Waist Deep In Kiwis

Following on from a rather exciting week in Tronland, I’ve got a new assignment; doing a scene report on New Zealand and Australia, meaning that I’ve spent the entire day making endless cups of tea while wading through an extreme underground I didn’t even know New Zealand had, and I haven’t even started on everything-kills-you Australia yet.

With my knowledge of Kiwi music thus far limited to Crowded House, OMC, Alien Weaponry and Beastwars, I was amazed to discover two things. One, there’s plenty of brutality here, and two, the bands really do seem to support each other a great deal. This is ace of course, but if I was being totally selfish, I would say that I’m more chuffed about all the new bands I’ve come across in the last 8 hours, so I thought I’d share a few of them with you.

Diocletian

A right old racket forged in a crucible of blood and iron, Diocletian are named after a Roman emperor born into nothing. Clawing his way through the ranks to become quite the chap, his story and name are deeply fitting for such a grand-sounding, blackened blast-fest. Introduced to them through 2014’s Gesundrian, they remind me a bit of Blood Of Kingu, which is musically not a bad thing. With a production not miles away from Mayhem’s Ordo Ad Chao – except clearer and less frightening – I’ll be delving into their earlier Annihilation Rituals  and others in due course. Damn right this is quality.

https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/1rbPdy3TmvQYHEtqZKDGHZ

Hobo Magic

Terrible name, awesome band. I came across this through the Stoner Doom NZ page, where I found stoner beasts Bloodnut, and on their page I found a suggestion for Hobo Magic. Expecting nothing from their shite name, I sat down comfortably to eat my own hat as their The World Today bonged forward some of the best stoner doom I’ve heard in a long time. Thick, meaty and confident, everything from The Holy Riff onwards made me feel like a jackass for dismissing their silly name, a lesson I should have learned with Denmarks’ Piss Vortex. Excellent.

https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/5ZcSHcO8dA98JuKttWkJEM

Arc Of Ascent

Large of amp and big of riff, the superbly judged Arc Of Ascent had me from the moment I watched their live video for Elemental Kingdom. A classic three-piece, their clean-vocaled bigness was deeply welcome, as I listen to good doom bands spoiled by poor-quality screaming far too often. I truly believe that the majority of doom is better when sung, and certainly the old masters held to such a belief, so perhaps with the likes of unintentional scene-agitators Pallbearer doing the rounds with their high-register clean singing, a renaissance of sung doom is just around the corner. Brilliant stuff, even managing that enviable Al Cisneros trick of playing similar-sounding riffs that are all different resulting in their Realms Of The Metaphysical feeling like a glorious single piece, rather than a collection of songs.

https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/7dcEX5OCe6Aw2OptNb5GqS

This is a snippet of a much larger report to come in due course so please keep your eyes peeled for endless goodness from the far-off bits of earth.

Hail.

Pick Pick Pick Pick Pickin’

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One thing that has always surprised me is how little interest people take in plectrums, or, to be more accurate, how disdainful players can be about spending money on their picks.

In the last few years, I became increasingly fascinated with picks. I tried out all sorts of things; different materials, companies, thicknesses, bevels, shapes, you name it. Presented here are my findings, which I hope will be of help or interest.

Remember, the pick is your first point of contact with the strings, and if you want a simple demonstration of how much difference it makes, play an acoustic with a red Dunlop .55mm, then with a blue 1mm, and tell me you can’t hear a difference.

Edges

If you’ve ever wondered why shredders favour the eternally-loseable Jazz III, it’s down to two things; the hand position generally required for trem picking, and the beveling of the plectrums’ edge.

A hard-edged pick like a Dunlop Tortex 1mm means that you are meeting the string with little give in terms of angle, like walking with your shoulders completely square through a crowd. The more resistance you’re met with, the more you have to push, and the more tiring playing becomes over a long period. Every strike of the pick against the strings sends a little vibration up your wrist, and over time this can worsen conditions like RSI, so having a pick that fits the force you play is extremely important.

