Friday, October 28, 2016

Zumbi, Zion I and The Labyrinth - Music


On October 27, 2016 hip-hop mastermind Zion I (aka Zumbi) released his highly-anticipated album, The Labyrinth. Produced by fellow artists Ariano, Mikos the Gawd, Teeko and Decap and featuring performances by Deuce Eclipse and Codnay Holiday, Zion I’s latest creation also has Mind Over Matter Records to thank for its manifestation. Only shortly after the staggering success of his latest single and hit video, “Tech $,” the Oakland, California resident, activist and musician has a lot to say with The Labyrinth…and it is worth losing yourself inside this original work. Here are some reasons why.

This is Zumbi’s first solo album. The twists, turns and passages that take you from track to track wind you through ferocious, inspiring highs and deep, soulful lows. “Not Ur Fault,” written in honor of the artist’s father, is also a dedication to his own sons. Only a truly talented bard can sing solemn songs of sadness to other warriors with conviction, and it is a thought-evoking piece any man or father can relate to. The opening piano notes are going to stop you in your treads. The lyrics will remind you to feel, more.

“Smoked,” another something to enjoy along the winding journey through The Labyrinth, bounces with digital delight and pleasantly pummels the biological audio receptors with thrumming beats and reverberating lyrics. This is the kind of beat to play big and loud in order to make the crowd jump to that old-skool funk groove.


Oakland is a city with a history of activism going back many bloody decades. Zumbi is no stranger to fighting the power, especially at a time when Black America is under fire, coast to coast. "From hip hop, to the executions of black males by police, we are at crossroads," says Zumbi, "As father of 3, I have to do my best to prepare my children for the world they will inherit." Of all the songs on the album, “Let Me Be” is a stern reminder that there are still many, many reasons to protest abusive power that still requires severe correction. Literally opening with an alarm bell and replete with pulsing notes and atmospheric beats, this track isn’t just a shout, it is a roar.

Every good labyrinth needs a minotaur, just ask Theseus. Tracks like “Wake Up,” “Smoked,” “Let Me Be” and “God’s Illa” (featuring Deuce Eclipse and Viveca Hawkins) are powerful pieces that make up some of the monsters of Zumbi’s marvelous maze. You don’t have to be fast to be hard, and the pulsing loops, ambient warps and disco-laces notes that infuse “God’s Illa” make it a powerful contest winner all by itself. Gone are the days where the album you bought had two good singles and nothing else to look forward to. Zion I doesn’t ever disappoint, but it is almost life-affirming to encounter a record like The Labyrinth that sails strong from song to song, stem to stern.

I appreciate good retro disco. Many California hip-hop artist seem to magically know this, and the music they conjure is best to my ears when they feature chords and notes that echo with that groovy enchanted neon beat. “Sauce” has that feel. It’s warm and brilliant, the kind of song to light up high and cruise low slow to. Not fast, not slow, just as strong and chill as a glacier sliding across the sea down in Antarctica, majestic and deep.


The last track, “Departure,” features a child’s voice imploring us to love people and do better for all. A simple message. Easy to dismiss, in these cynical times. We have to remember to do better for each other and the next generation or everyone will suffer equally. It isn’t comfortable to face the harsh truths of America’s injustices, but you can’t work towards a solution unless you identify the problem.

I don’t always give albums an “A” but this one earned it. That’s hard to say, too…I listen to more music than my mind can remember. Zion I’s new album has a lot of modern originality intermixed with what you loved growing up. Trust the journey this album takes you on to the point of getting lost on the way. Once you take a solid walk inside The Labyrinth other albums aren’t going to measure up to your newly expanded, pleasantly enlightened standards for a long, long while.





THE LABYRINTH TOUR DATES:
Oct. 12: Moe's Alley, Santa Cruz, CA
Oct. 13: Hopmonk Tavern, Sebastopol, CA
Oct. 15: Stonehouse, Nevada City, CA
Oct. 16: Harlow's, Sacramento, CA
Oct. 21: Hawaiian Brian's, Honolulu, HI
Oct. 22: Hilo Tavern, Hilo, HI
Oct. 23: Hard Rock Cafe, Lahaina, HI
Oct. 27: Wonder Ballroom, Portland, OR.
Oct. 28: Hi-Fi Music Hall, Eugene, OR.
Oct. 30: Nectar Lounge, Seattle, WA.
Nov. 25: New Parish, Oakland, CA.
Nov. 26: Soho Lounge, Santa Barbara, CA.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Animal Noise - Music


I don't just write about music, I live within it. There is a band that practices every weekend for hours in the apartment next door. The guy that lives next to me practices rap in his car every evening. Mid-afternoon a neighbor two floors up on the other side plays her saxophone until dusk. As the sun sets and the smoke from all the cannabis joins the smog up into the sky, guitars, bongo drums and singing can be heard from every direction, rising above the traffic and the sounds of the city.

Animal Noise is a band that practices inside an old milking parlour on a farm a lot. For garage bands in the suburbs, playing many hours over the weekend without the neighbors whining about it is a factor. There are places in my city, Los Angeles, where rehearsing is impossible. This band rehearses far away from intruding civilization, perfecting their sound with no one around, and the mileage they get from every lyric, beat and note show how their expertise originates from the hours the terrific trio has put into their art. No one tells them when to stop, where they are making indie music with style, heart and soul.

A great band does not have to be big. Tight and taunt can entertain all by itself. Josh Sandifer does guitar and vocals. Jack Gordon-Abbot is on the drums. Michael Bird handles bass and back up vocals. The audience gets to listen to music that is honest, raw enough to rock but expert enough to enthrall you without beating your ear drums into submission. Straight out of Colchester, UK, the band has started a tour in honor of their latest swank single, "Little Things."


