Saturday, October 31, 2015

Very Metal

If you can't beat them, join them?  A day of researching Heavy Metal - a genre of music that has been anathema to me for four decades or more. Long hair, denim, spandex, Flying V guitars, huge drum kits, massed banks of Marshall amps, screeched vocals, Satan, skulls… NWOBHM, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Saxon, Samson, The Tygers of Pan Tang… Glam and Hair Metal and LA Strip excess... Van Halen, Motley Crue, Poison, Krokus, Hanoi Rocks, WASP, Quiet Riot Thrash Metal… Out of control hair, make-up and shoes, and that's just the guys… Intricate riffing, volume dials turned to 11… chicks, drugs, booze and excess-excess-excess…. I think I need a lie down.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Black Cats and Red Wigs

The day before Hallowe'en, so everybody at school got to wear weird outfits. Our two looked suitably gothic as I dropped them off at the bus stop this morning, their friends a mixture of ghoulish and just strange (one dressed up as a SnapChat app. Eh?). 
The streets of Polanco are lined with arched black cats, spiders in candy-floss webs and witches on broomsticks Our office has an ofrenda in reception - pan de muertos, pumpkins, a picture of Shakespeare saying "Ser o No Ser" (figure it out) - and some kids came in trick-or-treating. People dressed up, not necessarily in spooky garb, just wacky. So Lena and I dared each other to wear a stupid hat and wig all day in the office, forgetting for a moment that we had our monthly UKMX Board meeting with the Ambassador and co. But we went ahead anyway. It felt a little odd sitting opposite the Ambo wearing a long red wig, but even odder that hardly anyone remarked upon it.

Thursday, October 29, 2015


Mexico is famous for its muralists, particularly Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros in the second quarter of the last Century. The works were always political, commissioned to glorify the Mexican Revolution and they still take up pride of place in most Mexican cities' public buildings. 
It's less common now to see big mural commissions, but the official or unofficial work of Mexican graffiti artists can be found on the sides of countless buildings in Mexico City.
Not to be left out, we've been working with an agency here called All City Canvas to invite the British artist D*Face (aka Dean Stockton) to Mexico City. Here he is at work on the side of a 6-storey hotel in the Roma Sur neighbourhood. It's a kind of Day of the Dead theme - very striking. See 57 second video here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Lewis Hamilton v Felipe Montero

The F1 circus is in town. It's been 23 years since Mexico City hosted a Grand Prix, but this year marks its comeback. Lewis Hamilton won't have to try too hard, having won the World Championship in the US last week, and perhaps this enabled him to relax this evening with a spot lucha libre wrestling. 
My colleague Felipe Montero is obsessed with F1. That's not him in the ring with Hamilton, but for the last couple of months he's spent all his spare time training to be a marshal at the race. So when there's a crash, he's one of the guys who helps get the driver out, removes the car and waves a flag. He'll be stationed on the first corner. So does he hope there'll be a crash? "Of course! Not a nasty one obviously, but enough to call me into action". 
I'm not an F1 fan, but just this once I think I'll switch the TV on…  at least for the first corner.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Keeping Up With Music

