Saturday, December 30, 2006

It’s About Time…Dir En Grey are FINALLY doing a real US tour
Finally, almost 10 years later, a real Dir En Grey tour in the US. An actual tour, with a full set and opening bands and the whole shebang. OK, so the opening bands kind of suck, but nobody’s going to see them anyway. I do feel kind of sorry for them though – they’re probably going to have to play their whole sets with the crowd screaming for DEG all the way through, and musically they’re a pretty poor fit.
I’m very happy about this tour. I was starting to think I’d have to fly back to Europe to see these guys play a full set, and much as I’m happy to go home and visit, the crowds in Germany are kind of scary. I’m a small woman (158 cms), I’m not too fond of being trapped in a mosh pit with big drunk guys. This is a much better option.
The whole thing is kind of amusing, though. To give some background for those who have no idea what I’m going on about, Dir En Grey started out as a visual kei band. Think pretty boys in make-up and feminine clothes. They initially attracted an audience full of adoring teenage girls, like most visual bands do, although in their case these were not the more mainstream teenage girls, and they still aren’t. Then a few years ago they changed their look. They pretty much look like a “normal” rock band now, although the eyeliner still makes the occasional appearance. No more skirts, though, and one of the guitar players has been sporting a rather sexy little goatee recently. For anyone who’s been paying attention over the last few years it looks like they’ve been deliberately moving away from the whole visual thing. One would think that now that they’re making an effort to conquer the West that would be a pretty easy thing to do, since most people here wouldn’t recognize a visual band if one walked up and smacked them in the face with its shiny hot pants. One would think that, but one would be forgetting the power of the internet.
What’s amusing me is that the visual thing seems to have followed them over here. I went to see them back in August as part of a big summer tour with Korn (who were better than I expected them to be, BTW. The Deftones sucked, though.). You could tell who most of the DEG fans were a mile off. There were literally dozens of teenage goth girls in silly stripy tights, cheap corsets and various other Hot Topic-spawned ensembles. In California, in August. It was kind of hard not to point and laugh, but I bravely resisted the temptation. There were even a few dressed up like the band – not the way they look now, they way they looked in 1999. The whole thing was bizarre. The metal guys who were there to see Korn seemed a bit bemused by the presence of angsty, horny teenage girls, especially when they started squealing as if they were at a Justin Timberlake show.
The kiddies seemed terribly upset to realize that the band don’t look particularly girly any more. The funniest moment of the whole day was when a couple of the guys came out to do a meet and greet and one of the girls screamed “Oh my God, Shinya’s a man!”. Now granted, he spent the first few years of his career in a skirt, but still, he’s been photographed shirtless enough times that one wouldn’t think his gender was really in doubt. There was another group of girls who kept complaining about the bass player’s choice of footwear – Doc Martens, or something similar. I spent most of the show with a constant chorus of “Why can’t Toshiya wear the pretty girly clothes like he used to?” droning in my ear. The man’s almost 30, 6 feet tall, and has abs you could bounce quarters off. He’s not a pretty little boy any more, and there’s really no reason he should be. Actually he looks much sexier this way (those who are reading this on LJ – see my current icon and try not to drool. But of course I only appreciate him for his bass-playing skills. Hey, stop laughing!). I was tempted to ask the kids what the hell was wrong with their libidos, but my parents brought me up to be polite…
So, it would seem that the visual subculture is making some inroads in the US. On the one hand this is a good thing. American girls need some alternative to the constant “you must love macho frat boys, even if you think you don’t” brainwashing they’re usually subjected to. The shit-stirring part of my personality is delighted that something that flips the gender script as thoroughly as the visual scene does is taking hold over here. Visual’s anime and manga cousin, yaoi, is also making serious inroads (more about that later), also thanks to the internet. On many levels this is a good thing.
It’s just kind of a shame for Dir En Grey. This is an amazing band. Seriously, everyone I’ve ever introduced to them who likes music at the heavier end of the spectrum loves this band. They deserve a wider audience overseas. On a purely musical level if there’s any Japanese band or artist that could cross over to the US, it would be these guys (although Ellegarden and D’espairs Ray have a pretty decent chance, too, and I would love to see someone take a shot at marketing Sakarai Atsushi or Kiyoharu). The problem is that on a musical level the natural audience for them in the US is metal, punk and industrial fans, and that demographic is mostly male and more than a little homophobic. I can’t imagine what they’re going to think of the cross-dressing, making kissy faces at each other during live performances, being followed around by hordes of screaming fan girls aspect of DEG’s history, especially since it seems to be following them over here.
Just to clarify, I have no problem with cross-dressing, boys making out on stage or any other aspect of the visual scene, although I’m not too fond of the shiny sparkly Alice Nine-style stuff. Back in college I had a group of Japanese friends who were all into the visual scene, which is how I discovered it. I like pretty boys in eyeliner. Pretty boys in eyeliner and skimpy clothing are even better. I’m just not sure how this is going to play out in America. I also suspect that there’s a storm brewing about yaoi, and that once American parents realize that many of their darling little girls are essentially reading gay porn they may not be entirely happy about it. DEG is inextricably tied in to that subculture, no matter how much they may have changed over the last few years. I just hope they don’t get caught in the crosshairs.
