Monday, 30 April 2012

Maxi skirts and Morocco

A long time ago, I wrote this about maxi skirts. I have changed my mind.

Last week I went to Morocco. It was my first visit to a Muslim country (albeit a pretty relaxed one) and I decided not to be That Tourist, cheerfully oblivious to the dress code at her destination of choice. I saw one chap (orange tan, sailor tattoos) striding across Jemaa El Fna in shorts and flipflops and nothing else, and thought " tit."

I brought floorlength dresses and one pair of jeans, with a variety of long-sleeved tops to cover my shoulders & collarbone with, and some scarves to cover my hair. One dress was madly patterned, Pucci-style, in purple, blue, green and acid yellow; I wore a thin acid yellow jumper on top. Another was in two layers of sheer grey chiffon, over which I wore Topshop's ribbed nut-coloured cropped top, and the third was a recent purchase; a perfect, plain black jersey racerback dress. It's floorlength but not especially roomy; it still hugs the figure at one's curvier extremes, falling gracefully from the knees downwards. Amazing with the loose acid saffron separates that Monki do right now, but even better with a sheer, tomato-red lurex batwing jumper. I wore headscarves that complemented the colours of the clothes; with the black and red, I wore a flowery silk scarf in similar colours. There is an art to tying a headscarf in such a way that it stays atop one's bonce and conceals most of the hair, but does not look as though one has bandaged one's head.

For someone used to wearing less...sedate clothes, it was a strange departure, and one I really enjoyed. I felt elegant in my head-to-toe attire. I felt dignified, and if anyone had made any cheeky remarks, I think I would have felt qualified to fix them with my most owlish hard stare, a bit like my Year 10 science teacher used to do. I didn't feel frumpy, as I feared I might; I guess that's down to the cut of the clothes. They didn't swamp me - one could still see basically what shape I was - but they left much more to the imagination than, I guess, elegant and more typically western clothes do. Wearing such long clothes definitely made me feel more grown-up - and quite a lot taller.

Marrakech itself was wonderful; a festival of colour and noise and scent. Animals everywhere; the streets are filled with untidy but seemingly quite content and friendly cats, donkeys navigate the crowded alleyways tugging high-laden carts, horses pull carriages and the sound of birdsong is cacophonous and quite distinct; certain phrases reverberated in my head for days afterwards. Everywhere you go, you can smell mint and cumin, often interrupted by the less glamorous smells of the street but there were very few genuinely unpleasant pongs.

The colour is something else; predominantly a clay-pink city, the rainbow colours of the souks dominate everything. Every shopkeeper puts his wares on full display; one of the prettiest things was the frequent 8-foot high displays of coloured slippers. Every colour seems brighter, and every spice seller and apothecary (of which there are hundreds) calls out, "Excuse me! What is this??", pointing to one or another mysterious ware to pique your curiosity.

It's not a city for the claustrophobic or misanthropic but it is wildly beautiful and exciting, and if you settle into the pull-and-push of it, very welcoming. One charming young apothecary first loaded us up with free gifts and then sat us down for some mint tea, brought alive by an eye-opening burst of eucalyptus (my mother nearly spluttered her tea out on tasting it), and chatted with us for 45 minutes in French and English, teaching us Arabic words and knowing full well that we'd buy a good selection of his wares. When we made to leave and find some lunch, he fetched his brother to ferry us to the rooftop of nearby riad for a hearty lunch.

Of course, they all made a tidy sum from our custom, but we had one of the nicest meals of the entire stay, and got one of the best possible introductions to the city - as well as a lifetime's supply of eucalyptus crystals, oregano and ras el hanout mixed spice, and a ceramic lip stain (you wet your finger and run it along the gold-painted ceramic ornament, and it comes off red on your finger). The moral: stay and take a guess, when they ask you "What is this??" And remember to say thank you - 'shukran'!


Who feels like going shopping?


