Posted by: martinworster | February 24, 2021

Classical Rave: It’s All Gone Pete Tong

I’ve noticed with interest the growing trend in the last 5-10 years for reconfiguring acid house classics with a full orchestra. Brands like Pete Tong’s Heritage Orchestra – belting out Ibiza classics – and Hacienda Classical give a classical twist to all your favorite late 80s and 90s house and techno stompers. Too old and creaky to stand in a field at 4am next to a 4 K turbo sound system shaking your internal organs whilst you work out the pill you bought off a toothless traveller was moody? Instead, sip Prosecco and eat organic olives at the Hollywood Bowl – Pete Tong was there recently conducting his wind and horn sections – whilst the orchestra does a version of A Guy Called Gerald’s ‘Voodoo Ray’ in G Major. It’s Glyndebourne on Acid House.

I haven’t been to one of these events so who am I to sneer down my nose at it condescendingly? I do admire the cleverness of it all – it’s good marketing in how it offers a practical solution to repackage music in a new format for older ravers who like the music but don’t want to be the oldest swinger in town at an illegal Hackney rave. Plus by offering classical interpretations of Derrick May’s ’Strings of Life’, 808 State’s ‘Pacific State’ and Alison Limericks’s ‘Where Love Lives’ etc, the punter feels they are more sophisticated and mature, suitable to their advancing years and expanding waistline. Wave your hands in the air to Joe Smooth’s ‘Promised Land’ AND be home in time to kiss Henry and Imogen good night before they go to bed. And no comedown. Result!

Nostalgia is a huge industry. Pete Tong – a great businessman –  looked at all the big money generated by the traditional nostalgia circuit as punters splash out to see all their favorite acts from their youth. Adam and the Ants, Duran Duran, The Cure, Depeche Mode, The Police, Culture Club – the list is endless of acts who now sell out bigger stadiums than in their heyday to their older and cash rich fanbase who will think nothing of spending 500 and upwards for a VIP experience and front house seats. Whilst buying the T-Shirt and two expensive bottles of wine. Maybe a meet and greet with the band thrown in. Ka-ching. Tong looked at this, then thought demographically speaking: ’how can I replicate this for all the millions of middle aged ravers who want to cling on to their youth but don’t want to stand in a muddy field and get tinnitus’? We can swap back ache for Bach ache in C Flat Minor.

Older people trying to recreate their youth is big business. It’s so ripe for exploitation as it’s very emotional and music – and all it’s surrounding culture and fashion – is perhaps the best conduit to powerful memories. I only have to hear the opening chords to ’Strings of Life’ (which incidentally renders really well to the classical treatment) to be instantly teleported back, including the hairs on the back of my neck erecting. It’s very typical for emerging young adults – 16-22 – who have their first intense musical experiences at a time when they are very open and impressionable and then go on to spend the rest of their lives trying to replicate it. The Two-Tone ska fan who still dresses in the black and white suit. The 55 year old punk with tattoos and colored hair. The Cure fan who still dresses like Robert Smith and still knows all the words. You only have to look – as I frequently do – at the comments sections on YouTube videos of footage of classic raves and acid house anthems to see the emotional pull and resonance the golden age of 1988-1992 still has. ’So glad to be alive in those times…its not the same these days…the best years of my life…’ etc etc. A look back through rose tinted glasses at a time when they were young, the world was more innocent, there was no internet or smart phones and the drugs and music were better. I should know – I was there. It really was a golden age and we were really having the times of our lives as part of a movement and youth culture that felt life changing and important. How do I go back? Mr Tong?

I’m not sure whether I’d be up for one of the new classical rave events though – it does seem too obviously a reformatting of a culture for an older demographic. I’m not sure how authentic I would feel waving my hands in the air to the crescendo of Cafe Del Mar’s ‘Energy 52’, although who am I too judge without actually doing it. It does feel right that a man like the Pete Tong seems to have cornered the market. Driving up the M1 in the 90s to a northern house night wouldn’t be the same without Tong’s Essential Mix in the background – ‘and we continue’ (one of his catchphrases)  – so it only seems right he’s now playlisting  and reformatting the soundtrack for the older raving crew. It’s all gone Pete Tong? Not if you took a look at his bank account, I imagine.