If anyone wants me to post some mp3’s I’d be happy to do so, BTW. I’m a huge music geek and am always happy to introduce other people to artists I love. Think of me as a female version of the John Cusack character in High Fidelity. I won’t post whole albums, though, because my connection is too slow and because I think that if you like a band you should actually buy their stuff and not just leech. Support the starving musicians and all that good stuff (and frankly Shinya could use some feeding up – hey, we could use him as the “support the starving artists” poster boy. I like skinny guys, but his arms scare me).
More music blogging later, and if anyone wants to go check out Dir en Grey in February I’m posting a link to the Free Will site below, they’re selling tickets there. Ticketmaster is selling them for some venues too.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas Creepiness
Damn, it's cold!OK, ignoring that for a second, the cold has me trapped in the house on a Saturday night and I've been vaguely glancing in at what my boy's watching on TV every once in a while. Thus, I finally saw part of The Polar Express.Damn that thing's creepy. People took their kids to see this movie? I would imagine doing so had rather the same effect as giving them the traditional Sacred Heart lamp to put by their bed...those must be some freaked-out kids.Why are so many Christmas specials so creepy looking anyway? Frosty the Snowman's a little odd looking too if you ignore the chirpy soundtrack, that old animatronic/stop motion Rudolph thing is bizarre, and It's a Wonderful Life just makes everyone cry. It's almost as if people LIKE making each other miserable at Christmas. The only non-creepy Christmas TV thing I can think of is How The Grinch Stole Christmas (the cartoon, not the crappy Jim Carrey movie). I actually miss the UK at Christmas time. American Christmases just aren't the same. the TV sucks, nobody sings any of the good Christmas carols (I miss In The Deep Midwinter), it starts in October, and the food's all wrong.OK, enough of that...Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it, or at least celebrate the ritual gift exchange. And Happy Birthday to my cousin Fiona, who turns 34 today.Love and kisses to all.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Who knew that Christmas was earthquake season?I just felt the second earthquake this week. Granted, it wasn't a very big one, but still...what's going on? Did anyone else local feel that?Here's hoping that these little tremors are all we get and everyone has a safe and happy holiday.
GPS Tracking of Registered Sex Offenders – Most Misguided Law Ever?
I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about the changes in California law requiring registered sex offenders to wear GPS tracking devices. The change in law seems to have spawned more debate after the fact than when it was actually voted on, which is a shame, as a public debate would have been a very good thing in this case.
Before I go any further let me make my perspective absolutely clear. I think people who commit sex crimes are the scum of the earth. My mother was an abused child, my best friend was raped in high school. I hate these people. I think all of them should be strung up by their balls, or at least locked up where they can’t do any harm for the rest of their lives.
So, I have no problem with increasing the level of punishment meted out to sex offenders. The problem is, I would really rather that punishment focus on making sure that they don’t repeat their crimes, and in that regard tagging them with GPS devices is completely useless.
Firstly, the things don’t work very well. They’re easy to disable (seriously, some aluminum foil will do the trick). All they show is where a person is – they can’t track what the person is doing. Unless our concern is keeping a particular person away from a particular place, and we have cops on hand to swoop in and stop them if they get too close to that place, the things are basically useless. Where they might have some applicability is in cases of stalking, where a person has been forbidden to be within x number of feet of a particular building, but even in that case they wouldn’t do much good when the stalking victim had to leave the house.
Secondly, they deceive the public into thinking that we’re “doing something” about sex offenders when in face we’re missing the real issue by miles. Whether we’re talking about child abuse or the rape of adults one fact remains the same – in the majority of cases the victim knows their attacker. What the focus on high-tech hocus-pocus like GPS devices does is reinforce the idea that most cases of sexual assault are the result of “stranger danger”, of the masked man in the dark alley or the creepy guy hanging out by the playground. In the majority of cases that just isn’t the reality. I’m not saying that those people don’t exist – they do, but the fact remains that in a minimum of 70% of cases (some agencies say the number is over 90% when considering attacks on children) those who are sexually assaulted are assaulted by people they know and trust. That’s the icky fact that society just can’t seem to face. This whole GPS idea is another way to not face that unpalatable fact.
What we’re doing is dodging the real conversation that needs to happen about what to do with sex offenders. Since obviously I know that the string them up by the balls idea isn’t actually a viable option, what is? I’m voting for lifetime sentences for serious offenders – and I mean for the actual lifetime of the person, not 8-10 years.
We also need to take a serious look at how sex crimes are classified in general. Putting flashers in the same category as rapists doesn’t make much sense, though I still think that flashers need to be caught and to basically have the crap scared out of them badly enough that they think twice before doing it again. Actual, bone-fide rapists need to go to jail for life, and there need to be a lot fewer legal loopholes that allow them to escape punishment. Our age of consent laws are a mess of confusing and conflicting regulations, and they need a serious overhaul. Prosecutions for statutory rape when the participants are only a couple of years apart are absurd. Sentences for actual child abuse, with an adult abuser, need to be much, much heavier. The fact that the law treats gay sex differently to hetero sex is a disgrace.
There’s a lot of work to be done, and applying silly technological band-aids isn’t helping.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The God question

