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TEAM &-FRIENDS!: The Christmas Question

Multiplayer! In which we set our brave contributors a question, and they attempt to give a semi-structured intelligible answer. And the question is…What are your essential pieces of Christmas popculture? Sam Lewis:My favourite piece of Christmas pop culture has to be Die Hard. Sure, it might not be directly be about Christmas. It wasn’t released in time for Christmas (3 February 1988 if you want to be geeky), it’s primarily about one man taking on a group of terrorists, and there isn’t any holly or a single drummer-boy to be seen. However, in many other ways it is exactly what Christmas is about. John McClane (Bruce Willis) has travelled to LA on Christmas Eve to be reunited with his estranged wife at her work Christmas party. Love is rekindled, everyone is drinking and being merry, and snow is falling. It sounds like a Christmas card, until it gets ruined by a group of terrorists mercilessly taking everyone hostage, executing members of the group and demanding $640 million in bearer bonds. The Christmas spirit is challenged by the selfish and the greedy. It’s like the Grinch, but if he had an accent and an AK-47. If you aren’t convinced by this interpretation, know that it reminds me of Christmas for other reasons. Without sounding too old, Christmas TV today isn’t what it used to be. I once spent hours poring over the bumper Christmas TV Guide with a pen organising a recording schedule, before telling my Dad how many VHS tapes he needed to add to the shopping list. Unbelievably, I still have the Die Hard VHS taped from ITV and it is one of my most watched. It’s my favourite action film by quite a distance; a simple concept well done. Christmas simply wouldn’t be Christmas without Die Hard. Alex Spencer:Remember when I opened the …&-Friends! season with a piece on Christmas songs (and the attendant problems)? If you want to simulate the Alex-Spencer Christmas Experience (and why the hell wouldn’t you?), that came with its own Spotify playlist. I think it’s important that everyone listen to the Pokemon Christmas Bash album, however, which is both hugely, fittingly novel and surprisingly catchy. Battling for the position of Most Prominent Festive Medium is the Christmas film. I’d obviously pick A Muppet Christmas Carol which, regardless of the Lovely Girlfriend’s crippling Muppetophobia, I have already watched once this holiday, and aim to watch again before the Actual Big Day (which gives me, what, around 18 hours and counting…). But being entirely truthful? As usual, it all comes down to a videogame. Four Christmasses ago, a big box-shaped present lies under the tree. The idea of a second console had been much grumbled about. Enter the Wii Sports series. That Christmas Day, a common narrative unfolded, as it did in thousands of other households. My parents got their hands on Wii Tennis, and that was it. Before you knew it, the whole extended family had Miis and were trading tips about bowling (“no, you’ve got to press right and then curve left“). It’s one of the few times videogames have ever been allowed to dominate my family’s living room space, and everytime I come home for Christmas, the Wii comes with me. Nowadays, Christmas Eve is nothing without the post-curry competitive bouts of Golf between my dad and Dom. Family life is organised around a quick spot of Wii Tennis. We all spend the holidays honing our skills in a series of virtual sports, until the time comes to wave a teary goodbye to everyone’s favourite little white box. I think this is a pretty common experience. I think Wii Sports have received short shrift in the years since it first emerged. It was a thrilling novelty, to be sure, and it remains the one game a lot of the older generation will play. But I think people miss that there’s more: the classic Nintendo design that permeates both games. Things unlock slowly and in the background, not signposted or driving the addicted playing, just there. Since Wii Sports Resort entered my life this time last year, I’ve grown a real fondness for its island setting. It probably seems insane to say but the Resort island is probably one of my favourite gaming spaces ever. Forget Liberty City and Hyrule. It’s a hyper-compacted world which is only hinted at in the majority of the game, but which places the dozen activities in a real, logical space far removed from the world outside the frosty windows. At the moment, my festive thrills are largely to be found in Resort‘s ‘Island Flyover’ mode, which puts a plane between your thumb and forefinger. It’s a very slow plane, and it’s not perfect to control. But exploring the Resort island, ticking off place markers one by one, and being rewarded with a quick two-line description (warmly, wittily simple, in the traditional Nintendo mould) is about the most relaxing gaming experience I’ve had. Pop on that Christmas playlist, melt into the sofa, and feel the Christmas spirit. Tim Mayton:Coca-Cola holds too much sway over Christmas. They were responsible for changing Santa’s outfit from green to red, and nowadays thousands of people across the nation proclaim, “It’s not Christmas until the Coca-Cola advert has been on TV!”. Maybe if they were still using the advert I remember from my childhood, I’d be one of these people, but they keep tinkering with it for maximum saccharine impact, and it now just feels like a callous viral marketing trick, some kind of Pavlovian response we’ve been hoodwinked into. No, for me, if you’re going to define the festive season with an advert, it’s Mr Frosty. Mr Frosty is such fun! He makes treats for everyone! Or so the adverts would have us believe, in their 80s-tacular way. This twenty second slice of absolute cheese has remained the same for the entirety of my life, and can still occasionally be found on kids’ channels near Christmas. Each year it becomes increasingly hard […]

