The good people at theFWA.com have been nice enough to recognize the TrackMyMacca’s mobile app we created with Tribal DDB Sydney and Dinahmoe Stockholm by awarding it the Mobile of the Day. They also asked us to write an article about how the project came to be, so here you go.
Please go to the original article to see all the nice illustrations.
In May 2012, Tribal DDB Sydney approached us to partner with them to create an AR- based experience with a sophisticated animated 3D universe built around McDonald’s products.
In this universe users could explore the ingredients that go into making five iconic McDonald’s products. In doing so, the user could get real-time information and stories about how the ingredients they were consuming right now had made it from the farm to their bellies.
Tribal DDB designed the complete solution for the TrackMyMacca’s app, which included turning McDonald’s supply chain data into an API, the way the app is split from the API and the user experience. Our role was to design and build the 3D universe and develop the app for iOS devices.
For us, TrackMyMacca’s was a real passion project, Both teams at ACNE and Tribal DDB went above and beyond to make it perfect. When we saw the final 3D world fold out on the table in front of us, we were incredibly pleased. In our eyes, TrackMyMacca’s is the perfect example of how technology can enable great design.
The TrackMyMacca’s app presented a series of challenges as we were not only dealing with 3D animations on a mobile device, but we were also showing these animations augmented onto the real world through the use of Augmented Reality – a technology with a notorious past.
Augmented Reality’s Notorious Past
When AR first caught our attention in 2009, everyone wanted to get a piece of the magic future technology that seemingly bridged the gap between the real and digital world.
Countless sites and experiences followed, but in the end we were still tied to the desktop computer and the limitations of having to create an experience where the user was asked to hold a printed symbol in front of a webcam. One might say that the AR bubble burst that same year.
Fast-forward to three years later, and the world of AR has significantly evolved with mobile technology making huge leaps forward, unleashing the power necessary to not only run the real-time image recognition algorithms but also render complex 3D animations at the same time.
We started building prototypes to explore the different AR libraries available and both parties quickly agreed on using Qualcomm’s Vuforia AR library. As well as having a significantly dedicated online community, Vuforia also complemented our development platform for the project – Unity3D.
Building a 3D Universe on Mobile
Unity was the perfect choice for a project of this scale; it has great IDE, is a very capable and flexible scripting platform, and also has a great online community – much like Vuforia.
When modelling for real-time rendering on a handheld device, we need to be constantly aware of elements that impact performance, such as polygon count, texture size and draw calls. All of which makes this very different from non-real time 3D, where we only need to worry about how many GHz hours to rent at a render farm.
Our 3D artists created the world in close collaboration with our Unity developers and we had to develop many iterations to make sure we stretched the hardware as far as we possibly could without actually breaking it.
Working under these conditions proved to be a great catalyst for creativity, especially for our developers. For instance, we would realize that the animated textures for the toaster skid marks were too straining for the target device, which forced us to come up with a scripted solution for dynamically creating the same effect on the fly.
As it turned out, even seemingly impossible change requests to the 3D world could be achieved!
Putting It All Together
One of the biggest challenges of this project was the test and development workflow. Vuforia 2.0 was released towards the very end of the project, and one of the big advantages of this version of the SDK, in combination with Unity 4, is that you can use your webcam to test your work during the development process.
But for most of the project this great functionality wasn’t available to us, and that meant deploying to a device every time we had to test even the smallest change. Fortunately that won’t be the case for future AR projects.
Audio integration was also an interesting challenge for this project. While the iPhone is capable of delivering really good sound quality if you connect a pair of decent headphones to it, the reality is that most users will experience the audio through the device’s speaker.
Audio for a mobile experience means catering to both scenarios. Our partner DinahMoe created a soundscape that both added a wonderful dimension to the ambient noises of a restaurant experience, and delivered a truly immersive experience to those users who enjoyed it through their headphones.
We also encountered challenges regarding shakiness of the scene. AR works well if the 3D scene is approximately the same size as the AR target, but in our case the scene was many times bigger than that. This caused some issues with the stability of the scene.
The small movements inevitably made when pointing a device at an AR target, are magnified exponentially based on the size relationship between the target and the final 3D scene.
This particular issue was solved with the help of the Vuforia community by dampening the input that comes from the gyroscope in the device, and by easing the scaling and orientation changes in the 3D scene.
Working with AR means combining real world objects with 3D, and while the technology has improved tremendously over the previous years, we’re still very much at the mercy of the user.
In the case of TrackMyMacca’s, the ideal scenario was a user in a well lit McDonald’s restaurant, with a good wifi-connection and a sturdy unbroken box as a target. This was of course completely out of our control, and all we could do was to build the greatest app we possibly could. The rest was up to the user.
About the Author
I work as an Interactive Creative Director at ACNE Production in Los Angeles. I specialize interactive direction on experience-based campaigns across multiple digital platforms. I’ve directed and lead campaigns with such brands as Nike, Coca-Cola, Nokia, GE, McDonald’s, Toyota, to name a few.
I graduated from the IT University of Copenhagen in 2005 and started working at Framfab/LBi in Copenhagen shortly after as a developer. I stayed with LBi for five years, eventually making Director of Technology.
I’ve always had a strong focus on how to bring an idea to life, so the step across the Atlantic Ocean to ACNE Production in 2010 was a natural one to make. I was hired as a Technical and Interactive director and was promoted to Interactive Creative Director in early 2013.
In my academic education I’ve combined a bachelor in arts and aesthetics with a masters degree in information technology. This unusual combination gives me a unique understanding of both the creative, technical and aesthetic aspects of a concept, as well as the tools and knowledge to bring that concept into life.
Two years ago today I landed in LAX to start a new chapter in my life. More than a new chapter, in fact I’d go as far as calling it Act Three of my life. I was pretty satisfied with my life up until then; I’d gotten married to the most fantastic woman in the world two years before, I had a great, challenging job with wonderful coworkers, I was living in this great, big apartment in Copenhagen and I had a lot of things going for me.
But there was a voice calling for me from somewhere – I wanted something new, but I couldn’t decide what it was. It had been calling for me for a long time, and I’d tried to ignore it for a while, but it was getting stronger now. A couple of events occurred in early 2010 that helped push me towards the decision to leave it all behind, the strongest being that I lost my father early in the year. Although it didn’t really come as a surprise, since he had been weak for some time, it still had a major impact on me. Suddenly a huge part of my past was gone, and with that came a chance to reflect on his life, how it compared to mine and how I wanted to do a lot of things different from him. My father didn’t exactly have the best life imaginable, but he had great ambition throughout most of his life & he knew how to enjoy himself. Those are both virtues that I’ve inherited from him, but in the last year or so it seemed like the latter was getting more important than the first one. I had a sneaking feeling that life in Copenhagen was all about waiting for the next chance to get to enjoy myself. Waiting for the weekend during the week, waiting for the next long weekend where you could fly to Berlin or London, waiting for spring during the winter, waiting for the summer holiday, always waiting for the next opportunity to get away. When I first started working at Framfab in Copenhagen one of my new colleagues, a person I respect a lot, decided to quit his job and move on to a new position. At the time I found it hard to believe that you would want to work anywhere else, since Framfab was the place where we got to work on awesome stuff like NikeFootball, but he’d been there for five years, and he told me he felt five years was a decent amount of time to spend in the same place. After five years you would be so much into the routines of your everyday work that you would start to get maybe just a little bit too comfortable.
