Inside the world of Maya Law – an exclusive interview

Maya and I arranged to meet at ‘Moorish’ – Norwich’s main falafel joint – for this interview at 1, but both of us are a bit late.

When I finally get there, she’s still nowhere to be seen, so I quickly dash to the ‘Birdcage’ to use their toilet. I open the door and, what do you know, Maya Law’s name, sitting at the top of several others, is staring right back of me on a poster for an upcoming event.

Five minutes later Maya – wearing a baggy burgundy jumper, making her way through the spitting Norwich rain – walks in. Everyone behind the counter gives her a warm welcome. They turn the music down for us and jokingly offer to play Maya’s new album, Her Or Him.

We haven’t even sat down, and yet Maya’s sheer eminence in Norwich is already there to see. This is a place that recognises local musical talent, bursting with a kind of creative, bohemian culture, and the 17-year-old clearly lives at its core.

“Everyone knows each other, so you just – whenever you’re doing a gig you know everyone else who’s there, who’s playing and stuff. Like Zach [Lambert], CABRAKID. People are just very closely knitted together.”

This is what everyone says about Norwich. You could spend five minutes by the markets and spot at least ten familiar faces. For some, that’s a torturous prospect; but for Maya, such connectivity has created a platform from which her musical life thrives. Take It From Me hit over 2,000 plays in less than 24 hours after its release and 4,000 after three days, with hundreds of people bombarding her Twitter mentions, showering praise on the new track.

The starkest illustration came with her album launch last month: a packed venue, all her friends there – alongside many fans – singing the lyrics from Safe and Sound as she rounded off the most memorable set of her life. Maya’s eyes light up at the memory. She smiles and looks at the floor, reflecting on that evening.

“It was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It was incredible. They’ve done everything for me, and I wouldn’t be doing the things that I’m doing if it wasn’t for them.”

And when I tell her to pick out one moment to relive before she dies, I already know the answer.

“I think it would have to be the album launch. The moment of singing Safe and Sound – the last song of the album – in front of everyone and everyone singing it back to me and holding hands with Allergy Kid. That would be it.”

Everything Maya does appears to be serenaded by other people. I’d met Maya a handful of times before this interview, but this is the first time I’ve seen her without company. One thing struck my mind preparing for this interview: when a gig is done, or her friends have left, and it’s just Maya, in her room – how does it feel?

“I hate it. I’m really, really dependent on company at the moment. I’ve been writing about that a lot. I used to be very content with being alone – like, I loved it, and I could spend hours by myself.

“And then I joined college and surrounded myself with people that I liked, and all of a sudden it was like: I’m going to have to see these people every day. When you go to college and you have that stage where… I had a lot of stuff going on and I needed people to, like, distract me from it.”

And yet, for all its importance, Maya’s relationship with Norwich only tells a fraction of her overall story. Before diving in to music, I wanted to know more about her background, and we immediately go down the path of her Israeli roots.

“My mum is half Israeli and my dad was English, so we were very much split between the two families. Obviously that means I have a very divided culture in terms of – like, I don’t enjoy either culture, because they’re so different. And you have to deal with people being like: ‘Ah you’re half-Israeli’.

“A lot of people have the idea that Israel is very calm, but then you have people just ripping Gaza apart – which is 100% true; I’m not disregarding that. But also, a lot of people don’t take into account that when you’re in Israel it’s not like a calm environment at all.”

Listening to Maya talk about her Israeli background, it becomes clear that this sector of her life has been more influential than anything when it comes to forming the girl that sits in front of me right now. It’s an area she explores in great detail, doing so a slightly sombre manner. Such a background, she notes, has even had implications for her musical career.

“I was made to realise that, at some point, I was going to have to deal with the whole Israeli thing. I had a meeting with this guy – he’s sort of like a manager – and he said: ‘I don’t want to bring anything negative into this but you’re going to need to deal with the whole Israel thing.’ And suddenly I was like: Uh, I’m going to have to deal with this ‘disadvantage’.”

