articles about pop culture

Grahamstown’s Water Crisis

Water Drop

One issue that I have been engaged with in the last few weeks is the current water shortage in Grahamstown. This a serious issue, but many people don’t know the full extent of it. I put together an article on this earlier in the term, and in doing so came across some really good resources online for understanding the situation and what students can do to improve it.

First, some background info: The Grahamstown area has been experiencing a drought for the last few months. As a result, Grahamstown’s main water source, Settler’s Dam, is at 20%. The backup water source, Howieson’s Poort Dam, is at 45%. A report in April concluded that at current consumption rates, these dams would only be able to provide Grahamstown with 3 months’ worth of water. That was more than three months ago.

So, it’s clear to see that the situation is serious. But what does it really mean for the community? This can be hard to imagine in abstract terms, but social media and the internet made researching this topic much easier. For example, I was able to track down public statements about the water issue on the Makana municipality’s website. I was also able to find links to water conservation advice online. Additionally, through Facebook I was able to find information on the issue from Grahamstown residents who are being effected by it, like this:

Water update
Settlers 22% Howieson 56%

As you will have seen from Grocott's Mail divers have been investigating both…

Posted by Grahamstown Residents’ Association on Sunday, 16 July 2017

…and then this update, showing that things have gotten worse rather than better:

Please feel free to share this message with non-members, and talk with people who may not have email.

Makana Water…

Posted by Grahamstown Residents’ Association on Sunday, 13 August 2017

The local government’s take on the problem is also available online. You can read the municipality’s statement on the possibility of water rationing here. Additionally, you can check our their earlier statement on the issue here.

For some background information on how Grahamstown gets its water and how these dams work, you can take a look a this piece written by the Rhodes University’s health, safety and environmental officer. And here are some good tips for conserving water.

The municipality is addressing the water shortage by issuing public statements and implementing water restrictions, but these do not seem to be having much of an effect. As a result, a number of Grahamstown residents are unhappy with the way officials are dealing with the crisis.

As you can see, the municipality’s most recent tweets don’t inspire much confidence, especially since they were posted in 2014.

In other words, it’s up to Grahamstown citizens to make a difference in this water crisis. Students can help out by using water sparingly, showering rather than bathing, limiting laundry to one load a week, and flushing toilets only when necessary.

Calvin Harris – Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1

The Scottish producer’s newest album cements his position as a purveyor of pop delights.

Calvin Harris has had an unlikely evolution.

In 2007, he burst onto the scene with 80s influenced dance music he made by himself on his computer. In the decade since, Harris has toured with Rihanna, won a Grammy, and churned out big-room bangers that launched him to a billion streams on Spotify. Somehow, the lad from Scotland usurped the EDM throne — only to now turn his sunglasses-sporting gaze to the pop charts.

His newest album, Funk Wave Bounces Vol. 1, is a well-aimed shot at pop domination. Like every Calvin Harris album, it’s concerned with serving up winning grooves, but it’s a got a wider range of ideas.

The album features guest appearances from seemingly every relevant artist in the 2017 zeitgeist: Khalid, Kehlani, Katy Perry. And that’s just the Ks. The Migos also show up, as do Frank Ocean and Future. Even Lil Yachty contributes a bubblegummy verse.

The result is the undisputed Album of the Summer: not the best, but definitely, as the title suggests, the bounciest. It’s the perfect soundtrack to lazy days in the sun and road trips to the beach.

Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 is proof that in 2017, the lad from Scotland is pop’s king of quixotic delights — and maybe it’s most self-assured craftsman.

Movie Review: Gifted

Gifted is one of two films director Marc Webb has out this year. After his work on Amazing Spider-man and Amazing Spider-man 2, it seems Webb is returning to the subject matter that brought him stardom back in 2009 with (500) Days of Summer: quirky human-focused dramas, with liberal doses of humour.

True to that formula, Gifted tells the story of boat mechanic Frank Adler (Chris Evans) and his niece Mary (Mckenna Grace). It’s Mary that the title refers to. She’s only 7, but she cuts through complex maths problems like a flaming laser sword through butter.

Her abilities lead to turmoil, however, when her mathematician grandmother (Lindsay Duncan) tries to gain custody of her. The result is a lengthy courtroom drama.

