Staging the End of the World in Pursuit of Happiness

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.

Happy afterlife, everybody …

Audiences in Nightclubs

>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 …

What’s the Deal with Sports in America?

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 …

The Streets have Closed

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.

Building Huge Games in Adobe AIR

Most of the fall in our office was spent working on the Yahoo! Bus Stop Derby, a fantastic project involving multi player games on huge touch screens. The campaign ended January 28th, but I thought I’d share my experience from being the Tech Lead at ACNE on this project.

Here is the background: ClearChannel is putting up a new line of interactive bus shelters in the streets of San Francisco. These bus shelters feature a 72″ touch screen in portrait mode and are connected to the internet over a 3G modem built into the units. The screens are supposed to be used for interactive advertising and games, and we were given the opportunity to be the first to build an interactive experience for these screens through a partnership with Goodby, Silverstein & Partners who are the advertising agency for Yahoo!

There was a lot of buzz surrounding the campaign and I encourage you to go elsewhere if you want to read what the game is all about. Instead I will write a little bit about the challenges we faced from a technical and user experience perspective.

The user experience challenge:
The form factor in this project presented a whole new set of HCI challenges for us. We have to step away from the conventions we normally rely on when creating digital experiences for the desktop and web as there is no mouse or keyboard, and people have a very short attention span with this thing. It’s more relevant to look to smartphones and tablet computers, but obviously there are major differences between the form factor on a 4″ screen with multi touch capability that you can hold in your hand and standing in front of a screen that’s taller than most people and interacting with much larger gestures.

Take a look at the image below and you will understand some of the challenges we had:

So the person on the left is an average size male adult. The person on the right is a 10 year old boy. How do we make sure both can play these games? There is a limit to how high the child can reach, and while the adult can reach down and reach the lower parts of the screen by kneeling or bending over, this isn’t a comfortable position to be in when playing a game. Another thing is the sheer size of the visual display. If you were watching a movie on a 72″ screen, you would probably want to be standing at least 8 feet away from the screen, but in our case our users literally can’t stand longer than an arms length away from the screen.

We also had to be very careful with relying to much on some of the newer touch screen conventions coming from smartphones and tablet computers. Part of this is because not all bus passengers are necessarily that touch screen savvy, but also because you don’t necessarily think “touch screen” when you walk up to a giant display like this. From previous observations I’ve made with large touch screen installations I’ve found that a lot of people aren’t comfortable with walking up to one of these screens and start interacting with it.

So we had to make the user experience very simple compared to what we usually do and we can’t leverage more than roughly 50% of the screen area. The goal is that everybody should be encouraged to and able to play with these things without being hardcore gamers or super tech savvy.

The technical and practical challenges:
We started development of this project before the hardware was ready, so we started by building the project based on assumptions on how it would work and on early prototypes of the actual 72″ units. We decided to build the project in Adobe AIR 2.0, since that technology gave us the opportunity to develop the project very rapidly and to share the work between a large team of developers with experience on the Flash platform. I was technical director on the project and had no less than 6 Flash developers working with me. 1 developer responsible for each game, 1 responsible for the overall UI and 1 developer to help out where ever help was needed.

All the developers had experience with building games and most had experience with touch screen devices, but I was the only one who had created AIR for touchscreen devices previously, so we had to setup a working environment where the individual developers could work and test on their own computers without having to learn too much new technologies. So I was basically responsible for setting up an architecture for them to work in where they wouldn’t have to worry about connecting to the Flash Media Server for multi player communication, how to run and launch the application and how to switch between the games and the UI. Half of the team were working in Flash Builder 4, and the other half were working in FDT 3 or 4. And 2 were on Windows and the rest on Mac. So the solution was to create an environment where we used ANT to build and test each individual element in the application to allow for rapid test and deployment without dependencies on the development platform. Most of the team didn’t have experience with such a cross platform approach, but everybody caught up just fine with the flow without having to spend too much time learning it.

