Songs of Anger and Hate

Not angry, just frustrated Photo: Rooners/Flickr

 What do you do when you’re having a frustrating time of it at work? Perhaps you reach for an extra beer in the evening. But what if that’s not enough? Where do you and your sense of righteous indignation go next? Well, if you’re an ever so slightly sad music fan like me a good option can be to dig deep into your collection for some tunes that speak to your situation and maybe even give you some encouragement to keep on keeping on.

To paraphrase everyone’s favourite Canadian poet, and in no particular order, here are my songs of anger and hate.


1. James Brown – The Big Payback

Today I imagine I feel a bit like The Godfather felt when he recorded this stone-cold funk classic. James evokes that feeling of discovering people are against you and the desire to remedy the situation. Not that I’m recommending his direct methods, of course.

2.  Gang Starr – All 4 Tha Ca$h

The later GURU had a way with words and, combined with the both heavy and incredibly hooky beats by the legendary DJ Premier, he weaves a rich story of various underhand and unsavoury dealings. From the opening drum fill track reminds what hip-hop at its best can communicate to the world.

3. Cypress Hill – How I Could Just Kill A Man

Again, not a song for the feint of heart and those easily offended by unvarnished language. Lifted from Cypress Hill’s eponymous long player, How I Could Just Kill A Man immerses you in the world of LA gang-life. By the end of the track hopefully you will understand but certainly not condone the protagonist’s point of view.

4. Jay-Z- Takeover

Where do you draw the line between anger and revenge. At the time this track was released Jay-Z was locked in a bitter war of words with the other great contender for the title of King of New York,  Nas. Jay-Z goes a long way to destroying Nas’ credibility on this track. If you listen carefully you can hear The Doors Five To One.

5. Public Enemy – Black Steel In The Hour of Chaos

There’s so many things I could write about Public Enemy but for the purposes of this post I’ll stick to the way Chuck D manages to convert anger at a racist establishment (for all you pseuds out there, I think the prison system is a metaphor for wider society) away from the gangster rap nihilism of NWA et al into a determination to create a fair and just society. The Bomb Squad’s sample-laced production is also awesome, from the looped piano of Isaac Heyes you just know this track is going to be a classic.  

6. MC5 – The American Rouse

Hip-Hop’s not got a monopoly on anger, you know? The MC5 came out of Detroit at the time Motor City was burning. This track adopts a somewhat dryer and less direct tone than some of the other angry tracks I’ve selected but it nonetheless does a great job of rallying against the establishment. Not to be confused with McFly’s stellar output.

7. Wu-Tang Clan – Protect Ya Neck

There’s something great about the frenetic energy of the Wu-Tang’s first-ever single. Before the solo careers and the ego-clashes got in the way, here the original line-up of the Wu-Tang unleash round after round of stinging MC fisticuffs. At the very least this track should have been called watch out for whiplash.

8. Beastie Boys – Sabotage

I still can’t believe MCA is no longer with us. This song and its driving fuzz bass is a fitting legacy. Ad-Rock’s delivery perfectly captures that sense of knowing things aren’t all good. 

9. James Brown – Talkin Loud (And Saying Nothing)

Another James Brown classic. This time James calls out the haters with the classic line of Talking Loud (And Saying Nothing). If you are feeling aggrieved and maybe even a little righteous, this is the track for you. Worth checking also for the ridiculously tight musical backing featuring no less than Bootsy Collins on bass. 

 
10. Dr Dre – Still D.R.E.

In this song Dr Dre (I’m not sure he’s a real Doctor but I’ll let that one go for now) calls out everyone and anyone who he believes has ever slighted him. Notable for the return of Snoop Dogg after several years in the musical wilderness. Please note I am in no way condoning the rampant sexism and super-charged machismo prevalent throughout this video. It is a catchy song, mind….

Over To You

What do you think of choices? Do you think the songs above do justice to your anger and frustration? I’m quite surprised how many of my choices stem from the hip-hop and funk genres. don’t know whether these genres are particularly good at capturing visceral anger or whether my selection reflects the biases of my music collection. Have I overlooked angry classics in other genres? Or maybe you think anger is over-rated as an emotion and I should be looking to come to terms with my anger through a mellower tune or three? If so, feel free to recommend songs I can reach for. Oh, and I promise to be on better form for my next post.

Every Picture Tells a Story

Wet Night in Birmingham: from one of my recent Photo School assignments

 (Please excuse me for giving this post such a hackneyed title. I blame Rod Stewart’s recent whirlwind of activity to promote his latest Christmas wares. I can’t promise things will get better from here on in but I will certainly try.)

