Author: samcooney

Quantum Fomo

6 years since my first Glastonbury, I’m working the same jewellery stall and so have some idea of what to expect. I pack two bags too many, 40 beers and some shoddily stashed contraband. On the drive up I’m blessed with a hopeful weather forecast and a live session by Mattiel on 6 Music.

Arrive on Tuesday afternoon, set-up the stall and work through until Thursday afternoon. Sun shining bright, we bolt through Glade where some old dreaded crusties are throwing out D&B with some theramin for good measure. They look delighted; like they’ll be talking about this forever. A girl with a bejewelled face walks towards the tent with her hand raised high, clearly the first bit of live music she has seen, “This is going to be shiiiiiiiiit”. Bless ’em.

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Rush coming on but in need of food, we follow the path to the gate of Permaculture and grab a Som Tam curry, fire-side where some pakora is being prepped. Everyone here is volunteering, including the chef who has just almost cut off his finger. Onto the Greenfields we explore the installations of the Healing Fields, hand cranking a dragon made of olive oil tins and reanimating the head of David Attenborough by pressing a traffic lights button. A quick hug from the Lorax, forwarding the picture to my boy who cannot believe that I met the real real Lorax.

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We watch the sunset from Aradia’s Pangea – where there was once a DJ booth in a mechanical spider, with eyes that shoot lasers and legs that articulate and shoot fire, there is now a crane, that moves just like a crane. There are still jets of fire shooting from around the perimeter, but maybe more controlled since that spider roasted a kid a few years back. Hush now, the cranes moving a hook about. Apparently there’s a 5 year plan to build up this stage to it’s former glory, whilst meeting health & safety requirements and minimising the death count.

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Now dark, fly through the cabaret tents to catch some campy comedy and a campier trapeze act. Cold now, so some tea on a double decker doesn’t sound like the terrible idea that it is. Return meekly to camp with burnt tongues.

Up and out early Friday, up close for Ta’shan’s Foodie. Hungry now, grab something on the way to Mo at Other stage. Like a Europop Sia, produced to within an inch, but she is captivating. 2 songs is plenty though, back to Cabaret in the day time now it’s much more sprawling and interactive, leaking everywhere. Thought I’d be better at slacklining. Fuck it, Mac DeMarco’s on soon best dust off to get a spot up front.

Saw him a few days previously at Rough Trade in Shoreditch thanks to my shrewdly swift GF, a solo acoustic session with the intimacy that it implies. Now he’s in his element, albeit with the flu. Always undercutting the beauty of his falsetto, he perfectly interrupts the last sustained note of The Stars Keep On Calling My Name shouting REAL SAUSAGES REAL MASH in a Mockney accent – one of the food stalls behind the crowd.

Pit stop at the tent for a bag’o’beers and a bit of the other, climb up to the John Peel for some Pond. Turnover’s are tight now, catch Paint Me Silver before hot-stepping across the site to West Holts for Comet is Coming. Cut through Greenpeace and walk right into Mattiel at the Deforestation stage, no bigger than my fucking kitchen! I have to stay for a song, but my girl back home has already bagged us tickets to an intimate Mattiel show in a weeks time, so I feel some obligation to stick to the plan.

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Mind blown by some fish-gilled saxophany, I begrudgingly dance away from where Maribou State and Holly Walker will now appear, regrettably past where Idles will play The Park, to get back to work.

Lock up at midnight, up and out to catch some of Four Tet at WOW, not my vibe right now, head across the way to Pussy Parlour to discover Afrofuturist champions of self-belief: Oshun. Two female vocalists with soulful melodies and flow, singing, rapping, taking prayer breaks in songs and with rehearsed patter to each other underlining the message of the songs. Confusingly they have a DJ pushing a Sci-Fi narrarive, steering a spaceship through his laptop’s soundboard, and announcing arrival at different planets with dog-in-car-window glee. Utterly endearing and musically impressive, they are a baffling treat in the run up to tonight’s main event: Tank and the Bangas. The stage-setting fills some of the delay, as giant green cloud-shaped balloons are filled and placed about with other such decorations. The ensemble make it out at 2am and elevate the crowd. I am front and centre as Jelly lights the place up, wearing thin neon green overalls filled with green balloons that she releases throughout the set. Electric excitement through all of us. How to sleep after this.

