We need to talk about your Big Fat Gypsy Racism

People who go shopping for reasons to be offended need look no further: you’re idiots.

Context is everything, coupled with a bit of common sense is a good gauge of what’s reasonable or not. Vacuous MTV me-fest ‘Jersey Shore’, for example, made a good number of the Italian diaspora choke on their gnocci, suspecting quite rightly that these swaggering simpletons in enough hair gel to choke seagulls to death off the coast of Florida didn’t represent them, their history and their culture. The Italian diaspora were right, and the Italian diaspora are idiots too.

Italian-American identity is common currency in the US, it informs countless musicians, directors, actors and fuggedaboutit works of fiction, film and television. There’s a solid foundation of familiarity and knowledge in the English-speaking world from which we can all gaze in mortified bemusement at the simian capering of these permatanned shits as they shuffle charmlessly through their charmed lives. Nobody is in danger of going away thinking these people represent you – ‘Jersey Shore’ is pure titillation, low on inconvenient subtext and associated hand-wringing moral dilemmas that cause Guardian readers such sleepless nights.

In the UK, there’s no similar foundation to our knowledge of traveller culture, not even close. Instead we have alarmist tabloid newspapers, hand-me-down prejudice, ‘Snatch’, which returned the slur of ‘pikey’ to the tongues of otherwise worldly folk, and ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Weddings’. No doubt many Irish travellers, like an equal percentage of the great white underclass, have zero taste – for the former this manifests as the Disney-fuelled wedding attire captured in Channel 4’s ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Weddings’, and for the latter as the Nike tick shaved into the back of your head and children named after Premier League footballers and brands of aftershave.

To ‘My Big Fat…’s credit, they do smuggle a genuine sensitivity in under the billowing taffeta gowns and butterfly wings, the second episode dealing with the closure of a traveller site and the first talking about the culture’s strong morals and traditions. But without that foundation of knowledge these things get stand no chance of registering in the face of far flashier scenes, and it becomes an exercise in freakshow gawping at fashion faux pas and parochial tutting over young girls with suggestive dancing and revealing clothing, the latter more than negated by revelations in the first episode that traveller girls don’t go out unchaperoned, don’t drink before marriage and certainly don’t approach boys. Can you say the same about your daughter, sister, cousin or niece you sanctimonious hypocrite? By the standards of the average traveller you’re little better than a pimp, whoring their pink pre-teen virginity from school disco to Glee club, and back.

Travellers in Britain are an eclectic mix unique to these Isles, many descended from Irish travellers, the Pavee, with their own language and culture, and many descended from Romany who entered the country in the 19th Century – intermarriage and contact with Britain has left them as representative of those points as all in between. It’s not entirely accurate to refer to the subjects of ‘Big Fat Gypsy Weddings’ as ‘Irish travellers’, or as ‘Romany’, the former is accurate to a certain degree and the latter represents an even smaller group, which leaves us with the awkward sobriquet of ‘gypsies’. As faintly patronising a relic as that is, it’s immensely better than pikey – a hold-over from a way of thinking that should have died in the 1960s. What other word left in the English language refers to both a minority ethnic group and a set of stereotypical negative qualities associated with them? Would it be appropriate to call someone who’s tight with money a Jew, or accuse someone who smells of being French? No, that’s racism, and it’s only the widespread ignorance and proliferation of offensive misconceptions that allow this spectre to continue haunting conversation.

In mainland Europe, gypsies – of which the Roma are the most widely known – are in a bad way, forced to settle into sprawling ghettos in Eastern Europe by communist administrations, they remain locked in a cycle of poverty and alienation, while the society around them has moved on. Those who moved looking for a better life are being kicked out of France and Germany, and harrassed in Italy as a scapegoat for rising crime and unemployment, and the subject of abhorrent far right propaganda, legislation and hate crimes in Hungry,  the Czech Republic, and almost every country in which they live. In 60-odd years since the Holocaust, known in Romany as the Porajmos or ‘devouring’, obliterated 220,000 to 1,500,000 of their number, conditions have scarcely improved and in Britain, despite boasting a gypsy population far less obviously ‘alien’ and far more in step with the dominant culture of shit music, brainless TV, subwoofers and spray-on tans, the situation is little better.

