The underrated art: Beatbox Battle 2009

May 14, 2009 at 9:21 am (music, performance) (, , , )

Last week the Beatbox Battle Online World Champion was announced: Canadian Julia Dales, 17. The YouTube based competition saw people from all over the world – Japan, USA, Norway, Belgium – go head-to-head in the Wild Card competition. One vital question emerges: does it hurt?

A Short History: Beatboxing, “a form of vocal percussion which primarily involves the art of producing drum beats, rhythm, and musical sounds using one’s mouth, lips, tongue, voice, and more” is today firmly rooted in hip hop. But it goes back much further than that, though the origin is contested. Some trace it back to the Indian tradition of bol, or the Chinese tradition of Kouji, a performance art which uses the vocal organs to mimic everyday sounds and is 2,300 years old. African and Native American traditions use the vocal tricks and the body in rhythmic performance. It’s kinda universal, in all senses of the word.

Modern beatboxing has developed since the 1980s, and gets its name from mimicry of the first electronic drum machines, known as beatboxes.

Although he didn’t make it into the final five in the Wild Card competition, this guy makes it look effortless. Which it is NOT (I should know. I tried, alone in my house. Felt silly).

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The Great Cake Escape

May 11, 2009 at 11:22 am (Interview, street art) (, , , , )

cake-escapeA pink and white cupcake sits on a grubby East London pavement with a little flag saying “Eat me”. People bustling past barely notice it – just a small flash of colour on the grey side street. But this cupcake has a purpose. It’s waiting for someone to sink their teeth into it’s fluffy sponginess; to make a mess of its icing and read its flag. But who would eat a cupcake they found on a street corner?

Lot of people would, as it turns out. “So many people re into cake it’s crazy,” says Cherry Bakewell. “I never really realised before but people are obsessed with cake.” This particular cupcake is the creation of Cherry and Fondant Fancy – aka The Great Cake Escape – where street art meets Betty Crocker. The pair are bent on brightening up the world one cake at a time. A modern day Alice in Wonderland via Shoreditch.

The Great Cake Escape started as a one-off birthday project but has turned into a guerilla street-art campaign. “I always really liked that kind of thing, when you leave something on the street and you never quite know who’s going to find it,” says Cherry. They were both into street art but “didn’t want to be vandals”. Inspired by tea parties, they made lots of cupcakes, dropped them around London and watched.

It was supposed to be one afternoon of fun, but a year and a half later they’re still doing it. “We usually produce around 200 cakes,” says Cherry. “To make any visual impact you need to have plenty. They go so quickly it’s amazing. We’ll drop some, then turn around to see if anyone has taken them and they’ll be gone.

“Recently someone found one of the cakes – we left it on his bicycle basket – and he cycled round London and took pictures of all the places he had taken it. In the end he left it somewhere, hoping that someone else would find it and take it on another adventure.”

Dropping cakes isn’t always easy. Some people simply don’t get it. Cherry and Fondant have been criticised for wasting food, and more bizarrely, trying to poison a dog. Then there are the street wardens to contend with. “At first we were scared that we would get caught for littering,” says Cherry. “But i’ve seen street cleaners that go and look at them, pick them up, read the message and laugh and then put them back down.”cake escape flour

They never really intended for people to eat them, although they’re perfectly edible. It’s more about evoking curiosity, rousing people out of their everyday routine by giving them something unexpected. Each cake has a little flag saying things like “I’m an abandoned sweet surprise waiting just for you. Have a little fun tonight, share me with someone new.”

The domestic arts – crafts, knitting, baking – are expereincing something of a comeback. Nostlalgia is in. First it was the vintage boom and clothes your grandmother wore, and now her hobbies are back too. The Great Cake Escape has adopted a ’50s housewife aesthetic, lipstick and Mary-Janes.

“It’s about being sick of everything being manufactured, all the shops look the same,” says Cherry. “People are more aware that if they go and buy something in Topshop they’re not really sure of where it was manufactured or the quality of things. It’s nice to be individual and enjoy being creative and actually making something.”

Because they are young women baking cakes, inevitably questions have been raised about their feminist stance. Their work has been lauded by feminist groups such as Riot Grrrl fanzines and events like Ladyfest. But Cherry insists that a feminsit statement wasn’t they’re intention, though they enjoy the association. At these events, the flags say things like “Riot don’t diet” and “Love your muffin top, eat more cake”.

“People thought, ‘Ok, what are you doing with this image, are you reclaiming it?” says Cherry. They were accused of behaving lik drag queens performing an idea that was damaging to feminism. “It was really strange for us because we didn’t go into it with any agenda. I guess people can think what they want to think.

“It’s pretty simple,” says Cherry. “There’s nothing deep. We just want to make people smile.”

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Review: Is Anybody There?

May 1, 2009 at 10:02 am (film, review) (, , , , )

Michael Caine and Bill Milner

For his latest film, Is Anybody There? Sir Michael Caine is doing more publicity than usual. This film, he says at the premiere in west London, is a tough sell. Death is “hardly a barrel of laughs”.

Yet although Is Anybody There? is set in an old people’s home in a drizzly corner of 1980s seaside Britain, it will make you laugh – often and out loud.

Directed by John Crowley (Boy A), the film follows the blossoming friendship between the ageing Clarence (Caine) and ten year-old Edward (the excellent Bill Milner). Both are reluctant residents of a slapdash old people’s home, Lark Hall, run by Edward’s parents. Firmly rooted in the 80s with it’s brash clothing, discos and mullets, the film is based on the personal experience of writer Peter Harness who grew up in an old people’s home.

The film opens on a cheery Christmas gathering draped in colourful paper hats and tinsel. But Edward is angry at the world (he had to give up his bedroom for Arnold – he can’t afford the £50 a week) and tired of living with old people. He’s obsessed with death and tries to capture grisly final moments on his tape recorder.

Edward’s childish dramas are played out amidst the chaos of the old people’s home, whose eccentric residents are both charmingly stuck in their ways and slowly dying off. Just about holding it all together is Edward’s stoic mum, played convincingly by Anne-Marie Duff, who carries on with grim determination in the knowledge that she is doing a little “good” in the world.

Caine with director John Crowley

Caine with director John Crowley

Soon Clarence arrives in his rusty magician’s van, heavy under the burden of his own mortality and regret. Like his faltering van, Clarence’s grip on reality is fading fast and in the absence of a family, he can’t see much in life worth living for. Caine brings his usual gruff charm to his character, but balances it with a tender vulnerability that underlines the helplessness of old age – with the occasional “Fuck off!” of course. But it’s Milner with his skilful portrayal of a boy struggling against the world who steals the show.

The film is about the pain of growing up and the pain of growing old, with the two central characters each locked in their own misery but finding salvation in the other. Clarence, the retired magician gets a final boost by teaching Edward some old tricks. If this storyline sounds a bit twee, it isn’t. Clarence’s tutorials are sporadic, impatient and his pupil is reluctant. His hands can’t move like they used to.

It all seems very depressing, and at times it is. But this is one of the film’s strengths. It doesn’t glorify old age, but takes a stark look (through a series of poignant close-ups) at the wrinkles, and the hair loss – the wretchedness of it all. With such tricky subject matter it would have been easy to over-sentimentalise. But in Is There Anybody There? death becomes something to both laugh and cry at. Old age is a moment of both grace and despair.

The ups and downs of the characters are swept up into the narrative flow, and much like life itself, things have a way of plodding on. This is why at it’s heart Is Anybody There? is a celebration of life. It may be tough, but it’s worth having a good go.

In cinemas May 1.

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