You Won’t Find Anyone Else – The Cradles

This track dropped into my inbox this morning. You Won’t Find Anyone Else is a track by Cardiff act The Cradles. Basically, they’re wearing influences on their sleeves, carefree: the Kinks, the Beatles, the the the. 

It’s bubblegum rock – music which completely ignores the world around it except for when love goes wrong. But who doesn’t need some careless optimism like that now and then?

The Cradles aren’t musical innovators. Their music won’t ever be included in a library for posterity’s sake but it’s certainly fun to listen to – just like music should be.

RIP Morgan Arcade Studios 2011-14

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“Do good work”
                               — Me

I first came across Morgan Arcade Studios shortly after it opened in 2011. I had visited Cardiff School of Art & Design’s illustration graduate show on the first floor of the Morgan Arcade storerooms.

The space was incredible.

A week or so later, I revisited the space with a friend and talked about the possibility of opening a co working space in the empty unit.

Today that empty unit is a swanky office.

The floor above is empty for the first time since 2011 when Daniel Hamilton and a few others had the same idea as me and my friend. However, unlike me, Dan had the courage and patience to work through the initial financial doubts that dissuaded me from making an appointment with the landlord. No, Dan went on to open Morgan Arcade Studios on the second floor – a space which was somewhat less polished than the already raw floor below that had piqued my own interest.

Not long after the Studio opened, I interviewed Hamilton and took some photos of all the people who worked there: a collaborative studio of no more than 10 people initially, illustrators predominantly although one or two fine artists and a textiles person.

The light through the huge windows in the space was beautiful and made the exposed floor boards glow. It was dusty, it was unfinished but it was the idea which made what Dan built so special.

What he saw was a space that you couldn’t simply buy into. He once showed me the waiting list of people who wanted to take space: it was into the hundreds. What people identified with was creatives who were more concerned about creating than about bells and whistles.

There was no promise of free coffee. There were no hack days. Not a sign of a guest speaker. Someone brought an Xbox to work once – otherwise, no arcade machines to speak of. The furniture was not plush. The light didn’t work in the toilet and in the winter, typing could be quite painful because of the cold.

Still, since March 2013, I have been proud of being a part of the most vibrant creative community outside of the art school.

It is working alongside illustrators, film makers, designers, storytellers, fine artists, editors and those who blurred boundaries on what they did that I learned to be better at being a creative. Working in the room next door to Godmachine taught me that getting your head down and working was better than hustling for funding. Working near Yoke Creative taught me a heap about how to run a business. I learnt from Dan and Nicole many ideas about illustration. Lucy edited some copy I wrote and pointed out the errors – that helped a bunch. Lynton, Cath and Nic entertained my need for conversation and interaction with others on an almost quarter-hourly basis. Emma humoured my fascination with things Semitic. Laura told me a heap about storytelling and gaining new clients. Liam and Chris helped me learn that McCauly Culkin is a legitimate character in the art world. Heloise taught me that working in at a desk is not everything. Rob helped me be a nicer person. Julien, my studio mate, gave me some good lessons on what to charge for work. Recently, Dale and Alice were there to listen to my worries about ageing as a creative.

This was what really mattered about Morgan Arcade Studios.

I have always resented the idea that creativity needs soft furnishing and an institution backing it. Creativity is not driven by figures or goals. Without fail, when a non-creative tries to foster more creativity by injecting cash, creativity itself will suffer.

So, when the news came that the rent was being raised almost 5-fold by the owners of the space – who had already conducted a huge renovation project in order to organise a ‘creative quarter’ as if no-one on the second floor could exist without a polished building – we didn’t worry about having to move out. The space itself was lovely, but it was not the thing that mattered.

A series of unfortunate events led to the eventual demise of Morgan Arcade Studios as I knew it. A new lease on a new space fell through. Other landlords required more evidence of earnings or else a long guarantee of tenancy.

The details matter little. Business is business. It’s not the owner’s fault.

But today, as I sit at home in my study – which is well furnished and bright with glowing pine floors – I feel like I’ve lost more than a studio space. What I’ve lost is the presence of 20+ collaborators whose work I respected and opinions I valued.

The thing that’s really painful, though, is that a space no longer exists in Cardiff where creativity is recognised as the lingua franca in the way that Morgan Arcade Studios recognised it.

In the brutality of the conditions of the space, the company was kind.

Photo: Studio BBQ — @liammarc

Presenting: H O R S E S

This new track by Ian Jones (Kutosis) and Gwern Llewelyn is a surprisingly warm ‘gloom wave’ track. The pair have an EP out on the ever adventurous Peski Records next year.

What I love about this track is the harshness of the sounds and the feeling that I could be walking through any of the buildings below. This is music for brutalists with warm hearts.

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Review: Headlong’s 1984 at Sherman Cymru

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See the thing is, I used to hate Charlie Brooker. It was only when I realised that Nathan Barley was made in 2005 and that ‘the idiots are winning’ in a spectacularly prophetic fashion even today, that I began to appreciate his work.

Black Mirror series one (a little less so series two), felt like Brooker had turned his hand to something with significantly less foresight and more a look to the present and past. Although many of the episodes focussed on the the pervasion of peculiar technologies on our social and psychic lives, the ideas were certainly not new ones.

In fact, many of the ideas identified in Brooker’s Black Mirror have been around since Bentham unleashed his research on the Panopticon in the 1790s: you are being watched but to what extent, you do not know.