This song exemplifies why Animal Noise is rising above the usual crowds of indie entertainers. Sandifer's vocals combine grace with attitude. The pulsing drums and bold guitars weave around the lyrics, howling like the blues, drifting like jazz, but with a rock & roll momentum proper modern indie should have to qualify for the title. "Little Things" (mixed by the very skillfull Gethin Pearson from Big Life Management) isn't banal so fitting it into the right box is going to be difficult. Good, original music is like that. Familiar, but undefinable. If the song came from real talent no single sentence can sum up its magic, let alone a categorizing word.

The group met at a crowded house party years ago where Sandifer blew away an impromptu audience with his own cover of "Big Love" by Fleetwood Mac. Impressed by the talent they witnessed, Gordon-Abbot and Bird teamed up with the young artist and they have been busy ever since, making Sink or Swim, and already distinctive EP, and touring the region starting with their own hometown's Colchester Arts Centre all the way over to the British Summer time Festival in Hyde Park, among others. This is a video of a live performance of "Little Things." It is worth listening to many times over, and is a very good reason to look forward to the first big album Animal Noise hopefully creates soon for all to enjoy.


Official website: www.animalnoise.co.uk
Spotify: http://spoti.fi/1XRapu2
Facebook: www.facebook.com/animalnoise
Twitter & Instagram: @animalnoise
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/c/AnimalNoiseVideos

Live Dates:
13 Oct - Norwich, Sound & Vision Festival
17 Nov - St Albans, The Horn
21 Nov - Brighton, Komedia w/ The Wave Pictures
22 Nov - Leeds, Hyde Park Book Club
23 Nov - London, Sebright Arms
01 Dec - Manchester, The Castle Hotel
02 Dec - Ipswich, The Swan
04 Dec - Southampton, Joiners

Tickets for shows available here from Wednesday 5th October at 10am -
https:// www.musicglue.com/animal-noise/listings

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Monster in Stranger Things, Part III


This is Part III of an exploration into the nature of Demogorgon (or The Monster, as I prefer to call it) in the Netflix sci-fi/horror masterpiece, Stranger Things. You can read Part I here and Part II over here. Spoiler alerts will follow.

AS WE CONTINUE…

I am going to tell you about a few more films that relate to the nature of The Monster in Stranger Things. After that we will discuss a few conspiracy theories that relate to the same subject. After that you will be given a theory about what the true nature of The Monster is, with proof. So let’s go.

THE DARK HALF

Myth, literature, film and psychology are full of references to The Shadow, the id, the Gros-Bon-Ange, the personal demon, the qareen, the familiar spirit, an imaginary friend, etc. It is the part of us that is bad, selfish, evil, animalistic, certainly violent, sexual and mostly hidden from our conscious mind. We don’t like to face the fact we can be bad, bad people. The part of us that does evil that hides from the light? That is your shadow, and it is hidden for a reason.

The Dark Half is a flick about an author that likes to write as an alter ego. As his alter ego, he writes a series of books about a character named Alexis Machine who is a vicious, cold, evil gangster. These books become popular, but when the author decides to stop writing the books, his alter ego literally rises from the grave to kill everyone responsible for his retirement and make the author write about him, again. At the end of the film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, the main character also meets his own dark half.


Authors like Helena Blavatsky and another author on the occult, Alexandra David-Neel, talk about a thing called a tulpa, which is an incarnation of a thought form that eventually becomes real when enough people believe in it, or one person concentrates on it enough. Alvin Schwartz, the creator of Superman, claims he ran into Clark Kent in a taxi one day in New York City. Even Alan Moore, author of the Hellblazer comic book series claims to have met his own imaginary creation.

According to Tibetan mysticism, a tulpa is a sign that the universe is just an illusion. What is in the world is in the mind. What is in the mind is in the world…or can be put there if there is enough horsepower to make it happen. In The Dark Half the character created by the author is partially him, but partially Alexis Machine. The author made the tulpa perfect in his head, so he is. Eleven was probably goaded into doing just that.

If you were to combine the concepts of a tulpa with Jung’s Shadow, the combination would be monstrous, indeed.


CLOAK & DAGGER

But before that film there was Cloak & Dagger, about having an imaginary friend that is real. A young boy who plays a role playing game based on James Bond stories (which is very similar to an RPG I played growing up called Top Secret S/I) has an imaginary friend named Jack Flack, who is the ultimate spy, replete with military uniform, black beret and all the right moves. The spirit is a lot like the boy’s own father, who is just a pilot that flies 747’s for a large airline.

The boy and Jack Flack are drawn into an adventure of global national espionage with dire consequences if the bad guys get the MacGuffin. At one point, (spoiler alert) Jack Flack dies, and the boy must confront the fact that his imaginary friend never existed as his hero vanishes. Only the boy can see this tulpa, not other people, and it is during a grim time in the film when the harsh reality of real life death sets in.

Jack Flack, of course, represents the boy’s image of his father…perfect, unstoppable, unreal and daring. Later, his father performs a few heroics of his own, and you get the idea that the tulpa has somehow infused his being, making him better, as if the combination of his boys faith in his father, and the energy released from the discarnate tulpa, has given him the power to save the day.

Now that we’ve studied the occult, we all understand that Jack Flack and the villain in The Dark Half are the same thing, right? A tulpa, which is basically a demon you summon out of yourself.

We’re all familiar with the literary horror masterpiece, Doctor Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. Edith Wharton’s Triumph of Night has a scene where a character encounters an image of his own fiendish evil, standing across the room by a chair. The audience loves seeing this phenomenon at work on the page or screen. Did you notice that Dracula seems to be the exact opposite of Van Helsing? He is an incarnate, utter refutation of everything Van Helsing believes when he devotes himself to science. Van Helsing is benevolent, scientific order. Dracula is supernatural, occult evil.


ALTERED STATES

One final film to discuss before we go back to the Upside/Down is Altered States, a 1980 sci-fi film about a man played by William Hurt who goes through a series of scientific experiments to find out what happens when you use drugs, hypnotism, sensory deprivation, human isolation and psychology to see how far you can send a man down his own subconscious rabbit hole.

