the year article. This is the part typically chock full of statements like 'what a year for music'... let's face it, when was the last year in living memory that wasn't overflowing with fantastic music? This year is, of course, no exception. Whittling down my favourites to ten has been incredibly tough. This is entirely subjective, and may explain why this is perhaps the only year end list you'll read without Yeezus in it, along with a few other typical contenders for places. I've also avoided adding albums from a previous post I did on my favourite hardcore albums of the first half of 2013, otherwise Nails and Coliseum may well have popped up. Well, anyway, without further ado let's take a look at some of 2013's best offerings.

Best albums of 2013

10. Gnarwolves – Funemployed (EP)

gnarwolves funemployed
gnarwolves funemployed

Being the only EP on my list, and coming in at under 10 minutes long it wouldn't have been fair to put Gnarwolves any higher than number 10, but based on the quality of their music and their monumental rise in popularity this year it wouldn't have been fair to leave them off either. Gnarwolves are the epitome of a band who've put their middle finger up at the music business, and have gone from a bottom of the rung support act in January to a band that's just finished their own stage-dive packed, singalong filled UK headline tour through means of working hard and making addictive, intricate emo-punk. 2014 will be the year of the Gnarwolves LP; for now, Funemployed is hands down the best EP of this year.

9. Barrow – Though I'm Alone

barrow though i'm alone
barrow though i'm alone

Barrow's LP slipped by in early 2013, somewhat under the radar, which is a shame as it's a beautiful and heart-wrenching sophomore effort. Whilst it does little to change the face of the hardcore scene generated and perpetuated by so-called 'Wave' bands such as La Dispute and Touché Amoré and the rest of the No Sleep Records roster, it does it all fantastically well. The music is a seamless blend of screamo, post-rock, and emo, and at times even ventures into hardcore territory (such as in the penultimate track You Can Probably Find It In Norfolk). This approach keeps it consistently fresh, and it's a rollercoaster ride. The beautiful depressive vocals morph into crescendos of screaming noise-filled climaxes. By the end of the album you'll likely feel emotionally deflated, but it's rare for any album to create such an effect and that is Barrow's merit.

8. Isaiah Rashad – Mixtapes

Isaiah_Rashad_Welcome_To_The_Game_Hosted_By_mosth-front-large
Isaiah_Rashad_Welcome_To_The_Game_Hosted_By_mosth-front-large

Strictly speaking, there's no official mixtape from Isaiah Rashad yet, so I'm kind of cheating here. We've got a few mixtapes out there, mostly collections of his music put together unofficially – check out Welcome To The Game, or Don't Call Me a Rookie for some good introductions. Or just head over to his Soundcloud. Whatever you pick up though, you'll dig it. Isaiah Rashad is Top Dog Entertainment's latest addition. TDE at the moment are a label that can do no wrong, and arguably has the strongest roster in hip-hop. Rashad is no exception. Stand out tracks on (most) mixtapes are Shot U Down (particularly the remix), and 2x Pills, produced by FlyLo. I don't want to speak too soon, but with TDE behind him and clear inspiration from Kendrick Lamar, Rashad could very well release 2014's Good Kid m.A.A.d City. For now, sit tight and enjoy what he's got out already.

7. Lorde – Pure Heroine

Lorde pure heroine
Lorde pure heroine

Probably my favourite pop-album of the year. Whilst nearly every review I've read of this can't help but jump on the 'SHE'S ONLY 16!' bandwagon, I'm going to try to avoid that for the sake of this short write-up... Ok I can't resist – HOW IS SHE ONLY 16? Phenomenally talented.

But seriously, that has no bearing on the music itself, and this album so warrants its hype. Lorde has sprung out of pretty much nowhere, with an album that has captivated the anti-pop crowd – those who would happily touch One Direction with a bargepole if only to beat their pretty-boy faces in (whilst enjoying a cheeky listen of Up All Night). As Lana Del Ray did last year, Lorde has created a pop-album that has encapsulated everyone and made damn sure that there's been more to pop this year than Miley Cyrus' ass.