It’s fairly typical stuff. Many films have covered similar territory (see Kramer vs Kramer, Good Will Hunting, etcand Gifted doesn’t really throw any curve-balls with it’s story. The film only avoids cliche because Webb is too smart of a director. He takes a subtle approach to the drama, which makes it feel real, if not novel.

It also helps that the performances are remarkably sturdy. Evans puts in a solid turn as Mary’s de facto guardian Frank, and Jenna Slate is charming as Mary’s first grade teacher. Octavia Spencer also brings a fleshed out performance to what would otherwise be a bit part as the Adlers’ neighbour Roberta. It’s the kind of role one could imagine her getting an Oscar nod for had it been expanded, but (in one of Webb’s few directorial missteps) Spencer receives criminally little screen time

But the show is indisputably stolen by 11-year-old Mckenna Grace. Her Mary is quirky, funny, heartbreaking and — most importantly — brave. She might be my favourite film character of the year so far.

All of this adds up to a solid return to what Webb does best. Gifted won’t blow your mind, or deliver anything super original, but if you’re looking for a bit of cinematic sunshine — or if you’re a fan of monocular cats — you can’t go wrong.

Feature Audio

A brief look at what my feature will be about.

Review: 21 Savage – Issa Album

Success threatens to rob the Atlanta rapper of what made him stand out to begin with.

“The problems of failure are hard,” the writer Neil Gaiman once said. “The problems of success can be harder, because nobody warns you about them.”

He’s not wrong. Success can break artists, or rob them of what made them special in the first place. For example, Jay-Z might have recently returned to form, but for years his status as an uber-successful musician/businessman meant that his songs were excruciatingly boring. You can only count stacks so many times.

The same is true for a lot of underdog artists who suddenly find themselves on the ‘inside’. For Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, it took away their unique perspective, which was pretty much all they had. In the case of Nirvana, it contributed in a very tangible way to their front-man’s collapse.

Which brings us to 21 Savage. Issa Album is, as its title suggests, his first album proper, and on it he seems uncomfortable with success. The opening track is called ‘Famous’, and it features 21 insisting “I’m too street to walk around with my nose up”. But it seems like he’s trying to reassure himself more than anyone else.

He can’t be blamed for finding it hard to adjust to fame. His success came quickly, as a result of a string of mixtapes he released over the last two years. They were dark, all menacing synths and snares, punctuated by 21’s stone-cold rhymes about violence and life on the streets. It was a calculated move. As mainstream rap got poppier, 21 instead dealt in grit and grimness.

These mixtapes were largely produced by then-underground producers, like Metro Boomin, who also exploded onto the mainstream rap scene last year. That they sounded gritty added to their charm. Now 21’s music has studio gloss. An army of high-end producers worked on Issa Album, with mixed results. At times, they make 21 sound too tame, even mainstream.

His lyrics don’t always help either. There’s a lot of rapping about clothes and money on this album, and it doesn’t suit 21. He’s also been an anti-rapper: anti-mainstream, anti-consumerist, anti-radio. He wears pop appeal uncomfortably.

This change seems be a result of 21’s success. He’s no longer hustling on the streets. These days — as he repeatedly tells us— his bank account is full and his life is luxurious. In other words, he’s like any other rapper. I’m not a fan of him rapping like this. I like my 21 Savage, well, savage. He’s always been at his best when he’s speaking in a barely-audible snarl over slow-burning horror-movie production.

The best tracks on Issa Album are the ones where he returns to this style. ‘I been hanging with the dead people’, he muses on ‘Dead People’, suggesting that the people he lost in his former life still haunt him. It’s real stuff, full of hurt and regret. What made 21 Savage stand out was always his blunt honesty, that he could examine his own pain on record, no matter how uncomfortable. Unfortunately he does that so little here.

It’s ironic that fame is making it harder for 21 Savage to produce the work that made him famous in the first place. Hopefully success doesn’t spell the end of him.

The Age of Mura Masa

The UK producer’s debut is an album that could only exist in the internet age.

In a recent interview, Mura Masa said that his music “comes from geographical isolation more than anything”.