Tabloid papers continue to sneer and propagate racist stereotypes, councils insist on trapping communities in situations where they’re forced to break the law – often setting aside sites that are too small or worse, alongside landfill sites or blighted by open sewage, or denying them permission to settle at all – and otherwise intelligent people use pikey so painfully casually, out of ignorance that the word is as belittling and discriminatory as nigger, faggot or paki.

Until these things stop, or at least are countered by knowledge and understanding, ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Weddings’ isn’t harmless, trashy unreality TV.  It’s on a par with ‘Til Death Do Us Part’ and ‘Rising Damp’, where the approving baying of intolerant thugs drowns out the egalitarian message hidden within, and an attempt to germinate understanding, far too subtle for its own good, becomes an unwitting rallying trumpet for discrimination and bigotry.

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Damnation Festival review – Part Deux

So where were we? Oh yes, I was being a pervy old man. Yeah, that was good. But we’re only only halfway through the day, although we are now at the point where it seemed only sensible given the levels of alcoholic intake and the business of the other stages that your scribe park himself in one spot at the main stage. Next up on the main stage are Lawnmower Deth (9) who I previously know only from seeing their logo on a few T shirts when I was younger and a dim recollection that my best mate as the time had a big Lawnmower Deth poster up in his room, although I don’t really recollect hearing him play me any, so it may have been a posture, in the same way I think most maiden fans only get into them initially because they know the posters and the T shirts would shock their mothers when it came time to iron their tops or clean their room. Because we are all pathetically middle class white boys obsessed with safe rebellion at our cores. I remember my Mum refused to iron my Nirvana T shirt that said ‘Motherfucker’ on it, which made me happy as it meant the print on it lasted a bit longer.

Lawnmower Deth seem to provoke nostalgia even if you are not familiar with them, and given that they have clearly never hit the big time in the way some of their contemporaries might have their enthusiasm and sheer joy at playing to this crowd is one of the more infectious things I have had the pleasure of witnessing live. A mix of Anthrax showmanship and fun and Exploited attitude, from the moment they stride on stage they have the audience enraptured, at turns pogoing like it’s the mid eighties and the next guffawing like a Michael Macintyre crowd at the sight of a trampolining Satan or a crowd surfing Black Metaller in a poncho. That I don’t know the tunes matters not a jot, and doesn’t seem to matter to the crowd either, who lap up every second.

If Lawnmower Deth provide an exercise in how to handle the mantle of ‘potentially has been old guys act’ in this sort of setting, then Sabbat (3) seem hell bent on doing the opposite. First off there is the look. Lawnmower Deth dress appropriate to their relative ages, jeans and t shirts that cover the occasional beer belly, fair enough. Sabbat on the other hand, come out dressed like they’re auditioning a retirement home production of Hellraiser, all wrinkled skin poured into tight leather that causes this writer to let loose an involuntary giggle before they even open their mouths. The lead singer, a bug eyed old man with a mane of greasy greying black hair, little neat goatee and a stare that could explode the tyres on a Fiat 500 at fifty yards is so bizarre looking that if he stood next to Peter Stringfellow and Richard Madely in a ‘who looks most like a sex offender‘ contest he would be a shoe in.

While the band start peddling their bog standard out of date thrash he scowls at the room with a look on his face that makes it quite plain that he is very upset that we haven’t greeted them like the all conquering gods they so clearly are. And then, as if to prove his point, he begins to bellow into his theatrical skull covered microphone like a bewildered tramp who has just has his special brew removed. If Lawnmower Deth were funny then Sabbat seem to be a parody so hilarious that Spinal Tap would bow down in admiration. When the singer takes a break in between sons to launch into a gravel throated ‘and the blackened sun sets on the orcs’ style tirade I cannot hold it any more and fall about in a fit of giggles, which earns me a look so furious that I may have turned to stone right there and then, and all the rest of this is just a figment of my imagination. I have since learnt that Andy Sneap is in Sabbat, however, so I may have been completely wrong, because Andy Sneap produced the Iron Monkey albums, and they are both better than anything that I will ever achieve in my worthless little life, so it may well be the case that his band are amazing and hid it from view on this particular occasion.