Though I use a lot of picks for different things, the best edges I’ve come across are the Jim Dunlop Primetones, which have symmetrical bevels, allowing for a fast and even pick response, as well as a fluid feel while strumming. The 1.4mm triangle shape is the bollocks, so I’m recommending that.

Materials

So far, I’ve played with a few materials, so here’s a quickfire synopsis.

  1. Tortex: Dunlop created this following a welcome tortoiseshell ban in the 70’s, the idea being that it behaves the same way by sticking to your hand. The tone itself depends on the player wielding it a lot more than other materials, but overall it’s a balanced, ordinary sound. Easily replaced, which is handy, and consistent.
  2. Celluloid: I’ve never liked these, because they click against the strings and notch really badly. The tone is thin and lacks any real body, leaving you feeling disconnected from the instrument. The sort of picks you get free with magazines and lose instantly.
  3. Acrylic: Favoured by the likes of V-Picks and Gravity, acrylic has a brighter, more focused attack with more body than Tortex or Celluloid, and I’ve found the best results with it come from thicker gauges, i.e. 1.5mm and up. I’ve got some silly big ones from V-Picks, like the Snake, and although they can feel like a handful, the power is immense, especially the bottom end.
  4. Thermoset: A plastic that hardens significantly after being heated, Thermoset picks are most commonly associated with Chicken Picks from the Netherlands. The most confounding material on this list, the sound they produce is fantastic; bright, powerful, full of mass, but because of the nature of the molding process they need to be thick, so good luck getting one under 2mm. No joke, if you hybrid pick, nothing will touch this, but I’ve never found them ideal for strumming.
  5. Ultem: The most useful material, from my perspective, by miles, Ultem melts at a higher temperature, and when punched out has a naturally rounded edge. Someone told me this is what skateboard wheels are made from, but that’s polyurethane, though as I’m not a scientist I don’t know how closely related they are. Dunlop bought special machinery to make the Ultex picks, which were my gateway into fancy picks. Powerful and fast but not quite as focused as acrylic or as treble-conscious as thermoset, picks like the Dunlop Primtone have made this my number one.
  6. Metal: You know the ones; you bought one when you were 15. Maybe you wore it as a necklace, but you didn’t play with it for very long. ‘Zingy’ would be the word I’d use, but I always found metal an unnerving material to play with. Some people love these, but I’m not one of them.
  7. Nylon: An easy point of reference is to compare nylon to Tortex. Whatever gauge nylon you have, go back two thickness and that’s the Tortex equivalent. Great for players who do a lot of strumming, the sound is a bit limp and fluffy but perfect if you’re trying to achieve softness, or if you like a thick plectrum that doesn’t feel like you’re playing with a brick.
  8. Carbon Fibre: I’ve only played these in Jazz III form, but the material behaves exactly like active pickups; immediate power with cock-all dynamic, though if you’re playing tech death or similar and have little in the way of a clean tone, they are amazing. Utterly unyielding and harder than maths.

Of course, there are others, like stone, dinosaur (see here), animal protein, nut shells, coins etc, all of which have their advocates and detractors. I’ve never played with dinosaur or meteorite picks, though I imagine the effect to be similar to that of stone, except that everyone will hate you for being a douche.

Powerrrrrrr

Of all the materials listed above, acrylic has the most bottom end, thermoset the most brilliant highs, Ultem the most speed, and nylon the least everything, but this is only my experience. Being totally honest, I’d use the thermoset picks for everything if a) they were easier to strum with and b) they were slightly thinner, though I appreciate this is part of the process. If you really like to get in about it, I can’t recommend Ultem highly enough, and if you want to know if it’s right for you without hurling too much cash at the problem, try the Dunlop Ultex first and see how you go. This is, however, dependent on….

Thickness

I like picks over 1mm, that’s my thing. I used to play very, very hard indeed when I was 21 and used the pink 71mm 500’s, but once I got onto hard picks, I understood that I could play less hard and have the pick do more of the work. I’d liken it to learning to let the PA do the work as a singer, rather than singing harder. My playing changed significantly once I had this revelation, and now when I play with regular picks it feels like I’m strumming with a bus ticket.