After all, the producer grew up on Guernsey (population: 60 000), a remote island off the coast of France but under British control. (“The queen is on the money,” Mura Masa explains.)

One couldn’t be blamed for assuming then that Mura Masa’s debut would would be a regional effort, influenced by the landscape he came from, in the vein of Forest Swords’ Wirral-inspired Engravings.

But the key word in Mura Masa’s statement is geographical — because musically, his debut album sounds anything but isolated. Instead, it mixes together sonic elements from around the world: UK garage, US hip hop, Calypso, shakuhachi flutes. Even his stage name is a Japanese import.

The reason? The internet.

Mura Masa is a 2000s kid. He grew up with the internet. He might come from a remote island, but with a dial-up connection and an eager ear, he was able to absorb international influences. Even a decade ago, that would have been impossible.

The internet was also responsible for Mura Masa’s meteoric rise. As a teenager, he started uploading his music to Soundcloud, where it caught the attention of a few YouTube music channels. In the handful of years since, he went from producing in his bedroom to working alongside some of the industry’s biggest hit-makers. Some of them, like ASAP Rocky and Gorillaz’ Damon Albarn, show up here.



It might seem odd that all of this happened to a kid from a British island that I’m pretty sure neither of us had heard of until this article, but really, it happened because of it. “That’s why the Internet was so important to me,” Mura Masa explainend to the FADER. “Because being so far removed from any real cultural influence, it was important for me to do my work online.”

As a result, it might be tempting to view Mura Masa as some sort of commentary on the internet age. After all, the album cover suggests information overload. The obscure samples (vintage video games, a Japanese weather report) feel like a voyage through the weirder corners of the web. And the album’s best tracks (‘Love$ick’, ‘Firefly’, ‘Blu’) are tinged with sadness as if, despite being perpetually online, Mura Masa still feels lonely.

But I don’t think that’s what he intended his album to be. Mura Masa’s here to party, not to ponder.

As Mura Masa himelf explains: “When I started making music I wanted it to have a narrative and be conceptual, but as time went on I thought it was probably more practical for a first album just to have good music.”

I guess that sums up Mura Masa pretty well. A+

Top 10 Tracks of 2016


In the year of Trump and Brexit, music served as both distraction and defiance. Here are the top tracks of 2016

10. Skrux – Our Fragment

Skrux 1.jpg

In a year defined by trap in both the hip hop and EDM spheres, Skrux had an underground hit with a mix of piano melodies, distorted vocal chops and ticking clock percussion. It was a burst of sunshine in the year’s EDM scene, but also a peak at what the electronic landscape may look like in 2017

9. Cruel Youth – Hatefuck

Teddy Sinclair has always been heavy. Under the name Natalia Kills, she made dark electric guitar pop that caught the ear of will.i.am. Her new project alongside Willy Moon takes that idea to the extreme. Their third single chronicles a dysfunctional relationship through 60s-inspired vocals and trap instrumentation. With its fusion of darkness and pop, hatefuck serves as an expression of just what a melting pot indie music has become in the post-Snapchat era.

8. Chance the Rapper – No Problem

2016 was Chance’s year. From a scene-stealing guest spot on Kanye West’s ‘Ultralight Beam’ to the success of his third mixtape, Coloring Book, Chancellor Bennett might have produced the most fully-realized hip hop of his career. With his first album proper on the horizon, it appears that the Chicago rapper is moving from strength to strength.

7. Flume – Say It ft. Tove Lo

Flume’s album Skin delivered on the promises of his debut, overflowing with oddball takes on genres ranging from hip hop  to psy trance. With his Tove Lo collaboration ‘Say It’, Flume scored over 20 million YouTube views and spawned a thousand remixes. In the process, he made a strong case that few electronic artists walk the line between experimental and populist as deftly as he does.

6. James Blake – Radio Silence

On Radio Silence, Blake imbues his characteristic blend of R&B and bleak electronic soundscapes with a maximalist feel. The end result? A track that is as postmodern as they come without sacrificing a shred of jammability.