After I pick myself up from laughing I remember that the next band on are earthtone9 (9), and suddenly I am reduced to the sniveling fan boy that I was in the 90’s. If you are not familiar with earthtone9 then you need to go and listen to some right now. Quite simply the best British band of my generation, they mixed Tool’s sense of mood and tone with a ferocious sound and performances that used to reduce me to a whimpering mess regularly over the course of their reign. And now they’re back, a little older, a little less wrapped in clingfilm and it has to be said a little less tight than they used to be but quite honestly I couldn’t give a monkeys because they are brilliant. The setlist is mainly culled from their last album, with a few oldies thrown in for good measure, Karl‘s voice is as impeccable as ever, and for forty five minutes I am on cloud nine. They play a new song as well, which is enough to make me swoon like Katie Price at a cage fight.

Paradise Lost (5) are an institution here in Yorkshireland, local heroes who people bow down to like the bearded long haired Jesus lookalikes they are. I have no idea why, but this is mainly because their brand of gothy doom is as appealing to me as stubbing my toe on a moving tank. I am sure they are very good at what they do, and every now and again I catch a riff that has me nodding my head in appreciation, but for the most part it leaves me colder than a goth in a graveyard. I am clearly in the minority with this one, however, and given that I live in Yorkshire and don’t want a braying mob at my door I won’t say any more about them than that.

Once the floor clears of cider and black and flowery shirts all that is left to do is watch Dillinger Escape Plan (Dillinger/10) absolutely destroy everything with a performance that is quite a lot better than not only every other performance in this room today, but every other performance that anyone has put on since Elvis did the shaky hips. Fucking hell this band are astounding.I mean, fuck it, everyone knows by know that I love this band far too much for me to be objective about them but quite honestly if you were at this gig and didn’t feel the same way then you and I can never be friends. And I know how much you all want to be my friends. Quite how Dillinger manage to bring the levels of intensity that they consistently do while never playing a note out of tune or time no matter how technically mental the source material is beyond me, but as the lead hammer of 43% Burnt rings out across the room and the band leave the stage the looks that I see in the faces around me are ones of utter bewilderment and joy.

So that’s the bands, a mixture of excellent performances, good performances, average performances and Sabbat, but before I go I would just like to point out that Damnation Festival has to be one of the better things that are in this world we call metal. I think you’d be hard pressed to find better value for money, from the ticket price to the beer prices in the venue itself. The venue is excellent and (some sound issues notwithstanding) this was a brilliantly organized shindig all round. It’s rare to find a gig with such diversity of bands and fans where the overall atmosphere is so utterly without tension, and kudos has to go to absolutely everyone involved. All told it was a bloody good day.

Mr Pervers

Mr Pervers is a curious film. It’s a mish mash, a hotch potch of strikingly different philosophies, and it doesn’t always hang together. For every moment that brings to mind the thrilling, maverick nonchalance of Lars Von Trier, Takashi Miike or Shinya Tsukamoto, there’s another that brings to mind the cynical, overcooked excess of Michael Bay or George Lucas. Nowhere is this dichotomy more apparent than in the performance of striking leading lady Susi Hotkiss. Susi Hotkiss as a performer blows hot and cold. In smaller budget, more independent films like Antichrist, Paris, Texas and Anal Farmyard 2 she’s proven herself an engaging, thrilling performer, bringing both sass and vulnerability to the characters she portrays. However in bigger budget fare like Jurassic Park 3, Transformers and Sheisse Auf Der Fuhrer she seems lost, unsure what to do in such an impersonal, money driven feature. She seems to be the latter here, looking lost when confronted with an 11 inch penis. Hotkiss isn’t the only problem though.