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Work Saturday morning, missing Mattiel’s only listed performance at The Park. Head to the top of the hill there anyway after my shift to see the mystery guest. Foals – not my jam, shimmy over the hill to a little bar called The Crow’s Nest. Grab a coffee and realise that I’m standing next to Mattiel! Apparently having just played another unannounced pop-up, an unplugged set that was 5 minutes from me. I’m about to say something when she disappears behind the bar. Meet a veteran litter picker who gives me a hot tip for the evening, we trade recommendations and I head back to change my clothes and grab supplies.

Back to The Park. Kurt Vile and the Violators are playing, I queue for the Rainbow Tower to get a decent view. It takes longer than expected. By the time I get up there the sun is setting behind the stage and Kate Tempest opens her show with EUROPE IS LOST, the song that I revere her for. The wardens of the tower see my glee and let me stay for this song. I dip down into the crowd where Kate whips up a contentious spirit, her lyrics challenging government give berth to applause, stirring the discontent in us all. This I admire greatly, and I see it’s place here, but I want to dance – so I bolt to Avalon to catch some electrofunk in the shape of Ibibio Sound Machine. Cut into the crowd to dance it out to Give Me A Reason.

Wu-Tang’s C.R.E.A.M plays me out as I head past an impressive beatboxer at the Deforestation stage, over to the Wormhole. This venue is a new addition for 2019, an intimate two floor bar with a stage dedicated to the UKs new-wave of Jazz. I manage to get in quickly to see Sons of Kemet vs. Ezra Collective. The same saxophonist as Comet is Coming battles some trumpet, all with such intensity that the entire place, which is now shoulder to shoulder, with a couple hours of queue outside, jump in unison. It is exhilarating and never lets up, to the point of exhaustion. I lose my breath and my ankles numb. The highlight of the festival for sure.

I float out towards Shangrila and check out the Unfairground. It’s empty this early so I decide to get tentways to get more involved and pick up some company. I dive a little too deep and things get too wonky. Out to the Pussy Parlour, Kiddy Smile are now on stage, PVC clad men in drag with inflatable hair 3 feet above their heads dance in front of a giant inflatable mouth. It’s dancy but dark. The frontman, I recognise from Noe’s Climax, screams – for long enough that the music splits out, the music strobes, and it dips slightly into something terrifying. I want to get a picture to remember but have forgotten my phone. Ditch back and then to try and make it out to Shangrila but the tracks have been reversed for the night time route and things are already looking upside down from my point of view. Herded with the masses before taking refuge at a small stage where some jungle reggae is playing. People dance and skank, the guy next to us shouts that the music is misogynistic and homophobic. He’s not wrong, but that rhythm is the only thing that makes sense to me right now. Home please.

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Sunday morning, off to the Acoustic tent for Hackney Colliery Band. Toto’d through the crowd, quick sprint to West Holts for This is The Kit. Prize spot at the front but something about the setting, her voice and the lyrics move me to tears a few times, so I hope that I’m not distracting. I meet Kate from The Kit moments after at the tent adjacent, almost accidentally meeting Jeff Goldblum instead. This would have been fine.

Work until 1am, then head out to Shangrila properly, constructing a rave halo out of a flower garland and some LEDs on a wire. ICON and Block 9 for some techno with incredible panoramic visuals and bump mapping technology. Lose the group and dance solo through Shangrila, making sure to go to every open door and live act. Sleaford Mods bemoaning the fall of BHS at the Truth stage. A full lap, I ask if there’s any other place open on the site at this time (4am), probably not, okay I head back in and queue for Carousel and am greeted by a sweaty crowd and some hard D&B with constant builds and drops, whilst a collection of clowns dance a few feet away. A fight almost starts, an oddity, but the mute little clown girl leans in and wags her finger. We dance.

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Sunrise at Glade, hug some strangers en route back to the tent, listening to people glowing about this place and its magic.

Toys

Returning from a week away at the festival, my first weekend with the boy was filled with activities that included catching the latest, perfect-trilogy-breaking Toy Story 4. Best we catch up with the last film so it’s fresh in memory…

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I had watched TS3 at the cinema when it came out in 2010. A year into my university degree, it held a mirror up to my own maturation and matriculation. I had grown up with Andy, and now he was leaving his toys behind for college. It struck me that I was now in the process of leaving behind adolescence and the time for play was over.