6. Captain, We're Sinking – The Future Is Cancelled

captain we're sinking future is cancelled
captain we're sinking future is cancelled

You know those weird moments where you feel like you're living in a dream? That perhaps you've just imagined an entire album exists? This is how I've felt with The Future Is Cancelled by Captain, We're Sinking. A band that does The Menzingers better than... well, The Menzingers, and every time I mention them I'm greeted with blank expressions. I don't even consider my music taste that diverse, and therefore my only conclusion is that this album is horrendously underrated. Let's just put it this way: if you're sitting reading this post whilst still half drunk from your New Year's night, and any of the following bands mean anything to you: The Menzingers, Spraynard, The Lawrence Arms, Iron Chic, Latterman, The Flatliners etc. etc. then please go and listen to this album so that when I excitedly mention it again in the future you can smile and nod... unless of course The Future is Cancelled, hahahahahaha. Ok I'll see myself out.

5. Laura Stevenson – Wheel

laura stevenson wheel
laura stevenson wheel

Laura Stevenson of Bomb The Music Industry! fame has been solidly building a repertoire of albums over the last few years in a sort of solo career (really she's got a full band behind her but I guess coming from BTMI! makes a standard five-piece band seem relatively plain). Wheel, her latest, is a real gem in this though. Each song retains its own feeling despite being interconnected by the central themes. It is this quality that sets it apart from many other folk albums of the year. It's no secret that I loved Radical Face's latest addition to The Family Tree this year, but Laura's music can be listened to via one or two tracks on a playlist, whilst truly shining when it's packaged together in Wheel.

4. Chance The Rapper – Acid Rap (mixtape)

chance-the-rapper-acid-rap
chance-the-rapper-acid-rap

Acid Rap is a lesson in how to go from a rising star to the year's biggest hip-hop artist in a matter of months. It's that mixtape that no one expects. It comes out of nowhere, and BOOM – Chance is now an unavoidable force in modern hip-hop. As he rounds off his year with a huge tour and featuring on a Justin Bieber single, we round it off with a quick recap of one of the most important albums to drop this year. Chance has nailed a real middle ground between fantastic hip-hop flows and catchy addictive pop-hooks. Good Ass Intro, the self-explanatory intro track, will have you hooked within a minute as it builds steadily but rapidly on the opening backing vocal 'Even better than I was the last time, baby'. As you move through the album, it never lets up. Cocoa Butter Kisses and Juice are the kind of tunes running through your brain when you wake up in the middle of the night. Once you're addicted, Chance is damn hard to stop listening to. Acid Rap? More like crack-cocaine rap.

3. The Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation

the wonder years greatest generation
the wonder years greatest generation

So far, The Wonder Years have proved themselves to be an infallible band. Let's forget about the debut record (sorry guys, it wasn't all that great) and the EPs. The Upsides, 2010's album, created a new breed of pop-punk. Meaningful, full of realism but tinged with an overall positive message. Suburbia, I've Given You All, and Now I'm Nothing was a perfection of that. From the mind of Soupy to the breadth of America, it did everything bigger and better. The Greatest Generation is this band's magnum opus. A sprawling and beautiful epic – where can a band go after dealing with the themes in their previous album? Into history of course. This album has redefined pop-punk for me. In fact, it has killed it. There is literally nothing even close to this good in the genre right now. This is a perfect album from start to finish, and pop-punk is a genre that has grown up with this band. The Greatest Generation, indeed.

2. Deafheaven – Sunbather

deafheaven sunbather
deafheaven sunbather

Sunbather is perhaps the most divisive album of this year. This isn't because of its quality – its presence on nearly every year-end list going is testament to that. It's because at worst it is genre-defying, at best it is genre-defining. Pigeon-holing Sunbather into any pre-existing genre description is close to impossible. Black metal? Sure, that's what initially comes to mind. But the post-rock, shoegaze dream-like ambience says this is far beyond that. Vocalist, George Clarke's stage-presence has more in common with Ian Curtis than Immortal. Lyrically, Sunbather has more in common with the rap-genre, dealing with themes of poverty and wealth.

I'd love to say that 2013 was the end of genre discussions, but alas Sunbather has sparked more than any other before. Really though it shouldn't. It's a stunning accomplishment and its worth should be measured on that alone.

1. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels

run the jewels
run the jewels

I admit, my choice for number 1 is a little unorthodox. My 2012 AOTY was Good Kid m.A.A.d City, and RTJ doesn't reach the dizzying heights that Kendrick's maze-like tale did. What we do have though is a near-perfect 90s-esque hip-hop album. It does little new but everything is does do is so polished that it's impossible not to fall in love. Killer Mike tears through the album's short playtime (at just over half an hour) with snarling viciousness, whilst El-P is on-hand to provide all the wit and humour you need to complete a duo which will have you smirking with even the 100th listen. El-P's production is second-to-none, providing beats that will haunt your mind. A cameo from Big Boi is all that's needed to send you spiralling back in time to an era of rap that's long since passed. This is nostalgia but it's without the rose-tinted glasses, as it's better than almost everything that era threw at you.

Become the Icon

TrueIconText
cropped-TrueIconFull.png
cropped-TrueIconFull.png

Deciding on a logo is hard. In your head you hold your hopes and aspirations for what your business will be. In your hand you hold a poorly sharpened pencil, hovering just over a scrap of paper. Between your right frontal brain, the pencil nib and the paper is the potential to draw the best, most awesome logo the world has ever known. Sadly, what comes out looks more like the ravings of a prisoner of Bastille.

But you draw and you discuss and you drink more coffee than you should. And eventually, caffeine jitters setting in, and you give up. Or at least that’s our experience.

Fortunately, there are people out there who can help. People who make logos and corporate brands for a living. Our man was Kurt Henderson.

Kurt listened patiently as we nattered on about what it is we sell, about our ethics and spluttered out half-formed ideas of our own.

After a little back and forth, we’ve happily arrived on what you see before you. First and foremost True Icon is about fashion - our logo needed to look good. But crucially, we also want to spread the word about ethical consumer choices. We aim to prove that you don’t have throw your morals out the window in search of looking and feeling good. It is from the idea of spreading the word that we arrived upon our speech-bubble inspired logo.

As True Icon grows, we hope the logo will grow with us. No brand ever comes complete with brand identity and values, these are attached as the company progresses. Logos are vessels to be filled. For now, we’re just pleased to have a fine looking vessel.

A big thanks has to go to Kurt. What you see before you is the result of his patience, keen eye and understanding of our needs as clients.

All the best and now that our logo is sorted, expect further news on our first range of products shortly.

Kai and Rob

P.S. We like to interview everyone we work with at True Icon and Kurt was kind enough to oblige.

Kurt Henderson: An Interview

How did you get into graphic design?

Design entered my life from creating custom forum interface graphics for gaming clans. From there on I focused on mastering photoshop thus tailoring my designs towards all the different industries. It's been a fascinating experience.

What past experiences/clients do you have?

The Hugo Boss simplicity design was quite interesting to work with when I was in my teens. Throughout University I carried out some work for M&S, Spotify, Reading & Leeds festival which were all great opportunities to express my creativity.

Which project have you most enjoyed?

I think there where milestones for me where I could easily say I enjoyed a project far more than another. They are all equally important to me and all play a huge part in my life. I mostly enjoyed being a 13 year old boy with many dreams and aspirations, that was the project I enjoyed most, and still do, I'm still that 13 year old boy deep down.

What inspires/influences you?

My inspiration derives from many different sources, I have my favourite designers who inspire me of course, but my belief to think outside the box grasping onto various elements that make that ever so curious side of my brain light up.

Do you have any advice for people wanting to get into design?

Yes, plenty, but there's a very important lesson for all of us we need to learn. If you want to excel, finding a synergy that binds your love for design with a personal experience or aspiration. Then you'll find you naturally 'need' to design.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

My work can be found on my website: kurthenderson.com or Deviantart.com with the user name Ckygfx. Hope you enjoy what you see.

What we can learn from David Dimbleby's tattoo

In the same week that a natural disaster has decimated the lives of thousands in the Philippines, mainstream media has been wetting itself with excitement at the chance to gloss over 'depressing' news with some light-hearted controversy. That arrived when David Dimbleby was tattooed during the filming of a new BBC series on maritime history. I think it's great that David Dimbleby got a tattoo. Why? Because it shows some kind of societal acceptance for tattoos now? Because I love the art he's now baring on his right shoulder? Because I think old people with tattoos are just awesome? No, no and no.

