Paris in Pixels: A Retrospective

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‘Paris in the fall. The last months of the year, and the end of the millennium. The city holds many memories for me –– of cafes, of music, of love… and death.’


The opening scrawl of Broken Sword: The Shadow Of The Templars (1996) sets a rather curious precedence. A delicate depiction of France that whilst forbidding, lack the theatrics expected of a video game. But it is precisely its non-conformity –– the middle ground between a written text –– that characterises the charming and unique adventure that follows. A rich blend of intricate narrative, memorable figures, gorgeous visuals and quite literally genre-defining gameplay: Shadow of the Templars birthed a franchise that earns a special place in my heart.


Of course, the multiplicity of said franchise is rather expansive. Broken Sword emanates from British developer Revolution Games –– and co-founder Charles Cecil –– who enjoyed some acclaim with Beneath a Steel Sky in 1994. The games, typically, focused on historical conspiracies within a 2D ‘Point-and-Click’ format and remain, to this day, Europe’s biggest selling adventure series. Spawning four sequels, Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror (1997), The Sleeping Dragon (2003), The Angel of Death (2005) and The Serpent’s Curse (2014) –– with its third and fourth instalments briefly embracing a 3D engine –– the franchise is typically lauded alongside the popular LucasArts SCUMM titles.

But coinciding with the release of Duke Nukem 3D and Core Design‘s original Tomb Raider, Broken Sword began life amidst very different approaches to this medium. Its emphasis on hand drawn set-pieces, slow gameplay and dry humour make it not only incongruous within the video game trajectory at the time but even more so today. The relative subsidence of  Point-and-Click adventures seems to cement this. Posing the question: what is its appeal and longevity?


Broken Sword, as a series, is something incredibly special. It’s much more than one or three award-winning titles and more than a product of its time. It’s also more than a mere robust point-and-click game. (Thought it is commendable) There is a far richer quality that surrounds its role as visual, jovial entertainment. This article is not a love letter to its first game nor the nostalgia it inspires today; but rather a look at the various threads the franchise has spun over the last twenty or so years. In short, Broken Sword has a certain approach: a humour, an intellect; an idiosyncratic choice of location, design and pacing that deserves attention, if not praise, that it often fails to attract.

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Paris in Fall: Inventory screenshot from opening scene in Shadow of the Templars (1996)


In this grossest of generalisations, Broken Sword follows the escapades of American lawyer George Stobbart and French journalist, love interest and all round purveyor of sass, Nico Collard. The two cross paths in a number of fated incidents that bind them forever. In the Shadow of the Templars, a near-death experience finds them on the trail of the Knights Templar; a fundamentalist cult that sees the pair travel from Parisian catacombs to Syrian markets. The sequel bares a similar scale: with the pair caught in a Peruvian conspiracy for Aztec treasure and traverse the world as a result. Later iterations rekindle these undertones, exploring everything from dragons to Gnostic spiritualism.  Without descending into plot details, the emphasis on exotic, hollywood locations with hidden doorways and temples-of-doom are a cornerstone of this franchise. Protecting the world from well-hidden weapons and cults features heavily, too. But all the same, these moments are always juxtaposed with everyday locations: cafes, hotels and construction sites. There is a humility that surrounds its more spectacular segments. It is, in essence, the series’ charm: how its protagonists become ‘accidental heroes’.


Unlocking the extraordinary within the ordinary is the crux here. It ties together both its narrative and visual components. Its gameplay follows the traditional ‘Point-and-Click’ format of using inventory items to solve problems; with a leaning towards an every day sensibility. Whether it be the pencil through a keyhole or similar pocket-lint trickery, there is something very honest, if not Macgyver-esque about it all. Dialogue shapes this further, with NPCs often alluding to solutions and ways to move the  game forward. At time this can be more omniscient: how can I distract a police officer? Before descending into something far sillier. The officer clearly needs the toilet; perhaps the nearby fountains will get him to move? Such humour is always appropriately placed and never at the expense of story. Where the Monkey Island titles obviously strived for a more fantastical, outlandish tone, the Broken Sword games remain more reserved. They balance humour like any great text, to mediate the darker moments, without becoming farcical. It is, above else, an undeniably British approach.

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Broken Sword III: The Sleeping Dragon (2003) –– George and Nico become intwined with Arthurian legend in the franchises’ flawed but generally excellent foray into 3D gameplay.