Ignore every magazine article that tells you to streamline your wardrobe and chuck out anything you haven't worn in the last year. They're just trying to get you to get rid of your shit so that you'll go out and buy more. It's a massive conspiracy. A capsule wardrobe is only useful if you have zero interest in fashion (fair enough) or are going on holiday. Your clothes are not out of date, they probably just need re-contextualising.

I learned this the hard way. I still regret things I let go. I know now that I was wrong.

My favourite pair of trousers lived in a screwed up ball at the back of my wardrobe for ten years. They were a charity shop gamble, a brocade mistake. Never did I think they'd be stylish, and I thought I'd wasted my £5 (at 17, when most things in charity shops were £2.50, this was upsetting). Now they come out every summer. They would make Lana del Rey weep. She'll never have a pair of trousers like these. They are super high-waisted in soft silk copper and black brocade, slim-cut and cropped at the ankle, and they look phenomenal with wedge sandals. They didn't stay up well at the waist, so I made belt-loops out of an old black dress lining (a new challenge; easy, it turns out. Just cut the length, then fold in to hide the edges and get your needle & thread out) and I wear them with skinny belts.

Every time my boyfriend suggests I throw some clothes out, I retrieve the trousers, hold them up and make this face:

He hates those fucking trousers now.

Store your stuff better. Keep frequently worn clothes in one place. Keep things you haven't worn in ages somewhere else, rolled up very tightly, to save space. (Mothballs and clothes bags are useful.) When you get bored of your clothes, rummage through these things. Treat your wardrobe as a treasure trove. Keep a good sewing kit to hand.

You don't have to be a pro to make changes and update things in small ways. Mend your clothes when they break. It's easy to raise or repair a hem (turn inside out, fold along a straight line, pin, try on to make sure it doesn't look wack, then sew it with a machine or needle & thread). New buttons are a doddle and take a few minutes. You can take an open necked shirt and add a new buttonhole at the top so it buttons all the way to the top (buttonholes don't need a fancy sewing machine; mark where you want the button, make a slit in the right place, check it's not too big/small, and make tiny looped stitches around the raw edges to secure it). Buy different collars to add to shirts, rather than buying a new shirt. You can remove or shorten sleeves, change belts, dye clothes in the washing machine, or sew parallel seams down the sides of skirts to change the fit slightly.

Cheap secondhand clothes are awesome for risking DIY on; spend yr money something oversized and just see what you can do with it (I made a prom dress out of a mumsy old C&A dress, and I lack the sewing skillz. I just put it on inside out, pinned a new outline around myself, and then used the pins as a guide to draw and sew new seams down the sides - a smaller waist, keeping the fullness of the skirt, and a lower-cut neckline). It's not too tricky, just set aside an afternoon to do it. If nothing else, the fabric might be useful for other things. If you find a good cheap basic that fits amazingly, note it and buy two or three; better to have a standby (or something to alter later) than rue the unhappy day when it wears out and you waste money fruitlessly trying to find a perfect replacement.

Ditch your things if you truly decide you hate them, or if they'll never ever fit you again and are totally unsalvageable, or if someone vomited on them at a party and the smell haunts you. Otherwise there's a good chance they'll save you money later on.

Every time you feel the need for something new, ask yourself if you could make it out of something you already have.

If you decide you really hate your old clothes and want new stuff, try swapping them at clothes swaps, either with friends or at proper events. I surrendered a Miu Miu shirt that I finally accepted wasn't meant for the likes of me, and got a free pair of plum and gold heels instead. Or sell them on eBay/car boot sales etc, and then use the proceeds to buy something new.

Don't buy things you know you'll throw out three months from now! PLEASE.

It's fuelling the fast-fashion industry at the expense of independent stores and it's encouraging magazines to keep selling us more tat, momentarily satisfying the mustbuysomethingNOW itch but not actually making us feel like the elegant, put-together mavens they promise we'll become. And it's a huge waste of money. Find shops you can trust, shop second-hand, sniff out bargains that you'll keep for years. Try things on before paying for them.