There is too much music. Imagine if you were a teenager in the mid-60s. Pop music was only ten years old, but already it seemed too be everywhere. In the mid-70s I was just beginning my teenage years and there was yet more, although some of it was still hard to unearth (just think, a lot of records were deleted, you simply couldn't get them). By the mid-80s there was tons of it, bolstered by punk, new wave and synths which meant anyone could form a half-decent band. By the mid-90s, not only were there thousands of new groups churning out new stuff but the old ones were enjoying a second life through CD reissues. By the mid-00s it was getting out of control with music shifting from CD to on-line, together with the ability to listen to virtually anything in the last 50 years on platforms like Spotify or YouTube. It was at about this time that my record buying (if not my listening) slowed down. I just couldn't keep up.
East India Youth
So here we are in the middle of the second decade of the second millennia, and I have to say that my appetite for new music, for keeping abreast, for adding to my 2,000 records, 2,000 CDs and 20,000 songs on iTunes has waned, replaced by looking back, listening to and reappraising what I already know, filling in the gaps or perhaps unearthing something that passed me by first time round. 
There are exceptions of course. I am forced, sometimes not unwillingly, to listen to my girls' favourites (and I confess to being quite partial to a bit of Taylor Swift). And once in a while something a little more challenging piques my interest. Currently it's William Doyle, aka East India Youth. His second album, Culture of Volume, released a few months ago is partly vocal pop, partly instrumental electronica and totally accessible. I'd also recommend you watch a 28-minute video of a live in the studio session he did for KEXP Radio in Seattle. Unfashionably coiffed and suited (he looks like a bank clerk), he sings, plays keyboards and guitar, twiddles knobs and percusses, sometimes simultaneously and all of it on his own. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015


A day of relative leisure, exploring Morelia's back streets, squares, museums and churches.  Stumbled upon this musty museum which had a crucifix fixation. I was the only one in there, but the security guard (or curator or could have been the sculptor for all I knew) followed me round each room. I was a bit cross.  

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Films (in a Small Town Festival)

Peter Greenaway & cast of Eisenstein in Guanajuato
To the Morelia International Film Festival, four hours drive west of Mexico City. Morelia is a modestly sized city but punches above its weight: it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site of beautifully preserved Spanish colonial architecture complete with famous aqueduct, hosts an annual classical music festival and is the headquarters of the world's third largest cinema chain, Cinepolis. This last fact was partly instrumental in creating the major film festival, now in its 13th year. For ten days the town is completely taken over by film-makers, fans and critics. A bit like the Hay Festival and its annual influx of writers, publishers and literature lovers (and funnily enough Hay has a mini-fest taking place in Mexico City this weekend).
We've curated a big British programme this year comprising new films like High Rise, Amy, The Program and Suffragette; a Sci-fi package (Things To Come, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, 2001 A Space Odyssey, The Man Who Fell To Earth and an outdoor screening of Blade Runner), the Bill Douglas Trilogy; BAFTA Shorts; Shaun the Sheep, David Bowie Is; and helped bring three guests of honour over. Stephen Frears arrives Monday, but today we had Tim Roth and Peter Greenaway in town to introduce their most recent endeavours. 
Roth starred in Greenaway's The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover way back in '89, but apart from that they've been on very different career paths. Interestingly, Roth's two most recent films are Mexico-related. Chronic was directed by Mexico's Michel Franco. The subject is euthanasia so not much fun, but great performance nonetheless. And 600 Millas, also showing at the Festival, is directed by Mexico's Gabriel Ripstein. Roth said he wanted to return here and pick up on his directing career. (I hadn't realised he'd already directed a film, The War Zone, in 1999). 
Greenaway's latest film also has a strong Mexico connection. Eisenstein in Guanajuato is about the Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein's short stay in Guanajuato (100 miles north of Morelia) in 1931. It's typically weird and provocative, beautifully designed and filmed, brilliant and preposterous. Putin doesn't like it at all as it confirms, pretty graphically, that Russia's most famous film director was gay.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Films (Of A Sort)

