Back in the day, I used to pride myself on my ability to stay up-to-date on the best new music releases. I listened to the radio 24/7 and constantly trawled the Internet for undiscovered gems and up-and-coming artists. My favourite job was making mix CDs for birthdays and house parties – I always chose the best new songs and soon attracted a wide cult following under the moniker ‘DJ Paste-E-White’ (not really).
Lately, though, I seem to have become increasingly out of the loop – not quite ‘hip with the kids’, one might say. And not just in regards to music! Below, I’ve listed a few examples of cultural phenomena that I’ve only recently become obsessed with (but really should have discovered a long time ago). I’ve also suggested a good place to start investigating each one if you, too, want to become hip with the kids once more.
I always knew Alt-J were cool. I’d heard ‘Breezeblocks’ on the radio and was aware of the widespread hype surrounding their debut album, ‘An Awesome Wave’. But it never occurred to me to actively go check them out, so I didn’t realise until a couple of months ago just how cool they are. (For those wondering, it’s the kind of cool that emanates from them in an effortless mist, whilst they walk around unaware of/unfazed by how goddamn cool they are.)
Nathan and I bought their album for $10 from JB Hi-Fi one day, and it was possibly the greatest $10 either of us has ever spent. We had it on repeat for weeks! I still keep it in my car – it’s a failsafe way to make long commutes and stupid drivers bearable.
‘An Awesome Wave’ is a weird and wonderful thing. It’s angular, percussive, melodic and surprising; it’s so diverse that it’s hard to properly describe or fit into a genre. I’d strongly recommend that you have a listen for yourself if you haven’t already done so. You’ll be hosting your own belated dance party in no time.
Best place to start: Track 10, ‘Fitzpleasure’. It’s a good showcase of their unique sound.
Fun fact: if you type the keyboard shortcut ‘alt+j’ on a Mac, a little delta symbol appears.
Can you believe I hadn’t seen Fight Club until this year? Can you also believe that, a few days before I watched it, I managed to have the ending spoiled for me? (People. What a bunch of bastards.) Anyway, I loved the movie, of course, and have very recently started working my way through books by Chuck Palahniuk, the author of the original novel.
I’ve read Survivor and Invisible Monsters so far. They’ve both had an addictive effect on me, to the point where I’ve sat down to read for fifteen minutes or so and ended up spending four hours powering through to the end of the story. In both books, his prose is a strange combination of razor-sharpness and blunt force, barbed with snap-sentences and verbal punches to the face; his particular brand of satire is some of the most biting and truly funny I’ve read. I’m partway through Choke now and can’t wait to read all his other works. And if, as I suspect, they’re each more messed up than the last – I’m ready. Bring on more simultaneous laughing, cringing, marvelling at the writing and fighting the urge to throw up!
Doing a little research on Chuck himself, I discovered that he’s had some awful things happen in his past; this provided some interesting (and slightly disturbing) insight into his writing style and choice of subject matter. He also recently took part in a Reddit AMA, which made for another fascinating glimpse into the way his mind works – I definitely recommend reading it if you’re a fan (actually, I’d recommend it even if you’re not; it might just intrigue you too, and you can join me in arriving unfashionably late to the Palahniuk party).
As a final note, I have recently learned to pronounce his surname ‘Paula-nick’ (not ‘Pah-lah-nee-yuk’ … heh), which I think counts as an official induction into the ranks of his die-hard fans.
Best place to start: Having only just started his stack of thirteen novels, this is a tricky one for me to recommend. I actually started reading them in chronological order by complete accident. Fight Club is the oldest and obviously a logical place to begin, so maybe go from there.
Matching book covers are the best.
Although it definitely doesn’t feel like it, I only started watching BrBa a few short months ago – and only become up-to-date about five episodes away from the very end! Yes, it’s all over now, unfortunately. The series finale aired on September 29th, generating 10.3 million viewers, over half a million illegal downloads, a well-deserved 9.9/10 rating on IMDb and its own special cake made by yours truly.
I don’t know what I can say about Breaking Bad, other than that it’s just phenomenal. Beautifully written, masterfully executed and outstandingly original, it is, quite simply, the best television show I’ve ever seen. From the moment you hear about its premise – a terminally ill high-school chemistry teacher making meth – you’re intrigued, and so you should be. The show’s five seasons grow and develop in ways you could never see coming.
It’s made all the more unique by the fact that it’s an entirely original production. Adaptations are great, but BrBa is a breath of fresh air in that you have absolutely no way of knowing what’s going to happen next – not only because of the show’s unpredictable nature, but because it’s not based on any source material other than the original script. Every episode is a brand-new experience for every viewer (provided they’ve worn their spoiler helmet correctly).
As you can probably guess, I could go on for days about this show. If I don’t shut up right now I’ll start waxing lyrical about the quality of the writing (99.1% pure) and declaring my vote for Bryan Cranston as king of the world. So please – if you haven’t already seen Breaking Bad, get your hands on seasons one through five, quit your job, and hop to it.
Best place to start: If I was cruel and you were stupid, I’d tell you to watch ‘Ozymandias’ first, because it’s the most intense and impressive 45 minutes of TV I’ve ever seen. Since we are neither of those things, you will of course begin at the beginning and watch Walter White’s life go batshit crazy right from day one.
The one and only Heisenberg. Image credit: lucyfubuki.deviantart.com
OK, I’ve saved my biggest failure until last… I’m about 1,500 years late getting on board with this trend. After ages thinking it was just some weirdly over-complicated variant of checkers, I finally learned how to play this year, and I’m so glad I did. I really enjoy the process of thinking so far in advance and trying to predict your opponent’s moves; you have to be a bit cheeky and sneaky to get ahead, and I love that!
A couple of months ago, Nathan had a beautiful big wooden chessboard, complete with hand-carved pieces, handed down to him by his dad (who’d had it handed down by his dad). It’s such a great addition to our place – lying on the floor playing a lazy game on a Sunday afternoon is the best. (I WILL beat Nathan soon; stay tuned for victory pics.)
Best place to start: Research or get somebody to teach you the basics, and write a little reminder summary of the type of move each piece is allowed to make. Playing against an actual human is the best way to learn, because playing against a computer (even on the easy setting) will pretty much guarantee that you’re continually dominated and made to feel kind of stupid.
Nathan’s beautiful old chess set.
So there you have it – some things I’ve been watching, reading, listening to and playing that other people have been watching, reading, listening to and playing for years (or even centuries). I suppose the moral of the story is that it’s not about when you arrive at the party; it’s about arriving with a novelty hat on, armed with sparklers, an ice-cream cake and a vuvuzela, ready to have the best time ever.