Monday, November 25, 2013

My clothes are falling apart and the head of Zappos doesn't care

So, three things have happened recently that are inter-related and have caused me to do a complete 180 on my wardrobe.

1) I started reading Elizabeth Cline's Overdressed: The high cost of cheap fashion. It made feel that I shouldn't indulge in cheap fashion anymore, and the reason was twofold. One, the obvious one, that the people that make my clothes are not paid enough to do it, and live in poverty and 2) the fashion industry has devolved into a world where clothes are defined by great design, but not great quality.

2) A bunch of my clothes, which I bought from a trendy fashion chain and are trendy like clothes I've never had before, have started falling apart. Now, considering the cost and effort of repairing them, I have been considering replacing them. They were cheap and cost me $30, so why not just replace them?

3) Kanye West was interviewed by novelist Bret Easton Ellis last week and had a great quote, which book-ended a lot of the stories in Elizabeth Clines book and struck a chord with me as a philosophy worth following. He said “I got into this giant argument with the head of Zappos that he’s trying to tell me what I need to focus on,” West told Ellis. “Meanwhile, he sells all this shit product to everybody, his whole thing is based off of selling shit product."

He also said he was “super dedicated to awesomeness, and making things better.”

So why does Cline despair about the industry and why does West feel that he needs to make things better?

The fashion industry, made up of industry giants like Zara, Forever 21, ASOS, Zappos and many more, are just not able to give us quality product.

Yet they are able to give us great design. Why? The demand we as consumers put on them to keep prices low and the speed in which we need them to get the clothing lines out to us.

The process of fast fashion means they literally copy styles right off the runaway and get them in and of the stores quickly. Lax copyright laws mean that styles can be copied without recrimination. This is great for you and I, as design teams can slap the latest photos from Paris fashion week into a computer program and have the finished product on the retail floor in two weeks.

But where are the designers in all this? Aren't they responsible for the clothing they put out? No.
A designer designs, and if the price point for their designs is too high to keep to low prices consumers demand, then operations teams in the fashion houses will ask for a cheaper design or they will redesign it themselves. Designers in places like Forever 21 barely even see their designs make it to the retail floor.

Look, I'm not slagging people for buying cheap clothes, lord knows we lived through too many years of poor design. I'm just asking you to consider where your clothes come from (Bangladesh, China), what they're made of (non-biodegradable Polyester) and think about what this industry is doing to the people that have to work in these factories and live in these cities. And think about what it's doing to the way we perceive fashion. With great design should come great quality.

There are ethical fashion choices out there, companies that won't accept anything less than quality products that are also fashionable.

And people like Kanye, who want only the best for us, and who want to move on from a world of unethical and poor quality fashion, are what we desperately need.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Hip-Hop won't kill EDM, it will kill itself

I've been reading with interest the back-and-forth diatribe's between the top dogs of EDM and it's detractors. The one thing that I seem to see a lot on the side of those who have a stake in the future success of EDM, is a perceived optimism about it's future. I thought that instead of running my mouth with uneducated opinions, maybe I should let others speak for me.

The post below is comparisons of quotes from articles and books about the 90's and early 00's dance scene and the current EDM scene. I thought it would be good for all of us to look at the current scene in context, and also reflect on it's similarity to previous scenes. I haven't even covered all the elements of the scenes, missing such crucial effects as the criminal element, but you'll get the picture.

If you don't understand your past mistakes, you're almost certainly doomed to repeat them.


As soon as the money-makers arrive, the dilution of quality begins.

You started to hear the murmerings of disquiet in 2001, when normally booster-ish dance mag Muzik claimed that the entire industry was in denial about the oncoming crisis. Attendance in clubs was declining, record sales were sliding, the only real growth area was chill-out compilations...

The next generation of cool kids were turning away from faceless techno-bollocks, toward more face-full music...

Dance musics mainstream was imploding,leaving an array of micro-scenes and little undergrounds orbiting a collapsed centre...

