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Back in Black


Vinyl’s superior sonic qualities endear it to audiophiles, while younger people are beguiled by its aesthetics – not least of all the album covers

Back in Black


Vinyl’s superior sonic qualities endear it to audiophiles, while younger people are beguiled by its aesthetics – not least of all the album covers

Culture > Entertainment


 

Back in Black

August 29, 2018 / by China Daily Lifestyle Premium

The march of progress often tramples viable older tech underfoot, only for it to make a comeback later. The boom in artificial fabrics such as nylon, polyester and neoprene last century was followed by a return to cotton, wool and silk, eliciting in many a sigh of relief and comfort. Could vinyl records be set to do the same? 

  The dramatic US cover of Whitesnake’s  Trouble  (1978)

The dramatic US cover of Whitesnake’s Trouble (1978)

As streaming and digital downloads have become dominant in our “connected world”, the compact disc has gone the way of the dodo. This is partly because new computers rarely come with CD players built in, but also because the tangible aspects of CDs, such as the flimsy plastic and paper packaging, hardly inspire devotion. For those who want to hold and feel their music, old-style records are rapidly replacing CDs. 

Vinyl sales are at a 25-year high, with pressing plants currently unable to keep up. Stores such as HMV are well-stocked with the black gold. Bands are excited about it, too – for one, 1980s legends Eurythmics are reissuing all their albums on vinyl this year. 

For most of the 20th century, the vinyl album was embedded in the world’s imagination and on its record shelves. But in the mid-’80s, the rug was pulled out from under music consumers when the CD was foisted on an unsuspecting public. It was digital, we were told, and therefore its reproduction must be perfect. 

In fact, however, it was a step backward for audio quality. To make a digital recording, analogue signals have to be “sampled”. The CD introduced the 44.1 kHz audio sampling rate, which takes “snapshots” of the analogue signal 44,100 times per second. Each snapshot is then measured with 16-bit accuracy, giving only 65,536 possible sonic values. 

Thus, CDs don’t capture the complete sound wave. Complex tones, such as trumpets or drum transients, may be distorted because they occur too fast to be converted adequately. On the other hand, the groove cut into a quality vinyl record mirrors the original sound’s waveform with a much greater frequency range. And while the analogue output of a record player can be fed directly to your amplifier, digital players need to convert the signal back to analogue. 

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Barring dust, static or scratches, a quality vinyl record played on good equipment should be more accurate and richer than any CD – and even so-called “lossless” digital formats with much higher sampling and bit rates. While subtle surface noise is a facet of vinyl records, most people grow to appreciate the “atmosphere” it gives. Records do get worn over time, but if looked after properly, they’re still far more durable than CDs (and possibly even the internet). They’re less likely to malfunction than CDs or digital files because, well, there’s no such thing as a “vinyl virus”. 

Records also have a wow factor and were one of the most interesting cultural artefacts of the last century. A rite of passage for many music-addicted teens was to raid their parents’ dusty record collections (and wardrobes) to discover older music and broaden their horizons. It could be argued that the widely bemoaned quality level of modern popular music (US musician Moby recently shamed it as “terrible – shallow and trite and unredeemable”) is one consequence of this heirloom vacuum.

Vinyl’s demise also killed the art of visual design. From the American jazz album covers of the ’40s and ’50s to those of rock and pop a few decades later, cover art became an indelible visual counterpoint to the music of these golden eras. Many bands were intimately involved in the creation of the covers – no surprise, given the art-school background of many.

After the CD format took over the market, vinyl clung to life as a minority interest and due to some DJs’ preference for it. It only started to make a comeback in the late 2000s. From less than a million units sold in 2006, Deloitte projects global vinyl sales for this year at 40 million units, mostly in the US, UK and Japan, with a value of US$1 billion – about 6% of broader music industry revenues. Looks like it’s time to start building (or rebuilding) that record collection!


A Brief History of Vinyl

1877: Thomas Edison invents the “tinfoil phonograph”, an analogue sound-storage medium that allows immediate playback. It only achieves novelty status.

1887: Edison replaces the foil sheet with a hollow wax cylinder and a viable market for sound recordings develops. 

1894: Edison rival Emile Berliner introduces the gramophone system. Instead of wax cylinders, it uses seven-inch discs made of hard rubber, with an inscribed spiral groove. 

1910s: Following a format war, the gramophone dominates. 

1919: Berliner’s patents expire, leading to open season on the gramophone system. Standard “78s” are made of shellac, an insect resin. 

1930s: Vinyl plastic discs become common in professional contexts. They are lighter, longer-playing and yield less surface noise than shellac. But they’re still too expensive for the home market. 

1940s and 1950s: Polyvinyl chloride becomes the dominant material for records. The 3 1⁄3 rpm “long-play” (LP) and 45 rpm formats begin to replace 78s.

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Sounds Nice


A pair of customised high-end earbuds is the key to audio bliss. Step by step, let’s find the tailor-made sound that’s right for you – ready… play!

Sounds Nice


A pair of customised high-end earbuds is the key to audio bliss. Step by step, let’s find the tailor-made sound that’s right for you – ready… play!

Culture > Entertainment


 

Sounds Nice

June 6, 2018 / by China Daily Lifestyle Premium

  Vision Ears

Vision Ears

Step 1

Grab your favourite digital audio player or your smartphone, filled with the music that you usually listen to. It’s ideal if you can load it up with lossless files, eg. WAV or FLAC.

Step 2

With your files and your player, head to your local audio shop and test a range of custom in-ear monitors from various brands. Each model tends to highlight unique sonic characteristics, so different ones are better for specific kinds of music. Choose the one that’s right for your needs and start the order process. 