David Dimbleby
David Dimbleby

I think it's great because Dimbleby chose to get his tattoo as a culmination of his learning around naval history and the culture for tattoos in that world. His choice of design, a scorpion, is a reflection of his star-sign, Scorpio and is tucked away discreetly on his back. The tattoo was something he 'always wanted' and getting one was a 'dream come true'. He took a decision, after potentially decades of desire, to get his tattoo despite the potential controversy and criticism he'd receive as a person in such a position.

This is the stark opposite of the modern day tattoo recipient. Disclaimer: I love tattoos. Tattoos are great. I can talk for hours to the handful of friends I know whose tattoos are meaningful, thought-out pieces of work, and every inch of their body has been crafted into something that they have desired, planned, and is for themselves.

Sadly, the counterweight to that handful of friends is a boatload of others whose tattoos are an expensive, lifelong mark of a short period where they thought tattoos would serve to get them noticed, and maybe the occasional comment of 'nice tat bro'. The exact opposite of Dimbleby, these people hop onto Google Images, type in the idea that they woke up with that morning, print off the image and get it tattooed onto the most in-your-face (sometimes literally on their face) area of their body that they can find at the nearest walk-in tattoo parlour (a problem that perpetuates the issue, sure, but there's no question of chicken/egg scenarios here - walk-in parlours are merely catering to this audience). The pinnacle of this being a few years ago when someone showed me his latest tattoo: A gorilla's face. On his hand. Why? Because 'it looks sick'.

Dimbleby's tattoo shouldn't be viewed as a sign that tattoos are finally acceptable in mainstream society. It's a sign that we should curtail our obsession with tattoos. Tattoos should be meaningful. They should have more time spent on them in planning than it takes for you to eat your morning bowl of Cap'n Crunch. But most of all a tattoo should never be for anyone but yourself. It's your mark, and it's going to be with you for life. Make sure it counts for you. If your tattoo is anything less than a 'dream come true', then don't do it.

I enjoyed the Guardian article about a future of tattooed OAPs, but it suggests that in a few decades time young people will be avoiding tattoos in fear of looking like their grandparents. I hope that never happens. Instead, I hope tattoos become part of our culture in a deeper way. They are a method of telling our own narratives, and that's something everyone needs to understand, young and old. Deeper meaning in the art we put on our bodies will bring deeper meaning to the culture itself. Let's not view Dimbleby's tattoo as anything other than a confirmation of this.

Jhené Aiko releases Stay Ready

Jhené Aiko is due to drop her latest EP, Sail Out, tomorrow (12th November) through Def Jam. Jhené, whose mixtape was received positively by critics, is one to watch in the R&B scene. Her new EP is sounding even better so far. Jhené's talent is something to be reckoned with, with some comparing her to Aaliyah.

Her mixtape received some criticism for featuring guest spots with big name acts purely for the exposure and not for the quality. However, this EP features the likes of Vince Staples, Childish Gambino, and Kendrick Lamar - artists who are arguably at the top of their game at the moment.

Stay Ready flows beautifully with Jhené's vocals interrupted only by Kendrick Lamar, who matches his softer, gentler style used in tracks like Poetic Justice. Take a listen below.

Grab a copy of Sail Out tomorrow too.

jhene aiko

Depressed Cake Shop

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I've wanted to do a piece on the Depressed Cake Shop for a while, so it was great to get the opportunity to interview Charley - one of the people directly supporting this movement with a Depressed Cake Shop in Brighton. Before you ask, no, this isn't about a cake shop that's suffering from mental health issues, but rather an innovative, grassroots, pop-up movement sweeping the globe from the US and UK, to India, Canada and more. Its goal is to tackle mental health by targeting people's sweet tooths - awareness raising and charitable fundraising through the sale of cakes. But I'll let Charley tell you more about the movement below. Charley's shop is doing its first run on 16th November in Brighton and you can check out www.depressedcakeshop.com to find out when your next local DCS pop-up is happening.  

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Hey Charley! Tell us what the Depressed Cake Shop's all about.