I saw an interesting book reading on MSNBC or some such on Sunday which got me thinking about the whole issue of religion and how it fits into society - or doesn't.
The person reading was Richard Dawkins (lefty British intellectual known for his dislike of religion). His reading was plenty interesting, of course - witty and clever in the way that British intellectuals are so very good at. That wasn't really what got me thinking, though. What got me thinking was the Q&A afterwards.
There were several people in the audience from Liberty University (ridiculous institution that it is). One of them asked Dawkins the usual smug religious person question - I'm paraphrasing here, but basically the gist was, if you abandon God how can you hope to have any kind of morality?
Smug religious types always ask this question in one form or another. It's kind of funny really - they seem to honestly believe that this question is the way to bring all discussion of atheism to a halt, that it conclusively proves the rightness of their position.
What a bunch of bullshit. Some of the most deeply ethical people throughout history have been nonbelievers. Would you call Siddharta/Buddha an unethical person? The real question is, if a person thinks that nobody would have any sense of right and wrong without a book to tell them what to do (which is after all what the question implies), what does that say about the person asking the question? Nothing good, in my opinion. Does anyone really need the Bible/Torah/Koran to tell them that murder, rape and child abuse are Very Bad Things? Doesn't their own conscience tell them that?
See, I think that at it's core morality is really a very simple thing. All you have to do is, in any given situation, ask yourself if what you are about to do is going to cause harm to anyone else. If the action is completely harmless, go ahead and do it. If it is clearly harmful in a way that could be avoided, don't do it. If you find yourself in a grey area, think about it some more and the answer will soon become clear.
I know I'm simplifying here, but the basic principle holds true. Any truly authentic morality is always going to be based on a desire to help rather than harm. It's honestly not that complicated, when you get right down to it.
Unless you're a fundamentalist. I don't really care which religion we're talking about because the Big 3 are basically all the same. Instead of a careful examination of one's conscience and decisions made based on the desire not to do harm they substitute a kind of slavish devotion to a heavenly rulebook. It's the morality of a 5 year old - don't do that or Mommy and Daddy will be mad! Adults are supposed to learn a more nuanced way of looking at things (check out Piaget's theory of child development if you don't believe me).
It's a strange thing, the way religion is evolving in America. It seems to be moving more and more rapidly in the direction of a kind of primitive, knee-jerk fundamentalism at exactly the same time that the rest of the First World is moving in precisely the opposite direction. It's peculiar - why is America going in so different a direction? If anyone asked Dawkins a question like that in Europe the rest of the audience would probably laugh at them. Why is it so different here? And what can we do to fix it?
The other interesting question that was asked at the Q&A was about the issue of comfort. Again I'm paraphrasing, but basically the question was, if people find comfort in their religion, who are you to take that away from them?
That's an interesting question. I personally don't understand why people find the belief in something that is manifestly not true to be comforting, but they do. To me, believing in god is rather like believing in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. It might have made sense when you were a child, but as a rational adult surely it's obvious that the very idea is ridiculous? The wierd thing is, I've had lots of believers ask me variations of this question, and whenever they do there's always something nervous and insecure about their tone. It's as if they desperately want me to agree with them, but already know that I won't. They expect to be laughed at. The guy who asked Dawkins the question expected to be laughed at - it was written all over him. Why then do they keep asking the question?
It's a thorny question for the largely non-religious left. Whether we as individuals identify as Marxists, feminists, Greens or whatever, one thing that most of us share is a lack of religiosity. Most of the population in this country does not agree with us. What are we supposed to do about that? Tell the truth about how we feel, or just keep quiet and let others assume that we're believers just like them.
It's clear that fundamentalists are the enemy, but what about the "Jesus is my blankie" people? How are we supposed to relate to them? We don't understand them, and they don't understand us. How do we handle that?