As a general rule, thicker = more power in your tone, though this does not equate to better for you. My pal Jamie, who is a ripping player, plays with those silly Dunlop red things, and my other mate Pin only uses thumbpicks. I even know a few people who like the original Dava control pick, which is useless, so it really is up to you.

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Hopefully this was helpful to you. Check out some of the companies below and find your ideal match; I’m not affiliated with any of them in any capacity, I only want to be of help. Keep playing!

Jim Dunlop: http://www.jimdunlop.com

Gravity: http://gravitypicks.com

V-Picks: http://v-picks.com

Chicken Picks: http://www.chickenpicks.com

Stoneworks: http://stoneworkspicks.com

Dragonheart Picks: http://www.dragonheartpicks.com

Fellow Plectrums: http://www.fellowplectrums.com

 

The Bottom Half

Like most of you, I see people write things online that make me very angry. Not sad, not disappointed, but angry. Angry not because they have said those things, or for their lack of understanding, callousness or ignorance, but because regardless how heinous the declaration, not matter how cretinous, impossible, or untrue the statement, someone will get into it with them, creating a turbulent pocket of needless discourse.

‘Needless’ is perhaps a casual term for something profoundly important, and yet ineffectual at the same time; it is essential that human beings have debate, that we don’t all agree with one another, as this approach, if literally applied, would bring stagnation. Imagine if every statement made was unilaterally agreed upon – would we ever move forward? ‘Guys, the earth is flat’. ‘Well that’s that done. Cool.’

Of course this is an extreme example, but there’s nothing wrong with the principle. However, when debate exists between two or more people with no effect other than to piss each other off, nothing is achieved other than the strengthening of the resolve behind those ideas. What makes matters worse is when we start name calling, or even worse, using hateful slurs.

This is the golden age of the Asshole, where everyone has both the right and the opportunity to say whatever the hell they want, whether it needed to be said or not. In fact, the more it didn’t need to be said, the more likely you are to find it. If you want a neat synopsis of this, go and read any of the comments on trumps’ Twitter feed, pick up your jaw, and come back to this post.

Some of the things I’ve read even in the last couple of hours are incredible. Click on any picture, any video of anything, and there’s a fight going on. If the video says ‘I Love The Colour Blue!’, scroll down and you’ll be see someone saying ‘so u h8 purple u f*g lol fuk u’, or alluding to their religion, skin colour, clothing, height, fiscal circumstances, mental ability, upbringing, parentage, taste, or any number of the other things that we as a species deem worthy as avenues for direct hatred.

The Bottom Half of The Internet, as a friend of mine once described it to me, is a miasmic, turbulent pool, where grievances are aired in their millions. Post occurs. You get mad, and reply. Sneering/hateful/violent response is issued. You get madder. Your measured/condescending/pious reply gets up the arse of the person/people on the other end, and you spend the next hour locked in rampant conflict with a total stranger; meaningless because you’re trying to change the mind of someone who is absolutely not interested in changing their opinion, the same way you’re not budging on what you think.

Once, and only once, I posted the most innocuous of comments on a video on YouTube, only to receive the most unbelievable abuse from a total stranger, which escalated to threats of violence and assertions that I was an unclean lady’s body part among many, many other things. It was at this time that I decided that I could experience a lot of the internet without interacting with it, and have kept to this, outside of Facebook.

Because on Facebook, you’re fighting with your friends, or at the very least, people you’ve met or know, and so there is an inherent accountability. Fighting with strangers on Twitter, or some of the horrific stuff I’ve read on Tumblr or Instagram, seems to be infused with this idea that there are no consequences for anything you say, where anyone who disagrees with you opens themselves to as much bile as you can squeeze into the character limit.

