Thursday, November 6, 2014

Featuring X: interview

Hailing from Drogheda, Co. Louth, Featuring X have been making waves of late, gigging around the country and performing on national radio. All the more impressive is that the girls are eighteen and nineteen years of age, in their first year of university. I sat down with Featuring X ahead of a gig in DCU to find out about all things rock and roll in their world…
When I first meet Niamh, Dara and Sarah, three of the five members of Featuring X, I’m taken aback by how friendly they seem. Having watched their video for “Wild Love”, featuring the band clad in heavy eyeliner and scowls, I presumed that I was in for a clichéd sulky rock band interview. Afterwards, Sarah notes that “that was actually a really good interview!” and I’m inclined to agree. Affable, chatty and bubbling with energy, there’s an air of excitement around the trio. Excitement that is, of course, warranted. When the band met their manager two years ago, it wasn’t long before they were signed to a label. Fast forward two years, an EP release and a record deal, and the young women have the world to take on, as well as college degrees. “We were on the road all the time [just after their Leaving Certs]” recalls Niamh, fondly. Despite their obvious passion for music, none of the band study it at third level, though college is a place they can share and grow as musicians. They are playing DCU tonight – “just a Halloween thing” that Dara, the band’s guitarist, organised – but later this year will go on tour with The Strypes, another young and hotly tipped Irish rock band, increasing their already large fanbase.
It’s a lot to handle at once. How do they juggle college and being in a band? “it’s easier than it was in sixth year”, they think, as now they’re all based in Dublin with more free time on their hands. “If there’s something on, it’s easier to get to” notes Niamh, especially now that they live in Dublin. “There’s a lot more leeway with college than there was in school”. It’s admirable, all the same, that this group have managed to stay together through the trials and tribulations of the Leaving Cert. and beginning university. 
Aside from their age, the most striking thing about this rock band is that they are all-female. There’s many a rock group with a female vocalist, but only HAIM spring to mind when I consider all female groups. “Does it affect the band?” I ask, pondering if this question was in any way sexist. It seems that it hasn’t been thought about much – there’s a small pause when I ask the question. “In the beginning I think people underestimated the idea of girls playing their own instruments and that kind of thing…They had no expectation for us lasting” Niamh says, and Dara and Sarah agree. “Lads [at gigs] try and help us with our amps and stuff!” But, they think that the tides are turning; Sarah says that younger girls in Drogheda are forming bands now. It’s certainly encouraging: so are their responses when I ask them about breaking the mould. Are Featuring X (whisper it) feminists? “You can call us that if you want, we don’t burn our bras like” shrugs Dara. At this point, I’m beginning to feel deeply uncool…

                                                                                                                      Thankfully, the group hinge just on the right side of scary rock star cool. The typical “influences on the band” question brings giggles. Arctic Monkeys and Alt-J are favourites – but so is Dolly Parton. They listen to her after gigs, Sarah tells me, as a tradition. It’s quirks like this that make Featuring X so likeable, and also reminds us of their youth. After the interview, Sarah says that “it was actually really good” to talk to someone who knows about the band. Local radio stations often think they’re someone else; they’ve been mistaken for soap stars in the past. Hopefully for the vibrant, bubbly students, this won’t be the case for too much longer – if Featuring X keep the trajectory they’re on, world domination can’t be too far off. Check out their Facebook page here and keep an eye out for their Christmas tour with The Strypes, starting in early December. 

What the hell is a trigger warning?: article

There’s a lot of uncomfortable content on the internet, let’s be honest, and it’s often hard to get away from it. Lately, I’ve seen the words “trigger warning” and “content warning” cropping up over and over on articles concerning controversial or “touchy” topics. Given the talk surrounding mental health in Ireland of late, this is something that should be taken notice off – anxiety amongst our nation is on the rise, something trigger warnings aim to alleviate. It’s not just the internet -- in the U.S., there has been a call for college courses to indicate when material in a certain textbook has been deemed triggering for those suffering from trauma. Despite all this, many people still don’t understand what exactly trigger warnings are, or what they are used for. Trigger warnings are nothing new for tumblr bloggers ; “#TW” has been around on feminist and LGBTQ blogs for years. But lately the trigger warning has found its way onto Facebook, Twitter and even bigger news websites like TIME.  So are trigger warnings the easily offended of the internet run amok, or are they genuinely helpful?
First, a definition: a “trigger warning” or “content warning” is a label that flags content in an article or video that may be distressing to certain viewers. Essentially, it’s the internet equivalent of a rollercoaster sign that says “do not ride if you are of a nervous disposition”. As someone who always, always listens to those signs, I will openly admit that I appreciate the idea of trigger warnings. I cannot imagine anything worse than clicking open a link that reminds me of a traumatic event – be it abuse, mental illness or self-harm – and spiralling into a panic attack. Surely anything that makes the internet a safer place is by no means a bad thing? As a friend said to me ““[they’re] easy to do and so beneficial” to those who suffer from mental health issues. Tagging a post takes less than a minute to do.
So far, so justified. However, it’s not just my opinion that counts, so I took to Twitter to get some opinion on the ground. The results were interesting. One user made the eloquent and relevant point that they are complicated, because it’s difficult to draw a line as to when a warning is “reasonable.”  Another strongly praised the practice, saying that “they let people make an informed decision and curate an online safe space for themselves”, something that is often badly needed for those suffering with anxiety or PTSD. However, others had different opinions: only certain things warrant the warnings, and to tag everything and anything belittles the importance of the tag to those who really need it. Interestingly, responses came out at around 50-50 pro and anti-trigger warnings. I also spoke to TCD’s Gender Equality society, who informed me that “it was a controversial topic…that [they] were in favour of if necessary”.
To complicate things further: in May, Santa Barbara’s student union called for trigger warnings to be placed on books on the college’s syllabi. So, for example, a book like “Mrs Dalloway” by renowned author Virginia Woolf became a time bomb for those sensitive to suicide or depression. The request was met with some controversy, with many academics considering it a denial of their freedom; why shouldn’t they place a classic novel that deals with a difficult theme on their course? I spoke to a student working with LGBTQ groups in New York and he said that “nobody's calling for professors not to be allowed teach certain material, just that students have a right to have advance warning when particularly heavy topics come up in class.” Both are compelling arguments, so do we have a duty to make the lives of people easier, or is it better to expose a student to the issue, in the manner of a vaccination? The latter was advocated by Prof Metin Basoglu, a trauma specialist who recently spoke out on this very issue. He makes the compelling argument that one simply cannot avoid “triggering” material in day to day life; in fact, it’s simply impossible. Given the wealth of content at our disposal in 2014, I’m inclined to agree with him. But looking around me and seeing a generation growing up either de- or overly-sensitised to violence and horror, I wonder if something has to be done somewhere. Maybe pandering won’t help our anxiety-ridden society, but neither will ignoring the problem and allowing it to fester.

Between “drawing the line” with regard to trigger warnings and the wider implications of them for mental health, it is clear that there’s no straight answer with regard to this new approach to content. Furthermore, there are no guidelines: if I suffer panic attacks when faced with a small space, then, is that less reasonable to tag than a warning against something more typically serious? There’s the rub, it seems; no-one is sure just when to “draw the line” of securing a space, with many who step “over the line” labelled as whiny and overly-sensitive. Dismiss it if you may, but many feminist and LGBT rights groups of our generation are lobbying for “safer spaces” for those who suffer from anxiety and PTSD. It seems that regardless of your opinion on the matter, this article won’t be the last you see of the polemical #tw. 

Why I'm Done With Dunham: article

If you’re in and around my age, you’ll remember when “Girls” first burst onto our screens in 2012. You’ll remember the quirky edginess of the show on the whole, and relating to the tribulations of the twenty somethings of it all. You’ll remember chats with your friends debating if you were a Hannah or a Marnie, and getting angry when they said the former. You’ll remember coming to terms with being a Hannah. Embracing it. Finding Lena Dunham’s Twitter and thinking “YES, this girl is chubby, and funny, and cool -- she’s who I want to be!”
You’ll remember becoming increasingly critical until you, like me, are done with Dunham. The creator of “Girls” has become increasingly more controversial in the past year or so and less relevant for it. Far from the mousy-haired, dry-humoured 23 year old I knew and loved, Dunham is now a figure of…well, pity, to be honest.

When did my love for Dunham go sour? Well, it started with a blogpost that detailed some criticisms of “Girls” – its lack of diversity, it’s “poor little rich girl” philosophy and it’s heavy-handed dealings with mental, sexual and physical health issues. Now, I’m no social justice warrior but elements of the show had started to make me uncomfortable – if Dunham was the so-called “voice of a generation”, then why did she cling to so many stereotypes in her work? With “Girls”, Dunham has expressed a desire to normalise the female experience; but massively expensive apartments and poorly-sketched “issues” weren’t doing it for me, So I stopped watching “Girls”, but continued to follow Dunham’s musings on Twitter. After all, it’s not fair to judge the artist on the art.