I think that happened to me as I approached the five year mark; I had accomplished a lot in the time I’d been there, I’d played an important role in many award winning campaigns, I’d learned a lot from the very talented people around me and I was in a position in the company where I’d become part of the everyday management and was the head of the technology department, managing several very talented developers and system architects. Yet somehow, that wasn’t really enough for me, or maybe it was enough at some point and now I wanted something else. There had been offers from other companies in Denmark, but somehow it felt like there wasn’t really anything interesting left for me to do in Denmark. That may sound very arrogant, but I think it has to do with the way you traditionally make your career in Denmark, regardless of business. Making your way to the top is traditionally a question of assuming a position where you have more and more people answering to you. I’d taken that route, first becoming the head of a small team of developers, then all front-end developers and finally the entire technology department. But the problem with that route is that more and more of your time is devoted to managing people, not with doing creative work for the clients, and the creative work is what drives me. I was definitely getting too comfortable, and it was starting to get to me.
Framfab (or LBi Copenhagen, at it had been renamed by then) had been through a challenging couple of years same as everyone else in the industry, but at the beginning of 2010 things had started to turn around with a recent merger with another digital agency in Copenhagen. I’d stuck with the company out of loyalty through the hard times and I felt like I’d played an important part in turning things around. But even though things were moving in the right direction for the company, I didn’t really feel like they were moving in the right direction for me. So that night in early April when I got an IM from an old colleague asking me if I wanted to come to Los Angeles and work, I was very, very intrigued.
The winter 2009/10 was absolutely horrible. It was cold, the streets were frozen and covered with snow for months. In fact it was still snowing in April the first time I had a video chat with the people from the ACNE Production office in LA. And in the background behind these people was a gorgeous blue sky and a palm tree. It’s really hard to compete with that. In fact later when they flew me to Stockholm to talk the ACNE Production people there, the head of ACNE Production listed the weather as three out of five reasons for why the office was in Los Angeles and not New York.
The job was incredibly appealing – from very early on I was given the opportunity to look at some of the work they were doing and some of the clients they were working with, and it all resonated with me. The creative was challenging, it was using technology in new, fascinating ways and the budgets were much bigger than I’d been used to.
So mentally I was very much ready to leave Denmark behind and continue my career far away. But I’m not the only one who gets to decide what happens in my life. I’ve chosen to dedicate my life to my wonderful wife, and when the equation suddenly contains two people instead of one, things get a lot more complicated. It just so happened that the timing was also very good with my wife. Her one year contract was coming to an end and she was ready to move on to the next thing. While I was in early negotiations with ACNE, she had applied for a very interesting position at a hospital in Denmark and she had been interviewed for it just a couple of days before I flew to Stockholm. If she were to get that job, I would put my dreams of moving abroad away for a couple of years and settle with something in Copenhagen. I very clearly remember the point of no return for us: I was in a taxi going back to the airport after the interview when she called me and asked me how my interview had gone. By then I had a lot of experience sitting at the other side of the table when interview promising candidates, so I felt pretty confident in saying that the interview went very well, and that it would probably be a matter of agreeing to the terms of a contract; the job was mine if I wanted it. She fell silent for a few moments and then proceeded to tell me that she’d just gotten a callback from her interview. She’d gotten very good feedback, but had not been offered the position. Another few moments of silence passed by and then I asked her if this was it: Should we go for it? And she said yes.
The next couple of months were challenging, but fun. It’s not exactly easy to get a visa in the US, especially after ACNE’s immigration lawyer found out that I was Danish, not Swedish. This meant that although ACNE wanted to offer me a contract, they couldn’t guarantee that I would get the visa. And even if I could, it would take several months. Obviously I needed time to settle things in Denmark, since moving to another continent isn’t something you just do over the weekend, but the uncertain situation with the visa was tough to deal with. Quitting my job would be risky, since I could potentially be put in a situation where I would be out of a job and out of visa. I also needed letters of recommendation from some of the people I was working with, and that would probably have been an awkward thing to ask for if they didn’t know I was leaving. And since you have to give notice to the end of the following month I decided to risk it and texted my boss early in the morning on the last day of April, saying that I was quitting my job. Even though it was pretty early in the morning she immediately called me. She wasn’t happy that I wanted to go, but it was a great relief to her to learn that I was leaving for another continent and not for a competitor around the corner. In fact she was incredibly supportive having herself spent several years in the US. She even said that she would be willing to cancel my resignation should I find myself without a visa.
From then on it was a matter of getting everything settled in Copenhagen. I obviously had a job in Los Angeles, but we needed to make sure my wife had something to do. The visa we were getting for me wouldn’t allow her to work, but fortunately for us she could study which was a perfect opportunity for us. She is getting a doctoral degree in clinical psychology at an excellent graduate school of psychology and will soon surpass me in level of education. Summer came in May in Copenhagen and it was as beautiful as it had even been. My visa application was well under way, the immigration lawyer had assured me that it would go through and at the end of May we made a public announcement about our decision to go away, followed by a final approval of my visa on June 12.
Time goes by quickly when trying to deal with all the challenges of moving to another continent. But once you’ve made plans for how to deal with them, that day when you’re going away suddenly gets closer and closer. That’s when you start dealing with the heavy burden of leaving the family and the friends you love behind. I had a wonderful summer before leaving my wild youth behind, spending many a long night with good friends drinking beer, going to festivals and concerts, swimming in the canals of Copenhagen and watching the sun rise from the most beautiful locations imaginable. That’s the Copenhagen I want to preserve in my memory when things get a bit rough and even I get a bit homesick.
I have two small nieces from my twin sister that are the most lovely little creatures in the world. When I went away, one of them was just two years old and the other one hadn’t even been born yet. Watching them grow up over Skype is very painful, but at least modern technology gives me the chance to talk to them as well as the rest of the people I left behind. I’m at an age where you don’t really see the passage of time that much in your friends or your siblings but you really see it in their children, and that’s when the big picture really reveals itself which can be horrifying. That’s when you feel like you’re missing out on something. But you can’t have everything in life – at least not at once – and I decided to take the adventurous path when it was presented to me. I don’t want to look back at my life 20 or 30 years from now and regret the missed opportunities, I want to follow my ambition and do amazing work in a place like this. At ACNE Los Angeles I get to do the kind of work I longed to do in Copenhagen and really pursue my creative side. Always with a great idea at the core, always with rock solid creativity and always striving to do the perfect job. Most of the time that means leaving your comfort zone, but I left my comfort zone two years ago in Copenhagen. So the weather is good, the job is good and my wife loves getting her doctorate degree. Four and a half months ago our daughter Europa arrived as a new addition to my family, and with her I have everything I want in my life. For now …
Let me warn you, this post is certainly written for a niche audience. But I just made a discovery that I hope can help other people who have to deal with the same issue I was having.
So here is the situation: At ACNE Production we’re currently developing a series of Rich Media banners for one of our clients. The challenge for us is that we have a lot of different clients that use different media partners to publish and host their banners, and all of these media partners have different ways of doing things. Often figuring out the way things work with this particular media partner takes up a significant part of my time as a technical director, since I’d rather have the developers focusing on writing code. We just did a couple of banners using Google’s DoubleClick Studio, and this time the mediapartner is Mediamind, who merged with Eyeblaster last year (I think). Eyeblaster have been around for some time, and it seems they’ve been developing their framework for a LONG time. It’s certainly very big and complicated.
