Wednesday, 29 October 2014


Kids in Glass Houses have two shows left, one in London tonight and one in Cardiff but alas the last time I'll ever see them has passed. Smart Casual and Dirt were both soundtracks to my time at Rangelagh, and I vividly remember listening to it while walking past the music block - don't ask me why. For a few years they used to be one of those bands I just saw at Reading, and it'd always be so much fun. On the In Gold Blood tour cycle I got the chance to speak to Iain Mahanty - an interiew I was wholly unprepared for, and photograph the band at The Forum in London. There's also a horrifically written review which is the reason I tend to stick to photographs nowadays.

KIGH are a band with so many memories attached; The one that springs to mind in particular is when I continually listened to 'Lovely Bones' throughout our stop in Italy while interrailing, for no better reason than the line "When in Rome" as far as I can remember, but it became such an integral part of that visit that even now listening to it will take me back. 

Really, there's one man in particular to thank for my continuing (active) interest in the Welsh quintet, and that's William Brown - like Charlie Brown it feels incredibly natural to refer to him by his full name. I'm not entirely sure how we came to be friends, but I do know we met in Glasgow due to a rather average Bloc Party gig, at least something good came out of it, right? I'm not sure if I'll ever see him again now that KIGH have bitten the dust because as far as I'm aware the only time we've bumped into each other apart from KIGH shows was Brand New in Glasgow, and the probability of them coming back any time soon is also slim.

Three shows on the 'Farewell Tour' doesn't feel like nearly enough, and I'm gutted that I can't really afford to get down to Cardiff! My ending, however, was pretty perfect. A hometown show - for me at least - with one of the best crowds it has to offer was a pretty special way to end it. Plus the day before, in Oxford at the 'soundcheck party', I got to hear my beloved 'Lovely Bones' and there's not much more I wanted from these dates.

Goodbye Kids in Glass Houses, I await your reformation.
Long live me, 'cause I'll be fine without you.

Monday, 27 October 2014


Hackathons have always been scary to me, I’ve never known what I could make and whether it would be good enough, and as such there’s no point travelling the country if it’s not going to be enjoyable. Unfortunately Hackference in Birmingham fell on (one of my many) busy weekends over summer, which left it down to BrumHack, part of the MLH hack season, to pick up the reigns for my first hackathon. In many ways the perfect introduction, run by friends and at my University, there were few reasons to turn down the opportunity.

That said, it didn’t cure my lack of ideas, and as sponsors were giving their opening speeches the reality of not having an idea was starting to set in. Thankfully neither did a trio of friends who were also in attendance. Tom, Joe, and Matt all had very loose ideas for what to do and almost immediately we decided to form a ‘team’ and banter around ideas. The one that stuck was incredibly simple, but with a fantastic entertainment factor.

The Braintree representative was going to give out a prize for whoever could incorporate images of Cristiano Betta, his colleague, into their hack. Thankfully this was easy, as there’s a website with placeholder images solely of Cristiano – think placekitten, but with a bald Dutch man who enjoys wearing an interesting array of hats. The question was how to incorporate this into a hack with Tom’s Kinect, and it was obvious – superimpose Mr Betta’s face onto your own, so you can become Cristiano Betta.

So we picked an image from the website, and started installing all the necessary programs needed to create such an incredible piece of software. Joe’s Visual Studio took an incredible amount of time to install, almost five hours, but luckily some was more reliable. Finally, in an example face tracking program in the Kinect SDK, we found a method that was drawing a mesh between points it picked up from the face. From there it wasn’t difficult to instead draw our image, taking the Point in the top left and stretching a rectangle to use as a canvas down to the Point in the bottom right.

Job done five hours in.

At this point there was genuinely a potentially finished hack, but with a gutting of a method replaced with six or seven lines of basic C# code, it felt like we should push on. The next iteration was to convert this into an Android application that could amuse family and friends for hours. The ability to make yourself a Betta man on the go appeals to all of us.

Unfortunately this was far less simple. I’ll admit, while Joe and Matt tackled to application code I may have drifted and not being much help. After failing to use the Bloomberg API to collate random information to display next to your head it was tough to refocus – as an aside did you know there was such information as number of pets lost/killed during air travel? There’s some strange, strange reports in this world.

I tried to make my own little app that took a band and formed a simple wordcloud from their lyrics. Using a combination of python to scrape information from azlyrics, and R to run statistical tests. Unfortunately azlyrics didn’t particularly like my sending of hundreds of requests and took to ignoring them, fairly swiftly ending that particular foray – although I now have a folder with lyrics to 30 Ariana Grande songs so it wasn’t a complete waste.