Posted by: martinworster | February 15, 2021

So Cal Punk – As Dated As It Was In 1981

Having lived in Orange County for over fifteen years – gulp – it’s always been interesting to me how much influence punk had and still has here. After exploding in 1977 in the UK and New York, punk – the music, lifestyle and the aesthetic – spread around the world and has since never really seemed to lose it’s grip here in Orange County. Throughout the 1980s the OC version of punk was hardcore – fast, thrashy music sung by angry tattooed males.  Prominent bands from the OC include Agent Orange, The Adolescents, Social Distortion, Offspring and of course some of the LA bands from up the road – including X, Germs and Bad Religion – would have all had an influence and are still revered.

If I’m honest it’s not my scene. I admire the punk spirit and, although I was too young to be part of it at the time in the late 1970s, I appreciate the radical paradigm shift it initiated both musically and culturally. I like the whole DIY aesthetic and the philosophy of anyone being able to play music – just pick up an instrument and form a band (or write a zine, design clothes, start a night, create a scene). Let’s reject all that happened before – hippies, staid prog rock, rock and roll, the Beatles (‘phony Beatlmania has bitten the dust’) etc – and start afresh, ripping up the rule book. The beginning is now.  Fuck what came before. I like the Clash, The Damned and see how the Sex Pistols were very influential (although they only released one album).  But most of the rest of it? Hmm, I could take it or leave it. And some of it? I find abhorrent and annoying. Which makes me think if the central point of the punk ethos is not being set in your ways and clinging on to the past – how come you still see so many middle aged men here with lots of tattoos wearing the de rigger OC punk look of Vans shoes, white socks pulled up to their knees and long Dickies shorts, of course topped off with their favorite band t shirt and a splattering of tattoos. How punk is it to be still rocking the same look from thirty years ago?

If I see three older dudes with tattoos shouting angrily over heavily distorted two chord guitar riffs on a stage anywhere I run a mile whilst putting my fingers in my ears. Trust, me I’ve been to various venues with this going on, the clientele looking like they’d stepped out of the Roxy in London circa 1977 whilst stopping off at a hair metal gig at the Whisky A Go Go on Sunset circa 1987 on the way home. Come on people, move on! I also find a lot of it musically unsophisticated with poor songwriting and an overall production aesthetic and lack of quality that means it doesn’t age well. I get it, I’m missing the point. It’s all about the ‘bad ass’ attitude – perhaps if I’d been here in the late 70s / early 80s at one of the gigs as I slammed in the mosh pit, it would have been a life changing moment for me and I would have clung onto it ever since. That’s how youth culture works – in that very influential young adult period of 16 to 22 when you first really get into music and a scene that can define you perhaps for the rest of your life.  At that age you are young, bristling and open, an impressionable blank canvas waiting to be painted on, every experience is new and intense. You only have to go to a Bauhaus, The Cure, The Specials or Adam Ant show here – as I have – to see the fans totally dedicated to the acts they first saw forty years ago.  Dressing like them, singing along word for word, looking to the stage in worship and adoration. The nostalgia circuit is a huge industry (at least it was pre-pandemic) exploiting vulnerable middle aged adults desperate to re-live their youth. It’s like with some readings of drug addiction where the first hit is always the best and every subsequent snort, injection or inhale is trying to replicate that first high.

Come to the Acid House party – I’ve seen the future

My youthful life changing experiences were all on dance floors as I lived through the emergence of acid house and rave culture in the UK from the late 1980s through the 90s.  Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive. Much like with punk, I wasn’t interested in what came before. I didn’t want to listen to guys with guitar’s whining about just being dumped – I worshipped the DJ who was skillfully soundtracking my ecstasy induced religious experience to a futuristic Detroit techno soundtrack. I was hugging strangers and feeling an abundance of love in a room full of sweaty strangers. I was dancing all night in fields, looking at the stars, then seeing the sun rise through a chemically tinged filter that offered the promise of a future of infinite possibilities. Okay, I am getting carried away a bit as I relive the memories – all of it true and valid. I am tingling as I think about it. So that was my experience, I am sure the punk guy would also look down on it dismissively, perhaps criticizing the music for it’s repetitive simplicity. In all cases and all scenes – as with pretty much most experiences in life, you had to be there to fully get it. 

