Keeping Up With the New Year

‘New year, new me’ – It’s the mantra everyone knows. A new year is supposed to propel you into new thinking, adopting new habits, or building upon past ones. It’s a bunch of pressure, sure, but it helps you to promise yourself that you will do better, that this year will be better than the last.

January feels like it lasts for about a year, and for this reason I felt as though I got a lot done this January. I got myself my first car, I read three books (a big deal for me, I’ve always been a super slow reader), I went to the gym three times a week, I started planning a bunch of article ideas I want to pump out in the next few months, and I applied to a bunch of jobs and internships. The ‘new year, new me’ vibe was very much in place, and very much working.

February comes around like a hammer though. The determination of January starts to dwindle; February always goes too fast and always feels a bit rushed. Whereas last month I was reading pretty much a book a week, I’m not even a third of the way through a book a week into the month. I’ve started going to the gym less, telling myself I feel too tired from work instead of just pushing through it. But I still feel determined, I still feel as though I can change things for the better.

The point is, I’m trying not to be too hard on myself. Sure, it’s good to be motivated and get stuff done; but it’s similarly okay and perfectly normal to feel like you need to take the backseat on things for a while. I still want to achieve all the goals I’ve set in place, I still have a spiralling and growing list of things I want to do, but the difference is I’m not forcing myself to do all these things by a set time and date.

It’s all about upholding and keeping new habits, not just doing them to do them, but doing them for fulfilment. I’m trying to keep up with it and enjoy it instead of focusing on rushing through it all.


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Joshua Burnside at The Duncairn, Belfast

 On Friday evening (30th November), Joshua Burnside brought his UK tour in support of latest EP ‘All Round the Light Said’ to the impressive surroundings of the Duncairn Arts Centre in North Belfast. The former church has been renovated to keep the beautiful interiors much the same, with large, arched windows and stained glass prominent. Playing an acoustic set in such surroundings, Burnside provided a set that felt almost spiritual. 


Tearing through a setlist of songs spanning his debut full length album, 2017’s NI Music Prize Album of the Year ‘EPHRATA’, his newest EP and songs pre-dating both, the audience was captivated throughout the hour-long set. Of course, breaks in the immersed silence while Burnside was playing occurred from time-to-time. In particular, during songs such as ‘Blood Drive’, ‘Holllllogram’ and ‘Tunnels, Pt.2’. This trio of tracks from ‘EPHRATA’ not only had the crowd’s toes tapping, but had the majority singing along. A warm atmosphere endured throughout the night, with the crowd bursting with nothing but pride and adoration for a local musician proving his salt.


The political undertones of playing in the North were noted by Burnside just before performing ‘Red and White Blues’, a song condemning the UVF that he said is always popular when he plays in the ‘glorious East’, but wasn’t sure of how it would go down in North Belfast. “I was too young to care what flag was flown above me…Don’t paint my pavement red, white and blue, I’ll paint it grey it’s my street too” he croons to a silent audience, all focused upon the lyrics that resonate with a large proportion of those of us from Northern Ireland. Burnside describes perfectly the frustration of growing up on one side of the divide, but not supporting the extremes of that side.


Although noting that his “witty banter” isn’t great – especially when tuning his guitar on stage – I’d say Burnside isn’t as bad as he thinks. “So I have one song left alone, one with the band, then we’ll walk off and sit down and you guys will say ‘one more tune, one more tune!’ and we’ll all feel great and play another tune’, he joked to the crowd before doing so. Sitting amongst the crowd at the back of the room, to a room full of unending applause, Burnside laughed and took the stage for one final tune. The chosen ‘last tune’ was ‘Northern Winds‘, a stand-out track from the newest EP. It’s a song that builds as it grows, and elicits goosebumps and silence from the crowd until the refrain kicks in and everyone sings along: “oh where is my little swallow / I have no golden armour to share / you may clock out my blue eyes / tear out my tongue, tear out my tongue / well I’ve seen this iron sky before / and I’ve sang this sorry song one too many times”.

