Proms for the iPod generation

Ask any British teenager if they watch the BBC Proms and their response will almost surely be a stark snort of disdain. In an effort to showcase new music and special collaborations the BBC commissioned a brand new annual event in late 2006 – the BBC Electric Proms.

Since its debut in 2006, the Electric Proms have been beset with amazing performances and truly unique collaborations from Kasabian, James Brown, Jamiroquai, Kaiser Chiefs, Burt Bacharach feat. Jamie Cullum, Nitin Sawhney (also the composer for Heavenly Sword) feat. Natty, Oasis and Africa Express to name but a few. And not forgetting The Good, the Bad & the Queen, one of my personal favourites who also made their opening debut at the very first Electric Proms.

Taking in place in the heart of Camden town, at the Roundhouse, KOKO, and several other local clubs and bars, the atmosphere is scorching for such an event. Camden is oft known for being a dodgy part of London – drugs, goths, rough types who like piercings and stuff – but the history of the place is astounding. Dusty record stores, dealers with clothes and junk that look like it fell straight out of 1945, street art and, of course, live music. I’ll save my reverence for the place for another post, but there’s no question in my mind that the Electric Proms belong in Camden.

The event certainly seems to have shrunk even during its short lifetime. Back in 2007 there were over seventy artists and performers, but this year there were just a meagre ten artists performing at the Camden venues.

Nevertheless, the BBC still managed to sign up some fantastic headline acts for the experimental music event. This year saw the return of Robbie Williams, and, though it pains me to say it, because I can’t stand the man, a reasonably good set from Dizzee Rascal.

But for me the real gold was Dame Shirley Bassey and Smokey Robinson – both living legends. I’ve been watching the performances via iPlayer and they’re just spectacular. With an orchestra backing them, these performances really do sound one of a kind. I really would have liked to record this year’s TV coverage on DVD, but I missed the opportunity. How fortunate, then, for the rebellious YouTube users that upload the shows anyway. If you’re an open-minded music lover, I fully recommend checking out the Electric Proms.

Redhead with a Revolver

How does Joanna Dark get her hair so blood-red?

That’s a question you’re likely to ask the moment you fire up Perfect Dark Zero. And that’s something I haven’t had a chance to do yet. Instead let me tell you about Perfect Dark: Initial Vector. The story is set some six months after the events of Xbox 360 game. From the opening you get the feeling that it is going to be a book full of betrayal and espionage. And sure enough, you will find both in adequate amounts in this title.

The future’s looking bleak. Yes, according to Greg Rucka’s early warning, things aren’t as happy as they appear in 2020. Hyper-corporations control everything. The largest, dataDyne, is caught in a shadow war with Daniel Carrington of the Carrington Institute. Will-knock-you-dead-as-soon-as-look-at-you, ex-bounty hunter Joanna Dark has a personal vendetta with dataDyne, and quickly becomes Carrington’s most valuable operative.

The strangest thing about world of Perfect Dark is that it’s ironic that Microsoft should even be publishing it. Granted they inherited the rights to the series when they purchased Rare, but the underlying message, the whole reason these characters exist, is to explore what happens when big business aims to control every aspect of consumer life. Having expanded their reach from software to communication to entertainment, it’s fair to say that Microsoft is one of the most powerful corporate entities in the world today. Though, many would agree that certain decisions they’ve made haven’t been followed through with consumers at the forefront.

The book also offers two opposing views on this matter. There’s Carrington, who believes dogmatically that all the hyper-corporations need to be eradicated. Then you have the executives and white collar assistants who will stop at nothing to progress their own careers and ensure the survival of their precious company. This, of course, is the fuel behind much of the corruption, conspiracy and murder that follows.

Next to all this, Miss Dark really isn’t all that interesting. She is the book’s main emotional weight. She is mourning over the death of her father and she is confused about her place in the world. Her moments of action are exciting, but it’s the bigger picture that really pulls you in. I doubt the game will offer even a slice of the undercover coolness seen in this novel, but Rucka has got my attention with Initial Vector.

You know, there’s also a horrible sense of coincidence when you happen to have contracted swine flu and be reading about a deadly flu virus at the same time *shudder*.

