Album review: Mutation III ‘Dark Black’

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At long last the third instalment of Ginger Wildheart’s relentless noise campaign is here, and I can guarantee it will physically blow your mind clean out of your boy. ‘Dark Black’ is as intense, brutal, and face-meltingly loud as I’d hoped it would be, and I had high hopes considering the involvement of Scott Lee Andrews (Exit International, Jaws of Death). The album features a plethora of incredible musicians, including Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad, Devin Townsend Project), Phil Campbell (Motorhead), Givvi Flynn (The Dowling Poole, The Wildhearts) and Jon Poole (Cardiacs, The Wildhearts).

The influences on this record are sublimely combined; noise, extreme metal and punk fuse together in a glorious conglomeration of chaos. There is barely time to breathe throughout the entirety of it, aside from the six second opening track, a spoken word piece about the monster that is depression. This is a running theme throughout the album, with poignant lyrics creating a landscape of existential anxiety, dread, and frustration. As someone with experience in these matters, I would say that Ginger and crew have done a harrowingly spot-on job of grappling mental health battles into sonic form.

As soon as Authenticity kicks in, the ruthless violence of these sonic battles begin, peppered with addictive hooks and epic choruses which will have you screaming along for days.  The height of the of musical addiction on this album is undoubtedly Irritant, which boasts a terrifically blunt chorus of ‘Fuck off you cunt you are an irritant’. As Andrews himself professed, even the most optimistic person you know would have a hard time stopping themselves from belting along to this mantra. Plus the music video of Ginger and the gang relentlessly spray painting the Mutation logo onto large corporate businesses is hilarious.

Despite the reigning discord, there are brilliant melodies in Dark Black, like satanic interpretations of pop; Skint and Hate push perfectly tuned dynamics through the heaviness. This is what makes me want to listen to this album over and over again. The final track Deterioration will leave any distortion cravings satisfied, its slow pace grinding this shit-storm to a close.

This is certainly a love it or hate it record. The extremes that take place here leave no room for mild opinion, and I’m sure Ginger wanted it that way. Personally, I consider Dark Black to be a musical triumph of 2017 and it is probably my favourite new album of this year so far.

 

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Three trans women cartoon characters who could kick your ass

When it comes to the representation of the trans community in fiction, especially cartoons, things tend to get very vague and elusive. There is a lot of speculating. There is a lot of fan theorising and post-production baiting from creators, hints and entendres, but usually there is little solid proof as to the status of a multitude of characters who could be trans. Nearly never do you get a character coming out with an undisputed statement like, “Hi nice to meet you, my name is Stephanie and I’m a trans woman”. I mean, not that trans people go around introducing themselves like this, but you get the drift.

There is a huge, dissatisfying void between canon and fandom that can leave trans people feeling let down, desperate, and pretty fucking pissed. For instance, I have convinced myself that a lot of my favourite male cartoon characters have a secret trans identity and are all in the closet, so that I can identify with them and feel their struggles and triumphs on a more personal level. Will I ever get affirmation of these hopes and dreams? No, probably not. But hold the phone, all is not lost.  Three of my favourite cartoon characters of all time are canon trans women who successfully subvert feminine stereotypes and prove that you don’t have to be an unrealistically dainty flower in order to be a woman. Here I will talk about them in all their ass-kicking, face-punching, soul-reaping glory.

Alice from Superjail!

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Superjail! is an American TV series produced by Augenblick Studios and Titmouse, Inc.  Characterised by its psychedelic shifts in setting and plot and extreme graphic violence, which give the series a TV-MA-V (for graphic violence, including scenes of bloodshed, dismemberment, torture, and extreme cruelty) rating, this is not one for the faint of heart. So it makes sense to feature a trans woman character who could rip you limb from limb if she so desired, right? Alice is the head prison guard of Superjail. She is large, muscular, and brooding. She is the first one on the scene of a fight and does not shy away from sadomasochism. She is also very maternal (coming close to being both a Godmother to a little girl and Foster Mother to a newborn alien) and enjoys makeup, lingerie, and being pampered. Alice is fantastically complex character with very human flaws and desires; the way that her femininity is portrayed is particularly liberating for anyone who believes that women are just as fearless, strong, and hot-headed as men. Despite some aspects of her character coming across as a gag (her male genitalia is always prominent beneath her tight skirt) she never falters in her personal identity as a woman, quite literally stomping the ugly face of transphobia to the ground.