In fact, the stories deserves greater attention. The mix of historical fiction, conspiracy and aforementioned normality is distilled rather well. The Neo-Knights Templar are reminiscent of an illuminati, freemason type group, but never feel too ridiculous for the subtext. As a historian, I find much of it rather digestible. That’s not to say fault-lines around the globe are harnessing the power of dragons; a power that will be exacerbated by a cult for world domination, but the build up is rather solid. The first title gives a wonderful, timeless insight into the execution of the Knight Templar by order of the Crown in 1314. The secrecy of their organisation is fitting and allows the player to journey across beautiful European and Asian locations as a result. By the third title, this pseudo-history is all the more acceptable. Revolution consistently embed their stories in a history that explores what is factually unproven but entirely possible all the same. In The Sleeping Dragon, which follows an Arthurian legend to Glastonbury, Revolution boast their British charm even further. It’s hard to imagine many developers venturing beyond Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament in their internationally touted image of Britain. But here we see conversations about the BBC, the ‘rowdy’ music festival and the folklore that swaps the Somerset town. It all goes to serve the character of this franchise. Something that is exotic and exhilarating whilst retaining a personal, familiar feeling.

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Manuscript in Shadow of the Templars offers exposition through ‘Point-and-Click’ format


Its approach to the past is important on a cultural scale, too. Broken Sword is not an Indiana Jones nor Tomb Raider adventure. The mysteries of old are not used as playground for idle action. The game entails signifiant dialogue –– excellently written dialogue at that –– which makes the overall experience somewhere between an interactive story and a narrative heavy adventure. The flagrant lack of guns and violence is most pertinent. This is not part of a child-friendly age rating, although I do not doubt that factors, but rather a gun-ho adventure simply wouldn’t work with the tone and direction. Henchman and antagonists often wield handguns, offering immediate death for George and Nico in gameplay. But there is little impetus for either party to stoop to their level. In situations where Lara Croft would simply shoot her way out; George and Nico use stealth, common sense and whatever objects surround them to avoid capture. Firearms represent an end-game for the pair, making such encounters deeply refreshing.


Arguably, this could be a reflection of its regional heritage. Without wanting to over intellectualise the point, note that British culture is less facilitating towards firearms and therefore less fitting with the ‘everyday life’ that frames these games. For George to take a shotgun to a cafe would simply not make sense. As a result, Broken Sword has a more tangible violence. We knock out henchmen and avoid gunshots, but we do not reciprocate their means. Primarily, because it wouldn’t be logical: these characters are not violent people. But more notably, it would lower the tension and momentum that the titles build. We need to fear for these haphazard heroes and align with their cause. Otherwise, the mountains of dialogue would become laborious.

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Opening cinematic from Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror (1997)


In other words, the dialogue that builds the character effectively compliments the gameplay. Indeed the strength of these titles can be credited to its well rounded cast and execution of such. George and Nico are defined figures who drive the qualities of the game. Stobbart is a stubborn, cocky protagonist but one deeply relatable. He is flawed, funny and his wise-cracks are not as sharp as he hopes. With Collard, we see a maturer flare, whose constant put downs make for a wonderful dynamic between the two. In later titles, the player bounces between these two characters, but what is important is that they remain recognisable throughout. They may not be immortalised in popular culture as previously noted tomb-raiders, but their depth outshines them all. It is also curious to note the criticism that the rather forgettable fourth instalment received for focusing on a new female counterpart. But all that said, the continuity between titles is well conceived. Gangster ‘Flap’, Museum curator André Lobineau and Police Sergeant Moue all make regular appearances in different titles. The games also have a penchant for easter eggs and internal jokes; poking fun at throwaway moments in early titles. More forgettable NPCs, from neighbours to the tourists George meets in Syria –– appropriately enjoying another vacation in its tropical sequel –– are scattered throughout the subsequent releases. Even the ghastly Goat puzzle in the first game makes for self-referential point about George’s irrational fear of the animal, nearly twenty years later. New characters are typically warm and interesting, but this continuity makes for a better experience. It threads the titles together whilst building a canonical universe of its own. Fan service or otherwise; this all contributes to the rich and unique Broken Sword world.

