Monday, 19 August 2013

Europe 2013 - Final Notes

The End Of A Three Week Lifetime… Sleeping On A 45 Degree Angle… Pre-Dawn On The Other Side Of The World… Calm Restored After A While…

Pre-dawn. Light beginning to filter through the curtains in the lounge room. Dawn. Birdsong, but silent. Silent for the first time in many weeks. Far away from any city. Far from people and bustle. Quiet and calm restored. Sleep at odd times. Content and happy.

The bar downstairs has closed for two weeks over summer, the owner – a shaggy-haired, wild-eyed man with a thick accent – no longer in town, or at least not where the film students congregate on a Tuesday night, spilling out into the street with little regard for the peace of others piled high in apartment buildings around them. As such, we must find new places to drink, to become one with where we are, in an environment with which we’re more than familiar.

Two days left and we wander in the sun down a dim back street, almost midday but few people around. A small café halfway along to the flea market with no one sitting outside so we get to chairs and order beer, a plate of peanuts, salty with the cold drink, feet propped out in the sun, almost to the edge of the pavement, cars occasionally going by. An old African woman leans out her second story window and regards us with vague curiosity but then is gone.

We move to another small café closer to home, full pavement of tables and Parisians, old and young, lunch and drink, smoking as ever. Inside old men line the bar, smiles and small glasses of cloudy liquid. Cheap beer which we consume with the same languid pace common over here, time meaning little as the sun slides gently across the sky, afternoon, switching to rose and red wine, back to beer, should we eat? Should we stay or move on?

Claire’s ankle is slightly swollen, hurts at certain angles, the result of a trip down dark stairs. Frozen peas have done the trick and so now we sit and watch the world go by, wondering how three weeks could have gone so quickly, from what seemed like an eternity to what now seems like mere seconds… can we do more than we have done? Or was the point to immerse ourselves in somewhere different, to live and act like the people who constantly surround us, not giving us a thought except perhaps if they hear our accent, wonder who we are and what we’re doing in a place where other tourists perhaps don’t often come. This indeed, is the point.

Wandering Parisian Streets
We eventually pack and leave, tidy apartment, down the tiny, rattling lift to street level, a cab to the airport, yet another airport, a small plane across the Channel to London, yet another ancient city, off the plane and down underground, the Tube, a literal tube, in toward the city. Thwarted by track works, off at the wrong station with what seems like thousands of others, another line, another train, emerging into the dark at Westminster, under the living shadow of Big Ben. A London cab, the driver knows where we’re going. A quick stop for cash, delivered unto the Thames, a houseboat on said, under the dominating Tower Bridge on a river as old as the earth itself.

Last Parisian Sunset
At low tide, the boat lists and you sleep, and walk, on a 45 degree angle. At high tide, the river reminds you where you are and you pitch and heave, bumping against the barge next to you, odd sounds in the night keeping you awake. Smoking outside on the top on an old bench that threatens to collapse at any time, the rain begins not long after we get there, but there’s enough sun in which to walk the streets, markets, famous landmarks that everyone has seen in books and on television but which in real life are real and have too much history for you to be able to take in at once.

London is a city of stark contrast – the ancient mixed thoughtlessly in with the new, or perhaps vice versa. They seem to pride themselves on the modernity of their building while keeping the old at point, which works in an odd sort of way. The people walk fast, stepping around yet more tourists. You can understand what they’re saying now, which makes it seem lazy… I can go into a shop and ask a question and know I’ll be able to understand the answer, which takes some of the mystique out of the situation.

We’re tired now, we look forward to coming home. I mention, more than once, that I miss the silence. The city is a fine place to visit, but…

View From The Boat
We find a band on our last night, a three-piece bluegrass ensemble with a friend sitting in on pedal steel. They have another friend come up for a song with a tambourine which he plays New Orleans style and the tiny pub gets sweaty and raucous and the music bounces off the close walls and reverberates in your brain and you forget how wet you are from the rain outside, you forget how hot and steamy it is inside, and you relax and enjoy the first live music you’ve seen in what seems like an age.

We leave the next afternoon, a long haul, two planes, six hours in between, intermittent sleep, food, wandering aisles weary and cramped but on the way Home, which at this point is welcome, so welcome. We land and the sun is out, it’s early morning, the air here is wintery and crisp, it smells like home. I buy more whiskey and cigarettes and we go straight through immigration and customs and are met at the gate and almost instantly, it seems like we were never gone. Home to calm, restored, memories and recollections and a sense of something well done, enjoyed, moved our life halfway around the world for a short time and came home to tell the tale. Indeed.