I stuck by Dunham through silly comments on feminism and LGBT issues: while Dunham is a staunch supporter of marriage equality, tweets like “I’m gonna be the first straight women to French kiss the first openly gay NBA player” leave a bad taste in my mouth. Her feminism is the same brand peddled by many a celebrity: it’s light-hearted, it advocates empowerment through sexuality, and more often than not, it misses the point. Dunham says in a recent interview “I just think feminism is my work. Everything I do, I do because I was told that as a woman, my voice deserves to heard, my rights are to be respected, and my job was to make that possible for others”. The issue is that we can hear her voice and it’s drowning out the marginalised voices; the voices that don’t have a TV show, a book and a mega-famous name to help them along.

Last month, Lena Dunham released the aforementioned book “Not That Kind of Girl”. It’s entered book charts across Ireland, Britain and America in the top ten. It’s garnered it’s fair share of criticism – from oversharing (not so bad) to slander against a man she claimed sexually assaulted her. Most oddly, she has recently been accused by a right-wing website of child abuse as detailed in her book. She took to Twitter to defend herself and as of November second, has cancelled her European leg of her book tour, presumably to work out what to do next. Whether the abuse allegations will stick or not, only time will tell. What I do know, however, is that this is the final straw. I haven’t watched “Girls” in a long time, but regardless, Dunham peppers my Twitter and Facebook timelines like nobody’s business. There’s no escaping her, and I’m tired of it. I’m tired of her faux-feminism, silly comments and incessant fame mongering. If there’s an add-on that allows me to blacklist her name, do let me know. 

Rocky Horror Picture Show: article

It’s spooky movie season but for some of us, though, scary movies are just too much. I, for one, am still not over a particularly harrowing screening of a made-for-TV horror called Beneath back in 2009. So, for the faint-hearted out there, know that you are not alone, and there are plenty of films suitable for viewing if you choose to do a Hallowe’en movie night. For me, however, there is only one film worth viewing next Friday evening, surrounded by popcorn, toffee apples and overly sugared Hallowe’en sweets. The Rocky Horror  Picture Show.
My love for “Rocky Horror” started several years ago, when I learned “The Time Warp” dance at summer camp. On a whim that summer, I bought a DVD copy of the 1970’s cult classic, and a mild obsession was born. It has all the elements of what I love in a film: it’s comedic in a sarcastic sort of way, it holds just enough tension in its plot to keep you hooked, it’s got songs, and it’s stark raving mad. My sixteen year old self was utterly captivated by the sordid household of Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Having grown up on a diet of Disney films and rom-coms, this was an eye-opener for me. When the stage version came to the Bord Gais Energy Theatre in 2010, I missed my opportunity to go, and I’ve been kicking myself since. Last year I attended a group screening of the film in college, complete with props to throw at the screen and sing-alongs. This year, I may well organise my own late screening and slices of toast to throw around.

            What makes Rocky Horror so unique? Made in the late 1970’s, the film stars Tim Curry in women’s clothing, for a start. It’s a loving, ridiculous ode to the B-movie classics of the decades before it, revelling in silly plot twists, over-theatrical dialogue and casual corruption of its innocent protagonists. It’s a melting pot of every clichéd horror film you’ve ever seen: mad scientists, aliens and monsters abound. It makes no apologies for this; the opening theme literally references a dozen schlocky horrors from the 1950’s “at the late night/double feature/picture show”.  Take all this and add to it a singing British transvestite, Meatloaf, more than a little sexual tension and some of the finest songs ever written for a musical, and you’ve got what should be a mess. What makes “the strangest film phenomenon in history” work is its sense of inclusion – it’s no coincidence that the film is revered among the LGBTQ+ community. It’s a film about social exclusion; a seemingly normal couple are dropped into the crazy world of the Transylvanians, where, it seems, anything goes. It’s a film, ultimately, about liberation from a repressive society. It’s a film that encourages you to “don’t dream it, be it”. An awesome message and a deadly soundtrack? Sure what else would you be watching this Hallowe’en night? 

A students' guide to Paris: article

Generally, life as a student means a fair bit of free time, and we’re (usually) at the perfect age for some adventure. J1-ing and interrailing are commonly taken up by students in their second, third and final years of college, but for some of us, they are just slightly out of our price range. I am one such student – though I do still manage to travel quite a bit. I’m recently back from a  week in Paris, which is generally considered to be one of the world’s most expensive cities, but IS easy enough to do on a budget…provided you accept that you won’t be eating in too many famous French restaurants!
Accommodation – For students, hotels in Paris are out of the question. From extensive Googling, I discovered that it’s impossible to find anything less for about one hundred euro a night…so what alternatives are there? Paris has a thriving hostel culture, with many situated right in the heart of the city. These offer dorms for next to nothing per head, and private rooms (for those on romantic breaks!) for about thirty five. Not feeling the idea of a hostel? I love Airbnb, a service which allows homeowners to rent out their spare rooms or apartments to holidaymakers. The upside of Airbnb is the option to self-cater, and it’s often much cheaper (and nicer!) than a hostel. Keep an eye on reviews on TripAdvisor, Airbnb itself and places like -- it’s well worth it!
Food – eating will be the dearest part of the Parisian experience. Go to a supermarket and stock up, and stick to set menus and early birds if you’re eating out. Many restaurants in the city are expensive – but lunch is generally reasonable. So if you want to get a meal out, make it lunch and stick a pot of spaghetti on if you can at home! If not, go for pizza and pasta places, as many restaurants expect you to order a three course meal. Coffee, much as it is part of the French experience, is deathly expensive, especially if you want milk, as I discovered to my horror…
Sightseeing – for members of the EU under 26, many of the most interesting Parisian experiences are free, or heavily discounted. The Louvre, Invalides museum and Versailles are all free, as well as many other museums around the city. Places like the catacombs and the Monteparnasse and Eiffel towers are heavily discounted. So keep your Garda ID or passport on you at all times! In terms of other discounts, bus tours around the city are very expensive, around 30 euro for a one day ticket. However, it’s about 35 for a two day one, so if you’re keen on bus tours, it’s much better value to buy a two day one! For those of you less enamoured with them but still desirous to see the city, boat tours are about ten euro for those under 25. You won’t get the same views, but who’s going to turn down a guided river cruise on the Seine for a tenner?!
Getting around – Paris relies pretty heavily on the metro, an underground transport system. It’s pretty good value for money – a single trip will set you back the princely sum of €1.70. However, for a 3 day pass, it’s about twenty five euro – perfect if you want to explore the city quickly and easily. The tickets are consecutive but they’re valid for the first three Parisian “zones”, where the vast majority of the tourist attractions are. Definitely worth it, the metro is fast, reliable and goes literally everywhere. And it’s so much more exotic than the bus!

These are just a few starter ideas for how to do Paris on a budget. Got any more tips? Give us a shout below! 

Brushing up on the politics of makeup: article

Like a lot of people my age, I wear makeup. And like a lot of people my age, I have a complicated relationship with my face. You know that Sylvia Plath poem, “Mirror”, where she examines her face in a lake, “searching the reaches for what she really is”? Yeah, same, but instead of a lake, I have a dusty Ikea thing that tends to fall off my dressing-table late at night. It may sound narcissistic, but I spend a lot of time looking into the mirror – are my eyebrows wonky? Is one eye bigger than another? IS THAT A HAIR ON MY UPPER LIP? The struggle to be pretty usually involves getting up much earlier than my flatmate and setting to work on my pale, blotchy, tired-looking visage.
But now, the caveat to the expected rant about how “pretty hurts”: I LOVE makeup. I love matt foundation, blacker-than-black eyeliner flicks, red lipstick, pink lipstick... ok, any lipstick really. I love applying makeup and turning myself into someone glamorous and high powered. When I do my makeup properly, I like to think I give out serious “This lipstick was eighteen euro, don’t mess with me!” vibes. So it’s a complicated relationship I have with something that is, of course, an instrument of patriarchy -- a billion-dollar industry that thrives on insecurity. The roots of the cosmetics industry are steeped in sexism; when we are told a new eyebrow pencil is a “must have”, the implication is that our own eyebrows are unseemly and somehow wrong. So we buy into this; of course we do. I buy into it too - but not comfortably.
I’m not sure how many people share my feelings – for many people, it is simply a part of their daily lives to varying degrees. I have friends whom I’ve never seen without makeup – and friends who look alien-like to me with even a hint of mascara. I’m somewhere in between – there are days where I simply am not bothered with the routine, and head to college bare-faced. But those days are numbered.

The trouble with makeup (aside from the whole capitalist patriarchy thing) is it’s addictive. In my first and second years of college, I regularly barrelled in to class, uncaring that I looked not unlike a zombie. This is, amazingly, de rigeur; recent campaigns for girls to “go natural” can be seen flying around Facebook every so often, from the #NoMakeupSelfie to Lydia Bright’s recently launched campaign. We are bombarded with article about how young women are ruining their skin/self-esteem/chance to find a man by wearing too much makeup. It’s confusing enough: makeup is bad…but not-makeup is also bad? After much consideration, I have decided that I don’t care.  And I believe we, as a society, shouldn’t care who “applies their makeup with a trowel” or who doesn’t know which end of an eyeliner pen is up. God forbid a woman should do something to make her feel good about herself… It’s not a key issue in feminist discourse, but all the same, it’s important to remember the positive impact make-up has on women’s self-worth. Yes, it stems from patriarchy and YES, it’s an evil global industry. But is your mascara-obsessed friend going to listen to this? Nope, because she likes looking awake at 9am. Am I harming my chances of the ride because I ignore the “lips or eyes” rule? Possibly: but I’d rather not be involved with someone that shallow anyway. While I’m uncomfortable with the background and reasoning behind the cosmetics industry, I nonetheless will continue to reach for my powder and eyeliner each morning: because it feels good, dammit.  

