Category Archives: Reviews and Events

Ham Sandwich Rocks Belfast

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Irish indie rock band Ham Sandwich made their first appearance at The Belfast Empire Music Hall on Saturday 16th April and showed audiences they’re far more than a funny name.

The band who hail from Kells, Co. Meath formed in 2003 and consist of Niamh Farrell (lead vocals), Podge McNamee (vocals, guitar), Brian Darcy (guitar), David McEnroe (bass), Ollie Murphy (drums).

I first came across them on a sweltering hot day in July 2013 when they supported Mumford & Sons at their concert in Phoenix Park and was instantly drawn to their high-energy stage presence, interesting indie rock style, and not to mention the rare sight of a female at its fore front.

They have released three studio albums since their formation – Carry the Meek (2008), White Fox (2010), and most recently Stories from the Surface (2015), which reached No.1 in the Irish album charts. All of their albums were released on the band’s own independent label – Route 109A Records.

The band stands out from a visual perspective because of its petite pixie-like vocalist Niamh Farrell, with her powerful yet sweet vocals and commanding presence. She certainly proved on Saturday’s gig that she can hold her own while sharing a stage with seven big bearded men.

Watching them onstage reminded me of the female-fronted bands that were heavily prevalent in the 90’s, such as the Pixies, Letters to Cleo, The Cardigans, No Doubt, and the Cranberries (to name but a few) all featuring powerful charismatic women in bands where all the other members are male. The genre of rock music is definitely lacking its power queens so seeing a female commanding the room with haunting vocals is certainly refreshing.

Playing a mix of old singles and new releases, Ham Sandwich showcased their distinctive version of indie rock. Their singles “Ants”, “The Naturist”, and “Models” are always great crowd pleasers; but they introduced their newer music with songs “Apollo”, “Fandingo”, and “Illuminate” from the new album. These are songs I hadn’t heard and was really impressed with the new material.

The audience also got a treat when the band covered Donna Summer’s 1977 hit “I Feel Love” which suited Farrell’s vocal style perfectly and gave the audience the feeling of being in a funky 70’s disco – but without the tack & cheese!

I was a fan before this gig and Ham Sandwich definitely did not disappoint.image

To see more of Ham Sandwich please click below:

http://www.hamsandwichmusic.com

http://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/Ham-Sandwich-tickets/artist/1424213

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZdvFFXOWkvU

Film Review: The Revenant

the revenant

Film Review: The Revenant

 

The Revenant is one of those films which is more of an endurance test than a piece of entertainment, more of an immersive experience than the observation of a story. Depending on how you look at it this can be other good or bad. One thing The Revenant is not, however, is boring.

The plot is a simple one, and one filmgoers have seen before. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, a tracker and fur trapper in the 1820s frontier of North America. After he and his hunting party are attacked by a group of Native Americans, a dozen of the survivors flee into the wilderness. Glass is then mauled by a bear and is carried some distance by his fellow trappers, before the terrain makes transporting the injured man impossible. Soon bickering and dissenting loyalties among the group ensue. The antagonist of the group, Fitzgerald, played by Tom Hardy, kills Glass’ son and leaves the injured fur trapper for dead. The rest of the movie follows a similar narrative to that of any revenge flick, with DiCaprio’s character, half-dead, battling against the elements in pursuit of the man who killed his son.

What makes The Revenant a cut above the rest in its genre is the technical brilliance with which the filmmaking itself is executed. Director Alejandro Iñárritu uses similar techniques which brought him Oscar success last year with ‘Birdman’. Long, sweeping takes follow the action with few cuts, and there seems to be nowhere the camera cannot go: on horseback, into the air and underwater. Uncomfortably close shots of the actors’ faces, seething, panting and gazing into the cold wilderness put the viewer right beside them. The violence, from the opening scene of the Indian raid in the hunting camp to a knife fight and the incredible bear-mauling sequence is brutal and unrelenting.

Much of this immersive and engaging style must be accredited to the cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki, who, along with the director, chose to shoot the film in all natural light for added authenticity. When the camera isn’t following arrows from Indian bows and swirling around on horseback pursuits, it is capturing the rocky mountain landscape and merciless terrain in all its petrifying glory. The use of pale, cold daylight results in jaw-dropping vista shots and breath-taking views of the vast forest and white mountain ranges that put the viewer right in the picture.

The score of the film imitates the uncomfortableness of the environment, with winding electronic drones and thunderous orchestral charges which drive the action forward.