One of the big challenges with this project has been dealing with 3G connection on the units. We don’t want to bother casual bus passengers with error messages about latency issues or loss of connection, so the focus in the error handling has been to make sure the impact on the user is as small as possible. So while the Internet might be crashing in the background, the goal was to make sure the user could go on playing his or her game without noticing something is wrong. Adobe AIR offers some really good solutions for dealing with this situation, as you can do offline storage using this technology. So basically every time we get an XML response back from the backend keeping track of the score, we would store the response locally. That way, next time the unit needs to check the high score, if it fails in connecting to the backend server, it will simply fall back to the local version of the high score XML stored on the local computer. Pretty neat, and the user will never notice anything is wrong.

The high score might not be completely up to date, but there is no way the user will know, and when the internet connection comes back up, the scores will be updated with the latest data, and since it was never down for very long I doubt any users would have the time to travel to one of the other bus stops to spot the inconsistency.

There were a lot of solutions like that built into the application, and all of them were built on assumptions on how we expected the units to behave in the field, so naturally we were a little anxious once the units actually hit the field, but after a little bit of going back and forth and a very solid team effort between all the stakeholders everything worked out just fine.

On the practical side we were developing for a resolution of 1080×1920, and that meant having to get monitors that could rotate to portrait mode and connecting these to our laptops. A couple of weeks into the project we were shipped a 70″ screen from Korea. One of the more unusual challenges we had to deal with was how to get this 250kg beast through our office door and how to mount it against the wall, but fortunately a couple of the developers were pretty big, so we eventually managed.

This was definitely the best looking image I’ve ever seen on a monitor. This unit could light up the room by itself, and seeing our layout on it for the first time was really cool. To my regret we couldn’t connect our PS3 to it, so we didn’t really get to test the performance of the monitor. Also it made a lot of noise when it was turned on.

The 70″ device wasn’t touch screen enabled, and we had to wait another couple of weeks until we got a unit that was touch screen enabled.

Unfortunately this unit was only 47″ and while this is a pretty big screen, there is still a long way up to 72″, so building the games put a lot of demand on us, as we basically had to take the game back and forth between our 24″ development monitors, where we did the development to the 47″ touch screen to test the game play and the 70″ to check out the layout. At times the developers were standing in line to get time on the big screens, but most of the time we were able to share the screens between us. For a while I even wrote code with the 70″ display as my primary monitor just to try it out, but I had to stop when my eyes felt like they were about to start bleeding. That display is very bright indeed.

All in all I’m very proud of this project, and I absolutely love getting away from the usual challenges with developing for the web and mobile and really going big. The project ended Jan 28 and the screens are now part of the ClearChannel portfolio of outdoor displays for interactive advertising.

Thursday was a Sad Day …

>Yesterday wasn’t exactly the best day I can remember. Coachella was announced sold out, and I didn’t get tickets in time, Love Shop lost Henrik Hall and Denmark lost Tøger Seidenfaden.

It was a very emotionally intense day to get through. I had worked until 1.30 AM on Monday and had to be at the office again at 9 AM for a client review, so I wasn’t exactly well rested. This might be the reason why I was so struck by the news of Tøger’s death, but nevertheless I have to say that I’m sharing the sense of loss felt by a lot of people in Denmark these days. It reminds me of the descriptions I’ve read of the way a lot of people felt when Lady Diana passed away in 1997 – how they felt a personal loss, even though they had never met the woman and she didn’t even know they existed.

I’m a pretty young person, and I’ve been fortunate enough not to have any of my friends die. But yesterday one of my good friends passed away, and even though he didn’t know he was my friend, I still feel a great loss. Tøger was exactly what a good friend should be: a constant source of inspiration, a voice of morale and reason, someone who could make you laugh or make you angry, and first of all someone you always wanted to listen to, when he had something to say – which he very often had.

RIP Tøger and condolences to the nation you left behind – a much poorer place with you gone.

My Top 10 Albums of 2010

>2010 represented a shift in the way I digest music. Everything started the way it used to, with me going to concerts and festivals and buying 4-5 CDs every month with whatever music I find inspiring at the moment. That has been my rhythm for the last 6 or 7 years. I tend to find the music I like through a couple of favourite websites like and pitchfork. com and the Roskilde Festival is also a huge inspiration in discovering new music.