Samuel J. Fell

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Europe 2013 - Notes From The Dark Corner Of Yet Another Sunny Room

Notes From The Dark Corner Of Yet Another Sunny Room… Fast-Paced & Snail-Slow… Safety & Danger Within Two City Blocks… A Different World Beneath The One You See…

Whilst here four years ago, I wrote in a note to friends back home, ‘So, Paris… fast-paced and crazy, a good place to visit, but more than a week or so and you’d lose yr mind, leave it on a café table with the dregs of beer and the red wine, never to be seen again.’

And so now my mind is gone. Left on said café table a good week ago, seven days into a three week Parisian stretch. I am a local now. I know the lay of the land and I know where to tread, lightly or otherwise. But still, I have no mind.

View From Sacre Coeur
Perhaps I left it on the steps of Sacre Coeur, lost amongst the hawkers and the tourists, throngs and throngs. Or perhaps it’s somewhere on Boulevard De Clichy, stretching from Rue De Clignancourt right along to the rather inauspicious Moulin Rouge, a street lined with seedy sex shops and dry, withered old women, eyeballed by fat tourists hoping to see more. Or perhaps it’s in the hushed surrounds of the Musee de Orangerie, propped up against one of Monet’s epic murals. Indeed, it is not where it should be.

We regularly roam the streets, immersing ourselves in whatever comes our way. Sometimes we shouldn’t be where we are, but before the cover of darkness we’re as safe as we can be, although not too sure sometimes. One minute you’re amongst local Parisians, shopping and eating, drinking and smoking, always smoking, bistros and bars, elderly and young, all in between.

Lines From The Notebook
Then, the next, you’re in a ghetto, or close to, sidewalks narrow and cars seem to pass faster, the noise increases and people look at you like they know, and you know too, but to keep walking at a swift pace is the key and before you know it, you’re lost in a surging riptide of foreign humanity, cameras swinging and maps flapping, flapping, always there, accents and languages drowning out the yell from the street behind you, the actual street itself, ‘I know!’, and you know, but you just keep walking fast.

In Montmartre, the cobbled streets lay where they fell, no method to the madness, up stairs and around curves, trees lining streets and cafes and bars abound. Artists and writers, painters and actors, everyone tightknit, or as tight as you can be in a vast place like this one – once a thriving Avant Guard scene, now quite gentrified, but if you look a bit deeper… you find the grime and the grit and the creativity, we delight in immersing ourselves, coming up for air gritty and raw, feeling like something is real in a city where so much is becoming less so.

Beneath the streets of this ancient city, beneath the bustle and the style, the arrogance and the buzz and grind, is an entirely different place, a place of dark noise, screeching metal against metal, heat and steam, vermin run free and the smell of piss stains the back of your throat. Five minutes until the next train, sound booms back off tiled walls as a sea of people gurgles, ebbing and flowing, the train arriving and a heave forward, filling a long steel tube which beeps and bumbles, doors slam shut and you’re pitched forward, black, lights flicker on, hot air blows through open windows and the pace is frenetic, we must go faster! We must make up for any lost time!
Occasionally, you're the only one...
In the gloom through the windows, old brick walls covered in haphazard graffiti, a tunnel branching off in another direction, a black hole where good men should fear to tread because no one knows what lies in there, unafraid of booming steel tubes, throngs of people encased within, then, like a fucking shot from nowhere, back into the light, more sound slamming off yet more tiled walls, out with the flow, forced down stairs, along airless corridors, up stairs into the sunshine which you greet with a crumpled face, the sun scorching your eyeballs, welding them to the back of your skull, and you’re back topside, back to normal, slightly winded, covered in sweat, wondering what the hell just happened and where it was you left your mind.

On the platform at Strasbourg St. Denis Metro station, carried off by rats into a subterranean tunnel from which it’ll never emerge.

Indeed, one of the most intriguing places on the face of the earth. Above ground, and below.

Samuel J. Fell

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Feature - Crowdfunding In Australia

Published in the 2-15 August issue of The Big Issue.

Net Gain

Thanks to the internet, independent musicians are in a better situation than ever before. Websites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Soundcloud, Bandcamp and iTunes have so empowered artist-to-fan connections that sharing one’s music with the world has never been easier to master, from an artistic point of view.

The latest – and potentially among the most powerful – in a long line of online resources is crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is a way for artists to secure initial funding for their projects (via their fans, with the promise of a range of incentives) without having to take out a loan, apply for a heavily contested government grant or approach a not-for-profit. It’s leveled the playing field.