This is a gloomy upshot of Maya’s dual heritage, and one that I didn’t expect. But as the interview goes on I begin to realise that this duality embedded in Maya’s persona makes sense in the context of her music.

There are, of course, two parts to each person: one that everyone sees – a kind of modified, public face. And then there’s the real part – the part we struggle to show to anyone but ourselves. But as you listen to Her Or Him, that authenticity – that raw, truly powerful part of Maya’s personality – comes to life, so much so that the Maya I hear singing feels like an entirely different person to the Maya sitting in front of me, smiling and leaning back in her chair, talking in a half-engaged, half-relaxed manner.

“Really?” She says upon hearing this, in a higher tone than usual. In the 30 minutes that we’ve been speaking, this statement has pricked her attention the most. She leans slightly forward and looks at me for a moment, simultaneously fascinated and reflective, weighing the idea up in her head.

“I don’t know… I don’t get that vibe – maybe it’s because… yeah I’m definitely more comfortable when I’m singing, so even if I’ve had a bad day I’ll have a gig and it’ll all suddenly be fine. It’s always a happy place, regardless of what’s going on.

“I think the most important thing is that you make sure it’s your own voice and then people will like it.”

For most people, music is an outlet – a place to escape and, to paraphrase a really overused and corny Bob Marley quote, feel no pain. And for Maya, music has given her a chance to explore herself, to make sense of her own world. Perhaps this is why she views Take It From Me – a song that explores the struggles of growing up as a bisexual – as “special.”

“I remember writing the line in Take It From Me that is the ‘gay’ one and, um, being like: wow, I’d never say that in front of anyone but I’ve written it down. I remember singing it out loud.

“I was sent the instrumental, I sang along to it, and the first thing that came out was that line. It was something that I was hiding for a while. But I’m proud that I did it eventually. I think when you start speaking the truth it comes out very easily.”

For a while, though, it wasn’t easy.

“I think it was something I internally struggled with because I’m not very patient and I wanted to know what I was now, but I had to wait to figure it out.

“I was never bullied in high school or anything like that. I think sexuality is something very difficult to explain in terms of the fact that I could say I’m bisexual, and I could go for hours explaining how I feel about each person, but it’s never very specific.”

But music, she notes, provided a clearer, more refined understanding of her own sexuality.

“Writing it down and seeing everything that I thought was much easier.”

This is, at least in my opinion, what characterises Her or Him above anything: an unreserved, truly crystalline reflection of Maya herself, brought to life by a voice mixed with intensity and blunt sentiment.

But it should be noted that Her Or Him was not crafted by Maya alone. When I mention Allergy Kid, one half of CABRAKID and creator of the instrumentals for each song on the album, her eyes light up once again.

“Allergy Kid is the most incredible man that I’ve ever met. He’s so talented. He makes that whole thing (the instrumentals for Her or Him) and he does it so quickly.

“And once we’d finished it I’d tweeted asking for people to send me instrumentals and he just sent me loads more and said: ‘I’m your instrumentals guy; don’t get them from anywhere else.’ And now he’s at Bristol studying music production and, um, hopefully we’ll be involved together. He’s so talented.”

So, what next for Maya? And what next for Allergy Kid? Will they end up making more music together?

“Well I’ve got this new thing happening at the moment. Like, I don’t think I can speak about it too much right now. I’ve already spoken to people about Allergy Kid still being involved because I wouldn’t like to be alone – he’s like the best person ever.”

But whatever happens next, Maya can look back on the past year and smile.

“I wasn’t going anywhere,” she says when I ask her to sum up where she was this time last year, shaking her head slightly. “I was not doing anything productive at all. I was doing – I was recording shitty acoustic songs on my Mac and putting them out. And if I got 100 plays I’d be happy.”

And where, I ask, is she now?

“Now I have an album and I’m going to do this thing that’s really cool that I can’t talk about,” she responds, almost disbelieving of it herself. “There’s more music coming with different people and it should be very big and exciting. Hopefully next summer. There’ll be something out.”

Listening to Maya talk about ‘this thing’, you sense that Her Or Him is far from her zenith, but perhaps just the start of something bigger.