As the drums build and the song becomes textured with a canon of vocals, the crowd evidently doesn’t want the gig to end. With Joshua Burnside’s final bow of the evening and as a lengtly applause from the audience endures, it’s clear to see that the shared space of The Duncairn has achieved the focus on shared experiences and culture that it was established to achieve. A wonderful night of local live music, and one the crowd surely won’t forget.

A Month to Bring It Home

Politrippers with Senator Kamala Harris in Miami Gardens, FL.

Florida has always been a political troublemaker. The most prominent example of such was the 2000 Presidential Election, wherein Al Gore lost to George W. Bush by 537 votes in Florida. A prominent Purple State (also known as a Swing State – a state where the vote is often split between Republican and Democrat), Florida has long been one of the most exciting arenas for politics and political debate in America.

So from October to November 2018, I had the opportunity to fly a few thousand miles from Ireland to experience the Mid-Term Elections from Miami, Florida. I travelled alone, but met up with a group organised by Politrip – a political travel group currently in its first year. We had a training day a month or two prior in Belfast – various other training days were held across the UK – but this was the first time we were all meeting.

With Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, FL-26’s incumbent Congresswoman

For the month we worked on Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s Congressional campaign in Florida’s 26th Congressional District, and we also worked on Andrew Gillum’s Gubernational campaign. Experiencing campaigns at two different levels of government was an incredible experience. Seeing the differences and similarities between how each campaign was run, how volunteers and paid canvassers acted, was inspiring. Each campaign office we worked with was so committed to change, so hopeful that America could lift itself from the trudges of Trump, that it inspired hope that anything is possible.

Whilst in Miami, we had some once-in-a-lifetime experiences to meet some astounding politicians. Although we weren’t lucky enough to meet him, we went to see President Barack Obama speak at a Florida Democratic Party GOTV rally a few days before the election. We also got to meet House Democratic Leader, Nancy Pelosi, at a rally for democratic candidates in Miami. This whole event was potentially overshadowed by a raging Republican protest outside the building, an event that made national news and even received condemnation from Republicans.

Andrew Gillum speaking at a GOTV Rally in Miami, FL

President Barack Obama speaking at a GOTV Rally in Miami, FL

Most inspiring of all, however, was the opportunity we had to meet Senator Kamala Harris (pictured above), a politican hotly tipped to announce a 2020 Presidential candidacy. We met Senator Harris during a GOTV rally at Andrew Gillum’s Miami Gardens office, where office organiser Darnell introduced us as “the Irish kids.”

First days in the Andrew Gillum offices in Miami Gardens, FL

Experiencing American politics through acting and interacting within it and with those involved in it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime moment. It provided not only an amazing opportunity to live in a beautiful part of the country for a month, but showed grassroots political determination in action. Seeing politics work from the ground up showed how it should function in any democratic society; a series of debates, with organised action and continuous campaigning towards one common goal: instating change.

For a citizen of Northern Ireland, experiencing such political work in action was inspiring. It showed how things can be done, and led to questions of why does this not happen at home? Why is political action not widespread, and ultimately motivated to be better than we have been before?

Such widespread grassroots action in Northern Ireland is what we need for this country to progress, so it was incredible to see it working in action; and led to hopes of such change happening for us as well.

Sunset from Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s campaign offices

Fox Colony – Fragile: An 11-minute snapshot of modern love and life

A cold, windy night on Tuesday 11th September. A night where you couldn’t be blamed for wanting to sit in with a cuppa, but that’s not how things work in Belfast. The sesh was calling, and Fox Colony were dropping their new EP ‘Fragile’ in Voodoo – how could you ever pass it up?! An impressive crowd thought just the same, and braced the elements to witness an evening of live bliss and musical energy.