Mr Pervers is a high concept piece of drama, inspired equally by kitchen sink dramas like Lindsay Anderson’s This Sporting Life and confessional americana features like Todd Solonz’s Happiness. It focusses on a young group of individuals who stay at a lodge in a relatively uninhabited countryside. These young people clearly seek respite and seclusion from the grind of their normal lives. So far, so typical. However things take a turn for the sinister when the caretaker Mr Pervers reveals himself to be a repressed, mentally ill sex fiend. This is where the film jars. In between the more tender scenes of exposition, confession and anal penetration, there are scenes where Mr Pervers runs in and ruins everything. One scene has him forcing a clearly disgusted Hotkiss to bring him to orgasm with her hand, and it detracts heavily from the carefully considered characterisation that preceded it. Just moments before, Hotkiss’s character and Gunther, her companion, had confessed for each other their mutual attraction. After taking a load in the face, Hotkiss and Gunther share a tender kiss and have a cuddle. The brutish sexality of Mr Pervers himself just is not inkeeping with the tone of much of the film.

Another example turns up later, when young Mindy, who’s just gone through a heart wrenching breakup, seeks solitude in her room. Mr Pervers, completely oblivious to her suffering , unsubtly sticks his fist right up her. It’s this callousness that casts a shadow over the few bright spots in the film.

It’s a mess aesthetically as well as thematically. First time director Eckhardt McFistus has talent, but he’s horribly inconsistent. Admittedly, he has a real eye for scope. He manages to capture the grandeur of the German countryside beautifully, and he frames Hotkiss’s heaving jiggling titties perfectly, but his lack of experience shines through during the stilted conversation scenes, which often feature actors staring vacantly out of windows, mindlessly going through their vacuous dialogue.

Maybe this is deliberate. Maybe McFistus is saying that we’re animals, that it’s impossible for any of us to really engage each other on a truly meaningful level. We’re pieces of meat, and trying to act otherwise results in heartache, ennui, and torn sphinctors. Whatever he’s trying to say, it’s lost, thanks to the muddled execution.

Film fans may find admirable traits about Mr Pervus, but as a hole, it just doesn’t add up.

Sassy Kraimspri- Pussy Magnet EP

(Lady Luck Records)

I woke up this morning with an idea. I would invent a genre called CLOUTROCK, which is where the music swaggers out of your speakers smoking a cigarette, acts all pissed off about the state of the world, spits chewing gum on your carpet, and then sets about punching your ears in for no particularly obvious reason. Then I remembered Sassy Kraimspri had already done it, and I got sad and tugged the blankets over my face and went back to sleep until it got dark.

But despite that, when I did finally ooze out of bed, it was with a smile on my face and a lump in my Pokémon underpants. And that’s because even though they stole the idea I had five hours ago, this EP is still a good bit of gear, guv. Also it’s fucking free off the internet, so you don’t even have to bother finding somewhere to steal it from.

And why should you take my word for it? Because it’s fucking correct, that’s why.

Here’s what you should notice about this band; even on record, they sound like they’re playing together for the last time ever. You’d think giving a shit about your music would be commonplace among the musical bands of the 21st century, but there’s a fucksight more evidence of that in these three songs than in an entire album by I have no idea what the fuck you people even listen to anymore, so just finish this sentence yourselves, thanks in advance.

Pussy Magnet smashes this EP off the tee and down the fairway – but using a turbo bulldozer, rather than a golf club. And when it lands, it starts doing a dance. It’s mainly a two-minute punky rattle, but it takes in a quick tour of a bunch of different ideas, and even has time to shift down a gear for a mid-eight I guess I am going to describe as ‘swangin’. I like it when short little songs like this find time for a massive dynamic shift, and actually pull it off. It’s well clever mates.

The swing persists into Oh My, which is a song that is stuffed with sexy ideas, a couple of which do not quite fire off. There’s a point where the tune pinches out, and then sort of gradually fades back in, and it really breaks the build of energy throughout the song. But since this is cloutrock, it lasts about ten seconds, and a blow to the head is never far away. You’ll have forgotten all about it by the time you get to the coda; it’s the logical extension of this tune’s build-up, lots of energetic shrieking and cacophonous, clattering instrument abuse.

Hit flops back over to a pop-punk place, and the best comparison I can think of is probably The Pixies, simply on the basis of that classic loud/quiet/loud dynamic shift. Nothing much new there, you’d say, and you’d be right; but it fucking well works here. Especially at the end. The reason for that will be explained below, in a paragraph that will form the conclusion to this review. Allow me to take this opportunity to say I hope you have enjoyed it.

