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Baghdad or Bust

Posted 26 September 2005, 5.56 am by Duncan-O

So we put on our desert cammies this week. They’ve been balled up on the floor of my closet since they were issued about four months ago. I pulled them out the other day and took them to the cleaners to get them starched and pressed so they’ll look all nice up until we leave for the sandbox. After I wear each set (in this cool weather, they’re good for two or three wearings before the creases fall out and they start to get a little funky), I’ll soak them in this stinky permethrin solution they issued us to keep the bugs away. The pesticide, in addition to being a carcinogen, lasts about 6 washes before the clothing needs to be retreated. It’s a very useful chemical – it’s credited with saving thousands of young lives in Africa by way of impregnated mosquito nets. It may smell like turpentine, but it sure beats Leishmaniasis or malaria or sandfleas or any of the other nasties just waiting in the Iraqi desert to feast on my tender white skin.

The new uniforms are significant in the way that only those units that are about to deploy or those who are getting back wear them. People have been looking at us differently. In a town chock-full of people in camouflage, I guess we stand out. But the uniforms are also significant to me in that every time I look at myself in the mirror or check my watch and catch a glimpse of my shades-of-tan sleeve, I am reminded of the enormity of what I’ve taken on for myself. Will I make the right choices?

My greatest fear, other than my mother endlessly weeping, is dishonoring myself. After that, it’s Cindy Sheehan sticking a shitty white cross with my name Sharpie-d onto it into the dirt in Crawford, Texas. Or Sean Hannity telling his listeners that I sacrificed for Freedom. Fuck you, fuck all of you who claim to speak for us. You claim to “support the troops,” yet use the blood and agony, the full-body burns, the severed limbs and severed lives, the infidelity and divorces and broken families brought about by long deployments; you use all of this to support your own agenda. You think you know. You think you have a fucking clue, yet you use death as a paving stone in the road of your good intentions.

Because I joined, maybe presumptuously, to make a difference. I joined because I thought my judgement, my skills, my brainpower might help alleviate the suffering caused by this clusterfuck we’ve been aggravating in Iraq since I was a child.

I joined because it’s my responsibility.

Why Recycling Is Bad For Our Musical Environment

Posted 18 September 2005, 1.02 pm by Alexander

So, we’re all aware that recycling our household waste helps save the planet and keeps the cost of my dolphin-skin loafers down, but the practice of recycling musical ideas helps no-one.

I’m getting increasingly annoyed with the lack of imagination, and just plain laziness, evinced by bands recently. All too often, the same riffs are knocked out under the guise of “influenced by” or “homage to”, when really what the bands should be saying is “yeah, we tried writing our own and they just weren’t as good”. If the rest of Led Zeppelin were dead, you could wrap copper wire round their spinning corpses and use them as a power source.

As musicians, are we that afraid of failure that we’d rather tread a well worn path, jump on an already full bandwagon, than actually do something different? And if it’s not the artists to blame, it must be the record buying public. Why do they listen to Franz Ferdinand and not Gang of Four? Why do people listen to Razorlight (at all)? Could it be that cynical record companies prey on the ignorance of the punter to keep selling them the same thing in different packaging?

It’s important to remember that music doesn’t have a half-life, so all these young’uns who weren’t around when the levee broke, could just as easily go and buy the back catalogue, listen to the roots of the “new music” and draw their own influence from it - pick it and choose it and respond to an original rather than a cheap photocopy. I’m not saying we should all listen to Robert Johnson and disregard the Stones, but we should recognize that Jagger et al owed much of their success to Howling Wolf, and go back and rediscover the source. And don’t worry about robbing today’s bright young things of a living – bands like Bloc Party and The Libertines should be giving their royalties to The Jam anyway.

Pop really will eat itself, and this constant in-breeding, this regurgitation of the same signature guitar chops and vocal stylings just serves to water down any kind of personality, feeling and meaning the music was supposed to have. Okay, there’s only seven notes to play with, but they’re supposed to be put in a pot with your worries, your experiences, your passions and served hot and fresh. Not reheated from a crackly vinyl LP you found in your dad’s loft.
It all comes down to taking risks, and I would much rather watch a band try something new and fail, than succeed in aping their heroes. And with the exception of Stars in their Eyes viewers, so would everyone else.

The Song's the Thing

Posted 12 September 2005, 10.52 pm by Alexander

As a songwriter there’s one thing I aspire to – the perfect song - writing a collection of thoughts, notes, rhythms and dynamics that affects someone else. It’s really that simple. That’s the reason I started making music, because I want to have an emotional impact on other people, as my heroes have had an emotional (and often philosophical) impact on me. When people say to me “I’ve had one of your songs stuck in my head all day” it’s fantastic – one of the best feelings in the world is renting out a portion of someone’s subconscious, even if they could just as easily say the same thing about the Crazy Frog.