Also, car boot sales are king. You know those clothes you're offloading because they'll never work for you? Everyone else here is doing the same, and they're not putting a £50 tag on it and calling it 'vintage'.

And stop buying magazines that tell you you're not thin or cool enough or having good enough sex. They're A4-sized Mean Girls and it's ludicrous to pay £4.00 a month to hang out with them. Unless they come with a free gift - I love those free makeup bags they give away.


Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Hype Williams @ Power Lunches, 16.04.12

This review was originally published at The Line of Best Fit.

Hype Williams are late.

Perhaps they underestimated the time it takes to flood a venue with smoke. No exaggeration here: no-one in this dark little sweatbox can see a thing. As the doors open, the only points of light are the blue LEDs on the behemoth of a sound system that the quixotic London duo have hauled in, and the beer fridges lost in the haze.

Extricating the truth from the press release prankster bullshit that accompanies Hype Williams is an exercise in futility; and it’s frankly missing the point. Whether there’s any truth to their stranger-than-fiction ‘origins’ or supposed arrests for dead raccoon theft becomes a moot point once you’re buried in Power Lunches’ ARP-like basement, straining for air and hopelessly in thrall to Hype Williams’ slippery, hyper-fractured soundclash.

For ten minutes before Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland – if those are indeed their real names - take the stage, people lurch into each other in the grey, and a looped, baleful sample echoes through the darkness, soundtracking their enforced disorientation. It’s all a touch Guantanamo. When the two culprits finally loom onstage, they don’t so much arrive as materialise, semi-solid against a violent crackle of distant sirens, gunshots and ugly, hallucinogenic layers of war field sound that’s alternately blissed out and freaked out. Forget seeing their faces; you can barely make out an outline.

The sound system they’ve brought in is intentionally too powerful for the room, and becomes a weapon. Around you, hands cover ears and there’s a creeping retreat from the stage area – futile as the duo’s confrontational noise floods the room. Nostrils vibrate uncomfortably, and low frequencies mount an attack on your eyebrows and chest cavity. The samples range from the recognisable (Le Tigre’s Deceptacon keeps trying to find its way into the mire) to the heavily processed and barely identifiable.

By controlling their audience in the most physical way, by removing sight and replacing it with ear-splitting sound and aggressive physical sensation that catches even these careworn hipsters off guard, do HW succeed in exactly the way they intended, or do they shock and awe to distract from a lack of content? Some have suggested that Hype have nicked the emperor’s new clothes and paraded through Dalston in them, scenesters riding their coat tails.

It’s a lazy accusation, and their manically textured output discredits it easily enough. Every time you acclimatise to the noise, the clashing layers transpose and align, forming a beautiful, undulating wave of dub. And just as you begin to relax, move, slink along with it, it all separates again and the onslaught resumes.

A setting like this is where Hype Williams are at their most authentic and accurate – a dark tiny room where no-one can see a fucking thing except smoke and hulking shadows, and the cataclysmic nonsense spewing from the sound system is all. The only light comes from one slow strobe which, for forty five minutes, lashes its light out and visibly sucks it back in, over and over, incessantly until you close your eyes in submission. For six minutes one brutalising loop shakes your respiratory system out of joint. This shit makes absolutely no sense at all.

As they exit, someone shouts 'Long live Hype Williams!'.

Their response: 'Nah, kill us.'

In an offensively over-marketed world where everything is for sale and reduced to a semiotic device with a quantifiable price, this feels like a legitimate response. They lie about their names and origins, they number rather than name their tracks, they smear every whipcrack beat with cringing levels of feedback and warped, paranoid samples, and fuck you if you can’t figure it out or draw your own conclusions.