5) Frank Ocean – Ivy

Sigh. Frank Ocean only released two albums this year. At least we can take heart in ‘Ivy’ – the quiet masterpiece from his long-awaited LP Blonde (Blond?). The guitar-driven song sums up everything that made Ocean’s 2016 work so potent: where he could have followed Channel Orange with traditional pop fare, he instead opted for vulnerability and experimentation. His peers should take note.

4) Bon Iver – 22(Over Soon)

Justin Vernon recorded his 2008 work For Emma, Forever Ago in his father’s hunting cabin in the woods, according to legend. Its Auto-Tune heavy folk sound represents a very specific kind of Americana: the album deals with issues of break-ups and breakdowns against backdrops of Wisconsin’s bars and woodlands. This mostly continued on Bon Iver’s second album, but with his 2016 release 22, a Million, it seems at first that Vernon has abandoned his sound completely. The album trades guitars and folk arrangements for electronic glitches, distorted vocals and stray bursts of sound. When one looks a little closer at tracks like ‘Over Soon’, however, it becomes clear that Vernon is just as intent on representing America sonically as ever.

3) Beyonce – Formation

No song in recent memory has affected pop culture as much as Beyonce’s political fireball. Mike Will Made It’s synths are simple, ominous – and became instantly iconic. But what really makes the song is Beyonce’s performance, which more than matches the incendiary subject matter. Debuted at the Super Bowl, the track’s reverberations still continue, proving that its message of resilience and defiance isn’t just relevant but essential.

2 . Kanye West – Real Friends

After  the critical acclaim of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Yeezus, the stakes were unimaginably high for Kanye West’s seventh solo album. Speculation was rampant over what new sound he would pursue with it. An extension of the maximalist progressive rock of Dark Fantasy?  More of the industrial noise of his 2013 work?  Despite all the guesswork, Kanye’s first lead single single in three years came as a surprise: the song features little more than a drum loop and a synth. In hindsight, however, the track is both the most daring and most logical follow up to West’s previous works. More than that, it functions as bridge between the many iterations of Kanye West: the classic samples of College Dropout Kanye, the lyrical bleakness of 808s and Heartbreak,  and mournful synthesizers reminiscent of Yeezus.

In light of West’s recent hospitalization for mental health concerns, Real Friends – and ‘The Life of Pablo’ as whole – reveals itself as the work of an artist at the height of his powers but far from the end of his struggle.

  1. Radiohead – Daydreaming

2016 was kind to Radiohead fans. We finally got to hear official versions of tracks that had been drifting around Reddit, unfinished, for years. We even got to see the band headline major festivals like they did in their heyday. But their greatest gift was A Moon Shaped Pool, a return to form after their disappointing 2011 album  King of Limbs. The LP has no shortage of great additions to the paranoid androids’ canon: the schizophrenic strings of ‘Burn the Witch’, the driving guitars of ‘Identikit’. But the album’s centerpiece has to be ‘Daydreaming’. The track is based around a simple piano melody, but delivers an emotional gut-punch to rival anything Thom Yorke has written in the past. “Dreamers'”the song goes, “They never learn.” In this fractured year, that line reads like both praise and admonition.

The Name of the Wind

I won’t lie. I freaking love this book. I can’t even attempt to be unbiased.

It’s not surprising, really. It’s got all the elements I love in a story. Unique magic systems. A fully-formed world. A magical university (or, as Hank Green called it, ‘Hogwarts with student loans’). There’s even dragons. Kind of.

But most of all The Name of the Wind succeeds because of its characters. They feel real and human. They’re funny and brave and broken and they fuck up. A lot.

Most fantasy, even the more modern stuff, still concerns itself with epic conflicts between mighty forces (Tolkien’s shadow is long after all) but while The Name of the Wind does have conflict and has some pretty darn mighty forces at play (Murderous teleporting wizard-demons? You bet) it’s really a story about one guy. It’s his memoir, essentially.

It’s structure is interesting too. A third-person beginning set in the present, followed by a lengthy first-person retrospective, and then ending off with the third-person present again. This structure allows Rothfuss to play with time and tension by letting Kvothe comment on events as he remembers them. In the case of his shenanigans in the Eolian tavern with his university mates, its hilarious. When he’s talking about his parent’s death, its heartbreaking.