  CTM

CTM

Step 3

Pick your favourite shell colours and artwork (the pattern on the top). Some brands can even do different designs for the left and right sides. And of course, this is when you pay the bill. 

Step 4

Visit a reliable hearing centre to get a custom silicon mould of your ear, and send that mould to the brand or the shop.

Step 5

Now, you wait. Your earbuds should be done according to the time frame that the brand promises.

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Step 6

Choose a suitable cable that fits your earbuds once you receive them, as various conductors can have slightly different sonic effects. For example, silver can make the high range brighter and tends to be richer in detail, whereas copper delivers the audio in a mellow way and provides more profound mid- and low-range sounds. 

Step 7

Though the brand may provide a basic box, you can also select a nice carrying case for your new beauties; a hard-shell is ideal for protecting them. 

Step 8

Let the music take you away! 

Images: © Wizard Audio Industries LLC/Noble Audio; Instagram: @ctmonitors; @visionears; Facebook: @LearHongKong; courtesy of MUM

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Music: #10


Discover the hottest new releases that you’ve got to hear to believe

Music: #10


Discover the hottest new releases that you’ve got to hear to believe

Culture > Entertainment


 

Music

May 23, 2018 / by Shaun Kent

 
  Janelle Monáe     Dirty Computer    The multifaceted singer-composer from Kansas City has a little help from friends including Brian Wilson, Stevie Wonder and Pharrell Williams on this funky pop, rap and R&B opus that comes with a companion short sci-fi film,  Emotion Picture , that includes dazzling performances of her songs.

Janelle Monáe

Dirty Computer

The multifaceted singer-composer from Kansas City has a little help from friends including Brian Wilson, Stevie Wonder and Pharrell Williams on this funky pop, rap and R&B opus that comes with a companion short sci-fi film, Emotion Picture, that includes dazzling performances of her songs.

 
 
  Sting & Shaggy     44/876    There was always a strong reggae influence in The Police’s music, so Sting is in familiar territory for this good-natured collaboration with Jamaican singer Shaggy. The album title comes from the telephone dialling codes for their two countries.

Sting & Shaggy

44/876

There was always a strong reggae influence in The Police’s music, so Sting is in familiar territory for this good-natured collaboration with Jamaican singer Shaggy. The album title comes from the telephone dialling codes for their two countries.

 
 
  Willie Nelson     Last Man Standing    Willie Nelson may have seen the passing of several of his fellow country music greats, but at age 85, he makes it clear he doesn’t intend to join them any time soon. Far from a nostalgic trip down memory lane, the album’s 11 self-penned songs are infused with an optimism and humour that are neatly summed up in the lines: “Heaven is closed / hell’s overcrowded / I think I’ll stay where I am.”

Willie Nelson

Last Man Standing

Willie Nelson may have seen the passing of several of his fellow country music greats, but at age 85, he makes it clear he doesn’t intend to join them any time soon. Far from a nostalgic trip down memory lane, the album’s 11 self-penned songs are infused with an optimism and humour that are neatly summed up in the lines: “Heaven is closed / hell’s overcrowded / I think I’ll stay where I am.”

 
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Music


April heralds the arrival of spring and it has inspired generations of composers who have tried to capture its spirit in song. Explore four very different tracks that share one thing in common – they take their inspiration from the fourth month of the year

Music


April heralds the arrival of spring and it has inspired generations of composers who have tried to capture its spirit in song. Explore four very different tracks that share one thing in common – they take their inspiration from the fourth month of the year

Culture > Entertainment


 

Music

April 6, 2018 / by Shaun Kent

  Proleter     Curses from Past Times EP    The charmingly quirky opener “April Showers” may sound at first like a vintage 1920s recording, but it’s actually the creation of French indie producer Proleter (aka Benjamin Roca), who mixes old-style jazz with hip-hop beats.

Proleter

Curses from Past Times EP

The charmingly quirky opener “April Showers” may sound at first like a vintage 1920s recording, but it’s actually the creation of French indie producer Proleter (aka Benjamin Roca), who mixes old-style jazz with hip-hop beats.

  Prince & The Revolution     Parade    Prince included the plaintive “Sometimes it Snows in April” on his 1986 album  Parade ; it enjoyed a poignant return to the charts in the wake of his death 30 years later on April 21, 2016.

Prince & The Revolution

Parade

Prince included the plaintive “Sometimes it Snows in April” on his 1986 album Parade; it enjoyed a poignant return to the charts in the wake of his death 30 years later on April 21, 2016.

  Simon & Garfunkel     Sounds of Silence    Inspired by a nursery rhyme he learned from a girl during a fleeting relationship in England, Paul Simon’s wistful “April Come She Will” from the duo’s second album uses the seasons as a metaphor for a partner’s changing moods. At not even two minutes long, it’s a miniature masterpiece.

Simon & Garfunkel

Sounds of Silence

Inspired by a nursery rhyme he learned from a girl during a fleeting relationship in England, Paul Simon’s wistful “April Come She Will” from the duo’s second album uses the seasons as a metaphor for a partner’s changing moods. At not even two minutes long, it’s a miniature masterpiece.

  Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong     Ella and Louis    Don’t be misled by the homely cover photo – this 1956 album brought together two of the giants of jazz for a glorious selection of duets. Listening to their gorgeous “April in Paris”, you can almost picture them singing it as they stroll along the banks of the Seine.

Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong

Ella and Louis

Don’t be misled by the homely cover photo – this 1956 album brought together two of the giants of jazz for a glorious selection of duets. Listening to their gorgeous “April in Paris”, you can almost picture them singing it as they stroll along the banks of the Seine.