And all the while, your face and thighs and earlobes vibrate with frightening force, and your sightlessness no longer matters. They have made their live set a purely physical experience. Why? Because they can. Maybe it’s not all hype; maybe they’ve devised a genuinely new way of making and experiencing live music. Or more likely not, but we’re all too shellshocked and fooled to tell the difference. Either way, they’ve made their point.


Friday, 13 April 2012

Toy + Savages @ XOYO, 11.04.12

Savages launch like a tomahawk, striking you hard between the eyes from the first minute. After a debut set supporting British Sea Power, the quartet wisely retreated to sharpen their sound to a deadly point, and have deployed it in short, devastating bursts upon unsuspecting small crowds. They’re fierce, androgynous, sexy and uncompromising, and onstage they form a close-knit unit.

The songs veer from insistent Section 25-esque tension to the Cure’s woebegone grandeur. At their core is a taut rhythm section, and Ayse Hassan’s belly-rumbling bass notes stretch out like a cat, embellished with shredded guitar flourishes. Fronting it all, French singer Jehnny Beth is like Ian Curtis in heels, all elbows and cheekbones and boy-hair. Having cut her teeth in arch, elegant duo John & Jehn, here she sheds her impish quirkiness and coyness to become the fully-fledged leader of the pack.

Her remarkable voice has enormous power but is kept firmly in check, only let loose at occasional, opportune moments to swoop, holler and attack. At one point she riffs on a Gang of Four lyric but this is something much slinkier. There’s no plastic sexuality or fey girliness; Savages’ approach is sensual but tough and utilitarian. Jehnny’s nonchalance gives way during Husbands, a stampy Killing Joke-esque sonic assault, as the title is whispered, gasped, shrieked to a shuddering crescendo. Savages' confidence is cool, unstudied and magnetic; it’s a perfect endorsement of the theory that you’ve either got it or you ain’t.

I really want to like Toy. They ply the sort of overwrought shoegaze that I have infinite time for, and they make a nervy, infectious noise that you can swivel to. Think the meanest thoughts you can; your hips will still move disobediently.

But something’s missing, and it’s massively conspicuous by its absence. Is it talent? No – try experience. Though they have played together before (as the Jing Jang Jong for the dubious Joe Lean), Toy are a new and wholly different incarnation, and it’s early days for them to be selling out venues like this. Their sound is compelling but there just aren’t any complete songs yet. ‘Bright White Shimmering Sun’ has a sexy, petulant hook but after the chorus, it’s unmemorable. Singer Tom’s voice needs to toughen up – it dissolves under an unedited miasma of guitar scree. At their strongest his vocals sound stroppy, but is that really what he’s going for?

It’s frustrating because I really want it to work. I first saw this band before Christmas in a small basement in Shepherds Bush, and my interest was piqued by all those squealing guitars, laid over She’s Lost Control bass references. It built to a raging climax and, staggering home, the overwhelming sense was one of ’MORE PLEASE, NOW’. They can obviously handle a headline crowd - psychologically, they’re ready for this. But watching them’s like chasing the dragon; subsequent adventures just don’t live up to the first hit, and you’re left feeling disappointed and increasingly resentful.

But as the set progresses, the hope returns. I know they can do it, and I really want them to. Every time you give up on them, they throw out a melodic phrase that buckles your knees… and then the chorus takes over, and you’re let down and bored again. “I never thought I’d lose my way over you” - that line, if expertly delivered, should hurt, should remind you of your last proper heartbreak, but the vocal needs something (anything), and they haven’t stripped all the miscellaneous shit off it, so it gets lost. Their finest moments emerge when they abandon the songs and just let a wave of densely layered psychedelia submerge them.

The rhythm, the suggestive bass, all that guitar and the staggering noise it adds up to – fuck it, the sheer amount of hair between them (they could supply weave for half of Hollywood) – it’s too much fun not to come to something, but as yet it’s a long way off. Let’s hope it happens before the hype wears off; premature success can be a destructive thing.

An abridged version of this review was also published on The Line of Best Fit.