Aided by the power of ayahuasca, he at first experiences intense, primal hallucinations that seem as if he is looking into different worlds of existence until his body starts to transform into different forms representing human’s evolutions back into the beginning of time. This eventually results in the man becoming a primal, blob-like mass of bioplasma that destroys the lab with waves of psychic energy. At the end of the film he says nope to dope and "ugh" to drugs, evolving back to normal.

This concept of science studying psychology only end to end up high on drugs studying the paranormal, is again very similar to the concepts we see at work in Stranger Things. I still haven’t explained why The Monster looks the way it does, where it came from, how it came from there, where it is and how Eleven ended up meeting it. Follow me, we are almost there. Step carefully…the Qliphoth is all over the place.


BACK TO THE DARK CRYSTAL

When Eleven recognizes Will, she just sees his photograph on the wall. She then flips over a black game board, says the boy is in the Upside/Down, and places the boy’s figure (represented by a wizard) on the game board. She then grabs the figure of a demon, Demogorgon, to represent The Monster chasing Will. Did she run into Will in The Vale of Shadows? No, because she never went there. How does she even recognize Will at all? She isn’t told what the boy looks like. Will isn’t in the same place as Eleven, though, but later on she tracks the boy with her mind to the clubhouse in the woods for his mother. How is this happening?

PLANE TRUTHS

The boys describe this evil, dreadful place as The Vale of Shadows. We see the place as a dark, lightless place that resembles a nightmarish copy of our world. It seems to be haunted by shimmering motes, and entities contained within can interact with electrical devices. The Vale of Shadows seems electrical. Even The Monster seems to travel through things that contain bioelectricity, electricity or things that can transmit electricity. That is Eleven’s power, after all. She controls electromagnetism. Similar to the girl in Firestarter, who controls fire.

The interesting detail is that in old skool Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, there is no Vale of Shadows. In the game reality is comprised of many dimensions, organized like clockwork, containing heavens, hells, other planes of existence and everything in between.


The Manual of the Planes is a book released by TSR back in the 80’s that defined this multiverse for adventurers who apparently couldn’t get enough. It even came with a handy-dandy chart. My players didn’t like this book. My pit traps used to drop you down five levels deeper into the depth of the dungeon. Once I read The Manual of the Planes, my pit traps dropped you into Hades.

The Demiplane of Shadow is a close contender. Like most “evil” dimensions in AD&D, going there would probably kill you. A gloomy, disturbing place comprised of shadow where mysterious, energy-draining creatures lurked, anyone going there probably wanted to leave, because the realm was indeed poisonous. Things lived there, but it was otherwise a dark image of our world.

The Negative Material Plane is also similar. A nasty place just as bad as the one we just talked about, undead spirits lived there, and if you stayed too long the place killed you and turned you into an evil ghost. Thanks a lot. Necromancers, demons and devils also hung out there. If your Dungeon Master arranged for you to be there, he was probably a jerk.

The Ethereal Plane is a plane that helps us understand what is going on when characters enter The Vale of Shadows in Stranger Things. Gloomy, shadowy, foggy and creepy, The Ethereal Plane didn’t seem to be as intrinsically evil as the other places we just looked at. But a lot of bad things could come out of this place to get you. An odd dimension that was somehow connected to all other dimensions, it consisted of several levels.


The Border Ethereal was where creatures went when they wanted to interact with our world. Like standing in the ocean close to the shore, being here meant you were in the Ethereal plane but you could still interact with the normal world. This is where ghosts hung out, and it was a pain in the ass when the Dungeon Master attacked you with something from here. Usually, you couldn’t hurt them but they could hurt you.

The Deep Ethereal went even further. Things here couldn’t be seen in our world, at all, and this dimension went even deeper, touching all planes and containing its own denizens and wild, illogical, unstable geometry. Of course it was very, very dangerous and if you went there, something really powerful and bad eventually found you and taught you just how badass things got in AD&D. The Vale of Shadows, in Stranger Things, is a lot like the Ethereal Plane. There is this sense that it is a duplicate of our world, but colorless, alien and evil. One very important thing to remember, however, is that The Vale of Shadows is not The Upside Down. Eleven has never even been there. Where has she been?

The Upside Down is the term she uses for the vast, glossy black realm where people and objects appear and vanish in her mind’s eye. Eleven first uses her telepathy to track a Russian spy that is in the process of reciting a message. This makes sense…unclassified documents prove the U.S.S.R. was working on a study of ESP, telepathy, the sixth sense and all of that under the umbrella pseudo science term, “psychotronics.”

After she tracks the Russian spy, The Monster appears. Later, Eleven finds The Monster and makes contact with it. She also finds Will and the clubhouse.  But she never goes into The Vale of Shadows, and no other character goes into the Upside Down. The psychosphere is what The Upside Down is. This is an occult term used by many different writers on the subject, including Brian Lumley, Roland C. Wagner, William S. Burroughs and H.P. Lovecraft. The Oxford English dictionary defines it as, “The sphere or realm of human consciousness.” Carl Jung called it The Collective Unconscious. In Marvel Comics, it is their equivalent of the Astral Plane. According to books on astral traveling and projecting your spirit and all of that fun occult stuff, when you dream you enter (at least, mentally) the psychosphere.

In this place, ideas, spirits, concepts and the imagination form the landscape. In stories by H.P. Lovecraft like “The Dreams in the Witch House,” and “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath,” characters enter into these realms while sleeping or on drugs and see kaleidoscopic images beyond imagination, thought, space and time that they find hard to describe. My theory is that Eleven sees things with a much better focus, which is why she sees the place the way she does.


Think of the psychosphere like the Internet. When you use Google to search for something, you do it either by directly entering the name of the subject, or ideas related to it, like titles of songs or albums. You can find an author by a book, or a book by an author. Ideas connect to each other, the way Paris is in France, but also in the same way the Eiffel Tower is in Paris, or Ratatouille is a film about France, but is also a French dish, and then there are of course French fries and berets and mimes and art films and…

…you get it. Things connect in abstract ways. Eleven, however, finds people with great accuracy and focus. The Upside Down is also the place where she finds The Monster.