The next time you find yourself drawn into this sort of behaviour, close the program, and think about what you’re doing. You’re not a great political leader trying to solve a humanitarian crisis. You’re on the toilet, telling a racist that they shouldn’t be a racist, which is like telling a tree not to be made of wood.

If you want to make a difference, don’t be a penis to other people because you can, or shout down anyone who disagrees with you. Recognise that those individuals who spout hateful polemic online have no courage to do it in real life, and they’re posting it online because you can’t punch them in the face from there.

This doesn’t mean your cause isn’t just, honest, or right, but the best way to make a change in the world is to do it in real life, so go out there and do it.

The Old Problem

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The world we inhabit is not a good one. We don’t have anything to compare it to, of course, but that doesn’t mean I’m not 100% certain that there’s a better world elsewhere. It’s a world full of cowardice, small-mindedness, racism, hatred, stupidity, incompetence, an inability to take ownership of mistakes, and monumental inequality.

These are all human traits that we’ve worked extremely hard at. The king used to lead his troops into battle, or at least be present on the field; now our leaders send soldiers to fight wars they can win from miles away, knowing that people get comfort from boots on the ground in a way they never do from bombs in the air. The past is something that we’re supposed to have left behind, to have stood on its shoulders to see higher and farther than before.

Crucially, we are supposed to have used the new connectivity of the internet and the instantaneous access that gives us to a mind-crumbling amount of information to make the world a better place. But the world is worse than it has ever been.

A rather sweeping statement sir, if I may. Yes, you may, but think on this; we have people numbering in double digits controlling half the money in the world. Those who win the fiscal lottery of being born into immense wealth, or being born heartless enough to make serious money, don’t like to give it back. Naturally, there are a couple of rebels (Bill Gates famous charity contributions etc), but by and large those with the money, keep the money.

Now how can that be in a modern society, as we so proudly name ourselves? Surely an individual surplus of money, especially totalling millions of dollars, would encourage even the least moral person to think ‘hmm, maybe I’ve got enough. Perhaps I should spread this about a bit, see what good it could do. I’ll still be wealthier than anyone ever needs to be, but some of that money might build a school, or a hospital, or stop children dying of hunger and excruciating  diseases instead of sitting in one of my many bank accounts.’ Remember, it is extremely easy to target the fat cats, the elite, the moneyed vermin, the landed gentry, whatever term you have for people that earn more in a day than you make in a year.

It’s so easy in fact, that it’s seen as a passe argument, a boring diatribe recycled by the same people who talk about ‘love’ and ‘healing the planet’. It’s not like these aren’t real concerns, but we’re supposed to shun people who approach these thoughts with a dismissive, sneering mindset, to have some special fact in our back pockets that we can throw in the faces of the non-believers, the leftist radicals that just complain. But here, here is the problem.

I am not a racist. I am not a fascist, a hunter, a creationist, a liar, a cheat or a christian. This does not mean that I love all people that aren’t white and Scottish, that I haven’t hurt an animal, that I know how life began, that I’ve never lied, that I haven’t coveted someone I wasn’t with, or that I hate god. Plenty of people are garbage, something I don’t attribute to race, or even to religious doctrine; a lot of people are simply arseholes, regardless of where they are from. A lot of the Scottish are idiots – not because they can’t read or write, but because they elect to behave in a manner that marks them out as idiots, irrespective of my classification. But lots of people from all over the world are idiots, so it’s not a Scottish thing.

The reason why we are so stupid is very simple, in a manner of speaking. We are, to a significant extent, products of our environment. This doesn’t mean that if you grew up in shitty housing that you’ll be a drug dealer or a rapper, or that if you were born in the extension of your family’s summer home that you’re going to run a boating firm, but rather that every detail of your early life will shape, in one way or another, your life and your choices.