I must be emo: article

Last week, I found my hard drive from when I was fifteen, circa 2008. It was every bit as bad as expected; My Chemical Romance, Green Day, Panic! At the Disco; you name it, the terrible emo past was there. My shameful, black-clad, dramatic emo past was not something unusual, however. In fact, I’d wager that there are thousands of twenty-somethings around Ireland right now who still know every word to “Welcome to the Black Parade”.
Looking back, my obsessions with pop-punk bands and stripy things weren’t all that original. I may have paraded sayings like “labels are for soup cans!” and “I’m not weird, I’m different!” but the reality was that my pink highlights emulated a dozen other girls I’d been stalking on Bebo. But that’s not something to criticise; at the ripe old age of twenty-one, I’ve decided to embrace my emo past. See, it’s easy to fob off teenage fads. Even now, my boyfriend tells me how utterly ridiculous I looked at fifteen, derisively snorting at my repeated denials that I never hung out at Central Bank. But teenage subcultures exist for a reason. From the post-war swinger set, through hippies, punks, mods and grungers, there’s always been a group to be a part of. Emo was ours; many a friend of mine has a Fall Out Boy poster buried under their bed. But we’re all mad to deny the same fact – “no, I was never EMO, I was cooler than that”. Objectively, “emo” was a fad characterised by a belief that you were different from the norm, more your own person than everyone else. And while that may have been characterised by questionable spelling and bad music, what of it? The “random” sixteen year old who embraces difference often grows up to be unique, tolerant and confident. I see nothing wrong with that.
Another element of the emo subculture we frequently forget about is how it pushed mental health among teenagers into the limelight. There were half a dozen Daily Mail articles published heralding emo as harmful to teenagers. Yes, self-harm was an utterly terrifying element of emo culture, which I will never understand. But to my recollections, it was also a time when we spoke about our feelings – “emo” is short for “emotional”, after all. Feelings may have been overblown and melancholy, but still; we spoke about them. I remember feeling confident and happy as an “emo kid”, but I still was able to speak out about feeling down, because that was…well, expected of me. I’m not saying being an emo kid was the key to my mental health – but it gave me the ability to speak out and speak up, because to an over-dramatic, black-clad teenager, no problem seemed too small. Maybe I’m a healthy by-product of the emo lifestyle, but to me, it seemed integral to helping me deal with adolescent issues.

So the next time you cringe at a photo of your fifteen year old self, think twice. It’s so easy to criticise the person you once were, without recognising the benefits of a certain way of living. So while I have no intentions of getting a fringe cut in, I will listen to My Chemical Romance with gay abandon, because to be honest, I wouldn’t be who I am without them. 

Why you should listen to Glass Animals

It’s too easy to get home from college and stick on Ed Sheeran’s latest album for the millionth time.  With streaming sites such as Spotify becoming more readily available, there’s no excuse for not checking out some of the most talented up and coming musicians of the day. I recommend you start with Glass Animals. After 2013’s highly-commended “Leaflings” EP, the group released debut album “Zaba” in June of this year. “Zaba” has received high praise across the board. The album is experimental, catchy and often downright weird, but they deserve every bit of hype coming their way. Written and produced by the band themselves, the album is just a taster of what the band are capable of.
Immense talent is something less bands have than you’d think; often hard graft and earworming will get otherwise untalented musicians some acclaim. Happily, this is not the case for Glass Animals, as “Zaba” showcases. The album is wildly, wonderfully varied; from the richness of lead single “Gooey” to the intoxicatingly groovy “Walla Walla”, there’s a lot to chew on here. Special effects (including what the band have admitted are pets chewing on microphones) and dizzying beats abound on “Zaba”, making it one of the weirdest releases of 2014. Happily, it’s pulled off with ablomb, sounding fresh and well-crafted. Glass Animals’ musicianship is a force to be reckoned with, with pounding drums vying with delicate strings on some tracks. What makes them stand out from a dozen indie bands is their ability to mash genres together; not only are there snatches of Radiohead and Foals in their debut, but many songs wouldn’t sound out of place on a Timbaland album. There’s a smoothness and groovy quality to their music that owes a lot to modern R’nB and hip hop. Strange? Yes. Listenable? Definitely. The band’s wackiness doesn’t end at their musicianship, however. Despite several listens, I’ll admit that I still have no idea what most Glass Animals lyrics are about. A particular standout is Bayley’s crooning about “peanut butter vibes” on “Gooey”. He has said in interviews that lyrically, the album is about tackling “the humanisation of nature and human interference with nature”, so whatever keeps him happy, I suppose…odd lyrics aside, the band’s ability certainly defies their youth.

The youth of Glass Animals shows elsewhere, however. Glass Animals’ set at Electric Picnic in September was sarcastically mentioned as the “gig thousands will lie about attending” and it’s for good reason. The gig – which took place in the middle of the day on a tiny stage – was a blistering one. The four-piece may not have strobe lights or special effects, but what they lack they make up for in energy. Frontman Tom Bayley leapfrogs around the stage; he’s not a talented dancer, he doesn’t let that stop him. Onstage antics aside, the songs sound much bigger in a live setting – “Pools”, in particular, becomes a stomper of stadium proportions that one just can’t help dancing to. It takes talent to produce a decent album; it takes even more to transfer that to the stage with the ferocity and vigour that Glass Animals do. But don’t take my word for it; they play The Academy in March 2015, and tickets are a cool seventeen euro. 

How to survive glandular fever: article

Among the phrases students don’t want to hear “your blood test indicates that you have glandular fever” is one of the most common. The so-called kissing disease is hugely prevalent in 10-25 year olds. We are, in fact, the group most likely to get it. Taking into account the student lifestyle of not enough food and a lot of kissing, it’s something more than a few of us have been struck down with. As a Glandular Fever Survivor, I’ve googled the disease extensively in the last few weeks, and here’s what I’ve discovered…

1.    Got the glange? Kiss goodbye to any makeout sessions. Glandular fever is spread through saliva, hence the name “the kissing disease”. While a patient is infectious for several weeks before and after the fever passes, they are at their most contagious with a fever. So, loving boyfriends and girlfriends out there: maybe leave your significant other in isolation for a while.
2.    Many of us get glandular fever and experience virtually no symptoms. The lucky ones with killer immune systems simply fight off the virus that causes glandular fever, rendering them immune to illness for the rest of their life. For the rest of us, EB virus means aches and pains, a sore throat, swollen glands and a general feeling of utter shiteness. The good news is, the painful element of glandular fever passes in 5-10 days. The bad news…

3.    You WILL be tired. While I’ve heard nothing but horror stories about the disease since I got it (kidney failure, liver failure, jaundice, hospitalisation, you name it), I mercifully have experienced little more than exhaustion. But my god, it’s exhaustion with a capital E. Showers, meals and even Netflix can prove too much for the glange-infected. So prepare yourself for a lot of naps. Even more bad news? This tiredness can last for up to two years after initial infection.

4.    More bad news: alcohol. Fond of a drink? Forget it for quite a while after glandular fever. Because of the virus’ effect on the body, alcohol can cause  a full-on relapse, or worse, liver damage. Doctors online recommend a six-week period between contraction of the virus and going back on the hard stuff, so even if you do feel better, it’s time to embrace the soft drinks.

5.    Unfortunately, there is little the medical profession can do for glandular fever. Because it’s a virus, antibiotics are useless against it, and no vaccine has come to the fore. Treatment of glandular fever involves a lot of sleeping (I spent two weeks on my sofa) and a lot of painkillers. Solpadeine is your best friend with glandular fever. Just be careful not to get addicted…

My glandular fever experience is, mercifully, almost over – unlike some unfortunate friends of mine, I am suffering only a few weird and debilitating side effects. So the next time someone’s tries to tell you that their cousin’s best friend’s teenaged daughter almost died from glandular fever, tell them about me, someone who has suffered no more ill-effects than two weeks off college and a Netflix dependency. 