ELEVEN = MONSTER

At one point Eleven says, near the end of the series, “I am The Monster. I opened the gate.” We know what The Monster is. What is the gate? Is she The Monster? Yes, she is. Remember, Eleven controls electromagnetism. This scientific phenomena is at the core of a lot of conspiracy theories and occult research, including the creepy teleportation story about the aircraft carrier in The Philadelphia Experiment. Eleven did open a portal, or wormhole (or…vale), into the psychosphere and pulled out The Monster inside her head.

The problem is The Vale of Shadows is another dimension, not quite in synch with our own. It is not the psychosphere, where The Monster came from. It is a new place created by the wormhole created by Eleven when she confronted the beast the kids call Demogorgon in her own head. It is an image of our own world. The Monster is basically in orbit around Eleven. He (or, she) can’t go back to the psychosphere. She can’t go back to Eleven (and when The Monster does in the last episode, they both vanish). She can’t stay in the real world for long. So The Monster roams around wormhole, tracking electrical signals, traveling through animals and conductive materials, killing people, consuming blood and perpetuating itself.


Remember the story about the flea on the rope? A wormhole is like a rope, and The Monster is attracted to blood, like a flea.

That is why Eleven says she is The Monster. She is, and she opened the gate that let it out. You’ll notice that the areas in the lab where the rift first opened are getting worse. There are also living, biological tendrils around the rift. Inside, electrical motes drift everywhere. The Monster travels through electricity, overwhelming devices it comes across. Like Eleven, The Monster can perform the same effect, opening a wormhole in the same way an electric eel unleashes energy to stun prey to eat. She then pulls her prey into The Vale of Shadows. It used to be in Eleven’s head. Now it is in a place that still looks like the inside of a human brain, full of blood vessels, nerve synapses and dreamlike images of the world Eleven encounters, consuming the electrical energy to survive.

A COLLAGE OF CONSPIRACIES

Project MKULTRA is one conspiracy theory that is mentioned a lot in Stranger Things. The horror film Jacob’s Ladder dealt with a similar issue, which is that nefarious elements within the government and CIA are grabbing people and performing mind-control experiments for the purposes of espionage, mass manipulation, and murder. It is just one of many, however. The Duffer Brothers went further and farther than anyone. After I give you the answer I shall further explore the conspiracy theories, occult references and literary ideas that make up the mythology of The Monster. But first we have to talk about Project MKOFTEN.

PROJECT MKOFTEN

There are many conspiracy theories out there. The people who write about them vary in sanity, intelligence and credibility, but some names stand out in the dark that the industry rates higher than the others. Alex Jones, Jim Marrs, Douglas Hoagland, William Cooper and Peter Levenda, who is an author of many books about the occult and evil government hijinks including Sinister Forces and Unholy Alliance. One of the lovely things about Levenda is how he connects the shadowy experts in the occult world with hidden government agents that operate with technocratic impunity.

Amateurs discuss Project MKULTRA. The awesome discuss Project MKOFTEN. According to these theories, there were many projects conducted by the CIA, in conjunction with the military under the auspices of the government, that were performed specifically to use magik and the paranormal to fight communism. Project MKOFTEN is important to Stranger Things because of a few key points Levenda and other authors repeat.

These points are that Project MKOFTEN was intended to find spies working for the Soviet Union that had psychic powers using the mind to do it. The government wanted to locate them and kill them from a distance by unconventional means. One of the final goals was to summon demons. MKOFTEN used everything to do this, including black magik. CIA agents consulted with experts on the occult, according to Levenda and other authors. After many years of playing with spells, hypnosis, drugs and sensory deprivation, they found a technique that worked which included taking people with psychic powers and putting them inside Faraday cages.


A Faraday cage is a copper-lined cell that blocks out electromagnetic interference so that the person inside can focus without any other energies affecting his work. According to the conspiracy theory, psychics locked in Faraday cages ended up with amplified powers, similar to Professor X when he sits in Cerebro. Scientists studied their powers and worked with them to improve their abilities. When you combine this detail with conspiracy theories about other operations including The Philadelphia Project, Project Spellbinder, The Montauk Project and Project MONARCH (which deals with the concept of torturing children to create multiple personalities for the purposes making programmed assassins), you end up with the answer to the true nature of The Monster.

THE FINAL ANSWER

Eleven is psychic. She controls electromagnetism. Eleven can also use the psychosphere to find other psychics. The scientists running the project want her to kill spies, but she won’t. So she was psychologically and sexually tortured to create a splinter personality, or alternate identity, to kill the Soviet spy. Part of this torture involved being put in an isolation chamber that was also a Faraday cage (pay attention when she has a flashback about being taken from her father and locked in the prison…the walls are lined with copper). Deep in her subconscious, a tulpa (or demon) formed, and when it appeared The Monster looked like her father, a tulip (tulpa…tulip…get it?), a lion and a nightmarish beast. It killed the Soviet spy, and the scientists decided to make her contact it. She did so, but the horror of confronting her id, her shadow, her personal demon, caused her create an electromagnetic pulse that opened a gate AKA the wormhole into The Upside Down AKA the psychosphere, forming The Vale of Shadows. This is why there is a crack in the wall of the lab. The Monster needs electrical energy and blood to survive. It eventually escapes and proceeds to do just that. Eleven recognized Will because The Monster found him, first, and she is it. At the end of the series, Eleven touches it and they are fused together, but as a result she is thrown into The Vale of Shadows.


Now you know why Demogorgon is important. He is a demon, because that is what The Monster is. By the way, it is technically a she.

IN (TEMPORARY) CONCLUSION

Yes. I know. That is a lot to consider. Be back next time as I continue to explore the worlds of Stranger Things using the occult, quantum physicis and modern conspiracy theory mythology as our guide. Until then, be careful what you think about, you never know what might come out!