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Music


It’s been 50 years since Jimi Hendrix took the music world by storm with his groundbreaking double-album Electric Ladyland. To mark the anniversary, this month’s selection pays tribute to guitar heroes, past and present

Music


It’s been 50 years since Jimi Hendrix took the music world by storm with his groundbreaking double-album Electric Ladyland. To mark the anniversary, this month’s selection pays tribute to guitar heroes, past and present

Culture > Entertainment


 

Music

March 2, 2018 / by Shaun Kent

  Jack White     Boarding House Reach    In the 20 years since he formed The White Stripes with Meg White, Jack White’s uncompromising guitar technique has made him one of the standout players of his generation. His latest solo album is set for release on March 23.

Jack White

Boarding House Reach

In the 20 years since he formed The White Stripes with Meg White, Jack White’s uncompromising guitar technique has made him one of the standout players of his generation. His latest solo album is set for release on March 23.

  John Mayer     The Search for Everything    Eric Clapton calls John Mayer a master of the guitar. On his most recent album, he showcases the introspective, more mellow side of his artistry in a collection of self-penned ballads that includes the infectiously catchy “Love on the Weekend”.

John Mayer

The Search for Everything

Eric Clapton calls John Mayer a master of the guitar. On his most recent album, he showcases the introspective, more mellow side of his artistry in a collection of self-penned ballads that includes the infectiously catchy “Love on the Weekend”.

  Eric Clapton     Live in San Diego    “Clapton is God” read the graffiti on walls across London when the guitarist burst on the scene in the 1960s. This live album, recorded in 2007 (with Clapton mentor JJ Cale as special guest) showcases his blues-infused mastery of the guitar on several of his best known songs, including “Layla” and “Tell the Truth”.

Eric Clapton

Live in San Diego

“Clapton is God” read the graffiti on walls across London when the guitarist burst on the scene in the 1960s. This live album, recorded in 2007 (with Clapton mentor JJ Cale as special guest) showcases his blues-infused mastery of the guitar on several of his best known songs, including “Layla” and “Tell the Truth”.

  The Jimi Hendrix Experience     Electric Ladyland    From his head-spinning use of the wah-wah pedal on “Voodoo Chile” to the psychedelia-laced “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” and his epic reworking of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”,  Electric Ladyland  shows why Hendrix is still called the greatest rock guitarist of all time.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Electric Ladyland

From his head-spinning use of the wah-wah pedal on “Voodoo Chile” to the psychedelia-laced “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” and his epic reworking of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”, Electric Ladyland shows why Hendrix is still called the greatest rock guitarist of all time.

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Rock My World


Music talent shows have been all the rage in China

Rock My World


Music talent shows have been all the rage in China

Culture > Entertainment


 

Rock My World

March 2, 2018 / by China Daily Lifestyle Premium

The X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, American Idol… the television-watching world clearly has a great passion for talent shows. Take Idols (including its American Idol adaptation) – the UK-originated reality show franchise debuted in 2001 and has now broadcast in 150 countries to 6.5 billion viewers, making it the world’s most widely watched show. Before launching Idols, British television producer Simon Fuller was inspired by the New Zealand all-girl band singing contest Popstars in 1999.

Though the word “talent” refers to a variety of skills, the most popular one on these types of shows is music – specifically singing, though it’s sometimes accompanied by dancing. Music talent shows entertain their audiences by televising the selection process, discovering budding stars from a vast pool of non-professionals or beginner musicians. An open audition is usually conducted as a transparent step to give all participants a chance to strive for that final performance on the stage – in Chinese, the arduous process is called “sea selection” (hai xuan).

As in the West, Chinese music talent shows rose to prominence in the early 2000s. But China’s very first talent show on television was in 1984 – the National Young Singers Competition, hosted on China Central Television (CCTV). The show featured Peng Liyuan (now the country’s first lady), who took third place in the first year and first prize in 1986 for professional folk singing. 

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In 2003, CCTV introduced a new family pastime weekend show called Six Days and One Day Plus, hosted by Li Yong, who’s known for his humorous style – he’s also been a regular host for CCTV’s Chinese New Year’s Gala since 2002. In each 90-minute show, Li acted as a scout who discovered three people and invited them to a six-day training course with a group of stage professionals; on the seventh day, the contestants had to perform on the show’s grand stage in Beijing. It’s long been remembered as a signature show of Li and a nostalgic TV programme for many millennials in China – top model Sui He recalled standing behind Li, assisting him with the show’s popular “hitting golden egg” section, in which gifts were doled out to audience members around the country. Ten years later, the long-running show got a full revamp – and today, it’s hosted by Zhu Xun.

Among all the provincial satellite channels, Hunan TV is best known for creating entertainment shows – its Happy Camp is one of the most popular and longest-running variety shows in China. However, perhaps no other production can compare with the noise the all-girl singing contest Super Girl made, which debuted in 2004 and ran for three years. A spin-off of the previous Super Boy, the female version turned out to be far more successful and influential. “Regardless of genre, age, appearance and region, as long as you love singing” was the show’s open invitation for all in the nation to participate. With promises of lucrative bonuses and impressive rewards, plus an express pass to a star career, thousands of women were eager to join.

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2005 was the most heated year for Super Girl. From May to September, 15 women made the final cut – from the initial 150,000 contestants. Four hundred million people tuned in, with the average rating beating out the wildly popular CCTV Chinese New Year’s Gala. The audience participation was extraordinary; at the time, fans voted for their favourite singers via text messages that cost RMB 0.5 to RMB 1 each – this alone contributed approximately RMB 30 million to the show’s revenue. More than 8 million votes were collected in the final-round competition. Mengniu Dairy was the title sponsor that year, paying about RMB 10 million to add “Mengniu Suan Suan Ru” (a yoghurt-based beverage targeting young people) to the show’s name; the sales of this single product reached around RMB 2 billion that year, compared to RMB 700 million in the prior year.