However all that changed in April 2010 when I realised that I would be going to LA. I really didn’t want to buy any more CDs, since they would only have to go into storage, so I stopped buying music from day to day. I’ve always found it REALLY difficult to purchase music in digital formats. I’m probably old fashioned and stuck in an ancient paradigm of consumerism, but I have a really hard time paying for something if I don’t get a physical copy. Especially since I’m a HIFI geek who had a huge expensive stereo back in Denmark, and I always hate playing MP3, WMA or AAC over that stereo. I prefer my physical CDs, but that was to be no more …
So I had a huge gap from April to August where I didn’t really do that much to discover new music, except going to the Roskilde Festival in early July. Fortunately that changed a lot when coming to LA, where I opened a Spotify Premium account. Spotify isn’t really open in the US yet, but with a little creative fraud one can create an account and pay through a PayPal account. Spotify really changed the way I digest music, especially with the mobile version of the service. I also happen to have pretty good conditions for listening to music: I have my bike ride to and from work, now even longer than before. It takes roughly the same time as a typical album. And our office has a set of lovely speakers that we can connect to through the lovely AirFoil application. So lots of music every day.
In the new year I’ve had to switch from Spotify to Rdio, since my trick for paying for Spotify no longer works after I got a new credit card. But Rdio is cheaper and has a better selection, plus it was created by Janus Friss and Niklas Zennström, and I really like those guys. On the downside it’s only available in the US and Canada, and the desktop application leaves A LOT to be desired.
So to make a long story short my favourite 10 albums of 2010 have been found through mixed sources. In a “normal” year I would have bought all of these CDs, but with the change in my music paradigm I only have half of them on CD.
My list is very personal and a couple of the albums are heavily influenced by my previous experiences with the artist, such as live performances or previous albums. I’m ashamed to notice right now that not a single one of my picks is a debut album.
10: Arcade Fire -The Suburbs
Yet another incredible concert in 2010, this time at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Went there with a couple of colleagues, we only just got the last tickets. We had limited vision from our seats and the sound was HORRIBLE, so we decided to cheat our way to the very front of the balcony, some 60 rows down from our original seats, and that was a very good decision, since the rest of the concert was pure magic.
Another favourite band of mine “The Suburbs” takes that even further.
9: Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
I love a concept band as much as the next man. Somewhat disappointed by their performance at Roskilde Festival this year I still love their eclectic approach to music and how that approach seems to grow with every new album (Although I haven’t heard the new one yet). This music is all over the place and tells a bunch of really interesting stories and I’m sure it will stand the test of time just as good as the previous albums from Gorillaz.
8: Kashmir – Trespassers
Only Danish album in the list so far, but a really good one. If Malk de Koijn had released their 3rd album in 2010 there would have been 2 Danish albums in the list, but alas …
Kashmir have never made a bad album, and with “Trespassers” they continue that trend and establish themselves as the best Danish rock band by far. I’ve even started convincing a couple of US friends that they should listen to this shit. A good friend of mine shot an award winning video for “Still Boy”, which also happens to be the best track on the album. Check it out:
7: The National – High Violet
I’m not that big on lyrics. In my world vocals work as an instrument alongside all the other instruments of the music, and I almost never pay attention to the lyrics. But I’m willing to make an exception with The National. Both the music and the lyrics make you want to kill yourself … but in a good way. High Violet is not the best album from them, but it’s still very, very good and I find myself returning to it whenever I’m in need of that special atmosphere created by The National. And Matt Berninger’s barytone voice is extraordinary. One of the best singers today …
6: Autechre – Oversteps
Autechre is a very special kind of band. I’ve seen them live 2 times, both times with the scene in complete darkness, and I believe that’s how they always perform live. Their music reminds me of Mogwai in having these huuuuuge overwhelming sound landscapes that should be played LOUD and powerful. Difficult to get into but very rewarding once you break the code.
5: Foals – Total Life Forever
I’ve always had a thing for the latest hyped band from the UK that will once again establish British rock n’ roll as the best in the world. There have been a couple of those over the years, and some of them have even made it past their debut album, such as Foals. This hype thing is really funny, but I do so enjoy the distinct British rock sound much more than US rock n’ roll, and I really don’t think the UK has got anything to prove.
Anyway Foals have a really good understanding of a catching melody and a juicy guitar riff, and the lead vocal is really, really good. Rock n’ Roll for dancing but with plenty of longevity.
4: Four Tet -There Is Love in You
Best music for lovemaking of 2010. Should be a genre in itself. I’m a sucker for atmosphere in music and Four Tet have always been able to create a very special, esoteric and erotic atmosphere in their musical landscape, and this album is the best they’ve done so far.
3: Robyn – Body Talk [Explicit]
2010 was a big year for Robyn. I’ve been a huge fan since her concert at Roskilde in 2008. She wasn’t even in the lineup but was called in when M.I.A. cancelled. I was really pissed that I didn’t get to see M.I.A. that year, but the replacement concert was one of the most unbearably intense and beautiful concerts I’ve every seen. Check out this video – you will notice how Robyn can’t bear all the love coming from the audience. I cried during that concert and seeing this video brings back all of those emotions once again. Only love and music can give you that kind of feeling …

