My review of Popologetics and some thoughts on gospel contextualisation in general

The aim of this essay is to offer a review and critique of Ted Turnau’s book, Popologetics. I will begin by outlining a brief synopsis of the book, before spending more time on what I found helpful and not so helpful in terms of the content within. I will then give some concluding thoughts.

Short synopsis

Popologetics is split into three sections. The first sets some foundations in place as to what one means by ‘popular culture’ and ‘worldview’ while also laying out a brief theology of popular culture. The second offers a critique of some ‘not so helpful approaches to engaging popular culture’ – it’s here Turnau analyses earlier books penned by Christians on the subject. In the third and final part, he submits his own framework for engaging popular culture, applying this model to five such examples.

What I found helpful


I was particularly grateful for Turnau’s explanation of the term ‘worldview.’ While I did already have a decent enough understanding of the expression, he further clarified my thinking by helping me realise how one’s worldview affects:

  • How we see the world
  • What are the terms of debate within our world
  • What we live for – i.e. what is worth pursuing in the world
  • How we define and value the things of ‘our worlds’
  • What is and is not up for discussion in the world, and
  • Who we are as individuals and groups

High vs Low culture

I was also thankful for Turnau’s point that just because something may be termed ‘popular culture’ (as opposed to ‘high culture’), it does not mean that it isn’t of considerable cultural and artistic value. He explains how popular culture – whether it be pop music, blockbuster films or TV shows has much to offer in this regard, and as such, how it can help us see what the world values. I also agree with Turnau that popular culture influences (or at least does so potentially) societies and it’s the dominant worldviews and ideas within them just as much, if not more so, than ‘high’ culture.

Related to this, I was helped by Turnau’s historical analysis of how the concepts of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture developed in some cultural contexts. I found it interesting to learn of part race played in deeming Jazz music as popular, or ‘low’ culture and therefore as being of lower value than ‘high culture.’ Indeed, from a technical standpoint, Turnau compellingly argues that Jazz music is just as complex as other genres of music adjudged to be part of ‘high’ culture. Further, I found his explanation of how certain social levers such as the price of participation have been used to keep certain cultural pursuits (the opera for example) as ‘high’ culture. In short, whether something is deemed as high or low culture has at least something to do with the barriers attach to participating in that activity, and not necessarily its complexity or ability to convey complex ideas about a culture, society or anything else.

Enjoying Pop Culture

I was also glad to be reminded that there is a great deal of good to be enjoyed in what God created – pop culture included. Whether it’s a TV programme, film or pop song, Turnau rightly states that it is right not only to enjoy these things as part of God’s good creation, but also when enjoying such culture to worship God as the one who gives animators, musicians, writers the creativity and talent to craft it. He also usefully adds that as much as popular culture should lead us to worship, it should also remind us that we live in a fallen world corrupted by sin, whether that be through the false and damaging ideas portrayed through popular culture or it’s use of these things as idols.

What I found unhelpful


The main weakness of Popologetics can be found in part 3, whereby Turnau turns his attention to how we should biblically engage with pop culture.

In brief, he recommends that to engage both and with our non-believing friends and family who partake in pop culture, we should, essentially, seek to first understand pop culture and then engage evangelistically on these terms.

To help explain this some more, here’s an extract from the book (p.211) which suggests how to critically engage culture from a Christian perspective:

‘We need to listen to our culture and argue with it for a bit before we are ready to speak creatively into it. Further, we need to remember that the culture (including popular culture) that surrounds us is the worldview of our friends, our neighbours, our children, and ourselves. We need to be able to understand the cultural world around us if we are going to speak the gospel meaningfully into the lives of others, or even our own lives. Popular culture is, in many cases, the point of contact with the hearts and minds of those whom God has called us to love. The shows, websites, songs, games and movies that circulate in our culture show something of the landscape of the hearts of those around us (and our own hearts as well). If we would love these people intelligently, we would be well advised to pay attention to that landscape, to be able to decipher its meanings and respond persuasively to the siren call that makes it to our desires.’

Turnau goes onto recommend five core questions to ask when engaging with pop culture:

  1. What’s the story?
  2. Where am I (the world of the text)?
  3. What’s good and true and beautiful about it?
  4. What’s false and ugly and perverse about it (and how do I subvert that?)
  5. How does the gospel apply here?

Now before I go any further, I want to say that despite having never met the bloke, it seems like Turnau is a genuine brother in Christ, who sees Jesus as Lord and who loves the Bible, which is great. Further, I am not saying his approach is wrong per se – if the gospel is shared (in whatever way), then that’s a great thing. What I am saying though is that to my mind, his approach does have flaws which I’d like to explore – not so as to ‘have a dig’, but to help us all think about how to fulfill the glorious Great Commission (Matthew 18:16-20) which we’ve all been given.