Friday, October 14, 2016

The Monster in Stranger Things, Part II - The Weird


This is Part II of an exploration into the nature of Demogorgon (or The Monster, as I prefer to call it) in the Netflix sci-fi/horror masterpiece, Stranger Things. You can read the first part here. Spoiler alerts will follow.

Rather than just tell you what it is, I am using the film and literary references made by the show to prove my case, step by step, fact by fact. I’m also going to explain how modern conspiracy theories, quantum physics, string theory and that sweet, sweet black magic all contribute to create the horror at the heart of the show.

MEET THE MONSTER

When we first encounter The Monster in Stranger Things, it is not in chronological order within the complete time of events leading up to the final showdown of the sci-fi/horror series. A scientist is running down a corridor within the Hawkins facility. He is trying to get away. A light bulb smashes down the hall as he looks out from inside the elevator. The scientist suddenly looks up, screams and gets grabbed, vanishing.

These are the first clues we are given about the nature of The Monster. The lights break as it gets closer. The Monster is rather large, and yet doesn’t grab the scientist as it enters the elevator. The light breaks and it grabs the scientist, who is suddenly able to see it. If the scientist could see his killer down the hall, he would have had different body language. Cowering in fear, gibbering in horror as he hid around the wall, hoping the elevator doors will close (in films the doomed protagonist will usually push the buttons on the elevator as fast as possible, hoping to save himself as the bad guy stomps down the hall). But he doesn’t act that way. He stands nervously, waiting, until he looks up and gets grabbed. This tells us that The Monster does interact with the environment around it in some way, which causes electrical lights to flare and explode. It also tells us that it moves through the environment, but isn’t entirely in sync with our reality.

Later, poor Will rides his bike, and the light on his bike blows up. He sees The Monster, but he can only perceive the outline of it. He is pursued relentlessly until he gets inside the shed in the back of the house. The light goes out and Will is grabbed.


This is not the first time The Monster first appears, however. The real story starts with Eleven. She is told she has to track down a spy from the U.S.S.R.  Within “The Upside-Down,” she does so. As she gets closer to the spy, who is rather calm and completely unaware, Eleven seems pensive until something bestial is heard behind her. That is the first time The Monster is sensed, if not seen, in the chronological order of Stranger Things.

What is confusing is that we never see Eleven escape from the Hawkins facility. We know that she was wearing her white hospital gown when she did, because that is what she is wearing at the diner where she enters to steal some fries. When she first touches The Monster, she is wearing that kooky tan diving suit. This means that she did not escape at that moment. If she had done so, the Sheriff and his deputies would not have found the shred from her hospital gown, instead of the kooky tan diving suit, in the pipe outside the facility which indicates where she escaped from and what she was wearing.

For a short time I believed certain false things about The Monster, based on the show. I thought that it traveled through light bulbs and light sources. I also believed, for a brief time, that Eleven turned into The Monster when she was asleep. I was wrong. When the Sheriff and Winona Ryder are in The Vale of Shadows, the horrified teenagers watch as Christmas lights activate as the two adults walk through the hall in the house’s counterpart. Since the adults can’t travel through light, The Monster probably isn’t, either. When the scientist in the very first part of the show sees the lights flare up in the lab’s hall, The Monster is causing the lights to flare up as it walks. Eleven can’t be The Monster when she is asleep or whatever, because she confronts the demon that has been stalking her friends in the end, which is the climax of the show.


This is one of the reasons why the nature of The Monster is so confusing. When you see a movie with Dracula in it, there is going to be an expectation that Dracula is going to follow the usual rules. That also means that the characters opposing them are going to have to also follow the same rules to defeat the vampire. Garlic, holy water, fire, decapitation, LAW rockets…the usual arsenal. If the movie did not follow these rules, as an audience we would be unhappy because the formula was off, unless a suitable explanation was given.

Imagine if The Monster in Stranger Things was just a werewolf. Worse yet, imagine if we were given a complete explanation of what it was in the first fifteen minutes? It wouldn’t be as fun. We would feel let down. Watching the rest of the series wouldn’t be as intellectually challenging. The Thing seems to do this, because the scientists seem to figure out how their adversary works, and how to bring it down, somewhat midway through the film. This doesn’t ruin the fun because The Thing is so stealthy, cunning and capable of shifting shape. It is also so horrifying that every time we see it, there is something new that horrifies us. It is not the same Thing, every time.


I also have to admit to another theory I eventually threw away: I thought The Monster was a phantasm that could only be seen in the minds of its observers, similar to Freddy from A Nightmare on Elm Street or the horrifying stalker killing young kids in the very modern horror flick, It Follows. The Monster is real because, after the fight in the house with the teenagers who use bullets, fire and a kit-bashed spiked mace to fight it, the bat is covered in black goo and there is a definite meaty, bubbling residue on the bear traps the teenagers employed in the fight. So much for my theory.
You don’t even see The Monster in Stranger Things, most of the time. It is there, but not there. Why doesn’t it stomp around visible all of the time? How does it get into our world? Keep reading, Young Grasshopper, there is more to your universe than you can see or imagine.

MORE MOVIES

Some people have said that The Goonies is a big influence on the show. I disagree because a) the adversaries in the film are not monstrous and b) there is nothing really supernatural going on in The Goonies, although Sloth kind of looks like a post apocalyptic mutant cannibal. Who are, of course, people, too. So don’t judge. Observers probably make the comparison because the teenagers and children all team up to explore One-Eyed Willy’s trap-laden cave, but beyond that there is not much to work with, for our theory on the film.


Alien, however, is a big reference. Almost too much so. The Monster we are discussing seems to devour people whole and then barf up a big egg. This egg seems to extrude a long tentacle which is inserted into another victim’s mouth, after they have been tied up in some ectoplasmic goo, similar to the xenomorph in Alien but also like a wasp that constructs a nest with a similar gooey material which hardens into matter that can hold eggs. You’ve already seen Alien, you already know what happens and understand the obvious parallels to Stranger Things, so we can move on.