What you get with Sassy Kraimspri is a heavy wall of music that I would describe as solid, confident, energetic, and yet somehow sparing time to think about what it’s doing. But the stand-out feature for me is still the lead vocals, which sound like PJ Harvey going through Ritalin withdrawal.

Free music, get.

Sassy Kraimspri will be playing at Twitrfest, at Eddie’s Rock Club, Birmingham on Saturday 12th February, along with some other reprobates.

Necrotize- Grievance

(Dissected Records)

Imagine a world without metal genres. It would be a gorgeous world hitherto unglimpsed, an Elysian meadow where streams of crystalline purity would flow, the sun would always shine and we’d all run around with our unsightly bulges and dangling bits flopping out – and there would be no shame. Needles full of pure heroin would grow on the trees, and the whole place would smell like vaginas. Over us all, even though it never rained, there’d stretch a magnificent rainbow, all twelve colours of the spectrum blended in seamless equity; and that would be a metaphor for music, which nobody would have time to listen to anyway, owing to all the freestyle bumming that would be going on. I’ve thought carefully about it, that is definitely what would happen.

My point is there’d be no categories or sub-categories, no offshoots or hybrids. There’d be no awful, drunken spittle-spattered debates about the generic lineage of this band or that; and normal people would be able to participate in internet discussions about music, since the wealth of technical terms and obscure jargon used by insufferable nerds to assert dominance over one another would simply exist no longer. What does ‘crossover melodic grind blackened symphonic crustcore’ tell anybody about anything, anyway?

Let me just try now to delicately anchor this tedious, abstract bollocks to what I’m actually trying to write about, which is the album Grievance by the band Necrotize. I quite like it. This is to say, I listened to it and I heard things that I liked. Mostly I thought it sounded a bit sludgy. It’s pretty bloody crushing-heavy, anyway. The singer sounds quite a lot like the bloke off Crowbar (a band which, by the by, I have genuinely heard described as ‘molassescore’), and there’s quite a few nice big grooves that will naturally suggest (to me anyway) Corrosion of Conformity or Pantera or something.

And please do note how by reading these words I have chosen to use, your imaginatrix begins to form an aural picture of the sound I am trying to describe. That is the reviewer/reader relationship, the sacred compact upon which all our interactions depend; the crux of which is that if my towering, palpating authority is for a moment undermined, the entire thing collapses.

Imagine my alarm then, when upon reading the handout that came with this CD, I see that Necrotize consider themselves to be death metal; in fact going so far as to say they are ‘bridging the gap between death metal and straight up metal’. And thus, I am left bewildered and confused, my confidence in my own opinion is shaken, and the delicate bond between you and I is sundered for all time. How are you now to trust a word I say if I can’t even distinguish and identify a few simple bloody ‘thrash elements’? Instead, from now on, I will just rewrite the press releases I get, buzzwords and all, like all the other heavy metal review gashes you waste your time looking at. How about that?

Have a look at the only remotely decent YouTube I can find of anything off this record:

Wretched Life is perhaps the stand-out tune for my money, and emphasises a fun tension that exists throughout this record. The ridiculous noise coming out of singer Shadie Carrier’s guts is bracketed on one side by big crunching riffs that are relatively ponderous. The drums, by contrast are busy, delicately prancing about like a sugar plum fairy, pointing out accents you never would have noticed otherwise. I’m not normally a fan of this kind of show-offy technical wankery, but here it’s a striking contrast that sets it all off and makes it work in my view. And I could say the exact same about Hordes of God and Messiah, two other good, honest, manly tunes.

Walking the Footsteps of Saul is similarly splendid. The near-constant barrage of 32nd note kick drums is given a bit of a break here for something a little groovier, the riffing is brill, and the chorus fucking swings like John Holmes’ pendulum penis. If you can’t nod along to that, you might have done your studded dog collar up too tight.

Good, solid album. Worth a listen. Several integers out of ten.

http://www.myspace.com/necrotize1

P.S. I feel I ought to point out that Necrotize’s line-up shares at least one man with the band Towers of Flesh, who was not happy about my review of that record. Well, I like this one mate, so dry your Necrot-eyes. You big, mardy bell-end.