Thankfully other team members were far more productive, and halfway through the hack (ish) we had an Android app that would track, and print over faces. We were finally making real progress on a real hack. That’s when things significantly slowed down again. In order to be in with a chance to win some pretty incredible Lego we had to implement payments using the Braintree API, but without Mr Joe Nash – who had very wisely chosen to sleep instead – it was tricky going. Especially as my GitHub (Windows application) chose this moment to complete conk out, and trying to learn the correct order for commands in cmd is much more complex at 4am.

Having said that the early morning, fifteen or sixteen hours into a hack, is where I feel Rubber Ducking really comes into its own. Your brain is still working, but you’re far too shattered to realise. Almost everything that comes out of your mouth is obvious, but it’s not something you considered before despite staring at the same screen for three hours trying to figure out why nothing works.

Soon even that dried up, and due to my having to be in Oxford the next day I thought it would be best if I tried to get some shuteye. A three-and-a-half hour power-nap between 5 and 8:30 was a dream, but alas it probably caused a few more problems than it solved with the amount of Coca Cola drank over the course of the last day; awaking very tired, and very hungover-esque – all my favourite things in life. At least I had a bed for the night, people back at the labs were literally sleeping under tables. A team from Sussex had cleverly positioned themselves on the sofas, and could be heard snoring as late as 11am the next day.

Back the ‘next day’ and nothing had particularly changed. Both Tom and Joe tried the true hackathon experience – more out of necessity at having nowhere to go than anything else – but I don’t blame them for being a little bit sluggish in their working. Nine to eleven crawled past, and we were wondering how much was possible to present with what was essentially – as someone pointed out – what had been happening automatically in webcams for five or six years. At 11 though, everything kicked into gear. Joe Nash was back, and his ideas to use a hardcoded client token fixed all worries – this was where ‘hacking’ really took on its proper meaning.

It worked! We were able to pay through PayPal, and this let us unlock a new face for the application. Okay, it didn’t quite work in the fact that it unlocked the face beforehand, a face that could never be changed back to the default head, and you could avoid paying simply by exiting the app – but we were close! Allegedly using Braintree had proved challenging for many a group, so to have a payment send – even if it was at the wrong time – was a massive bonus to a team with no prior hackathon experience.

We genuinely got a great reaction from both guys who know Cristiano, and those who hadn’t a clue who he was, although I do accept that it may be a little strange to program such a hack without ever having met him ourselves. There’s a video of our presentation on YouTube (hopefully) which shows the app in all its glory - you can watch below, we're on first around 1:30! We actually managed to win the Braintree prize for use of their API, lots of Lego, being the only team to get it working for a mobile app, which is really cool - I'll definitely be using that as a memento of a great day. We even had a respectable amount of votes for Hackers' hack!

At the end of the day we set out to have a good time programming, and that was all our goal. Some of the teams had incredible applications that could genuinely be expanded upon, but that doesn’t mean that our virtual reality (pushing it now) android app is any less of an achievement. Hackathon no.1 down, time to get involved with the next one.

Also, massive shout out to Jack Wearden, Joel Hoskins, Sian, and MLH for organising; plus the team from Sussex who had to leave at a ridiculous hour in order to make it in time – and travelled in style with an ace Charmander onesie. 

#TurnDownForWhat #WhosBettaWhosBettaWhosBest

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Music: The Sounds That Keep Me Sane

Haven't put anything up here in a while, so here's a bit about the stuff I've been listening to recently.

Marmozets The Weird and Wonderful Marmozets

Marmozets, a band formed of two sets of siblings from Leeds. Trying to describe their style is a difficult task where you have the vicious 'Vibetech', that could probably appease those at Sonisphere or Download, just a track away from 'Hit the Wave' - where the chorus is hard to listen to without picturing explosions and slow motion panning. There are a few tracks we're already familiar with, like the excellent 'Move, Shake, Hide' and 'Why Do You Hate Me?', and both stand out but for me the title track, 'Weird and Wonderful', sums up the album perfectly. Becca's vocals are outstanding soaring above the pulsating guitar riffs and it's exactly why this band are gonna go far.