“That’s why it’s become so popular,” confirms Rick Chen, co-founder and director of the first, and largest, Australian crowdfunding site, Pozible. “Basically, there’s a need in the whole sector, the whole market, for this to happen.”

Crowdfunding has indeed become a very popular idea. In the past couple of years it has boomed, with Pozible a prime example. Since its inception in 2010, the site has helped raise over $11m (a million dollars in May 2013 alone), hosting upward of 3500 projects with an overall success rate of 58%. It’s helped aspiring and established filmmakers, musicians, writers and event organisers to realise their dreams. Little wonder it’s a boom industry.

“I think [that’s also to do with] high-profile artists who have run campaigns recently,” muses Kate Roseler from Perfectly Write Media Management, who in March worked with Toni Childs to help her raise over $100,000 for an upcoming world tour. “Amanda Palmer, Wolfmother, Clare Bowditch … I think those names have made a difference to people’s awareness of [crowdfunding] and its viability, its realness.”

The way crowdfunding works is quite simple. The project creator submits an idea to a site like Pozible, which vets all incoming ideas, and once it’s given the green light, the project is made public so that people can pledge money. If the project reaches its financial goal in the allotted time, all pledges are processed and the project is deemed successful.

If a project on Pozible or US crowdfunding pioneer Kickstarter doesn’t meet its target in the time allowed, no funds are processed and the project is deemed unsuccessful. However, some crowdfunding sites, like ArtistShare, RocketHub and PledgeMusic, let the project creator keep whatever funds have been raised, whether or not the target has been met.

In order to entice fans to pledge, project creators offer ‘rewards’ based on the amount pledged. For example, Melbourne nine-piece Saskwatch recently succeeded in hitting their $20,000 target to pay for the band’s flights and accommodation after they were invited to play festivals in England and Spain. Their ‘rewards’ varied – for a dollar, the band would give you a shout-out from their Twitter and Facebook account. For $50, the band would create a mixtape for you, with a theme of your choice. At the top end, for a $5000 pledge you’d receive, framed, the pink dress that lead singer Nkechi Anele has worn at many of the band’s gigs.

It was harder to think of incentives in our case, because a lot of musicians use their funding to create an album, and market the incentive like you’re pre-ordering the final product,” says Anele. “We were asking for something completely different, so our approach was to have ‘thank you prizes’ more than incentives.”

“Valuing each item was hard,” she goes on. “I must admit there were some items that we based on their sentimental value, like my dress and the print of our album artwork.”

It’s not just bands who are using sites like Pozible to fund their latest music-related venture. Pure Pop Records, based in Melbourne suburb St. Kilda, has initiated a couple of crowdfunding campaigns to raise money to soundproof its backyard live-music space after gigs there were severely restricted due to noise complaints. Its ‘Buy a Brick’ campaign has been wildly successful, showing that you don’t have to have a new record or a big tour to make this venture work.

Red Rattler, a not-for-profit performance space in Sydney, have done something similar. It was able to raise five grand over its target of $40,000 to buy out a portion of the venue itself after two of the space’s co-founders exited to pursue new challenges. The statistic is made all the more impressive given that the venue is run entirely by volunteers. It’s a red-letter example of how effective crowdfunding can be when a project means so much to so many.

Despite the fact that crowdfunding has only been around in its current guise since the turn of the millennium, it has steadily evolved into a viable, long-term funding solution. And where it’s at now is arguably just the beginning. Chen foresees collaboration between crowdfunding models and more traditional sectors, with government funding agencies one day incorporating crowdfunding into their existing grant-application process.

Whatever its future, crowdfunding is literally making dreams come true on a daily basis, right here and now.

By Samuel J. Fell

Friday, 2 August 2013

Europe 2013 - A Glut Of Sin & Beauty

A Glut Of Sin & Beauty… Long Walks In A Small City… Fast Train To A Communist Stronghold… A City Of Ruin & Boom…

The acrid smell of burning weed permeates the air. Sweat and fried meat. Piss on street corners. Shysters hocking their wares. Hobos and street types hustling and yelling… fat Americans, packs of English lads, Spanish boys, well-to-do and skin-of-the-teeth; a roaring, seething, shouting mass.

Amsterdam Street Scape
Two streets over and flesh is yr watchword, bared and On Display, under red neon on dark streets, in alley ways and dead ends, smoking cigarettes, on mobile phones, sitting on beds in windows looking glum, indifferent, happy (?), life goes on and they don’t care about the stare, it’s why they’re there, no?