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The top three winners of the 2005 competition all went on to successful singing careers after the show. Champion Chris Lee is planning her third world tour concert this March; she’s also a face of Givenchy and Gucci. Runner-up Bibi Zhou’s first album in 2006 was the bestseller of the year; she soon tapped into songwriting and has acted in a few big-budget films. And second runner-up Jane Zhang (nicknamed the “dolphin princess” for being able to hit those really high notes) became the first Asian singer to perform songs at the acclaimed Victoria’s Secret runway show in Shanghai last November; she sang “Work for It”, “808” and “Dust My Shoulders Off”. 

Controversy arose, too – specifically about how the show gave young girls unrealistic dreams of achieving fame overnight. The period in which the show aired was also a critical time — the intense preparation period for 12th- graders in China getting ready for the national higher-education entrance exam (gaokao). Ultimately, in 2007, China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television imposed a series of highly tightened rules to regulate all talent shows – and Super Girl was its main target. These included not allowing any talent shows to broadcast during prime-time hours (7.30pm to 10.30pm), which immediately pressed pause on the overall development of entertainment shows in China. 

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In 2011, the number of entertainment shows allowed to broadcast in prime time was relaxed – to nine per day. The following summer, The Voice of China became an overnight sensation. Premiering on Zhejiang TV in July 2012, its first episode broke the national ratings record as the most-watched first episode of all time. And thanks to online video streaming, which had just begun to flourish at that time, the first episode released online hit 100 million views in 20 hours. 

The Voice of China acquired the rights from the Dutch reality show The Voice of Holland, which debuted in 2010. The Chinese adaptation features a similarly distinctive blind audition, which is led by four celebrity coaches, recognised by their red chairs that turn around when they hear a good voice. Each coach selects seven singers for their team and sends the best four to the finals. The show delivered some memorable performances and young talent emerged – such as then-20-year-old music school student Momo Wu, who impressed Taiwanese music coach Harlem Yu with her debut song, a cover of Jessie J’s “Price Tag”. Summer Jike Junyi is remembered as the “girl from the mountain” in Western China, with her tanned skin and her reinterpretations of Chinese Yi ethnic folk songs. 

  Images: Facebook: @therapofchina (The Rap of China)

Images: Facebook: @therapofchina (The Rap of China)

Throughout The Voice of China’s four popular seasons, it topped the ratings every Friday. The title sponsor enjoyed its popularity, too: JDB Group, the herbal tea maker, reportedly contributed RMB 60 million to a total of RMB 300 million in revenue during season one; the latter number had more than doubled by season four in 2015. Though the show singled out high-quality voices and talented singers, it was also mocked for its sometimes over-the-top emotional scenes, which generally happened when a singer narrated his or her “chasing the dream” story; some quipped on social media that it should be named “The Tears of China”. 

  Images: Facebook: @therapofchina (The Rap of China)

Images: Facebook: @therapofchina (The Rap of China)

However, the fifth season faced difficulties. The Chinese producer, Star China Media, has been in legal dispute with the Dutch copyright owner, Talpa; the latter signed with another Chinese company to continue the production after season four. Stuck in legal limbo, the fifth season wasn’t released in 2016. Star China Media instead made a new show, Sing! China, which adopts a similar format but mixes up some of the details – the turning chair was changed to a sliding one that moves up and down a track, though it kept the iconic red colour. Gradually, as more music shows emerged in the market, such as Hunan TV’s I Am a Singer, the fever pitch of The Voice cooled down. 

iQiyi is a leading online video platform owned by China’s most-used search engine, Baidu. In 2017, the streaming company invested RMB 200 million to produce a talent show specialising in a specific music genre: hip-hop. The Rap of China is the biggest project it has done, viewed exclusively on the iQiyi platform. Led by a panel of star judges – featuring former Korean-Chinese boy band EXO member Kris Wu and three Taiwanese artists – Wilber Pan, MC Hotdog and Chang Chen-yue – the first episode’s “sea selection” hit more than 100 million views in four hours. 

“You got freestyle?” is the Kris Wu catchphrase that soon became an unavoidable buzzword on social media, with countless GIFs and memes of the style icon. It was all the rage among the younger generations from the post-’90s to the post-’00s – the latter is referred to as the Z-lennials, associated with enormous spending power and their tendency to be self-oriented in the context of China. 

A champion of the final live competition, Gai (Yan Zhou), was an underground rapper in Chongqing. On the show, he’s recognised for rapping in the Sichuan dialect, including his most popular song, Hot Pot Soup. Wearing a golden mask and competing under the alias “HipHopMan”, Chinese-American rapper MC Jin had actually cracked the Billboard Top 200 in 2004 with his debut album The Rest Is History. On the show, Jin rapped in Putonghua for the first time, after performing in English for the past 20 years. According to the show’s director, Che Che, the top 70 rappers who appeared on The Rap of China increased their Weibo followers by a total of 20.85 million fans. 

With 12 episodes in three months, The Rap of China hit 2.68 billion views, though criticism about the show arose due to its similarity to Korean rap reality show Show Me the Money, which debuted in 2012 – even the logo design was similar. So far, however, the Korean show’s producer has not taken any action in filing a legal case. 

The Rap of China ended its single season last September, while The Voice of China seems to be awaiting its new season indefinitely. So what will be the next talent show we’ve got to look forward to? Hopefully, that question will be answered soon.