I was born into a non-religious household with both parents alive and functioning, but I sang in church choirs. I had loving parents, but have spent all my life since the age of 5 or 6 battling genuine, suicidal depression. I grew up hating other people because they wouldn’t accept me, not because they were black or white or asian; because they kept me out. I was never shown that there is a difference between people’s colours, other than the fact that people from other countries (my parents never referred to anyone as an immigrant) worked harder than people from Scotland, because it was harder to get work. I have never seen this sweeping generality as a negative thing, because to me it was a compliment; I saw it as my father saying ‘these guys are going to burst their arses trying to make a living for themselves, because they have to work harder to do so. Don’t get left behind, and don’t take anything for granted.’

The idea that someone coming over here from somewhere you know little or nothing about to do a job that you would never had any interest in until you found out it was being done by somebody else is as British as tea-towels and sexual misconduct. The British went all over the world battering brown people, raping them and taking everything they had by force, installing themselves anywhere that they could, even to the extent of shipping their worst convicts to someone else’s country (Australia) because they couldn’t be fucked with them. By the time the world wars happened, Britain was still digging this, loving the idea of giving Johnny Foreigner a good hiding, sending them back where they came from.

This idea, this mentality that says that if you’re not from here, you can’t be trusted on principle, has dominated the headlines in recent times, especially where America in concerned. A country that prides itself on being deliberately ignorant, where it’s still perfectly acceptable to teach religion as fact, America is the poster child for the wrong way to do everything. A country that has never come to terms with the fact that it stole all it has from non-white people, America has a culture that is utterly defined by its need to be above others, to have the smartest comeback, to have the least book knowledge and the most street smarts, to kick ass first and ask questions later.

This breeds a certain type of human; the human that says that there’s only one way to do things, and that way is whatever it was taught. So, if you were raised in a creationist setting, you’ll always have an answer for anyone who challenges you on anything science related, and, if you’re a real American, you’ll answer that question with condescension and passive aggression, because you hate being challenged. This is not a uniquely American trait, but they are the best at it.

So, what happens when you raise a child in a country that was settled by thieving, pious, righteous and unscrupulous immigrants, who took all their land from other people, dismissing them as savages, who wrap themselves in the constitution, a document that states that a black man is worth less than a white man? You have a country that believes it’s doing the right thing, not because it knows it’s right, but because fuck you. It’s not a question of being moral, but of explaining why you choose your morality, and then defending that position because other people want to tear you down, which isn’t because you’ve said anything wrong, it’s only that they’re not you, so you have to find a position in which you are above them, and if you can’t find away round that, they hate freedom.

It makes total sense to me that America would have a problem with white nationalism, especially now. It makes complete sense that after having a black man in the White House that a viable candidate could be found in a lying, cowardly, venomous weakling like Donald Trump, because he so accurately represents the America that is in charge. To put a strong, moral, liberal candidate up there isn’t viable, because a) those sorts of people are in extremely short supply and b) no-one with any power would get behind someone like that.

This speaks to a greater problem. From here in the UK, I have the luxury of looking at America as a fools’ nation, one that I don’t have to visit to understand what’s going on. But that is a stance of ignorance. If I think that a country with escalating right-wing extremism, full of weak-willed, reactionary, gun-loving people run by a moronic coward isn’t a global problem, perhaps I should turn my eyes to France, where exactly the same problem reared its head in the elections, or to Germany, a country widely known for its targeted policies, which is dealing with a Nationalist party all over again, or to Britain, where, when they’re not burning the poor to heat their servants, the government and media are more than happy to devote hours of airtime to explaining every second of a bomber’s life with as many hateful buzzwords as possible, but doing fuck-all to prevent radicalisation of more young people, or, god forbid, trying to help the people that are in its borders regardless of where they are from.

And this is the old problem. Since we discovered that we’re all human and can’t ignore it, how do we prove our superiority to one-another? The only way is to cling to the past, to desperately profess that people from other places are still an invading force, that THEY are different to US and that WE are not the SAME. But we are; we are all the same. No-one truly knows how life began. No-one truly knows why we are here, or if there is indeed a higher meaning to it all. What we do know is that we need each other, every single day, to survive.

If that is a universal truth, why are we so opposed to doing it?