Just musing, but if anyone else has any ideas I'd love to hear them.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Ding dong, the witch is dead!

Can I just take a minute to celebrate the Repugs getting their self-righteous asses kicked to the curb? Because seriously, it couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of guys...
I must say that this restores some of my faith in the intelligence of the American people. Not all, not even much, but some. Of course they say that nearly half of the public still believes that Saddam Hussien had something to do with 9/11, so clearly the few brain cells in our collective cranium must be feeling a bit lonely, but some is better than none, I suppose.
I know it's a bit petty of me, but I have to admit that the thing I'm finding funniest about all this is the way that all the talking heads are now babbling about the Republicans needing a "moderate" (by which they mean anyone to the left of Jesse Helms, I assume), when just a few months ago they were calling "I love the war, yes I do!" John McCain a raving hippy. What happened to your faith in the godlike Bushie administration, guys? And what about "values"? And to think that these people accuse Kerry of flip-flopping...
The other funny thing is that the nation at large seems to be celebrating. Both of the last two nights I've been out on the town and every single place I've been has been swamped with happy drunk people, far more so than is normally the case. Or maybe it's just the Bay Area? My working theory at this point is that they're assuming that the Dems in the House will fix the economy (say by, oh I don't know, maybe not spending billions funding the Halliburton retirement plan?). And if only that were true...still, the Dems can't possibly do any worse than the last lot did, so the only way to go is up!
Hmm, not sure that martinis and blogging are a good mix. I'll stop for now. More later! Sorry about another extended absence, I'm definately back on a more permanent basis this time.

And about the witch (as in wicked and of the West), that could be any one of a number of people, but my personal vote goes to Rick Santorum. The only scary thought is that now he might actually be forced to practise medicine again, and seriously, nobody wants that.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