The Depressed Cake Shop was a concept started by Miss Cakehead - pop up shops, organised locally, selling grey cakes and giving their proceeds to charity. 1 in 4 people in the UK will suffer from mental ill health at some point in their lives and yet it is still such a taboo subject. It seems to be something that people are on the one side scared of finding out about and on the other side have a real fear of being judged for. The idea of the DCS is to help break down those barriers and give a safe platform from which to discuss these matters - cake! So on one side, the DCS is about raising awareness and breaking down barriers, but I think it is worth noting that there is also another side to this. Many of the people involved have been affected by mental illness and many use baking as way of helping to manage this and find joy in their lives (because lets be honest, when is cake a bad thing!?) and the DCS is also about supporting them and giving them a space to display their creations.

Depressed Cake Shops have been popping up in loads of places (literally, as most of them are pop-up shops) since the idea first came about. What made you want to take part in the movement?

Baking has always been a part of my life. Some of the first memories I have are of baking bread and cupcakes with my grandparents and the immense sense of satisfaction that came from sitting down together to enjoy something marvellous that you have created with your own hands. When I first heard about the DCS it was something that really resonated with me. To be perfectly candid I have suffered from depression and anxiety for a number of years and have first hand experience of other people's mental ill health. I remember when I was first diagnosed with any mental health issues and I was pretty much embarrassed to tell anybody. Even now, having suffered for a number of years and built a wonderful group of friends around me who really understand, I still struggle to talk to my friends when I am having bad days. Quite simply, nobody wants to seem crazy.  That's why I think things like the DCS are so important. You wouldn't be embarrassed to ask a friend to get something off a high shelf for you if your leg was broken, so why it is then embarrassing to ask for a cuddle or a shoulder to cry on when your head is a bit blue? It is through platforms like the DCS that we can start to break down those barriers, build understanding and support those who need it without fear of judgement.

How do you feel baking is linked to mental health?

As I mentioned before, many of the bakers involved use baking as a way of managing their condition. It has long been acknowledged that creative outlets can massively help people to work through mental health issues and baking is no different. To not just be productive but to then create something out of that time which you and other people can enjoy is a wonderful and fulfilling thing. Aspirations and dreams can be stripped away from you through mental illness and bringing joy back in small ways is the first step to getting better. I also find baking amazing - it is like creating something out of nothing!

Broken-Fortune-Landscape Depressed Cake Shop

You're aiming to do your first pop-up on 16th November - any clues as to what cakes we'll be seeing on the day?

The bakes will all be thematically linked to mental illness, either through colour or design. I think its important to not get too bogged down in the seriousness of it all so expect some tongue in cheek names like 'not so jammy dodgers' and 'when life hands you lemon drizzle cake'.  Other than that, you'll have to come and see!

Lemon Meringue Depressed Cake Shop

The proceeds from Depressed Cake Shops go to charity - which charities have you chosen and why?

We've chosen the charities Mind and Right Here. Mind does phenomenal work and have incredible links to national and local schemes. Right Here promote mental and emotional wellbeing for young people aged 16-25 in Brighton. I think in Brighton young people are particularly at risk, with many having moved away from home and unsure of how to get any help. The work that Right Here do is crucial to giving support and advice.

What's the future of the Depressed Cakes Shop movement and what do you hope it will achieve?

Ideally the Depressed Cake Shop will continue to run pop ups to provide a platform for discussion and education. In the future we'd like to run baking workshops and there are plans to set up a charity in order to help those who would like to use their baking skills to set up a business.

Finally, what's your absolute favourite cake/pastry/baked goody?

Ooooh, now that is a toughie. For me I think it has to be a fairy cake straight from the oven (well, maybe 5 minutes after). It was the first thing I learnt to bake and evokes happy memories of my grandmother's kitchen. Plus, they are ready from scratch in 25 minutes!

A big thanks to Charley for taking the time to speak to us about the Depressed Cake Shop. If you're in Brighton then visit her shop on 16th November. If not, consider starting your own! Find out how you can get involved.

 

Just What Is 'True Icon' Anyway?

 

Welcome to my long overdue explanation of what True Icon means to me. When Rob and I started the site we agreed we’d each write what the site was about and what it meant to us as our first posts.