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‘The Goat Puzzle’


As for the relevance of this world today? A number of points seem pertinent. Primarily, the first two games saw resurgence a few years ago thanks to an App Store remaster. Smartphones make ‘Point-and-Click’ games rather more ‘touch and click’, but such a launch gave a new generation an opportunity to play these titles. It did so to great avail, although I personally did not care for the ‘Director’s Cut’ additions. (Revolution decided to pull a George Lucas and add new chapters to their remaster) Regardless, the sentiment was well received. More recently, and all the more excitingly, the fifth title to the franchise has seen a unanimous return to form. Released from a crowd-funded campaign, Revolution were free to make both the title they and the fans wanted. The overall result was a two-part title –– a pragmatic result of its unique production –– but a ‘sword’ game that saw the beautiful hand-drawn aesthetics, effortless humour and familiar faces embark on a new era. Boasting 1080p renders and more meticulous animation, this return to 2D ‘Point-and-Click’ proves an unyielding quality to these games. The Serpent’s Curse is the most enjoyable instalment for many years. It’s also available across all next-gen consoles and formats, making a remarkable revival for a supposedly dying genre.


There is also some underlying poignance to this newer release. The title of this article nods to the curious artistic design of Broken Sword. The games were always torn between gorgeous hand drawings and the choppy, pixelated technology of the mid-late nineties. But it’s seemingly come full circle. It once commanded the middle-ground between text and gaming; now does so with unashamed confidence. It is no longer held back by trying to fit in with its rivals. Broken Sword has both a style and substance of its own: the product of two decades of engineering.

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Deja vu: A familiar scene in Broken Sword V: The Serpent’s Curse (2013-14)


Above all else, the Broken Sword games are defined on their own terms. They have heart, wit and a truly personal approach to story telling. It has memorable character and remains the most British series I’ve played whilst forgoing a British protagonist. It also represents an effort to keep strong, to strive further for the perfect adventure game even in a world which fell for its pistol-wielding adversaries. When citing influential titles of 1996, few would look upon Broken Sword in the Call of Duty world. But is precisely that legacy that inspired this piece. For those who invested into this franchise, who stood by its curious middle-period and wanted more than mere remasters have found themselves rewarded beyond all doubt.

The Broken Sword games represent an integral part of my childhood; a growing desire to pursue history academically and an affection towards narrative-heavy gaming. But they also offer something far more profound. They are empirical proof that the flashiest, most expensive or trendy titles do not always attain longevity. That the more adventurous stories, the riskiest and more curious can be the most inspiring. That titles can hold intrigue well beyond exploring what passed as digital entertainment twenty years ago. It has been a precarious journey for this franchise, but its resolve and triumph is unquestionable. And I cannot wait to see where it goes next.


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Band of Skulls – By Default (Album Review)

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Southampton-trio Band of Skulls remain almost permanently on the cusp of success. Widely established amongst certain circles; yet under-appreciated and overlooked all the same. Their latest offering — and fourth full-length effort — seeks to rectify this. By Default hopes to cement the band as heavyweights by championing their most accessible songwriting to date. It sees their textbook formula of bombastic, arena-worthy percussion with Loveless-inspired riffs move into something much groovier: a darker, disco-inspired realm. At best, it prides their most confident, contagious material yet. But at worse, it represents a band still torn between moving forward and cherishing the past. A fitting predicament, perhaps, for a band flirting on the outskirts of recognition.

Opening with the throbbing ‘Black Magic’, By Default reminds us precisely why Band of Skulls have quietly crept up the ranks. A tout rhythm section with a dazzling hook: it makes for a ferocious opener. It’s not far removed from lead single ‘Killer’, which echoes the recognisable blend of grunge guitar and pop melodies that have come to define the band. These tracks feel more of a hangover from 2014’s Himalayan than anything particular fresh, but such songs feel welcome; a return to proverbial ‘form’ rather than ‘playing it safe’.

Nevertheless, By Default shines when it affords to take risks. Where it applies new groovier elements to that traditional ‘Skulls’ format. The disco-infused ‘So Good’ and ‘Bodies’ are clear highlights and offer a more seductive, percussive quality. This becomes all the more finessed with ‘This Is My Fix’, which sees such groove breath as the lead guitar favours intricacy over its typical (yet wonderful) abrasiveness. This all amalgamates rather tastefully in ‘Embers’, which may may well be the perfect distillation of old and new.

