Category Archives: BIG IDEAS

A Dig Around The Hauntology Lair.

I’ve always been a fan of the strange, somewhat musty world of British retro culture. From the long forgotten library music worlds of KPM and DeWolfe, to even, dare I say, the pseudo-grotesque works of On The Buses and the Hammer film stable of the 60′s and 70′s. One of the reasons I love them is that they, alongside many other cultural artefacts, paint an altogether different picture of this time from the full-bore swinging version we are led to believe existed back in 60′s.

In the last 10 or so years, the study, reintroduction and reinterpretation of some of the more obscure of these weird-beard archives has led to scene (of sorts) forming around the concept of ‘Hauntology’.  A term originally introduced by Jacques Derrida in 1993. The term was first introduced to me through Simon Reynolds increasingly relevant and vital book ‘Retromania’. He cites both the rise in interest in the work of the pioneering, but relatively unknown British sound architects BBC Radiophonic Workshop as an example of Hauntology at work.

It’s spectral sonic beauty, abstracted from it’s original uses, takes on another context. A hazy document of an imagined time. More recently bands such as Boards Of Canada, have taken that one step further, taking the spectral elements of British ‘B’ culture and blending it with modern electronica to create something both as familiar as the test card, and as eerie as the Shipping Forecast.

So why mention it? Well, namely this video of Hells Angels from 1973, got me thinking all over again about the relevance, and brilliance of this sort of content.

A 1973 documentary about the Hells Angel’s  represents everything that is interesting around retro culture, and Hauntology. The 39 years of age has turned what was clearly meant to be an alarmist shock piece on the rise of biker gangs (and therefore you would assume, lawlessness at large), into a piece that shows what happens when hippie culture, which briefly, the Angels were a part of, is filtered through a British lens.

This is Altamont as imagined through a Little Chef service station in Luton. The Hells Angels in the film might look cool (and no doubt, their iconography and style has been liberally integrated into all manner of fashion types since). But their feeble rebellions are met now with a lashing of comedy and, in the end hopelessness. Hollow bravardo statements are mixed with truly bizarre ‘That’s Life’ on-the-street vignettes. These juxtapositions, while meant to tell a sensationalised story in ’73, now look strangely tame and hopelessly naive. It also highlights one of the reason’s the concept of Hauntology would never really apply to similar American cultural artefacts.

Their assimilation of a quintessentially Californian and American constructs and pastimes (The Hells Angels and Motorbiking in general), is the key element that makes them so bizarre. How exoctic is rebellion on the M25 on the way to a disused canal boat on the Thames? But, in it’s inability to reach it’s own version of exotica, these videos (and many others like them), and the wider Hauntology scene,  provide a fascinating way to appreciate an archive of time when life, was more square, but much more interesting in how it articulated it’s squareness. I’ll be posting more of these as and when I find them.

(Via Dangerous Minds)

Advertising For People Who Dont Like Advertising.

One my favourite ad agencies ever has to be Kessels Kramer. There approach to creativity has always been a bedrock for what I felt advertising agencies should aim for (but more often that not, fall short). Their books therefore, have become something of a touchstone for me and many others. (Recommended: 2Kilos and my the ‘DO’ series). So it’s always a pleasure to see them coming up with another tome to provoke and inspire in equal measure. The typically irreverent ‘Advertising For People Who Don’t Like Advertising’ (of which we know there are many). The book provides a platform for those who to them, advertising is much less than the sum of it’s parts. The quality of the interviewees (the inclusion of Alex Bogusky on this subject is a bit of coup) is excellent, and should provide the usual excellent level of brain fodder for those in and around Advertising, and no doubt embed some relevant questions about what it’s all about in 2012…

CALL OF DUTY x AMNESTY.

With such a strong brand behind them, Amnesty International are always coming up with novel, creative ways to get their (traditionally0 hard-hitting message across.

But, sometimes those messages can be somewhat preaching to the converted. That’s why this idea from the Amnesty and Activision (creators of the Call Of Duty series) is smart, and in some ways, hopefully more effective in spreading their message.

Anybody who even has a passing interest in gaming will be aware that the Call of Duty series is somewhat of phenomenon. The previous ‘Black Ops’ addition to the series was the highest grossing entertainment product in the 2010. Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 broke records itself, and the anticipation for the game was pretty self-evident to anybody who walked past a HMV store the weeks of release. However (as this film touches on), it’s really the ‘stickiness’ of the game that provides the biggest opportunity. Online, players are spending hours completing extra game maps and linking online with players around the world.