Spoiler alerts, everyone. The Entity is an 80’s horror film based on a real-life event that is more horrifying than the film it became. I believe this film is a reference to Stranger Things, like Poltergeist, even though the audience never sees a poster for either movie anywhere in the show, just like E.T., which is also an influence. You’ll notice by now that as we study the films that influence the show, we are also studying the chaotic elements that make up The Monster. The Entity, like Poltergeist, deals with science trying to study the paranormal and basically getting its ass kicked.


A young woman with children living in a house in the suburbs starts to become haunted by an invisible, monstrous poltergeist that doesn’t just throw stuff around, it beats her up and rapes her. Yup, straight up, as evil as hell. This goes on and on until she brings in a team of scientists to study what is happening. This culminates with the woman volunteering to live in a fake house within a large lab that has a chemical solution above it similar to liquid oxygen, to freeze her invisible attacker in place. Eventually, she is assaulted, but she jumps out of the house as the scientists spring the trap. What they see is a huge, demonic-looking spectral shape that is able to affect our reality, but is invisible and impervious to physical harm. It escapes, but everyone in the lab knows there is another evil place out there, and the denizens within are not our friends.

More spoiler alerts! Yet another damn reference for Stranger Things, The Mist is a short story by Stephen King that is a reference to the Cthulhu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft, who is also a gigantic influence on the show. It was later made into a terrible film with the guy who played Punisher in the kind of bad film by John Travolta. What is important is that in The Mist (literary or otherwise) nobody really knows what is going on when their small town is hit by a serious case of Call of Cthulhu WTF?


There are tentacles and beasties and long-leggedity ghoulies and all manner of odd, freakish monsters, but what the good, normal people of this small town figure out is that nearby, scientists have been performing dark experiments using radiation, electromagnetic energy and Satan-knows-what to try to punch a hole in the fabric of reality. When the group of intrepid townsfolk reach the lab, all of the scientists have committed suicide because the experiment worked.

No explanation as to why the town has been invaded is given, except that very intelligent people understood the ramifications of their actions and whacked themselves to avoid the future. Yup, Stranger Things makes a reference to this work as well, although the scientists in the Netflix series don’t entirely understand what they are doing because after the portal opens up to our world (replete with all of its slimy, tentacle-waving otherworldly biological weirdness) they can’t close the portal, and don’t even know where it goes.

TIME FOR A MONSTER

As I’ve mentioned before, Eleven encounters The Monster when she is about to kill the Russian spy, who is probably also psychic. The Monster appears with a growl behind her. Later, the scientists in the lab, led by her father, induce the young girl into confronting The Monster in the Upside-Down. As she approaches, it is creating some sort of egg. They were not in The Vale of Shadows. There were no slugs or tentacles or trees or ectoplasm. It was just pure, reflective black.

The Monster seems to devour its prey whole (with a head shaped like a tulip with teeth the point inward, it certainly seem capable of doing so) which means we can safely say that the egg is the Russian spy, or what was left of him. This also tells us that after The Monster devours people, it also barfs up the leftover matter as the gooey ectoplasmic substance Will was trapped by when the Sheriff and his mother find him at the end of the show. Yes, this is another reference to Alien.

What happens next? We'll talk about it, next time! Until then, sleep tight, and don’t let the bogeyman under the bed bite!

https://www.netflix.com/title/80057281




Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Monster in Stranger Things - The Weird


INTRODUCTION

Stranger Things, the gigantic horror sci-fi mega hit Netflix show that has entertained millions of viewers across the planet, is a retro wonder to behold but difficult to entirely understand. One of the reasons why is because Demogorgon, the xenomorph that is killing and kidnapping the characters throughout the film, is never completely explained. In most horror flicks featuring cryptozoological monstrosities, there is a point where a scientist (or some other qualified expert) finally tells the audience what the hell is going on. For your edification and entertainment, I’m going to do my best to do just that. Spoiler alerts!

It will be neither simple nor quick and by the time I am done, you may not want to know about the original nature of the creature in the Netflix original series that many viewers adore but fewer totally understand. Like the cosmic horrors unleashed by understanding too much about the evil alien gods in H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, the dark truths revealed by what you will be told may really, really screw you up mentally, forever, similar in the way that confronting your own personal demon without appropriate therapy could render you insane. You have been warned. Continue at risk to your own mental health.

WHAT IS THE MONSTER?

Although there have been a lot of videos on YouTube about Stranger Things, not too many people have tried to break down the origin of The Monster on the show. It is one of the primary foes throughout the story, but as I’ve mentioned before the audience really isn’t told exactly what it is, where it came from, what is going on, or what it is up to. There is no real point in the film where a character like a doctor or scientist says, “I’ve figured it out! The Monster is a mutant child living at the bottom of the lake!” It never happens, unlike films like Jaws (we already know what a shark is) or Predator, where the Latin American woman’s soliquoy about legends regarding the alien gives the audience at least some clue as to what the antagonist is. In The Thing, scientists eventually figure out the biology of their opposition, and illustrate it for the ears of the audience. The Monster is frequently called “The Demogorgon,” but I personally don’t like that description. Why?


DEMOGORGON

Because in the role playing game Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the demon known as Demogorgon is nothing like what The Monster is in Stranger Things. In the game, Demogorgon is described as being sentient, intelligent, and can even speak many languages. Heck, it has tentacles for arms and can cast spells, too. In a short story from The Dragonlance Chronicles, a hobbit-like creature known as Tasslehoff Burrfoot ends up encountering Demogorgon, who has been captured by an evil wizard. In the story the demon is more like Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Mephisto from Marvel Comics, devious and capable of conversation. The Monster in Stranger Things is a ravening beast, seeking prey, turning them into eggs as a part of its bizarre lifecycle, and then constructing portals around it to grab more prey. Not exactly Mrs. Personality.

The Demogorgon as a reference is still important, however, because that is what the characters on the show use when talking about The Monster. This is because it is a clue to the audience that Eleven and The Monster are the same. She even says so when she tells the boys that she is The Monster, and that she also opened the gate. What is Eleven talking about?