By Leo Nieboer, 18 (@leo_nieboer)

Follow Maya here: @mayalxw 

Listen to Her or Him for free here 

Buy Her or Him for £4 here 

 

 

The Physical Impossibility of Trump in the Mind of Someone Living

There is something about Donald Trump, as his face balloons into our televisions, that seems far less about politics than about postmodernism in the art world. Is there anything more to him than Jeff Koons’ ‘Inflatable Pig Costume’? Perhaps post-truth politics is the most recent manifestation of a truth-denying movement that has been haunting the art world for decades.

Postmodernism was a carnival in the wake of Modernist pioneers. Where Modernists at the start of the 20th Century had challenged outdated elitism and sought to make art relevant to the modern experience, their successors were less progressive. Rather than creating any new albeit simplistic vision, they celebrated the chaotic lack of vision, the dissolution of meaning, the end of ideologies. Without objective standards by which to review art, the individual was the only critic left. This open-minded philosophy did not, however, diversify the tastes of the many, but rather provided legitimacy to so-called ‘low art’, to pop-culture.

The past fifteen years have been marked by the failure of the neoliberal narrative. Free markets and elected governments don’t inspire the confidence they did at the start of the millennium. The end-of-history vision, the last Enlightenment grand narrative in the West, was broken by confusing and destructive wars in the Middle East that aided the rise of Islamist terror, meanwhile the financial crash of 2008 showed governments defending banks seemingly beyond all reason. In response to the hypocrisy and lies of Western governments, many rejected all elites, experts, visionaries or ideologues.

Postmodern art thrives in opposition to artistic norms. With each boundary broken, each convention subverted, an artist can gain a reputation. Shock became success to Emin, Hirst or Gilbert & George.

It was a kind of joke, where the audience weren’t even convinced it was art.

If exhibitions can cause offence or amusement, they’re more likely sell out. This phenomenon seems fitting when it comes to understanding our post-truth politicians. Their notoriety, their blasé attitudes towards political correctness, towards truth, only serve to empower the crowds that cheer them on. Farage pleased crowds by trying to act like an extra up the Nag’s Head in Only Fools and Horses.

Is Trump a politician, or some knowing performance artist, playing a kind of caricatured ‘ugly American’? Does the audience, the electorate, care? Popular rejection of experts is a shrug to objective truth. Their motivations may inspire sympathy, but the consequences are catastrophic, as the referendum proved. If there are no experts to prescribe facts, the individual becomes, once again, one’s own chief commentator, with uninformed prejudices afforded an incorrigible legitimacy.

This argument should not been against populism or indeed pop-culture, which would simply be the elitist response. However, in the fields of art and celebrity politics, value has been and is increasingly calculated according to opinion and predictions of opinion rather than any concrete merit, making them both susceptible to vicious snowballing. Any movement that dismisses objectivity, without allowing for a pluralist openness to different value systems and varied attitudes, risks becoming a hotbed of reactionary bile or risks placing those kitsch figurines, not fit for display, on a plinth.

But politics is not art. We must not let a pickled shark in the White House.

 

By Osian Evans-Sharma, 19 (@OsianKCES) 

Do facts matter?

If you’re currently immersed in season one of Sam Esmail’s Mr. Robot, and wish to preserve the suspense surrounding its narrative, then the opening of this article is probably not for you.

But if you aren’t too bothered about discovering the conclusion of ten gripping episodes in a couple of sentences, or simply have no idea of what Mr. Robot is, then let me begin.

In the aftermath of the ‘5/9 attack’, a hack orchestrated by Elliot – the show’s main protagonist – that brings down a dystopian conglomerate known as E Corp (which in turn brings down the USA’s entire consumer credit industry, eradicating all debt), the company’s CEO, Philip Price, is told to resign.

Hearing this, Price does that typical draconian corporate overlord thing of leaning back in his chair and looking into the distance, before telling a story – a story I will share with you all now.

“In the fallout of the Great Depression,” he begins, “FDR closed all the banks for a bank holiday. And then he reopened them in stages when they were ‘reported’ to being sound.