Buffalo Sunn: album review

Ever heard of Buffalo Sunn? Probably not – but after several successful years gigging as Sweet Jane, the band underwent a re-invention late last year. The reemerged Buffalo Sunn, a six-piece “cosmic reverb rock band” had built up a stellar live reputation in their previous outfit. They have appeared on several of RTÉ’s shows as Sweet Jane, so it’s a bold move to go back to square one. One listen to their latest offering tells me that it’s certainly no bad thing. “By the Ocean, By the Sea” is a so-called debut album that showcases not the wobbles of a starting-up band, but their years of experience. It’s a record full of swagger and energy; the band has perfected the scuzzy, sun-drenched sounds of the West Coast. It’s all swinging guitars, catchy choruses and heartfelt lyrics…it’s a shock to the system to discover that the band hail from our very own Dublin.  The six-piece take their music in a new direction, and this direction is a rich myriad of indie-pop, shoegaze and rhythmic, guitar-led rock and roll.
Debut single “Seven Seas” is oddly placed on the album, somewhere in the middle. It’s a sun-kissed guitar anthem, much as I hate to use the term; perfect for lazy summer days, or indeed the memories of them! Many of the songs on the album sound like this ;“Gimme Truth”, in particular, sounds  nostalgic for a time and place that may have never existed. The vocals on this track sound almost Oasis-lite, building to a big chorus and never losing the aforementioned West Coast feel. The album rolls on happily in this vein for some time, without veering into formulaic territory. Many comparisons have been made in this review and in others – The Stone Roses, The Beach Boys and Gary Numan to name but a few – but it is ultimately the sound of Buffalo Sunn, uniquely itself.
The band does switch it up from time to time, though. “Witches” is considerably more rock and roll than its laid-back predecessors, tightly wound and intense. Songs like “Let It Go” are a nice change in pace, too. As rock ballads go, it may not rival Aerosmith or Guns’N’Roses, but it’s sweet and delicate, showcasing that Buffalo Sunn are more than just a crew of riff-slinging, happy-go-lucky scamps. Got your lighters ready? ‘Cos you should have.

Buffalo Sunn’s songwriting skills should be applauded – every song on the ten-track album sounds meticulously crafted, and there are no obvious “duds” or “fillers” here. It’s obvious that the production of this album was a big deal. The band worked with Pat McCarthy, a big-name producer who previously worked with REM and The Waterboys, and it has resulted in a fine album, sounding big but not overblown. Keep an eye out for these guys touring this album over the coming months – it’s not a sound you’ll want to miss. 

Why your bra could be making you sick: article

“What size bra are you?” I ask a friend, casually, planning a spectacular lingerie-themed birthday gift. “Um…I don’t know. 32B? 34B?” After a rummage in a drawer, she discovers that she is, in fact, a 34C. There you have it folks; one of my main bra problems, something I have longed to hashtag over the last few years. #BraProblems. There are many. Ill-fitting bras, uncomfortable bras, wired (or non-wired bras)…the list goes on. How can one cope? It’s a massive problem among young women that they wear the incorrect bra size; I know, because I’ve seen many a pal grab’n’go in the local Penneys. “Sure…this is close enough to the right size, isn’t it?” or worse still “it doesn’t really matter, though – my boobs look better all squashed in this one” In my youth, I was a 36C, and I was 100% certain of this from the ages of fourteen to nineteen. I ignored the weight gain, subsequent weight loss, going on the pill, growth spurts and numerous other things that affect a teenager in these years. I solidly, stupidly believed that this was my size for five years. It was only when I went for a bra fitting – on the spur of the moment, in a quiet Debenhams – that I discovered how, eh, massively wrong I was. At the time of writing, I’m well overdue a bra-fitting; I try to go at least yearly to ensure I’m wearing the right size. As far as I can tell, I’m in the minority in this.
 Now, I don’t want to get on my high horse at all here – but if there’s one thing that helps me love myself, it is well-fitted underwear. However, I’m not writing this article to condone spending all your wages on underwear; but the thing about the right bra (or indeed, the wrong one) is that it affects more than just your pocket. Ill-fitting bras have been linked to higher stress levels, stomach and back pain, headaches and having weird red strap lines all up your back.  It doesn’t have to be this way! According to a survey done recently, 70-80% of women are wearing the wrong bra size, be that for financial, physical or simply lazy reasons. We don’t go out in size eight clothing when we’re a size fourteen – why stuff your poor boobs into a 36C you’re not-so-clearly bursting out of? Eh, not that I speak from experience at all…
Why don’t we, as a nation, embrace the wonderful ladies of the fitting room? Perhaps it’s yet another symptom of the “Catholic hangover”; we ignore our body’s more “sexy” parts, buying the cheapest bra and hoping for the best. The issues of body confidence and embracing are a whole other ball game; one I won’t play here. On a practical level, we ignore bra-fitting because it’s an awkward thing to consider; a fitting room, a middle-aged lady and a measuring tape. I’m encouraging biting the bullet though --  it’s a free service that many department stores offer; like Marks and Spencer and Debenhams. While buying a new bra is encouraged in these places, it’s not necessary. Many a time have I wandered into M&S, had my bra size checked, and wandered out again, on my lunch break from college. Come payday, I like to treat myself, but it’s rarely in somewhere as expensive as a department store. It makes a world of difference to how you look and feel – dresses that formerly made me look like a lump have been pulled together nicely by one of my hero-bras. So rather than embracing “free the tatas” day and going without – go get fitted and buy yourself a decent bra. You’ll thank yourself in the long run.

Apartheid Free TCD: interview

Ciaran O’Rourke, TCD graduate and leader of the recently launched “Apartheid Free TCD” campaign wants a campus with a long history of taking a stance against apartheid to take the final step. Highlighting the work of several activists associated with Trinity (including Nelson Mandela, whom our Student Union offices are named after), he hopes to push for an end to TCD’s links with Israel. Speaking to, Ciarán O’Rourke shared with me his motivations and hopes for the campaign.
The campaign is two-pronged. Firstly, he desires Trinity to acknowledge the work done in the past by several illustrious TCD associates; people like Kadar Asmal and Mary Robinson ought to be honoured for “their inspirational work in supporting international human rights and ethical standards of education”.  This campaign runs on optimism; Mary Robinson is Chancellor of the university. Kader Asmal was co-founder of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement in 1963 and a former Law lecturer in TCD. He went on to be Minister for Education and Minister for Water affairs in post-apartheid South Africa. With a record like this, it’s all the more sinister that TCD are so deeply involved in Israeli affairs, and that’s what the campaign aims to highlight. TCD academics collaborated with Israeli academics “cultivating links with security firms and research institutions which actively contribute to Israeli apartheid rule in Palestine”. This story was broken by a TCD newspaper last year, but almost a year on, the campaign aims to take things a step further. His petition to end TCD’s links with an apartheid regime centre on the graduate end of the college, but he told me that actually  “the campaign is relevant to definitely undergraduates …but also, and perhaps even more pertinently, to lecturers and graduate students”. The overseas reputation of TCD is something that is pertinent to the campaign; academics who support the withdrawal of Israel from Palestine will see a complicity in Trinity, which could ultimately effect university links across the globe.
Response on social media has been strong, according to O’Rourke. While the numbers on Facebook, Twitter and Avaaz may be small at the moment, it is worth noting that the campaign is less than a week old. O’Rourke is confident in his ability to change the college for the better. He’s confident in the power of the petition; “the Apartheid-Free Campus Campaign taps into everything that this university stands  for. If enough people sign the petition, support the campaign, and speak out for ethical standards of education, as I think they will, then TCD will get back on track as a university of global standing and pioneering example. “With the horror of the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank over the summer still fresh in many minds, the Apartheid Free TCD campaign couldn’t come at a better time. You can sign the petition to members of the TCD board here, and like their Facebook page here.

Hozier: article

About twelve months ago, a black and white music video went viral. Featuring the heartbreaking story of an LGBT Russian couple, the video was “Take Me To Church”, by the then unknown Hozier. He chatted to last year about the song’s success; since then, his rise and rise is something I don’t remember seeing in quite a long time. Not only has he shot to fame here, but he has appeared on Ellen, Saturday Night Live and just this week hit the number two spot on the Billboard album chart in the states. As one headline I saw earlier put it “Hozier is officially a big deal”.
“A big deal” is putting it lightly. It’s fair to say that Ireland, as a nation, is completely enamoured with Hozier. His debut album, released about a month ago, reached platinum status within a week and I can’t remember the last time ten minutes passed without hearing “Sedated” or “Take Me To Church” on the radio. His sets at Longitude and Electric Picnic this summer will both go down in the histories of the festivals; notably the latter, where he apparently drew a bigger crowd than anyone before or since. The icing on the bluesy cake is perhaps his announcement of an Irish tour last week; five dates sold out in a matter of minutes, with tickets going for up to four hundred euro online. I think it’s fair to say that the nation is united in our obsession – even my granny likes him.
            Today, I found myself wondering what exactly it is about the 24 year old that pushes all our buttons. Is it his easy-going, almost shy demeanour in interviews? His ability to sing about James Joyce (in “Angel of Small Death”, his next single) and not sound pretentious? Or do we just keep home-grown talent close to our heart? Given the furious tweets from many Irish users when U2 released their latest drivel onto our iDevices, we can strike that last one.  It’s impossible to pinpoint why Hozier is so massive; but I can speculate that Hozier’s success is something to put our hopes in.  The island’s feverish radio-play of his singles as a remedy to our dire economic situation. As his success spirals, we are faced with more taxation, more charges – but as long as he’s pumping out songs and appearing on American television, we have something to be proud of. In the face of global economic crisis, we have produced these beautiful songs. It’s just a speculation – but it’s certainly nice to have something to be proud of.
More likely, however, is not the luck of the Irish, or the man himself, or our hideous finances. The reason we’re all so taken with Andrew Hozier-Byrne is simply because he’s one of the most talented artists to come out of anywhere in the last few years. His soulful voice, appreciation for both poppy hooks and bluesy melodies, and well-polished debut album make him a musical force to be reckoned with. For critics, he represents something young, new and interesting; for the rest of us, his songs are catchy as well as a little bit heart-breaking. He’s the musical equivalent of Pixar’s “Up” – critically acclaimed, superbly crafted and loved by everyone, especially your mum. Only time will tell if Hozier capitalises on his successes in 2014, but he should know that he has most of the country behind him every step of the way.