“Body Talk” was that big 3 album project announced in 2009 and fulfilled in late 2010. A very powerful undertaking, and Robyn is ready to take over the US with Body Talk [Explicit] that takes the 5 best tracks from each of the 3 albums. You have to admire the ambition of Robyn. I think she will break through the wall in the US in 2011 and become a superstar.
2: Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot
I believe this album came out during my summer break from music, and I only recently discovered it in December. But am I glad I did. This is the missing Outkast album, and suddenly I’m starting to have my doubts about who was the true genius behind Outkast. Andre Benjamin seems to want to pursue a career as an entertainer, and since he actually does a really good job at that I wish him the best. Especially when Big Boi takes care of their musical heritage so well. I’m a huge fan of Outkast, and this album really feels like the next step for that sound. I hope we haven’t heard the last from Big Boi. Check out the live(?) performance of “Daddy Fat Sax”. The fattest Atlanta sound …

1: Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
I was completely and utterly blown away by this album! I’ve been a fan of Kanye since I heard the “Jesus Walks” single for the first time, and I’ve seen a couple of amazing performances on the Roskilde Festival Orange Stage, but I actually thought he’d peaked with “Graduation” in 2007, something the title also hints at. Especially since I considered “808s & Heartbreak” to be somewhat disappointing. But I now fully understand that “808s & Heartbreak” was simply an exercise in style that lead to this masterpiece. Kanye West wants to be the greatest rapper in the world, and he’ll never achieve that. But what he lacks in rap skills he fully makes up for in production skills and musical vision. This album sticks out in 100 different directions and yet it all comes together beautifully. My absolute favourite track is “All of the Lights”. I must have listened to that track 250 times by now. The way it builds up in the beginning is like a symphony, Rihanna’s vocals are so sexy and strong, those weird horns sound amazing and the drums are just magic. Even Fergie’s part work out well, and her vocal is usually just annoying. Kanye West has always been at the front of mainstream hiphop, and this album is a masterpiece of that genre.
I also want to say that Janus Køster-Rasmussen from Euroman officially labeled himself as a wanker with his claim in the last issue of Euroman that Hiphop is dead as a leading genre in popular music(!) It may have been a poor year for Danish hiphop, but my number 1 & 2 in my list are some of the best mainstream hiphop albums of all times, and it really pisses me off when a wanker music journalist like Janus fails to recognize that. I guess he has some kind of beef with Kanye West, since he also mentions the cover for “My Beautiful Dark Twister Fantasy” as one of the biggest fails of 2010. It isn’t a very good cover, but surely you should be able to find bigger fails in 2010?
Just had to get that off my chest. I enjoy a good album review, but Janus Køster-Rasmussen just made my list of reviewers that can’t be trusted …

Where is My Home?

>I’m sitting here on a Monday morning enjoying my last full day in Copenhagen. The city I called home for 12 years before leaving for Los Angeles 6 months ago and also the city where I’ve spent most of my life, where I got my education, where I got my first job and the city where I met and married the love of my life.