I believe fundamentally that a good song transcends it’s treatment – it’s arguable that Bob Dylan couldn’t really sing, or play guitar, but he’s written some of the most timeless songs in musical history. I believe a truly great song could be played on a kazoo, and still be great. This is how Abba survive the horrible 70s production, and countless 80s bands have songs that are rediscovered continually, despite the mullets and flecked jumpers. You just can’t kill a good song, unless you’re the Crazy Frog perhaps.

But OK, where does this leave artists like Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, SPK, Throbbing Gristle, Boyd Rice? Things get a little more complicated now – these aren’t karaoke classics, you can’t sing along, but yet qualitatively they’re just as important as David Bowie or Jimi Hendrix. Why? Because music is a form of communication. Just as we communicate using body language, nuances of speech and implication, so music communicates through emotion, artifice and intent.

A week or so ago I attended a metal gig, four bands playing incredibly heavy, loud hardcore. Not usually my cup of tea, but it was definitely interesting. The vocalist of each band would give the crowd the long and involved song title, then proceed to grunt, scream and shout unintelligibly for four or five minutes. One of the bands was from Sweden, and I swear I couldn’t tell you which one. I was left thinking – what is being communicated here? Of course I was looking in the wrong place – the message wasn’t necessarily in the sounds being produced, but the energy and aggression and intent of the musicians. The message quite literally was FWAARRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGHHH. I’d been a fool. It was awesome.

So yes, the song is the thing, but the song is no longer a story told around a campfire with an acoustic guitar. It’s drop D tuned guitars and five string basses, tortured samplers and asymmetrical fringes. Like our own vocal chords, music has evolved.

What's My Motivation?

Posted 4 September 2005, 1.20 pm by Alexander

First off, let’s start with a warning. If you’re the type of person who sneers derisively when someone mentions art, or thinks calling yourself an artist is “pretentious”, you might want to turn the page, because I’m going to talk about the role of the musician and why it’s so important that the people we allow on our stages have at least a transitory grasp of how special they are.

Music transcends language, culture, geography and any of the other barricades humanity has erected between itself, making it perhaps the most powerful tool for communication we have. Music is an art form, nobody would argue that. So doesn’t that make musicians artists? I reckon so. Just as DuChamp’s urinal is – arguably - as artistically valid as Picasso’s Guernica, it makes no difference if you’re peddling three-chord punk nonsense, bewilderingly self-indulgent math-rock or oh-so-earnest singer songwriter mewling, you’re communicating with your audience and essentially creating art. This puts you in a very privileged position. You’re on stage in front of a mic, guitar in your hands, you open your mouth, raise your plectrum, then…?

This moment is the sum total of all the decisions you’ve made to get there. All the rehearsals, band meetings, drunken ramblings, trips to Top Man – this is the point at which you say to your audience “this is what I have to say, this is what I am and this is how I have chosen to use my art”. You’re making a million subconscious statements just by the way you walk on stage.

This is why music – and live music in particular – is so utterly fantastic. It’s this wall of decisions hitting you, the band image, amp settings, gauge of guitar string – none of this is really accidental, if you think about it. A band is nothing more than the sum of its parts, and one of the best things about seeing a band for the first time is waiting for that first note to be struck.

The back of my band’s T-Shirts read “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom”, which is a quote from Soren Kierkegaard, a 19th century Dutch philosopher. In a nutshell, this means we have so many choices, so much freedom to do or say or sing about whatever we like, that this in itself causes us stress. This could be why bandwagon-jumping is such an ingrained practice – by following in someone else’s footsteps you’re reducing the number of choices you have to make, but as artists we should revel in this anxiety.

We should use this wealth of options to its fullest extent because the only limits are those which we ascribe to ourselves. This charged battery of potential is something incredibly special, and if you’re in the singular position of standing in front of a roomful of people, at least some of whom are paying attention, you’d better not waste it.
If you’re making music, you’re an artist and don’t forget it. Have fun for christs sake, above all have fun, but treat your art with the gravitas it deserves and it will thank you for it.

Web Standards

Posted 29 August 2005, 8.26 pm by HockeyGod

Welcome to our website; unless of course you’re blind, dyslexic, using a screen reader, magnification software, text-based browser, webTV, cell phone, or PDA, running Linux, Unix, BEos, Solaris, OS2 or FreeBSD, or haven’t updated your browser in the last year or so. You’re not important to us.