“Later, historians discovered what we all now know – that those reports were lies. Nevertheless, it worked. It worked because the public believed the government had everything under control.

“You see, that is the business model of the American dream. Every business day, when that market bell rings, we con people into believing in something.”

He concludes ominously: “As long as the con works… we can get people to do whatever we want.”

The point of this story, I guess, is that society is – and always has been – able to function on the pretext of a lie, as opposed to any solid facts.

I mean, fast-forward to the present day and the same principle applies. Think back to the months leading up to the EU referendum – that bile-spewing cacophony of disregard and slander; a seemingly endless barrage of conflicting statistics and right wing sentiments, ending, of course, in one of the worst practical jokes ever – the decision to actually leave the EU.

A leading symbol of those murky few months will always be that famous ‘promise’ made by the Leave movement: to siphon the £350m given to the EU each week and inject every single penny of it into a wilting NHS.

Such a guarantee was, as hilariously admitted by Nigel Farage in the aftermath, completely baseless, never even likely to be fulfilled.

But did it matter? After all, it worked, didn’t it? It convinced enough people and, in turn, Leave won. Farage may have looked ridiculous on national television, but do you really think that bothered him?

All that’s required, it seems, is the appearance of a fact, a statistic of some sort, providing an illusion of objectivity. But I’m not saying anything new here. Of course politicians – along with the supervening Murdoch-infected tabloid industry – lob false facts in our direction.

But it seems as if the world is plunging even further into the doldrums of blatant fabrication, so much so that even the appearance of a fact is no longer needed.

Take, for example, everyone’s favourite wotsit-faced demagogue across the pond – Donald Trump. An abhorrent individual, I know, and yet somewhat fascinating at the same time: he has managed to bend the axioms of what can be considered acceptable, of what can actually inform political ideology, to the extent that the idea of an objective, knowable fact is about as incongruous in America as a pot-smoking Stalinist.

Charles Sykes, a conservative activist who, like all conservative activists, thrives off complete untruths, recently admitted himself that things have gone too far.

When Trump says something racist or blatantly untrue, he points out, there is no demand for him to retract it. Rather, his supporters actually expect him to defend it, branding him as a sell-out if he doesn’t.

“We’ve created this monster,” he adds. And make no mistake – this monster is making its way onto our shores. A brief look at Prime Minister’s Question Time illustrates this point in glaring fashion: you’ve got Jeremy Corbyn – poor Jezza, just trying (in my opinion) to be an honest, nice politician – at the dispatch box, with hundreds of sneering egocentrics ready to pounce at any moment, raising serious points on housing, backed up by genuine facts, and what does he get in return? A prepared gag from Theresa May; a prepared gag about ‘Train-gate’, for God’s sake; a piece of crass slander excreting over legitimate facts and concerns.

Reflecting on this exchange, Owen Bennett, a political reporter for the Huffington Post UK, noted that May “misjudged” PMQS. The sad reality, though, is that the opposite is true. May’s complete ignorance of facts, of real problems, electing instead to spew meaningless calumny is entirely in keeping with today’s political climate.

It reminds me of a wonderful moment in Orson Welles’ F for Fake, where François Reichenbach says to Clifford Irving: “Enough of the truth; tell us the real story.” Like with Irving, famous for his fake autobiography of Howard Hughes, the current status quo has no regard for truth or facts.

So the answer, I guess, is no – facts don’t matter, and the damage as a result could be irreversible. If we refuse to agree on – or just ignore – a simple framework of objective facts, the ideological divide between the right and left can never be solved.

And this, no doubt, eradicates the possibility of cooperation in politics, and possibly democracy as we know it today.

By Leo Nieboer (@leo_nieboer), co-editor, 18

Positive Discrimination: Reversing Racism, or Reverse Racism?

As time ticks on, so does economy and population. And where populations and economies grow, so does the need for jobs, school places, and university acceptance letters.

But just because our acceptance of women, ethnic minorities, and non-heterosexuality has also taken an inclusive turn over the past 40 years, is the answer to these issues as exclusive as it once was?