COWLEY: Gifts for the Music Enthusiast/Talentless Scenester

[You have selected… huh, what this??] …Sam Cowley appeared! Gifts for the Music Enthusiast/Talentless Scenester Like myself, you have probably spent the last few weeks either deliberating over potential Christmas presents or guiltily putting off thinking about what to get your loved ones. Other people are just far too hard to buy for. How to resist some form of scented soap for your mum, or bottle of whisky for your dad? Now if I was buying for myself or cared enough about any of my friends with similar taste, here are a few items I would snap up in a second. The Ninja Tune XX Box Set Ninja Tune is one of the coolest independent record labels that we can boast as a nation. They have a sprawling and magnificent back catalogue, which charts the fertile ground where electronic and bass music meet alternative Hip Hop. At £100 their XX Box Set is definitely a gift for someone who bloody deserves it; but rest assured it is a solid investment, which will bring years of listening pleasure and serious music education. All of the music in the package is 100% exclusive to the set and features: six CD compilations, six 7” singles, two 12” singles, membership to Ninja Tune VIP (which gives you access to a world of free music in the future), a hardback book and a Ninja Tune Family Tree poster and Artwork poster. Quite simply, it is an overwhelming amount of amazing music and paraphernalia. Maybe you could all club together and buy me it? Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie XX ‘We’re New Here’ Limited Edition Box Set Now this is quite an odd one: it is not actually available until early February, but hear me out. More and more in recent years I have been giving out presents that are either non-existent or unprepared for a number of months after Christmas (insufficiently infused Sloe Gin from last year and Vanilla Essence from this). IOU. presents if you will. While this certainly has more to do with my lack of foresight, I like to think that these are the gifts that keep on giving. When the recipient received the unfinished product or promise of future present, they will be almost as excited as if receiving the real thing (honest), they will have a few months of excited (not frustrated) anticipation and finally a glorious second Christmas once they are finally able to enjoy the finished/arrived present. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Anyway, to the boxset! If you missed out on Gil Scott-Heron’s powerful comeback album I’m New Here earlier this year, then what are you doing? Close this page [going via Sam Lewis’ fine post] and download/buy/beg/steal/borrow… now! Right, hi there. Amazing isn’t it? Good. Now imagine that brooding, dark and minimal record remixed in its entirety by a master of brooding, dark minimalism. That would be sweet, no? Well imagine no longer. Jamie XX has had his way with the album and added a heck of a lot of stripped back dubstep and minimal electro. You can hear the first release, ‘New York is Killing Me’, here. The Box Set itself includes: the CD album, a CD of instrumentals and beats from the album, two Heavy Weight Vinyl LPs in pink and green, and two Photographic Prints. If you pre-order the box set now you will also receive a free download of New York is Killing Me. Some friends and I recently pre-ordered this for a friend’s birthday and he was so grateful it was quite frankly awkward. We didn’t know if he was going to cry, hug us or go to town on our genitals. You can recreate this flood of conflicting emotions by ordering the boxset here. Probably best not for family members though. It could get weird. Novation Dicer Midi Controller My throbbing desire for this piece of kit can be best explained as the inverse of ‘a bad workman blames his tools’. I am not a good DJ, in fact I probably just straight up am not a DJ. But every fibre of my being wants these. If I had them I just know I would be releasing tracks on Ninja Tune by the time We’re New Here is released. This is, of course, not the case. If I did own them, I would not have the first idea what to do with them, my ownership of them instantly sparking a serious depression as I realise the scale of my own talentlessness. …But my word, how pretty. The idea is that you use them with other complicated technology that effectively turns vinyl turntables into a digital interface. They cue up samples loops etc. Now, I have a pretty shaky understanding of what I just said, but none the less I am very aroused. So if you know someone who seems like they know their way around any form of DJ technology, they will probably weep tears of lust when presented with these. Sure they won’t be able to do a thing with them, but that is most certainly not the point. Tonium Pacemaker 60GB Handheld DJ Console Now this gadget ticks many of the same boxes as the Dicers. I have included them because a) I feel like I might be able to achieve some basic level of competence with it (and if I can do it…) and b) it is gloriously scenestery. The Pacemaker is effectively the DJ’s iPod, allowing you to do everything from practice mixing MP3s on the bus, to actually performing live from the palm of your hand. It is essentially the coolest DJ gadget ever invented. Now, this is important. Have you watched Charlie Brooker and Chris Morris’ crushing satirical attack on modern culture, Nathan Barley? No? Well, you know the score. Off you go… Right then. It’s just as relevant now as it was in 2005, it is basically dealing with the same phenomenon as the popular YouTube video ‘Being a dickhead’s cool’ and […]