I'm back, conflict between one's personal preferences and one's political commitments rears it's head again, and some follow-up on an earlier post.
(I REALLY need to think of snappier titles)
Hello again to all and sorry for the prolonged absence. I've been in a crappy mood (suffering from a severe case of the work-related blues). However, my mood is now much improved, not least because I'm going to see my favourite band tomorrow. I honestly thought that I would never get the chance to see these guys live, which sucks since they're a notoriously great live band, so to say that I'm happy about this would be an understatement (but then I am a Brit and understatement is one of the things we do best). This is the band that I didn't get to see back in March, as a result of which my friends had to listen to me whining for months. So, I'm a happy girl, right? Just one problem. This means I have to spend the whole day with a bunch of American metal dudes.
See what I mean about the conflict? This seems to be an ongoing issue with me, and I can't help but wonder how many other people are in the same position. See, I love a lot of really loud, obnoxious music. When this means punk it's not too much of a problem, as other than the ever-present danger of getting crushed in the mosh pit most punk crowds are actually quite politically savvy and female friendly, or at least smart enought to know that being openly misogynistic is not kosher. Metal crowds are another matter entirely. The show I'm going to tomorrow is headlined by Korn. Oh dear.
I hate most American metal fans. I'm sorry, but I do. I once nearly punched someone at a Metallica show in Biloxi because he thought that it was cute to grab my breasts from behind me and squeeze in the middle of the show. I was barely 15 at the time, he was probably mid-twenties. The only reason I didn't hit him was because it occured to me that there was a very good chance he might actually punch me back. Little, 5ft2, 15 year old me. Aren't metal guys great?
So, tomorrow I get to see what is in my opinion the best band in the world right now, but the payoff is that I have to spend the day with a bunch of guys so unevolved that one often wonders if many of them were repeatedly dropped on their heads as infants. I've already seen footage of the earlier part of this tour taken by one of the minor bands, and it's a metal crowd alright - big fat hairy dudes in ancient tour shirts, drunk frat boys galore, and slutty-looking girls flashing their boobs at the bands. See how aggravated this makes me? I am normally the last person to ever use a word like "slutty", but in this case how else do you put it? I have never understood why women feel the need to flash at concerts. I can honestly say that I have never felt the slightest urge to show my breasts to either the band I'm watching or the crowd of random drunk dudes around me. Why do people do this, exactly? To me, watching them do it, it looks like an obeiscence, as if rather than waiting to be put in their place they're actually doing it to themselves. Why would anyone do that?
Then there's the CD signing, meet and greet part. I'd love to get some of my stuff signed, particularly given how rarely these guys (the band is Dir En Grey, in case anyone wonders what the hell I'm talking about. I'll put links at the bottom of the post) are in the US. However, because of the ever-present groupie phenomenon at metal shows, the atmosphere at meet and greets tends to be a bit wierd for a woman, particularly an attractive woman. In this case it's even wierder than usual as this is a very pretty band, with a huge female following back in Japan, so take the usual wierdness and add the fact that most women there are going to instinctively respond to the guys in the band in a flirtatious way, not because they're groupies, but because these are guys who you'd be flirting with if they were serving you coffee or fixing your car. I'm not quite sure how the metal dudes who're there to see Korn etc are going to respond to that, but I'm willing to bet it will be nasty. I'm almost tempted to wear the unsexiest thing I can find just to minimise the wierdness, but the show's in Sacramento, outdoors, and it's August - it's going to be hot as hell. So, either I have to just live with the wierdness and go to the meet and greet anyway, or I have to miss out on what is after all a fairly significant part of the whole going-to-see-a-band experience just because metal people in general are sexist idiots. This is something that has always annoyed me about going to shows, and I know I'm not the only one. Any other women come up with a good way to deal with this? Because I usually just end up quietly seething. Good thing there's going to be some loud, aggressive music there to get all that frustration out of my system!
It's wierd how often I run into this. All the things I love in a cultural sense (music, fashion, sports etc) seem to bring me into direct contact with people whom, in a political sense, I disagree with on almost every level. My love for these things also puts me in conflict with my natural political allies - seriously, can you imagine what would be said if I proclaimed my adoration for some loud, aggressive, creepy video-making, formerly cross-dressing Japanese metal band over at IBTP? It would make the BSDM debacle seem like a friendly conversation between dear friends. And I get this feeling all the time.
I guess I'm just musing/venting because this really is an ongoing thing where I feel like I'm constantly torn between the things that I naturally gravitate towards and what my political allies seem to expect of me. I'm not torn on a personal level - as far as I'm concerned I just like what I like, I'm wired to be drawn towards dark, disturbing things (talk to me about horror movies some time), and that's just the way I am. The conflict is between what I'm "supposed" to enjoy versus what I actually enjoy. I'm just not an Indigo Girls listening, baggy hemp clothes wearing kind of person, you know? The stuff I'm "supposed" to like bores me to death. Anyone else running into the same phenomenon? How are you dealing with it?