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Music


The highs and lows of life, love and relationships are explored in these new releases from four very distinctive artists 

Music


The highs and lows of life, love and relationships are explored in these new releases from four very distinctive artists 

Culture > Entertainment


 

Music

January 26, 2018 / by Shaun Kent

  Lana Del Rey     Lust for Life    There’s a dreamy, spacey quality to this collection of contemplative ballads from American singer- songwriter Lana Del Rey, which features guest appearances by Stevie Nicks, Sean Ono Lennon and A$AP Rocky.

Lana Del Rey

Lust for Life

There’s a dreamy, spacey quality to this collection of contemplative ballads from American singer- songwriter Lana Del Rey, which features guest appearances by Stevie Nicks, Sean Ono Lennon and A$AP Rocky.

  Kelela     Take Me Apart    This eagerly awaited debut album from the LA-based singer finds her sultry R&B vocals superbly showcased by the luxuriant, multi-textured production woven by Jam City and Ariel Rechtshaid.

Kelela

Take Me Apart

This eagerly awaited debut album from the LA-based singer finds her sultry R&B vocals superbly showcased by the luxuriant, multi-textured production woven by Jam City and Ariel Rechtshaid.

  Tricky     Ununiform    Tricky draws on his Bristol trip-hop roots as well as Russian hip-hop and other influences in this powerful return to form that sees him reunited with Martina Topley-Bird, who sang on his 1995 debut album  Maxinquaye .

Tricky

Ununiform

Tricky draws on his Bristol trip-hop roots as well as Russian hip-hop and other influences in this powerful return to form that sees him reunited with Martina Topley-Bird, who sang on his 1995 debut album Maxinquaye.

  Baxter Dury     Prince of Tears    The son of the late new-wave rocker Ian Dury takes a gritty look at life and relationships in this collection that borrows more than a little from the wry London-accented style of the old man.

Baxter Dury

Prince of Tears

The son of the late new-wave rocker Ian Dury takes a gritty look at life and relationships in this collection that borrows more than a little from the wry London-accented style of the old man.

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Let's Go Crazy


The world-renowned Parisian cabaret Crazy Horse launches its brand-new show and opens its backdoor to CDLP

Let's Go Crazy


The world-renowned Parisian cabaret Crazy Horse launches its brand-new show and opens its backdoor to CDLP

Culture > Entertainment


 

Let’s Go Crazy

January 26, 2018 / by Marine Orlova

Established in the heart of the Golden Triangle of Paris, the Crazy Horse cabaret is undoubtedly one of the most glamorous attractions in town. When avant-garde artist Alain Bernardin founded it in 1951, he wanted to create a unique and contemporary temple of femininity. He cast the “most beautiful women in the world”, created dazzling acts inspired by pop art and new-wave aesthetics, and designed what remains the Crazy Horse signature: dancers dressed in nothing but hypnotic lighting effects. Don’t expect to see gaudy feathers, French cancan dance or bulky costumes at “le Crazy”, as it’s commonly referred to by fans. 

Far from the clichés of the old Paris, the cabaret offers an iconic yet resolutely modern show. To enrich its repertoire over the past ten years, Crazy Horse has called on some of the trendiest artists and designers – among them Philippe Decouflé, Christian Louboutin, Chantal Thomass and Dita Von Teese – to co-create original tableaux. The new show, Totally Crazy, pays tribute to 65 years of creation and showcases the most glorious acts of the cabaret. And for the first time, Crazy Horse reveals its hidden world with the Crazy Experience, a private behind-the-scenes tour.

Mika Do is one of the dancers in charge of the Crazy Experience. Dressed in an elegant black-and-white suit, she retraces the cabaret’s history in an epic tale sprinkled with some crunchy anecdotes and fun facts. Did you know that the dancers use 500 litres of make-up per year? As she discusses the recruitment standards, the audience is brimming with questions; they yearn to know what the Crazy attitude is – and how to get it. “It takes three months of intense training to transform a ballet dancer into a Crazy girl,” Mika Do explains. “The way we walk, look or do our make-up – nothing is left to chance. Once you enter the Crazy Horse, you are changed forever!” 

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The dancers are “baptised” before their first performance. It’s a way to preserve their anonymity, as well as to highlight their personality and their most special features. Rita Renoir, Psykko Tico, Zula Zazou and Hippy Bang Bang are among the fabulous stage names. Be they dramatic, seductive, funny or romantic, the Crazy girls must have a certain je ne sais quoi that makes their presence unique. “No less than 500 dancers from all around the world apply each year to be part of Crazy Horse,” says Mika Do. “Beyond artistic and technical skills, personality is an absolute requirement. If we are to create a perfect unit for the chorus line, we need to be true actresses during our solo performances.” Just before the show begins, she opens Bernardin’s private office. Velvet, lacquered red wood, mirrors and vintage magazines provide a glimpse into the founder’s fantasy. 

As Mika Do disappears in her private dressing room to get ready, Brian Scott Bagley, the cabaret’s MC, welcomes the audience. In the great tradition of American entertainers, he sings, dances and jokes with everyone; there’s no doubt that Bernardin, who died in 1994 and was a fervent admirer of musicals, would have loved Bagley. When the show starts with the famed opening act, “God Save our Bareskin” – an irreverent wink to the changing of the guard in London – the curtain rises on the glamorous Crazy girl army. Perfect curves, arched bodies, deep gazes and kinky smiles make heads swivel. Dancing and twirling on their five-inch Louboutin stilettos, these elite dancers perfectly embody unchained femininity. After 95 minutes of sheer dream and fantasy, it’s time to say goodbye to the Crazy. But fortunately, you can keep following the cabaret and its dancers on WeChat. 