The acting from the whole cast is superb. The real stand-out performance, however, must go to Leonardo DiCaprio- if for nothing but for the sheer endurance and strength to play such a physically demanding role. In a part with little dialogue, his character is portrayed through brutal action and a seething anger bubbling under the surface as he pursues his son’s killer. He is put through every obstacle the wilderness can throw at him and the viewer is freezing and writhing with him every step of the way.

So, if you’re looking for an easy, relaxing flick to unwind with after a long day, The Revenant is not it. However, for sheer spectacle and an incredibly immersive cinematic experience, you can do no better.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1663202/?ref_=nv_sr_1

http://www.foxmovies.com/movies/the-revenant

http://oscar.go.com/news/winners/oscar-winners-2016-see-the-complete-list

 

Music Seminar with Modular Maestro

Photo by DIT DJ Society: https://www.facebook.com/ditdj/
Photo by DIT DJ Society: https://www.facebook.com/ditdj/

On the 27th of April the Dublin Institute of Technology DJ Society hosted an analogue music seminar in collaboration with renowned local electronic music artist Matt Flanagan, better known as DeFeKT.

The event, which took place in The Bull and Castle in Dublin, was the second in series of seminars hosted by the group. Members of the society aim to invite a number of artists to share their experience and expertise with those participating. DeFeKT, who has been active in the electro scene for a number of years, was invited to educate participants about analogue and modular music.

Watch one of DeFeKT’s live performances:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1QP56em8EM

 

Entry into the event was free, however, there were a number of collections for the suicide and self-harm prevention charity, Pieta House. There was standing room only during the seminar, as the venue was filled to capacity.

Proceedings began with a modular synthesis workshop, in which DeFeKT gave a live musical demonstration of his improvised analogue sound. Following the musical display, he went on to talk at length about his experiences during his career as an artist. The informal lecture covered a broad range of topics including his own live shows, his knowledge of the music industry, and music production methods. Audience members were then invited to take part in a Q&A session with the artist. Aspiring musicians and music fans were given the opportunity to create a dialogue about the music scene, and to ask for advice in relation to their own careers.

As the seminar came to an end, those in attendance were invited to stay for a number of DJ performances from members of the DIT DJ society. The society plan to host a number of other seminars in future.

If you or a friend are feeling suicidal, or in distress, help is available from Pieta House:  http://www.pieta.ie/

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Photo credit of Pieta House Self-Harm or Suicide Crisis Centre https://www.facebook.com/pietahouse/

In Review: Anno Stamm – No One Else EP

http://www.allcityrecordlabel.com/
Image by All-City Records http://www.allcityrecordlabel.com/

Dublin based record label All City Records are not known for releasing conventional music. In fact, they have acquired a reputation for being purveyors of the eclectic and the extraordinary. For anyone who is familiar with the abnormal sounds of Berlin native Anno Stamm, it comes as no surprise to see him release his No One Else EP on All City.

On an aesthetic level you could easily overlook this record, but it would be to your detriment. A generic black record sleeve, familiar black vinyl, and an unassuming piece of record art could easily mask this peculiar auditory delight. Despite being a three track EP, it perfectly showcases Anno Stamm’s versatility as he blurs the lines between techno, house, and deep house. The eponymous first track “No One Else” is probably the obvious pick of the bunch for most DJ’s. Powerful sub-bass, catchy chopped vocals, and accentuated snare patterns combine to create a cleverly nostalgic, retro style floor filler.

Listen to and but the No One Else EP at: https://annostamm.bandcamp.com/album/anno-stamm-no-one-else
Image by Lars Stöwe. Listen to, and buy the No One Else EP at: https://annostamm.bandcamp.com/album/anno-stamm-no-one-else

 

Of all the tracks on this record the A-side will probably get the most plays, but it is on the B-Side that things get really interesting. Think of the melody of your favourite childhood nursery rhyme, or the melody of a music box. Now imagine that someone has warped the pleasant sounds and jingles, and layered them with a distorted kick drum, creating a track so sinister, that it would not seem out of place in a nightmare. If you can imagine what the might sound like, you might understand what the second track of the EP, “Charge It Up To My Account”, sounds like. Far from being a typical techno affair of relentless beats, the drum loops merely set the pace for this off-kilter melodic masterpiece. It is a pity that this track was selected as the B1 on the record, because although it is by far the most intriguing and creative track of the release, it is likely to be overshadowed by the A-side, as often is the case with many vinyl releases.