WHAT'S OLD IS NOW

Something to consider when thinking of the show is that the creators didn’t want to give you the same old monsters you grew up with. Old skool Hollywood horror consisted of a series of cinematic archtypes that were based on ancient mythology found throughout the planet. Werewolves, vampires, golems, zombies, witches, insane killers, ghouls, mummies at demons are the main villains in numerous fictional creations across time and space. If, by the end of Stranger Things, we had been told that The Monster was just a lycanthrope, it would have been disappointing. Being given the whole truth would have been less entertaining. As viewers, we want to be surprised. We want to figure it out for ourselves. We also want a reason to watch Season 2.


FILM INFLUENCES

Stranger Things is a superb conglomeration of horror and science fiction that draws influences from previous films, modern conspiracy theories, and ancient mythology. As a result, The Monster is similar to all of these other, modern monsters. Alien was about a xenomorphic creature that hunted, infected and bred with humans. Jaws is about an underwater monster that hunts instinctively, and so cannot be reasoned with or logically influenced. The Thing was about an alien from outer space, or perhaps another dimension, that behaved the same way. It infected humans, replicated itself (a form of procreation), and murdered other entities. There is even a scene in The Thing where its head splits open, forming a mouth that eats another doomed, screaming person, similar to how The Monster operates. This poster appears many, many times throughout the show, like an eerie warning.

These movie posters are no coincidence. The director put them in the scene for a very good reason. In films excruciating attention is given to everything in a scene you are looking at, especially if it is symbolic and subliminal. Everything in the background, including words and images, matters. If you are constructing a scene where two characters are getting married, newspaper clippings that are lying around saying, “DEATH,” or “MURDERED,” or paintings on the wall depicting sorrow, violence and war would indicate to the audience that things aren’t going to work out for the couple. Stanley Kubrick was a master of this. Watching films like The Shining absolutely require a viewer to examine the background and the images that subtly communicate to the viewer the true story, in order to understand some of the deeper themes in the film.


IMAGE CONGLOMERATION

The Dark Crystal is one poster that appears in the film. Evil Dead is another. These posters appear to remind the viewer of previous movies & monsters, but the references in the show go far beyond film. For example, Stephen King’s It is also a massive influence, although we don’t see a poster for the book, which is about several young children that confront a demon, only to find out that the beast it actually an alien, of sorts. They eventually learn that It can really only appear as something the viewer has already seen, and is afraid of. To one person, it is a werewolf. To another, it is The Creature from the Black Lagoon. While The Monster in Stranger Things is not nearly the shapeshifter Stephen King wrote about, the mysterious nature of its origins, and the nightmarish aspect of its existence, is very important to the story we are studying now, because all of these film and literary references merge to make the threat our protagonists face in the show.

Firestarter is also a huge influence. In the book (also by Stephen King) a young girl who has pryokinetic abilities because her parents were experimented upon by the government (who used drugs as part of the process) escapes from a military laboratory and eventually destroys her aggressors with the power of her mind. You never see a poster for Firestarter in Stranger Things. You also don’t see a poster for the 80’s Spielberg sci-fi smash hit, E.T., although that film is also an influence. The technocratic menace of the Department of Energy is similar to the dread inspired by the scientists pursuing Elliot and his extraterrestrial counterpart in the film, and the children escaping from government forces scenario repeats itself with unabashed adoration.


THE DARK CRYSTAL

The poster for The Dark Crystal is a big clue. When Eleven recognizes Will Byers after seeing his picture on a wall, she proceeds to explain that he is lost in what she calls, “The Upside Down,” and is being pursued by The Monster, which she symbolizes using a statue of Demogorgon. The Dark Crystal is a film about how evil reptilian scientists damage their dimension by performing an experiment on a massively powerful, crystal structure. The experiment cracks the crystal, causing a shard to fall loose from the structure. The entire point of the film is that the protagonists must place the shard back into the crystal it came from, repairing the fracture and fixing the dimension. As this happens, the evil reptilian scientists are reunited with their peaceful counterparts, merging to form brilliant, glowing entities that vanish spectacularly. Sounds kooky, but why is that story important to Stranger Things?

Please return to this website in a few days, and I shall continue to tell the tale of what The Monster is. Next time we’ll continue, examining the visuals, studying the clues, exploring the legion of conspiracy theories, literary references  and other films that are the modern inspiration for Eleven, The Monster, and other dark experiments that have spawned the dangers which threaten the lives of our intrepid protagonists in this very original, and highly horrifying, Netflix show.

https://www.netflix.com/title/80057281



Friday, October 7, 2016

Rozes - Music


Rozes Razes Everyday Expectations with “Under the Grave”

There is always a place for pop in modern music largely because the definition of the genre shifts shape with every incarnation. The pop your parents grew up on is still back there in time, like an evolutionary leap, but newer innovations in technology, music and the imaginations of the artists that dream it all up means that what we listen to now is always going to be vastly superior to its predecessors, which is why Rozes is the lady you should check out, especially if you enjoy pop with an alternative edge and a dark, crimson heart.

“Under the Grave,” recorded by Rozes in the thriving metropolis of Los Angeles, is the kind of ballad for those who know what it is like when a relationship is going to require more effort if they truly value someone that might just be lost. Literature and poetry are replete with verses about discovering new love, but you don’t see a lot about the work any human heart requires if it is to be kept. The musician known to us as Rozes has obviously dreamed deeply about such things, and the single shows. “When did my heart stop feeling?” is the question asked by the artist in this gorgeous creation, making the song as sweet as it is bitter.


The women of today face immense, spirit-crushing societal pressures most can’t imagine. For a modern female alt-pop artist to make it, a journey is required that is neither easy nor pleasant. Sadly, many opportunities arise to give musicians the pain they require to create a believable song about sorrow with the appropriate amount of poetry and dignity. Born tough in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Rozes must have certainly suffered to sing her blues, but that is not to say the brilliant track that is “Under the “Grave” is just some predictable dirge. It is fun, happy, introspective and deliciously mysterious enough to entice, as any good human relationship should be. The wisdom in Rozes lyrics clearly reveals the soul it took to march the road to success she has.