Hunter Gathers from The Venture Bros

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Hunter Gathers, from the iconic Adult Swim series The Venture Bros, is a member of the OSI and mentor to lethal agent and bodyguard Brock Samson. Throughout season one, Hunter is portrayed as a cis man with a penchant for dressing up in female disguises whilst pursuing targets. In season two, they undergo sex-reassignment surgery to become a woman, seemingly for the purposes of an infiltration mission. However, it is blatant that Hunter’s desire to be biologically female runs a lot deeper than this. She…yes, I’m going to go ahead and call her ‘she’ because that’s what she bloody well is… is a badass woman who is sadly trapped by the old-fashioned values and expectations of army life. In season six, after undergoing more surgery to remove her breasts to become the leader of underground organisation Sphinx, she exclaims to her soldiers how much she misses her female body and that there is a woman inside her ‘just screaming to be heard’. Like Alice, Hunter is an advocate for aspects of female life that are not approached in mainstream media because they are considered too ‘unfeminine’. Body hair, dominance, practicality, anger: these are all things that everyday women have and experience, that shouldn’t detract from their status as female. I just hope that in season seven of Venture Bros, Hunter gets the final transition and closure that she deserves.

Grell Sutcliffe from Black Butler (Kuroshitsuji)

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One of these is not like the others, you might think, but this flamboyant shinigami from the manga and anime adaptation of Black Butler actually has a lot in common with the other gals here. Initially introduced as a meek male butler with suicidal tendencies, Grell’s true nature is revealed after she is discovered as the culprit behind the Jack the Ripper murders with co-conspirator Madam Red. Grell has a ruthless fascination with aesthetic beauty, perfection, and the colour red, and believes that substances which reflect that colour, such as blood, can be used to achieve beauty. She is initially portrayed as an antagonist, but her alliance with the series protagonists in somewhat consistent and she never makes the leap to full blown villainy. She does enjoy getting her hands dirty, however, and relishes in fights with protagonist Sebastian Michaelis. Despite being misgendered almost constantly, Grell always refers to herself with female pronouns and metaphors, expressing her desire become Sebastian’s wife and to mother his children. Her melodramatic flamboyance can be seen as a coping mechanism for dealing with transphobia, building a defence around her identity. As she says in season one, “The more flamboyant a woman is, the more she’s as beautiful as a poisonous flower.” One thing that Grell does well is knowing herself; she does not let insults towards her gender get to her, she presents femininely whilst battling her supernatural rivals with no reservation. She might not be a shining example of a good human being in general, but as first introductions to trans people go, I’m glad that mine was such a deliciously fun and self-affirming one.

You may be angry at me for this list of characters, and that’s fine; all of them have been on the receiving end of hatred from both cis and trans communities for being controversial. I just know that these characters have helped me in my own journey as a trans person and have taught me that no matter that my body looks like, or what my traits are, no one can take my identity away from me.

For more canon LGBT+ cartoon characters, you can check out this Wikipedia list, this tumblr blog,  and this post on My Anime List.

Interview: Lo & Vee, An Other World

Leeds based artists Lo & Vee have been taking the city by storm this summer with their stunning exhibition ‘An Other World’, a mixture of illustrative murals, framed works, and interactive video work inspired by folklore.

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The exhibition, which takes place in Leeds Central Library’s excellent space, Room 700, takes us on a journey through a world of fantasy and magic, of mystical beings and fairy tales.

The installation is heavily inspired by readings that the library holds; books detailing mythical creatures, legendary tribes, deep sea creatures, rare artefacts and antiques. Their collaborative murals not only reflect their appreciation of nature, dream worlds and pattern, but also their bizarre ability to make the familiar unfamiliar.

Since opening at the end of July, hundreds of people have fully immersed themselves in this fanatical world of myths and monsters. However, I wanted to dig a little deeper, to find out exactly what makes both Lo & Vee tick. I caught up with them to ask them about the exhibition, humble origins, and dreams for the future.

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1. A lot of your work focuses on nature running wild, what is it about nature that inspires you to create?

We are definitely both constantly intrigued by nature. We watch a lot of David Attenborough and I think the intelligence of nature inspires us, we enjoy drawing from the organic patterns and fluid movements of plant life and sea creatures.