Throw me a bone, would ya?

Up and down, down and up, side to side and upside down.

Things haven’t been easy this past month. I’ve had a run in with “The Flu”, uni has been rough and Platform has been madness. Anyway, I’ve survived. But things aren’t about to get any easier any time soon. Next week, GameCity Squared is on, then I’m off to Develop in Liverpool, then we’ve got Platform Magazine #1 coming out, then Modern Warfare 2 is out… it just doesn’t stop!

Well, I consider this my detox, since the friends within five miles of me are either too busy or out partying.

It has been a rough month, but I’ve enjoyed it too. Uncharted 2 came out last week. I bought it, but I haven’t played it – way too busy right now, and if I started playing I’ll lose my entire month to it. I must admit I haven’t actually been playing much on PS3 lately. I’ve mostly been using it to play demos and watch catch-up TV using the new BBC iPlayer functionality. Man, it’s wicked.

I’ve been meaning to do some more book and comic write-ups of late. I just finished Perfect Dark: Initial Vector and I’m currently reading the second Mass Effect book. Still haven’t found the time to jump into the eponymous games, but I’m sure I’ll get round to it at some point. Even if it takes me till the summer.

Madtyger, I’m absolutely loving your ‘Three Things’ theme. Getting straight to the point and writing about some thought provoking matters. Cool stuff. I think I’ll have to write about PSPgo and digital downloads in a future post myself.

I’ll be out of hiding soon, promise.

Relationship advice from Aliens

My, my. It’s been a good few weeks since I last did one of my mini book reviews. I’ve been so busy moving, writing and whatnot, that I’ve barely had time to spend reading. Well, here I am again and this week it’s Mass Effect: Revelation.

Mass Effect: Revelation is a prequel book, written by the game’s lead writer, Drew Karpyshyn. It sets the stage for the main game and introduces you to the strange cultures and interstellar societies that inhabit the world of Mass Effect. To be frank, this book’s pretty darn good. Any sci-fi devotee will be lapping up the talk of ancient Prothean technology, galactic space armadas and chilling actions sequences.

I have to give full credit to Karpyshyn for continually keeping his descriptions of characters, their actions and the worlds around them, so perfectly sculpted. There were few moments when I couldn’t envision how or where the action was taking place. And since I played Mass Effect for only half an hour, more than a year ago, it’s swell to read a sci-fi book that doesn’t leave you in the deep end the whole time. Indeed, I think the book makes a terrific introduction to the series, but even if you’re not planning to play the games it’s a benevolent read.

To begin with there’s some set up about how Prothean technology has helped to advance humanity far beyond its years. Armed with interstellar travel, mass effect relays and good, old fashioned instinct, humanity quickly begins making waves in the wider galactic community. The tale follows Alliance officer, David Anderson, as he tries to track down scientist, Kahlee Sanders. Sanders recently disappeared from a remote Alliance base that was the target of a terrorist attack only hours after she left the planet. But it seems there is more than meets the eye to this assault. Before long Anderson, a ruthless bounty hunter, and a Spectre (the feared guardians of civilised space, who answer only to the galactic council) are all embroiled in an ominous conspiracy.

Though small in stature, there’s a lot to like about Mass Effect: Revelation. It might be sci-fi, but the core of its story is rooted in human values and feelings. Reading about humanity’s struggle to survive in a brave new world has been really revitalising for me. With its wide array of alien species it covers hard topics like discrimination and genocide. The twist is simple really, but is satisfying ‘human’. Much to my pleasure, the lead character, David Anderson, is also black – thank you Karpyshyn for yet another first in my search for great cultural works. Oh, and what about those humanoid blue ladies (Asari, if you want the proper name) from the game? Yeah, they’re in there, and cross-species relationships are implied as well *wink*.

I’ll be taking a break from Mass Effect for a while, so expect thoughts on the game and sequel book a bit later. Currently I’m tagging along with the feisty Joanna Dark in Perfect Dark: Initial Vector. However, I should have some new comic book recommendations and cautions coming soon. Until next… if you plan to visit a high-class alien strip club, don’t expect the bouncers to go easy on you just because you’ve brought plenty of credit.