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Photographing the Soul of UK Garage 

Over the last few years, it’s become increasingly clear that we didn’t appreciate UK garage to the extent that we should have. You can’t help but think that most of the DJs, producers, filmmakers, and fashion designers referencing Todd Edwards and Ben Sherman in their work today actually grew up listening to Coal Chamber and wearing JNCO jeans. 

One man who was definitely there, however, is photographer Ewen Spencer. Ewen’s done a lot of things over the years, from working with the White Stripes and documenting the halcyon days of grime (if there was ever such a thing) in his book Open Mic, to taking the liner photos for Original Pirate Material. His latest project concerns the increasingly lauded but still somewhat undocumented world of UKG, and comes in the form of a new book, Brandy & Coke.

The photos are fantastic, perfectly capturing the atmosphere of those early garage nights all my friends’ older brothers claim to have been at. The newspaper-print trousers and YSL button-downs are all there in the forefront, being splashed by open bottles of champagne and classy drinks. After a good few hours of longingly staring at the photos, wishing I was one of the satin-suited people in them, I decided to catch up with Ewen to talk garage, grime, garms and whether or not ex-Newcastle striker Andy Cole really was one of the “original 50 garage ravers.”

You can find some of these images and some words from Ewen in the latest issue of VICE Magazine.

VICE: Hi, Ewen. So, when did you first hear the term garage used in relation to dance music?
Ewen Spencer: In the early 90s, but that would have been American garage, like house music. New York vocal house music would have been called “garage.” I first heard it on the soul scene, probably. At that time, it was crossing over and me and my pals were going to soul parties, avoiding the atrocious rave scene. House music was infiltrating the soul scene and, at that time, garage was basically soulful house.

There’s this debate about who the true parents of UK garage are—what’s your opinion on that?
Yeah, I think it’s a worthwhile debate. It came from America, it didn’t come from rave culture. Rave culture was British. It came from Detroit, America, which is when we started to hear house music in the club—in Newcastle, for instance. We liked all of that stuff, but it was placed side by side with soul music: Soul II Soul, modern soul, SOS Band, all that shit. So I guess rave became overground and house music changed and became something else. And then I’d say speed garage came out of New Jersey and was popularized over here. 

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“Cirrus” directed by Cyriak (UK)

“Yamasuki Yamazaki” directed by Shishi Yamazaki (Japan)

“Tourniquet” directed by Jordan Bruner (US)

Music Video for Hem. Animated by Greg Lytle and Jordan Bruner.

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When I first moved to the UK, I thought I understood why people hated the Daily Mail: it's a shitty, sensationalist tabloid, right? What I failed to understand, in my naive, transatlantic way, was just how shitty a tabloid the Fail is. Here, then, is Martin Robbins doing a 20-minute presentation at The Pod Delusion's third birthday bash, explaining in excruciating (and funny) detail why the Mail is an atrocious, vile fester of stinking shit, and why the people who publish it are scum.

Martin Robbins: Why The Daily Mail is Evil (at The Pod Delusion's 3rd birthday do)

(via MeFi)

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I mentioned in September that Ben "Bad Science" Goldacre had a new book out, Bad Pharma: How drug companies mislead doctors and harm patients. I was sure at the time that this would be the usual excellent Goldacre fare -- lucid, thorough, and important. Now that I'm back from my own book tour, I've had a chance to read it and I'm pleased (or rather, furious -- more on this later) to report that this really is the usual, excellent Goldacre stuff.

Bad Pharma is an exhaustive look at the corruption that infests every corner of the pharmaceutical industry, from drug trials to regulatory approval and oversight, to marketing and prescribing and followup research. Systematically, Goldacre lays out the case against pharma, showing that the widespread practices of research suppression, coercion and bribery of journal editors and doctors, propaganda masquerading as mandatory continuing education programmes for doctors, deliberate manipulation of research data, interfering with (or ignoring) regulation, and out-and-out fraud has put all of medicine in jeopardy.

If you're like me, you might be thinking "Oh, yes, of course, it's full of all the usual big-business/regulatory capture stuff," and it is. But what I didn't realise until I read Bad Pharma was that the system isn't just corrupted, it is corrupt. For decades, the evidence for and against medicines that you and I are prescribed every day has been distorted and manipulated to the point where it is now impossible to say whether practically any medicine is better than its competitors, whether it is safe for human consumption -- whether, in other words, we should be taking it.