Anyone else feel like they are suffering PTSD from the Trump administration? What happened in the last four years? I scratch my head, incredulous as to how many people didn’t see through his lies and to call him out for what he blatantly is and always has been: a con man. We thought the Presidency would be bad, but not quite this bad, leading to his crowning moment; inciting a mob to storm the Capital fueled by lies that the election was stolen. It really was shameful. His last days in the White House and his historical legacy is an insurrection in which five people died trying to hijack the democratic process fueled by the delusions of an ego maniac (with sociopathic and narcissistic tendencies. 

There is so much to unpack – it’s difficult to know where to start. Throughout the Trump Presidency I always found it very hard to grasp how seemingly reasonable and educated people – even some of my friends – were unable to call him out for some of his atrocious behaviors. Even before he was elected, whilst on the campaign trail, he stood on stage and mocked a disabled person – this for me was always a lasting image and a absolute low in a whole cacophony of lows. My own children would know it’s not acceptable to mock disabled people and if they did it at school they would probably be expelled.  Yet here was the future President of the United States doing it on the world stage for his loyal fan base and supporters, many of whom cheered him on in the process. If anyone else did this it would probably have been the end of their careers, but in the cultish world of Trump each new low seemed to fortify both his ego and his followers. It’s a very strange phenomena. I would often look at Trump supporters and scratch my head at the cognitive dissonance occurring. ‘You’re a woman’ I thought, ‘why would you vote for him when he boasts about grabbing females by the pussy’, a blatant act of misogynistic sexual assault? He tried to brush this off as ‘locker room’ talk but it’s more serious than that and totally unacceptable.  Again, for most normal mortals, a career ending moment. Not for the Don.

I would also get the same perplexed head scratching feeling when I would see Latino or black supporters in his fan base despite his blatant racism. ‘Hang on, he referred to African countries as shit holes?’ ‘When talking about Mexican immigration – a problem he tried to fix by caging children at the border – he said the immigrants are bringing crime. They’re rapists.’ Don’t these sort of comments – and many other’s there isn’t room to quote here – illustrate a racist xenophobe? Why would you not see through this and vote for him, it’s weird? It’s only really understood by seeing it as a cultish situation where normal judgement is sidelined in favor of idolization of personality. Sane critical faculty is overwritten. And with the Donald, it really was a very overwhelming and brutish personality. There’s little interest in what he can achieve in terms of his policies but just a cultish and totemic repository for his followers emotions and frustrations. I am angry and frustrated in my life – I will transfer these feelings into my support of Trump.

For me this was the main alarming phenomena whereby society became totally polarized between pro and anti-Trump with absolutely no middle ground. Fueled by social media and the highly toxic manner in which Trump dealt with people; permanently-conflict and drama, name calling, a constant ‘you’re fired’, not listening, tantrums, governing via Twitter and dismissing anything that didn’t chime with his version of events as fake news. The worst his behaviors got the more fervent his fan base became whilst the rest of us looked on and scratched our heads, perplexed and confused. ‘Just listen the guy speak, he’s making it up as he goes along, he’s clearly a fraud.’

I always stand by my theory at the beginning which was Trump never actually wanted to be President. He thought he would initially put his name in the hat for increased exposure and to further his reality TV star career whilst growing his personal brand. Then at early campaign rallies as he stood on stage he found the more outrageous things he said the louder the cheer from the audience. His ego fueled by the crowd and the crowd hyped up by his raging ego in a dark symbiotic interplay, each feeding the other to create a cartoonish grotesque. This is where I see the valid Hitler comparisons; a rabid fan base fueling various out of control maniacal personality disorders. Then in the dying days of his Presidency getting gullible and stupid people to do stupid things based on lies. ‘Hey fanbase, let’s form an angry mob and storm the Capital as the election was stolen from you.’

He was and is a dangerous person. He deserves to be punished for his criminal actions. Thankfully democracy came through and for now – touch wood – the Trump Presidency is history, hopefully to never be repeated. Truth, democracy and sanity prevailed – just.