Music usually becomes muzak only after it has been chart pop for a good while... Simon Reynolds, Energy Flash

As with every genre before it, corporate influence in a previously untouched genre is cause for handwringing, not least because the dilution of the music seems inevitable the bigger it gets. Live Nation’s acquisition of Hard was especially upsetting, because of Hard’s reputation for supporting underground as well as marquee artists and respecting the purity of the experience. For instance, the upcoming line-up for Hard Summer 2012, in Los Angeles, places big names like Skrillex, Nero and Boyz Noise alongside more boutique artists like Araabmuzik, Buraka Som Sistema and Brenmar. With the influence of Live Nation, one wonders if this sort of juxtaposition will continue to flourish or if ticket prices will become even less affordable? Alternet.Org, 2013

According to Billboard, Sillerman's strategy is likely to be an "end-to-end program encompassing on-site presence at SFX-owned events; endorsement from SFX-managed artists within paid, owned and earned media channels; editorial support from SFX-owned entities; and newly developed mobile or other technologies to tie it all together." In other words, a vertically integrated marketing behemoth. In the same way that Google is an advertising company that runs a service allowing you to type questions and find answers on the Internet, SFX will be an advertising company that just happens to put on concerts. Phillip Sherburne, Spin 2013


Drugs go hand-in-hand with dance music, and users have always suffered in the long-term.

In ecstacy subcultures, too, there tends to be a point where the MDMA honeymoon phase comes to an abrupt end; again and again, from Manchester in 1990 to Los ANgeles in 1993, the descent into darkness occurs. Simon Reynolds, Energy Flash

But what happens when an ethos built around a drug collapses, yet people keep getting high? Think about the Summer of Love of 1967, when the LSD utopia of San Francisco devolved into a haven for crime and drug abuse. Think about Altamont, where the chemicals that enabled a generation’s divine visions later inflamed the violence that left Meredith Hunter dead. We've felt the quakes of this same force in the mainstreaming of EDM in the last half-decade, where lyrics about the indestructibility of love, the clarity of the horizon, and the remedy of the bass have given way to Miley Cyrus’s braying electronic anthems about “dancing with Molly.” Themes of transcendent universal harmony have dissipated into bitter Tweets about how Olivia Rotondo and Jeffrey Russ ruined EZoo for everyone else. This force hasn't knocked the revolution off its axis, per se—it has simply made the axis illegible.

It’s too soon to tell how the Electric Zoo tragedies will influence the cachet of either the music or MDMA use in America, though many believe they go hand-in-hand, to such an extent that it’s hard to determine exactly which came first. The Atlantic, Sep 2013

The music

Dance music itself has always turned dark when it's back was against the wall.

Two things replaced Rave’s smiley-face fervor with skrewface attitude. The first was ‘darkness’, the trend for producers to deploy sinister atmospherics and sick-joke soundbites that reflected the paranoia and psychic malaise engendered by excessive, long-term Ecstasy use.

The second factor was ‘blackness’, as ragga, dub and Hip Hop influences (already percolating in Ardkore) broke Rave’s ties to House and disco. Simon Reynolds, Energy Flash

Right now the EDM scene is an uneasy coalition between the slamming rocktronica of Skrillex and Bassnectar and the fluffy feel-good trance-house of DJs like Avicii, Kaskade, Swedish House Mafia, and Steve Aoki. On one side, there's Hard's Gary Richards who wants to push electronic music even further away from rave's disreputable and daft past. On the other, there's Electric Daisy Carnival, which has preserved not just rave's hands-in-the-air euphoria but some of its subcultural ritual aspects too. Simon Reynolds The Guardian 2012

Soon as  they like you, make em unlike you. Kanye West, Yeezus 2013

Compare Simon Reynolds accounts of the demise of Ardkore rave and rise of Jungle in 93, with the quotes of Hard Festivals Gary Richards. Is the more serious Hard festival just as reactionary as Jungle was in 93? Is this the death of rave-style EDM?