A few nights before leaving Copenhagen back in July I took a head dive with a couple of good friends at 4 in the morning from one of the bridges in Christianshavn into the lovely canals – if I tried to do the same thing now I would break my neck on the thick ice covering all the canals and lakes in Copenhagen. Right now the sun is shining outside the windows of my mothers apartment, but in just a few hours it will be dark again. Darkness and freezing temperatures serve as constant reminders of why my wife and I wanted to leave this country in the first place and take our chances in another part of the world.
In the few hours of daylight it is extremely beautiful here, but that doesn’t change the fact that depression has been sneaking up on me from constant underexposure to sunlight. And from having to deal with the fact that this place is no longer my home, a fact that didn’t really strike me until coming here for Christmas. I haven’t really felt homesick at any point while living in Los Angeles, but my wife has, and we’ve had many conversations about coming back “home” and what it would be like to meet family and friends once again, but I wasn’t really prepared for the emotional impact of it. One of the first days in Copenhagen my grandmother came to visit us in my mothers apartment. She told a lot of stories from back in the days, one of them being of Uncle Jens who left for America a long, long time ago. He only visited Denmark once after leaving for America, and he didn’t come back until after his mother had passed away. When he originally left Denmark his mother had looked so sad standing on the pier as he sailed away, and he couldn’t bear to have to witness that again.
Today the world is a lot smaller and hopefully my own mother won’t look as sad as Jens’ mother when I leave knowing that she will come to LA to visit us in the spring. Also the wonder of Skype gives us many an opportunity to speak face to face to friends and family and Denmark. My twin sister finally has a decent webcam so I can get to say hello to my 2 adorable nieces from time to time. I met the youngest one Ida for the first time in real life, and the 2 year old Sif was unbelievably adorable when she kissed me goodbye yesterday. When we left in the summer she refused to kiss her uncle when her mother asked her to, but this time she did it without being asked to do it. Way to melt the heart of Uncle America …
So being back here has meant a lot to me. I have new memories to take back with me and I have finally realized that my new home is all the way across the Atlantic ocean and the American continent. A good friend of mine who has a lot of experience in moving around the world told me, that it typically takes a good 6 months before you settle into a new place, and I guess that’s the truth. With just 1 day left in Copenhagen my wife and I can’t wait to go back home. I came to Copenhagen with a vague idea that I was coming home, but I realize now that I came as a tourist, and I will be leaving a tourist to go home tomorrow.

Biking in LA

>”You bike here from Santa Monica?” – a question spoken in disbelief from our new flatmate Jack when I arrived home one day from work wearing my trusty Italian helmet and shoes. A very common reaction from every single American I’ve met so far when they realize I bike to and from work, a trip of around 13 km or 8 miles. I’m reminded of a quote from “American Beauty”, when the daughter of the protagonist announces to her friend Angela that she intends to walk home from school: “You’re gonna walk? That’s like … a mile!” It’s a prejudice I brought with me from home; Americans will only travel from A to B in automobiles, and that has certainly proven to be true. Perhaps this is one explanation why this country is so fat?! In Denmark a lot of people use their bike as a means of transportation, thus turning transportation into exercise instead of having to go to a gym or go running to burn calories – another explanation is right here, but I just enjoy and take pride in the fact that I burn 1200-1300 calories every day (according to my new best friend Cyclemeter). Also I’m saving money and taking my part in preventing global warming.

So what’s the deal with biking in LA? People who know me from back home know that I insist on taking my bike everywhere no matter how rough the conditions are as long as the distance is less than 30km and my bike doesn’t suffer from a mechanical problem I can’t immediately fix. Therefore I started studying the city maps of LA even before coming here to find out where I could live in LA if I wanted to bike to work every day. I’ve heard the horror stories from a lot of people about how it is absolutely impossible to go anywhere in LA without a car, and I’ve also been to big cities in Brazil where it was physically impossible to go to certain places without a car. But it’s actually pretty good over here – for one thing the weather makes it possible for people even less insane than me to go by bike all year long. And they actually have bike lanes – miles and miles of wonderful bike lanes. Living where I live right now, I can actually take Santa Monica Boulevard all the way from my home to my work, and it works out perfectly. So I though I’d take the opportunity to share some of my experiences with whomever might be interested in knowing what it is like to Bike in LA.

Once again courtesy of Cyclemeter I give you my route to work. The route back is almost the same, although I tend to take a couple of detours if the sun has set, since parts of Santa Monica are a bit unsafe after sunset. Not because you get mugged, but simply because it can be hard to spot the giant holes in the road where the road is poorly lit. But check out the map in the link and I’ll run you through my route to tell you what it’s like – the route is marked with milestones, and I’ll use those as reference.