As we put the turntable needle down on the final track, the artist takes us in another direction completely. He rounds of the release with a blissful and relaxed deep house offering. “Sensing Social Sirens” changes the mood with its beautiful string and pad sounds, proverbially transporting us to a much different place from the previous tracks. Each track could have been produced by a different artist. Each track has a different sound. All tracks were created by Anno Stamm, a man who epitomises ingenuity. Given the fact that many EP’s have four productions, the consumer in me notices one problem with this EP, one that could also be attributed to the quality of the music; there are not enough tracks.

For more information about Anno Stamm and his music see: http://www.anstam.com/

 

Prescription Thugs – Review

Drugs are never going to be a non-controversial subject, are they?

The title of this documentary film gives you a fair indication of what you will be looking at during the next hour and a half. It’s a Michael Moore-esque look at the American establishment, focusing specifically on the evils of prescription drug companies.

View ‘Prescription Thugs’ Trailer here

The film’s creator, director and narrator is Mr Chris Bell, a man who himself has struggled with addiction to prescription drugs. Not only this but Bell reveals in the first fifteen minutes that his older brother, Mike, died of a prescription drug overdose merely a few years ago.

Make no mistake, this is a sad story. An attempt to instantly grab the viewer’s heartstrings and to gently nudge them towards the immediate conclusion that prescription drug abuse is a huge problem in American society.

And it works. To begin with.

Over the counter, under the radar
Prescription drugs: over the counter and going under the radar

Throughout the film we are continually introduced to ostensibly good people who have battled with prescription drug abuse. From ex-pro wrestlers to mothers of four young children, the scope of the problem is revealed and continually emphasised.

The viewer is hit with some pretty damning statistics, such as the fact that in ten years, the top eleven pharmaceutical companies in the world made $711 billion in profit. That’s not spin, that’s fact. The facts given throughout the film absolutely lend themselves to the story-tellers intention of allowing the viewer to see that there is something fundamentally wrong and worse, dangerous,  with the American drug market.

However, after 45 minutes of sad tales and warnings I found myself wanting something different. What do the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)  have to say about this cautionary tale? We’re told that a spokesperson from the opposing side declined to comment, which is a shame as the film ultimately needed such a comment to offer some balance.

In my opinion, the one-sidedness almost took the creator’s argument full circle. Essentially the point being hammered home throughout the duration of the film was, “Don’t listen to the FDA’s propaganda, they’re not giving you the full story”. A point which was, as I have said, well made to an extent. I ended the film feeling that the creator(s) hadn’t offered me the full story either.

As a documentary on an issue as contemporary as drugs it certainly offers some interesting points. By no means a ground-breaking documentary, but it is absolutely a relevant one to today’s society.

Michael Morrow

 

Further information on prescription drug abuse is available from the National Institute on Drug Abuse here: https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/prescription-drugs-cold-medicines

 

 

Up Standing: Stories of courage from Northern Ireland

 

Up Standing tells the stories of ordinary people who stood up to violence, prejudice or sectarianism.

The film gives ten accounts of different acts of bravery from people living in Northern Ireland. It was produced as part of a Corrymeela community project and funded by the International Fund for Ireland.

Making films like this one creates an opportunity for untold stories to be voiced and acknowledges quiet peacemakers who have never been recognised for their own personal acts of bravery, kindness or peace-making.

The film is used by schools so it is appropriate that it begins by telling the story of a pupil travelling to school on a mixed bus.

A series of low-angled shots are shown in-between the aisles of a dark bus with a mixture of jump-cuts and hand-held camera movements.

Gillian (not her real name) witnessed an act of sexual violence against a boy as they travelled on the same bus.

The mise en scène creates a disconcerting effect with the framing exaggerating the narrowness of the aisles and lighting helps to warn viewers that they are going to hear something disturbing.

This contrasts hugely to the end of the story where softer lighting and longer shots are used to demonstrate how things on the bus got better after two schoolgirls stood up against sectarian bullying.

Gillian changes from a twelve year old who “knew [her] place” to someone who helped change the dynamics on the school bus forever. She describes her actions as “something that just bubbled up inside of me.”

Co-Director Paul Hutchinson said that they have made the film available for schools and some “show it,” but others are still “resisting” because of “a genuine fear.”