Immersive Frames
A day of running around between events, all with a film theme… 
First an exhibition of video works by British artists at the fairly new Celda Contemporanea gallery which is housed within what used to be an old convent, now university, in Centro Historico. The gallery isn't your usual white cube. It's a series of rooms on top of the foundations of the 17th century nunnery. So rather than plonk a solid floor over them, the floor throughout is glass. Looks beautiful, but makes for a slightly uneasy juxtaposition of heritage below and utterly contemporary video installation above. Some might be kinder and call it a dialogue. In any case, the exhibition, Immersive Frames, curated by Javier Calderon who flits between Mexico City and London, features Elizabeth Price (Turner Prize winner 2012), Anna Barnham, Rebecca Lennon and the only bloke, Gabriel Stones. I really like Stones's animated razor-writing and wiggly band aid.
Studio Myerscough's pavilion
From there, cycled along the cobbled streets to see Studio Myerscough's pavilion in the Zocalo. In the last 10 years the Studio has made a name for itself for creating incredibly multicoloured pavilions, cafes, playgrounds etc. This one has a camera obscura inside. So there's a tiny hole and... (over to Wikipedia): "Light from an external scene passes through the hole and strikes a surface inside, where it is reproduced, inverted (thus upside-down), but with colour and perspective preserved". The phenomenon has been known for around 2,500 years, but I still find it bewildering that we could see what was in effect a live video of the Palacio Nacional upside down complete with traffic. The contrast between brightly coloured, modern installation in the grey, old Centro Historico was striking. 
Designing 007 exhibition
I then hot-footed it to the Palacio de Bellas Artes for a talk by Morag Myerscough and partner Luke Morgan. I met Morag nearly 20 years ago when she designed a touring exhibition for the British Council, but didn't know Luke who's an 'industrial' designer and also in a rockabilly band, the Highliners (formed 1984…) with the attitude and haircut too match. Very nice couple.
Finally to the opening of the Barbican's Designing 007: 50 Years of James Bond exhibition at the Plaza Carso not far from our home.  I've seen it before, but it was cramped in Shanghai - here it can really stretch out and impress. I love Bond. The first film came out the year after I was born and I've followed them fairly avidly ever since. What's not to like? The exotic locations, brilliant opening sequences, action, cars, humour, glamorous women... they even have pretty decent story lines now. Nice to see Neil from the Barbican and designer Ab Rogers whom I last saw in Beijing three years ago. Anyway, great show, and with Spectre opening in 10 days time it should have lines round the block.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

New Music Played on Old Instruments

The London Sinfonietta are in town, playing at Palacio de Bellas Artes, conducted by Garry Walker (who'd already come to Mexico a few months ago as part of the Festival de Mayo in Guadalajara). Interesting programme kicking off with the bizarrely titled Wonderful No-Headed Nightingale by youngish British composer Luke Bedford (during which Garry Walker said afterwards that he came over faint and nearly keeled over), followed by a specially commissioned piece by a young Mexican composer, Marisol Jimenez, which was probably the most extreme of the evening: all prepared piano, violin bows scraping the music stand and rattling the keys of wind instruments without blowing. The main attraction for me was Laurence Crane's Chamber Symphony No.2, again a new commission and perhaps a new direction for Laurence - very mature, engaging and accessible. 
It seemed that most people preferred the second half, with pieces by Colin Matthews, Enrico Chapela and Harrison Birtwistle, but I lost a bit of interest, except for the Mexican composer's Acoussence which was split into five varied parts and was the best of the evening, along with Laurence's.
While there I was receiving pix from a colleague attending MUTEK, the four-day electronica festival which started this evening. Both were about new, challenging music, one using very old instruments, the other using very new ones. How very different the two shows were... 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Feral, in a Nutshell

Tonight I saw the small Edinburgh-based theatre company, Tortoise in a Nutshell, at a great new venue, La Teatreria, in a leafy Roma backstreet. It's small but in a beautifully designed building with restaurant, cafe, bar and two theatre spaces, run by the charming Shoshana Polanco.
Anyway, TiaN's piece, for some unexplained reason called Feral, is about a seaside town which starts off friendly & community-spirited and ends up, thanks to the opening of a crass, commercial arcade, mired in riots and despair. 
The story isn't the thing though (and to be honest, is a bit weak). It's the way the story is told, through rudimentary puppetry, hand-held mini-cameras, live soundscapes and a very inventive set-design. There are five people on stage, but none of them act. Three of them manipulate the puppets, set and cameras, and two control the sound and light. (There's also a sixth guy, the Tour Manager, in case you were counting people in the photo). See trailer. A really, ambitious little show.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Rockumentary King