Hozier: album review

Despite his meteoric rise to fame, it’s hard to envy Hozier.  After filling the fields of Longitude and Electric Picnic on the basis of six songs, the excitement around his self-titled debut album reached fever pitch. Appearing on TV every five minutes and performing left, right and centre, it seemed as though his album could never reach the impossibly high expectations set out for it. However, the 24 year old Wicklow native has actually pulled it off – “Hozier” is ambitious, well-crafted and simply gorgeous. The album opens with – what else? – “Take me to Church”, that utterly mesmeric tune that went viral last year. While many have professed to feeling sick of the song, it’s undeniable that it gives the album a confident feeling; this, it seems, is an album one should take seriously.
And take it seriously I do. “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene” is all drums, gospel tinges and James Joyce references. “There’s a feeling of doing whatever you can…to find yourself” according to the man himself, stating that A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was a major influence on the song. Whether these literary references pass you by or not, this upcoming single deserves to be singled out. Excellent, too, are “Jackie and Wilson”, a cheerful, bluesy ode to love, a topic Hozier seems pre-occupied by on the album. His love songs have an edge, though.  “Someone New” sounds more like an ode to lust more than love– and it’s refreshing to hear a romantic song that isn’t about love eternal. “Someone New” is my standout on the album, showcasing everything that makes Hozier as popular as he is.
If there is one complaint to be had, it’s that the album seems to be strictly divided. The first seems like the “singles section”; the songs are much more upbeat, with obvious pop sensibilities.  The album quickly gets very dark after the first five or six songs and it jars slightly with the listening experience.  Songs like “To Be Alone” and “It Will Come Back” are extremely strong additions to the album, but it all gets a little…heavy after a while. While a purist will no doubt disagree, I think “Hozier” almost sounds better on shuffle, as the end seems to weigh much more heavily than the start.

Minor criticisms aside, based on the strength of this album, the future looks even brighter for Hozier. His influences; from blues to pop right through to traditional Irish music; strengthen his songs. His already distinctive voice and ability to craft numerous melodies to stick in your head for long after the album has ended. 

The Boxer Rebellion: interview

Nathan Nicholson of The Boxer Rebellion is walking to his band’s own studio when he answers my call, and despite the roar of London traffic in the background, he chats comfortably, as though he’s been doing this for years. It comes as no surprise, then, when he mentions that The Boxer Rebellion were founded in 2001 and have been gigging and recording ever since. A tour-de-force live band – described by Absolute Punk as having to be “heard to be appreciated”, The Boxer Rebellion are all heartfelt lyrics, loud guitars and stirring choruses. Nicholson, frontman and guitarist, is lightly accented and speaks in bursts – as though he thinks every sentence through before starting another. Conversation comes in fits and starts – certain topics, it seems, are instantly preferable. Nicholson is keen to praise new guitarist Andrew, who has just joined after the departure of founding member Todd Howe last year. How has this changed things for the band, I wonder?  It seems as though it hasn’t been plain sailing: “the feeling [of the band] has changed” admits Nicholson, but is quick to ensure me that the split was amicable. Does it affect the band live to be playing with a new guitarist? “The sound can be replicated” says Nicholson, casually. It’s the dynamic and the energy that is different. New guitarist, Andrew, is playing “someone else’s chords” and that, of course, is an adjustment. For a band with sterling live reputation, this surely puts some pressure on them, yet Nicholson seems confident that they’re “in the swing of things”.

                In terms of getting into the swing of things, The Boxer Rebellion don’t mess around. After last year’s “Promises”, the band hasn’t stopped touring, with a European leg about to kick off in October.  As well as this,  the band’s live album, “Live at the Forum” drops at the end of the month – as someone who has never “got” the live album, I ask why record one. “We…wrote a lot of [2013’s Promises] while recording it…and learned from it” admits Nathan, who sensed that the music really evolved after it had been recorded. From this evolution sprung the release of “Live at the Forum” – or, as Nathan puts it “now seemed like a good time”.  The live album will hopefully introduce more people to their music, though the band seems keen to keep old fans happy as well. They have two upcoming gigs in London that Nathan describes as “a bit more intimate” – night one focusses on the first two albums, with the second focussing on the latter two. This way, explains Nicholson, the band can “play a bit of everything” even if it does mean re-learning some tracks!

I’m keen to ask more about the band’s fanbase – though not widely known, the band have a loyal following, particularly, as Nathan mentions, in Holland. The band do signings after gigs, and depend on the “strange beast” that is social media to connect to fans. The Boxer Rebellion’s website is a centralised social media hub, with Instagram posts, blogposts and playlists galore. It’s clearly a tool the band use effectively, and Nathan describes it as “massively” important. One of these playlists is the band’s own tour music – so, I ask Nathan, what’s on his playlist at the moment?

The casual question is the first he trips over in the whole interview. “Um…my mind is blank” he stutters, but he is the first person I’ve spoken to who has listened to the new U2 album that magically appeared on all our iDevices. Is he a fan? “I wasn’t blown away”, he says, jokingly. You and me both, Nathan, you and me both…The same cannot be said for me and The Boxer Rebellion, though. After a chat, and a shuffle through Spotify, I’ll see you all at the front of their Academy gig on October fourth. 

Mental health and me: article

I doubt that any one of us will forget the moment we realised that we were going to Trinity. For me it was as I stared dumbstruck at the A1 in Agricultural Science – I had gained a passport to study English and History, my two passions, in the nation’s best college. It had been a long time coming – over-eager freshman doesn’t begin to describe my feeling last September. I had notebooks, pens, clothes, shoes and ambition pouring out of me, geared up for the best year of my life. What it turned out to be was by far the hardest, but also the most beneficial – in the long run, it’s what’s given me the confidence to write this article.
As something of a perfectionist, I’ve always been a bit anxious. I like things to go right and worry about things that might never happen. To me, however, the word “anxiety” conjures images of paper bags and swooning. I’ve always been far too sensible for that kind of thing. My life as of September 2012 seemed perfectly in order. By JF logic, I would take TCD by storm and the whole college would know my name. Optimism to the point of arrogance overwhelmed me, but this soon came crashing down. TCD changes a body, no more so than me. First of all, there was the academic competition. Other students seemed to know more, say more and study more than I did. In my head, they were tearing through literary criticism while I wondered what the hell Freud was talking about. Furthermore, friends and classmates become involved in societies, the union and newspapers while I struggled to make 9am classes and meet deadlines. I understand that college takes adjustment but this felt like more than that – a nameless, hopeless feeling of “why is everyone Trinity-ing better than I am?” As a self-confessed Big Fish In A Small Pond, this (real or imaginary) competition with my whole year soon took me over.
This competitive nature started out fine, but soon turned into a little voice in my head telling me why I wasn’t as good as everyone else. It’s easy for your brain to trick you into thinking that you’re too boring, too lazy, and too awful to get anything done. It made me feel unattractive and unproductive to the point that I wished I hadn’t chosen TCD at all. English, my favourite subject, was difficult and History was boring. Worst of all, no one seemed to share my concerns – everyone seemed to be having the time of their lives while I tried not to cry from confusion, loneliness and shame.

By Christmas, I was ignoring work, classmates and dealing with gnawing feelings of panic almost daily. This came to a head in January – someone close to me told me I needed help. I’ve never considered myself “that guy” in terms of mental health – I could always handle it myself. However, a new, softer voice inside me told me that maybe getting wouldn’t be such a bad idea. I have a really strong memory of browsing (an amazing resource for young people) and seeing the “anxiety” page. Out of curiosity, I clicked the link, and almost every tell-tale sign applied to me.
Fast forward six months and I’ve been to a lot of counselling and talked to many people close to me about my mental “quirk”. I’m a terribly cheerful Senior Freshman who still gets bouts of worry, but I’ve learned how to deal with it as well as I can. So what compelled me to work through my story again? It’s not exactly fun to think about. Well, I have something to tell the students of TCD, from scared freshman to sabbat: it’s okay not to feel okay when everyone tells you you should be okay. One of my pet hates is the “you have nothing to worry about!” attitude, because anxiety doesn’t care if you have causes or not. The idea put forth that first year is the best year of your life is potentially kind of damaging – first year of college is a rollercoaster of terror, exhaustion, adventure and yes, fun. It’s life changing and very, very scary. And it’s okay not to enjoy it. I didn’t, and I’ll tell anyone who listens that. I hated the first year of college. But you know what? I love second year. I’m delighted I stayed where I was.
I almost didn’t. While anxiety is rarely life-threatening, it can be hugely detrimental. I almost dropped out of TCD because I felt I couldn’t cope with the intellectual gulf between myself and my peers. My competitive, worrying nature almost stopped me from doing what I love. What I hope comes from this article is that this doesn’t happen to anyone else: that students realise that it gets better, should they want it enough. I admit that this is horribly difficult at times – counselling, therapy or even admitting you’re feeling blue is nerve wracking to say the least. However, it’s often the hardest part of the process: letting the floodgates open is often the biggest relief in the world.
College is amazing for mental health. We have S2S, the Student Counselling Service and a fantastic team of officers who refuse to let the stigma of mental health problems stick in Trinity. So this week, I want everyone to take a step back and think about how they’re feeling. If it’s a bit down, I want them to talk to someone else about it. So remember: it’s okay not to enjoy the club nights, the lectures or even college life. The more we talk, the more good we do, and the more good we do, the more we can change the way we act on mental health as a nation.