He said that some teachers believe that “this film is encouraging young people to take inappropriate risks.”

However, Gladys Ganiel (QUB) believes that part of what makes the stories so good is that these people did something when others failed to act.

She said: “After their examples work their way into the nooks and crannies of our consciousness, perhaps we will be reminded of what we have done and what we have failed to do.”

Mr Hutchinson is now working on another project that explores the trauma of not standing up and how people cope with that.

These stories are important ones to be shared in any post-conflict society, and a free copy of the DVD is available for educational purposes.

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Game of Thrones returns with enjoyable first episode

Acclaimed HBO series Game of Thrones has returned, with episode one of season 6 airing on Sky Atlantic on Monday night. And while, by no means a landmark episode, ‘The Red Woman’ was certainly a welcome opener.

Job one for producers Benioff and Weiss was certainly to address the cliffhanger they had left us all on at the end of season 5. Primarily, the fate of Jon Snow. When last we watched, the young Lord Commander was subjected to a hail of stabbings, which would almost trump the dying moments of Julius Caesar. Yet this is a series of Red Priests and White Walkers, so no one need remain dead for too long. We now have our answer. For now at least, Jon Snow is dead. Rumours persisted about actor Kit Harrington’s presence on set, but his role has been reduced to that of a tragic, cold corpse. Whether he stays that way remains to be seen.

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The episode moved us away from the goings-on in the north, and addressed some of the other characters we’d almost forgotten about while wringing our hands at Jon Snows fate. There was a satisfying moment in which Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Theon (Alfie Allen) were rescued from the Boltons by Brienne (Gwendoline Christie). Heading further south towards Dorne, the show reminded us of the violence with which we’ve grown accustomed to with a number of Martell characters killed off.

The show managed to present some humour through moments of miscommunication by Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) in Mereen and in a debate about beauty, by members of the Dothraki horde that now holds Danaerys (Emilia Clarke). Yet it was the very end of the episode which provided the biggest twist in the tale.

It was the red woman, Mellisandre who had the last say in the episode. Her loss of faith (after Jon Snow’s death) led us to see her true form. In showing us that she was actually an older woman, masked by her faith, Game of Thrones added another plot twist to its long line of shocks.

melisandre-old

However there is a sense that this episode is more about set-up than anything. Bear in mind that the series has now moved beyond the Books which spawned it. George R.R. Martin continues to be an active presence in the writing, but has continually postponed publishing his next book. And after all, we all know that the show must go on.

george-rr-martin-game-of-thrones

 

Martin has said that he is now putting all his efforts into getting The Winds of Winter published, but for now based on this episode, the Game of Thrones television series is a more than welcome continuation of the fantasy epic.

Review: Girls

Last week’s double episode finale of Girls saw the HBO comedy’s fifth and penultimate season draw to a triumphant close. The series had suffered from a sophomore slump with season three and four missing the brash and sharp comedic mark of the opening two offerings.

Girls is the brainchild of New York native, Lena Dunham, and follows the semi autobiographical story of Hannah Horvath, also played by Dunham, and her three female friends, Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna.

Hannah unabashedly asserts in the pilot “I may be the voice of my generation. Or, at least, the voice of a generation” and the series has strictly adhered to the satirical narrative of Gen Y otherwise known as millennials. All of the girls in the series are narcissistic, entitled and aimless: a caricature of what it is to be a millennial. The flawed characters and unapologetic brand of comedy led the show to critical acclaim for its refreshing honesty.

While the series, much like its characters, intermittently lost its way, the fifth season brought an assured maturity and a return to form. The highlight was “Panic in Central Park” which enfolds over an evening that Marnie (Allison Williams) spends with old flame Charlie (Christopher Abbott) after a chance encounter. The episode has the feel of a stand alone short film and has a distinctly different tone of sincerity without seeming disjointed or separate from the rest of the series.

The subsequent instalment, “Hello Kitty”, maintains the directorial momentum. It juxtaposes a dramatic performance of the murder of Kitty Genovese with Hannah’s realisation that her oldest friend Jessa, played by Jemima Kirke, is seeing her ex boyfriend, Adam (Adam Driver). The episode concludes with Hannah left as an onlooker in Adam and Jessa’s relationship, a clever ironic touch given the Kitty Genovese murder was notorious for the phenomenon known as the “bystander effect”.

The season ended with the girls no further forward in their respective careers or love lives but each had an air of assured determination and newly discovered confidence. Girls has matured into its prime ahead of next year’s final season and the girls who gave the series its name, are beginning to become women.