My main issue with Turnau’s methodology is that he recommends a kind of ‘bottom up’ approach. That is (and as the above extract from the book makes clear), we should engage popular culture by framing our gospel proclamation in reference to the piece of popular culture in question or popular culture more generally. Whilst I agree that this method might be helpful, I’m far from convinced that other approaches aren’t as, if not more helpful and biblical in regard to engaging popular culture.

Correspondingly, Turnau didn’t do enough to convince me from scripture that his approach was preferable compared to others – throughout the book there is very little in the way of expository textual analysis. This (even in rudimentary form) would have helped give more credence to what he was advocating.

It seems sadly ironic that having done such a good job exposing how our worldview helps shape our interpretation of the world around us, Turnau goes onto advocate an approach that runs the risk of forcing the gospel to fit into the language, imagery and context of popular culture. It would surely make much more sense, if we really do see scripture as authoritative and sufficient, to speak and share a biblical worldview into the world in which we inhabit (in which popular culture plays a part). I elaborate on this thought below.

A ‘top down’ approach

If scripture is indeed authoritative and sufficient to help us grow in Christ-likeness and glorify our heavenly father (Psalm 19:7-11, Psalm 119:105, Proverbs 30:5-6, 2 Timothy 3:15-16, Hebrews 4:12) then it surely makes sense that we employ a ‘top down’ approach to our evangelism and cultural engagement. That is, we should be confident that when we share scripture faithfully, God will be faithful to work in hearts according to his perfect sovereign will (Acts 17:32-34, Romans 1:16-17, Ephesians 1:11). Put briefly, what scripture from Old to New Testament gives us is uniquely and solely sufficient to help win souls and to sanctify his church, both individually and corporately.

This ‘top down approach’ is very much mandated in scripture. When we look at the apostle’s ministry in the book of Acts (Acts 17) and in the letters thereafter, what we clearly see is confidence in the apostles to share a Gospel message and truth that is directly from God (Galatians 1:11-12, John 14:16). As such, we see that the primary concern of the apostles was not to contextualise a Gospel message so that it might become more appealing or understandable to its listeners, but to share truth, as it is and let God do the work in converting (or not) those who listened. Therefore, if we just concentrate on sharing the gospel, then we can be confident that God will make the gospel and scriptures understandable to those whom he desires.

Indeed, Paul in his letter to the Galatians goes to great depth to tell his audience how they were not to desert the true gospel (which he had been given from God) for an alternative one (Galatians 1). If we believe that the truth of the gospel and Bible has been directly revealed from God to the prophets and apostles and that it is unique in all the ways detailed above, we should be careful to be as true to it as we can when talking to unbelievers.

Observe too how the apostle Paul was so keen to share the unadulterated truth as it was revealed to him that he was willing to be beaten and killed in the process for doing it (2 Corinthians 11:23-28), and even after receiving such beatings carrying on sharing what he had been given from God! Thus, it’s interesting to note how bad reactions to the gospel don’t seem to have had an effect on Paul’s willingness to share the unadulterated truth. I do wonder whether sometimes, our eagerness to contextualise comes down to not wanting to experience a negative reaction when sharing truth with others.

It is true to say of course that Paul and others acknowledged their audience and even some of the cultural artefacts around at the time. Yet in recognising this, we can be sure that they didn’t seek to any extent to contextualise their message. One such scripture that is sometimes used to support the view that Paul did in fact contextualise is 1 Corinthians 9 (‘I have become all things to all men….’). However, notice when reading this chapter how Paul, rather than contextualising the message, is actually saying that he is becoming like men so that he might share the unaltered message that he’s been given. Paul is very keen that he himself would not be a barrier to the message to the gospel.

Applied today, this might look like something my church did recently when it held an evangelistic event. Members of the church were encouraged to invite unbelieving friends and colleagues to an event of craft beer, hot dogs and such like, before a talk on the gospel given by one of our ministers with the opportunity for conversation and follow up thereafter. And so, if this is what we mean by contextualisation, then I’m all for it! That is, removing any barriers relating to food, drink and surroundings so that people might come and hear the true gospel plainly proclaimed and engaging people in conversation so that truth can be shared on a one to one level.

Furthermore, as we seek to read, meditate, pray and apply the Bible to our and others lives and use it as the reference point for all what we encounter in this world (the ‘top down’ approach), we will be able to critically appraise pop culture and engage with it and our non-believing friends and family about it in the way Turnau rightly desires (Romans 12:1-2, Hebrews 4:12). Indeed, as far as engaging others is concerned, I’m unsure Turnau’s rubric in part 3 (the five questions detailed above) is more effective than merely talking to a person about their pop culture interests. That is, as we chat with a believer, we will soon gain an idea of what they’re into and what they understand about it, and will be able to share the unfettered gospel/scripture with them lovingly and truthfully.