A jaw-dropping line-up featuring some of the ‘best-bits’ of the local Northern Irish music scene helped make this launch one to remember. Derry’s finest punk-rockers Cherym and our electronic queen Roe were joined on the support slots by the newcomers from the North Coast, sweater cult. The latter opened the evening with a rapturous set of rocking anthems; an impressive set for a band who only released their first tracks at the end of June. Cherym then came on all-guns blazing, ripping through punking tune after tune as if it’s easy – a flawless set once again, but you really can’t expect anything less from the band who have been nominated for multiple Northern Ireland Music Prize awards. Another nominee for multiple NI music prize awards and another flawless perfromance came from Roe. The former QR Underground perfromer impressed once again, with a set perfecting the art of electronic pop.

The main event, the headline slot from Fox Colony, did not disappoint. The band who describe themselves as ‘fuzzy indie-pop’ came to the stage in a now-packed-out Voodoo, amidst an ecstatic applause from fans and friends alike. Playing old fan favourites such as ‘Baseball Bat’ alongside the tracks from the new EP, Fox Colony proved why so many had came along to witness their euphoric launch. ‘Fragile’ reads like an ode to modern love and life, with the title track finishing the album on a note that shows no matter how we feel, there is fragility to be found in each of us. The leading single and first track from the EP, ‘Supermarkets’, is a sweet pop-rock delight with a powerful guitar riff and  catchy chorus that rings out with a refrain of “I’ve been stuck in my mind / you keep taking my time / how can it be worked out / when you keep taking my time.” It’s a song that screams of modern perills, such as overuse of the internet, climate change, businesses valuing profit over employees, and toxicity in relationships, but still comes across as a fun-filled track that will get you jumping along at a gig. You can check out the new music video for the track below:

 Continuing into the EP, the synth intro on ‘Don’t Keep Me Here’ provides a shake-up, but doesn’t throw off the tempo of the previous tracks. Another song that will get you headbanging along at a show, and follows on well to the slower ‘Fractured’, a song fanning out from the light guitar riff that pushes it along. This is a tune that already seems to be a fan favourite, with a lot of the crowd already singing along.

The newest addition to Fox Colony’s discography is a delight and a happy welcome to the ever-growing category of ‘local bangers.’

Make sure to check the band out over on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and you can listen to ‘Fragile’ over on Spotify.

Post also published on Queen’s Radio: https://www.queensradio.co.uk/single-post/2018/09/12/QR-Music-Review-Fox-Colony—Fragile-An-11-minute-snapshot-of-modern-love-and-life

Why I Meditate

When you think of meditation, what comes to your mind? Is it an image similar to the one pictured above, a serene image featuring a figure sitting cross-legged, with eyes closed?

For me, this is exactly how I pictured meditation. And I ultimately thought it wasn’t for me – until I turned it into a habit.

In my last post, I talked about how I’ve recently started reading a bunch, and about how that’s changed how I feel about myself and others. Meditation has influenced me in a similar way, and can be carried out just as regularly.

I stumbled upon meditation a few years ago, thanks to the Headspace app. It was during my first year of university, I was feeling anxious and restless, and online research suggested meditation was a simple way to deal with this. I really struggled with it. Sitting in one space for 5-10 minutes a day – when it was all too easy to reach for my phone and and distract my mind by scrolling through Twitter – felt impossible.

But simply distracting my mind from difficult feelings wasn’t sustainable. Fast-forward two years, and meditation has become a part of my daily routine. Every morning I sit for 10 minutes and do nothing. Think about nothing. I just let myself, and my mind, rest and grow. As a person who has always been a worrier, someone whos mind is always going 100 miles per hour, the discipline and clarity meditation has provided me is priceless.