I am writing this post on a wet Saturday afternoon in Birmingham. What light there was earlier is beating a hasty retreat, leaving in its wake nothing but a grey and dreary expanse. Despite the weather’s best efforts, however, am feeling upbeat and energised. What can explain this state of affairs? I can only put it down to having got myself along to Matt & Pete’s Photo School this morning.

Since moving to Birmingham earlier this year I’ve attended Photo School several times already and have learned something new about photography each time. I’d like to use the rest of this post to show you some of the photos I’ve taken at Photo School and share what I’ve learned from Matt & Pete.


About Matt & Pete’s Photo School

As you might already have guessed, Photo School has been developed by two people by the name of Matt & Pete. After several years of being friends and working together on various projects, in the autumn of 2011 Matt Murtagh and Pete Ashton hit upon the idea of Photo School.

At its essence, Photo School is about communication. Yes, of course Matt & Pete will help you figure out how to use all those fancy buttons on your DSLR but what’s really impressed me the most about Photo School is the emphasis they place on getting you to slow down, to think about the world around you and, crucially, what you want to communicate to others through the photos you take. Or as Pete nicely sums it up on the Photo School website, Less point-and-click, more look-and-think-and-click.

Besides their focus on communication, I also like the way Mat & Pete are taking a low-key, iterative approach to Photo School. Rather than seeking out a big development loan to pay for a high-tech studio or ‘school’, Matt & Pete are developing Photo School organically alongside their other commitments, using flexible venue hires to hold classes and relying on word-of-mouth publicity to drive interest. This approach means they can flexibly respond to students’ needs, scaling up or down activity and tweaking sessions in response to feedback.

All in all, Matt & Pete’s Photo School  feels a world away from some of the other courses and books I’ve encountered on photogrpahy, which soemtime fee las though they prioritise technique and having the right (read expensive) kit over the joy of photography itself.

My First Day at Photo School

The first Photo School I attended back in the heady days of July (don’t worry, it still rained on the way home) was on the subject of abstract photography. After a crash course in the theory of abstract photography upstairs in The Victoria, we set out on a group walk, primarily through Digbeth, in search of beauty in unlikely spaces. 

Experimenting with De-focused Photography at my first Photo School class

That first Photo School session really got me inspired again about photography.  Besides the excitement of finding new ways of seeing beauty in the the everyday world around me, what liked most about Photo School was the sense of confidence it gave me to be a photographer. Going round in a group reduced the feelings I often get that I am somehow in people’s way or engaged in a slightly shifty activity. As a result, I and my fellow Photo Schoolers were able to relax, take our time and really think about what we were trying to say with our photographs.

 Lesson 2

After a busy summer I found myself complaining to whoever would listen about how my I’d let my photography slide. Determined to change the broken  record, I signed up for another Photo School course last month.

This time the course was a two-parter and aimed at beginners who wish to get their camera off of automatic. Although I’d place myself more in the intermediate bracket these days, I figured the course would help me get back into my photography and, by virtue of not being so technical, might help keep the attention on photography as communication rather than artisan’s craft.

Master of the decisive moment, Henri Catier-Bresson Photo: Magnum Photos

The first part of the course was structured as an hour’s group lesson, at which Pete gave an overview of the basics of photography. Although I had already gotten to grips with aperture, shutter speed and ISO it was useful to get a quick refresher. More interesting to me were the examples used to explain composition, drawing on masters of photography such as Henri Cartier Bresson. These photos served to inspire the group, helping us think about how we could develop our  photographic eye for good composition.

The real substance of he beginners course was to be found outside of the lesson, however, in the form of the selection of homework exercises Matt & Pete had set for us. I chose the option of taking four photographs which would tell the story of my day. To challenge myself, I opted not to photograph a day trip or fun weekend away. Instead, I took photos of a typical working day for me in Birmingham and, to cap things off, the weather gods were none too kind.

Set out below are the selection of pictures I took on Thursday 22nd November 2012. Not bad for a pretty wet day in blustery Birmingham?

1: Hi-Vis is a must for my autumnal cycle commute

2: I love the deep blue of my garage door. I also like the hint of hi-vis jacket, just above the handle

3: The highlight of a drizzly lunchtime walk, just along from the Sea Life Centre. Even a beer can can be beautiful, you know?

4: Leaving work and braving sideways rain. This photo benefits from a little Instagram filter magic. I love the fact you have to work quite hard to spot the new Birmingham Library in the background

After taking the pictures I sent my pictures to Photo School. Part two of the course focused on each member of the group sharing their pictures. It was wonderful to see how each person had approached the exercises and the variety of photographs on display. It was also great to give and receive feedback and to learn how someone had managed to create a particular effect, whether or not they had meant to do so in the first place. As ever, Matt & Pete were very constructive with their feedback, giving praise as well as offering practical help and suggestions for improvement.