2. What kind of artistic backgrounds do you come from?

We have both studied art at a degree level, Lo at Glasgow School of Art and Vee at Leeds College of Art. They have always been interested in art and creativity, Vee’s parents are both very artistic.

3. How did you start getting into painting murals? What was the first mural you painted?

After a boozy night of discussing our potential futures we had a bit of a brainwave and decided to set up our own company creating drawing classes for people who didn’t think they could draw. We had a lucky break when a friend at Whites Deli contacted us to ask if we’d be interested in drawing on their 8ft Chalk Board. From there it all snowballed. House Of Koko got in touch with us through twitter and asked us if we’d be interested in running workshops from their coffee shop. The shop was still being set up at the time and after meeting with them they asked us about designing some murals for them, which we jumped at the chance to do. We’ve being building our repetoire ever since.

4. How did you meet each other?

We met at high school. We probably formed our bond in Art Class, where we actually weren’t very good. We spent a lot of time drawing still lives and I think our joint hatred of that really solidfied our friendship.

5. Do you read a lot? What are your favourite fictional novels and why?

We probably dont spend as much time reading as we should. But we do listen to a lot of audiobooks. We’ve actually being listening to some Poirot whilst we draw on the walls.

6. Your work explores a lot of folklore, what is your favourite folklore tale?

I think one of our favourite folkore books from the exhibition has been the Water Babies.

7. Finally, what can we be expecting from you guys in the near future?

In the future we hope to get involved in some more residencies! We are looking forwards to resuming our Drawing Club in Chapel Allerton, as we’ve had to put it on hold during the residency.

You can see the exhibition until closing date 20th August. Check out @loandvee on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for more information.

6 Tips for Beginner Cosplayers

Guest blogger Emma Petfield shares essential knowledge for those just starting out on their own cosplay adventures.

1. Set a Budget

If you know how much you have to spend then you won’t be carried away by seemingly impressive online fully kitted out costumes. These carry a lot of risk and can be one hefty lump sum. If you do decide to purchase a ready made cosplay make sure to get accurate sizing and ensure that if you’re unhappy with the product you will indefinitely be refunded!

2. Second-Hand Shops Are Your Saving Grace

You can find things for half sometimes even a tenth of the price that you had initially considered paying. My suggestion is if you have a few cosplays in mind to make mood boards with examples of everything you need for each cosplay. Keep them with you and if happen to pass a charity or second-hand shop you’ll know exactly what you need and can compare directly to reference images.

3. Decent Sewing Machines Don’t Have to be Expensive

I paid £18 for my sewing machine and even though the needle broke, the machine survive quadruple stitched material to create a Yukata. Quality does not equal expense and I believe that if you look hard enough you can find good deals. Again sewing machine’s can be picked up pretty easily from eBay or even your local charity shops. I’ve sewn dresses, leotards and jackets using my sewing machine and it only have 8 settings, which are plenty for the things I need.

4 . Better Safe Than Sorry

If you’re not sure that your material is strong enough to withstand all your cosplay shenanigans then try double stitching or running it through the sewing machine a couple of times for extra support. One trick I always maintain is doubling material, especially if the costume leaves a little less to the imagination – conventions run throughout the year and if you want to be walking around in Misty’s crop top and denim shorts you best have something as a backup incase your doubling up doesn’t quite cut it. On that note…

5 . Don’t Endanger Yourself for the Sake of Looking Cool

Try to make your costumes fit the environment. If you know you’re going to be spending several hours outside in the Autumn weather, then it probably is best you save your Misty costume for another day. Picking several costumes at once can help with this as you can have them ready to go at the drop of a hat because of your excellent planning.

6 . Research Your Prop Material

Don’t just stick to the classic papier maché cardboard combo, there’s a diverse range of materials you can use. Worbla was a wondrous discovery but it can be expensive. Cosplay is about having a keen eye and knowing how to make something of a completely different thing. If you can turn a drain pipe into a Harkonnen from Hellsing then you’ve probably got that eye.

Emma blogs about all things bookish over at Howling Reviews and can also be found on twitter and instagram sharing her latest reads @KyraWolf289.