Goldacre shows that pharma companies routinely suppress the findings of their own trials, cherry-picking their publications to show their products in a flattering light. What's more, something like half of all clinical pharma trials are never disclosed. Think of it: if I ran a "clinical trial" on a coin and was allowed to throw away half of my outcomes, I could show that it came up heads every time. If you didn't know that I chucked out all the trials when it came up tails, you'd think that I'd really hit on something. But that's just for starters. Goldacre's chapter on trial manipulation could be called "How to Lie With Statistics: the Pharma Edition," and it is a thorough catalogue of tricks simple and complex for making pills look like miracle cures, even those that do nothing, that cause harm, or that underperform compared to existing medicines.

Goldacre also documents the manipulation of public perception, showing how clever PR stunts create "diseases" out of thin air, and shows how campaigns to spread awareness of "diseases" like Female Sexual Dysfunction were, in fact, marketing for a planned campaign to get Viagra prescribed to women. This is but one prong of the marketing attack. The other is directed at doctors, and involves everything from fake "classes" taught by eminent physicians that are just marketing for a sponsor's drugs (these classes qualify for as continuing education for doctors, who are required to keep their credentials current in order to continue practicing) to fake journals (produced by real journal publishers to the specifications of pharma companies, who are also their major advertisers), and more tricks, some of which had my jaw scraping my chest.

It goes on and on. Bad Pharma is a well-told tale of how indifference, greed, criminality, impotence, and regulatory capture have worked together to put us all at risk. Rich or poor, doctor or patient, we're all in the dark when it comes to the medicines we take every single day. The billions spent by pharma on the distortion of health science have worked: the companies have made back billions more (providing them with a healthy war-chest for continued corruption), and the rest of us are left without any way of knowing whether our treatments are effective.

It would be easy for Bad Pharma to be a counsel of despair, but it's not. At every turn, Goldacre describes simple measures that could stem the tide of corruption and even reverse it. Pharma companies, for example, have the trial data on all of their clinical trials. Simply forcing them to publish this data would allow researchers to re-run the data on treatments and get better advice to doctors and their patients. Goldacre proposes remedies large and small, ways that all of us could do something to help solve this problem. It's hard to write a book that demonstrates bottomless, vast corruption without leaving the reader feeling helpless, but Bad Pharma will leave you ready to fight for a better world, to demand the professional conduct and regulation that promotes the best health outcomes for all of us.

Bad Pharma: How drug companies mislead doctors and harm patients

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It’s been a while since the last installment of Animated Fragments so here’s another random assortment of short animation tests, exercises and other brief pieces that I’ve run across recently:

AD by Adam Dedman (UK)

Bassawards “Call for Entries” spot by Lobo (Brazil)

Animated walks and runs by Michael Schlingmann (UK)

“Cuckoo” by Alexander Pettersson (Sweden)

Run Cycle by Matt Abbiss (UK)

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For more than 30 years, artist John Stezaker has used found images as his primary medium. In his compositions, black-and-white studio portraits become surreal two-faced beings; elsewhere, a woman’s face is replaced by the crashing white waves of an illustrated postcard. These collages, which use classic movie stills, vintage postcards and book illustrations, are sliced and re-arranged into entirely new forms—they’re simple constructions, but Stezaker’s eye for the uncanny makes them powerful.

On Sept. 3, Stezaker was awarded the 2012 Deutsche Börse Photography Prize, which recognizes a significant contribution to the medium of photography through exhibition or publication, for his presentation of photographic collages last year at the Whitechapel Gallery in London.

The £30,000 prize (about $48,000) is organized by The Photographers’ Gallery in London. “Stezaker’s work has been influential on a new generation of image-makers,” said Brett Rogers, the Director of The Photographers’ Gallery, in a statement. “Within the vastness of today’s image flow, Stezaker has managed to resurrect the power and uncanny mystery inherent in the still image using traditional photographic strategies, most especially collage.”

Stezaker’s exhibition at Whitechapel showcased work from the 1970s until today.