The route
0-2 km: The first couple of kilometers have a bike lane, so this part goes pretty fast. There is always a lot of traffic in the morning, and this makes it possible to actually pass through some of the stoplights, even if it’s red as cars are blocking the intersection in the direction I’m going. This particular stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard is also the home of a long strip of gay bars, making it a very fun and colourful ride if you take it after dark.

As I cross the 2 km milestone I enter Beverly Hills and the spot for the first regular: “Homeless sleeping on Lawn guy”. The Beverly Hills stretch has a very well kept lawn of front, and this regular guest likes to sleep here when I pass it in the morning. I guess he knows the schedule for the sprinklers that constantly irrigates this lawn making it very green and healthy looking for this very dry part of the world …

2-5 km: The next stretch can be a little bit more challenging, as the bike lane ends. But again, traffic is pretty heavy in the morning, so I’m simply passing by the cars on the inside. Only challenge is avoiding the grates in the road that show up occasionally – you have to make sure to go around those, as the holes in the grill are pretty big, and I don’t want to put the very slim wheels of my road bike down there.

5 km is also the spot of one of the regulars I meet on my route. I call him “Homeless sleeping in camping chair by his shopping cart guy”. He’s been there every single morning, and he has all his worldly belongings in his shopping cart and sleeps sitting in a plastic chair beneath a parasol. He’s always tugged in nicely in a big jacket with his head bent forward in a very awkward looking position and his hands in his pockets. I guess there is a lot of shade in this particular spot.

5-8 km: The next couple of kilometers take me through Westwood on yet another lovely stretch of really fast bike lane. This is the fastest stretch on the way, and it takes me past the very grim looking Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint. The picture in the link was taken in full sunlight, but going past this place at night, especially on a gloomy night, can be pretty intimidating. The architecture reminds me of the Lenin Mausoleum – I wonder if this was done intentionally?

Around the 8km milestone is where we find the next regular: “The Preacher”. This is yet another lovely homeless guy wearing a green raincoat. And where the first 2 regulars have been sleeping, this guy is very much awake. For the last couple of days he has been relatively calm, but I’ve gone past the guys a number of times where he is either blessing the passing traffic or throwing horrible curses at us. He also seems to have some pretty intense arguments with all the voices. But perhaps his medicine has started to kick in lately, as he seems to have calmed down some.

The 405 Freeway is passed at 8.5 km. This is the most annoying part of the route, as there are a lot of traffic lights where I can’t seem to find the rhythm, so I always end up stopping at red lights at all of them. The more daring cyclists exploit the pattern that allows a brave cyclist to cross the Sepulveda intersection right between the point where the crossing traffic is stopped and the approaching traffic taking a left turn north on Sepulveda are let through on a green left arrow, but while recognizing this pattern I also find it pretty disrespectful to everybody else in the traffic; I’m on a mission to introduce cycling culture in LA, and this kind of behaviour isn’t really earning us the respect of the automobiles and their drivers.

8.5-10 km takes me down the last part of Santa Monica Boulevard for my morning and afternoon commute. This stretch doesn’t have a bike lane, but parking in the left lane is prohibited in the morning hours leaving plenty of room for me and my fellow cyclists. At Brockton / Santa Monica I make my way into the “go left” lane of the road and take a left down Ohio to take me onto Broadway. It is actually legal to use the car left lanes in the road, and while this can be pretty intimidating at first, especially in the very large intersections, it actually saves you a lot of time. You have to be quick though, as the green left arrow isn’t there for long, and you don’t want to get stuck in the middle of a giant intersection because you’re taking to long to click into your pedal.

10-goal take me down Broadway, where the city of Santa Monica have been nice enough to include yet another wonderful bike lane. There are a couple of 4-way stop intersections in the beginning of that section, and while it takes a little getting used to the “First come, first served” system they use in these intersections in America, it’s actually pretty convenient when on a bike, as you’re almost always first served, since you’re not waiting in line behind a row of cars.

The trip home is pretty much the same, although I sometimes take the parallel road of “Civic Center Drive” some of the way, as this has a lot less traffic and a better lit stretch of road with fewer holes in it than the parallel part of Santa Monica Boulevard. I also don’t meet any regulars on my way home, which makes it a bit less entertaining.