Rozes unveiled her first single, the soulful, regret-infused “Everything,” on September of 2014. The world fell instantly in love with the hypnotic, evocative song and it was praised by millions of hits on SoundCloud. Two more singles followed, “In and Out,” and “R U Mine,” as the young, beautiful artist was invited to perform at the Neon Gold’s incredible Pop Shop at Baby’s All Right. When the dynamic musical duo known as The Chainsmokers invited her to co-write and sing the Top 40 track “Roses,” it only confirmed that this fierce lady had plenty of talent to offer. Rozes joined the band onstage for the Billboard Hot 100 Music Festival at Jones Beach last August, followed by appearances on The Late Late Show with James Corden and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.


In 2016 Rozes introduced the world to her new EP, Burn Wild. The track of the same name is as haunting as it is wholesome, sometimes soothing with synth beats brimming with soul and then rousing you with delicate guitars, deft guitars as the golden sound of the singer’s voice briefly takes your ears to heaven on audio wings of passion and truth, only to soar downwards into faint distortions, dreamlike effects and playful, cool backbeats. The music Rozes creates is proof that it is still wonderful to fall in love with alt-pop all over again.


Her official website: http://www.rozessounds.com/



Check out Rozes on SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/rozessounds

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

DJ Short - Cannabis

           

            A decade ago writing about cannabis was scary business, because anything related to the substance could get you robbed, killed or thrown in jail. A lot of the professionals related to cannabis were very secretive people, because they knew that since they were somewhat famous, the federal government would love to incarcerate them for a million years as a lesson to others.
            This mentality extended to shutting down cannabis collectives that had made the mistake of hosting press interviews or making too much money. When federal troops raided the world-famous Oaksterdam University up in Oakland, California, it was the culimantion of an extended effort by the government to slam down on an industry that was a threat to their allies, the Sinaloa Drug Cartel.                   Apparently, according to whistleblowers connected to an operation known as Fast and Furious, the Mexican cartels that sold cannabis lost so much money to their nonviolent, American rivals that were growing the stuff for patients cheaply up in the states that they appealed to our government to raid the collectives in order to protect their profits.
            All across the country, growers were arrested and put in federal prison as if they were drug dealers straight out of Miami Vice. Shops were raided, small businesses were smashed out of existence, and many very normal, well-meaning people vanished into the prison industrial complex. What made things worse is that because co-ops were kind of illegal, they had to deal in cash only. As a resul they were frequently robbed. Some people were even shot buying cannabis in these otherwise peaceful, very nonviolent clinics. 
            So meeting with the legendary DJ Short was not a calming experience. I had to meet him at a co-op up in San Bernardino, California, the most violent county in the USA (where I grew up), to perform the interview. Out in the parking lot, an armed guard led everybody to their cars. Inside the place, the owners greeted me, ran a background check to make sure I was legit, and then let me talk to DJ Short after mentioning the many loaded semiautomatic assault rifles that had prepared in case local gang members decided to raid the place. Don't worry, they said. I was safe.
...
DJ Short’s Cannabis Cultivation Workshop: The Place to Go to Know How to Grow Some of Mother Nature’s Best Medicine

Since his first experiences with cannabis in 1973, DJ Short has been on the front lines and in the trenches, bringing education and information to the struggle as a soldier, scientist and leader. His Cultivating Exceptional Cannabis Workshop is more than just a solid course on growing quality cannabis; it is also a lesson in morals and ethics…a philosophy that is obviously in short supply throughout today’s corporate America.
DJ Short’s lessons are solid science, as evidenced by his world-respected “Blueberry,” a legendary strain that took 1st Place at the 2000 Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam. His book, “Cultivating Exceptional Cannabis: An Expert Breeder Shares His Secrets” is required reading for anyone who is serious about being a successful, informed cannabis breeder.


Tell me about your anonymity amongst the mainstream culture, despite your legendary status in the cannabis community.

Every once in a while I google my name, and one time I found an abstract written by a professor called, “Transgressive Segregation,” and it was all about human beings manipulating genes to make bunnies glow in the dark, and how it was so Frankenstein, and how that was so extreme, but then he used me as another example of an extreme, and how you have me, DJ Short, but I’m not a DJ in a conventional sense, I don’t spin vinyl, I spin genetics. He uses this phrase, and I’ve used it ever since, he says that I “…possess a paradoxical anonymous celebrity status.”  The professor is an English Professor from Penn State.

So he’s a little like Aldous Huxley?

I would imagine so, because that piece got published in a book put out by M.I.T. I was really quite flattered.


Tell me more about what you do.

Aside from living and breathing, I breed cannabis. I also teach about the merits and benefits of quality cannabis. My goal is to increase the quality of cannabis, but not necessarily the potency. When I lecture on the quality of cannabis, though, I begin with ethics. When someone asks me why I do this, I say that it’s all about the healing.
When I began breeding it was to satisfy my own head. I developed my palette early on by sampling all the cannabis strains going on from the land races of ancient yore. There’s nothing out there like those strains. We are getting closer with Hash. We can have A-Grade Hash, but I seriously question whether we can have A-grade bud outside of the tropics.


Combing your teachings with ethics is very reminiscent of the Greek concept of knowledge. That with all understanding, you had to start with ethics.

When people come to learn from me they are often seeking information, but they also really want enlightenment. The knowledge I possess from sampling the great works of yore, the trial and error I’ve seen, well, as people did for me in my time, I try to do now.
One of the things I really attribute to my success is just being born at the right time. I started smoking herb in 1971. It was beneficial to me in that those who came before me paved the way, they made the mistakes that I didn’t have to make.
Back then, there was a tremendous variety, of because of the work of the people before me, quality was an issue. That’s why I’m here and that’s what I teach.


A very special thanks to The House of Holland Collectives in Riverside, which was kind enough to host this interview. Check out www.houseofholland.com.