Dir En Grey Links follow...
Pics of show in Denver, Family Values Tour with Korn, Deftones etc (these pics are DEG only)
First page is the singer only for some reason, rest of the band are on the other pages

Umbrella mp3

Hydra mp3
file password is hydra - just enter "hydra" in space prompted and hit Enter key

R to the Core mp3


Increase Blue

Akuro No Oka

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

OK, now on to the serious stuff...
Somehow I seem to have managed to get myself into a fight over at I Blame The Patriarchy. This does not make me happy, as I like and admire Twisty very much, and I generally agree with almost everything she has to say.
I think she's dead wrong about this, though. I am referring of course to the great feminist BSDM debate, which seems to flare up on a regular basis over there. I will freely admit that I have been guilty of starting conversations on this subject myself, but I'm beginning to really wish that I hadn't and that everyone would just shut up about it before we all rip each other's throats out.
Here's the thing - feminists have been arguing about this since the seventies. None of that arguing has ever produced anything even vaguely resembling a consensus. Both sides of the debate are quite firmly entrenched in their views, and neither side is likely to budge or change their opinions at this point. Despite the tendency on both sides to assume that the other side just doesn't know what they're talking about the fact is that most people who hold strong opinions on this subject hold them for a reason, and as such they are unlikely to be swayed by any arguments the other side has to offer. Why then are we still arguing about it?
For the record, I think that BSDM is like most other things - it has the potential to be either good or bad, and how it plays out in practise depends greatly on the ethics and motivations of the people involved. I've met some people who've had horrible experiences with BSDM, and others who have stepped in, had a great time and stepped out again when they got bored with no harm done. I have also met a smaller but stastically significant number of people for whom BSDM is simply part and parcel of who they are - they don't enjoy vanilla sex, and seem to simply be wired in such as way that they will always feel the need to play out power issues in the bedroom. I just don't see what purpose is served by telling these people that they are failing the feminist cause and not living up to their ideals every time they pick up a flogger or put on a corset. I also see no reason why those who are anti-BSDM continue to insist that all BSDM is male dom/female sub or that the only real female doms are the pros, who are not really doms since they are only doing what they do at the sufference of their male partners, who could withdraw that sufference at any time.
See, it's not that I don't understand the point that the anti's are trying to make. I just don't agree with them. It's kind of ironic that I'm even involved with this conversation, given that I've been out of the scene for over 10 years (I was one of the ones who had a good time while it lasted but eventually got bored with the ritualistic aspect of things, in case anyone is wondering).
I could go on about the many ways in which I think the anti side are misunderstanding what BSDM is really all about (I could start with the fact that not all female doms are pro's and/or paid for their time, a particularly annoying assumption since it essentially implies that all female doms are prostitutes, not a nice thing for one feminist to be implying to another). That would however clearly be a waste of my time, as the point has been made before without it doing anything to resolve the debate. As has just about every other point that could conveivably be made about this issue.
That's the purpose of this little rant, and what keeps prompting me to get involved in this conversation. As feminists we need to realise that we are a small movement with lots of enemies. Between the religious wack-jobs and the crazy money-grubbing Republicans and your basic garden variety sexists we have plenty of actual opponents to do battle with, real opponents who really do want to do us harm and reverse every gain that we've made in the past hundred years. Why the hell are we wasting our time fighting each other? Given the country's current rapid drift towards a Handmaiden's Tale-like nightmare with no legal abortion and a crappy economy and the dismantling of Social Security, can we really not find something more important to worry about than policing the way that other people fuck? When you stop to think about it it's actually kind of absurd - we're facing some of the greatest actual threats to the feminist project in years and we're busy arguing amongst ourselves about what is and is not an acceptable way for a feminist to get her rocks off. Simone De Beavoir must be rolling in her grave.
So please, people, rather than spending our time attacking each other over what are after all rather private matters can we not all just agree to disagree and get on with the actual business at hand, namely taking our country back from the dangerous lunatics who are currently attempting to drag us all back to the Stone Age?
This really sucks...
Just found out that one of my favourite bands (Dir En Grey), a band which never plays live in the US, is going to be at the SXSW festival in Austin on 3/17. The reason this sucks is that I can't go. Firstly because I don't have a festival pass and really object to paying $600 for a full pass when I only want to see one band, secondly because apparently every hotel within a 10 mile radius of downtown Austin is already fully booked (well, I suppose all those bands have to sleep somewhere), and thirdly because I didn't realise they were playing until now and thus did not book plane tickets. Have you ever tried to book plane tickets on short notice? It's hellaciously expensive. I did a quick calculation and figured out that I would have to spend over $1000 dollars just to get there, find a place to stay and arrange transportation to the appropriate venue and back. As much as I love Diru, that seems a bit ridiculous. There's also the fact that since I don't have a festival pass I would be at the bottom of the line to get into events, making it likely that I might not be able to get into the gig even if I showed up.
Damn, I'm bummed out about this. I suppose the only positive thing to take away is that Diru now have official US distribution, which is why they're at SXSW in the first place, so maybe this will lead to a real tour. Take notice, music biz people - Diru have literally thousands of fans in the US who quite happily shell out major cash for import CDs all the time. If anyone was smart enough to put a real tour together it would sell out no problem. The audience is here, but we can't all go to Japan just to see a gig - can't someone at that nice new US distribution level find a way to bring the mountain to us?