In closing, I hope to have offered biblical evidence as to why a ‘top down’ approach to cultural engagement may be better than a ‘bottom up’ one, as advocated in Popologetics. Let me be clear, I’m not against holding film nights, video game marathons, or whatever else with the purpose of sharing the gospel – I’m all for them! What I am arguing for though is an approach where we don’t have to explore everything (or even anything) about a particular cultural artefact (film, TV show or whatever) before engaging pop culture and/or sharing the gospel. All we need is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the timeless truth of scripture. When we share this, however feebly or weakly, and in whatever context, God in his grace does his work (2 Corinthians 7). Indeed, as we grow in our understanding of the gospel and scripture through personal bible reading, meditation, prayer and sitting under sound teaching, we’ll find ourselves able to biblically engage pop culture. Thus, while learning about the aforementioned shows might very well be helpful in sharing the gospel, and might provide a way into conversations about Jesus and scripture – I don’t believe they are as preferable or as important as Popologetics suggests.


A review of Louis Theroux’s ‘Drinking to Oblivion’

Last week, the ever popular Louis Theroux returned to our TV screens for a one off documentary exploring the issue of alcoholism. In common with much of his work, Theroux, rather than drawing on statistics and expert evidence chose to explore this topic by talking to those affected themselves – the people experiencing alcoholism and various associated others (spouses, partners, boyfriends etc.) In watching this latest offering, I was left with a whole range of different impressions and emotions in comparison to his earlier work.

Louis Theroux - Drinking to oblivion review pic

Charting Louis Theroux’s career to date is an intriguing exercise. In his earlier output, Theroux came across as somewhat smug and sneering as he engaged with various perceived fringe groups in western society, whether they be ‘survivalists’ or those who believe in the existence of UFOs. This trend for engaging with alternative sects continued throughout Theroux’s career into the early and mid-2000s, minus the smugness and sneering I’m glad to say.

Whether it was leftfield groups or charismatic celebrities, the Oxford graduate soon built something of an imitable trademark style – altogether emotionally neutral, deadpan yet also charming and relatable. This odd mix of qualities perhaps helps explain why he has been able not only to gain access to notorious groups and people but also able to build relationships with them, bringing out their human side alongside their oddities.  All of this has made for rather compelling viewing over the years. Did ‘Drinking to Oblivion’ continue this trend?

Perhaps the first thing to say about this latest documentary is that its subjects are fundamentally different from any of Theroux’s others. As already noted, Theroux has built his career on being able to engage with society’s fringe, and whilst alcoholics are in many ways similarly seen as fringe, they are in many ways seen as far more relatable, visible and knowable (if not literally, then certainly culturally) than any other group Theroux has explored. We are far more likely to know an alcoholic for example, whereas how many of us can say that we know a survivalist or a member of Westboro’ Baptist Church?! We are also far more likely to ‘know’ about alcoholism in as far as we know (even if on a basic and/or flawed level) what it is. In comparison, I might have heard of the survivalists or Westboro’ Baptist Church but not much more than that – who they are, what they believe or how they behave for example.

Further, the way Theroux relates to those he meets in ‘Drinking to Oblivion’ is patently different to how he has done so in the past. Here, he seems to wear his emotions much more openly, he is visibly saddened and stirred by the way in which alcohol has gripped and destroyed the lives of a number (if not all, thankfully) of those he meets. Accordingly, he comes across as much more attached than in the past, it is clear that he dearly wants to help those he meet escape alcohol’s clutches. This is no more apparent than when Joe, in the depths of an alcohol induced crisis decides (whilst at hospital) that he wants to go out and buy a bottle of vodka, to which Louis responds by imploring him not to. It isn’t merely the words he says to Joe, but the way in which he almost begs Joe not to that sticks in the memory.

All of which leads the viewer to respond to ‘Drinking to Oblivion’ in a wholly different way than to previous Theroux offerings. In the past, we might have been entertained by Theroux’s dalliances with people to whom many feel deserve our mockery, derision and laughter. This certainly isn’t the case here. Rather, Drinking to Oblivion is an often uncomfortable, hard-hitting and altogether sad watch. Indeed, we aren’t encouraged to be entertained, intrigued, and to mock, deride and laugh but to lament, be saddened, discomforted and moved by how this terrifying affliction can affect significant numbers of people. Thus, given the subject matter, Theroux’s change in tone is welcome (I say this as someone who has enjoyed much of Theroux’s earlier work).

In summary, drinking to Oblivion is indeed hard, discomforting and saddening, and it is all the better for it.

The Vanarama Conference – A Half-Term Impression

It’s hard to believe, but 2015 is almost upon us. I can’t be the only one asking ‘Where did the last year go?’ Yet time rests for no man, and no doubt many football fans will now see this time of year as an apt time to assess their club’s stock thus far this season. The Conference is no exception. Some fans will be rejoicing, some will not. Followers of Barnet will surely be sipping their port counting down the days until their seemingly inevitable promotion back to the Football League. They may be counting their chickens, and stranger things have happened, but I find it hard to believe that any side below them will overhaul their seven point lead at the top of the table. We shall see.