Or should each case be talked about on its own? Is this new wave of social acceptance actually about individuals?

The obvious rival to positive discrimination is meritocracy – something that, on the face of it, is shunned in the name of correcting the historic wrongs against non-whites. If the two forms of social accession are to be argued as bedfellows, however, then it would be a worthy competitor to discrimination.

But in a society where discrimination is no longer an incessant problem, are we fighting against something which isn’t actually there? An invisible rival to liberty left in the bitter, smokey wake of the slave trade, aimlessly punching the lingering shadows of suffragettism. Are we avenging the long-dead ashes of those who were once under the discriminatory oppression of the white, straight, rich man, or are we ourselves now under the thumb of their history, and a timeless immature game of ‘he started it’?

The newly sparked and ever watchful eyes of the feminists has been baited by an inquiry by Commons Committees in the UK into the number of women MPs amid the proposed constituency boundary change, slicing the current 650 seats to a still sizeable 600.

It seems, just like many schemes to equalise politics, Labour’s ‘women only shortlists’, a previously productive enterprise, has now fizzled into a dark, meaningless crispy puck of manifesto pie. That said, it did plenty in 2010, with 50% of female candidates for seats being put forward by All Women Shortlists.

But has patriarchy not been made extinct, courtesy of liberalism? And if so, surely the fact they were needed in the fist place says little about actually fighting discrimination, and more about Westminster’s obsession with planting itself with women, trying to gain equality through some kind of feminist osmosis.

But why? Why is feminism redundant in politics, and why, therefore, is it fighting for what it is principally arguing against? Well, in both the UK and the USA there is the haunting assumption of degrees being necessary. And with tuition fees in the UK set to rise to £12,500 a year and US fees averaging $50,000, it seems great as if wealth inequality is flourishing over the pond, as well as at home. Just over a quarter of blacks and hispanics living in the US are in relative poverty, and the number of three-day emergency food supplies given to people in crisis by Trussell Trust foodbanks in the financial year 2015-2016 rose to over 1 Million in the UK.

It seems the road to Washington and Westminster is growing ever distant for those from the poorer definition of an estate. But this does not mean picking people off the streets and offering them a seat in the Commons or Congress; it means equalising the provision of education, irrespective of wealth. Americans would have you believe that such an approach is strictly socialist. It is not. It is equality of opportunity as opposed to outcome, a tenet of their beloved friend, LIBERALISM. Once they are given the opportunity to be educated, then it is down to meritocracy.

To combat the race, gender, and class inequality in politics, would it not be fairer and more economic to give ‘oppressed’ groups the opportunity to be successful by treating them equally, as opposed to handing them success and thus purporting inequality even more?

It seems the ‘fairer’ one wishes to make politics less democratic, rendering the groups who endorse positive discrimination incapable of remaining relevant unless they directly violate their own legality.

 I am aware that, whilst scepticism towards positive discrimination, right now, is acceptable, it may appear more sinister in decades to come in the ever more inclusive society in which we will continue to find ourselves in.

I mean, why undo the wrongs of the past if it means living in a regressive now? Would not looking forward through liberally-tinted spectacles be the most progressive way? As Ghandi once corrected the King of Babylon in Matthew 5:38, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

By Nick Ford, 18

(@nicholasf01d) 

 

 

Left Divided: The Precarious State of Democratic Socialism Today

The so-called ‘Chinese curse’ notoriously condemns its victims to ‘live in interesting times’. The curse’s provenance is, in reality, fittingly Western, as politics in the West enters into its own, euphemistically labelled, ‘interesting times’.

Our two-party system is in crisis, with popular opinion polarising to the extremes of the political spectrum. The problem is not coalitions or a diversity of outlooks, which could enhance the democratic process, but that these growing voices, especially on the left, are being suppressed by the powerful, rather than accommodated.

If the left fail in this challenge, we shall see a rise in the far-right. The popular far-right, in turn, will only be stopped by adopting policies against populism, a Chinese-styled solution, which would be the real curse.