By Default’s unavoidable shortcoming, however, is the extent these songs fit together. Skulls have produced an eclectic collection of songs that are far from thematically linked. One half wants to smash up a room whilst the other wants to make sweet love to everything inside of it. Its mix of angst and groove lends itself to a compelling listen and arguably shapes their core sound — but it sometimes comes across a little overcooked. The continuity (or lack thereof) is more pertinent in its second-half; where it seems torn between embracing this new sound.  So much so, that ‘Little Momma’ feels like a nod to their rawer debut record; breaking the continuity of an album taking shape and momentum.

Above else, By Default is rather a collection of great songs than a concept or well crafted record. A collection, all the same, that represents some of their finest, most daring material to date. Whilst I wanted it to be the record that bolstered Band of Skulls into the the giants they deserve to be, it lacks the focus a they still desperately require. But as a concoction of their darker, sexier sensibilities — with the bite one comes to expect — when it shines, it does so blindingly. And I can’t wait to see where it takes them next.

Key Tracks: Embers, So Good, Bodies

Attack of the Clones: A Retrospective

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Edited article published for The Boar in January 2016. Available here: https://theboar.org/2016/01/revisiting-star-wars-episode-ii-attack-of-the-clones/


Attack of the Clones (2002) was the first Star Wars picture I saw at the cinema. Despite being largely considered ‘Worse than The Phantom Menace’, there is no doubt it had a profound effect on my love for film, the franchise and in shaping the person I am today. I recall, at seven years of age, lightsaber in hand; queuing up for the next chapter of something I was already deeply emotionally invested in.

But re-watching it in lieu of The Force Awakens (2015) is like realising your childhood heroes are flawed individuals. Attack of the Clones misses every opportunity to be interesting. Plagued with poor writing, unimaginative direction and truly disappointing acting; it is unsurprisingly relegated to bottom of the pile. Albeit heavy-handed character arcs or tedious political sequences, it sacrifices all humanity and heart — traits that I feel define the best of the Star Wars universe. Its overindulgence in CGI is equally problematic and dates the film greater than its spritely thirteen years would have you believe.

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In fact, reflecting on what the film does well proves exceedingly difficult. It has a remarkable ability to feel like a lot transpires — new characters and set-pieces that have nothing to do with a desire to flog merchandise — yet it offers no real movement in terms of plot or character.  The film loosely accounts for the start of the Clone Wars, building upon Palpatine’s transition to Emperor; Anakin’s love interest and his flaky relationship with the Jedi Order. But for the most part, Attack of the Clones drags. If looking at the archetypal trilogy, the second part is typically the darkest chapter. It puts the established characters into new circumstances and allows for the final film to ascertain the resolution. But Clones sits far removed from the eloquence of Empire Strikes Back. (1980) In fact, it’s a far messier film than I remembered.

Admittedly, the politics of Clones didn’t resonate with me as a child. Yet they are the most immediately odd thing about this film upon re-watching it. They dictate an overwhelming amount time for little to no reason. Did we really need three films of Galactic Senate meetings to convey the rise of Evil? Obviously the Sith play both sides — Dooku coercing the Separatists and Palatine pushing the Senate into Civil War. But the anxiety and impact of such a move is non-existent. It’s lost on children and it’s not enough for adults. It’s hard to feel any concern for the likes of Bail Organa or Viceroy Gunray when they feel like expendable characters. Nor is one compelled by the political repercussions, either, when they’re drawn out by such tiresome parliamentary episodes. Where they offer the guise of rationale and relief in-between action sequences, they feel vague and tedious. It’s hard not to switch off. Even the film’s final line even embodies this: ‘Begun the Clone War has’ sounds more foreboding than it really is; as one finds themselves head-scratching as to what has really occurred for the last two hours and how it holds any credence towards the original films.

Worse still, the moments of genuine intrigue are wasted. The conspiracy regarding a Clone Army, commissioned by a deceased Jedi Master, has great potential. The burnt paper-trail in the Jedi Archives has a whiff of Film Noir, yet it is completely extinguished within the context of the film. There is no investigation into why a Jedi commissioned such an army, nor the implication of a Sith plot in its place. Remarkably, no-one in the Council finds it odd to use an Army that no-one [explicitly] asked for. For all their self-proclaimed wisdom, the Jedi Council are remarkably thoughtless in this film. Windu remarks in an opening sequence: ‘We’re keepers of the peace… not soldiers’. Yet the film literally ends with the Jedi roped into a war that need not even happen, with themselves happily fronting legions of troops. No doubt this is part of Palatine’s great scheme –– but it comes across as frustrating in practice. Amalgamating a film later, to our beloved Obi-Wan parading around with soldiers and a military title: ‘General Kenobi, you are a bold one!’