Other clubs meanwhile will hardly be able to believe their eyes at their standing in the table, both in the good and bad sense. Take Surrey side Woking for instance. Who would have believed that come the half way point of the season The Cards would be sitting pretty in fifth place? Not me that’s for sure. A great deal of credit must go to Gary Hill and his side for a job well done so far.

On the other side of the coin you arguably have four sides who for different reasons have cause for concern. The first pair, Forest Green and Eastleigh, despite having millions at their disposal (and thus able to attract considerable talent such as James Norwood and James Constable respectively) are not sitting pretty as you might expect. Forest Green despite trying for a number of seasons to throw money at the title, find themselves toiling in 11th, whilst Eastleigh are just two points better off in 8th, 3 points off the playoffs, albeit with two or three games in hand and this being their first crack in the division. Thus, whilst things certainly aren’t desperate for these two, it does a least show that having millions doesn’t make promotion out of this league a foregone conclusion.

If Forest Green and Eastleigh might expect to be doing better, fans of Dartford and Nuneaton might consider themselves lucky to even be playing at this level this term. Had it not been for the financial mismanagement of better placed sides Hereford United and Salisbury City last season, The Darts and Boro would not be here this. Yet, barring more financial tomfoolery this season both sides placed 21st and 23rd in the table might not be around in the division much longer.

If the above serves as a brief summary, let me now elaborate on a more general observation. Whilst many have remarked (perhaps with good reason) that ‘anyone can beat anyone’ in this division, (see my side Lincoln City’s rather surprising 2-1 away win and table topping Barnet for example) a definite trend has emerged regarding who has tended to do well. That is, sides in the top 12 tend to be full time outfits whilst part time operations often predominate the lower 12. Indeed, only the aforementioned Woking and Halifax buck the trend in the top half, whilst only Lincoln City and Aldershot in the bottom half ply their trade on a whole-time basis.

The question remains though – why is this is the case? It is one thing to say there is a correlation between league position and full/part time status, but quite another to imply a directly causal relationship. After all, (hypothetically) most of the teams in the top 12 could wear red and white stripes but it would be silly to suggest this is a key factor in their table position. On the other hand, there are many plausible reasons why being full or part time could make a difference to a table placing.

Firstly and perhaps most obviously, full time squads have longer training periods during the week, meaning they arguably have greater scope to develop attributes such as match fitness, set piece ability, and so on. Secondly, the prospect of full time full football may attract higher quality players both from part time leagues below, and loanees, free agents, ‘up and comers’ and those ‘on the way down’ from the Football League. This could be due to the more financially lucrative packages on offer to the prospect of the training time and facilities a full time club can provide. This isn’t absolute however, with a handful of part time clubs being more financially attractive for footballers than some full time outfits.  Some players for instance take a ‘second wage’ at a Part Time outfit in addition to a relatively paid full time career in another profession.

Thirdly and finally, given the national nature of the Conference from clubs as far north as Gateshead and south as Torquay, being part time could be a serious constraint in terms of preparation time, match sharpness and so on. Players who finish work, travel to a mid-week evening match, arrive back home at 3am,only to be up again at 6am for work face a different reality to full time players who can spend the day training, travelling to a match in good time and then have time off the following day.

In summary, half way into the Conference season we can see a definite full time/part time split emerging and it’ll be interesting to see if this trend is as pronounced come April. As far as the teams themselves are concerned, Barnet are out on their own at the top with Bristol Rovers, Macclesfield, Woking and Grimsby making up the play-off spots. Telford occupy bottom place, some 12 points away from safety, whilst Nuneaton, Dartford and Alfreton occupy the other relegation berths. Whilst I wouldn’t be surprised to see the teams in 1st and 24th places remain as they are, there is still much to be played for elsewhere, albeit with the top twelve and bottom twelve effectively competing in separate ‘mini-leagues’.

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My top tracks of 2013

Unlike some previous years, 2013 didn’t see the emergence of a new ‘super genre.’ However, very much in character with underground music, this year seemed as diverse as many before it, with great tunes from across the electronica spectrum. Here are my top tracks of 2013 in no particular order! If you like the sound of any of them, why not support the artist and buy the track? All what is listed here should be available via Beatport.

1. Nicole Moudaber – Roar (Intec)

As the track title suggests, this is a booming, barnstormer of a track from Techno stalwart Moudaber. With hints of euphoria and high female tones this is a track is best enjoyed with Roast Beef, Venison Sausages, or alongside ex-Arsenal starlet and current FC Augsberg goalkeeper Alex Manninger.

2. Felipe Valenzuela & Dani Casarano – 1000 Tones (Melisma)

Oh yes, this REALLY is the track of 1000 tones. South American bright young things Valenzuela and Casarano dazzle their audience with minamalist lashings of elderflower and pomegranate, cheese and fruits of the Citrus Tree.  This tune is best served with Pan Fried Salmon, sweet potatoes, cardamon and Costa Rican footballing sensation, Paulo Wanchope.