Posted by: martinworster | January 10, 2021

Ibiza via PCH (Acid House Bike Rides)

Luckily I live less than a mile from the beach, so a favorite exercise activity is to cycle along the broadwalk as the Pacific Ocean glistens to my side. Typically I take my JBL bluetooth speaker and blast out some tunes for the journey. What’s on the playlist? Recently I’ve been listening to some acid house classics which works well in the warm and sunny environment of Southern California, whilst the music unearths numerous powerful personal memories from the late 1980s through the 1990s. As I listed to Joe Smooth’s ‘Promised Land’ – a classic vocal Chicago house anthem that always got the crowd singing along – the lyrics define the togetherness and sensibility of the acid house movement:

‘Brothers, Sisters

One Day we will be free.

From Fighting, Violence, People Crying in the Streets.

Were the angels from above

Falling down and spread their wings like doves.

As we walk, hand and hand,

Sisters, brothers

We’ll make it to the promised lands’

On the dance floor we are all in this together. No matter what race or where you are from, we are unified. Love is the message. In these increasingly difficult and divided times I nostalgically hark back to these times when we really did believe in the central messages of songs like this. Of course, with the help of various chemical stimulants, love really was in the air, even so far as hugging strangers and having a feeling of total connectedness with everyone on the dance floor. If you are reading this and you never experienced it, I can understand how it might sound like hippy nonsense, a bit of a joke perhaps, maybe even something to be ridiculed. But the things we experienced were real – the impact of the acid house movement changed British society for the better, it opened up the race and class divide as well as being responsible for the decline of football hooliganism. 

Next up, Spotify blasts out A Guy Called Gerald’s ‘Voodoo Ray’ – I can never tire of hearing this song, it still sounds to me like a siren from the future. Along with Derrick May’s ‘Strings of Life’, it’s the Sistine Chapel of acid house. It renders well from my small speaker but really needs to be heard on a phat rig – 40K turbo sound and a wall of bass bins – to give justice to the all enveloping bass line and clean synth lines. Although I never actually went there, it reminds me of Manchester’s Hacienda, perhaps ground zero for acid house in the North. I know, how can you be reminded of somewhere you never went to? There’s a famous clip of clubbers in the Hacienda swaying from side to side to this song, their baggy clothes and floppy hair silhouetted by the smoke and dry ice – perhaps it’s this that makes me feel like I was there. It’s an iconic clip that epitomises the feeling and energy of the movement. Although I never visited this temple in the north, I certainly had similar experiences in London at Sin at the Astoria, the Fitness Centre, Rage at Heaven and the M25 rave Energy, all seminal nights. 

Next, the drums of Neil Howard’s ‘The Gathering’ segue into the mix – another Chicago classic. It’s a genius of production – clever 808 drum programming with heavy kicks and sharp crispy high hats all put together in the classic build and release dynamic of long percussive sections leading to hands in the air synth wash breakdowns. Dark and light. I’d say this cut is slightly under the radar but for those that were there, the opening bars will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, the amazing way music, with lazer sharp accuracy, can hone in on a memory or feeling. It also reminds me of how lucky I was to have come of age in a time before mobile phones with cameras became a thing. Look at any clip from the late 80s and early 90s – everyone is oblivious, absolutely lost in the moment and connected by the music and the shared experience, which at times veered into the religious. Not like today, everyone overwhelmed by narcissism and image obsession, filming everything for the social media validation of strangers rather than being in the moment and connecting with other humans present in the room in real time.

It also reminds me of those end of the night moments. The last song had played but no one wanted to go home. No one wanted the night to end. I’ve seen crowds hang around for hours after the night officially ended, perhaps dancing around the bongo player (always a fixture back in the day) banging out some rhythms. Imploring, begging, the DJ for ‘one more tune’. The lights come on and the whole room grinning like a collective Cheshire Cat. I remember one memorable night at The Zap in Brighton where the DJ – I can’t remember who it was, he wasn’t a big name – had absolutely rinsed it and the lights came on after his last tune with the whole crowd applauding and cheering ecstatically for half an hour, all so thankful for the journey they had been taken on. We want this moment and feeling to last for ever. We didn’t want the night to ever end. Unfortunately it had to – we got older, the music changed, the quality of the drugs declined and sadly, as 2020 hit – the pandemic meant we couldn’t congregate like this at all. 

Posted by: martinworster | January 3, 2021

Gruesome Newsom?