“I am dedicated to fascination—to image fascination, a fascination for the point at which the image becomes self-enclosed and autonomous. It does so through a series of processes of disjunction,” Stezaker said in a statement from Whitechapel.

John Stezaker is a London-based artist. See more of his work here.

An exhibition of the artists shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2012 is on display at The Photographers’ Gallery, London until Sept. 9.

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In the new photo book London: Portrait of a City, editor Reuel Golden says he wanted to use images to “convey the history of the city and tell it in a compelling way that will sort of surprise people as well.” That’s no easy feat when the city in question is one of the world’s oldest. But Golden says he found London’s photographic history was most compelling in three main eras: the Victorian period, the post-World War II era and the swinging ’60s. Images from those particular time periods, according to Golden, best displayed “the character of the city, the soul of the city and the personality of the city.”

That’s not to say the process was simple. To kick the project off, a few thousand photos were compiled, many of which were found buried in dusty drawers from places like the London Metropolitan Archive, which catalogs records of the city. Then came the task— carried out by Golden, famed publisher Benedikt Taschen and art director Josh Baker—of whittling down the thousands of images into a manageable collection of photos that exemplified London. Though the book is the latest in a series of city-themed collections (past books have featured New York and Berlin), when it came to picking images of London, the team was especially critical in what they included. They were looking for photos that exuded “fashion, a certain kind of cool,” says Golden. “And also you want to show ready identifiable icons.”

Throughout the pages–which also feature essays on the city–there are images of London life from the East end to the West end, all of which are invariably both familiar and fresh. Each image symbolizes a recognizable piece of London’s architecture, history, culture and of course, its iconic style, but often in a way that’s never been seen before.

The end result is a 552-page behemoth of a book with hundreds of images from anonymous and amateur photographers, as well as the big names of the business like Bill Brandt and David Bailey. “It’s important to get a good mix of big, important photographers, but also people who just documented London in a totally, totally different way,” says Golden. “Part of our mission behind these books is to sort of discover lesser known photographers and bring them out to the light of the world.”

London: Portrait of a City was recently released by TASCHEN.

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St Colin and the Dragon is a perfectly great 27-page kids' comic about a dragon that hatches in a faraway kingdom and the dumb things that the residents of the kingdom try to get rid of it. They give it an endless parade of sheep to eat, in the hopes that it will mature, grow wings and fly away. But no such thing happens. So Colin, the king's disgraced ex-squire, decides to join the knights who ride out to challenge it. All the big, tough guys are defeated, but Colin figures out what the dragon really wants and saves the kingdom. And then things get weird. In a good way.

St Colin was created by Philippa Rice, whose long-running My Cardboard Life comic (more aimed at grownups) uses the same torn-paper style that makes St Colin such a treat.

I read St Colin to my four-and-a-half-year-old at bedtime earlier this week, and it's had two re-reruns since, because she loves it. There's also plenty of grown up fun in the humorous and sometimes wry dialogue.

You can buy St Colin on its own for £6.50, or together with the massive, perfect-bound My Cardboard Life book for £15.00, should you want one book for the kid(s) and another for the grownup(s). I certainly recommend both to you.

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In early celebration of the Turing centenary this week, Ars Technica's Matthew Lasar has a lovely list of seven of Alan Turing's habits of thought, including this one: Be Playful.

There was something about Turing that made his friends and family want to compose rhymes. His proud father openly admitted that he hadn't the vaguest idea what his son's mathematical inquiries were about, but it was all good anyway. "I don't know what the 'ell 'e meant / But that is what 'e said 'e meant," John wrote to Alan, who took delight in reading the couplet to friends.

His fellow students sang songs about him at the dinner table: "The maths brain lies often awake in his bed / Doing logs to ten places and trig in his head."

His gym class colleagues even sang his praises as a linesman: "Turing's fond of the football field / For geometric problems the touch-lines yield."

Turing's favorite physical activity, however, was running, especially the long-distance variety. "He would amaze his colleagues by running to scientific meetings," Hodges writes, "beating the travelers by public transport." He even came close to a shot at the 1948 Olympic Games, a bid cut short by an injury.

The highly productive habits of Alan Turing

(Image: Alan Turing in 1927, Sherborne school archives)

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