3. Floorplan – Chord Principle (M-Plant)

American Techno pioneer Robert Hood  was, through his side-project Floorplan, responsible for producing this organ heavy gem. This production is best enjoyed with crisps and alongside everyone’s favourite Ukranian, Andriy ‘The Wind of Passion’ Shevchenko.

4. Rustie – Slasherr (Numbers)

Scotland’s Rustie burst onto the electronica scene this year with this bass music slammer. Best served at between 23 and 25 degrees celsius with the lights on, this is best served ‘as it comes’ with generous helpings of soiled mattresses. Ronald ‘Little Snowflake’ Koeman is said to be a fan.

5. Samuel L Session – Dystopian Life (Raw Mix) (Klap Klap)

You’ve had the meatballs, you’ve had the furniture and in 2013 you might have had this track from Sweden’s Samuel L Session. To really experience this piece of atmospheric Techno, serve with panfried scallops on a beach in Scarborough.

6. Foals – My Number (Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs remix) (Warner Bros.)

This lovely melancholic number from Oxford born producer TEED (real name Orlando Higginbottam), is as much at home on the dancefloor as it is in the lounge whilst you’re doing the washing up.

7. Emptyset – Trawsfynydd Nuclear Power Station – Snowdonia, Wales (Subtext)

Without doubt the most experimental track on my list, this cheeky little ditty from British duo Emptyset was recorded at the above named decommissioned Nuclear Power station using the resonances of the building’s interior. Clever stuff, and a real treat to listen to. For best results, listen at 3am in pitch black darkness, or in a quintessential Georgian tea shop.

8. Royksopp – Running to the Sea feat.Susanne Sundfor (DJ HMC remix) (Dog Triumph)

An unlikely electronic coalition between Norway and Australia combine here to produce a track as tempestuous as the title suggests. Don’t be fooled however into thinking you’ll be unceremoniously tossed like a unloved Caesar Salad; this is an offering which whilst being sufficiently stormy, is also warm like a well functioning log fire.

9. Len Faki & Johannes Heil – Maniac (Figure)

Slightly terrifying yet enchanting, this main room dominator by Germans Faki and Heil really catches the attention. Uncompromising yet useful in a number of situations, such as jogging, this is what I call ‘al dente techno.’ For a laugh, try bursting into your 87 year old granny’s bedroom at 4am playing this at full blast.

10. Tessela – Hackney Parrot (Poly Kicks)

As well as being known for it’s prolific Cider production, the South West is also known for churning out its fair share of Electronica. This year was no exception, with West Country beat masher Tessela announcing his entrance with Hackney Parrot, a track which epitomises the emergence of UK bass music this year. The special request VIP is also worth a cheeky gander. To fully appreciate this shanty, play at full volume outside your car window in the balmy afternoon sunshine, or whilst playing Scrabble at your parents on Christmas Eve.

11. And.Id – Eternal Return (Mobilee Records)

Over to Greece now and we here we have a track out on Anja Scheider’s Mobilee Records which lingers on the palate whilst offering a floaty finish, whatever that means. This is an example of memorable, creative and original tech house which will is sure to please the listener.

12. Marc Romboy @ KINK – Over and Out (Systematic Recordings)

A track which brings back memories (perhaps) of Kennth Wolstenholme’s iconic ‘they think it’s all over’ 1966 World Cup line. This tune is one that is more ‘up high’ than ‘down below.’ This offering also further cements Bulgaria’s KINK as a main electronic music player. Enjoy with figs.

13. Monika Kruse feat. Robert Owens – One Love (Nick Curly remix) (Terminal M)

Once again, Tech House mainstay Curly demonstrates his consistency with his remix of this splendid house offering. Presenting veritable smacks of vanilla and mint, this should be best served with Kansas Fried Chicken, a bird of paradise and Rotterdam’s answer to Lionel Messi, Winston Bogarde. Thus, greatly enjoyable even despite the creepy lyrics!

14. Ben Sims – Smoke & Mirrors (Jerome Sydenham’s Carbon Dub 2013) (Drumcode)

Techno heavyweights Sims and Sydenham team up to offer an upfront piece of techno cheesecake. Fun fact; Sydenham is a place in ‘Sarf’ London and has three national rail stations, Sydenham (which also has an overground line), Sydenham Hill and Lower Sydenham.

15. Maceo Plex – Going Back (Ellum Audio)

Established underground producer Maceo Plex through his own label Ellum Audio has here succeeded in creating something that is both brooding and weighty whilst also being suitable to jive to. As versatile as a Swiss Army Knife.

16. Talbot Wood – Dream Sequence (Curle Recordings)

New entrant to the scene Talbot Wood impresses here with this dreamy (hence the name) tech house meander. This Belgian producer could be someone to watch come 2014.