But all in all I really enjoy commuting to work this way. Let me list a couple of advantages. Besides the obvious advantage of the hours of exercise I get every week I also enjoy a much more stable means of transportation than going by car: No matter how heavy the traffic is, it always take me roughly the same time to get to and from work, and the tempo is completely up to me, not to the traffic jams on the 405, the accidents on the 10 and the closed lanes on Santa Monica.

A Musical Journey Back to the Late Eighties

>This weekend my colleague Stevie and I had decided to go the Sunset Strip Music Festival. A jolly music festival where a large portion of the Sunset Strip had been blocked to host 2 outdoor stages. A number of the clubs along the strip were also part of the party, including the legendary Whiskey a Go Go. Headlining the festival were a number of acts from very small to huge international names – the one thing they all had in common was they weren’t exactly the most contemporary of artists.

My main reason for going there was Smashing Pumpkins who closed down the bigger of the 2 outdoor stages at 8.20 pm. It’s never been my fortune to see them live before, and although I wouldn’t claim to be a fan of theirs I have to admit I’d simply forgotten how incredibly powerful their music really is. It was a walk down memory lane with a band led by a Billy Corgan who was really on fire that evening. He was charming and fun, and even played his guitar with his teeth at one point. I managed to record him giving a speech listing his musical inspirations followed by one of their many great rock songs “Cherub”.

We actually missed some of the other big acts in the street like Common, Slash & Kid Cudi, but that wasn’t too important, as the big thing was Smashing Pumpkins, and that concert in itself was well worth the $65 dollar entry.

After the concert we went to a couple of the bars along the way, starting with a double Jack Daniels on Whiskey a Go Go, enjoying a show by the Greek/American rock vocalist Electra and band. That performance seemed to set the theme for the night, as it featured a geeky band with a really slutty lead singer doing late 80′s metal with high pitched screaming and singing. It was very hard to say for sure if they were for real or not, but it was certainly great fun. The lead singer and the band all were excellent musicians, but it sure was tacky …

We went next door to the Cat Club, which consisted mainly of a scene where you could get really close to the artists. We saw the end of the concert with Dirty Sweet, and they were actually pretty good – although the lead singer did use quite a large amount of time explaining how they really couldn’t stick around after the concert, as they were moving on to play a charity gig at some church.

Next up was Prohibition Rose, and the fun was starting to peak, as the slutte lead singer / geeky band combo was taken to a whole new level. Unfortunately I had a computer crash today, and my iPhoto images weren’t recovered with Time Machine, so I can’t document it, but the lead singer certainly compensated for her lack of vocal skills in her sexy and scantily clad performance on stage. Stevie and I were all the way up front during the beginning of their show, and it got pretty intense at points, especially since Stevie insisted her mom was in the audience. This time I’m pretty sure the band was dead serious about their attitude, so I simply have to admit I don’t get it.

The next band were simply too cool to be true. Diamond Lane have the coolest hair, the coolest late 80′s heavy rock and the coolest logo. Not to mention their on stage attitude, which was absolutely hilarious.

They even had a their own crew of groupies with enormous tits and goth makeup directly in front of stage. At the end of the concert, one of the guitar players threw his plectrum out into the crowd. I found that kind of funny, wince it’s impossible to see a plectrum in a dark concert hall. When a drummer throws out his drumsticks, you can at least see it, but how can you ever hope to catch a plectrum? Nonetheless I held out my hand, and the plectrum landed in my hand – a perfect 2 year wedding anniversary gift for my wife the next day.

After that amazing show we went back to Whiskey a Go Go. There were a huge crowd gathered at the time to listen to some Guns n’ Roses cover. I really hate cover bands, but after having listened to this for a while I had to admit that they were doing a pretty fucking amazing job at covering Guns n’ Roses – being the GnR ignorant that I am I was soon to learn the reason for that. The cover band were Adler’s Appetite led by former Guns n’ Roses drummer Steven Adler, and they did a fine job. I did actually go after one of the drumsticks this time, since that would be legendary, but the fight proved too much.

An incredibly funny journey back to the late eighties and early nineties was completed with a killer version of “Welcome to the Jungle”, and I have to say that the music scene in Los Angeles is certainly proving itself. I love it. Next up is (hopefully) Big Boi, House of Pain and Eminem at the Epicenter Festival in late september.