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At the time of writing, I am on day 17 of my meditation streak. After stopping and restarting countless times, incorporating this important tool into my daily life took a lot of work, but it has undeinably been worth it. Forcing myself to overcome classic hurdles, such as finding a quiet space and time daily to focus on the here and now, has started a rhythm that is hard to break. As noted in an article written by Oliver Burkeman for The Guardian – you need to make yourself sit down and do the damn thing, even if it seems like the hardest thing in the world.

Burkeman continues to note that most people get distracted when they start meditating, but this is not a problem. Instead, noticing when you are distracted is the whole point of meditation. Regulating your attitude and behaviour, noting when your mind has strayed from the present moment – away from focusing on the breath, the body, or a current thought – is when the habit is formed:

“Getting back on the wagon, over and over, is the practice. And good luck doing that if you haven’t fallen off first.”

And what a habit it is to form. Daily basic meditations on Headspace, led by the calm voice of Andy Puddicombe, constantly urge you to keep in mind your motivation to meditate. It constantly keeps what you focused on what you want to achieve, the change you want to see in yourself. Personally, the reason I love to meditate is that it calms my mind; although I’m not even three weeks into regular meditation, already I’m seeing changes in my concentration levels. Similarly, I’m a lot calmer than I normally am – both mentally and physically, which has helped me feel a lot closer to the people I talk to regularly.

There’s also a whole bunch of long term changes meditation can bring around. I won’t go into detail on them here, but they include: reducing stress, improving sleep, reducing anxiety and depression, and it can even change your brain. Pretty impressive for sitting with your eyes closed for 10 minutes a day.

TL;DR: I recently started meditating regularly, and am seeing a bunch of positive changes already. So, if you’re thinking of taking the plunge into mindfulness – just do it!

Reading Saved My Brain Cells

When I finished university three months ago, a weird thing happened to me: I had an overwhelming bunch of free time all of a sudden. Due to this (and of spending most of it lying down bored), I started feeling lethargic; physically but, interestingly, mentally as well. The startling change from writing a dissertation – and focusing my brain every day for months as a result – to watching episode-upon-episode of ‘Friends’ while scanning my mobile for days on end started to become numbing.

I started to feel dumb as hell. So I set myself a promise and a challenge at the same time: I was going to read. A lot. A bunch of different genres, a mix of fact and fiction, as much and as often as possible. I hoped that doing so would kick-start my brain, and change me from being pacified by Netflix to being inquisitive about the world again.

I’ve never been the best at following up on challenges I make to myself, but I don’t think I’ve done too terribly so far. I have read 6 books since the end of May, and am currently half way through my 7th. At the end of this post you can find a list of all the books I’ve made my way through so far, and some on my to-read list – just in case you’re lacking some book recommendations!

To prepare for this post I delved into doing some research to see if there was a conclusive link between this uptake in reading and why I feel much more mentally alert and satisfied recently. Turns out, this is a common feeling when it comes to stepping up your levels of reading, but there are a whole load of other effects that are enhanced resultingly.

For instance, reading fiction increases your ability to empathise. A study carried out by psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano at the New School for Social Research in New York, proves that reading fiction helps you to navigate real-life complex social relationships easier. In explaining these findings, Kidd notes that:

“What great writers do is turn you into the writer. In literary fiction, the incompleteness of the characters turns your mind to trying to understand the minds of others”

So if you’ve ever found yourself reading and wondering why a character would act in such a way, and its wracked your brain for a good chunk of the book (Holden Caulfield, why are you so annoying and stupid?!?) – you’re not alone…especially when it comes to understanding the protagonist in ‘The Catcher in the Rye.’ Your brain is helping you get inside the character’s head, to fully understand them and their actions.

Another great boost I discovered when I set out on this challenge was I got better at concentrating, due to how immersive reading is. It has now gotten to the stage where I can complete a whole bunch of tasks without even breaking concentration to check my mobile. This is because reading helps lengthen your attention span, leading many to suggest that reading a little bit every day can do you a world of good in the long-run.