17. Mike Parker – Lustration Six (Megalith) (Prologue)

2013 saw US Techno mainstay Mike Parker launch his album (his first full length in 12 years) ‘Lustrations’ on German label Prologue. Lustration Six is my highlight, hence its inclusion here. Repetitive, either annoyingly or brilliantly depending on your preference. Lustration Five is also a pleasure to listen to.

18. Technasia – I am somebody (Suara)

Moving onto more subtle climbs, Technasia (real name Charles Siegling) gave us this track, part of the ‘I am Somebody’ EP. This tune succeeds in being both subtle and compelling, drawing in the listener in the process, therefore producing on the listener an expression rather like the Cat on the EP front cover.

19. Bonobo & Grey Reverend – First Fires (Maya Jane Coles remix) (Ninja Tune)

Coles continues to demonstrate her distinctive and exciting production skills with this remix, out on London label Ninja Tune. Groovy, Catchy, Danceable are all adjectives that would suitably describe this unique little number.

20. Mark Reeve – Weird Faces (Stripped down remix) (ELEVATE)

Heavy in many senses of the word, this is an atmospheric and throbbing Techno number from Germany based Brit Reeve. As DJ Judge Jules might say, ‘so sweaty you’ll need to bring a de-humidifier.’

Honourable mentions

21. Francesco Tristano – Ground Bass (Kirk Degiorgio remix) (Detsche Grammophon)

22. A.Mochi – Squeal 3 (Figure)

23. Sam Paganini – Chocolate (Drumcode)

24. Inner City – Good Life (Ian O’Donovan remix) (KMS Records)

25. Chase & Status – Count on Me (Virgin EMI)

26. KINK & Rachel Row – Follow the Step (KINK Bass and Beats Mix) (Defected)

27. Gary Beck – Video Siren (Bek Audio)

28. Foremost Poets – Reasons to be Dismal? (Steve Bug edit) (Pokerflat Recordings)

29. Milton Bradley – Far Beyond the Quiet (Do Not Resist The Beat!)

30. Gary Beck – Stranger (Cocoon Recordings)

A review of my stay in Barcelona

montjuicSo, as I come to the end of my time here in Barcelona, I thought now, as I sit in the departure lounge/on the plane on the way home to the UK, would be a good time to share some of my lasting impressions of the city they call…. Barcelona.

The first distinct impression I gained was that the Catalonian Capital was a city of ‘a lot.’ By the term ‘a lot’, I mean that it appears to be a city that offers much for people of all interests, whether that be architecture, greenery, food, culture, arts, bars etc. This I felt was particularly amplified in my particular visit for two reasons. First, I was only there for a weekend, thus I may have felt differently had I been there for a week, and second, the weather, which for significant portions of my stay was distinctly wet. Yet herein lies the rub. Because of the rather changeable weather, I think I may have got a particular sense of this latter quality, one minute I was strolling around in sweet smelling parks and taking in the architecture from outside, the next, due to the onset of rain, I was prancing like a gazelle around a museum dedicated to the works of renowned Catalan artist Joan Miro.

In saying this however, the three particular highlights of the trip are pursuits undeniably best enjoyed outdoors, La Rambla, Bari Gotic and Montjuic.

The first of these can best be described as a long street and area in the centre of the city, which showcases attractively authentic Catalonian ‘old school’ (hey, I’m no architect!) architecture, in the form of picturesque flats, shops and so on, whilst the second, translated as ‘Gothic quarter’, is a small area of ‘Las Ramblas’ especially Gothic in nature. As with most of these things, you can only get a real sense of what this area is like by visiting it in person, needless to say that it was a pleasure to walk around the brown/terracotta coloured landscape and be taken in by the associated ambience. Before moving on, one must also give a mention to the Cathedral (note, NOT the same as the Sagrada Familia), which is also situated in this area, which with its unmistakable Gothic style is also worth a gaze.

Moving onto ‘pastures green’ so to speak is my third highlight, Montjuic, a vast green expanse in the South West of the City. To me, this park is remarkable in many ways, from its lush, sweet smelling flora to the striking buildings that lie within it, most notably perhaps those encompassing the area of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. In a city as metropolitan and densely packed (in the centre at least) as Barcelona, Montjuic provides a fascinating and tranquil other side to the city, and one could quite easily spend a whole day meandering like a dazed goat around the well kept yet wholly natural appearing grounds. What is more, if you do happen to be at Montjuic at the appropriate time of the day, there’s also a rather pretty fountain display to enjoy, undoubtedly worth a watch and a few photos.

As far as my dwellings for the duration of my stay were concerned, I decided after much deliberative research to plump for the ‘Feetup Garden Hostel’ which can be found near the metro station of Valldaura, to the north of the city. My reasons for plumping with this particular accommodation were basically twofold. Firstly, it had an overall rating on Google of over 90%, with many people leaving overwhelmingly positive comments about the place, and secondly, for a rate of 25 odd euros per night, it represented what I considered at the time to be very good value for money for a private room.