Well, Rob stuck to our promise while I wrote my post months ago and subsequently scrapped it. I’m a perfectionist who eventually, grudgingly, settles for less than perfect; this time in the form of a stream of conscious blast of blogging.

So what does True Icon mean to me? When Rob first came up with the name and the tag “Become the Icon” it grew on me over the space of the next 5 minutes to encompass a lot of what I wanted the site to be. I’m not sure if it came endowed with meaning that took me 5 minutes to understand (It’s a strong possibility) or if I subscribed my own meaning to it. At this point it probably doesn’t matter.

So what is it? In short, we want True Icon sell ethical and stylish clothes. Both Rob and I have been vegan for a number of years and we’ve found ethical ‘fashion’ to be at best highly suspect. We’re hoping to provide organic, fair trade and fashionable clothing for both men and women as soon as possible. As you can probably tell from the state of the site at the moment, neither of us our web designers; we’re working on the shop functionality and going over every aspect of our products to make sure they’re as ethical as they can possibly be.

In the meantime, we’re throwing out material on anything and everything that we care about. Loosely broken into categories:

Culture: be that books, games, music, films or what have you. It’s a broad title but if it’s good enough for the Guardian, it’s good enough for me.

Fitness: We’re both fitness obsessed and we think everyone should be. Expect posts on workouts, diets, Martial Arts and how to generally make yourself into a superhero.

Essays: In which we cover topics in depth that we have been thinking about recently. This is a bit of a “File as Misc.” section.

Food: Always vegan. Nearly always healthy, fitness focused, quick and convenient. Apart from the odd indulgence including Oreo Ice Cream and Raw Food Vegan Snickers (both coming soon!). Check out the True Icon Rule of 7 for an explanation of the types of food we cook.

Technology: It has a larger and larger part in all our lives and almost everyone is fascinated by some part of it – we fall under the category of ‘almost everyone’, so here it is.

Fashion: Last but by no means least. We’ll cover brands and products we back as well as debates around just what exactly ethical fashion is anyway.

The link in all this is that we will cover things from an ethical standpoint. So if you’re an ethical dude or dudette, or you’d like to be, you’re in the right place

Finally getting onto the subject of the name, it’s easier to approach from our tagline “Become the Icon”.

I’ve heard a lot of vegan jokes over the years. But my favourite?

How do you know if someone is vegan?

Don’t worry. They’ll tell you.

It’s genius.

We’ve all met the preachy vegan types. They’re so stoked with themselves and their attitude to life.

“Would you like a crisp Mark?”

“Umm... no thanks. I take my crisps cruelty free.”

This is a slight exaggeration and in reality things are a little more nuanced. But no matter what way you look at it, no matter what type of vegan you are - it’s so very, very true.

It’s true about any ethical or moral choice. I wouldn’t be vegan if I didn’t think it was the right thing to do. And if I think it’s the right thing to do it would follow that I want others to be vegan as well.  And what better way to get people to be vegan than telling them about it, right?

But there are different ways to let people know.


1)   You can bombard them with facts.

Facts about why meat is bad, why diary is bad, why animal testing is bad. Facts about how these things damage the environment, global society and perhaps even your health.

Facts about how bee’s numbers are critically low, how we’re over fishing to the brink of disaster, how inefficient beef production is. Ad infinitum, ad infinitum, ad infinitum.

The reaction is unlikely to be a favourable one. It’s a bit like telling someone their hair is crap and that you don’t like their music taste and then asking them to buy your latest record. It’s not going to work.


Option two then.


2)   You can set an example.

Live your life to its fullest and live it ethically. Be an informed, healthy, attractive individual.

People might comment on your food, your clothes, your energy levels or physique. At this point, if you like, you can mention you’re vegan or vegetarian or that your clothes are fair-trade, ethical and just downright awesome in every way.

They’ve asked, so let them know. Let them know that being vegan is one of the best things you’ve ever done for you.

Over time they’ll see how you live your life and they’ll start to see that maybe they could make some changes. Maybe how you live will work for them too.

I’ve seen this with so many of my friends, family memebers and collegues. They come to making ethical choices in their own time and in their own way. They might not go vegan but they might shop more locally, eat less meat or avoid animal tested products.

Anyone with an ethical conscience wants immediate change. And it can happen. We will fight for it with pen and with fire, with protest and with boycott.

But first we need to set an example of how life can be.

That’s what True Icon means to me. I hope to set an example of just how easy and enjoyable it is to live a compassionate and considerate lifestyle. Most importantly, I hope you’ll join me.


________________________________________________________________________________


If you’ve read this far – major props. Please get in touch with us and let us know how we can make the site better and what you’d like us to cover. We’d love to hear from you.


Cheers, Kai

Kai@trueicon.co.uk & Rob@Trueicon.co.uk

Five of the Best Hardcore Albums of 2013 (so far)

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Baptists – Bushcraft

Whilst it'll become almost immediately obvious that Baptists are big Converge fans, this is one of the best Converge-inspired albums I've heard in a while. Every song swells into an unstoppable rage of chaotic energy, with the occasional inclusion of those slower, trudging tracks such as Still Melt and Soiled Roots, akin to Converge's own Hell To Pay and You Fail Me. Whilst I understand that this kind of thing isn't for everyone, if you dig it then you'll do well to check out Baptists.

Coliseum – Sister Faith

Ok, so I struggled with whether to include this album on this list, as, honestly, Sister Faith is not a hardcore album. But Coliseum traditionally are a hardcore band. And this album is just too good to pass up. As Ryan Patterson, vocalist for the band, stated at a recent show of their's in Brighton, UK, Coliseum 'do their own thing', and this piece of work is a crowning example of that. Sister Faith is an unambiguously darkly themed album, with less in common with their previous crust sound and more with a stoner rock/rock 'n' roll sound of the early 90s, laden with some of the finest riffs you'll hear this year.

 

Shai Hulud – Reach Beyond the Sun

 

Pioneers of modern metalcore, Shai Hulud, return with another incredible album. The band's fourth studio album in their 18 year career, Reach Beyond the Sun had a lot to live up to, but with the teaser trailer of the title track released, fans became aware that they were in for something very special. With the return of New Found Glory's Chad Gilbert on vocals, Shai Hulud have brought their breed of misanthropic metalcore kicking and screaming into 2013. Songs such as the title track and The Mean Spirits, Breathing hark back to Shai Hulud's early albums, whilst songs such as To Suffer Fools are likely to be new crowd favourites with their gang-vocals and mosh-inducing beats.

 

Nails – Abandon All Life

 

I avoid any form of exaggeration when I state that Abandon All Life is one of the heaviest albums I've ever heard. At just over 17 minutes, it wastes absolutely no time in letting you know where it stands, as it opens with a guitar tone heavy enough to kill a whale, running straight through ten brutal tracks and ending in white noise. If you're not a fan of heavy music, this will do nothing to change your mind. For everyone else: enjoy the ride.

Grappler – Everything I've Ever Feared

 

Equal parts fast, heavy, emotional, harrowing, and powerful; yet all around brilliant. Grappler are relatively new on the UK scene, being supported by the fantastic Dog Knights Productions. Everything I've Ever Feared is their demonstration to the UK scene that they are ready to be noticed. A severely underrated band, this EP weaves its way between Defeater's melodic narratives and crushing emotional release seen from bands such as American Nightmare and Dead Swans. With a live show brimming with energy to boot, this band is giving 100% at the moment, and is one to watch.

Dear Esther Review

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Ken Levine, creator of the Bioshock franchise, has been attributed with the quote “the world is the best narrator” when it comes to video games – a sentiment that was most recently reiterated by Hidetaka Miyazaki, who stated over Twitter that “the greatest tool for narrative is the world you create for it to exist in. A well designed world could tell its story in silence.” With Levine's latest, Infinite, audiences have been split over the narrative of the game: most agree that the story is fantastic, but division exists over how well that particular story is told. With this in mind, it is an apt time to revisit indie game Dear Esther, which has recently been released for Linux, and stands as a bastion of interactive environmental storytelling. An experience which takes you through themes of catharsis, closure, and loneliness in approximately two hours, with little more than a desolate Hebridean island and a deluded narrator to weave the story together, Dear Esther explores boundaries in plot delivery, gameplay, and even what it means to be a 'video game'.

Dear Esther 4

The game started as an experiment by indie studio, The Chinese Room, before evolving under the hand of former DICE employee Robert Briscoe. Dear Esther lacks almost any recognisable video game tropes from health-bars, to items of any kind, or even death in the traditional video game sense. In fact, the closest the player will come to dying throughout the game are a couple of narrow mountain paths, and venturing too far out to sea during exploration, at which points the game will promptly transport the protagonist back to a few seconds before death. This is a game that doesn't want you to die – it wants you to experience it.

And a sensational experience it is too. The game plays out over four areas, with one goal of reaching a radio-mast that is visible in the distance from the very start. During progression, objects and images are scattered across the areas which relate to the narrator's backstory and his reason for being on this island. These are pieced together by short inclusions and passages from the narrator as the island is explored, based on what's been discovered. The voice acting deserves applause of its own – the monologues are powerful and emotionally evocative, creating, as with the rest of the game, a sense of poignancy whilst never feeling contrived.

A shipwreck on a beach

The game is set on a linear path, but is laden with extras and hidden treats for the explorer. Every sight in this game adds to the overarching narrative, and relates in some way. Those who stray from the path will find extra bricks to use in building the story – a tale which is never truly revealed to you, and thus every chance to explore should be taken. Unravelling this tale of misery avoids the tokenistic explorative elements of other games. The game never feels like a collect 'em up – something which even those more narrative driven linear experiences suffer from, such as the aforementioned Bioshock series. If anything, one of my few complaints is that I would have liked more – more side-paths, more caves, and more exploration. And explore you'll want to. The island is one of the most hauntingly beautiful settings I've ever experienced in a video game. The decade old Source Engine proves that it is far from obsolete, as it commits itself fully to the task of rendering this visually distinct island into existence. Decrepit buildings stand strong against the emptiness of the landscape, filled with signs of a time gone by. Foliage sways dutifully in response to the winds rushing over the landscape. Waves crash up against distance rocks in their failed effort to reach the shoreline. Caves, littered with stalactites and stalagmites, glisten from the trickles of water running down their walls. And, through the clouds and fog, the ominous radio-mast stands beckoning the player with brief flashes from its red signal light.

Radio mast on a hill

Of course, this would do nothing for immersion were it not for the stellar sound design. I have already touched upon the voice acting, but this is just the icing on the audible cake. The harsh coastal weather adds to the melancholic tone of the overall game, whistling past the player's ears with little opportunity for shelter. The soundtrack by Jessica Curry does not directly influence the game or the player, instead serving to echo the scenery and solitude of the setting. As such, its place is close to perfect, with only rare instances where it feels intrusive.

At only two hours long, it is easy to praise Dear Esther. The game never outstays its welcome. It is a game with very little 'gameplay' at all. It requires no skills to play through, besides your ability to ascertain the plot from what you're provided. And whilst replay value is there (the narration changes, as do objects and certain scenes, with each play through), the game almost doesn't give you enough time for annoyances and cracks to appear. Yet I can't help feeling that The Chinese Room have done more for gaming than most AAA games that I've experienced recently.

Cave

This is a game I'd be happy to show my grandparents – avid anti-gamers since the day I first brought a Game Boy to their house at the age of six. They would gain as much from this experience as I did. Whilst I'm not advocating gaming as a discipline for everyone, Dear Esther proves that gaming is a powerful art-form and storytelling device. A game that deserves every second of the two hours it'll take to play through it – each of those seconds drenched in beauty and meaning.

The narration by Dear Esther's world is a pinnacle point of video gaming, and one that Ken Levine and his ilk should notice. Bioshock Infinite may have been ten times the length of Dear Esther, but Dear Esther had less than 0.03% of the budget of Infinite's $200 million, and I'm struggling to decide which gave me the most richly realised world out of the two – although I know which my grandparents would choose. As it stands now, The Chinese Room are developing the sequel to Amnesia: The Dark Descent, entitled Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, which will be available later this year. Dear Esther has served as a great warm-up for this, and I eagerly await to see what the team manage to achieve with Amnesia's horrific world. In the meantime, pick up Dear Esther and let me know what your granny thinks of it.