Yikes and holy cow. It’s been a while since I updated this blog but I wanted to let you know – I have the perfect alibi. You see, I’ve spent the last few months having a kind of mid-life crisis – only it’s been a very peculiar kind of crisis and probably a very British one at that. It doesn’t involve women, fast cars or huge quantities of fizzy-pop. No, dear reader, I stand here shamefully confessing that I have finally become addicted to… creative writing.
This week I was invited to speak at the annual Next Radio event in London – one of the UK’s biggest broadcast industry events. The conference was held at The Royal Institute which was a great choice of venue (especially as I’ve always been a Faraday fanboy) and a real honour to share our recent work in video.
Back in the day I used to be the ultimate Depeche Mode fan. I spent most of my teenage years hunting down numerous rare vinyl remixes, paying extortionate amounts of money for obscure bootleg recordings and generally annoying mates by playing tracks that didn’t fit in with our previously established repertoire of Guns and Roses and Ozzy Osbourne. I was basically THAT kid in the corner listening to the same track on repeat and not talking to anyone. And it was great.
Then it all went a bit pear-shaped.
One day, I met one of the band members at a Nitzer Ebb gig and they got a bit peeved when asked for an autograph. No big deal, we all need our space. But shortly after, I had another ‘Never Meet Your Heroes’ moment at one of their album launch listening parties and, let’s just say, it was a complete disaster as one of them was completely wasted. Again, no big deal, but after that I sort of walked away and never listened to them again.
Well, almost. After a brief spat and after listening to their new album ‘Spirit’ I’m glad say we’re BFFs again. Their new political focus suites them with my top tracks being ‘Scum’ and ‘So Much Love’. A timely release.
To celebrate I thought I’d dig up some of my favourite Mode moments. Enjoy the self-indulgence.
Observe the dance moves:
Observe the hair:
Observe one of the best acid basslines in alt-pop history:
Observe one of the best producers of all-time talking about one of the best acid basslines in alt-pop history:
Observe this photo:
Observe this collection of vinyl. Observe their smooth, plastic sleeves. OBSERVE!
Observe the use of light and smoke in this video whilst also observing one of the best synth melodies in synth melody history:
And this. Always this.
and, lastly: this, this, this:
This week we had two fantastic gentlemen join us for various features across our brands. Here’s a selection of some of the videos we shot.
Are you tired of misinformation? Sick of Fake News? Don’t be! We The Unicorns proudly presents the first in a series of new videos looking at the world of YouTube. Tuck in.
This week I was invited to talk at the London Agile Content Meetup group, as part of a team collaboration and stakeholder management session. As part of the deal, I had to attend several presentation workshops beforehand which were hosted by Jonathan Kahn (who I’d throughly recommend). The whole process took about 3 weeks and I wanted to share what I’d learnt along the way.
I chose to participate in this programme because I felt I could make some improvements to my presentation skills. I’d recently presented at a whole series of events and wondered if I’d really landed my key points with the audience. How could I make what I wanted to say as enticing and as relevant as possible to a specific audience? Well, I was about to find out.
I should note that during this period I was also reading the Ted Talks book which I also recommend.
Tip 1: Don’t overcook it
One thing I’ve realised is that, if given the option to ‘wing it’ or over-prepare for a presentation, I’m always going to do the latter. I’ll probably detail everything I want to say until I have several pages of text, even for a ten minute presentation. I’ll then try to edit this down but the whole process is a constant process of elimination, and it’s very text-orientated. At its worst, this can result in copying said notes onto presentation slides. Result: ONE EXTREMELY BORING PRESENTATION.
It also means I’m trapping myself into a very regimented presentation style with the slides dictating the outcome. With very little room for adjustment, there’s often no interaction with the audience. Again, another opportunity to engage, missed.
So it was a relief to try something complete different in our workshop group, which started by riffing loosely around your chosen topic with no slides at all. That forced you to really think about your core story and what you could actually fit in the allocated time (five minutes). It made me focus on making sure my meaning was landing with my audience and not using the slides as a ‘crutch’.