Thirteen: review

Dublin has always been a city of contrast. The wealthy walk swiftly past the poor.  Some of the oldest buildings in the country stand, crumbling, beside shiny metal architecture. No work I have seen illustrates this more vividly than part of Anu Productions’ Thirteen. Constituent(s) begins at a LUAS stop, where I had waited for forty minutes, watching shiny new trams glide by. The audience are guided to a preserved tram from 1900’s Dublin. It’s easy to see where this is going: Dublin. City of contrast.  A LUAS stop and then a re-enactment of a Dublin long gone by. So far, so Fringe.  A roughly-dressed Dublin lad hops on our tram, shouting at us about standing with Big Jim Larkin. He tells us that Dublin is in chaos and would we not rise up with him? His brother is missing, the audience enraptured by his retelling of a Dublin mired in political chaos, poverty and hardship.
The performance is suddenly interrupted by two strongly-accented, tracksuit-wearing Dublin people. Hurling insults, shouting, punching: the interruption is shocking.  The lead actor disappears and Fringe volunteers try to calm the chaos, to no avail. The locals lock the door, and it’s just the audience and their rage.
By beginning Constituents in a time gone by, Anu Productions have oh-so-cleverly created a contrast between actor and audience. The screaming row between the two Dubliners quickly dies down to heated debate – he has no money, she can’t feed the kids. She has to queue for bread in the mornings while he lazes about. The actors address the audience – “and here yous are, watching a play?” The effect is mesmerising and terrifying. Instead of the poverty of 1913, the poverty of 2013 is brought sharply into focus – exposing the audience as those who turned their backs; the “scabs” of the 1913 Lockout.

Part of a series of thirteen spectacles linked to the Dublin Lockout, “Constituent(s)” leaves the viewer raw and uneasy, still unsure if what just happened was real or not. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter – be they actors or real people, the wealthy continue to walk past the poor, and Dublin remains, as it always has been, a city of contrast.

Consent, communication and comfort: article

Sex has never been simple.  Be it your first time, your hundredth time, the love of your life or a quick hookup, sex can surprise you when you least expect it. Fast-forward to the 2010’s when Snapchat, Skype and sexting are added to the mix – suddenly, sexual relationships have got very complicated. Not only do young people have to worry about STDs and contraception, but we’re also faced with the (sometimes uncomfortable) reality of Snapchat screenshots, texts sent to the wrong person and a whole host of other issues! For young people, the sexual revolution is here, and it’s been digitised.
So what does it all mean? I’m not going to whip up a “moral panic” on this issue, because thankfully the crucial aspects of sex have remained the same. Respect is number one. But what does respect mean? To me, it’s the three Cs: consent, communication and comfort. No matter what the situation, this “Big Three” should always be present.
Consent is, of course, the jumping off point when discussing respect and sex. I read an article recently that suggested that we “hold out for enthusiasm” and I think that that’s hugely relevant to twenty-first century sexual relationships. Consensual sexual activity is not “Okay, FINE” and taking your top off to send a snap.  Sexual activity shouldn’t be so half-hearted, because like all sexual activity, it’s supposed to be fun. The same applies in real life, too. Not feeling the love on a particular night? Maybe you just feel like making out, instead? The importance of understanding another person’s needs/wants is what consent boils down to. Be aware of your partner’s desires, and your own, too.
This leads me on to my next point: communication. As I said earlier, sex is hella complicated. People have different wants, different needs, different things that make them comfortable. Being in tune with this is not only respectful, but it’s going to make you fairly good in bed. Communication is important for so many aspects of sex – if your partner is hurting during the experience, or if they suggest something a little “outside the box”. This is a situation you hear of pretty frequently – how do you respond to a slightly “weird” request from a partner? Well, you can’t laugh it off, but if you aren’t comfortable with complying, it’s best not to. Respecting another person’s sexual desires doesn’t mean complying with them – this is when communication comes in. Maybe find a compromise, depending on the situation. Like all tricky situations, talking solves more problems than you’d thing!
I mentioned being comfortable earlier, which is my final point regarding respectful, awesome sex. Comfort is particularly relevant to “digital sex” and it’s important to understand the boundaries your partner has. Look at it this way: you might be 100% comfortable with your body and whipping it all off for a quick Snapchat, but maybe the receiver is much shyer. Body confidence comes in swings and roundabouts for most of us – everyone feels unsexy sometimes! It’s important to know what you’re comfortable with so you’re able to communicate “the line” to your partner. Likewise, respect your partner’s boundaries – if someone isn’t comfortable with partaking in a certain sexual act, it’s probably not a good idea to try and will them into it.

The discussion of sex and respect is one that goes back a long way and isn’t stopping anytime soon – and that’s a great thing. Consent, communication and comfort are just three things that make for more respectful sex. The digital world is a mindfield for ignoring these “rules” so it’s definitely important to remember in that context too. No matter what the sexual  situation, remembering the importance of respect and all that that involves – for you and your partner – is not only going to make sex safer, but loads more fun! 

Revenant: review

According to Wikipedia, a revenant is a visible ghost or animated corpse that was believed to return from the grave to terrorize the living. If you know your mythical creatures, then the very title of this one-man play is a spoiler. “Revanant” begins full of promise – a lone actor plays a struggling filmmaker hellbent on creating his magnum opus. When I say a lone actor, I mean lone: this is a one man show. The set is gorgeous – a desolate, torn up room with a sole table and chair for the actor to sit on – and the New Theatre is a really beautiful, intimate theatre that invites an intense theatrical experience. Simon Toal does a great job of creating several characters for the audience- his accent range, facial expressions and body language change entirely for each character. This extraordinarily difficult performance demands physicality and ability, which Toal has in spades. At one point in the play, the director mentions that an actor has “it”. He isn’t sure what “it” is, but he knows it when he sees it. If this is true, then even to the most amateur of theatre critics, Toal has it in spades. He delivers the story through about fifteen different characters, which is certainly an interesting way to perform a drama.  Toal certainly delivers in terms of talent, charisma and ability - it’s just a shame about the messy, lazy script.
As I said, it all starts promisingly enough. The script is witty and tight – we get hints of the mystery surrounding Vardell, the director’s star actor, but it’s not given away to begin with. However, the script goes rapidly downhill when we start to hear of strange disappearances. Toying with the supernatural in media, cinema or literature is never an easy task. We’ve all read “Dracula” and seen “Night of the Living Dead” in several incarnations over the years. The classic formula is tired by now – we’ve seen it reinvented over and over in the past few years. Loathe as I am to mention (much less praise) the “T” word, at least it tries something new with the supernatural being formula. “Revenant” is stuck in the dark ages and when the plot’s twist arrives, it’s the least surprising thing ever. I tried to enjoy the comic horror elements, but the clichés came too thick and too fast for me to grab onto anything concrete.
The message of “Revanant” seems to be the high price of fame, but after scenes of gore, terror and shouting, any sort of socio-political message gets lost in translation. The first half of the play is a lot of fun – funny and occasionally clever. But it’s dragged down by a script that’s outdated and dull, leaving the audience wondering if they’ve missed the point of “Revanant” or if it really was that silly.


Miley Cyrus vs. Sinéad O'Connor: article

Normally, celebrity spats don’t concern me – but sometimes a fight is bigger than two celebs trying to get into the news. One such case is the current “Sinead Vs. Miley” feud that’s dominating gossip columns both here and abroad. Miley Cyrus, pre-teen sensation turned wild child extraordinaire, has been everywhere for increasingly shocking reasons in the past few months. The hyper-sexualisation of Miley Cyrus seems pushed by the woman herself – but is this the case?
Not so, says Sinead O’Connor, who penned an open letter to Miley last week. Cyrus – who has openly homaged O’Connor in her latest video – was warned against “prostituting” herself to the music industry. Done in the “spirit of motherliness and love”, Miley responded by tweeting a screenshot of O’Connor’s tweets from 2011, in the midst of a nervous breakdown
Sinead O’Connor has been criticised for acting when there was no need to – but surely the singer has a right to speak when Cyrus has openly called her an influence. Is O’Connor judging Miley for her actions? Cyrus has been called silly, sluttish, immature and stupid by the media, but never by Sinead in her open letter. It was only when Miley retaliated by tweeting a shot of O’Connor’s infamous breakdown tweets from two years ago the 47 year old (understandably) lost her rag. O’Connor railed against Miley’s tweet, and has since demanded an apology. At time of writing, a third “open letter” has been written and the gossip rolls on.
Having followed the Revolution of Miley and read all three letters, I’ve come to the conclusion that O’Connor, though perhaps not totally right in writing her “open letter”, isn’t the villain here. But neither is Miley Cyrus. What’s important is O’Connor’s point: the music industry was entwined the sexualisation of women with their music in such a way that it bursts open in debates like this. Cyrus is another victim of the cogs of the industry, who indeed meld women into the hyperreal, plastic, sexualised beings we see through every pop culture medium. This point is valid: and no one knows it better than a 47 year old who was once a global star. But if women like Miley Cyrus, Rihanna and Britney insist on sexualising themselves to sell records, they’re sending a message that this is the way to get things done. Rihanna and Britney have both recently released raunchy, S & M themed videos. Is this how to dominate the pop world?
Only if you want it that way, argues feminist/punk/artist Amanda Palmer. She wrote an extensive blog on the issue, claiming that both women “need more freedom to say what they want… express what they want… and be respected for their bravery, not reprimanded for endangering themselves.” Palmer’s response has been widely praised, but it’s also easy to see that Palmer exists in a sphere outside mainstream pop music. Can a  self-promoting, label-free folk punk artist understand the pressure a globally recognised face like Miley Cyrus is under? Is Miley really doing what Miley wants by acting like a “twerking, raging sexpot?” Palmer seems to think so, failing to realise one crucial point: Miley’s actions aren’t optional. For her to be taken seriously in the music world, she must become the raging, sexualised ball of crassness she has become. To paraphrase Britney: she’s got to work, bitch.