Upon arrival (the hostel provided clear instructions via email) I was greeted by a friendly Australian girl, who promptly checked me in and showed me to my room, which she termed as ‘quite small.’ Indeed she was right. The space, although very bright and clean, was rather diminutive in size, if I had to describe it in a phrase, I would say ‘tropical prison cell.’ In addition, I was somewhat surprised to discover that instead of a conventional duvet (I assume duvets are conventional in Barcelona) I was provided with an orange towel like blanket and white sheet to keep me warm. A week earlier, when it was apparently much sunnier and warmer, this might not have been a problem, the week later when I was there however it did however leave me feeling a bit chillier (even with an extra orange blanket provided by the nice staff) than I would have liked. In addition, (and again thanks to the less than helpful weather) due to the room being ‘outside’ (think of it as having a similar vibe to a conservatory/posh shed attached to a house) it was particularly sensitive to noise, whether that be the rain, people talking (in fairness the hostel was on the whole pretty peaceful) or the annoying sound of the vending machine outside my room. Thus, this did prove more disruptive than was perhaps ideal. Apart from the room however, the wifi worked very well, the staff were friendly and helpful and it was in a very quiet neighbourhood, disturbed only by annoying vending machines. Overall then, my stay at the feetup hostel was a mixed experience.

The food on the other hand was certainly not a mixed experience. On the contrary, it was rather good, if on the expensive side. Having tried various tapas bars during my stay, I think the eating of tapas should be a practice which should be imported to the UK at the earliest possible opportunity. For those unaware of this ‘concept’, tapas are basically small dishes of meat, fish or vegetables of various flavours and textures and for those prone to indecision like me they provide a very tasty alternative to a single, larger main meal. Of all the tapas bars I visited (which were all pretty excellent), my pick was an Argentinean place in Caller de Ciutat, which although pricey, was very satisfying and enjoyable, my favourite dish being one that centred around Partridge (that’s the bird, not the comic figure Alan Partridge.)

If what I have described to you so far is the filling of my holiday sandwich, allow me to conclude by elucidating on the proverbial slices of bread. Starting at the beginning (as is conventional), I woke up at 4am on Thursday, and was out the door ready to catch my bus to the train station by 5. It was rather exciting actually, I felt like James Bond on a top secret mission to deliver some classified package, although I doubt whether Bond would use public transport to get to his destination, even if it as integrated as it is in London. I digress. The progress on the bus was swift, such that I was able to get on an earlier train to Stanstead airport, Bond would have been proud.

Upon arrival, there was no need to check in (thanks to compulsory check in with the good people of Ryanair) so I progressed onto security, which despite being slightly berated by a member of staff (with a good Essex smile it has to be said) for not taking off my belt, getting my laptop out etc, went rather smoothly. With plenty of time to spare, I then indulged in a Weatherspoon’s breakfast, feeling the need to share with Facebook a picture of the half eaten contents. Then came boarding, which again, was as smooth as a sausage. Being one of the first onto the aircraft, I managed to get a window seat and was then accompanied by a very pleasant South Korean couple; we chatted about many pressing issues, including the gospel of Jesus Christ, which was nice. Fast forward to the flight home and again, it was relatively pain free. Security was rapid (less than 10 minutes I reckon) and the nice Ryanair staff even let me take my slightly oversized Joan Miro art print as part of my hand luggage, Cashback! And on that note, and in a fun sort of way, we’re back where we were right at the beginning of the article, that being the end of my time in Barcelona.

In summing up, my time in Barcelona was enjoyable. My highlights were Montjuic, La Rambla and Bari Gotic, and the main lowlights were the weather and the hostel. Would I visit again? Quite possibly. Should you bother going? Yes!

Thanks very much for reading.

UPDATE: The following morning (after waxing lyrical about the food) I experienced what can only be described as ‘complete rectal failure’ (plus a malfunction ‘at the other end’) which may or not have been caused by the Partridge which seemed so pleasing just the day before. I’m willing to give the Partridge the benefit of the doubt on this occasion however, and put it down to a 24 hour stomach bug of some kind. For leaving you with that thought, I apologise.

Media reaction to Michael Winterbottom’s new film – ‘Everyday’

EverydayDebuting at the London Film Festival, Michael Winterbottom’s ‘Everyday’, was screened on Channel 4 earlier this month. Filmed over five years, it follows a family affected by the imprisonment of the father, played by John Simm. Shirley Henderson starred as his isolated partner, while the children were played by four real-life siblings who we see growing up as the film progresses.