Tip 2: Invite criticism
If you’re planning a presentation, make sure you get to rehearse the format in front of colleagues/friends, ideally with people that don’t know your subject matter. Being part of a small group preparing presentations for the same event really helped because you were all trying to achieve the same goal. That meant trust was forged fast and suggested improvements offered without fear of offending anyone. We all need constructive feedback in everything we do and I felt this set-up worked brilliantly.
Tip 3: A question of time
Preparing for a short presentation (in this case ten minutes) can often take longer as you realise you can’t say it all, and need to make every word count. Even if you have a thirty minute presentation to plan, starting initially with ten minutes is a good place to start as it’ll give you a good sense of how to pace yourself and how ‘deep’ you want to go into your topic area.
Tip 4: Narrative
There’s many different ways of doing a presentation and lots of information out there about how you can combine all your points into one neat story arc or narrative flow. I’ll sign off with one final tip – think really hard about how you can make your presentation relevant to your audience. I don’t mean: ‘oh, my presentation will be relevant because everyone will want to know how this project was successfully delivered’. I mean providing real learns that the audience can take away and apply that day. If you can’t then don’t expect your audience to be engaged with what you have to say.
In short, give ’em what they want.
I hope I haven’t over sold this post. It’s taken me 365 days to write it because every time I’ve sat down to write some thoughts on what Bowie meant to me, I’ve eventually reached for the delete key. Just where do you start?
Well, maybe with some of my favourite Bowie moments that have stayed with me over the years. Here goes…
That Trent Reznor Duet
Exceptional song, exceptional voice, exceptional duet. Just one of my favourite Bowie collaborations, but you could also pick Satellite of Love or Tonight. He always seemed to find that perfect harmony.
I’m closer to the Golden Dawn
Immersed in Crowley’s uniform
I’m living in a silent film
Portraying Himmler’s sacred realm
Of dream reality
Now, I have no idea what these lyrics from Quicksand actually mean, the fun has been inventing that meaning over the years. When I was 20 I thought: ‘Oh, this is a nice song about love’. Now, at 40, I think: ‘This is a man trying to grabble with reason to work out the meaning of life’. Either that’s down to the multiplicity of the song here, or I’m currently having a mid-life crisis. You decide!
Peppers and Milk
Just Google it. Along with his initial clash with Kraftwerk. Or the time he hooked up with Iggy in Berlin when they weren’t doing drugs. Or the inspiration for ‘Heroes’.
Even if you erased all memory of Bowie’s music, we’d still be captivated by the stories. You just couldn’t make them up. Or could you?
Hang On To Yourself
When times are dark, that’s good advice. Trust me.
You can find quite a few awkward interviews with Bowie online. These always make me cringe because I’ve been there as a music journalist, interviewing your heroes and then, for whatever reason, it just doesn’t go to plan. Still, that doesn’t make these clips less hilarious.
That Glastonbury Moment
I’ll always remember seeing Bowie for the first time at Glastonbury. He was due to perform at around 7.30pm, the sun was beginning to set, we were all hovering around our tents chatting. Down in the valley you could hear the band sound-checking at the Pyramid stage. Then about five minutes later the band kicked off well before their scheduled time with ‘Wild Is The Wind’. When Bowie began to sing the crowd went nuts and rushed over. It could have been carnage I suppose but it all worked out. A true wow-ie moment.
One day an email popped into my inbox promoting a remastered version of Aladdin Sane. I was about to delete it until I spotted that the label was offering a special playback of the album at Abbey Road studios. Naturally, I signed up immediately. When I got to the studios there were only a couple of rock magazine journalists and about three staff from the label. We sat on some comfy chairs in one of the studios where, no doubt, some of the best albums in the world had been recorded and listened to the remastered album through the mixing desk.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been invited to a listening ‘party’ but they’re always slightly awkward. You don’t really talk, you sort of sit in silence and then have a chat afterwards. The guy I happened to site next to turned out to be one of Bowie’s previous managers Alan Edwards. He made a great comment: ‘For someone famous for being so against the romantic notion of the artist, a lot of his songs are very romantic and, to me at least, so very personal.’