By April 2016, Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, was on a winning streak in the US primaries, leaving the pundits shaken.

In response, next primary, in New York, was held with officially admitted ‘irregularities’ that restrained thousands of voters by limiting the availability of polling stations and disenfranchising people who had not declared their party-allegiance the year before. These strict rules reflect the DNC’s disdain for Sanders, as can now be seen in recent WikiLeaks revelations. Sanders’ campaign relied on crowdfunding, pooling money, but also discontent; he opened a Pandora’s Box of dissatisfaction and, for a moment, it looked like it could have fuelled him to power.

We would be lucky if, following the nomination of Hillary Clinton, these people return to their apathy and frustration; however, the reality can be seen when Sanders tries to endorse Clinton in this recent video. The crowd boos, then chants, ‘we want Bernie’. The senator raises a pleading hand like a modern Canute, seeking to control a rising tide of anger. Such supporters would rather elect the shame of Republicans, Donald Trump, than Clinton, whom they now justifiably distrust.

Meanwhile back across the pond, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his spotless socialist credentials have been lampooned from all sides. Insults are hurled by high-flying Tories and right-wing rags against his bicycle, suit, or dislike of nuclear weapons designed to kill millions.

However, attacks came arguably strongest from his own party from even before his election. As soon as he made the ballot, former failed leaders and spin doctors came hissing out of the woodwork, unwilling to accept his exceptional mandate to lead. Some refused to work with him, while others tried to smear him as a security risk. Many criticise him for poor communication and lack of experience, as well as not appealing to the electorate; these criticisms are not, as some of his disciples claim, propaganda from red Tory Blairite elitists, but to think that polls or expert opinions shape popular movements is simply wrong. Some anti-Corbyn Labour MPs say they have faced intimidation and bullying, while others talk deselection from an organised leftist CLP base. Some of this is just exaggeration and scaremongering, but it would be worth bearing in mind that the righteous anger among his supporters will not disappear, even if he loses the leadership in September.

Meanwhile UKIP creep steadily further into Labour heartlands and Welsh regionalism threatens to follow the Scottish path. Former PM David Cameron was willing to appeal to the Tory’s swivel-eyed loons in the form of an EU referendum, while Labour has sought to exclude its grassroots members, most recently by preventing new members from voting in the leadership election and carrying out a suspect ‘purge’ of Bolsheviks, Trotskyists and militant fans of the Foo Fighters. Such heavy infighting will hand power to a united right.

In Spain, the drawn out general election showed left-wing Unidos Podemos, finish third after splitting the vote with the centre-left PSOE and handing the conservative PP first place. In Greece, once regarded as a new hope for European socialism, it was not the fascists of Golden Dawn, but the moderate, centre-ground EU Troika that managed to override their elected government and enforce a punishing agenda.

Philosopher Walter Benjamin is said to have claimed that behind every fascism lies a failed revolution. It seems clear that the established left will not go down without a fight against these internal revolutions in the US, UK, Spain or Greece, but in doing so, it opens up a threat from the right.

Populism is not the unstoppable force as it is sometimes portrayed, but in order to control anti-establishment protests from left or right, the price would of course be the very things we wish to preserve: human rights, democracy, justice, and so on. This is the Chinese solution, a nightmare often alluded to by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek. In the past, he claims, capitalism always came with the guarantee of democracy, a sort of Enlightenment flatpack to be assembled the world over, with varied results.

Today’s capitalism, however, is more threatening. Countries like China practise state-capitalism, made efficient by turning a blind eye towards workers’ rights. The same could be said of Russia or even modern Turkey; these countries have seen a rise in protests over the past five years, and the solution has been harsher sentencing, increased censorship and further curtailment of civil liberties.

If popular radicals are denied power, the methods of suppressing them will have to become ever blunter, ever more authoritarian. The looming free-trade agreements, if passed, could hand over power to big business, while the government exists to man the water cannon or fire the tear gas.

