Tuesday, 30 October 2012

#3: Verbose and Socially Aware: Northen Hip-Hop just got better

The UK hasn't always been the hotbed for Hip-Hop it's come to be today. The current popularity of Don't Flop has catapulted rap battles in to the mainstream media over the past two years with the brand growing quicker than Gary Glitter's court cases. It's no surprise then that the talent isn't just sectioned to the south of England, artists such as Blizzard (whose rap battle with school teacher and poet Mark Grist is still racking up views on Youtube) are bringing Manchester to the forefront of the scene outside of London. Manchester already has a number of established emcees merging with the ranks of Indie royalty, but it's their relatively unknown contemporaries that should be causing a stir over the next year; enter Crowd Reaction.

Described by  founder, producer and rapper Smky as "label that produces music and videos for local artists", Crowd Reaction has just dropped it's first mix-tape Dirty Anti-Fiction featuring 3 rappers from South Manchester. It's a non-profit business venture that's dedicated to getting local talent noticed. Not just limited to music either Crowd reaction encourages anyone to get in touch with them if they want their talent exhibiting, and are eager to help people who would otherwise go unnoticed get the recognition and the exposure they deserve. All contact information will be provided below.

Produced in four months once the tracks were written, Dirty Anti-Fiction  is a "quick production to get the ball rolling". Quick or not, the mix-tape is a staggering first effort from the DIY label/media enterprise that's the brainchild of Robert 'Smky' Costello and Adam 'Sweed' Humphrey. The usually consistent lyricism suggests an intelligence and a societal awareness that was integral to making the mix-tape what it is: a social commentary. Jaded by the current coalition Dirty Anti-Fiction acts as a mouthpiece for a youth disaffected and mostly condemned in the mainstream media. Over the course of 8 full tracks (and one skit) the EP paints a picture of South Manchester life, with the final track Prejudice by the aforementioned Smky being the highlight of the whole thing that serves as a how to... guide to life that most people would benefit from adhering to. Rather than harbouring a guns, bitches and bling mentality, Crowd Reaction have distilled an ethos that digs deeper than most UK rap cares to. Those who aren't fans of Grime or Hip-Hop will more than likely be turned off by the colloquial accents of Smky, Tense and Dynamic, but for those who want to see a picture of Manchester painted with unusual eloquence and verbosity for the Hip-Hop genre should definitely cop this free download, or get in touch with Crowd Reaction for a hard copy. Expect big things in the future, you won't be disappointed.

Listen now: Prejudice - Smky


Saturday, 20 October 2012

#2: Tony Hawk's HD Review

For years now fans of the Tony Hawk's franchise have been clamouring for a return to the series roots. The past two games in the series have left a slightly bitter taste in the mouth's of die-hard fans and critics alike. The most recent of the two, Shred, sold only 3000 copies in it's first week on sale in America, and, according to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, was responsible for publishers Activision putting a halt on the series. While it is arguable that these two games (and Downhill Jam on the Playstation 2) are spin-offs from the main series with different development teams behind them, it certainly isn't arguable that they were let downs. Big ones at that. Fast forward two years and one development teams behind the ill-fated 'spin-offs' have decided to turn their hands at the ever popular HD collection trend.

Taking levels from the first two games, Robomondo does a fairly good job, overall, of bring them in to the present. There's still something exhilarating about rolling down the ramp in the Warehouse level to the sound of Goldfinger's Superman, before clearing a half pipe and landing sweetly on the other side. Mechanics are in place from the first two games such as the ability to elongate combos through manuals. That said however that's about all you can do. Want to spine transfer? Sorry. Want to throw in a cheeky revert on a quarter pipe? Can't do it. Feel like getting off your board? Not a chance. While these things don't necessarily take away from the overall feel of them game; especially to those of us who remember not even being able to manual on the original THPS way-back-when, it will still cause some frustration to fans of the series who joined on the Playstation 2 when their combos are cut short despite tapping R2 to perform said revert. The level choice is generally quite good (with the exception of Downhill Jam, a personal worst level for me, but it must have some fans given the spin-off title). Classics like Hanger and Marseilles are back, as well as School II and of course the Mall. Despite the generally good choices I still feel that 7 levels (the one I've not mentioned is Venice Beach) is not enough for the title, although Robomondo have plans for DLC in the future. The soundtrack is again generally good with classics such as “No Cigar” by Millencolin and “You” by Bad Religion punctuated by more modern songs. However, like the level design I think there could have been a significant amount more songs added given how often the songs tend to repeat themselves and offer no semblance of order, with more than on one occasion changing level to hear the song you've just heard start again. Something noteworthy is the ability to restart your run without the track repeating; something that I hated as a kid playing the original titles. The graphics are impressive when viewed in their intended high definition, but personally I'm using an old TV to play (my more recent is in my flat in Leeds) and it looks like a decent PS2 title (though that's to be expected).

The reason I'm reviewing this game so late after it has come out is because a) it took me a while to get round to playing it, and b) the first few weeks I had it I couldn't get enough, and so would have given it a rather more rose-tinted review. Once completing this game the fun didn't run out; unlike the nostalgia. Upon completing every single objective with one character you unlock a series of projectives which are “much more difficult” than the original ten of the level. This sounds like a good idea. Until you realise that they're the same across all 7 levels, with the exception of the score objectives which get harder as you progress. This, in my opinion, is just laziness on the part of the development team who could have mixed it up a bit and not just rehashed the same 5 goals. There are also other types of game as opposed to career such as the newly introduced Hawkman, which has you collecting tokens in a combo, different colours mean different rules of collection. And Big Head Survival, which sounds like it would be more at home on an a Tekken game than a THPS revamp. 

Despite sounding overly critical of the game it is still something I will go back to given my nostalgic nature and the games ability to make me feel 12 years younger. Had this game had a little more thought and planning, and perhaps integrated the first four THPS games instead of two; and been a full retail game it could have been something really special. As it happens it escapes feeling like a cash-in but with the prospect of DLC looming that could change depending on how reasonably the content is priced. New skaters in the character selection take away from the nostalgia but that isn't important to the game as a whole since none of them feel any different from the others anyway and only have a marginally different skill set between them unless you manually change each character's individually in the Skate Shop menu. As a whole the game plays as smooth as anything from this generation, and the lifelike reactions of the characters when they land 'sloppy' are fantastic and long overdue. The occasional physics glitch that sends players hurtling in to the air are more amusing than irritating unless they mess up a combo, and will especially make players familiar to the original games smile. Worth a download if you're looking for a less realistic skating game than what's the Skate series offers, and with DLC on the horizon it could expand THPSHD from something good, in to something brilliant.

Thursday, 18 October 2012


In hindsight starting a blog 5 weeks in to my final year at university is probably quite late, but what can you do. I've turned my hand at blogging several times over the past five years and for one reason or another all are now gathering dust on the shelves of cyberspace. I think the reason I became so disenchanted was mainly due to Tumblr and how it managed to become a prototype for Instagram. There are only so many black and white, badly focused images one person can take before deciding enough is enough and going on to search out a less hipster-orientated means of blogging.

I'm aiming to keep this blog going throughout my final year and going on to post-graduation. I might not update daily but I'm quite sure stuff worth blogging about doesn't happen daily. Does it? I'll update with reviews of games/films/gigs etc if I feel something is particularly worth talking about. I'm passionate about music, but will probably get further writing about it than actually making it.I wasn't blessed with musical greatness.

I'm a firm believe in social media and use both Facebook and Twitter regularly but then again who doesn't?

I'll try to keep this going, and have every intention of doing so despite the increasing workload from university. "Best laid plans..." and all that.