Becoming Birmingham’s answer to Henri Cartier-Bresson

While I’m under no illusions that I will ever become a master photographer I am certainly enjoying taking more photographs and hope to get along to more Photo School classes in the near-future. I would highly recommend Photo school to anyone who is even remotely interested in getting more enjoyment from the photographs you take. And for those of you stuck for what to buy the budding photographer in your life, I’m pleased to say Photo School offer gift vouchers

Getting n0ticed in Birmingham

Since I left you

As part of my ongoing efforts to get out more and feel more connected in Birmingham I got along last month to Birmingham Social Media Cafe, a regular get together of people interested in exploring creative uses of  blogging, Twitter, Facebook and other tools. At the meeting I was introduced to n0tice, a digital update on the trusty community noticeboard which is aiming to be the place where you share “what’s happening near you?”. Since then, I’ve been playing with n0tice to see what it has to offer. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

First Impressions: what did I n0tice?

The first thing to say about n0tice is that is there is a lot going on. While the stated ambition of n0tice may be laudably simple, to allow you to share what’s happening near you, the way it approaches this task is multi-faceted. From what I have learned so far , n0tice consist of:

  • A public-facing n0ticeboard service, Here people can share and discover local observations, events and secrets in much the same way they might post an update on Twitter or Facebook, only with discovery being primarily driven by locality. People can access n0tice via a regular web browser but the service really comes into its own on the iPhone and Android mobile apps.
  • A developer-focused API. Over at n0tice.org there are plentiful examples of the various different ways the technology behind n0tice can be used to power other services and activities. n0tice.org currently focuses on crowdmapping, community noticeboards and using n0tice to host a social classified business.   

Getting to grips with n0tice

 So far, I’ve had a bash at using both the public-facing and the developer-focused sides of n0tice. Of the two, I would say the developer side feels the most well-considered. Using the helpful ‘how to’ guides provided, I was able to quickly set up my own n0tice board dedicated to street art in Birmingham. With a minimum of trial and error I was also able to link my n0ticeboard to Google maps so that posts were rather niftily pinned to various locations around Birmigham. Embedded below are the fruits of my afternoon’s labour, which I was really quite proud of.

From little acorns…. my first n0tice board

[googlemaps https://maps.google.co.uk/maps?q=http:%2F%2Fn0ticeapis.com%2F2%2Fsearch%3Fnoticeboard%3Dstreetartbirmingham%26format%3Dkml&hl=en&sll=0,0&sspn=160.297277,316.054688&t=m&ie=UTF8&ll=52.459775,-1.878662&spn=0.146435,0.291824&z=11&output=embed&w=425&h=350]

My first crowdmap of Birmingham Street Art (the crowd so far consists of my posts  but I can hope)

Reflections on n0tice

While I was quick to understand n0tice’s potential as a web infrastructure tool, I was less clear on what everyday users would make of n0tice as a mainstream service offering. Given the fact that I and most of my friends already spend a sizeable proportion of our free time on social networks such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, I am not convinced people’s desire to know what’s happening nearby is make n0tice, in its current form at least, an essential destination.

 Right now the immediate user experience for those who do venture upon the service is also a little uneven. For starters, it would be quite easy for people to confuse no0tice.org, the home of n0tice’s developer resources, with the public-facing n0tice.com site.

Once you’re on the main site, n0tice.com, it’s not immediately obvious what to make of the various posts, as initially they are not filtered according to your location. Of course there is a button you can press to filter by your location but it doesn’t immediately strike you as something you should need to do.  I experienced a similar kind of confusion when I went to post a report on n0tice, as a result of if not being immediately obvious whether my post would be visible to the whole n0tice community or restricted to a particular n0tice board. In themselves, these points of confusion may seem pretty trivial (I’m working on the whole pedantry thing) but the service design will need to be sharpened if n0tice is to expand beyond the ranks of social media practitioners and early adopters.

The good news is the issues I have is much to like about n0tice, particularly for developers and those wishing to incorporate n0tice technology within websites. I was chuffed at how easy it was to put together my own n0tice board for street art in Birmingham. I was even more chuffed when I was able to follow the clear instructions on n0tice.org and overlay my posts onto a Google Map, something which I had previously considered to be the preserve of out and out techies.

n0te to future self

 Looking to the future, I feel n0tice should focus on developing its offerings to developers and publishers. By doing so I believe n0tice technology could become part  of the everyday infrastructure of the web. I’d love to see n0tice technology incorporated within the social networks that I already use, so that I easily share and discover local content without having to invest additional time and effort. Doing so would, I hope support n0tice financially and enable the refinement of the service’s consumer offering.

Two weeks or so after being introduced to n0tice, I remain intrigued by the service and the possibilities it offers. I will continue to experiment with it, both in my spare time as well as in a work capacity at Groundwork UK. I look forward to seeing how the service continues to evolve and improve.