There is a simple warning to be learned. If the moderate centre-left cannot accept and use the popular support given to socialists, if they refuse to shift the agenda, even if they defeat the socialists in elections, these will be but Pyrrhic victories. These scuffles will end under far-right ideologues or capitalist tyrants. They will be condemned to live in interesting times.

By Osian Evans-Sharma, 18

(@OsianKCES) 

 

 

Edward Snowden – the 21st century’s greatest superman

How do you define a superhero?

 

There is, of course, the generic image that absorbs so many people: the chisel jaw; the superhuman strength and unfettered benevolence; the excruciatingly tight costume; saving the world; winning the hearts of millions (including that of some girl who was rescued in dramatic fashion), and so on.

Whatever its criteria, the notion of a superhero strictly belongs to a fictional realm – the big screen, usually. Superhero status, as perceived in the modern world, is something idealised rather than personified.

There is, however, one aspect of a superhero’s nature that we can grasp. And I’m not talking about shooting bad guys; I’m talking about mankind’s ability to fight evil.

Fiction’s purpose is to replace the multitude of fears experienced in the real world with one concentrated, singular force of evil. Jaws is a prime example. The shark’s function is to create one solitary fear, consequently allowing us to forget about what exists in the modern world. Such a theme is repeated in superhero movies with reckless abundant. 

A fictional superhero’s job, then, is to defeat this fabricated object of evil, and in turn we, for a brief moment, can feel shielded from what scares us in our daily lives.

But what are these fears, and where do they stem from?

The day-to-day struggle of all people is characterised by concerns over things such as financial stability, personal security and, more generally, anything larger than oneself. Such anxieties are rooted in what is commonly known as ‘the system’ – the supervening body that governs every aspect of our lives – and our inability to do anything but live under its watchful glare.

It can be said, therefore, that anybody who launches a direct assault on the springboard for these fears, attacking its very origins in the interest of enforcing positive change, is something of a real life superhero.

This is where Edward Snowden comes in.

In May 2013, Snowden, a chief infrastructural analyst and system administrator for the National Security Agency (NSA), took leave of absence from the organisation’s Hawaii headquarters, telling his supervisors that he was returning to mainland USA for epilepsy treatment.

Instead, Snowden flew to Hong Kong, where he began his assault on ‘the system’ in earnest. In the space of a few months, he was known worldwide.

A year prior to his departure to Hong Kong, Snowden quietly began an assimilation of data that outlined the details of NSA’s draconian global surveillance programme.

On May 20th, approximately 10,000 documents were disclosed to Glenn Greenwald in Hong Kong, a journalist working at The Guardian. This was the first of numerous large-scale disclosures – disclosures published by media outlets across the world, including Der Spiegel, The New York Times, O Globo, Le Monde and The Guardian.   

What Snowden revealed was earth shattering, and fundamentally altered the way people viewed surveillance, their own personal security, and ‘the system’ itself.

It was divulged that the NSA could exercise a god-like amount of power on regular citizens. In the wake of 9-11, the NSA was secretly empowered with the capacity to gather the telephone, Internet and location records of entire populations. The targets were not just suspects, but literally everyone. Through illicitly tapping into Yahoo and Google data centres, ‘hundreds of millions’ were being watched around the clock, including you and I.

These disclosures emphatically demonstrated that the world’s biggest surveillance organization went far beyond its primary aim of “national security.” More shockingly, it was shown in a series of documents that the NSA, in ten whole years, did not ‘directly contribute to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot.’ Not even once.

Which begs the question: if the NSA doesn’t do anything in terms of security, what does it do?

Snowden showed the world that surveillance was not about safety, but about control. It’s almost as if he gave the public a pair of glasses from where They Live, with which they could, for the first time, see the tyranny and deceit embedded within the democracy for themselves.

In an interview in June 2013, he shed light on what those within the NSA could do, pointing out that ‘I, sitting at my desk, could wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email.’

Nobody is safe under such omnipotence. Snowden revealed that the NSA could, for whatever reason, discredit and ruin the lives of anybody in possession of a phone or social media account. The Huffington Post gave one galling example in 2014: a document from Snowden revealed that the NSA gathered records – dating back to five years ago – of visits to pornographic sites by those thought of as ‘radicalizers’, in a crude attempt to harm their reputation.