Is that a message you’d proudly display on your company homepage? The truth is, if you’re not using web standards, this is what you’re saying to roughly 20% of internet users.

I know you’re probably asking “what are web standards?” Well, web standards are nothing more than recommendations put forth by the w3c in an attempt to standardize the web. Standards are “best practices” for coding to ensure usability by all modern web browsers, and guarantee forward compatibility.

Often times, converting to standards compliant code requires nothing more than using CSS instead of font tags, writing properly nested HTML, and not using any browser-specific code (like < blink > or .innerHTML).

And the good news is, the w3c offers a code validator at

Still need a reason to write standards compliant code? Lets look at some statistics.

As of June 2005 , only 72% of internet users were browsing with a current version of Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Also as of June, there were 203,000,000 internet users in America. Is your IE only website is saying “I don’t want your business” to more than 54 million Americans?

Do you use IE only JavaScript or browser detection in your site, have a flash based intro page, use a popup for content, or font tags? Is your site done in FrontPage? Do you use inline frames?

If so, you’re not only refusing visitors but you’re wasting money too.

By using web standards, the typical FrontPage website can be reduced from 60k to 20k, thus only using 1/3 of your bandwidth.

Simply removing the depreciated font and center tags and switching to an external CSS file can reduce a 30k website down to 15 or 20k. Not only will this drastically increase your website’s speed, but it’ll also save you money on hosting and make your pages more attractive to search engines.

Using ECMAscript instead of the browser specific JavaScript or Jscript will not only assure your code will work in all future browsers, but it will stop you from paying developers to code IE and Netscape specific versions of your website.

What’s that, you haven’t heard of ECMAscript? Chances are your web developer hasn’t either. ECMAscript is the cross browser standard version of JavaScript; it’s been around since 1988.

You don’t see gas stations that only sell gas for Toyotas, so why do we design websites that only work in Internet Explorer?

Much of the problem stems from the fact that we tend to view the web as print. It’s not. Different users will see different things, let them; just make sure your site works in all browsers. I’ve seen a lot of pretty websites in IE that just don’t work at all in Firefox or Lynx.

Are aesthetics so important that they’re worth alienating 20% of your potential customers?

Ignore the Machine

Posted 26 August 2005, 7.46 am by Alexander

Ignore the machine. By which I mean, the “music business” – a phrase that should reflect the business of making music but instead just means the process of selling it. If you’ve been a musician for more than about a week you’ll have come to realize you’ve more chance of winning the lottery, or actually using a Dixon’s extended warranty, than getting that elusive record deal you always dreamt of.

So what’s wrong with chasing the dream? Nothing at all, but it’s my experience that in the process of chasing this dream you lose sight of why you started making music in the first place – what was once a fun thing to do now becomes a desperate quest to fit into whatever you perceive the record companies want.

You must understand that record companies do not respond to demand – they create it. They “discover” or just plain create the bands they want to sell (hello The Bravery), mould them to fit a demographic, throw a huge marketing budget at them and sit back to watch the general public lap it up. This is one of the reasons why we have so many “music as fashion accessory” bands (The Libertines for example) where the actual songs they’re singing are irrelevant – the record companies tell the magazines who’s hot, they tell you and you buy it. Rinse and repeat.

So what’s the solution? The solution is to IGNORE THE MACHINE. If you’re in a band, before you post that demo CD to Sony ask yourself – what can a record company offer you? Remember the only reason a record company will put you on tour, in magazines, on TV or in videos is to sell more records, for themselves. They’re not in the slightest bit interested in your ego, your art, what your songs mean to you or how hard it was to get there. Instead, why not burn CD-Rs for pence, have the sleeves printed yourselves, put them up for sale on your website, some of the countless online stores or independent record shops (Track Records in York is a good example) and take every penny of profit for yourselves. Organise gig swaps with bands from other towns – promote yourselves, be professional, leave your ego on the stage and you’ve got a lot more chance of not only being a success, but enjoying yourself in the process and retaining some dignity.

I’m convinced that if more bands did what they wanted, rather than what they think record companies want, the world would be a lot better off. If you’re a musician, if you write music that you believe in, you owe it to yourself and to your audience to be honest. If you’re trying to sound like the latest trend you’re already about a year too late, because the industry is way ahead of you. Enjoy the freedom of not having to answer to anyone – take risks, do what you fucking well like and if you fail, if you don’t sell a single CD, at least you did it your way.


Posted 18 August 2005, 12.45 pm by Alexander

AKP are one of the longest-running, most established bands in York, UK. I formed the band originally in 1999. I'm sad to say current drummer Dan is moving on to pastures new (France to be precise) so we need a new drummer asap.