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This inherent lack of continuity or defined characterisation overshadows Clones. Lucas makes it hard to sympathise with anyone, Jedi or otherwise. Hell, it’s hard to care about anything in this film. Jar Jar Binks declares Emergency Powers to the Chancellor, instigating a Galactic Civil War [!] — whilst the most powerful Jedi in history, the so-called ‘Chosen One’, enjoys a picnic on Naboo. With fire-place passion to boot; Lucas simultaneously achieves one of the most laborious romances in filmic history alongside the most tedious of plots. The original trilogy triumphed because of relatable characters in a distantly un-relatable universe. Laurence Kasdan crafted perfect on-screen chemistry with Han and Leia in Empire: a human romance that blossomed in the darkest of times. In Clones, we see parallels, a vague attempt to find love in a hopeless place — but the jump from the pre-pubescent: ‘Are you an angel?’ in The Phantom Menace to ‘I’m haunted by that kiss you should never have given to me’ is almost vomit-inducing. It’s simply not believable. It’s uncomfortable to watch. Albeit it the age gap or the fact that people, even in a Galaxy Far Away, do not speak like this; the script does little to convince audiences about this newfound love.

Anakin’s seduction to the Dark Side is equally fallible to this half-baked writing style. The sequence where he massacres Tusken Raiders represents another missed opportunity. It reveals his aggressive and possessive instincts — a penchant for the Dark Side in lieu of his late mother — but the character developed up until this point is so unbearable, that the scene caries no weight. It is for this reason that Anakin’s ‘dark’ moments, just as his romance with Padmé, feel like an after-thought. It is as if the pressure of turning him into Vader hangs awkwardly over Clones; forcing abrasive dialogue and clunky character development.

All that said, there are some commendable efforts within the film. Credit should be bestowed upon Ewan McGregor; there is little doubt that his role within the prequels stands above the rest, something that became increasingly apparent upon re-watching these films. He bought his all, it’s just a shame no-one else did. Temuera Morrison (Jango Fett) also shines amidst a sea of mediocrity, which is commendable given the material handed to him, although he never feels fully fleshed-out. Christopher Lee provides a curious role as master-swordsman Count Dooku — a character whose potential seems incredibly missed. It seems whilst actors can rise above the weakest script; Lucas et al fail to develop them beyond their action-figure value. In fact, this continues an idiosyncratic trend within the Star Wars saga — one of squandered, potentially brilliant, on-screen villains. (See also: Darth Maul, Jango Fett, General Grievous)

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Above all else, re-watching Attack of the Clones, is a conflicted experience. For all its whimsical action, it has not aged well. The combat is excessive and CGI in place of thoughtful spectacle feels shallow in retrospect. Nothing comes close to that opening shot of A New Hope (1977) and the whole film is tinged in a strange digital processing, with every shot leaning upon once state-of-the-art technology to construe meaning.  Its visual style is jarring; jumping between mind-numbingly fast edits and poorly constructed backdrops. (See: Kamino and Arena Sequences) Equally, if viewing it as sophisticated political drama, it feels ill-conceived.  The plot is malnourished, dragging its feet for the two hour running time. It’s hard to care for characters and their meandering problems, nor process a clumsy Gungan quite literally changing the fate of the Galaxy forever.  As for its performative value? Bar a few commendable efforts, it’s not an easy watch. Hayden Christensen’s insufferable moaning is both coarse and irritating — and now remains in Star Wars canon as the precursor to one of Cinema’s greatest villains.

Ultimately, if one takes nostalgia out of the equation, Attack of the Clones deserves a thousand years in the digestive transit of the Great Sarlacc. It is a misguided and heavily confused picture. But by the same token, I do find it hard to scoff at a movie that for better of for worse, shaped my relationship with science fiction. My cynical, adult self will never forget that unobtainable sense of escapism I enjoyed as a child. It is for that reason, and that reason alone, I might just dig out my lightsaber for an IMAX Anniversary Cut. Just don’t expect me to enjoy any Special Edition-style adjustments.