Since 1993 and Rave’s slide into the twilight zone, Hardcore has periodically been convulsed by debates about “where did our love go?” Some mourn the eclipse of bonhomie by moodiness and attitude; many of these disenchanted ravers sloped off to form the Happy Hardcore scene, currently massive in England and Scotland. Others defend the demise of the euphoric vibe, arguing that Jungle’s atmosphere isn’t moody, it’s ’serious’. This faction pours scorn on the happy ravers for their cheesy music, white gloves and other nostalgic trappings of the rave dream, which is felt to be not just lost, but utterly discredited. Simon Reynolds, Energy Flash

Hard's Gary Richards can't stand the glove-dance phenomenon: "I'm like, 'look at the stage, not your friend's fingers". But by suppressing this element from his events, he's effectively reducing the participatory aspects of rave that gave it so much of its charm and distinctiveness as a subculture. Simon Reynolds, Resident Advisor 2013

Hard Festival's Richards wanted to lose the "goofy fashion" side of rave that EDC revels in. "Why do we have to dress up like idiots to listen to this music? All those girls in the furry boots, they look like Clydesdale horses!" As "hard" suggests, Richards presents electronic music as modern rock: an old spirit encased in new digital flesh. Simon Reynolds, The Guardian 2012

Friday, November 8, 2013

Three Questions about Creativity with Christopher Hastings

A few weeks ago I was put on to the hilarious comic strip adventures of a character named 'Dr McNinja'. I was skeptical at first as to whether I would like it, but within a few minutes the odd sensibility of the humour, coupled with great illustrations, suckered me in.

I, like most men, was once a boy, and when I was young I appreciated the beauty of a well-drawn comic. However, as I got older I stop reading comics, passing over them because I mistakenly viewed them as lesser intellectual fare. I was probably too busy reading The Corrections.

I eventually realized my mistake, and comics like 'Dr McNinja' continuously remind me of the value of a great story and beautiful visuals.

The illustrator behind the 'Dr McNinja' series is Christopher Hastings, who created the comic back in 2004 and is now a writer/illustrator for Marvel, among other things. Being blown away by 'Dr McNinja', I decided to get in touch with  Christopher to find out the secrets behind his creative success.

 The first question I wanted to ask was where it he got his inspiration from in the first place, where did he start? As it turns out, he began drawing as a child, and found he couldn't put down his pen.

 "I've heard it said before that all children are artists until they decide to stop. So I just never stopped".

Another key inspiration for Christoper was that not only was this an activity he liked to do, it also gave him direction for the future.

"But I think when I started dramatically improving when I was about 11 years old, I started to really identify as an artist".

These days, motivation doesn't seem to be a problem for Christopher, but even he finds that stepping away from his work increases his desire to get straight back to it.

 "I think my brain just won't let me stop being creative. If I manage to have a weekend I can step away from work, I'm pretty itchy to get back to it by Sunday evening".

Sometimes the desire to be creative isn't enough for you to actually put pen to paper, so it helps to find activities or places that encourage you to act on your desires.

"If I'm going to get writing done, I definitely have to get in the right headspace, and usually that means making some sort of locational change. A short walk, and settling down at a coffeeshop or a quiet pub usually does the trick. Sometimes I'll take my laptop to sit on my fire escape if it's pleasant out. Really it's just about telling my brain "Time to relax. Time to write." and those little habits click it into place".

If you truly enjoy creating, then it should be pretty obvious, just as it is for Christopher. If you have to force yourself to do it every time, and if it not turning out the way you thought it would, maybe try something different. Or may be just try a change of scenery.

Listen to your creative impulses and put yourself in a place that optimizes your ability to indulge them.
Don't forget to check out the talented Christopher Hastings and his crazy creation 'Dr McNinja' via his website

Christopher writes for the legendary Marvel Comics from time to time, and his credits include writing Fear Itself: Deadpool and  Longshot Saves the Marvel Universe. You can find out about all these and more at his personal website