PS Anyone who is going to be at SXSW (lucky bastards) NEEDS to go see Dir En Grey. Seriously, if you like heavy rock/industrial music this is without a doubt the best band in the world right now. They wipe the floor with Ministry...they make Nine Inch Nails sound like the Backstreet Boys. This band is simply astonishing. Go see them. I only wish I could come with you...
Octavia Butler, RIP

I just heard the news that pioneering feminist African American science fiction author Octavia Butler died over the weekend. Apparently she fell and suffered a head injury. She died on Saturday.
Yet another talent lost far too soon. Butler was only 58 years old. She was hugely talented, and one of the most openly political of modern sf writers. She once stated that she started writing sci fi because she had been reading it for a while and had noticed that "apparently there are no black people in the future".
She will be very much missed.

Monday, January 23, 2006

More random musings about tastes, kinks and identity

Since my recent re-immersion in music began I've been thinking a lot about the question of how identity is contructed. Specifically, I've been thinking about how one's involvement in a particular subculture affects one's sense of identity.
I had a wierd conversation with a co-worker about my fondness for the Japanese visual kei scene. For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, "visual kei" is a catchall term for a bunch of bands most of whom are broadly at the heavier end of the rock/punk/industrial spectrum (though there seem to be more and more annoyingly poppy ones recently) and who also tend to place a very heavy emphasis on their visual style. There are a lot of goth influences,frequent hints of BSDM, an abundance of eyeliner, very tight leather pants, and frequent cross-dressing. One of the biggest stars of the scene has literally never been seen in public not dressed as a woman as far as I can tell (and he makes a rather pretty girl in an ice-queen kind of way), which is a bit disconcerting given his deep and noticeably masculine voice. There's also a great deal of homoerotic imagery, though most of the musicians say that they're straight.
I have always had a deep affection for the visual kei scene. There are a few bands who I don't like at all, and some whom I adore, but my fascination for the scene in general has remained constant for many years. The strange thing for me about the conversation I had with the co-worker was the fact that she kept using the word "exotic" to describe the scene, and my interest in it. The reason this struck me as odd was that the scene is so appealing to me not because it's exotic, but because it feels utterly familiar. I grew up in the goth and punk scenes in the UK, and my entire adolescence was spent hanging out with pretty, androgynous boys in eyeliner. Nothing could be more familiar to me. I've always felt most at home with the people who the mainstream regards as kind of freaky - skinny punk boys with tattoos and piercings are extremely sexy to me, and the classic All American Boy may as well not exist from a sexual point of view as far as I'm concerned. That's the wierd thing about the visual kei scene - it doesn't feel strange, foreign or "exotic" to me, it feels like home.
This got me thinking about the way in which we all contruct our identities. I think that those of us who feel strongly drawn to a particular subculture identitfy much more strongly with those who share that affiliation than with others whom we may superficially appear to have more in common with. It's a particularly thorny issue for those of us who also have strong political affiliations. In a conflict between feminists and BSMD people, which side am I on? Do I have to pick a side?
I've also been thinking about how much, for me at least, sexual orientation plays a part in the subcultures that I'm drawn to. I'm leaning towards saying that BSDM, or kinky in a more general sense, should actually be regarded as a separate sexual orientation just like being straight, gay or bi is. If I'm honest with myself, I have to admit that nearly every subculture I've ever become involved with, I was initially drawn into by an encounter with a person who I was attracted to. In the case of the visual kei scene, it was a Japanese girl who I used to know in London and whom I most definately had the hots for. She introduced me to her friends, all of whom were art school/visual kei kids, and thus an obsession was born...
I've also been thinking about how easy it is for people who do have a particular kink, for lack of a better word, to identify each other. I've always been able to spot another person with a strong sense of kink at 1000 paces, and subs are even easier for me to identify. I'm just not quite sure why. Is there some sort of gaydar equivalent for kinky people? What would we call such a thing? Any suggestions?
I'm curious to hear if any of the other strongly subculture-identified people on here have experienced the same thing as far as being able to spot other members of one's own in-group. Thomas? Arwen?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Cool new technology for music fans, and my recent absence.