We're running a training & mentoring programme for Mexican and British documentary film-makers called Docunexion, both in Britain (with Sheffield DOCfest last June) and in Mexico City (with DocsDF this week). 
But never mind about that!  I got to meet the rockumentary king, Julien Temple, who's here for the fest, introducing a few of his films and being a judge of others. 
Ever since I watched the truly terrific Oil City Confidential a year and a half ago (see post), I've been reappraising his work and really it's a good body of work: The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, Absolute Beginners, The Filth and the Fury, Glastonbury, London: the Modern Babylon, and Oil City. And those are just the ones I've seen, and of course there's a huge list of music videos too.  
We chatted about lots of stuff, including 1984 (he shot Sade, Stones, Kinks videos and, most famously, Bowie's 'Jazzin' For Blue Jean'), another film about Wilko Johnson, and he told me about John Lydon turning down the offer for the Sex Pistols to perform 'God Save the Queen' at the London Olympics Opening Ceremony, after the Queen herself had given the OK!  

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì Level 5

After months of intensive study, a cricked neck and sore eyes (all those titchy characters), Liz took the Chinese HSK Level 5 exam. It was a tough two hours and everyone got the tiniest of desks to work on, but now it's over, and we're all very proud of her. Results in a month, but never mind that, a celebratory dinner was in order. Chinese of course. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Feather Duster Dealer

This is a little difficult to figure out from the other side of the road, but I was walking with the girls this morning and we spotted this guy selling enormously long feather dusters and (I think) hammocks, exquisitely arranged on his elongated tricycle. A mobile work of art.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Eggs Mexican Style

Breakfast with writer Matt Whyman at El Cardinal in Centro Historico, a traditional restaurant which specialises in popular Mexican dishes. And if it's breakfast then that means eggs done a hundred different ways.
Matt has written a score of novels for adults, teenagers and younger children, but started off as an agony uncle for 19 magazine, then online for AOL. He's also written about his family's pets: dogs and… minipigs. We've been using this strange photo to promote his talks here. Don't really understand it, but looks great.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Arts and Disability

Jenny Sealey and sign linguists
Today we presented an 8-hour forum on Arts & Disability in a black box theatre behind the Auditorio Nacional. At Cervantino International Festival a few days ago Candoco Dance Co became the first disabled company to perform there, and we're bringing another disabled theatre company  Graeae, to Guadalajara in about seven weeks, so it seemed like a good time to discuss the whole issue of arts and disability, along with Lourdes Arroyo of DanceAbility, Alberto Lomnitz of Sena y Verbo and an invited audience of sixty professionals.
Jenny Sealey is an amazing character: deaf since a playground accident aged 7, but has run Graeae Theatre Co for 18 years and co-masterminded the opening ceremony of the London Paralympic Games in 2012. She travels with a sign linguist, but we had also had one doing it in Spanish. I hadn't quite appreciated that sign language is not universal. 
We then watched Candoco in an open rehearsal of Set and Reset / Reset which actually I'd seen three years ago in Beijing (see post). 
The two Mexican speakers's works were on a smaller scale, but interesting: Lourdes choreographs and still performs, while Alberto runs a theatre company for deaf actors.  Fascinating day.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Tale of Two Crisps

This morning I went to the Feria Internacional del Libro en el Zocalo (a big book fair in the city's central square). The theme this year is British Literature and so a number of UK novelists and poets are here. This morning I attended a prize-giving event with Mayor Mancera doling out some certificates, and while there I met Quentin S Crisp who drew the short straw and represented all the Brits on stage.
Of course, the first thing you have to do is ignore the name. But it's so hard... The more famous Quentin Crisp was actually born Denis Pratt (he not unreasonably changed it in his twenties), but the writer I met today - that's his real name, only he's had to add an S in the middle to avoid confusion. 
He is, aside from a writer, an expert on Japanese language and literature and lived there in the early '00s while we were there, but we never met then. Nice guy, in the brief exchange we managed to grab.   