Her and The Manic Pixie Dream Girl

“Her” and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, published February 2014

Summer Finn from ‘(500) Days of Summer’. Sam from ‘ Garden State’. Belle from ‘Beauty and the Beast’. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl: a common trope in modern cinema, coined several years ago as “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures”.  Or, if you’re me, a really, really annoying female character that spends their time  self-consciously blowing bubbles, wearing dresses and gazing at the moody protagonist from under long eyelashes. The MPDG is everywhere: kid’s movies, rom-coms, comedies, romantic dramas…sometimes it feels as though there is no escape from the MPDG in cinema. However, all is not lost: the backlash has come. One is reminded of 2008’s  Ruby Sparks, a film which acknowledges and gleefully trashes the idea of this girl. This year’s “Her”, directed by Spike Jonze and starring Scarlett Johansson as Samantha, an operating system, can be seen as an infinitely more nuanced meditation on the trope. Let me get this straight: ‘Her’ is not a straightforward love story. It does, however, feature a sensitive, brooding protagonist, stuck in a rut until he meets the love of his life. The comparison seems obvious: until we look at the character of Samantha herself.
In ‘Her’, the idea of the “perfect girl” is taken to whole new heights: Samantha responds to Theodore (Phoenix), intertwining her budding persona with his. It seems that an OS is a consciousness that adapts to whoever it’s owned by. It’s a Manic Pixie wet dream – a girl who becomes exactly what the protagonist wants her to be. Theodore repeatedly tells us how “excited about the world Samantha is”  in the film– had she a body, it’s easy to imagine her giggling, twirling and wearing perfect flicky eyeliner a la Zooey Deschanel. She’s literally everything a sensitive, lonely man could want: adventure, ease and a lot of cyber sex.

But little by little, the audience realises what Theodore hasn’t: Samantha does not exist. That’s not to say she isn’t ‘real’ – but she can’t ever exist in reality. Yes, Samantha teaches Theodore to open up, to move forward and to love. It’s touching that she does all this without ever being “human”. And what’s quirkier than not having a body?! But ‘Her’ fails to fulfil the MPDG promise spectacularly – in that Samantha eventually transcends Theodore, and Earth. She grows smarter, more aware and less happy with every growing moment, fighting with Theodore and moving away from him. Samantha, in short, is becoming her own person, something the MPDG’s of cinema fail to do. The film climaxes when all the OS’s leave Earth forever – to a higher plane of being. Samantha is so clever, so original, so her own woman, that she leaves the entire race that crated her. Independent of her moody protagonist, Samantha leaves for her own whole new adventure.  It’s almost as though she used Theodore to grow and develop, and helping him was a handy by-product. Though I’m sure this was hardly the intention, Jonze has created a film that explores human nature, our relationship with technology and gender roles, enjoyable smashing up tired cinema tropes along the way. 

Electric Picnic: review

My brief review of Electric Picnic 2014, pending publishing in The University Times’ magazine.

I’d love to be able to write an in-depth review of the madness that was Electric Picnic 2014, but it’s impossible to accurately explain the festival in a few hundred words. The weekend offered not only music, but spoken word, yoga, hot-tubs and a petting zoo. Welcome to Electric Picnic, where the real world fades away to be replaced by bright lights, bubbles and burgers.
On Friday, not too many must-see acts played – but the ones that did were cracking. Blondie, led by seventy year old Debbie Harry, managed to get me dancing for the first time that day. While I haven’t exactly followed the bands career since the 1970’s, can anyone resist songs like Maria, Heart of and Call Me? From what I heard in the campsite, Foals and Pet Shop Boys were fantastic, but for me, Friday night belonged to American madness merchant Tune-Yards. Pounding drums, shrieking-yet-rich vocals and a bouncing crowd, Merill Garbus’ crew lit up the Body and Soul stage. Pet Shop Who, again?
On Saturday, the line-up of fantastic acts is dizzying. Hozier draws the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen. Portishead terrify and entrance me in equal measure with their ethereal, haunting performance. Chic shake off the Portishead blues by playing Bowie and their own groovy back catalogue. Groovy in the literal sense: there’s no way not to dance to this. Paolo Nutini deserves a special mention too, his back catalogue fitting perfectly along with songs like Iron Sky and Scream from his last album, and the whole set is a delight.

On Sunday, I could mention any number of acts again…Kelis, Outkast and Sinéad O’Connor to name but a few. But for me, Sunday – and indeed, the weekend – belonged to St. Vincent. She lit up the Electric Arena with lilac hair, the loudest guitars of the weekend and a set that veered between beauty and insanity. St. Vincent sums up everything I love about the festival – it’s bold, it’s weird and it’s utterly incredible to be part of.  

Marvel: review

Review of Marvel– performed in the Project Arts Centre, November 2013. Published in TN2’s theatre section, November 2013.
Noise pervades “Marvel” from start to finish. When it stops, it makes the performance all the more eerie, a damning silence. As the play opens, the rush of city centre traffic mingles with a news report that tears the life of Dion (Liam Hourican) apart. It is September 2008 and the bubble has finally burst.  Time is a finite commodity.
“Marvel” explores not only the economic crash but what life was like beforehand; literally every second scene is in flashback. This takes some getting used to for the audience but creates a pleasing juxtaposition of then and now. Voiceovers are heard; BBC announcers, economists, the instantly familiar drawl of Bertie Ahern. We swing between good times and bad, magic and horror, celebration and despair. It asks a lot of tough questions and it’s certainly not easy viewing.
Glamorous prostitute Marvel (an excellent Alma Eno) comments that “beauty is an unstable commodity” and the idea of finite resources form the core of this strange play. Elizabeth Moynihan, an accomplished playwright, contrasts the lavish, decadent world of the Celtic Tiger against the horrors of Liberian war. Time is a finite resource for Dion and Marvel; they just don’t know it yet. The first half of “Marvel” is absolutely stellar, keeping the audience on the edge of its seat as our two characters’ webs of lies spin out of control. There’s a lot going on for such a sparse stage – deception is as prevalent as decadence in the dying days of the boom, it seems. However, the last third of the play sees the plot unravel slightly, as the characters become more desperate and the cuts between past and present more jarring. The plunging into darkness, at first a brilliant scene-changer, becomes slightly flat. “Marvel” leaves the audience hanging for up to a minute; instead of making me want more, it was simply annoying.  

Criticisms aside, “Marvel” offers an awful lot to chew on. It offers a neo-Victorian look at a prosperous Ireland: where the people have become buying and selling machines, unable to feel. Dion is a shell of a man, eaten up by greed and ingratitude. He seems to know this, too, telling Marvel that “nothing was ever enough” in those last days. By contrast, Marvel’s sensitive portrayal of a trafficked prostitute rejects materialism, preferring love and security. Marvel is tarnished by the selfish, heady atmosphere in Ireland, but not totally – perhaps as someone from outside, she can hold onto what is important. “Marvel” poses plenty of challenging questions for the audience – did the country lose a little soul in those heady days of the last decade? Did we swap our feelings and morals for fast cars, big houses and flashiness? The notion of a people spoiled is embodied in Dion, who acts like a spoiled child when Marvel doesn’t behave as he wants. Ingratitude is indicted by “Marvel”, with tragic consequences when the bubble bursts. 