Living through this pandemic – no doubt an event of historical proportions – has allowed time for reflection and offers insight into the ways different countries have dealt with it. The media throws statistics at us – death tolls, infection rates, R numbers, positive cases, demographic stats – as different countries are ranked, like a morbid Covid-19 fueled Top of the Pops.  Typically the Asian countries come out best – Taiwan, Vietnam, parts of China – reflective of more compliant and obedient societies seemingly happy to follow orders, in conjunction with having dealt with virus outbreaks before (SARS) and a culture of mask wearing already in existence. New Zealand was also held up as a beacon, perhaps unfairly as it’s low population and isolation – an island on the bottom of the planet – offered a clear advantage.

Then we have the United States. The highest death rate and the noisiest population in resistance to being told what to do in order to stop the spread. Those things are connected. Plus, in Donald Trump, an atrocious leader who categorically failed in dealing with it. A failure of historic proportions. Zero leadership, no unifying speeches or compassion, ridiculing mask wearing, blaming ‘China’, suggesting bleach as a treatment, to name a few slip ups. After losing the election he checked out entirely so the country was left rudderless during critical stages of the pandemic. I have no doubt in my mind that his catastrophic failure will be talked about by historians in very negative terms in the future. This failure is his legacy.

Who would want to be a leader dealing with a Covid-19 response? No one in their right mind. It’s a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Impose strict measures to stop the spread and face the wrath of one sector. Don’t do enough and you piss off the other half. A sensible middle ground impossible to achieve. I look at the case with California’s Governor Gavin Newsom – charmingly referred to as Gruesome Newsom in some parts, or even Gestapo Gavin – as he faces the wrath of much of the population over his shut down mandates. I see both sides of the argument, although I find how personally many people here take his measures a bit baffling. When a leader implements a mandate that includes shutting down of businesses – restaurants, bars, pubs, yoga studios, gyms, hairdressers, nail salons etc – you know it’s a very difficult decision as it puts many livelihoods at risk and will no doubt be the final nail in the coffin for many of them after 8 months of the lockdown see saw. I get the arguments of, ‘how come Walmart, Target, Home Depot and other big corporate brands can stay open and the small family hairdressers has to shut down? I actually don’t know. I did see how in the UK when the Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the latest stricter measures in the UK he looked like he was close to tears knowing full well the negative impact his decision will have on many businesses. What’s more important? Saving lives or the economy?

Saving lives probably, but then it’s hard to quantify when you consider perhaps the negative affects of shut downs – mental health, poverty, suicide, a suffering economy, hunger – might outweigh the actual loss of lives from the virus. All very difficult decisions, often without a winner. So when I hear the negativity round Newsom’s orders, I do think to myself ‘his measures are in place to save lives, he has taken advice from scientists, looked at the data, analyzed where transmission occurs and made a tough call. Ordering a 10 PM curfew? Yes, because data shows a lot of transmission occurs amongst youngsters who after 3 pints in a bar are not inclined to be socially distant or wear a mask. 

American’s historically have always been anti-government and Newsoms orders are seen as socialist informed tools of control. For what agenda I am not entirely sure. Things are further not helped when he issues mandates which the Sheriff of Orange County (and many other counties) say publicly they will not enforce. In the UK if a restaurant opens in a lockdown they will get a fine. Not here. Hence its a lockdown where many things are still open. Lockdown lite. Hence you wonder when will it be ever fixed? With a vaccine hopefully but that also generates a lot of noise and pushback in the population (I don’t trust it, what are the side affects etc). Like many others, I am personally very burnt out by it all. Covid fatigue? Yes, I’ve got it, where can I find a cure?

Posted by: martinworster | January 3, 2021

Jesus – & Trump – Loves You

The town I live in – Huntington Beach – has been making the news a lot recently and frequently for all the wrong reasons. Most recently, after Trump had lost the election but dangerously kept spouting the bizarre ’election was fraudulent, I am the winner’  narrative, many locals – gullible, delusional and easily riled – gathered in support. Right after the election and well into December when Biden had been announced the winner, they thronged along Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) near the pier waving their ‘Trump 2020’ and ‘Make America Great Again’ banners. For me it was a bizarre phenomena – a grotesque losers parade. Didn’t they get the memo?