Berlin Atonal

Since it’s 23 year hiatus, Berlin’s most important and innovative experimental music festival returns yet again in 2015 with a cacophony of triumphant bangs and crashes. Berlin Atonal was founded in 1982 by Dimitri Hegemann, community organizer and cultural activist, and for over a decade it was the ultimate goal for underground noise musicians and artists in which to showcase their creations. Originally held at notorious rock club SO36, it featured the most revolutionary acts in experimental and industrial music, like Psychic TV, Einstürznede Neubauten, and Die Haut among many others. The festival stopped in 1990 with the fall of the Berlin Wall, but all was not lost for electronic music lovers. Hegemann went on to open techno club Tresor, nowadays one of the most popular clubs in Berlin for electronic enthusiasts, keen tourists, and everything in between.

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Since its re-opening in 2013, Berlin Atonal takes place in the huge abandoned powerplant that Tresor shares. For five nights, the space becomes a futuristic mecca haunted by the sounds of its industrial past. The space is almost too large to comprehend- no matter how far you crane your neck to look upwards, the ceiling seems a thousand miles away. Crowds clad in black scuttle relentlessly up and down the gargantuan concrete staircase, like ants marching mindlessly to a tasty grease spill. No matter where you in are this vast apocalyptic catacomb, the sound is just as intense, with heavyweight subwoofers blending seamlessly into the surrounding darkness.

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The festival features performances, installations and workshops from over 50 artists, and since its re-launch has boasted names like Jon Hassell, David Borden, Murcof, and more. There is also a huge selection of street-food stalls set up outside, along with some seating set up under a canopy of fairy lights. Although beware that the transition from inside to outside will leave you confused and maybe questioning your existence. For those that never want to leave, there is an after-show party to close the festival that continues until the sun sits high in the sky.

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Film Review: The Red Shoes (Bunhongshin)

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Being an avid lover of all things produced by PALISADES/Tartan, when I saw this title on LoveFilm I couldn’t resist trying it out. Inspired by the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale of the same name, this Korean horror directed by Kim Yong-gyun (The Sword with No Name, Reset) is a cinematically striking tale of vanity, materialism, and female jealousy. The motif of the cursed red shoes is still there, and so is all of the gratuitous blood and violence. Young-Hyun does a fantastic job at bringing this 19th century story to 2005, however the film is not without it’s flaws. Firstly, the shoes are hot pink, not red at all. Secondly, there are some rather confusing plot mechanics and twists, but I will get on to that.

The first scene depicts two high school girls fighting over the hot pink heals that have been left in an empty subway. Each of them insists that they saw the shoes first and go to great lengths to claim them, physically beating each other down. The victor of the fight trots away victorious, feeling cute in her new shoes. Suddenly she is knocked down by an unseen force. She looks down at her feet and with a piercing scream sees that they have been cleanly removed and all that is left are two bloody stumps. Two grisly trails of blood lead from her mangled legs to wherever it is that the malevolent force has taken the cursed heals. This is in the first ten minutes of the film. You know that those shoes are seriously bad news.

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The rest of the film follows Sun-jae and her young daughter Tae-su after she discovers that her husband is being unfaithful. Sun-jae finds the shoes in a subway car, and that’s when everything starts going immensely wrong. She quickly becomes obsessed with the shoes when she uses them to pull the rugged builder working on her new studio. Things do not stay rosy for long however as she becomes haunted by ghostly visions and grows insanely jealous of anyone else who tries on the shoes. This includes her best friend, who’s gruesome death will please all hardcore gore fans, and her daughter Tae-su, who becomes fatally attached to the shoes with stomach-churning consequences.

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Alongside the main plot, sometimes in the nightmare narrative, is the shoes’ origin story. It’s a visually beautiful but very confusing anecdote about a couple of 14th century ballet dancers, who are somehow connected to the weird old woman who lives in the basement. The film worsens as attention is turned away from the main plot to focus on history- ties become tenuous and you almost stop caring about the characters in the present day. The final twist in the last few minutes of the film is predictable and does not add anything to the overall storyline.

All in all I would give it 3/5 stars. Creepy, bloody, with some moments that made my heart jump in my throat, The Red Shoes undoubtably suffers for a slack plot and some classical horror clichés. A good one for Tartan fans, but I would recommend starting with something like A Tale of Two Sisters or Whispering Corridors for a better introduction to Korean horror.