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Pavement Trajectories

Funny how when you walk down a busy street, pedestrian trajectories are 'just so'. It's like ants. There's a surprising lack of bumping into each other. And then, one day, an otherwise normal day much like any other, no hangovers or daydreaming, it suddenly goes wrong. Within a 5-minute period, I narrowly avoided three collisions. It wasn't even busy. Two people crossing my path (or - aha! - me crossing their's?) which forced me to slow down and speed up respectively, and the classic case when someone's coming straight for you and you each adjust your trajectory but still end up heading straight for each other. In the end we had to laugh and inched round each other as if we were on a cliff edge.  

Sunday, October 11, 2015

RIP Healey and Howe

It's not often that two major British politicians die within a week of each other, but farewell Denis Healey (98) and Geoffrey Howe (88). Despite being ideologically opposed and having very different characters (extrovert Healey famously likened an attack by mild-mannered Howe to “being savaged by a dead sheep”), they were in fact great friends. Of the two, Howe will doubtless be remembered best, not so much for his positions in Government (he was both Chancellor and Foreign Secretary; Healey was 'just' the former), policies or any great treaty, but for his resignation speech in November 1990 which effectively brought Thatcher down.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Suburban Giveaway

A bit of frivolity... Colleagues in Reception have stuck staff photos on the wall... of when we were babies, toddlers or children. It's been interesting trying to identify people. Some are strangely obvious: usually it's the eyes. But mostly I haven't a clue. 
As for me, I'm a dead giveaway. You can't see it properly, but it's far left: a sepia-tinted, pudding-bowled little boy pedalling his trike through a daffodil-lined suburban garden. It just couldn't be Mexico...

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Fridge Saga

Last May our fridge started emitting a horrific noise, like a seal in labour. So we got the landlord to send round a guy to fix it. Twice he came with no positive outcome. A second, smaller fridge was provided in case of emergency. 
"Can we just have a new one?" "No, I think we can fix it." Twice more he came. Fiddle fiddle. Nothing doing. We then went on our summer holidays. 
On our return, still the noise and a leak inside. "Please can we have a new one?" Delay delay delay… Finally: "Yes."
Off we went to Best Buy and bought a fridge with delivery arranged for Friday morning. Liz stayed in all day. No fridge forthcoming. Back to the shop the day after. "Sorry, we sent it to the wrong address". "Where is it now?"  "In the truck but we can't get to it because the delivery guys don't work weekends. We can deliver Tuesday". Best Buy, Worst Service.
Tuesday comes along. They turn up but the lift is out of action. Liz begs then to hang on till the lift is repaired. Finally they bring it up and install. "But you can't use it for 24 hours. It needs to settle."
Today, finally, we had a grand switching-on ceremony, food was placed on its pristine shelves, magnets applied to the door. It has a cold water dispenser. Cool.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Trainspotting, Mexican Style

This afternoon, I hopped on an Eco-bici, cycled through the Parque de Chapultepec and eventually found a small, Fringe-type theatre underneath an expressway, called Bajo Circuito. Within it, film & theatre director Gabriel Retes is midway through rehearsing a Spanish-language version of Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting. It's actually the fourth time in 17 years that he's done it.
After we chatted about the production, they performed a 20-minute section centred on the psychopathic Begbie (played by Robert Carlyle in the film) which was suitably intense, shocking and downright funny. 
The play will open here in a fortnight's time and then come to Guadalajara for a one-off show as part of our FIL programme. And we'll have Irvine Welsh in town (including an in-conversation with Retes), so should be fun.