Kevin Devine Bubblegum

Kevin Devine may not be the young upstart that Marmozets are, but that doesn't make him any less relevant to today's world. In a music industry that has lost any concept of lyrical substance it's refreshing to have 'Bubblegum'. 'Private First Class' is about the plight of Chelsea Manning, and trying to empathise with her situation. Even better is the fact that when played live KevDev actually bothers to change the pronouns which is amazing to me. Right next to it is 'Fiscal Cliff', which again shows how the content may be political, but his ability to write a killer hook for the chorus can still keep your attention. It's not just full of shouty semi-punk tracks though, 'Red Bird' builds beautifully over the course of six minutes into a cacophony of warm distortion, and 'Sick of Words' is much lighter but lacks none of the purpose. Bubblegum was actually released at the same time as another of his albums, Bulldozer, and both are well worth checking out.

Moose Blood I'll Keep You in Mind, From Time to Time

It's entirely possible for Moose Blood to become the next big thing in emo, and this album is quite capable of helping them do it. I've heard people say that this is the album they wish Brand New had made post-Déja. While I don't necessarily agree with that sentiment - how could I when TDAG is the best album in the history of time? - it certainly shows you the company that people are slotting MB alongside. 'Cherry' provides an earnest, yet melancholy opening but that's quickly forgotten as 'Anyway' kicks in. They haven't deviated from the formula that made Moving Home a 'hit', and both 'Boston' and 'Bukowski' are re-recorded, and welcomed back like old friends. Sadly for Mark Andrews and Junior they've not managed to corner the market on 'Kelly Kapowski' in time, although it's one of the weaker tracks on the album so maybe White Lightening's still in with a chance. Also a shout out for being the only band I've yet heard to fit 'nan' into a song [although I've lost where they say it so I may have made it up].

Blitz Kids The Good Youth

Blitz Kids are one of those bands that teenage girls like, and bearing that in mind probably a band that I should steer well clear of; but ever one to obnoxiously continue where others would falter - this analogy doesn't include any genuinely scary or even mildly anxious situations - I actually got to quite like Joe James and the gang. Another band signed to the never ending resource of money that is Red Bull Records there are, no doubt, plans for them to follow in Twin Atlantic's footsteps and go onto bigger things. The Good Youth is a great start, with newest single 'Perfect' being the standout track, but by no means the only positive. 'On My Own' and 'Sometimes' both employ the same characteristic big choruses with 'Long Road' proving to be a more relaxed, heart-felt ballad. Haters gonna hate, but this album is great.

Childish Gambino STN MTN / Kauai

There's not much going on in the world of Donald Glover that I'm not on board with; hell I even like 'Break Your Heart Right Back', and both STN MTN and Kauai are no different. One a mixtape, the other an EP. Not sure the actual distinction between formats other than that one was released free, and both can be streamed. Both link back to 'the boy' from Because the Internet, in STN MTN he's dreaming about having his own Gangsta Grillz mixtape, and then he wakes up in Kauai after his dad's died. I can't even comprehend where the 'Telegraph Ave.' video fits in, but I'm sure it's not coincidence that it also references Kauai. STN MTN is a little 'heavier'? I'm not sure how to talk about rap albums; but there's definitely more sawtooth waves either way. Kauai has a pretty nice 70s vibe, and the only thing I could do without is Jaden Smith talking crap - particularly annoying as Gambino's part in 'Late Night in Kauai' is particularly nice - but I'll take what I can get. Have a look at the 'Telegraph Ave' vid too, 90% of it is amazing. plsluvmeDonald.

Solemn Sun §

The first release under the [sort of] new pseudonym for Jim Lockey and the Solemn Sun, occasionally it's these moves away from the tried and tested that can go horribly wrong, but not so here. 'Josef' quickly establishes the new order, but there are definitely remnants from their past incarnation. The EP's closer, 'I Saw', fluctuates between upbeat and moody, Jim's vocals almost sink into the wall of noise, while the background croons, "I saw, I saw you". The EP is streaming on Kerrang! and you can pay what you want from their site, hard to say no to that!

The Xcerts  There is Only You

Technically not out yet, but the first two singles have been released and I've not been this excited for a record in a long, long time. 'Shaking in the Water', which first made its appearance on the Brand New tour two and a half years ago and only just made the cut to be TIOY, is an upbeat grunge track. The hook of which won't be out of your head for days, and you'll absent mindedly find yourself bobbing down the street muttering, "I was shake, shake, shaking in the water". The next track, 'Pop Song' unashamedly bridges the gap between rock and pop, and it's clear that the bleak nature of Scatterbrain has been completely replaced. Mike Sapone's influence has faded and the band are back with Dave Eringa, who produced In The Cold Wind..., alongside Paul Steel, part of Cold Crows Dead. Maybe it's the latter's influence that has seen the production become such a vital part, taking them from a cult band to one that genuinely sound like they could fill arenas. Only time will tell how good TIOY will actually be, but I'm pretty confident.