On the whole, mainstream media reaction has been positive with the film receiving 4 out of 5 stars by both The Guardian and Evening Standard. On the Guardian website, writer Catherine Shoard in commenting on the Films depiction of the effect of imprisonment on family life says:

‘In showing the accumulating effect of Simm’s imprisonment, Winterbottom has made a film that’s almost unbearably moving. Rarely is one quite so intimately involved with people about whom one knows so little.’

David Sexton, writing for the London Evening Standard meanwhile, draws particular attention to the fact that ‘Everyday’ as much as being a film about Imprisonment is also about Family life:

‘The sole subject here is the family and how such a long separation can be survived: specifically, what, in such circumstances — the brief meetings, in prison visits and then on parole days — are like. ‘

This could have been your average prison drama, all nasty warders and slamming doors. But it’s not.’

Dave Calhoun, of Time Out London also chooses to pick up on this theme of Family Life in his comprehensively positive review of Winterbottom’s offering. He, like Sexton, argues that as opposed to being a story primarily about Crime or everyday life inside the UK Prison system, Everyday is first and foremost:

A tender study of a fractured family adapting to new circumstances ‘

Whilst many critics felt engaged by ‘Everyday’, others did not, one critic writing that he struggled to feel involved and engage with the primary characters in this offering. Hence, rather than feeling ‘unbearably moved’ like The Guardian’s Catherine Shoard, David Nusair of Reel Film Reviews pulls no punches in saying:

The movie remains hopelessly uninvolving for much of its brief-yet-not-brief-enough running time’

It’s only as time progresses that Everyday slowly-but-surely begins to morph into a curiously tedious piece of work, with Winterbottom and Coriat’s uneventful and increasingly repetitive sensibilities resulting in an absence of momentum that’s nothing short of disastrous.’

Thus, whilst in some senses Everday has divided critics, with some feeling wholly engaged by the family, and others not, the majority of the critical reaction to this new UK offering has been very positive. Intriguingly, many of Everyday’s advocates felt that the film’s excellence came from the fact that it focussed on the life and dynamics of a family undeniably affected by a father’s imprisonment, and how this is liable to change over the passage of time.

American Beauty film review

What is the point of film? Is it to entertain, to amuse, to teach or to question elements of our society which we as human beings deem ‘normal’? Indeed, film in its much earlier form was conceived to distract the populace from the hum drum monotony of everyday life. The same can arguably be said of much of the film produced today. Whether it be Bond defeating the bad guys or the Jonas Brothers making young teenage girls giggle with excitement the same fundamental motives are there; to entertain a mass audience and bring in the reddies. So, when a film manages to entertain without being too shallow, to amuse without being forgettable, to teach without being preachy and to question without being condemning it is justifiably worthy of mention. This is precisely the reason why American Beauty is such a worthy watch and is labelled by yours truly as a classic.

In more succinct terms, American Beauty succeeds greatly in making a relevant and poignant social statement for our time. It succeeds in getting behind the exterior appearances of 21st century post modernism. Yet to the greater credit of director Sam Mendes and writer Alan Ball American Beauty makes this sincere and serious statement whilst being able to deliver wonderful and consistent black comedy moments. This then is a key difference between American Beauty and other societal themed offerings. The latter can sometimes leave a guilty and sour taste in the mouth of the viewer. American Beauty whilst being a challenging watch certainly is not culpable of this.

The ability to make an impact on the viewer whilst also being rather light hearted is encapsulated in Kevin Spacey’s Lester Burnham. Lester, whilst being rather droll and an instrument of amusement is the central character through which the points of the film are made. A paradoxical statement this may be, yet paradoxes are a key pillar of American Beauty. They are present throughout and are created with a brilliant effortlessness, giving it an ebb and flow throughout its 110 minute screen time.

Despite the superb performance by Kevin Spacey the efforts of the other characters are very commendable indeed. There are many intertwining individuals and stories here, each of them are explored fully and you therefore get to know intimately the situations of each of the ‘supporting’ characters, and more importantly the crucial points they have to make throughout the picture. Each part has been cast superbly, and this contributes to the balanced nature of American Beauty, we are therefore not relying on Spacey as a central character to deliver the important punch lines or laughs.

One irritation of this epic is the that a number of these key players in rebelling against the exterior based Western society, seem to become rather self centred, doing what only satisfies their innermost desires, and disregarding the feelings and needs of others which are dependent upon them. Yet, the beauty of American Beauty (no pun intended) is that the script allows and fosters noticeable imperfections to creep into these characters. This perhaps contributes to the wholly relatable nature of this picture. Thus, none of these characters despite their righteous rebellions are protected from failure and suffering.

In conclusion, American Beauty is a classic for many reasons, not least the reason that despite being made nearly ten years ago it is still vividly relevant for today’s audience, exploring issues around success, image and self worth without being preachy in the slightest. What is also extremely impressive about this offering, is its subtle pointing to the fact that there might be something else more important in life than money, possessions and external beauty. Also, in the current financial climate, it is terrific value for money! I got my copy for two quid off Ebay!