Of course, with a sheen on the exterior and the use of modern devices such as white noise and abrupt cuts between scenes and images, the series had a distinctively dystopian feel which left all of us stunned as we watched the zoophilic acts of Britain’s top politician beamed into our eyeballs on a quiet evening.

But I can’t say that I’ve ever really been stunned on a psychological level by something on the stage. I’ll admit that I was pretty freaked out the first time I saw Woman in Black but it wasn’t on the same plateau as the aforementioned Channel 4 programme or, for argument’s sake, Marina de Van’s Ne Te Retourne Pas (which left an entire cinema speechless on exit).

It’s sort of ironic then, really, that the first time that I had ever been so affected by a stage production was Headlong’s production of George Orwell’s 1984 which is undoubtedly one of the more enlightened influences for that old Black Mirror.

At a packed out Sherman Cymru, Orwell’s classic story saw an awkwardly modern adaptation at the capable hands of Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan.

Awkwardly modern? The production (the story is now approaching its seventh decade) makes an incredible use of lights, cameras and startlingly enveloping sound to paint the picture of what living in a totalitarian state must be like. However, the employment of those very recent devices was to illustrate ideas more suited to Orwell’s own time: propaganda and the possibilities presented at the birth of the idea of psychological power (Foucault’s very accessible lectures on the subject came only 20 years after the publication of 1984, Freud’s idea of the uncanny had been well discussed for 20 years previous.)

The use of blackouts and harsh sound and light to portray torture scenes in particular were very reminiscent of that awkwardly modern approach to this production.

However, while other productions would struggle to maintain a level of perverse enjoyment and, at times, dark comedy, against a backdrop of what is essentially a pleasant barrage of unpleasant techniques, the work of writers Robert Icke and Duncan MacMillan, Set and Costume Designer Chloe Lamford, Lighting Designer Natasha Chivers, Sound Designer Tom Gibbons and Video Designer Tim Reid as well as every single actor who appears on stage stands up and balances with care and vicious control the necessary components: this production is breathtaking. The words will be stolen right from your mouth.

In my opinion, this is a flawless piece of theatre and a great example of the magic of the medium: unlike Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror which can still be watched on demand, at any time, anywhere even now, this production will only be produced a limited number of times.

It is Orwell’s story eating itself on stage. Just as Winston’s covert reading has only been read by a few (?) people, so this production will only be seen by a few.

But won’t it just have an impact? I feel as if I’ve taken part in a happening.

If we gave ratings for creative works, this would get top marks – by every metric.

Headlong and Nottingham Playhouse’s 1984 plays at Sherman Cymru from now until Saturday 9 November 2013.

Gods – Sisters

I stumbled across this track by Gods recently and I absolutely love it. A new project by Bensh and Sion Trefor as well as two others named Zoolord and the rather more pedestrian Elias, the minimal electronica goes down so well. It’s a lovely little track and the video produced by Ba Chang is super cool.

A collaboration between artists based in Cardiff and Vienna is also a welcome addition to the musical landscape.

An album is set to follow this single in February 2014.

Zines! A history and future of Cardiff Music Magazines

Last week saw the launch and (at the end) the close of Swn Festival Radio. The week was absolutely great and gave people a chance to jump on the airwaves.

Personally, I took the opportunity to begin exploring a subject that I’ve been very interested in for a long time now: zines in Wales. For over a year, I’ve been considering putting together some kind of project related to the cute/sexy/fun/DIY art form. Swn Radio gave me a chance to interview some of the main characters from the history of the zine in Cardiff.

I put together three short audio reports on the past, present and future of the zine in this little city of ours. You can listen to these reports below.

I would love to put together an art book based on this topic and explore what zines have meant to Welsh history and culture – not just in Cardiff, but in the country as a whole. If you’d be interested in reading that, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Drop me a line on themarcthomas@gmail.com

The Witch Doctor of Umm Suqeim – Craig Hawes

Manana, in the pseudo romantic vocabulary of many sapling tortured souls, is a word – quoting Sal Paradise – which probably means heaven.

My brother when I repeated this quote from Kerouac’s masterpiece to him correctly replied – although without much sentiment at all – that manana actually means tomorrow.

For other authors, words have held a particular sentimental valency. See Tolkien’s much beloved cellar door, of which there are many in the Welsh language.

Craig Hawes’ word is Inshallah (God Willing), a word which is simultaneously committal and throwaway. Inshallah is a word that the majority of the middle eastern world as well as Muslims and Islamic people all over the planet utter multiple times daily.

On occasion, the effect is quite wonderful:

— Thanks for fixing my brake pads. I’ll see you again soon? you might say to your mechanic as you leave the garage in Marrakech.

— Inshallah, he will utter back unaware of the terror he has just wrought in you.

Craig Hawes’ collection of short stories, ‘The Witch Doctor of Umm Suqeim’ knows all about Inshallah and the myriad peculiarities of islamic culture and behaviour.

Entertaining from line 1 page 1, Hawes outlines the difficulties, contradictions and hypocrisies that are part of daily life for the ex pats of the arabian world.

The first story in the collection, its namesake, tells the story of a man who visits a fertility witch doctor – a profession illegal in Islamic countries – who is left with no one to turn to when the witch doctor runs off with his partner to sell his semen in India.

Darkly funny, other short stories include a call to prayer breaking the filthy rap music of a golden palaces’ Friday night party and a western advertising executive messing with a muslim girl.

At times Hawes’ writing feels a little overplayed as he tries to exaggerate the cultural contrast between east and west but overall he has a good knack for narrative and a marvellous sense of his subjects.

Another collection is forthcoming, inshallah.