Yet still Trump continued with his unfounded claims – all rejected legally – that there was widespread voter fraud and that the election was ‘stolen’ from him. All the while simultaneously since November, when he lost the election, the numbers – deaths and cases – from Covid-19 really spiked, he totally checked out of leading through a crisis and instead turned his gaze inwards. It was a grotesque, macabre comedy – if black humor is your thing. Psychologically speaking, he’s the classic narcissist, only concerned with being the centre of the story, devoid of empathy and the ability to think outside of his own selfish needs – I want to win the election again – whilst a country is bought to it’s knees due to a virus. It’s a bizarre situation to see it unfold on such a big stage. The total lack of self-awareness – a gigantic, mega scale of hubris.  I have no doubt in my mind that 2020 and the Trump debacle will be written about in centuries to come – an epic failure of historical proportions – his colossal mishandling of the pandemic will be his epithet and legacy.

Yet still he has his cultish fan base – 70 million people voted for him – who for the most part seem devoid of critical faculty and lacking the brains and insight to call him out for what he is; a failure and a con man. One afternoon I was cycling – a favorite lockdown pastime – down PCH towards to the pier and in the distance I saw a youngish (40 something) dad and his two children riding towards me, Trump flags flying alongside. As they got closer I shook my head at the dad in disdain. ‘Jesus Loves You,’ he said to me.

I thought it quite a fitting comment. The evangelical / religious section of his fan base is large and there is probably a delusional cross over between believing in an imaginary bearded man in the clouds and blind faith in the real orange man ‘ruling’ from the White House. A clear case of cognitive dissonance. I shook my head at him as he cycled past as I find the whole ‘sore loser’ aspect of Trumps last days very distasteful. Why would you bring your kids out to show support for a racist, misogynist who lacks morals? Its a free country I guess and they have that right, as do I to shake my head in disgust.

Things have continued to get worse behaviourally for Trump in his dying days of power – more of the same Twitter tantrums, fake accusations, shocking pardons, lack of leadership and an ingracious inability to concede defeat. A total sore loser.  All regular and continued motifs from his four years in the White House. I notice on my weekend cycles along the pier the numbers of supporters lining the route has dwindled. His behaviour surely turning many of them off of as I hope it quickly dawned on them that they have been mugged off. Maybe, finally, they realized, everything Trump didn’t like and agree with wasn’t fake news as he called it but the truth? Hopefully experiencing an epiphany – the election wasn’t fraudulent. We live in a democracy where the people spoke and a clear majority of people fairly voted for the other guy. Let’s put the noise of Trump behind us and look forward and treat him for what he is – a car crash now in the rear view mirror. 

Posted by: martinworster | November 24, 2020

Trump Notes From A Divided Neighborhood

Trump wars in suburbia

I sometimes hesitate to add to the general ‘noise’ around Donald Trump as at times it can seem overwhelming. Hopefully he will exit the White House drama free in January and we can look forward and move on from this very bizarre four years. As far as I’m concerned any second more of Trump in the White House is a second too long for what has been a disastrous administration. I have no doubt how history will judge his tenure – with disdain and incredulity as an absolute black mark against many good American values and principles; decency, fairness, integrity, respect and honesty. How did he even get there in the first place?

I wanted to share some of my experiences as a ‘foreigner’ living through these times and hopefully offer some insights. I live in Huntington Beach, Orange County, California, a very Southern Californian beach town just south of Los Angeles. Historically the OC has tended to sway Republican although in the last election it turned blue – like other parts of the US a result of demographics (more Latino votes, younger voters). I am a member of a Facebook group for my neighborhood which occupies a square mile block in South Huntington Beach. In the run up to the election some of the debates got quite heated and in many regards can be seen as a temperature gauge to what is a very polarized country politically.

A lot of the debate heat came from one house in particular which proudly displayed a host of Trump flags in a what was a very OTT display. There were four flags on the roof, numerous placards on the lawn and even a life-size cardboard cut out of Trump in the hall way (door proudly left open for display). The flags were the classic ‘Make America Great Again’, ‘Trump Pence 2020’ and a ‘Q Anon’ flag (an absurd conspiracy theory) from Wikipedia:  a far-rightconspiracy theory[b] alleging that a cabal of Satan-worshippingpedophiles is running a global child sex-trafficking ring and plotting against US PresidentDonald Trump, who is fighting the cabal.