Here’s where the power of Amnesty’s message steps in. Supplanting their own ‘map’ into the online experience. Now it’s not just about saving the world from Nuclear disaster, or despotic rogue Russian heavies, it’s about helping victims of war crimes and torture escape their captors. Players buy the Amnesty map on the Playstation store and are instantly transported into the narrative. The hyper realism that CoD prides itself on, becomes the most valuable asset in bringing visually to life the suffering of victims and the visceral danger that these victims are constantly under.

I could imagine that there would be critics of this approach, potentially seeing that their message was being diluted with it’s inclusion in a ‘video game’. But as the gaming continues it’s march from geek pursuit to mainstream entertainment platform, the power of these games to create narratives that smart brands can disrupt and twist, is all too real. Amnesty have taken this to the next level. I for one, am excited to see this in action.

(Via Edward Boches)

CABIN PORN: MORE THAN A COOL TUMBLR.

(Photo – Cabin Overlooking the Pacific by Mark Wickens)

Cabin Porn has spread like wildfire these last few weeks. Surely some of that is down to it’s title, (There’s no better link bait than porn is there?), beyond that, there’s actually something a little bit more interesting going on underneath this staggering collection of beautiful shots of Cabins. All collated, they start to reflect a rising sentiment that has swept over social networks (and therefore the ‘Digerati’) at the beginning of 2012.

“The Joy Of Quiet”

The article in the New York Times popped up towards the end of the 2011. It raised a very pertinent question at the end of a very exhausting year economically, socially, politically and crucially, technologically.  Have we lost the ability to enjoy peace and quiet?. An even handed argument for the profound benefits of technology, and social networks was presented, but also sounded a warning. In the whirlwinds of our technological advancements, we were in danger of losing our ability to switch off, to enjoy those moments of peace and quiet. To just be. That place where actually we can do some of our best, and clearest thinking.

At the end of a transformative ‘social’/internet enabled year for me, it really hit home.

It seemed as though I wasn’t alone in this reflection. ‘Quiet’ was something many of us had been ignoring. See, the idea of doing nothing in the 2010′s, especially in the peer pressure-24/7-content-factory that our social feeds have become are now persona-non-grata. Everyone is now multiple media node. (And as the article points out for teenagers, who have grown up with the web, this is even more true). No-one is off. People now even pay to be removed from their devices. I know that I personally have Freedom installed on the machine and on more often, ready and waiting to shackle the Internet’s Pandora’s Box of delights. But this is great for desktop, but what prevents you picking up the iPad or iPhone?. Nothing, but your own willpower.

Social connectivity is pervasive.

The article clearly hit home. Some of the people that I respect the most in my twitter stream posted it, many of the people that I know had made significant life choices in 2011 (looking at you UberBlond) wrote about the moment of pause that the article reflected. This unassuming article  stuck in the middle of the NYT, seemed to stop alot of people in their tracks. It resonated in other ways, in the way that many people had renounced their previous careers, to pursue something more, something that they loved and in that way, created their own level of quiet. Their own freedom. The article suddenly took on more multi-faceted elements.

At Christmas, the pace of media (naturally) slowed. A quirk of the British holidays (gawd bless ‘em), meant that the time off was actually rather lengthy. I for one spent lovely languid days in a deserted London, catching up with friends, loafing about in the Cow in Notting Hill, escaping the East London fug, and generally taking shit out of fourth gear. It was great.

I also took a long hard look at how much I was sharing, (which in truth, had moved towards more talking as opposed to sharing as my interactions with multiple Twitter people, who I would now call friends, had evolved). I reflected on how much time I would refresh my feed, even if only for that extra new tweet on my phone. It was getting a bit nuts.

I vowed to try and create a space in 2012 for the Joy Of Quiet myself. Naturally in January, this can look like a hollow ambition, more akin to Protestant guilt than actual change. I’m skeptical of cold turkey. However, I do believe in moderation. That moderation through January has helped slowly subside that killer FOMO moment. I haven’t opened up Twitter on my iPhone since January 1. I have a renewed focus, more time to write, (and I mean write) things, like this. Long things, thoughtful things. (I know Mr Tait & Mr Kinsella are sharing the same sentiment with their blogging habits). More time to sit, read, listen to music, drift away, and wander. Things that I’ve loved doing from the moment I first moved to London. More focus on what I want to do and achieve in 2012. (Big moves, big things).