Rothfuss’s evocations of music-playing are also startlingly original. The songs he describes can be more beautiful and moving than any song in the real world, becrause real songs are necessarily imperfect. Well, except for Yellow Submarine.

And while a lot of things happen in the book, the plot doesn’t unfold like most fantasy stories. I mean, if you said The Name of the Wind was about a guy trying to get into a library, you’d be right. But you’d also be very wrong. Because The Name of the Wind isn’t about any one thing really, except maybe about being human. The structure makes clear that even though we’re all characters in a sprawling human story, we also have our own, smaller stories within us, that maybe no one hears but ourselves – that is, when we dare listen to them at all.

“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time,” Bast says. “That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”

Thank Tehlu Rothfuss built this one.

‘Love’: Dismantling the Rom-Com


Judd Apatow’s Love delivers a fuller psychological portrait of two of the rom-com’s stock characters – the “nice guy” and the “quirky girl” – and reinvigorates a tired genre in the process.

The Netflix-produced series chronicles the messy relationship between Gus (Paul Rust) and Mickey (Gillian Jacobs). The premise is typical rom-com stuff: a nice guy gets his heart broken, then finds adventure with a free-spirited  girl who gives him a chance.


The series acknowledges this worn-out subject matter, and goes at it from a more realistic perspective. On this score, it has more in common with Lena Dunham’s Girls (also produced by Apatow) then it does with, say, 27 Dresses.

Gus (played by co-creator Paul Rust) isn’t the stereotypical “nice guy”. The show delves deeper into his outwardly “nice” behaviour, revealing it for the manipulation it really is. In the first episode, he tells his girlfriend Natalie that he loves her so often and so passive-aggressively that she dumps him, admonishing him with one of 2016’s most brutal TV lines:

“You’re fake nice, which is worse than being an asshole.”

The show’s acerbic humour gets to the heart of the classic “nice guy” trope: Gus’s behaviour stems from a sense of entitlement that nice guys deserve better, but Gus isn’t as nice as he thinks. He helps one of his students cheat to keep his job. He throws a fit when his ideas for a tv series are rejected. He even gets angry when Mickey comes to his work declaring her affection for him, which is something he’s been guilty of many times.

Mickey herself – the rule-breaking girl Gus meets after being dumped – is also more complex than most rom-com heroines. She’s quirky, sure, and wild, the epitome of someone out of Gus’s ‘league’. But the show also presents her as more layered than a genre trope – she’s an addict who uses people, someone unable to be alone for even a moment, as unstable as she is vibrant.

This is testament to the quality of the show’s writing, but it would fall flat without the stellar performance from Gillian Jacobs. She brings with her the comedic chops she’s delivered time and again on Community, but adds some sadness to the character, too.

The series plays out like a serialized version of an Apatow film like This is 40 or Knocked Up. It charts Gus and Mickey’s respective arcs as they battle their own unique screwed-upness. In doing so, it offers a view of dating that’s a little wiser and a little gloomier, but no less heartfelt than the rom-coms it takes shots at.

Maybe one line uttered in anger by Gus sums this up best: “Nobody just pulls you aside and tells you relationships are fucking bullshit.”

Love is Judd Apatow’s way of doing just that.


Hearts of Daarkness


Of all modern fantasy artists, none captures grittiness and gloom more deftly than Mike Lim. You might know him by his nom de plume, Daarken.

Daarken’s been creating art for some of the biggest names in the business, mainly Wizards of the Coast and Blizzard Entertainment.

His portfolio is filled with  death, blasted landscapes and things that go bump in the night. His palette is equally dark: black is clearly Daarken’s favourite colour.

But Daarken is skilled at finding subtlety within that darkness. He plays with light and shadow to suggest feelings of fear or awe or foreboding.


What could be cliched or simply gorey, Daarken instead imbues with intricacy. His creations might be frightening, but they are also complex. Even his most fantastic briefs have a sense of realism.

At its best, Daarken’s work reminds us that good and evil are not so neatly separated. In the midst of darkness we can find  – if not light – at least tones and nuance. In other words, Daarken shows us fantasy tropes through a 21st century lens. His work may be dark but it is not cynical. Even his grimmest works suggest that although the monsters are real, they can be beaten.