All the flag waving was very aggressive and in your face – much like Trump. There were other supports of Trump (and also Democrats) who showed their support with a few placards on the lawn which seemed less shouty / confrontational and more moderate. I find it weird even to be so public about your political views as this isn’t a thing in the UK. The debate really got ugly when the Trump fan hoisted a flag depicting Trump’s face overlaid on an AK47 wielding Rambo.  Again, very aggressive and frankly weird. I had first seen this flag a few days earlier in the back of a pick up truck as it drove down PCH. At the time I was quite shocked. It seemed to glorify – in an almost ISIS manner – violence and came across as very extreme. I couldn’t imagine the leader of our country superimposed over a gun toting movie star but then – thankfully – we never had a reality show TV star as our leader. 

Some of the local residents – rightly in my opinion – took offense at the flag and said so publicly on the Facebook forum. Arguments ensued – the Rambo flag waver angrily refused to take it down and signed off with ‘…and you can kiss my ass’ so the polarization became even more, er, polarized. This seemed to one of the defining take homes of the Trump effect. Extreme division. You either totally love him – in a weird cultish suspension of critical faculties way. Or totally hate him. There’s nothing in between. As the disrupter in chief Trump liked to fuel this division. The people – like me – who despise him can’t comprehend how others can’t see him for what he is – a con man – and call him out for his dreadful behavior. Of course a lot of this division is amplified by social media as everyone lives in their respective echo chambers in what is best described as parallel universes. In my own case, I like to think I’ve come to the right conclusions about Trump unaffected by the effects of social media. I only think you have to listen to him speak – listen to what he says, with no media filter – to work it out for yourself. His speeches are incoherent, rambling and nonsensical, repeated self aggrandizing and boasts, jumping all over the place, speech patterns which clearly illustrate a very disorganized mind.

This is all – hopefully very soon – history. We have a new President who seems to be already setting the tone for a more reasonable and less divided debate allowing respect for difference. Let’s look forward – the car crash will soon be in the rear view mirror. Plus the aggressive Trump flag waver has taken his flags down – if I see him whilst walking my dog around the neighborhood I will offer my condolences after he has had sufficient time to finish licking his wounds. 

Posted by: martinworster | June 6, 2020

Algorithm of Hate

We are all governed by algorithms. Secret formula’s engineered by the big tech companies – whether Google, eBay, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Amazon etc – which process how and what we see in our interactions with them. Attempts at cracking these formula’s – whether through Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), content marketing, hacking or other means – can sometimes make or break a business or individual. The value of appearing on page one of Google’s search results can offer financial reward and success to a company wanting to sell a product or service. Page one ensures more people find you, hence increasing your traffic which in term will ideally generate more sales. There is a whole industry around trying to game results across all of these platforms, whether to increase sales, get more likes and followers or get more views on your video’s and content. Everyone is shouting – not everyone is heard.

In terms of Facebook, things can get a bit more sinister. Facebook’s agenda is – with profits in mind – to ensure people spend as much time on the platform engaging with other users and hence in this proccess offering valuable eyeballs to advertisers looking to reach potential markets. Simply put, the more users and time spent – the more money they can earn. Hence, it would appear it’s in their interest to keep people engaged on the platform by all means necessary. As Facebook is increasingly – sadly – the main source for many people’s news things can get quite sinister. Of late there has been some big news events from Trump and Brexit, to the Corona pandemic and now the riots which all means good business for it’s sticky content as people look for information, engage and argue.

I am not an expert on the Facebook algorithm and how it decides what content to serve as you scroll through the pages. I do use Facebook every day – mainly as a way of keeping in touch with friends and family from all over the world – and often I will be scrolling through, not sure what I am looking for, but still tapping and dragging with my fingers as you get sucked in by the pixels. In short I feel a slight addiction. I try and abstain from getting in pointless angry debates with strangers – something Facebook must love – but still find myself reguarly checking back to see if a post or comment I made got likes or replies. Incredibly sad, I know. I am sure there are armies of psychologists employed by Facebook implementing strategies to keep you logged on and hooked, looking to to engineer the brief release of dopamine from double digit likes or an empty affirmation of self from strangers on another continent.

As we have the world at our fingertips, ideas both good and bad transmit around the globe instantly like a pulse to be absorbed and parsed by the masses. Events happen and in a nanosecond they are all there for us to see, slightly behind realtime. Or sometimes even in realtime if it’s broadcast on Facebook live. In the case of the Floyd George video, hopefully generating disgust in viewers and mobilising action for positive change to stamp out racism and police brutality. On the flipside, the video might have been – god forbid – cheered by white supremacists and other peddlers of hate.