Life After Beth: review

 “Life After Beth” sounds like a dream to a cinemagoer fond of romantic comedies starring good-looking young people and zombies. Starring Dane De Haan, everyone’s favourite up and coming pale young man, and the incomparable Aubrey Plaza, the promising sounding film’s rambling, overstretched and surreal plotline sadly lets down the decent cast.
Beth (Plaza) is seen alive for less than one minute on screen, before the action switches to her grieving boyfriend, Zach (De Haan). He mourns, bizarrely unsupported by his family. The director means to convey isolation, but it’s questionable that a family could be that cold regarding the sudden loss of a girlfriend. Zach finds solace in Beth’s parents, played by John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon, until suddenly they cut him off, too. Lonely and devastated, Zach begins to “see” Beth – and that’s when our life after death story kicks into gear. Beth is back – Zach is ecstatic. But she isn’t the same girl – now she listens to smooth jazz, and wants to spend all her time making out in attics, or studying for her test. These elements of “Life After Beth” are massively intriguing, but sadly, Baena doesn’t capitalise on them. What was the test? Why smooth jazz? The plot holes in this one are teeth-grindingly frustrating.
What starts off as a romantic comedy with a weird twist rapidly becomes a horror film. As Beth’s body rots away, so does any redeeming qualities of the film and it goes downhill very fast. A few amusing moments occur throughout the final act, but on the whole it’s lethargic, messy and – dare I say it? – boring. The pacing is all wrong – I feel like it’s going for offbeat and quirky, but it just feels forced. A frantic Matthew Gray Gubler provides some lightness in the final act as Zach’s gun-obsessed brother, but aside from that, there’s little to chew on as soon as the zombies arrive.
It’s a shame that “Life After Beth” is so messy, because it really detracts from how good Plaza is in the central role. Used to seeing her in deadpan roles like April Ludgate in Parks and Recreation and in last years The To-Do List, she shows her ability as an actress as Beth. She’s cute, horrifying, sexy and funny in equal measure, often at the same time. Aspects of “Life After Beth” that are enjoyable include how self-aware it is: the tagline of the film is “some girls just want to watch the world burn” makes little sense in context, though. The neat references to Parks and Recreation are subtle enough to be enjoyable, sparking interest when I felt there was little to watch. Dane De Haan is good, too – but his character is given a pale imitation of depth, rotating around Beth and ultimately, becoming part of the background of the unexplained zombie invasion.

On the whole, “Life After Beth” is not a terrible film – it’s a dull one. Where Plaza and De Haan shine, they are shot down by plot holes and cringey dialogue. Their performances are great, it’s just a shame they weren’t given better material to work with. “Life After Beth” is ultimately a disappointment to those of us who hope for a better kind of zombie comedy, who should just go and watch Shaun of the Dead again. 

Obvious Child: review

When I first heard tell of Gillian Robespierre’s, Obvious Child,  billed as an “abortion comedy”, I was immediately cheered. Sometimes the thorniest topics need to be looked at from a different angle – despite the limits and frustrations some may feel regarding abortion law, I do believe that there’s no harm in trying to find humour in such a thorny topic. High hopes were had for this film, then, starring comedian Jenny Slate, as Donna, a disorganized twentysomething who falls pregnant after a drunken one night stand.
In the opening seconds of the film, we meet Donna while she’s telling jokes about her vagina. It’s gross-out humour for women, and it continues throughout the movie.  The audience gets fart jokes ,sex jokes and even (whisper it!) abortion jokes later on in the film – it’s a little bit unsettling to begin with, because it’s so rare to see this on screen. However, that’s not to say it doesn’t feel totally natural for Donna to joke about like this – her character is that of the joker, the friend many people have who just don’t have huge plans for their life. Donna is not an uncommon figure in cinema, but it’s refreshing to see her in water as hot as an unwanted pregnancy. Slate herself is great in this role – she brings a definite “realness” to a character that could otherwise wander off, giggling, into cliché. Her quirks aren’t overly quirky, her faults are real and, well, obvious – making the character more engaging, as well as enraging at times.  Her failings – which are mostly alcohol-fuelled – are her making as a character.
But what of the abortion plot? The first act is filled with drunken shenanigans, crying, heavy-handed sharing of life lessons and general messing – quite unlike what I expected to see. It’s only when Donna realises her predicament that the film really gets going – her meetings with Planned Parenthood are touching, particularly when Donna tears up at the cost of the procedure. Touches like “$500? That’s my whole rent…” make Slate’s character resonate all the more, especially here in Ireland where that cost is added to by an airplane ticket. The topic itself is treated surprisingly sensitively, and there are some lovely moments with other characters when they discuss abortion frankly and openly. This is, after all, not “an abortion comedy” – it’s a comedy that happens to have an abortion in it.
“Obvious Child” is by no means perfect. There’s a bizarre, extraneous, not-even-plotline involving David Cross (who I assume is wearing denim shorts in every scene) and score is overly hipster-y, though the Paul Simon song of the title is used brilliantly in one of my favourite scenes of the film. It is at times schmaltzy and heavy-handed with the life lessons – Donna’s father (Richard Kind) in particular, drips saccharine for the entire time he’s on screen. Donna’s immaturity occasionally grates to a more responsible twentysomething – but these are all small gripes.  The blending of humour, romance, feminism and a thorny topic makes “Obvious Child” a little bit ground-breaking – it’s not going to change any minds about abortion’s validity, but the very act of talking about it and, more importantly, joking about it, makes this film powerful.

2013 in review: feminist film

In many ways, 2013 was the first year I “got into” films. I started writing for Scannain and watched more movies than any other year put together, I imagine. As a young, critical, strident feminist, more often than not I became drawn to films with decent female characters – sadly, few and far between.  There was a lot to be mad about this year regarding women on film – the lack of female directors, the lack of recognition for those directors and the continuing, rage-inducing portrayal of women as sex objects and little more (Every Superhero Film Ever, I am looking at you), and Seth McFarlane’s deeply unfunny hosting of the Oscars is perhaps the one that takes the biscuit. That said, 2013 offered plenty to be pleased about – without further ado, here are some of my highlights from this year:
#1: “In A World…” – dir. Lake Bell
Written, directed and starred in by Lake Bell, my new hero. The film – a pretty hilarious look at gender bias in the world of voiceover work.  She plays a daughter of a world-famous voice artist who desires to break into that same world. It’s pretty brilliant by any standards, but is made all the better because it directly challenges the sexism of the film industry. By turns touching, shocking and funny, you will be hard pushed to find better portrayals of women on film this year.
#2: How I Live Now – dir. Kevin MacDonald
A woman on film can’t seem to be all that nuanced, which is why I enjoyed How I Live Now so much. Saoirse Ronan nails it in the apocalyptic drama, set in a world scarily close to our own. Ronan’s performance is nuanced: it’d be far too easy for the character of Daisy to be a straight up moody teenager: in Ronan’s careful hands, she’s troubled, loving, impulsive and emotive all at once.  Though not the most endearing performance of the year, she certainly showed us that she’s a force to be reckoned with and her portrayal of Daisy is absolutely bewitching.
#3 – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – dir. Francis Lawrence
God bless Jennifer Lawrence, then, a woman I hail as the queen of this movement for her portrayal of Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games”. After the Twilight Saga, too many girls saw Bella Swan as a hero – a clumsy woman-child who spends four films drooling over an old creepy guy.  Yeah, I said it. That’s the “hero” of a generation – or at least it was until J. Law’s angry, violent, stunning Katniss Everdeen shot onto screens. Lawrence is even better in “Catching Fire”, showing that it’s okay to be tough, smart and strong but also to cry and feel like you need a hug. Instead of a generation of girls waiting for Mr. Right to turn them into a sparkly vampire, let’s hope Katniss inspires a generation to become as badass as she is. Regardless of feelings on The Hunger Games film franchise, Lawrence and co. are indeed admirable for bringing Katniss Everdeen to life in all her complexity.
#4 – Gravity – dir. Alfonso Cuarón
Gravity is the film critics and audiences alike haven’t shut up about since its release in November. Sandra Bullock’s performance has been praised roundly – she basically carries the film alone. What’s remarkable about Dr. Ryan Stone, her character, is that she could have been a man. Easily. Nothing about Stone is explicitly “feminine” in Gravity: she’s profoundly human. She cries. She complains, she messes up and she’s incredible brave. By writing Dr. Stone as a woman, Cuarón took a risk – a risk that resulted in one of the best performances of 2013.
There were a dozen films this year that strove for equality: even if the source material wasn’t explicitly feminist. As anyone with eyes will cop, Hollywood is sorely lacking female directors: this year, we had Gabriela Cowperwaithe’s phenomenal Blackfish, as well as lighter releases like Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring and Kimberly Peirce’s Carrie. Frozen was co-directed by a woman; several other releases like Ginger and Rosa and The Heat lend themselves to praise, too.
I think what’s been most important this year is that in both in the indie and mainstream worlds of cinema, we’ve seen portrayals of women outside the same dull categories: the “strong”, the “cute” and the “sexy” woman. Dr. Ryan Stone in Gravity was tough as nails but still learns how to cry (in space). Lake Bell’s Carol Solomon is quirky, but not in the sort of way that grates on many a feminist’s nerves. Sadly, I didn’t get to see a lot of apparently ground-breaking performances this year: Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine and Judi Dench in Philomena to name but a few. I can’t simply see it all, but nonetheless, here are some I picked out over the last year not only as great movies, but Fantastic Feminist Films. As years go, 2013 wasn’t a bad one for women – next year, we can await with baited breath the directorial efforts of Angelina Jolie and Melissa McCarthy, amongst others. Only time will tell if the breakouts of 2013 will capitalise on their success: until then, here’s to the women of 2013 and the brilliant films that they’ve produced. In 2013 there were several women who transcended the typical women on film stereotypes.