After all, George, we already hate sand.

Spectre Review — [TL;DR, Minor Spoilers]

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Sam Mendes’ second-helping to the Bond franchise has been long awaited. His last effort, Skyfall (2012) bolstered the franchise back onto the path that Casino Royale (2006) so brilliantly laid out. It balanced homage to the ‘classics’ whilst remaining fresh and relevant — a perfect tribute to a fifty year old franchise.

But its successor is little short of a disappointment. Daniel Craig — whom is appearing increasingly jaded with his role — performs in one of the most lacklustre Bond films in years. Spectre intensifies the action, the scale and the tempo; at the cost of meaningful story. To some extent, it undoes all of the interesting development his films have made — relegating Bond back to an era of exhausting stereotype.

Of course, many will ask — what do you expect from a Bond film? As a whimsical action film, Spectre is marvellous. The production value is high and Bond has never looked this good. But for those hoping for something sharper will find that beneath the spectacle lies a clunky script and a regurgitated plot. It’s not an inherently bad film, but the faults are so easily avoided, it makes for a frustrating watch. What follows is a long-form piece breaking down my thoughts regarding Spectre — with a minor spoiler alert for those pedantic about such things. (Not that anything in this film will surprise you…)


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2000 Trees Festival 2015 (Review)


Written for The Boar’s website: theboar.org/2015/08/03/festival-review-2000-trees-9th-11th-july/

All photos are my intellectual property. Please ask permission before using.


The self-proclaimed home of ‘New & Underground Bands’ is something of a rare card in the UK festival scene. Situated amidst the Gloucestershire countryside, 2000 Trees boasts a handful of live acts over three days — all for around ninety quid a ticket. Given this price tag and its modest five-thousand head capacity; Trees offers a viable alternative to the ‘mainstream’ festival experience. But whatever it lacks for in size and prestige, it makes up for in atmosphere and organisation. 2000 Trees does something different — offering an intimate weekend when festivals only seem to be expanding — but it does so remarkably well.

  Of course, articulating the magic of a music festival is much like reviewing a holiday: there are simply too many variables affecting ones experience. Admittedly, everyone will have had a different time and music, by its very nature, is divisive. To criticise a set because of an unappealing artist would be poor journalistic form. Likewise, capturing the spontaneity of the festival — such as its bizarre fancy dress contest (with a theme of ‘literal interpretations of band names’) — is almost impossible to put into words. But there are a number of things that are unanimously brilliant about 2000 Trees. Largely, it forgoes many of the pitfalls that bigger festivals suffer from. Smaller stages means closer camp-sites, less walking and generally a more relaxed weekend. Travelling between bands takes an average of five minutes — a far-cry from Glastonbury’s colossal arena — and I myself pitched mere seconds from a stage. (The Cave). There is also no arena system, which means you can drink your own booze, and the patronising airport-grade security of larger festivals is thankfully abandoned. I won’t pretend that the toilets were ideal, but there is a lot going for this smaller set-up. Its Big Lebowski themed bar is relatively cheap: offering a wealth of locally sourced beers alongside the Dude’s favourite beverage,The White Russian. And its clientele is equally as refreshing, with everyone from the UKHC scene to small families considered welcome. It is, by and large, the friendliest festival crowd I have ever experienced. Where strangers merge campsites and sing together. Where the GCSE-celebrates urinating on your tent are replaced by punk enthusiasts debating the greatest Ruben LP. Everyone is seemingly bound by a mutual love for music, but without the rowdiness that plagues so many other festivals.

The line-up is also fairly unique. Headlined by pop-rockers Deaf Havana and Alkaline Trio; 2000 Trees prides itself on a range of punk, hardcore and fan-favourites. Each year it asks festival goers who they would like to see play and they endeavour to satisfy that demand. It would be short-sighted to say there is something for everyone — this is not a typical pop festival — but it knows its demographic well. Contrarily, it simultaneously manages to appeal to those who dislike festivals — the queuing, the bad food and the nasty festival clichés are nowhere to be seen. But the heart of Trees is found away from the main stages; in the accidental discoveries, the new bands and the Tree-clad stage known as the Forest Sessions. It’s also the secret gigs and the the camp site bandstands that set Trees apart from the rest. With that said, personal highlights included Thursday-night headliners, The Subways, celebrating the 10th anniversary of their seminal Young For Eternity. If one should begin how intending to go on on — then their set certainly set the benchmark. Post-rockers Arcane Roots and And So I Watch You From Afar also blew the proverbial roof off their respective stages, showcasing Trees’ diversity towards the heavier side of things. Scottish anthemic rock was also well received, with The Xcerts and Idlewild providing the perfect beer-clutching soundtrack for a main stage crowd.IMG_4109