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Images: Riccardo Tinelli; Antoine Poupel; Alberto Baracchini

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Yuletide Yodels


Love them or hate them, Christmas records are as much a part of the festive season as Santa Claus and turkey with stuffing. For this end-of-year Editor’s Choice, explore why they’re so popular among recording artists – and check out four that are packed with festive fun

Yuletide Yodels


Love them or hate them, Christmas records are as much a part of the festive season as Santa Claus and turkey with stuffing. For this end-of-year Editor’s Choice, explore why they’re so popular among recording artists – and check out four that are packed with festive fun

Culture > Entertainment


 

Yuletide Yodels

December 1, 2017 / by Shaun Kent

As the season of making merry bears down on us again, the radio airwaves – never mind the shopping malls and supermarkets – will be ringing to the sounds of “Jingle Bells”, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman”.

If there’s one thing that has united pop bands, opera singers, rappers, country music stars and velvet-voiced crooners over the years, it has been the irresistible urge to produce a Christmas record. The results have so often been cringeworthy, so why have so many been willing to risk their hard-won credibility in search of a Christmas hit?

Nostalgia and a desire to create some Christmas cheer may be part of it, but the biggest incentives are commercial – a Yuletide hit can generate millions of sales and climb back up the charts every December. In fact, the biggest-selling single of all time is Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”, which has sold more than 50 million copies since its release during the Second World War. Add this to multiple versions of the song – by Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson and Coldplay, among numerous other artists – and “White Christmas,” written by American composer Irving Berlin, has racked up more than 150 million sales. 

Over the years, Christmas recordings have ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. Compare the majestic, soaring voices on the 2015 recording Carols with the St Paul’s Cathedral Choir to Bob Dylan sounding like a drunken uncle who just gatecrashed lunch on 2009’s Christmas in the Heart. And country outlaw Johnny Cash may have cultivated his tough guy image with “Folsom Prison Blues”, but that didn’t stop him from warbling through “The Little Drummer Boy” on his album The Christmas Spirit. The Beatles even used Christmas to send festive cheer to members of their fan club, recording songs and messages that were given away free on bendable, vinyl flexi-discs.

Bob Geldof raised millions of dollars for famine relief with the 1984 single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” It was a worthy cause, but the title prompted critics to respond with a resounding no: starving children in Ethiopia probably didn’t know it was Christmas.

More recently, Mariah Carey, Justin Bieber, Destiny’s Child and Kanye West have all succumbed to the lure of recording a Christmas song. And this year is proving no exception, with acts including veteran boy band 98 Degrees (“Let it Snow”), Gwen Stefani (“You Make it Feel Like Christmas”) and the brother-trio Hanson (“Finally It’s Christmas”) all jumping on the Yuletide bandwagon.

So much for having a silent night on Christmas Eve…

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Lindsey Stirling

Warmer in the Winter

New for 2017, the American violinist uses her first festive disc to showcase her musical virtuosity. Or, as she puts it: “Prepare yourself for a potpourri of different styles and sounds from all different sides of Christmas music.”


 

Sia

Everyday is Christmas

Tired of listening to the old classics? The acclaimed Australian singer-songwriter has used her talent for turning out megahits to crafting 10 new songs with producer Greg Kurstin for her refreshingly original first festive album, including the lead single “Santa’s Coming for Us”.


 

Phil Spector

A Christmas Gift for You

Producer Phil Spector’s acclaimed Wall of Sound recording technique – matched with joyous vocal performances by The Ronettes, The Crystals and Bob B Soxx & the Blue Jeans – guaranteed that more than 50 years later, this is still one of the most popular Yuletide albums.


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James Brown

James Brown’s Funky Christmas

The “Godfather of Soul” made three festive albums and this collection brings together the best of the tracks, including “Let’s Unite the Whole World at Christmas” and “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto”. The holidays never sounded so funky.

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Screen Gems


This Christmas, skip the generic, sappy stuff you’ve watched a million times before – pop in one of these lesser-seen holiday classics and under-the-radar favourites that you’ll grow to love

Screen Gems


This Christmas, skip the generic, sappy stuff you’ve watched a million times before – pop in one of these lesser-seen holiday classics and under-the-radar favourites that you’ll grow to love

Culture > Entertainment


 

Screen Gems

December 1, 2017 / by Jon Braun

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Forget It’s a Wonderful Life and revisit this James Stewart holiday classic. Much-loved Hollywood director Ernst Lubitsch delivered this timeless gem – a comedy of errors about two sales clerks (Stewart and Margaret Sullavan) during the Christmas rush. As co-workers, their personalities clash, but we discover she’s his anonymous penpal and the two have fallen for each other through their letters, although they don’t yet know each other’s identity. This was remade in 1998 as You’ve Got Mail.

We’re No Angels (1955)

Humphrey Bogart leads an ensemble cast (also featuring Peter Ustinov, Aldo Ray and Basil Rathbone) in this classic comedy about three hardened criminals who escape from the infamous Devil’s Island prison around Christmastime. Hiding out in a small French Guiana town and planning to steal supplies before boarding a ship in the harbour, they hatch a larcenous scheme at a merchant’s store – but begin to have a change of heart after preparing a Christmas dinner with the family.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

As noted for its Vince Guaraldi piano-jazz soundtrack as for its anti-commercialism message, this 25-minute made-for-TV animated special packs more emotion and reflection on the true meaning of the holiday than perhaps any other. Highly experimental in its approach, this wonderful showcase of Snoopy and the gang may become part of your annual Christmas viewing regimen – that is, if it hasn’t already.