Harry’s Shack Restaurant review

According to Virginia Woolf; “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well if one has not dined well.” Last week I visited the almost infamous Harry’s Shack.

Harry’s Shack is a very suitable name for the restaurant which opened its doors to the public in August 2014. Situated at the gateway to the beautiful Portstewart Strand, the ‘Shack,’ slips in perfectly with the beautiful  beach setting. So much so it feels like it was always there.

Inside you enter into a welcoming and laid back setting. I automatically was brought back to my time in St Kilda, a little sea side town in Melbourne. The restaurant is simple yet effective. It is there to provide good food for those who enjoy spending their time at Portstewart Strand.

Owner Donegal man Donal Doherty, is not new to the restaurant business. His father owns the famous ‘Harry’s,’ restaurant in Donegal.  No doubt connecting the two restaurants by name, Donal wanted to continue the success of Harry’s into Harry’s Shack. And success he has had if you count his restaurant being awarded best ‘new comer 2014/2015′ with his Chef, Derek Creag,h also being awarded Chef of the Year.

The menu is simple but  far from boring and it offers more than just the usual, ‘pub grub,’ . All food used is freshly grown local produce and you can tell the food tastes fresh, clean and light. After a beautiful three course meal I didn’t come away feeling lethargic or thirsty, a feeling I get after eating out in most restaurants.

The menu has variety but it is simple and allows the customer to see and know where their dinner is coming from. Food options range from baby turnip soup, pickled veg with goat’s cheese, pulled chicken leg on cos lettuce with soft hen eggs in a crisp shallot with buttermilk dressing, beetroot salads, sage and pumpkin risotto, brown butter shrimp and a variety of fresh fish of the day, with produce coming from Greencastle Harbour, County Donegal.

Although no wine list is on offer, Harry’s shack is licenced for BYO creating an even more relaxed atmosphere. There is no doubt this restaurant is worth the visit.  From great food to excellent staff it would be worth your while to check it out. They also liaise wonderfully with the public through their very active Facebook page. For more information see https://www.facebook.com/HarrysShack  or contact Donal or any of the staff on 028 7083 1783. Harry’s Shack, 118 Strand Road, Portstewart Tel: 028 7083 1783 to see what all the fuss was about.

Stewart Lee Review

stewart lee

“Comedy is the new opera” Stewart Lee quipped at the outset of his new show, referring to his Grand Opera House surroundings. He might just be right too. Lee’s brand of comedy is dramatic, intense and, at times, beyond his audience.

 

Throughout the ninety minute set Lee effortlessly kept everyone laughing. However, underneath the mirth, omnipresent, lay a didactic, challenging style. Lee is unforgiving of ignorance and regularly broke from his set to goad punters (not unkindly) for failing to grasp some of his more cerebral allusions.

 

I imagine that many English comedians may find playing Belfast a daunting experience, there must be something of an internal struggle about whether or not to mention the troubled past and present of the city you’re standing in. Lee had no such reservations:

“Unlike you I don’t live in a culturally divided war zone. I live in Hackney.”

 

The locals rewarded him for his frankness time and again; there was no shortage of spontaneous applause. But then perhaps this was not your average Belfast audience. As Lee pointed out, if all the Guardian readers of Belfast were in the Grand Opera House  who was going to smooth over any pub brawls.

 

Lee’s intelligence is palpable; nothing leaves him speechless or gag-less. When improvising, which he did frequently, you didn’t see the struggle for material register on his face.

 

This comedian’s greatest talent is for building seemingly endless and meaningless hilarity only for the punch-line to hit you entirely unexpectedly.

 

However, the most arresting aspect of a Stewart Lee show is his vitriol. The stand-up’s capacity for hate is far-reaching, no one is too big or too small and he has no fear of making enemies. If he has you in his sights and he doesn’t respect you, watch out: I’m looking at you Michael McIntyre.

 

Lee’s latest show is yet another work of artistic brilliance. But it isn’t for everyone; this is exclusionary comedy for an intelligent, sharp, liberal minority. Lee uses this show to talk about the world as he sees it, his understanding of it and, often, his utter exasperation with it. You can tell Lee really couldn’t care less whether he has universal appeal or not, he won’t put on a front; his satirical meanderings, his irony, his fury are who he is. This isn’t a character, or an act, this IS Stewart Lee.