Monday, October 5, 2015

A Junky in Mexico City

Just finished A Stray Bullet by Jorge Garcia-Robles, an account of William Burroughs' three years living in Mexico City in the middle of the 20th Century. It made for depressing reading...
So what brought Burroughs to Mexico City?  He'd come from a wealthy family, studied English at Harvard but wasn't interested in working. Thanks to a regular monthly allowance he was able to bum around in New York with his junkie friends Ginsberg, Kerouac and Cassidy, while (despite his homosexuality) shacking up with Joan Vollmer, an equally self-destructive character. He also got himself a criminal record and became a father to a son and step-father to Joan's young daughter from a previous relationship. Things weren't working out financially, so they decided to get out of the USA, and Mexico City seemed like a good, cheap place.
They arrived at the end of 1949 and lived in various unremarkable apartments in the Roma district, most of which still exist. Neither worked as such, although Burroughs wrote his first two books there. They took drugs or drank themselves into oblivion. Somehow the children were brought up. Then one evening they did a William Tell act at a friend's apartment. Burroughs always carried a gun. He missed the wine glass on top of her head and shot her in the temple. It was an accident but seemed somehow pre-destined. With the help of a sharp lawyer, he somehow evaded prison, skipped bail and returned to the States in early 1953.
Of his three years in Mexico City, he didn't seem remotely interested in Mexican culture and spent the whole time bumming around with gringoes. 
I wouldn't say I was an ardent admirer of his writing, but I have read Junky, Naked Lunch and The Soft Machine, all early works and all influenced by his time in Mexico, and I have a few albums which feature spoken word pieces in his incredible, drawled monotone of a voice. There's no denying he was incredibly influential to novelists (especially science fiction), musicians, film-makers and a growing breed of cultural commentators. 
But what got me was the lethargy and selfishness of their aimless (typically junky) existence in Mexico City - and I felt for the poor children, who seemed to spend much of their time either looked after by neighbours or playing in the street outside the bars their parents spent so much of their time in. The boy, Billy, ended up a junkie and alcoholic himself and died aged 33 in 1981 (16 years before his father). His step-daughter Julie fared better and is apparently married and living a quiet life in the States.  
What price art?

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Addictive TV

This evening I saw Addictive TV perform at Cenart. A duo of Graham Daniels and Mark Vidler, they've been around for 15 years but I think this was the first time I've seen them play live. Basically, they sample both music and video to create a hybrid combination of the two. So they can take a rhythm, chord, vocal or found sound and then make a song out of them, looping them, punching them in and out of the mix. Nothing new about that. But what makes it interesting is that the source is audio-visual, so the visuals of the musicians playing the rhythm, chord, vocal and whatever can be similarly manipulated.
The first half of the show was a fairly recent project called Orchestra Of Samples in which they asked lots of unknown musicians around the world to film themselves playing a rhythm, chord, vocal etc and then send the files to London. Daniels and Vidler then went to work creating songs, and composite videos, out of them. So the screen you can see here shows the videos being punched in and out according to whether they're in the mix or not. Simple but effective.
So that was world music. In the second half they did what they're best known for which is sampling movies (Transformers), TV (Star Trek) and music videos (including a great combination of Blur's Song 2 and Stevie Wonder's Superstition) to create more of a club night. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Big Kahunas

Last night, or technically this morning, a bunch of us went to a cool, heavily draped, art-nouveau-style club called El Imperial to see The Big Kahunas. Said band comprises colleagues from the British Embassy: Paulina on vocals & bass, Rowan on drums and Francisco on guitar. They play fast & furious surf-punk, the kind of songs that wouldn't be out of place in a Tarantino movie (or indeed this club: the instrumental support act also surfed the genre, backed by Russ Meyer films). I have to say The Big Kahunas were excellent: tight, aggressive and fun. The vocals could have been higher in the mix and the loony dancer down the front was a bit of a menace, but altogether a top night out. And way past my bedtime. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Learning Time With Shaun and Timmy

Way out in the west of Mexico City we've just opened a new British Council office. Well, actually a teaching centre aimed at very young learners (2-6 year olds). Start 'em young!  To make it more appealing, we've done a deal with Aardman so that the lessons are centred around cuddly Shaun and Timmy. It's in a mall with a giant children's playground, shops and coffee houses, so the parents can drop off the kids and go shop for an hour. An English-language creche?  The irony of course is that Shaun & Timmy don't speak...