I could go on, but that pretty much says it all for me. In the weeks following Bowie’s death I revisited his albums again, especially those that I’d rejected previously. On ‘The Next Day’ there’s a beautiful track ‘Where Are We Now?’ and I’d like to think this is the real Bowie, David Jones, reflecting on his past. There is something about the recording that sounds so vulnerable and honest compared to tracks from Blackstar.
Of course, I have no idea if I’m right or wrong and I guess that’s the reason why I find the man and his music so fascinating. Who the hell was he? I guess I’ll still be trying to figure that out in years to come.
Bye Bye for now.
A list of my most interesting content strategy-related reads this week…
Hmm. A different kind of post this week as there were three particular articles that really caught my attention. The first was a remarkable piece by Matt Lees which I missed when it was first published. In What Gamergate should have taught us about the ‘alt-right’ he writes that everything we’re seeing now in the discussion around fake news had its precedent two years ago with Gamergate…
“The strangest aspect of Gamergate is that it consistently didn’t make any sense: people chose to align with it, and yet refused responsibility. It was constantly demanded that we debate the issues, but explanations and facts were treated with scorn. Attempts to find common ground saw the specifics of the demands being shifted: we want you to listen to us; we want you to change your ways; we want you to close your publication down. This movement that ostensibly wanted to protect free speech from cry bully SJWs simultaneously did what it could to endanger sites it disagreed with, encouraging advertisers to abandon support for media outlets that published stories critical of the hashtag. The petulance of that movement is disturbingly echoed in Trump’s own Twitter feed.
Looking back, Gamergate really only made sense in one way: as an exemplar of what Umberto Eco called “eternal fascism”, a form of extremism he believed could flourish at any point in, in any place – a fascism that would extol traditional values, rally against diversity and cultural critics, believe in the value of action above thought and encourage a distrust of intellectuals or experts – a fascism built on frustration and machismo. The requirement of this formless fascism would – above all else – be to remain in an endless state of conflict, a fight against a foe who must always be portrayed as impossibly strong and laughably weak. This was the methodology of Gamergate, and it now forms the basis of the contemporary far-right movement.”
That is truly a recommended read. Elsewhere, I was also moved by Marc Thompson’s recent speech on fake news…
“Fake news is not new. The spreading false rumors for political advantage, for pure malice, or just for entertainment, is as old as the hills. Supermarket checkout magazines have been assuring us for decades that Elvis never died at all and is alive and well and eating unhealthy snacks inside a replica of the Sphinx on the surface of Mars.
And yet what’s happening now feels different. Whatever its other cultural and social merits, our digital eco-system seems to have evolved into a near-perfect environment for fake news to thrive. In addition to enthusiastic domestic myth-makers, it’s easy for hostile foreign governments and their proxies not just to initiate a fake news cycle – it is now widely accepted that it was Russian hackers who broke into John Podesta’s emails and gave them to Wikileaks, beginning the chain of events that led to Pizzagate – but to intensify it, and on occasion even to manage it with armies of human “trolls” and cyber botnets. This is a form of what the military calls “black psy-ops”, in other words covert psychological operations.”
And lastly, before we all point the finger at Facebook to sort this all out, Frederic Filloux had some great thoughts on why fake news isn’t going to be resolved by Facebook because news itself is not FB’s core business model.
“We must face the fact that Facebook doesn’t care about news in the journalism sense. News represents about 10% of the average user newsfeed and news can be cut overnight if circumstances dictate with no significant impact for the platform. (Actually, someone with good inside knowledge of the social network told me that news will be removed from users’ feed should the European Union move against Facebook in the same way it attacks Google on editorial issues).
In that broad context, the fake news situation is just a part of Facebook’s system, a bad apple in a large basket. It is impossible to believe that one of the best engineering companies in the world has not seen it coming; fake news was simply considered an unpleasant parasite, the wine lees at the bottom of the barrel… until Trump’s campaign made such a large use of fake news that it blew up.”
And lastly, for podcast enthusiasts, ProPublica published a fantastic interview with journalist Masha Gessen which discussed how we might approach a ‘taxonomy of truth’ to help guide us in the months ahead.