It is said that Facebook often works like an echo chamber as you will typically mainly engage with similar and like minded people who re-affirm and amplify what you already know. In this way, the gaps between different groups can be widened – and if they do meet or comment on each other’s posts the divide and polarisation can be increased. Much like the advent of 24 hour rolling news media – which first really came around in the early 90s – platforms such as Facebook like big news events as it keeps people on the site longer as they engage in angry exchanges. A recent story in the UK was the Dominic Cummings situation – the powerful government advisor who ignored the very advice to not travel whilst in the pandemic lockdown that he himself created. Many people – myself included – thought he should resign as it makes a mockery of the public and the government through hypocritical and dangerous ignorance of the rules he put in place for good measure. If he’s not following the rules, why should we? Then others – on the right – thought he had done nothing wrong and the whole thing was a ‘witchhunt’. I saw both camps peddle their views on Facebook and with zero middle ground. A polarised dichotomy in which never the twain shall meet.

Million dollar question, but I wonder exactly how the Facebook algorithim works? There must be – I suspect – a lot of sinister metrics at play. The platform owns so much valuable data about each user and this can also be used in nefarious ways, most obviously as seen in both the Trump election and Brexit result which mainly saw success from niche demographic targetting of users to achieve the desired result. Mine the rich data – age, sex, what they buy, where they live, what they like, who they like, what they earn etc – and come up with groups (on the fence voters in swing states) to micro target with specific adverts and content. Voila. Britain has left Europe and Donald Trump is President – two things I never thought I would ever say. So yes, some might say Facebook brings us together, although I would realistically argue that the opposite is true.

Posted by: martinworster | April 30, 2020

Liverpool…Win The League

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Looking at these photos seems like looking back on another era – but it was only three months ago. I had just watched the Egyptian King – Mo Salah – score a goal at the Kop end in Liverpool’s 2 – 0 win over Manchester United. In celebration he took his top off and ran toward ME. I was sitting in the corner. THAT CORNER – ie the one where a year earlier local boy Trent Alexander-Arnold had taken a very cheeky corner to assist Origi’s final goal in the 4 – 0 unpicking of the mighty Barcelona. We subsequently went on to win the Champions League.

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The 2019-2020 season was gearing up to be the best season ever. We were sailing away at the top of the Premiership – a record 22 points clear. Liverpool in over almost thirty years had never won the Premier League – a weird thought. Then it sort of, well, came…unstuck. We lost to Watford, got kicked out of the FA Cup by Chelsea, booted out of the Champions League by Atletico Madrid and then, well Covid 19 sort of finished off the Premier League for us. Sort of, the final outcome is – like everything else at the moment – uncertain. I know thousands of people have died in the pandemic and there are certainly many bigger problems than LFC not taking home the league, but it’s a bizarre subplot to watch unfold. I also know for Liverpool haters – and there are many – this is giving them much pleasure.

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For me, the season was gearing up to be vintage. Watching Liverpool was the gift that kept on giving. The football played was exhilerating, text book, no weak points, an overtly touchy feely and huggy coaching style by the God-like Juergen Klopp. The dressing room and hence pitch exuded with positivity, confidence and panache. The players clearly loved him. Watching how the ball was moved around felt poetic and note perfect. World class players from top to bottom. New signings growing into their roles perfectly. I’d watched most games with my two sons, the proud dad showing them their team absolutely smashing it. I’d even taken them to the first game of the season at Anfield to watch them beat Norwich City, the first time I’d been back in almost twenty years. They experienced the religous experience of a Kop rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ thereby cementing in the marrow of their bones what I anticipate being a lifelong connection with the club. And then.. it all went a bit Pete Tong. Oft and overused, but you really couldn’t make this shit up. Things aren’t over yet, there’s still decisions to be reached on how to treat the rest of the season, worst case scenario being it’s ‘cancelled’. If that happens it will be a travesty. We will certainly never forget this season – and hopefully not for all the wrong reasons.

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Posted by: martinworster | February 28, 2020

Bat For Lashes @ Ace Theatre, Feb 14 2020

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