Also, as shown through the diagram below, reading engages different aspects of your brain to work at once. Just like physical exercise, the more you exercise these mental muscles the stronger they will be and will become in the future:

Image result for reading brain

All of these benefits combined prove one thing: that reading is the greatest workout for your brain, and it’s a workout I hope to continue using often for the foreseeable future.

Books I have read (since May):

  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Less by Andrew Sean Greer
  • Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  • Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari (currently reading)

To-Read:

  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  • Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
  • Dreams From My Father by Barrack Obama
  • Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville
  • Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 by Hunter S. Thompson
  • Race of a Lifetime: How Obama Won the White House by John Heilemann & Mark Halperin

TL;DR: Books are amazing and do so much for us and we do not deserve them (but should definitely try and read everyday anyway).

 

Streaming: Buying Music Out or Opening Doors?

As we all know, for as long as record labels have been dabbling in music, successful music/musicians = money. Music is so easily commodified; it is a medium most people use, a medium that can make anyone’s mundane day better, and any great day fantastic. Such high public use means a good opportunity for money making, naturally.

But with the continued growth and success of streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal: is music becoming much more than just $$$? Can music streaming provide a real grounding and break-through for Indie musicians who have to graft harder than their established counter-parts?

Compared to smaller streaming services, such as Deezer and Tidal, it’s evident that the paid streaming field is populated mostly by Spotify and Apple Music. It probably didn’t take data and a graph to figure that out (when are you ever told to check something out on Deezer?), but still – the figures illustrate the popular conceptions of music streaming:

Infographic: The Music Streaming Landscape | Statista
Source: Statistica, Dec 14th. 2017. As of 2018, Spotify now has 75 million paid subscribers, while Apple Music has 40 million.

And this graph just illustrates those who PAY for such services. It has been estimated that in 2018, at least 95 million people use Spotify’s free services. And that’s just ONE streaming service. This has got to only be a good thing for up-and-coming musicians, right?

Not exactly. Spotify has always been regarded as failing Indie musicians – major artists and record labels make up the money lost from poor streaming pay as Spotify pays to license the music of popular musicians, something they don’t do for Indie artists. New musicians tend to miss out in monetary gain. In an even worse turn of events, the meagre sum that artists gain is divied up between their ‘right’s holders’ – record labels, publishers, etc. Basically, an artist gets roughly $0.0084 for each track streamed, but in reality this tiny sum is somehow even smaller.

So, should fans of Indie music give up streaming services once and for all? In a word…no. In the midst of all this doom and gloom for the future of Indie music is the advantages gained through use of streaming sites that are so densely populated. Playlists tailored to users, such as Spotify’s weekly-updating ‘Discover Weekly’ playlist, introduce listeners to new music. Music that may be new, or 40 years old – but which is new to the listener nonetheless. Through features such as this, I have discovered some of my current favourite bands and musicians that I doubt I would have heard of without it.

As acknowledged by Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter VÉRITÉ in an article she wrote for Forbes in March, it isn’t the role of music streaming services to make Indie musicians successful. Instead, they offer the possibility of discovery. The role of the musician and record label in such an era of music saturation is to convert the “passive-listener to active fan through any means possible. Locate and solidify your tribe to build a solid foundation. Find your people, and work for them.”

In an era where music is everywhere, and anyone can access a wide range of it through streaming; musicians are able to optimise such platforms to point interested people in the right direction, and to hope that strangers will stumble upon their hard-work. A perfect example of this is Soundcloud. Budding musicians upload their newest track, newest EP, newest remix, and cross their fingers that someone will stumble across it and propel them into the public consciousness. The new accessibility of music is therefore not a negative for Indie musicians, it provides a whole new realm of possibility.

TL;DR: Music streaming services pay musicians poorly, which is bad as Indie artists rarely make much money. BUT in an era of musical saturation, streaming can be used as a discovery tool; an accessible way for new fans to hear songs they love. It becomes a platform for new musicians to bounce off.