On reflection, 2000 Trees attains a wonderful blend of music and people. The silent-disco(s) that follow the headline acts encapsulates this and is something of a microcosm of the festival itself. There are various channels, from indie sing-alongs to hardcore breakdowns. It knows its audience and, much like the approach to the main line-up, it satisfies the demand it creates. It doesn’t take itself too seriously either — something that is evident across the whole site during the weekend. It’s pure, undulated fun. Which is immeasurably contagious.

Above all else, it is the spirit at 2000 Trees that makes it so appealing. When a power-cut hit Alkaline Trio’s [rain-soaked] headline set, there was not anger directed at the band or organisers. If anything, there was genuine sympathy. A general sentiment of ‘Oh, I hope this doesn’t give Trees bad press!’, was reiterated around me. Bassist Dan Andriano attempted to serenade the front row with an acoustic guitar: clearly grateful for their patience. There is a real sense of solidarity between the artist and the audience and less of the us/them dichotomy that larger, staler, festivals seem to inspire. Bands can be found at the bar and watching other artists. They seem to enjoy the festival as much as the audience, taking photos with fans and often staying for the majority of weekend. There is something wonderfully endearing about a frontman telling the crowd that he has blown off work to play the festival. [Tellison, Friday Afternoon]. Frankly, 2000 Trees isn’t about the paycheque or the BBC coverage… because there isn’t any. It’s about something that existed before festivals became the musical equivalent of a Ibiza holiday and an excuse to plug your latest record. It’s something more organic, more meaningful. It’s live music in its purest form.

At a time when festivals become increasingly more commercial, expensive and less about the music — 2000 Trees brings everything back into perspective. Good people and great artists is all you really need. Of course, you’re not going to see Arctic Monkeys or Muse, but for the money you get something far more memorable. A site small enough to walk between acts. A crowd friendly enough to bond strangers. A festival that is so well organised that the stage times are staggered to minimise clashes. 2000 Trees encapsulates everything I love about live music. It even revitalises my faith in people. It’s a music festival… in the most platonic sense of the term. A celebration of music — and those who love music. And it’s quite easily the best weekend of the year.

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Ollie Ship [@OllieShip]

Muse – Drones (Album Review)


Read the published article for The Boar here: http://theboar.org/2015/06/05/album-review-muse-drones/#.VXG6f6SCOnN, or continue below for the full, un-edited write up.


It was only a matter of time before the Devon stadium-rock trio released a concept album. Inspired by the rise of military technology and ‘remote killings’: Drones bolsters Muse, proudly, into more contentious territory. 

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Preluded by a handful of singles [‘Psycho’, ‘Dead Inside’, ‘Mercy’] and a number of festival appearances — it’s safe to say Muse are confident about their latest offering. So much so that frontman Matt Bellamy proclaims it to be their greatest album yet. But Drones is a strangely problematic record. Sonically, it is exciting. It sees a return to the heavy guitar prowess that feels long overdue from the band. Yet it is also lacks direction. It follows the unfocused trajectory of their ‘Queen-meets-Skrillex’ haphazard The Second Law [2012]. Likewise, its attempts to tackle politics — which tends to make or break bands of this size — feels superficial, and undermines any positive attributes of the record.

Nevertheless, upon first listen, Drones appears promising. ‘Psycho’ blasts a furious lead hook — [which, curiously, is a jam the band have trialled-and-tested on stage for a number of years] — the musicianship is impeccable. ‘The Handler’ evokes a similar guitar centricity that satisfies an overdue void in Muse records; building to a finale that is not far removed from their seminal LP Absolution [2003]. With dark riffs and snarling bass, it’s certainly one of the strongest moments of the record. ‘Reapers’, similarly, features familiar undertones: finger-tapped guitar solos a la ‘New Born’ but with a more refined production. This blend of the ‘old’ and ‘new’ is comforting. It is how one expects Muse to sound in 2015. 

However, looking past the immediate ‘rock’ aesthetic lies a harsh reality. Given that Muse are still [*arguably*] one of the best live acts on the planet  — churning out this sort of instrumental clamour is relatively easy for them. Furthermore, it is clear that ‘sort of sounding like your old stuff’ is not valid praise for your latest release. Drones, as a record in its own right, is badly structured and heavy-handed in its attempts to create meaning.  Nostalgia nor prestige should excuse that.

In fact, the vast majority of Drones is let down by either poor vocals or sloppy lyricism. The single ‘Dead Inside’, a radio-friendly attempt at a Depeche Mode Bond-song, features crass Kraftwerkian vocal effects. It does not add anything to the song and taints the overall listening experience. ‘Defector’, which for the most part is a great guitar piece, sees similar sci-fi ambiance overshadow its redeeming factors. Whilst I gather the theme of technology is prominent throughout this album — I can’t help but feel that robotic vocal effects are a little too obvious in trying to reinforce the message.

Indeed, for a self-proclaimed ‘concept’ record: Drones is remarkably misguided. It tackles provocative themes in a typical Muse style [elaborate composition and production, lengthy guitar solos etc] but with the literary clumsiness of a sixth-former reading George Orwell. It is as if Matt Bellamy framed an entire album around a five-kill-streak reward. Drones, and the detachment in killing from above, is really the extent of his grand ‘concept’. It feels immensely stretched out for a full record. Frequent lyrics about ‘control’ and ‘oppression’ become almost laughable and it becomes entirely cringeworthy hearing, nine songs into the record, lines such as:

‘They’ll take away our homes

They’re just machines and drones’

‘Our freedom’s just a loan

Run by machines and drones’

  ‘Revolt’

Military Drones may well be, as Bellamy considers them, ‘a modern metaphor for what it is to lose empathy’ — but the record is not even close to capturing that sentiment. It’s not entirely smart, it’s not entirely thought provoking. It’s flagrant pseudo-intellectualism at best. 

With that said, ‘The Globalist’ is a welcomed surge of optimism towards the end of the record. Ten minutes of progressive guitars and keys hark back to the epic ‘Citizen Erased’ of Origin of Symmetry [2001]. It is, by and large, the most ambitious song Muse have released in years. But it also reinforces my criticisms. Drones’ strengths lie in its musicianship —  its crushing drums and intricate guitar leads. Not its lyricism or belligerent attempts to force-feed a ‘concept’. Fittingly, this moment of strength is a track which leans more towards instrumental composition and where Bellamy, for the most part, keeps his mouth shut.


On balance, what makes Drones most painful is that is flirts with being something brilliant. Sonically it is hard to fault. The notions we associate with a ‘classic’ Muse record are largely there. The heavy-riffs, falsetto melodies and prog-rock time signatures are all present. It all makes an exciting departure from 2012’s [frankly abysmal] The Second Law. But such promises of a ‘return to form’ and a ‘guitar album’ seem redundant when the album lacks depth. The lyricism is inexcusably poor, the vocal production is crass and it all becomes something of a parody of their former selves. It may well be on the cusp of something interesting — but it serves to expose a band who have lost their way.  It is, above all else, style over substance — yet it stubbornly proclaims that such ‘substance’ is the greatest thing the band have ever produced.

Perhaps the most poetic referent in Drones is accidental. I can’t think a more apt metaphor for Muse’s career than a Drone missile falling from the sky — and crashing, explosively, to the ground.

Oh how the mighty have fallen.

☆☆☆

Listen to the ‘The Globalist’, ‘The Handler’ and ‘Reaper’ [Live]. 

[n.b ‘Revolt’ is, quite honestly, the worst song Muse have ever recorded. Worth a listen in a strange/somewhat disturbing way.]

American Historical Cinema: Video-Cast

In the similar vein to my First Year Video-casts, I decided to create a video production for an American Historical Cinema assessment. Naturally, all the beta-blockers in the world couldn’t get me to enjoy public speaking, and I also find nothing worse than hearing someone describe a visual medium with vague words. Ergo, for this project I researched, edited and recorded my findings on the historiography of Oliver Stone’s JFK. Admittedly, this was recorded in the early hours with a four-pack of Grolsch, but I was generally happy with the outcome. It was subsequently awarded an ‘exceptional first’ (96%) — and my seminar tutor let me shot whiskey as it played – no doubt making 20 minutes of my own voice more bearable.