The NSA’s scrutiny mirrors that of Richelieu from The Three Musketeers: ‘Give me six lines written by the most honest man and I will find in them something to hang him.’ And just think: how many posts on social media – including the deleted stuff – have you written? 

But what is the reason behind all of this? Why did Snowden do what he did? He points out that, contrary to the opinion of many, he is not trying to bring down the NSA. He is not Che Guevara, nor is he Superman. Rather, Snowden’s actions are rooted in a belief that the public – and not a group of government officials – should determine right and wrong in this situation.

‘I didn’t want to change society,’ he told The Washington Post. ‘I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it could change itself.’

Snowden’s actions have precipitated an ongoing international debate over privacy and domestic surveillance. The Obama administration has been forced into declassifying thousands of documents it fought for years to conceal. Technology giants such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have taken radical steps to block the arbitrary collection of their data. The basic structure of the Internet itself is now under immense scrutiny. In April 2014, a poll showed that less Americans used the Internet for shopping, emailing and banking as a result of the ‘Snowden effect’. 

And yet, the true scale of Snowden’s actions is still unknown. Three years on from his departure to Hong Kong, and only around 5% of the 1.2 million downloaded documents have been exposed to the public. With the seismic influence already generated by this 5% in mind, it’s impossible to approximate exactly how much ‘the system’ will suffer at the hands of this bespectacled genius in the coming years.

What we can know for sure, though, is that Snowden – more than anyone else – has the power to shake ‘the system’ to its very roots. He may not wear a cape or a tight costume, but make no mistake: Snowden is the greatest superhero of our time.


by Leo Neiber, @leo_nieboer check him out #UpcomingTween

Introducing… The Garden

Born eight minutes apart, twin brothers Fletcher and Wyatt Shears have been pretty much inseparable since birth. It was this innate companionship that first led to a band named The Identical Heads which since then evolved into what we now know as The Garden.

The Garden is a band that pretty much escapes all genres, though conceptual punk is where it’s at, if it needed to be somewhere. But The Garden are so much more than that. They are special in a way unlike any other, for it is not so much that they create undefinable music, but that this music comes as an aural extension of a whole made-up universe, a personal philosophy and genre called Vada-Vada. Everything the brothers create comes out of the Vada-Vada, sometimes this simply means “a creature in own its habitat doing its own thing” while at others it has been defined as “an idea that represents pure creative expression, (something) that disregards all previously made genres and ideals”.

Vada-Vada was born out of a childhood obsession with Alvin Schwartz’s cult storybook Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and the horrific and controversial illustrations by Stephen Gammell that accompany it. And so it is that narrative becomes a large part of the brothers’ creative process, forming images and characters to occupy their strange fabricated reality. There is Aunt J, Eight Foot Tall Man, Paperclip and The Face. While this visual process might evade some people’s understanding, it is from this curious conceptualism that The Garden’s music thrives.

The music is dirty, raw and unstable, a frantic concoction of bass and drums that is forever evolving, abrupt, depraved and seductive. But these qualities along with the strange nuances of the Vada-Vada aren’t lost on everyone, for following the release of their new album Haha on October 10th with Epitaph/Burger Records the band will set out on a world tour. For The Garden’s live shows have become acclaimed for being furiously urgent and experimental. They avoid explanation as they draw their Vada-Vada universe closer and closer.

The video for All Smiles Over Here, the first track to be released from the new album offers a different and more sedate experience of this fantasy universe. Orange County becomes a hallucinogenic and slightly sinister playground for a drum beat that won’t quit and vocals of angry authority. Of the other tracks already released Egg stands out, for while Haha brings to mind Warmduscher’s debut Salamander, Egg takes us somewhere else entirely. It is less furious, more contemplative and without that distracting electronic quality, in other words it is more real.


The Garden live in a world apart. They make their own and live how they like, their philosophy being something beautiful – “I don’t know why you would force yourself to grow up”.


by Poppy Frean, 18 (google her!)