Images: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) (The Shop Around the Corner); Paramount Pictures/Paramount British Pictures (We're No Angels); Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS)/Lee Mendelson Film Productions/Bill Melendez Productions/United Feature Syndicate (UFS) (A Charlie Brown Christmas)

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Music


The poignant mood of autumn has brought out the best in songwriters over the years – this month, we look at four albums featuring memorable compositions inspired by the season

Music


The poignant mood of autumn has brought out the best in songwriters over the years – this month, we look at four albums featuring memorable compositions inspired by the season

Culture > Entertainment


 

Music

September 29, 2017 / by Shaun Kent

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Music


Singer-songwriters have always held a special place in the music world – this month’s selections comprise recent releases from four masters of the craft

Music


Singer-songwriters have always held a special place in the music world – this month’s selections comprise recent releases from four masters of the craft

Culture > Entertainment


 

Music

August 25, 2017 / by Shaun Kent

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Screen Sizzlers


For those melting days of the season when it’s simply too hot to peel yourself off the sofa, we’ve selected a variety of summer classics from the 1950s to the modern day

Screen Sizzlers


For those melting days of the season when it’s simply too hot to peel yourself off the sofa, we’ve selected a variety of summer classics from the 1950s to the modern day

Culture > Entertainment


 

Screen Sizzlers

June 30, 2017 / by China Daily Lifestyle Premium

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Music


This month, we look at some hot summer sounds – and one of the year’s best albums to date

Music


This month, we look at some hot summer sounds – and one of the year’s best albums to date

Culture > Entertainment


 

Music

June 30, 2017 / by Shaun Kent

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Music


This month’s hot album picks take us back 50 years to one of rock’s shining moments – and highlight the latest album from one of Asia’s hottest guitarists

Music


This month’s hot album picks take us back 50 years to one of rock’s shining moments – and highlight the latest album from one of Asia’s hottest guitarists

Culture > Entertainment


 

Music

May 26, 2017 / by Shaun Kent

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Music


Rock and jazz legends make the cut alongside guitar and vocal virtuosos in this month’s hot album picks

Music


Rock and jazz legends make the cut alongside guitar and vocal virtuosos in this month’s hot album picks

Culture > Entertainment


 

Music

April 28, 2017 / by Shaun Kent

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Music


Hip-hop, jazz, funk, pop and a dash of world music – you’ll find them all in this month’s hot album picks

Music


Hip-hop, jazz, funk, pop and a dash of world music – you’ll find them all in this month’s hot album picks

Culture > Entertainment


 

Music

March 31, 2017 / by Shaun Kent

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Blast from the Past


Blast from the Past


Culture > Entertainment


 

Blast from the Past

June 24, 2016 / by Howard Elias

Growing up in Ireland in the mid-1980s couldn’t have been easy. The country was mired in recession and a steady stream of its youth was heading for the port of Holyhead to catch a one-way ferry ride to England. Whether or not the opportunities were any better in London at the time is debatable, but the common opinion in Dublin was that there was no bright future to be had at home.

Set against this backdrop is Sing Street, the third film about musicians by Irish writer and director John Carney, who previously delighted with Once and Begin Again. It gets its name from Synge Street CBS, the state school in Dublin where Conor Lalor (newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is forced to attend after his parents (Aiden Gillan, Game of Thrones, and Maria Doyle Kennedy, Downton Abbey) do a bit of fiscal belt-tightening due to their worsening economic situation. 

For Conor, the news couldn’t be worse – until he steps onto the school grounds. Synge Street is a rough-and-tumble school where fighting is commonplace, and where the Christian brothers who run the facility strictly enforce the rules – one of them being that all boys must wear black shoes. As Conor’s stylish shoes are brown, he has to go around school only wearing socks until he conforms.

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Conor’s fortunes begin to turn around when he spots a mysterious girl across the road from the school. When Raphina (Lucy Boynton, Miss Potter) coolly tells Conor that she plans to go to London to pursue a modelling career, Conor quickly comes up with an idea to cast her in his next music video. The only problem is that Conor doesn’t actually have a band (and he doesn’t sing that well, either). With the help of his new friend, the dorky Darren (newcomer Ben Carolan), they find some other guys at school who can play various instruments and hastily put together a band.

Not knowing what kind of music they want to play, Conor’s older brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor, What Richard Did), comes to their aid. Slacker Brendan serves as a musical Yoda, lending Conor albums by The Cure, Duran Duran, The Jam, Spandau Ballet and other hot bands of the day. Through the music, Conor and his friends create their own New Romantics-inspired tunes and produce homemade videos starring Raphina as their muse.

Sing Street is loosely based on the filmmaker’s own experiences growing up in Dublin during that period. (He’s also a graduate of Synge Street, though he points out that the school today is nothing like how it is depicted in the film.) Carney certainly knows how to make feel-good films – and this one might just be the best of the three he’s done; about an hour in, I realised that I hadn’t stopped smiling. As Conor studies
Brendan’s LPs, the group’s songs – and their fashions – unabashedly mimic each band to humorous effect. Meanwhile, Conor and Raphina grow closer as they learn about themselves and each other.

This is one thoroughly nostalgic film that anyone who listened to that music back in the day – or anyone who learned a musical instrument in order to impress a girl – will simply love. Sing Street is my favourite film so far this year; it’s hard not to adore.

Sing Street is in cinemas now.

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Live and Direct


On the release of The Mystery of the Pink Dolphin, acclaimed French documentarian Eric Ellena discusses his roots, his inspirations and the importance of protecting ecosystems

Live and Direct


On the release of The Mystery of the Pink Dolphin, acclaimed French documentarian Eric Ellena discusses his roots, his inspirations and the importance of protecting ecosystems

Culture > Entertainment


 

Live and Direct

May 27, 2016 / by Jon Braun

How did you get into filmmaking?