The problem is that to develop an Eyeblaster banner you have to build it in the Eyeblaster Workshop, which is a proprietary plugin for Flash. Once you’ve installed that plugin you have access to a very sophisticated toolbox with templates and even a sandbox for previewing as well as publishing capabilities. Unfortunately everything happens behind the scenes; You don’t know where any of the code comes from, you just know that weird classes are imported and that static objects are referenced from the timeline in the template files.
The problem is that no serious Flash developer would ever user the Flash timeline to write any code, other than maybe a stop(); action inside a graphical asset. Any code beyond that should be written in an IDE, such as FDT or Flash Builder. Our tool of choice at ACNE Production is FDT, currently version 5.5. Now, since all the mysterious Eyeblaster magic happens behind the scenes, trying to develop an Eyeblaster banner using an ActionScript IDE will result in a ton of reference errors inside your project, since all the Eyeblaster code is nowhere to be found.
With DoubleClick studio it was fairly simple and worked the way you would expect it to. There is a plugin that you install using the Adobe Extension Manager, but there are also several SWC files that contain compiled versions of the code to be used in your ActionScript IDE. With Eyeblaster, there was no such thing, at least not on the surface. So I thought that I would try and break open the .mxp file that contained the Eyeblaster Workshop, hoping to find a bunch of SWC files in there.
Unfortunately, opening an MXP file was no easy task. I assumed it was just a zip-archive, but I couldn’t get it to unzip. Enter Gooogle, that told me about an ancient piece of software called MXP Lister. And this is where it gets really old school: MXP Lister is a plugin for Total Commander(!) I actually couldn’t believe my eyes. One of the developers at my old factory used Total Commander on Windows back in 2007, and even back THEN it was totally old school, although for a semi-old geek like myself it brought back fond memories of the MS DOS days and Norton Commander or even Directory Opus on the Commodore Amiga system.
So I booted up the trusty old office Dell and installed Total Commander and the MXP Lister plugin, hoping to reveal the dark secrets of the Eyeblaster MXP package. And I certainly did – the MXP (Macromedia eXtension Package) contained MXI, which is an XML metadata file that describes what to do with the contents of the package. And this revealed that it copies actual ActionScript classes into the Flash Library. Since Flash Pro intrinsically (and secretly) understands and relies on code in there, there is absolutely no reference to that directory whatsoever in the publish settings for the .fla files created by the Eyeblaster Workshop.
Anyway, I was able to find those classes and copy the code into the project we’re working on, so that we can use a decent IDE to write the code instead of having to write code in the timeline. In case you’ve forgotton where Flash stores it’s internal classes (and I had), here it is (on OS X with Flash CS6 installed):
So there you have it – a walk down memory lane to the days of writing code in the timeline and even further to the days of File Managers. While I’m sure the Eyeblaster Workshop works out just fine for designers who don’t write any code but just rely on simple actions and don’t care HOW it works, just that it works, it just isn’t a good solution for a developer. I hope EyeBlaster realises this and provide us with SWCs instead of the “idiot”-proof template files. I also hope someone can use this information in the future, which is the reason I wrote this post.
The GE Performance Machines interactive experience combines a large library of video recordings of three pro football players with interactivity in the form of 9 mini games putting man against different machines built by GE. ACNE Production created this experience in collaboration with BBDO New York and Dinahmoe and I was the technical and interactive director on the project. The site was made Site of the Day on theFWA.com March 13 2012.
The project launched around the Super Bowl and was expected to receive a lot of traffic around the time of the launch. Furthermore it was made very clear to us that the client wasn’t a big fan of loaders on websites. Since we were creating an interactive experience it was very important to find out what exactly that meant. Turns out she didn’t like having to wait a long time to get into the main part of a website, which to us is a perfectly understandable objection – our philosophy on loading is that the site should only load what it needs to get going – many interactive websites tend to load everything up front, even though it isn’t needed right away. I believe this is done because it’s easier from a development perspective than having to deal with dynamic loading later on in the interactive narrative. Well, sites aren’t built for developers, they’re built for users, so we do of course need to figure out a way to make the site feel light and the experience seamless to the user.
We were also asked to figure out how we wanted to deal with users on mobile platforms. It wasn’t a requirement that the experience should work on mobile, but in creating a brand experience it’s of course important to take all platforms into account, since lots of traffic comes from various handheld devices.
Interactive Experiences in the Cloud These last couple of years have seen a lot of internet infrastructure being moved from dedicated hosting solutions to some kind of cloud hosting and cloud applications. The typical interactive experience has a fairly short life expectancy, but during that time it will receive a lot of traffic, making it a perfect candidate for being hosted in the cloud. This project was no exception. We were dealing with a lot of video files – in fact no less than 197 in three bandwidth versions for a total of 591 videos. The core functionality of the site is switching rapidly between these many different videos, depending on what the gameplay dictates. Furthermore several of the videos have to start playing not from the beginning, but from a specific point, again depending on the gameplay. One way of doing this is to preload all videos for a given game and storing them in memory for when they’re needed it in the game, but that would require us to load all videos up front, resulting in potentially a very long load time. There is also a limit to how much video, we can hold in memory, and that limit is quite low.
Fortunately Amazon Web Services have a very interesting product that we can use for just this kind of experience. Amazon Cloudfront is a Content Delivery Network (CDN), that among other things have Flash Media Server capabilities in it’s portfolio. The idea behind that is to allow content providers to serve video in a more traditional sense, where a user would watch videos in a video player. But it works perfectly for an interactive video experience like ours – It sits in the cloud and scales gracefully to meet our traffic needs, and the Flash Media Server lets us play any video on demand with very low latency. Cloudfront works perfectly with the industry standard for video player Open Source Media Framework (OSMF), which is the technology being the frontend video used in this project.
Creating a Seamless Experience
While the latency is very low, it’s still there – the result is that videos will occasionally take 0.2 to 0.5 seconds to start playing, which is something the human eye notices. To make this less apparent to the user we worked with our sound partner Dinahmoe on letting the music be the element that stitches the videos together. The music is not embedded in the videos but plays out as a separate element in the experience. This means that when the video stops playing for a second, the music is still playing, and that creates a very good illusion of a seamless experience.
The mobile site One of the things we’re particularly proud of is the mobile site that supports this experience. The desktop site is the main focus of the campaign and that is what most of the effort went into, but we came up with a simple and fast solution for a mobile site that doesn’t feel watered down. As with any interactive experience we have buttons for social sharing on the desktop site that allows users to Like the site on Facebook, Tweet it on Twitter or +1 it on Google Plus. If I go through my social feed on my mobile device and decide to check out the link to the GE Performance Machines site posted by a friend of mine, I will be taken to a site tailored specifically for the mobile platform, but with the same deeplink that my friend shared. The mobile site features videos capturing the interactive action on the desktop features, but without the interactivity. In fact, the user always wins in the mobile version of the interactive features. If I later visit the same link on my desktop computer I will be taken to the full site.
Sprinting through the Waterfall This project had a very short timeline and was completed in only 6 weeks. To accomplish this we had to work in an iterative process were all stakeholders were involved from the beginning. Traditionally interactive campaigns have taken a waterfall approach where the developers are handed a bunch of completed Photoshop files and assets and then locked into a basement for a month or two to build the experience. While most software development companies have probably buried the waterfall approach years ago, it still makes some sense in advertising, as it allows the creatives to fully visualize and finalize their design and concept before handing it over to the developers. Later when the developers are released from the basement, that design can be used as a very accurate guideline to review the finished product. Unfortunately this approach is very time consuming and expensive, and furthermore it creates a gap between the stakeholders in the project. That’s probably the reason why production and development people hate it.
Modern software development typically uses an iterative approach, SCRUM being one of the most popular and well-known of those. This approach breaks the project up into clearly defined phases with clearly defined roles, responsibilities and goals for each phase. Developers and other production people love this, because they love clearly defined goals. It’s also a lot more efficient and flexibile than the waterfall approach, since the later phases can be re-defined based on the outcomes of the phases before them. But in our experience an approach like this is too demanding on a lot of people, in particular creatives and the client, as it requires a very high level of abstraction to fully understand how the pieces come together in the end. Another thing that makes an approach like this challenging is the fact that we have a shoot very early in the project timeline. Everybody is locked into the result of this shoot, and we can’t be flexible in later phases to make up for the stuff that went wrong during the shoot or the stuff we didn’t think about at the time.
The timeline on this project demanded that we took an iterative approach, or we would have still been working on it now. Development happened alongside design, and as soon as the edits had been selected from the shoot, we started to mock up working prototypes where we could fit all the pieces together using raw edits and experiment with the gameplay. This allowed our creative people to start playing the game very early on, which again allowed them to create and tweak the design elements to support the gameplay perfectly. Furthermore our client could start playing the games very early on, which was a huge benefit to the project, as it allowed us plenty of time to set the gameplay parameters and the game difficulty to a level that everybody liked. As the CGI was added to the videos and the post work was done, we replaced the raw edits with final videos. As the game gauges were designed and rendered, they slowly replaced the green placeholder boxes in the game, and slowly everything came together and started looking like a real game.
Oh, 2011. Such a nice year in music it was. I want to follow up on my hugely successful post about the top 10 albums of 2010 with a similar list for 2011. As a service each album will also include a link to that album on Spotify and/or Rdio, if it exists there. That should make the music accessible to anybody, because let’s face it: You suck if you don’t have a Spotify or Rdio account. Or maybe you’re just not interested in music? Anyway, consuming music these days is soooo easy with services like these, and 2012 will probably be the first year where I don’t buy a single CD. I bought 1 CD in 2011, and that CD is obviously on the list below – the music purchase itself wasn’t exactly a great success. Well, I actually still subscribe to the excellent FabricLive compilation series to get my fix of contemporary music from the British Underground. It’s actually possible to purchase that compilation as downloads instead of a physical CD, but I simply can’t get myself to pay for music (or movies for that matter) if I can’t handle a tangible object. So in that way the premium streaming services are a very good way for me to stay legit along with the excellent Google Music service which allows me to stream my entire music collection from my Android phone.
Inspirations and sources
The streaming services are also an excellent way to discover new music through their excellent use of various social networks, and that is the source of a lot of the music I’ve discovered this year. As always Roskilde Festival and their always excellent lineup is a great source of inspiration, and I can’t help myself from being heavily influenced by some of the live shows I’ve seen with a couple of the artists in my list. I really love a good live show although I haven’t seen quite as much as I would have liked to in 2011. And that’s probably going to get even worse in 2012 when the junior DJ makes his scheduled arrival in late February. Oh well …
I listen to a lot of music on my bike commute to work. This is the perfect setting for the more difficult music that requires some contemplation to settle. Another scene is the office speakers, but that only works with music that everyone can accept, as this is a working environment, so we definitely listen to a lot of chill wave. And the last setting is the gym, where the intensity of the music sets the intensity of the workout.
Stuff that didn’t quite make the cut
Tough decision to get the shortlist down to 10 albums, but you always have to make a choice. I really wanted to add some Skrillex (rdio / spotify) to the list, since 2011 was the year I discovered his awesome electronic music, but his best album is from 2010, and the stuff he has done in 2011 is good, but not quite good enough for the top 10. Another one that almost made it was Pala by Friendly Fires (rdio / spotify), but again this album isn’t quite as good as the first one. Cults (rdio / spotify) almost made it, but I guess I decided not to give in to the hype. Another one that didn’t make it was The War on Drugs with Slave Ambient (rdio / spotify). With this one I guess I find it really annoying that I can’t tell the album title from the artist title. And one of my favourite Danish hip hop acts Suspekt didn’t quite make it with their Elektra). I was really impressed with that one on listening to it the first couple of times, but it slipped out of my mind after a while. Also it isn’t quite as good as Prima Nocte from 2007.
I’m moving well outside of my comfort zone with Mastodon. It’s almost metal, and the live concert I caught at Roskilde Festival last summer featured several variations of mosh pits right in front of me, which isn’t something I typically see at concerts, although I fully appreciate how it adds to the atmosphere of the event. Not a lot of acts in this range of the genre spectrum on my all time favourite list, but since I discovered Mastodon through “Crack the Skye” I’ve been a fan. Incredible skill combined with excellent production quality where you can actually distinguish each instrument instead of the typical wall of distorted noise you hear in other metal. Compositions and harmonies are of equal high quality and the drummer is out of this world. Favourite moment is where the drums build up the composition of the whole song during the intro of “Dry Bone Valley”. They’re also excellent live and I was soooo tempted to join the mosh pit last summer, but it’s probably a good thing I didn’t. I guess Mastodon is what Metallica would be if Metallica didn’t suck …
First Danish act on the list this year. Nanna Øland was clever in picking this name for herself, since she is clearly aiming for something much bigger than Denmark and she clearly has the potential to break through. Also she is really hot … I love the ambition this lady has – the first track of the album is even called Perfection. Despite the name of that track the album isn’t perfect, and there are tracks I usually skip over, but there are amazing tracks as well. The combination of beautiful grand scale compositions with electronic elements and Nanna’s amazing voice really do it for me in tracks such as “White Nights”, “We Turn It Up” and “Sun of a Gun”. Oh Land reminds me of another wonderful Danish artist named Randi Laubek who did two amazing albums more than 10 years ago but got too cutesy after that. I hope Oh Land retains her edge and I can’t wait to hear and see what the future holds for her.
She actually performed around the corner from where I live, but unfortunately I was busy trying to do a surprise audition for Simon Cowell at the Ago on Melrose that night. Hoping to catch her next time she is in LA.
Chase & Status had a sure spot in my list, but then they almost blew it by being the biggest disappointment live when I caught them at Roskilde Festival. There are so many potent tracks on this album that I could imagine would work wonders in a live setting and I had really been warming up to the concert in the months before it by listening to the album LOUD when working out. Roskilde Festival always has amazing sound at their concert and electronic music almost always works live. Except on this occasion. The sound was bad and not nearly loud enough and there was a bad angry (not good angry, such as during Mastodon – bad angry!) atmosphere. They even cut the front of house sound at one time during the concert to keep the crowd from going mental, and the act kept playing because nobody had told them the only sound that could be heard came from their monitors,
So I actually stopped listening to the album after that. Frightened Rabbit suffered a similar fate a couple of years ago when I realised the lead singer sounds horrible live. I forgave Frightened Rabbit because the albums sound really good, and I’m willing to forgive Chase & Status as well. Their music is way too powerful to be dismissed because of one bad live experience, and I actually think I would give them a second chance if they came to a club near me. The music is really intense, the buildup during the tracks is always amazing and it’s not really possible to find a bad track on the album. The guest list is also really good and adds a good variation to the album.
It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for Kanye West and the way he brands himself. He happened to do the best album and the best single of 2010 and he is probably the best hip hop producer right now. And Jay Z is another old favourite of mine and one of the finest and most skilled rappers ever. So this collaboration was eagerly anticipated by yours truly. Kanye West always manages to balance on the edge of being way too much in everything he does, but he hasn’t tipped over the edge yet and this is no exception. The album is a grand masterpiece of pop hip hop and Jay Z definitely got his swagger back. “Lift Off” with is a perfect example of how the production is almost too much – it starts with an ” All Engines Running” sampling and the song really lifts off with a grand horn section and Beyoncés glorious contribution. Everything is turned up to 11 in this one and it just works.
The Watch the Throne tour definitely adds to the grandeur of this collaboration. I was fortunate enough to attend it a couple of weeks ago and it was a tour de force from two gentlemen with an incredible catalogue of songs and the knowledge that they are the kings. Kanye West started “All of the Lights” over 3 times because he wasn’t satisfied with the response from the audience and they ended the show by playing “Niggas in Paris” seven times in row and turning the Staples Center into a gigantic rave.
I somehow managed to miss “In Ghost Colours” when it was released in 2008 so I didn’t know Cut Copy until Zonoscope received a very favourable review in Pitchfork in early 2011. But I’m glad I read that review and got to know Cut Copy. It’s a little difficult for me to tell my impression of the two albums apart since I started listening to them at the same time, but they’re both really good. This is also the first album on the list found acceptable by the working environment, so it’s been given a lot of airplay at the office. I don’t know what it is about this album, but it just makes me really happy. Maybe it’s the pictures it creates in my mind? I love the way “Need you now” builds up and adds new layers for every verse until it puts all of the layers on top of each other at the end. Music for dancing, that’s for sure
4/5 – Washed Out: Within and Without & M83: Hurry Up We’re Dreaming
You might be surprised to find these albums so far up the list once you’ve read all the bad things I’m about to say about them. These two albums are at the peak of the Chill Wave that really hit hard in 2011 and they’re very alike in my opinion, hence the shared ranking. Chill Wave is the equivalent of lounge music of the 90′s in that nobody can be offended by it, it works as background music for sex and it doesn’t really mean anything. This music is also acceptable to everyone in the office, since it is acceptable to everybody. I haven’t bothered listening to the lyrics for any of the albums, since both titles are just so damned stupid that I can’t really be bothered to start paying attention. In writing this I just realised there is a track on the bonus dics for “Hurry Up We’re Dreaming” called “My Tears are Becoming a Sea”. I rest my case …
But where lounge music is really, really bad, both of these albums are really, really good if you allow yourself to be sucked into the wave. Like Air back when they still mattered. Ridiculous music, but at the same time beautiful and sexy.
Hooray, the king of the hipsters made my list along with every other “Best of music in 2011″ list out there. There are many things that get me really offended about Bon Iver, his beard, his flannel shirts and his staying in a cabin in the woods to record his previous album. But maybe these are traits of his fans and not of Justin Vernon himself? I mean, he actually seems like a guy who wants to create incredible music and not worry too much about maintaining an image. He did after all contribute to the incredible “Lost in the World” with Kanye West on the number one album last year.
“For Emma, Forever Ago” is definitely too introvert for me and I dismissed it and Bon Iver when I heard it a while ago. But this new album is incredible. Every single track is amazing. The way it opens in “Perth” sends shivers down my spine every time I listen to it and Justin Vernon sings like an angel. And when it breaks into the chorus first time it is almost too much to bear. “Holocene” made me want to re-learn playing guitar.
I bet that guy gets laid a lot, but I bet he has also helped a lot of other guys getting laid by giving us this incredible album. Bon Iver is the reason I want to go to Roskilde Festival next year even though I don’t have any vacation to spend on it because of the arrival of the Junior DJ. Speaking of the Junior DJ I’m planning on letting his or her arrival in this world be accompanied by this incredible album.
Malk de Koijn can’t be easily found on the streaming services. They’re way too old school for that. They’ve also managed to assemble an incredible fan base after they dissolved back in 2003 (or 4?) so obviously they wanted to sell real physical albums instead of making 1/8000 of a cent every time someone plays one of their songs on Spotify. Well I’m really old and part of the original fan base that actually liked and loved the best rap group in the universe before the fan base went ballistic around 2008. I have two copies of each of the first two albums so naturally I had to own a physical copy of “Toback to the Fromtime”. I ordered from Target Distribution well in advance of the release and paid around $40 to have it shipped to the US. It arrived several weeks after the official and had a huge scratch that ruined every single track on the album. I reached out to Target but never managed to get hold off anyone. Fortunately for me there are many fans out there, so when I announced the horrible state of my CD on Facebook no less than 5 of my friends uploaded a digital (and almost legal) copy of the entire album in various places for me to download. Thanks, guys, you are true friends.
UPDATE: I somehow managed to write the wrong email at Target Distribution. When I wrote to the right one, they got back to me almost immediately and shipped a brand new, un-scratched version of the CD. Thanks, Target.
I have so many great memories with Malk de Koijn, and most of them have something to do with Roskilde Festival. 2007 was the muddiest year in Roskilde history and we were pretty miserable most of the time. I remember one late night when it was impossible to find anything to drink, but our neighbours offered to share their horrible red wine with us on the condition that we would play Malk de Koijn really loud on our camp stereo. Great party, and shortly after we found several beers buried in the mud.
2003 had us all struggling to stay awake for the Malk de Koijn concert that started Monday morning at 3.30 am. I remember buying a case of beer around 1.30 am when everything seemed dire to restart the party. It worked and most of us made it up there for a perfect concert, excluding one friend, let’s call him D, who almost aggressive when we tried to wake him up for the concert he had been babbling about all week. I remember biking 20 miles home after the concert ended.
2009 was the re-union of Malk de Koijn at Roskilde Festival. That was one eagerly anticipated concert, and a lot of the festival was about planning how to make it to the front of the stage for the 2 am concert Saturday night. Due to a most unfortunate turn of events I kinda forgot to sleep between Friday and Saturday so my chances for making the concert were pretty bad if I had had a normal festival Saturday. The weather didn’t exactly help – it was unbelievably hot and my wife actually dropped from a heatstroke sometime around noon. I stayed away from the festival site all day gathering my strength in the shade of our camp and didn’t see a single concert. We went to the festival site around 9.30pm to get in line for the concert, more than 4 hours before the scheduled start, and the line already had hundreds of people in it. Staying in the line wasn’t too bad at first, as we were able to get food and beer and sit down to enjoy it, but a couple of hours before it started, somebody got to their feet in the line and a chain reaction forced us all to stand in order not to lose our place in the line. The next couple of hours were not the funniest of my life, and we lost most of the group, including one unfortunate friend, let’s call him D, who had also missed his sleep between Friday and Saturday but hadn’t spent the day gathering the necessary strength to make it to the concert.
Standing in that line sucked – I remember being hit by a plastic glass of water that was thrown from the the front of the line. I could see it coming from a distance, but I couldn’t move and I couldn’t get my hands up, so it hit me lige i face. And when they finally opened the gates, we didn’t make it into the closed pits, and the crowds were going really mental in their eagerness to get in. We were stuck 6 meters from the gates but couldn’t reach them. After 15 minutes the gates were opened again to let a new group of people in, and we really fought to get to the front of the line, but unfortunately they were closed rightin front of us. At this point an announcement was made that no more people would be let into the closed pits, and they told us to turn around. But there were still hundreds of people behind us, so we couldn’t even get away from our spot in front of the gates where we would miss not only the closed pits but also the general audience area. So things were looking really bad when the crowd manager with whom I was having a heated discussion received a transmission from the front of the stage. Shortly after he announced quietly that he had been allowed to let another 50 people in, and when they opened the gates my wife, one friend and myself were among the very last ones to be allowed into the garden of Eden. Completely worn out from the fatigue of standing in a horrible line for hours I still managed to jump several feet into the air, and one of the best concerts of my life started right at the point when we ran around the corner.
The Danish Broadcast Radio “released” a live recording of the entire concert and listening to the audience in between and during the songs brings back all those fantastic memories once again.
So plenty of memories and three amazing albums, the last one at least as good as the first two. But not the best album of 2011.
It’s worth asking the question of why “Bon Iver” isn’t the best album on my list. If we detach all the albums on this list from my context, it would be the best album. But this isn’t a list where I take myself, my memories, my experience and my expectations out of the equation. Music is about emotions, about how it makes you feel. About who you are when you experience it, how it moves you and changes you. Who you are sharing the experience with and how it makes you feel that you are sharing this experience with these other persons. The Malk de Koijn album brings back memories of so many great experiences and in it self it is a brilliant album. But when I listened to “Glass Swords” for the first time I immediately knew that this was the best album of 2011 and not even the return of the best rap group in the universe can change that. I regard music as the supreme art form, art as the supreme form of human expression and as such “Glass Swords” becomes one of the finest works of human expression I’ve ever experienced. This will probably not be the case with a lot of other people. I know the good people at my workplace really hated this album when I played it, but what I hear transcends time and space and takes me to another world. The aesthetic experience and expectations I bring into my encounter with this album transforms it into this magnificent work of art for me. My feelings are those I have when I see the opening scene in Blade Runner, when Arthur Dent and Slartibartfast travel through the planetary workshop in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, when reading the first two books in Orson Scott Card’s Ender Wiggin-series or when playing Turrican II as a 12 year old boy.
The soundtrack above is what it reminded me of. The most awesome soundtrack for a computer game ever, although I can appreciate that it might not sound that impressive today. But it certainly rocked my world in 1990 (or whenever it was).
Another reference is “Music has the Rights to Children” by Boards of Canada. It has the same qualities in that it feels completely disconnected from time and takes me out of this world. “Music has the Rights to Children” is one of the best albums ever, and “Glass Swords” is as good as that.
“Glass Swords” sits in a niche where not a lot of people will appreciate the qualities it has, but it certainly hit the spot for me. My favourite music for travelling in the whole world, both on the inside and outside.
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of music as a consumer and have been for a long time. I heard an interesting podcast the other day from the Danish radio station P1. The program was “Harddisken” and the topic of the podcast was on consumption of music in a modern world with a panel discussion between different lobbyists, one from the streaming service WIMP, one from the public library streaming service Bibzoom and one from the semi-public Danish music rights organization KODA.
The discussion wasn’t really a discussion – all of the panel members seemed to be in agreement that music streaming services are the best thing since sliced bread and that it will revitalize the music industry. But it got me thinking about the way my own consumption of music has changed over the years. The way I consume music is really a combination of my great two greatest interests: New music and technology.
The Napster Years
My preferences in music are very picky. I don’t want other people to choose for me, I believe in my own taste, although I am heavily inspired by some music resources, in particular Soundvenue Magazine and Pitchfork Media. But I don’t want anybody to choose my music for me, so some of the classic online music services like online radio and more modern genre-based services like Pandora don’t really work for me. I was one of the heavy users of Napster back in it’s prime for that very reason. To me, Napster was basically a gigantic music library where everything seemed available. My music taste wasn’t very evolved back then, and that might have been the reason why it felt like I could find everything I was looking for. After the slow death of Napster I had kind of a dead period of music consumption myself.
The CD years
When I eventually picked music up again I became bit of a HIFI geek, buying a decent amplifier, a CD deck and a set of very good (and very BIG) Dali speakers. I still had quite a large collection of illegally downloaded music, but my collection of music started growing by buying CDs which I then ripped to my computer. One thing that I’ve always really hated about illegally downloaded music is that the quality is usually quite bad and that it’s very hard to keep it organised because the various pirates around the world apply their own organisational schemes instead of relying on proper ID3 tags. Because of that and because I wanted to go in a more legit direction I eventually deleted the entire collection of crappy illegal music and started maintaining my own collection of music ripped in high quality and with decent ID3 tags from my own collection. That collection has continued until today, and I now have around 90GB of music, which is nowhere near the 2 TB of music the typical music pirate “owns” but quite a considerable collection considering it’s mainly from physical music.
But finding new music has always been a problem. I’ve never really enjoyed going to record stores and listening to music because their selection (at least in Denmark) is always so limited and the prices (also in Denmark) are ridiculously high. I prefer exploring in front of my computer by reading the reviews and recommendations from my peers, but the problem is that it’s very difficult to actually HEAR the music you’re reading about. As mentioned I’m quite concerned about quality, so the crappy samples offered by services like MySpace (please die soon, it’s a pain to watch you suffering like that), allmusic or the crappiest of all: YouTube (ptui!) wasn’t really a solution. So I admit that I still had to resort to the flavour of the time in P2P networks like DC++ and various torrent clients to find the music before eventually buying it on CD online at UK prices (roughly half of Danish prices). I also subscribed to a number of music providers over the years, including the monthly Soundvenue Sampler and the montly Fabric! and FabricLive! CD.
Enter Spotify! (and Rdio)
Spotify had existed for some time before I eventually picked it up. You couldn’t get it in Denmark without going through some trouble and I still had my large CD collection and huge, expensive HIFI system so I was quite happy without it. But moving to the states left me without my huge stereo and CDs, and the only quality equipment for consuming music I had left was my UltraSone headphones and my (second set of) Etymotic earbuds. I still had my collection of music, some of which I could store on my new 16GB iPhone and listen to, but I had to find a way to find new music. The answer was pretty obvious in Spotify. So I went through the trouble of getting a Spotify account, which was just as complex in the US as in the States, but it was definitely worth the effort. I pretty much completely stopped downloading illegal music as soon as this service was made available to me. Being fortunate enough to have unlimited data on my phone I could connect to and find all the music I wanted. I since lost the debit card I used for my Spotify trick and had to close my account, but fortunately the very similar Rdio service had launched shortly before that, and I switched to that. Being an early adopter was a bit painful, but they’ve definitely caught up and now offer a very solid service.
Cloud music libraries
Unfortunately services like Rdio and Spotify have one big problem: While they have a HUGE collection of music, they don’t have EVERYTHING. In particular I’m missing some of the music from my old collection, which I now rarely get to listen to, because it’s so bloody inconvenient to have to sync the music to my iPhone. It just feels so old-fashioned having to connect to a computer and decide what music you want to put on a device with limited storage. But I believe I’ve found the answer in the cloud-based music libraries. I’ve started uploading my collection to my Amazon cloud drive, and that music is now available to me in the quality that I like (because I’m the one who ripped it) while I’m on the road. The big drawback is obviously that I can’t play the music from my iPhone, since Big Brother has decided against it, but at least it really rocks from my computers and my Android devices. My Amazon cloud drive is free for now, but it only has 5GB of storage. Another player I’m waiting with excitement for is Google Music, which is unfortunately in closed beta. And I guess Apple will launch a similar service with their iCloud this Monday, which is a bloody shame, because that’s probably the real reason why Apple won’t allow the Cloud Player in their app store – we all have to use the Apple approved service instead. This all puts me in a very awkward position, since the iCloud will probably only work on iDevices, but as the iPhone is my primary device, it leaves me with little choice.
My future as a music consumer will consist of a combination of streaming services, Rdio currently being my weapon of choice and one of the cloud based music services to serve my music collection to me wherever I might be. The next month or so will tell which service I choose, but I really hope Apple will allow me to make the choice myself, although I seriously doubt it.
The day of the Rapture came and went yesterday. We should be hiding from the fire raining from the sky in the remains of Los Angeles, pondering over whether to resort to cannibalism now that resources are slim or to eat the burned rats floating in the rivers of lava, but instead my wife is knitting on the balcony in the evening sun and I’m writing my thought on the end of world and what that does to my well being before going to the cinema later tonight.
The thing is, I feel pretty good. And a big reason for that is that the world didn’t end yesterday, and that made me really happy. We didn’t make a big thing of it my wife and I, but we did go outside on the balcony a minute before 6pm to see the skies crack open (or whatever was supposed to happen), and when that didn’t happen we toasted in a glass of excellent red wine and went on in our fabulous Saturday night. I know intellectually that of course the world wasn’t going to end, but the whole Rapture thing has stirred quite a bit of excitement around me the last couple of weeks. Harold Camping and his posse of Christian cultists definitely did a fine PR job, since everybody and their mother knew the Rapture was supposed to happen yesterday. I shared in the excitement – not the hysteria – and yesterday when the world didn’t end, I felt quite good about it. And I’m not even a believer, but what I did was allow myself to feel happy about it. It other words I staged a situation where the fact that the world didn’t end at 6pm led to me feeling happy and it worked. I had a great night last night.
There is this American principle of the right to pursue happiness. That’s pretty abstract to me, but I believe I’ve found an interpretation that works for me: It’s all about staging situations in your life that will eventually lead to a feeling of happiness. I can’t actually take credit for this idea, I got it from Danish stage director Peter Langdal in 1998. He was giving a guest lecture at the University of Copenhagen where I was studying to be bachelor of Theatre Science at the time. I honestly don’t remember what the lecture was about, but I remember his description of how he staged situations in his everyday life that would lead to intense feelings of happiness. As an example he explained how he would tell his children – I’m guessing they were 5-6 years old at the time – to wait behind for a while as he would walk up the driveway of his allotment house. He would then turn around to look at his children and tell them to run towards him. The sight of his two beloved children running towards him up the driveway would lead to an intense feeling of happiness, and that was all staged. I loved the idea back then and I’ve tried my best to set things up in a way so that I can do myself that favour as often as possible.
My wedding is a great example of such a staged event on a very large scale and the end of the world is an example on a very small scale. I know the real end of the world is a big thing, but since this was an imaginary end of the world, it was simply a matter of setting it up in my mind so that I would be relieved by the world not ending.
Another example is the diet my wife and I have started following this last month. I will not bore you with the details about the actual diet, suffice to say that it is a low carb / high protein diet. The important element in the context of this post is the Cheat Day. Every Saturday my wife and I are allowed to eat and drink whatever we want to. It works wonders for us. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed food and drink as much as I do on my cheat day. And we don’t even eat anything terribly out of the ordinary, it’s just a matter of eating the things we can’t (and don’t) eat on the normal days. Behold our breakfast from yesterday:
It’s really simple and it’s completely staged by yours truly, but it makes me feel really good.
So maybe Harold Camping was really out to do us all a gigantic favour announcing the end of the world. In realising the world didn’t end yesterday hopefully we all learned to appreciate it more. I’m thinking he’s got plenty of money from contributions, and I guess he can always blame it on a mis-interpretation of the Book of Job (again) and pull out his holy calculator to predict the next end of the world. But next time he should try to place it on a bank holiday weekend so that all of his followers have an extra day to make it back to the mid west to square things out with the job they quit to go to California to be in the front rows of the Apocalypse.
>heard me a radio commercial for a club in London. Girls get in for free until 1AM, 1£ after that, guys 10£ all night. Age limit for girls 18 years, 21 for guys. Now that really got me thinking: What kind of an audience does an offer like that attract? And aren’t we getting awfully close to prostitution? So the message to the girls is: Come to this lovely place where we let you in for free, all the guys are older than you AND they’ve probably got money, since they forked out 10£ to get in. And for the boys: Come to this lovely place where the girls are all younger than you and come here because YOU’ve got money.
I guess that business model works, since they have it – or maybe they’re just trying it out? I’ve always avoided night clubs that charge you differently based on your sex, same as I avoid restaurants where they have waiters in the street trying to get you inside, but these places always seem to have a crowd, so maybe I’m missing out on all the fun …
I have felt very discriminated occasionally when going out in London. If you’re with 3 other guys you’ll often have a VERY hard time getting into a lot of places, where I don’t have any problems at all when I’m out with my wife. Maybe the guy/girl ratio in London is just tipped too far towards the men? I guess it’s because men in London never really reach an age where they stop going out, which is quite unique – and I kinda like that. But I guess it works against us. But isn’t it the men who spend the most money in the bar anyway? Well, I guess it’s a delicate balance where you want just the right ratio of men inside to buy cocktails for all the (underage) girls, but no so many that they’re just buying for themselves because there are no ladies to charm.
Then again it also be because men – especially between 18 and 21 – tend to start fights, drive while drunk, do drugs, rape, loot and pillage.
Anyway, I think that club from the radio commercial should go all in, pay the girls 20£ to get in, charge the guys 100£ and up the age limit for guys to 35. At least that way it’s honest. Can’t wait until I turn 35 so I can get into these places …
We’re in April. I’ve learned that April is a VERY important month for sports in the US. The baseball season starts, there are the playoffs in basketball and there is draft in the NFL.
Today is April 21st and it just happens to be the day when FC Copenhagen became the earliest ever champions of the Danish football league in history. Yesterday featured the second of four El Clasicos between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona with Real Madrid being the victorious side in this won and there are two wonderful Champions League semi finals waiting just around the corner. So I guess I also like April for sports reasons this year.
So thus far I can agree with the Americans. But I find it really, really difficult to appreciate the 3 great sports over here – in part because you have to be a mutant and/or ruin your body to be really good at any of them, in part because they’re all completely ruined by commercial interests.
Let me start with the last element – I learned by listening to the radio the other day that the basketball team Sacramento Kings will leave Sacramento and go to Orange County and be the … Orange County Orangutangs or whatever. Now the fact that a team can just pick up their stuff and leave for another city is just a big mystery to me – and how can you ever be a fan of your local team if you know that at any given time they can just decide to leave because another city gives them a better offer? I know that the odds of this happening to some of the bigger iconic teams in all three sports are 1 : astronomical, but still? In Europe we have lots of traditions of football teams merging to become a bigger team, but they’re still tied to a specific region, so they never lose that regional tie that justifies fan culture in the first place – after all, aren’t sports supposed to be the modern substitute for going to war? We get to fight another city/region/country and hopefully win bragging rights, but when it’s all over, nobody dies and we can all be friends again – except in Italy and Serbia of course. But that whole thing about being a fan to support your region rests on a commercial foundation in the US, and at any given time this foundation can be torn away from underneath “your” team, and you just have to settle with it or perhaps find a new team to support?
I’m not saying there isn’t commercial factors in football. In fact, they’re insane, like when Real Madrid spends hundreds of millions of Euros on buying the best players in the world, but the commercial interests aren’t changing the core game. They’re not allowing TV networks to introduce more and more breaks in the game and they’re not changing the rules to allow for more goals.
And then there is the mutant / ruining your body-factor. To be a good basketball player, you HAVE to be at least 2 meters in height. Now with football there is room for all heights – of course you have to be fit, but there is room for people of any height on a football field. It’s not like basketball where children hit puberty and some of them grow up to be tall enough to at least still have a dream of going pro and others just have to give it up, even though they have the skills, because they’re simply not tall enough.
To be a good American football player you HAVE to weigh 125 kilos and smash your head against somebody else’s head countless times with insane injuries to follow. Of course football has injuries too, and some of them are pretty bad, but that doesn’t come from playing the game right, that comes from when things go wrong on the field. In American Football smashing your head into your opponents head and physically taking them down in very rough ways is the right way to play the game, and that just encourages injuries.
And the pitch element in baseball is soooo bad for shoulder and elbow you wouldn’t believe it. Again, by playing the game right you enforce injuries to your body. And what’s with the pajamas in baseball?
I guess I could learn to like hockey if I had to. It still seems to be the purest of the American sports. And of the big 3 basketball seems to be the one the least bad, as at least you’re not wrecking your body by playing it right.
But I certainly miss football in Europe these days – especially watching the big games at the right time of the day instead of getting up at 8 in the morning on a Saturday to watch my team play. I’ve tried, but it’s REALLY hard to drink beer at 8 in the morning, and I do miss going to the games live something fierce. Maybe I should try to check out LA Galaxy …
This winter saw the end of The Streets with the release of his fifth and final album “Computers and Blues”. Mike Skinner announced that he would only make five albums and he announced it before releasing his fourth album, and if you go to website now, it’s officially closed.
So that’s it then – in many ways I feel The Streets was the soundtrack of my twenties and that a lot of my stories have been lived and told through The Streets, so I thought I’d share something through writing.
Maybe soundtrack of my twenties is just a little off. I’m 32 now, and the last album only just came out, and the first time I came across The Streets was in 2003 when I was 24 years old. So let’s flashback to Friday June 27th around 10 pm.
“I produce this using only my bare wit”
First time at Roskilde Festival for me – arrived Wednesday night and passed out maybe 5 hours later from having chugged way too many beers. I was supposed to meet some guy and get a sleeping bag from him, but that never happened, so I’m extremely cold all night. Next day the music starts and my mind is just blown away by seeing and hearing music I’ve never heard or even heard of before. This thing about going to concerts with a bands I don’t know at all is completely new to me, but it really does wonders. And the weather is beautiful, the girls look gorgeous and you’re slightly intoxicated from beer all the time because you start drinking from when you wake up. Fast forward to Friday night – getting your mobile phone charged is extremly difficult, the infrastructure isn’t really in place for that yet in 2003. I’ve gotten lost from my friends and is pretty much just walking around the festival area very drunk. I remember being very close to just walking back to my tent and then maybe picking up a party there. But then the beats appeared out of nowhere and they’re pulling me towards the Metropol tent. It was the sound of “Don’t Mug Yourself” from the debut album of The Streets – “Original Pirate Material”. Completely intoxicating and yet so simple a sound, and the way he delivers his rap is just out of this world – I’m standing there mesmerized for the rest of the concert. There is a rave going on in the tent, it’s extremely hot inside and I only see the last 20 or 25 minutes of the concert. But I come out of the tent after the concert with a completely changed perspective on music.
“I do the science on my laptop, get my boys mashed up”
I was playing music before that incident, mainly as a singer, and I even had a bunch of CDs. Also this was right after the time of Napster, so I did my share of illegal downloads. But I wasn’t really a consumer of modern music until after I walked out of the tent that Friday night in late June. Listening to those strange beats that were so intoxicating to me made me realise that there was an entire world of music that I didn’t know, and I wanted to make sure that I was never going to miss out on anything like that ever again. Actually when coming home from the festival and telling the whole world about this amazing band, my flatmate at the time Janne told me that she had already played The Streets to me months before, and I didn’t seem to notice it back then. Sorry about that, Janne …
So The Streets matured me into being genuinely interested in music, and my CD-collection just exploded after that. Ever since then I’ve consumed music by reading about it on various music sites, visiting artist websites, using the illegal file sharing software of the time to download tons of music and then eventually buying the CDs. And whenever I went to a festival after that, especially Roskilde Festival, I would spend hours and hours online researching the artists as they were released for the lineup to make absolutely sure I wouldn’t miss the first two thirds of a concert like The Streets ever again.
“See I reckon you’re about an 8 or a 9, maybe even 9 and a half in four beers time.“
So listening to the beats from The Streets got me interested in music in general, but with the release of “A Grand Don’t Come for Free” in 2004 I also realised the lyrical universe of The Streets is truly unique and magnificent. I was actually quite disappointed when the album first came out – I was looking for awesome beats like the first album, but didn’t really find that. But slowly I began really discovering it one single at a time. And when I realised the whole album was one conceptual story, I was once again blown away. The emotional peeks of that album are so intense and you really feel like invited inside of this person telling this story that could be your own story. It took me a couple of years to fully understand this album, but now that I do I have to say that this the best album of all times for me. “Dry Your Eyes” still has quite the opposite effect of drying my eyes when I listen to it today, and the overwhelming feeling of how it all comes together in “Empty Cans” still gives me major chills. And “Blinded By the Lights” is the most powerful electronic symphony ever with probably the best “Don’t do drugs, kids”-message I’ve ever seen in both the lyrics and the music video.
So with “A Grand Don’t Come for Free” we got the best album of all times. And on Friday July 4th 2008, Mike Skinner was back at Roskilde Festival, this time in front of an audience of more than 60000 people. This time he gave me the best concert he has ever played and the best concert I have ever seen.
“All stare, eyes glazed”
It’s already been a spectacular festival this summer of 2008, and a beautiful summer it is. I’m getting married in August, the weather is once again marvelous, my wife looks gorgeous and I’m fully enjoying this time of holiday with friends and my love. Friday July 4th is about to become the best concert day I’ve ever had, having already seen extremely powerful and emotional performances from Mogwai and Robyn. Mike Skinner enters the stage late – it’s a 1 AM concert, but everybody is soooo ready for it. And what happens that night is pure magic. He delivers that same intimate rave feeling from 2003, but this time the crowd is more than 60000 people, and every single one of us worships his every move. It can’t be good for you to have to walk down from the stage after a performance like that. He must have felt like he was having sex with every single one of us that night.
“Knock out the lights, lock the locks and leave”
The third and fourth albums both had memorable moments, great lyrics and great beats, but they never really reached the height of the first two albums. Maybe it’s impossible to achieve the best possible beats and the best possible lyrics again? They were both great albums and I do pick them up and listen to them, but the magic isn’t really there. But with “Computers and Blues” I think we’re back up there once again. And listening to his story this time I can hear how my own life has changed and I also think I understand why The Streets had to close at this point.
So thanks a lot for giving me so many powerful experiences, including the 5 times I’ve seen The Streets live. And I’m pretty sure I will be able to pick up and listen to at least 3 of the albums for many years to come and listen to them as a diary of how my life was in my twenties.