While I adore things like Twitter, and Instagram, and have been life-changing platforms for me, they also aren’t going anywhere, it’s OK to miss out, to keep quiet sometimes.

Which brings me back to Cabin Porn. If the Joy of Quiet was the written manifesto of evolved internet interactions is 2012. Then Cabin Porn is it’s visual doppelganger. Take a close look at these photos. The most interesting images here are not the beautifully stylised homes on Lake Tahoe or in an exclusive upstate enclave. They are the ones of little shacks, seemingly period pieces from gritty Westerns or rural Apalachian nowheresvilles.

Their remoteness, and therefore disconnectedness, is the true appeal. They are places to write, to create, to contemplate, to escape. They are the 21st Century communes. They remind me of a hippy utopia, or films like Vanishing Point. They are silence. Incredible, magical silence. Even with all the technological, social, economic and cultural upheavals around us, sometimes we just like to “Get Back to the Garden” (as Joni Mitchell put it). We would do well to keep these images in our mind, lest, go and explore them ourselves. Cabin Porn is the The Joy Of Quiet.

LETTING GO.

Here’s a fantastic presentation delivered at the most recent dConstruct conference on ‘design in times of disruption’. It brilliantly sums up the changes in business,  culture and politics that have been wrought by our old friend, the Internet. (My favourite slide in here simply says; ‘the internet will not listen to reason’). For anybody who is trying to understand what is happening in broads terms to society and the role of marketing and design in this evolution, they should read this straight away.

NEW YORK WRITES ITSELF.

This is certainly one of the coolest and most ambitious ideas I have seen this year. All based on a very simple truth. New York Writes Itself, is literally that. A crowd-sourced film script made up of thousands of New Yorkers imaginations and reflections of their own city, billed as a ‘A Production By The People Of New York’.

It’s such a simple thought; a city as diverse, as complex and as densely rich in story as New York could quite literally write itself a script. It’s not like New York hasn’t already been explored in minute detail by some of film’s great directors, from Spike Lee’s Bed Stuy masterwork Do The Right Thing to Woody Allen’s Upper West Side neuroses in Manhattan, or Times Square’s squalor in Midnight Cowboy and Taxi Driver, (the tip of the iceberg obviously), but what makes this different, and therefore worth the follow is the threading together of these disparate experiences. Can you really make a script of something as vast as New York? All these films put a microscope onto a particular slice of New York life, giving you an opportunity to truly experience that slice of life. The creators have neatly sidestepped this by allowing all the elements, Quotes, scenes and characters in the script to be selected and made into their own productions – like posters, exhibitions, music videos and short films.

Projects are already underway, with the first one being ‘The Chairman’ (below)

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If you wanted to take this exploration further, then this project is another example of either the strength or weaknesses of crowdsourcing projects. What are the rewards of participation?  I personally believe the reward is in seeing your own experience recreated in some way. Your unique experience of New York becomes a unique thread in the cultural pattern of the city. You are now immortalised in your metropolis. When at times we can feel alienated from the scale and enormity (and relative anonymity) of cities, the chance to write your own piece into it, seems to be too tempting. A project to follow with interest.

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THE NEVER ENDING STORY.

Panel by Jack Kirby

We Feel Fine, was one of the first truly unique explorations of the psyche of the Internet. A hugely influential (and beautiful) piece of work. Now, it’s creator, Johnathan Harris, is back in the digital storytelling fray with a new concept; Cow Bird.

Although still under wraps, Harris, in this interview with Frog Design begins to explain some of the thoughts behind the idea (that has taken over two years to craft). The over-arching thought is based around the re-configuring and re-vitalising storytelling as a long form narrative in the digital space. Harris thought goes that ‘real time’ social networks have eroded a storytelling to a series of ‘fragmentary reactions to things’. The ambition of the project is in effect to slow the pace down of online storytelling so the elements have time to gestate, and resonate.

CowBird uses fragments of peoples lives to tell long-form stories online using photos, sound maps, timelines, videos, and casts of characters. Creating in effect, a ‘meta story’ where other peoples stories interact and thread together based on their commonalities.

It’s worth reading the full interview, as Harris delves deeper and deeper into the thinking that goes behind this. But, it most certainly sounds like an intriguing project, and a must see when it finally arrives on our computers.