This had some poignant resonance that I was able to push down, at least for the next few years of intermittent debauchery, but it bubbled up once again this second viewing, now from a different angle.

With the boy under my arm, we watched as Woody would make desperate plays to make himself relevant to Andy, not wanting to be left behind. The moment which appears to console and allay his neuroses is telling: he watches Andy hug his mother, who is crying, out of focus in the background, and realises that they are one and the same. As do I.

He understands that his time with the boy is transitory, it exists for a short time in which the relationship is close and intertwined, but then you have to move onto other things, invest your love somewhere else.

Andy is not just leaving behind his toys, he is leaving his family.

Realising that the bond I have with this boy under my arm may never be as strong as this present moment, knowing that eventually he will outgrow the role and no longer need me, I crumble and the tears stream from my face.

I saw my father cry twice: once at a funeral for a friend, and once as he told me, without words, that our dog had been put down. And now here’s me sobbing into an existential void brought on by a fucking animated toy.

I wipe my face and look over at the boy – smiling ear to ear, clueless of his Dad’s pitiful neediness – at least we have this moment now.

Balcooney

I’m partial to the odd deep dive into the bizarre recesses of the internet, delving into rabbit holes to plunder some obscure gold that I can show off to others given the right opportunity.

I found my moment a little while back, when I had free reign of a cinema after hours, celebrating a youngun’s bee-day. Whilst people floated about outside the auditorium I slid some of my finds on the big screen and cranked up the volume. Some take the bait, others I coax in by dancing towards the light.

I introduce a particular playlist that I had always had dreams of playing in a different context. My last flat was three stories up and my room looked out onto the high street, perfectly opposite a club called Urban 9. A similar building, this pay-to-enter, shirts-and-shoes joint matched my room in having music play on all floors. Although it had levels, it’s not huge inside, and this would mean that a queue would sometimes form outside.

My genius idea was to DJ a set to the queue outside from my balcony, lifting the vertical windows – like proper waist to ceiling Dawson’s Creek sliding motherfuckers – positioning my speakers and blasting some Dutch hip-hop to those unsheltered patrons thirsty for music. And like all ideas that I think are great, I tell someone and try to expand on it until it gets too big and becomes unwieldy. At one point we had planned a regular residency, with myself wearing a costume and mask, hosting a party in my flat, projecting the music videos on my wall whilst the music is thrown out across the road. Ridiculous.

I tried to stay true to Doug Stanhope’s credo that it’s only funny if you do it, but the simple plan grew until the point that I moved house and fucked it for myself.

So the night of this lad’s birthday I decide to sneak out my Balcooney playlist of Dutch hip-hop, and all it takes is one playthrough when I get asked the name of the artists. I say I might share my private playlist later.

It doesn’t matter, as it seems between them they have Shazam’d each and every one of them, digitally pick-pocketing me of my precious gold. This playlist had one lacklustre debut and now they’re off out in the world without me.

So fuck it, here is that playlist. I still plan to work this into a house-party that has a screen large enough to accommodate. Or I could always give a knock to my old place, in full regalia, and explain that I have a show to play.

(All of these songs have become favourites of my son. This one in particular which he requests every car journey. A child of 4 years old is truly the best captive audience).

Lucid (2019)

Written for RAF News June 2019

A young nebbish introvert struggles socially until a neighbour introduces him to lucid dreaming, allowing him the possibility of realising his fantasies.

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Zel (Laurie Calvert) is a car-park attendant for a burlesque-style club with an apparent reputation and a clientele of wealthy hedonists, judging by the drivers who come by his window. Constantly reminded of his status, and mocked by his thuggish boss Theo (Cristian Solimeno), Zel’s desire to ask out one of the clubs dancers and to stand up to Theo is just a dream. This is until a washed-up psychologist (Billy Zane) teaches him that he could take control of his dreams and use them to build real-world confidence.

Lucid dreaming is a real phenomenon that is used for such purposes (the ‘lucid nightmare’ being the subject of Vanilla Sky and Nightmare on Elm Street) which makes the concept a solid basis for a film. Shot on a modest budget, Lucid works within its means and manages to turn it into a strength. Astonishingly, it is worth noting that first time writer and director Adam Morse has achieved this despite being registered blind for the past decade.