So I've been neglecting my blog again. My bad. The reason for my recent spate of benign neglect is that I've been going through one of my periodic phases of not being interested in anything except music. This happens on a fairly regular basis, and it's one of the reasons why I make a lousy activist. The reality is, I eat, sleep, and breathe music. When I'm writing fiction I always have a song or an album in my head that goes along with the mood of what I'm writing. I'm a music junkie, in that I actually use music as a mood-altering substance the same way other people use booze or dope. I like to think that my way is healthier, for my body if not for my bank account.
(Right now I'm listening to The Charlatans - The Only One I Know, by the way. It's good upbeat blogging music. See what I mean?)
Given my music addiction I was very interested to hear about a new online application called Pandora that claims to be able to analyse music by its components, which it refers to as "DNA", and use that information to make recommendations. This is an intriguing idea. Most people give up listening to a lot of music once they leave college, and according to the people behind Pandora the most frequent reason given is that they can't find any new music to listen to once they aren't immersed in a culture where other people are giving them suggestions any more. This has not been an issue for me, as I go out of my way to seek out new music all the time, but it would seem to offer a potential cure for the music blah's for the general listener. I was interested to see how well the engine works and if it would make suggestions that would actually work for me, so I checked it out.
The way it works is that you enter the name of an artist, album or song and it creates a "radio station" that plays music that shares the "DNA" of the artist or song you chose - in other words it searches for music with strong structural similarities. It also tells you what the "DNA signatures" of the artist/song you entered are.
(Now we're on to Ministry - Stigmata. MUCH faster, kind of industrial meets speed metal, but with a catchy, hooky chorus.)
I cannot praise this tool highly enough. Even for a music geek like me it brought up stuff that I liked and would probably never have found otherwise, so I can only imagine how much of a revelation it might be for those who don't do as much active exploration as I do.
(Now I'm listening to Dir En Grey - Increase Blue. Metal, more or less, with yet another catchy chorus - I seem to be particularly fond of bands who can take heavy stuff and make it catchy. Also worth noting the rather kinky lyrical edge to both of the last 2.)
I entered a bunch of different stuff into Pandora, and apparently there are some distinct patterns to the music I like. This is particularly interesting in light of the fact that I deliberately entered a number of artists who would not typically be considered as belonging to the same genre or musical movement. There may well be something to this DNA idea.
(Now I'm listening to The Manic Street Preachers - From Despair to Where. Much less heavy and more melodic, with complex harmonies and gloomy but darkly ironic lyrics, and strings in the background. Weird but it works.)
Apparently I really like mild syncopation, complex vocal harmonies, a mix of electric and acoustic elements, prominent guitars, and complex instrumentation.
(Now listening to Kaggra - Yousai. This one is much less "rock" and much wierder than the last few songs but, now that I think about it, it does indeed have syncopated beats, complex harmonies and instrumentation - this song must be a bitch to play live - and a mixture of electric and acoustic elements.)
I feel like a kid with a new toy. If you're at all interested in music this is way too much fun not to share. Check it out - I'm curious to see how well it does at predicting what other people will like.
Finally, a modern American female celebrity who I don't want to smack in the head with a chair...
I'm talking about Felicity Huffman. If any of you get the chance to catch her 60 Minutes interview I highly recommend it. The interviewer/ patriatrchy-worshipping bimbo asks her if her 2 kids are the most important thing in her life, and she says "No! And I resent the question".
I wanted to kiss her. She goes on to explain exactly why that's such an offensive question, starting with the fact that anyone who says no is assumed to be a bad mother and a bad person in general. TV bimbo also asked her how she could have possibly empathised with the character she plays in "Transamerica"'s sense of not being at home in her own skin and deep emotional angst, and she said "Doesn't everyone?".
It's wierd how rare it is to see anyone being honest on American TV. We're all so used to hearing the officially mandated bland platitudes that it's quite startling to see someone saying anything real, or answering a question like a normal human being. How depressing.