Anyone who's seen us knows that we currently use an electric kit, but an acoustic kit will be just fine. You must have:

* Skill
* Commitment
* Own gear and transport.

We rehearse in York regularly, we gig all over the northeast a lot. This is a great opportunity to join a well-established, innovative band that just basically kicks a lot of ass. Lots of scope to be inventive, and just rock out. We work very hard.

Dan is playing all the booked gigs with us, filming a video and completing work on the album up until about the end of October, by which time I'm hoping to have the new drummer trained up and gig-ready so we don't have any break between line-ups.

Any questions please get in touch with me (Alexander) at

Official site:

We Have A 'Bat' Situation - Part III

Posted 8 August 2005, 1.42 pm by VanGogh

Note: This is the third installment of a three part story. If you haven't already, you should really read Part I & Part II first.

I decided not to ask. Instead, I raised my broom and walked to the closet/hallway door, pulling it open. That is when I learned something new about the closet/hallway. It has no light. Indeed, the only light in that whole area is in the bathroom, and to get to the switch, you have to walk through the closet, and halfway into the bathroom.

I slammed the door closed again.

"Did you see it," asked Todd.

"Nope, didn't see it. Didn't see anything. Why in the hell isn't there a light in your closet?"

"Because the light from the bathroom is plenty."

I resisted the urge to test out my broom on his forehead. "We need a flashlight."

"Alright, be right back."

He dashed out of the room and down the stairs. I stood still, listening for bat noises and just generally missing the hell out of my bed. Todd appeared again. He had a flashlight, a large board, and a grin.

"What are you grinning about?"

"I'm not sure, but I think your sister called your mom."

"At fucking 2:00 AM? Is she insane?" I shook my head and walked to out to the head of the stairs. I shouted down, "Shannon, you DID NOT just call and wake up our parents at two in the morning!"

A whispery voice floated up, "Mom, he's yelling at me."

I dropped my head and walked back into the room. "Yeah, she called them. I'm sure Dad is thrilled. And she's talking to our Mom. Our Mom! This is the woman who climbed up on top of the washing machine screaming for dad when there was a mouse in the house. What brave strategy do you think she has to offer on winged messengers of death?"

Todd just grinned, "She's your sister."

"Yeah, but you married her."

He silently conceded the point, then turned back to the closet and said, "Well, I guess we need to go get this bat."

I raised a hopeful eyebrow. "We?"

He handed me the flashlight. "By 'we' I mean you. Go get him tiger!"

Hopes dashed, I flipped him the bird and walked back to the closet door. Broom in one hand, flashlight in the other, I reached for the door handle. Only then did I stop to wonder about the board he'd brought back. When I turned my head to ask him about it, I found him standing two steps behind me, crouched like a baseball batter, the board raised as if it were a bat. (Not the winged variety mind you.)

"What's that?"

"The keyboard tray off my desk."

Suddenly I had a mental image of me opening the closet door, the bat swooping out, and Todd taking his swing. I'd wake up in the Emergency Room asking, "Did we get him?"

I looked Todd in the eye and said, "I want to point something out to you. It is very important that you do not confuse the back of my head with the bat."

He nodded. "Good safety tip."

I wasn't entirely sure he was with me on that, never the less, I turned back around and opened the door again. Harkening back in my mind to every episode of 'Cops' that I have ever watched, I crouched low and attempted to clear the closet.

Only two steps in, I found myself in a dilemma. Due to the postage stamp size of the closet area, I could either have the flashlight up and look around, or the broom in front of me ready to strike, but not both at the same time. So, do I see it coming and take it like a man, or swing blindly?

Damn straight I swing blindly.

Then a third possibility presented itself and I seized upon it. I popped the flashlight into my mouth and clamped the handle between my teeth. Somewhere in the night, my dentist muttered in his sleep. Now I had both hands free to man the broom, and a light wherever I looked. I was handling this well.

That's when Todd slammed the closet door shut behind me, and I not only jumped and dropped the broom, but also managed to imprint my teeth into the flashlight handle.

I shouted out to him while I groped for the broom, "What in the FUCK are you doing?"

"Well, we don't want him getting out. Did you get him yet? What's taking so long?"

"I notice you get a lot braver when there's a door between you and Batzilla," I called out. Finally I found the damn broom, and readjusted the flashlight so it was illuminating something besides my left ear.

From the other side of the door I heard snickering. "What's taking so long. I mean it's just a bat."

"Care to come in here and show me how it's done?"

"No, no. Can't do it. If I get this bat for you, you'll never learn how to do it yourself."