Having a cripplingly timid main character, that is not always sympathetic, is challenging but Calvert plays it realistically. The main hurdle in believability is the relationship between Zel and frizzy cravat wearer Elliot, but Zane’s calm confidence fills this void or distracts at the very least, able to provide some comedy alongside the catalyst for change.

As perfectly deconstructed in Nolan’s logic-twisting action-epic Inception, dream logic dovetails naturally with cinema: scenes can jump to different locations, or begin in the middle, and it will seem completely ordinary. In Lucid everything is neatly laid out, with set-ups and pay-offs, and without getting complex, which is a huge achievement considering the subject.

There’s a strange elegance in it’s simplicity – when it feels as though its about to nosedive into fantasy, it pulls back and lands something much more relatable.

Fonotune: An Electric Fairytale (2019)

Written for RAF News June 2016

A rag-tag bunch of headphone wearing wanderers make their way across barren desert-lands to see the final gig of a retiring rockstar in the middle of nowhere.

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We first join mute drifter Mono, played by the film’s director FINT, and despite offering absolutely nothing – he will be our constant and surrogate. Along the way he bumps into a series of individuals all with the same purpose so they amble together in the same direction; and so must we. Rather than exchanging words, they each listen to their preferred radio station, the names of which decorate the screen with stylish typeface.

But despite the promise of music, the most prominent sound is of footsteps as our gang march through a largely empty frame, collecting members such as Stereo the Hustler (Yûho Yamashita), and Analog the Drifter (Kazushi Watanabe).

To call them characters would be a stretch – they are set apart by their clothes and choice of music, exhibiting one behaviour throughout, second always though to walking. The combination of slow, repetitive shots with an occasionally arresting composition combine well with the ambiguity if you have the patience, but this could very well be tested. These names too appear as well crafted title-cards, emblazoned across the screen like a Batman onomatopoeia circa Adam West.

Some details dropped along the way suggest FINT knows very well what he is doing and – there is a moment in which the gang stop to watch an impromptu performance by a band without instruments or amps, their thrashed enthusiasm heard only through comically muted twangs.

The few moments in which we are transported to the station FNTN where a futurist DJ is mixing live, the scenes come to life and the minimal aesthetic is elevated. It is frustrating that this isn’t used more, perhaps the fear is that it would feel too much like a music video. Instead we drift alongside the group in near silence, hoping for a pay off that will never quite take shape.

Hugh Hefner’s After Dark: Speaking Out in America (2019)

Written for RAF News May 2019

The late Hugh Hefner, whose well-timed death had him narrowly avoiding the Me Too movement, is the subject of a new documentary, or rather his late night talk show-come-entertainment showcase of the late 50s through to 1970.

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If one were not hip to the groove of this television show, or indeed Hef’s history of activism, they might think from the title that this is a scandalous tell-all. In actual fact, Hefner wasn’t always the bathrobed pensioner of his later years, he was among many things a smooth-talking host of dinner parties; a curator of comedy and musical talent spanning from folk to gospel.

Playboy’s Penthouse, the initial incarnation of the show, aired in 1959-60 before midnight. A formal affair, shot in black and white, Hefner greeted the audience as a party guest and welcomed them to observe intimate performances from legends such as Nina Simone and Nat ‘King’ Cole. It feels a little stiff and yet it plays as far less contrived than contemporary talk shows, with Hefner’s suave yet emotionless style sometimes offset by the wise-cracking of comedians such as Bob Newhart or Lenny Bruce.

As this documentary, which features Hefner himself as a talking head, makes clear – the mix of talent from different races was unprecedented. After the Second World War there was still a cultural separation, in places such as Georgia an enforced segregation. This show was an antidote to these beliefs, showing progressive ideals through its celebration of diverse music and giving a platform to much deserving artists.

The musical acts, which were political as a matter of cultural context, would remain political in the second version of the show Playboy After Dark, airing from 1969-1970. Once again bridging two decades, the show’s conversational segments would be transgressive, talking about social change, injustice and racism. Not shying away from controversial subjects but steering head-on into them, offering opinions on the ongoing Vietnam War for example.

Feeling a little like a ‘best of’ stitched together with interviews of featured musicians, the uniting theme of the subtitle is the championing of free speech, which remains as important now. Loosely made relevant with stock footage here and there, the archive footage speaks for itself. The film is worth watching just to witness icons sharing the same space, the same stage, and having their voices heard.