A living tide of human flotsam bubbles and churns by on the sidewalk, they ogle and stare, families with small children neck deep with the barrel-bottom elite… yr blinded by yellow and green neon – pubs and bars – there’s nowhere to turn and so we try to find a vantage point but there are none and so we leave the glut of sin behind – the Red Light. The Tourist Spots. With the coffee shops and the smells and all.

The Calm Before The Amsterdam Storm
We have an oasis, on a boat, just north of the city centre, permanently moored with a private garden where one can sit and think about the world, its  associated seedy underbelly, before stepping out the door, catching a three minute ferry and being amongst it, in all its fetid glory. What a town.

We sit at a Bistro in Dam Square, drink a beer, people watching, a short, expensive exercise before a directionless ramble through back alleys out of the tourist quarter into actual Amsterdam. A local’s bar. No English. Quiet, cheap, real beer. We sit and watch and make up stories about people walking past, sitting near us, the couple kissing on the street corner for a good, solid twenty minutes – what’s their deal? Who are they? How do they fit into this old, placid city with its winding canals, its ancient European architecture, its wealth of sin and salvation? Who knows? Not I.

SJF - Wishful Thinking
We walk a lot, the city is quite small. We walk south and find museums – Van Gogh, Rejks et al. We sit on the grass and eat small salads and bread rolls in the sunshine, smoking cigarettes and downing water. Looking and listening, taking it all in. A city built before our country was born, a beautiful place of order and calm. Elegant and sophisticated, which one would never know should one not venture any further from their hotel than Dam Square or the Blues Brothers coffeeshop… indeed, this is a city that pulsates with a vibrancy you just don’t find at home. The people are unflappable. Serene almost. It’s intense in its lack of intensity.

Come Thursday morning we board a fast train westward. Into the unknown. No English. No real order. A change at Hanover. Reading and watching countryside rush by like it has somewhere else to be. Six hours, they rush by like life outside the big windows and we pull into a gargantuan station, levels upon levels with the people to match, outside into a vast nothingness. Like we’re in the desert. Wide spaces as far as you can see with hot dust coating all and sundry. A rip-roaring cab into Kruezberg, down a derelict street to our door which has seen better days. We find our humble digs, read the note left by the owner, he mentions beer gardens. We’re thirsty. Hot. Time to unwind.

Berlin - The Digs
Berlin is a chronically under-populated city, a town in permanent ruin and boom. It seems so tired. Old and tired. It’s been through more than most, the weight of world history piled on its weary shoulders. It’s paint is cracking and the weeds grow wild, unwieldy pavements and roadways, almost like the entire city is a slum – and yet it also has a vibrancy, definitely not apparent at first glance. You need to peel back layers, so many layers, you wander through streets where you fear for yr safety then you turn a corner and are confronted by a myriad hip, cool, trendy bars, restaurants, people, music. It’s conflicted, it confuses me and leaves me unsettled, a feeling which remains for the whole five days we’re there.

The Wall
We walk through town in the stinking heat – that’s the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his baby from the balcony. Sixteen metres below our feet, in a carpark, was Hitler’s bunker, where he committed suicide – they don’t mark the spot, lest Nazi sympathisers turn it into a shrine. Parts of the Wall are still standing, decrepit, fading, the best thing to be fading in this city.

Tourists throng about, the heat bounces off cement and cremates yr face. It’s hazy. It’s old, so old, so tired. Back to the beer garden where the girl behind the bar knows our names and writes lists of things she thinks we should go and see. We get lost and so have to use the train which we master. We walk a lot. We find things that we learnt about at school. We want to learn more.

SJF - A Dark Corner In A Sunny Room
The apartment is bare and white, German minimal, stylish, clean. We lie in Viktoriapark and read in the shade. Eat German sausage and sample their beer. It’s not cold enough but it comes in mugs bigger than yr face, so you can’t complain too much. The Germans sit in the sun and soak it up as we huddle in small slivers of shadow trying to cool down. Hot. Dusty. Bare. Derelict. Ruined. But secretly booming. A very interesting place.

A cab to the airport come Monday afternoon, an oven of sluggish, slow lined proportions, a wait which seems eternal, through the snaking rope to the desk, check in, up stairs, down stairs, airport lounge, like a prison cell, people squatting on floors, sweat running. Out onto the tarmac finally. Onto a plane. Settle back. Take off. To Paris. Paris indeed.

Samuel J. Fell