He actually managed to sound like an authoritive father figure patiently explaining a simple lesson to a slow student. I just glared at the door.

Then I remembered the reason I was in this mini-prison, and looked around again. I was fairly sure that the bat wasn't in the closet. I based this conclusion on both my having not seen him, and the fact that nothing had swooped down and attempted to remove my eyeballs or spleen.

As I started forward towards the bathroom entrance, Todd's ever-helpful voice came floating through the door. "You know, it's more scared of you than you are of it. And bats don't TRY to hit you when they fly. That's a myth. They avoid you."

I called back, "Maybe on your side of the door that holds true, but over here on my side, the bat is out to get us and has no fear at all. In fact, I think it may know martial arts and be carrying a concealed firearm."

I could hear the stifled laughter. I made a mental note to kill him later.

I made my way to the doorway between the closet and the bathroom and looked around as best I could using the mouth-mounted flashlight. I would have turned on the bathroom light and just been done with it, but I had a strange aversion to being jumped by a bat whilst strolling halfway across a pitch-black bathroom.

The bat was still no where to be seen. Then I caught some sort of movement out of the corner of my eye. It might have just been the shadows jumping, but I could have swore I saw the shower curtain move. I leaned in and over, trying to see the other side of the curtain without actually stepping into the room. By this time, I was leaning so far forward that I looked like a guy walking in 100 mph winds.

I was inspecting the curtain for visitors when a voice spoke up inside my head. I knew this voice. It was the voice of my Father. It spoke in that same amused way that he always did when I did something overly idiotic and/or silly in front of him.

"Hey genius, look up."

So, ever so slowly, I craned around and looked directly above me. At the bat. The small, brown bat that was hanging upside down from the place where the wall and ceiling met, right above my head.

I smiled at the bat. The bat flipped me the bird. I slowly retracted my head and pulled back into the closet.

"Hey Todd, I found the bat."

"Did you get it?"

"Not exactly."

"Why not?"

"Well, he looks a bit pissed. I think he knows what I'm trying to do."

"What makes you say that?"

"He flipped me off."

"Ahh, well then. Yeah, he might know. But you can take him."

Thus encouraged, I leaned back in and looked old leather-wing in the eyes again. He opened his mouth and clicked at me. I don't think it was an invite for coffee. I raised my broom up and prepared to whap him a good one. And that's when the cruel hands of fate revealed another logistical problem. If I swatted the bat, he would fall. In my face.

I withdrew again. If I was going to do this, I'd have to line the broom up, then back out of the line of fire and swing blind. If I hit the bat a good one, he'd fall and I'd dispose of him. On the other hand, if I only delivered a glancing blow, or more likely, missed all together, then the bat would probably take to the air again and use my nose as a scratching post.

While silently contemplating this, I heard Todd shuffling outside the closet door. Another mental image flashed into my head. I'd miss the bat, he'd come swooping after me, and in my panic to flee I'd slam out the closet door and knock Todd out. Then HE'D be the one waking up in the Emergency Room asking, "Did we get him?"

I called out to Todd, "Ummm.. you might want to take a few steps back. If I swat and miss, I'll be exiting stage left in a hurry."

He laughed and moved back.

And so with nothing left to consider, I put my plan into motion. For the third time I leaned in and looked at the bat. He grabbed his crotch and spit at me. Still not in the best of moods obviously. I held the broom up, lined it up with Mr. Attitude, and ducked my head out of the way.

BAM! ......................thud.

I ducked my head back in and looked up. No bat. I looked down. No bat. Slightly confused, I swept the flashlight around the floor. No bat.

Then I looked at my foot. Bat. Dead bat. On my fucking foot. I restrained myself from kicking it into the next county. Instead, I shook it off, walked over and turned on the light.

From behind the door a concerned voice called out, "Did you get it?"

I had no words to answer, so instead I resorted to song. In a low, off-key voice I sang, "Weeeeee are the champ-ions...."

Todd opened up the door and walked in. Together, we looked down at the bat. In death it was small. Cute. Harmless. But we will always remember it for what it was during the last hours of its life: The most dangerous creature to ever wander the halls of our house.

And so the bat situation ended. We disposed of the bat and headed back to bed. Ahhh, to be back in bed. Glorious bed.

I didn't go back to sleep for hours.

The bat's final revenge: My insomnia was back.

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This is again from the 'Faces of Death' cycle. In this piece, the mottled effect was produced by flicking turpentine at the image once it was smeared into the ink.

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80s candy bars were pretty good

only because i traded it for a candy bar in the 80's.

lol we all know you don't have a soul ghoti

my soul for some carbs...

But of course!

Yo ! Does this work ?


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