ALEX: “But is it Christmas?”

[You have selected: Alex Spencer] And Christmas is complete. Los Campesinos! release, alongside the eventual announcement of Big Secret Project ‘Heat Rash’ (more on this elsewhere, I’m sure), a Christmas song. It’s called Kindle A Flame In Her Heart and it is a Los Campesinos! song, and therefore good. (In my opinion. It has been called to my attention that, upsettingly, not everyone shares my views.) It namechecks almost every single piece of stock Christmas imagery: from Robin Redbreast to mistletoe, via lumps of coal and herald angels. It features the words “Merry Christmas”. It is, undeniably, a song about Christmas. However: it sounds like a song by Los Campesinos!. This is key, definitely. I’ve been doing my yearly playlist-making recently, gathering together all the Christmas songs I like. For the first time, I’ve been using Spotify. Which has led, inevitably and dangerously, to playing it around other people. Namely the lovely girlfriend. Quoth: “But it’s not very … Christmassy, though, is it?” Which is kind of true. Almost no other human being on the planet would associate any of this alternative Christmas sountrack with the festive season, and fair enough. That’s kind of the point of being alternative, I guess. But the truth is: the majority of these songs don’t instill any sense of Christmasness, even in me. Every other emotion exists across the spectrum of music. My years-long quest for a different kind of Christmas song can’t be unique. Does it come down to that age-old chestnut? They don’t make proper Christmas songs anymore? It’s not as if people aren’t trying. Kindle A Flame… is a particularly strong offender in the not-very-Christmassy stakes. By my calculations, you need exactly one thing to make a song sound like Christmas: bells. These are in abundant supply on the playlist. But take one of the Sufjan Stevens tracks, off his five-disc epic Songs for Christmas. In theory, that ticks all the traditional boxes, much more than, say, Wham!’s Last Christmas. But at the end of the day, which one feels more like Christmas? Maybe it’s a matter of tradition, and these songs need more time to settle. Low’s Just Like Christmas does help me feel like it’s Christmas – and the question of trying to make yourself feel like it’s Christmas is one of the great mysteries of our age, stretching far beyond the humble Christmas song – which is probably a result of it having been in my festive life for half a decade now. But this yearly tradition, and a least a few of its fellow songs, stretches back at least one Christmas further than that. It’s a tightrope. You need to have heard songs enough for them to embed into your Christmas memories. On the other hand… Well, let’s take the cautionary tale of the biggest Alternative Christmas song of all time. Once upon a time the Pogues had a well-earned place in that playlist. Fairytale of New York is a fine song, sufficiently Christmassy without sacrificing being, y’know, good. It’s the kind of thing that gets played in the family car and in my bedroom. Then, three Christmasses ago: the whole radio-censoring thing blew up, and it got, somewhat counter-intuitively, played even more than usual. It became The Christmas Song, it was everywhere, and I got sick of hearing it. Maybe the problem with Christmas songs isn’t their individual quality. By their very nature, Christmas songs have to be repeated over and over and over and over and over in a very short space of time, in order to become Christmas songs. Very few songs can stand up to that level of repetition. The underlying point here is that I can’t imagine a new song entering the Christmas canon. This isn’t an alternative vs. mainsteam problem, as such. Lady Gaga’s just released a Christmas song. The biggest pop star on the planet right now. Will it make a dent on the Christmas compilations, the Christmas adverts, the mass consensus of Christmas songs? It just feels impossible. Which leaves us with the same set of faintly naff Christmas songs, passed down from generation to generation. On one hand, that’s quite a sweet image. On the other … well, you want a picture of Christmas Yet To Come? Imagine Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody stamping on a human ear – forever. About the author: Alex Spencer is the slightly deranged genius whothought this blog might be a good idea. Of course,it might not really be Alex after all. After that onedark night a few years ago, it’s been suggestedhe split into three parts, all of them pure evil…