I came to filmmaking because I wanted to better understand our world and the parts we can play to make it a better place. I wrote a short film, Drugstore, set in a world where all drugs are sold freely in stores. 

You’re in high demand. When someone pitches an idea for a documentary, how do you decide whether to turn it down or move forward with it?

I choose subjects that fascinate me and that I usually know very little about when I start. A few years ago, I followed top jewellery makers including Bulgari, Buccellati and Damiani for the Masters of Dreams series. The next time around, I was in Bordeaux to cover the rehearsal for a hip-hop dance show, then in Las Vegas shooting an interview with comedian Jerry Lewis, then in the Amazon filming pink dolphins jumping out of the water. Life is never boring.

How did The Mystery of the Pink Dolphin come about?

I produced a three-part series about unusual wildlife called Peru: Extreme Planet. One of the odd animals was the pink dolphin of the Amazon, which piqued the interest of a commissioning editor at France 5, who asked us to research it. We met a lot of scientists and uncovered how the animal transformed from an ancient marine species to the river dolphin of today.

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It’s really a remarkable creature – for those who haven’t seen the film yet, perhaps you could share what makes the pink river dolphin so unique.

They’re usually older species who survived extinction because they adapted to freshwater. Their flexible skin is sensitive to abrasions from branches or scratches from friendly fights between adult males. When those wounds heal, the skin becomes pink – and the pinker a male, the more virile he is considered, so he attracts more females.

What can people do to support environmental conservation efforts?

Knowing about environmental threats is the first step. I think twice before buying furniture made with tropical woods, as I know my purchase can contribute to the destruction of vital rainforests. I will never buy ivory, because I know it usually comes from poachers – and there are other ways to show that you’re successful than owning an object made of ivory. I’m also very concerned about the ancient Chinese and Vietnamese beliefs that rhino horn or shark fin have therapeutic value. It’s never been proven scientifically and it’s a tradition that is going to bring these majestic species to extinction if nothing is done to curb these beliefs.

What inspires you?

Many filmmakers and artists inspire me, especially if they became artists against all odds. I like those who are committed to telling important stories or fighting for a cause. It’s great when you can entertain and educate at the same time. I directed actress Olivia de Havilland at a sound studio in Paris when she was recording the narration for the documentary I Remember Better When I Paint; the film advocates the use of art, like drawing or going to museums, for people living with Alzheimer’s disease. One of the contributors was Yasmin Khan, the daughter of Rita Hayworth, who explained how useful painting was for her mother when she was facing the disease. That’s an important film that has helped thousands of people.

Tell us about the first movie you remember seeing.

The very first movie that my parents brought me to was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I remember how thrilled I was about the Wild West. It felt exotic, so magical; I wanted to go there and ride horses in the great outdoors. I wanted to explore the whole world – and I did. Never give up on your childhood dreams. When you want something, find a way to do it.

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More Human than Human: Ex Machina


The Oscar-winning sci-fi tale grapples with the topic of artificial intelligence – and raises as many questions as it answers.

More Human than Human: Ex Machina


The Oscar-winning sci-fi tale grapples with the topic of artificial intelligence – and raises as many questions as it answers.

Culture > Entertainment


 

More Human than Human

April 1, 2016 / by Howard Elias

Over the last couple of decades, our world has seen phenomenal advancements in technology. Sci-fi film Ex Machina grapples with the topic of artificial intelligence – and raises as many questions as it answers.

Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) works as a programmer at Bluebook, a thinly veiled Google-esque company that has a stranglehold on the internet search business. One day, he wins a company competition to spend a week at the secluded Alaskan estate of Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), who is the company’s eccentric, reclusive founder and CEO. Needless to say, Caleb is more than a bit chuffed, a feeling that’s only surpassed when he’s sitting in the corporate helicopter as it flies him over a spectacular, sprawling landscape – one which he is told belongs entirely to the boss. Once settled in at his temporary digs, he meets Nathan, who first asks him to sign a non-disclosure agreement. 

Caleb soon learns that he’s not been brought all that way just to enjoy the view. He’s there to work. Nathan, we all discover, has created an android and Caleb’s job during the week is to execute the Turing test on it. (If you missed The Imitation Game last year, the Turing test assesses whether a computer has the ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human.) Caleb is up for the
challenge and he’s taken to a room, where he sees his test subject on the other side of a wall of glass. 

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In front of him is Ava (Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl), who is a sight to behold. Her torso and limbs are translucent, revealing all the circuitry inside. Only her face is flesh-like. Over the next seven days, as Caleb and Ava interact with each other, Caleb begins to realise that everything and everyone at Nathan’s remote hideaway are not all they appear to be.

Ex Machina is thought-provoking and intense – a bit of a cross between Frankenstein and Spike Jonze’s Her, with a dash of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. As Caleb, Nathan and Ava all try to get into each other’s heads, we’re left guessing everyone’s motivations until everything becomes clear in the film’s closing scenes – or does it?

The film is the directorial debut of Alex Garland, who also wrote the screenplay. He’s no stranger to sci-fi – he also wrote the script for the post-apocalyptic thriller 28 Days Later, a film that has been widely credited with reviving the zombie genre. 

All three actors shine here, but none more so than Vikander. Her training as a dancer is plainly evident as Ava walks and turns her body; she’s both robotic and seductive at the same time. At the recent Academy Awards, the film took home the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, upsetting heavy favourites The Revenant and Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Sure to stick with you for some time, Ex Machina is guaranteed to make you think deeply about recent developments in robotic technology and artificial intelligence – and what it is to be human.
 

Ex Machina is available on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD.