Neon Rhode Island: More than a Synthwave music festival

In exactly one week, you will be able to participate in a 3 day incredible music festival called Neon, in Rhode Island. Neon describes itself as a cutting-edge Synthwave music festival with a massively themed video arcade, cult and genre film festival, console gaming time capsule, and iconic guests and panelists. It’s a Retrofuturism love letter to late 20th century entertainment, an aesthetically and sonically immersive experience.

What is retrofuturism, though?

According to their website, Retrofuturism is a term coined in 1983, defined as “a revived enthusiasm for depictions of the future created in the past; also, the use of a style considered futuristic in the past.”

This enthusiasm for the future in a past aesthetic, it just so happens, is a perfect home for Cyberpunk as well, although Neon makes sure to distinguish between the genre we love and Retrofuturism at Neon.

It’s essence is Stranger Things, epic synths, midnight drives, obsolete tech, hard video games, faded summer polaroids, and neon-drenched danger. It’s flickering neon, killer robots, rain-soaked pavement, eternal sunsets, cyberpunk skylines, and obsolete technology.

This festival sounds like a retro gamer or cyberpunk fan’s dream. I so wish I could go, but unfortunately I’ve left the United States already and will be out of the country for quite a while.

Neon will have seventy-five 80s and 90s restored video game and pinball arcade cabinets, for hours of fun. It’ll have non-stop screenings of weird and terrible old movies. It’ll have workshops for electronic projects so you can learn how modular synths work. It’s discussions about the genre and what’s to look forward to. There will be a retro computing time capsule, and a LAN room. It’ll also have themed shopping, vendors, and artists, as well as a Yacht Rock lounge for when you need to ‘sail away from it all’.

Musical guests will include Waveshaper, Glitch Black, Protector 101, Rolly Mingwald, Neuron Spectre, Future Holotape, Dana Jean Phoenix, Let Em Riot, and more. Guests include cyberpunk illustrator and game designer Rob Shields

I’m not personally familiar with any of these artists, but the great thing about conventions is that it gives you the chance to discover new artists!

Neon will take place in the Crowne Warwick Plaza, not far from the airport.

The Neon team is led by Grant Garvin, a veteran of immersive events who always wanted to create a festival focusing on synthwave and nostalgic things. In 2013 he created a cyberpunk Synthwave event with Arcade High and Let Em Riot. Unfortunately, only 20 people showed up, indicating that the movement was still a bit premature. However, in subsequent years when Synthwave became popular with the likes of artists such as Perturbator, things have changed.

I can’t wait to see if Neon is a success, and if so (which I hope it will), what future conventions and festivals Garvin or others have in store.

To buy tickets and learn more about Neon Rhode Island, check them out here.

To read more about news of the event, check out this article from Vehlinggo here.

The Lasting Legacy of Akira 30 years later

I was introduced to Akira relatively late, and the same could be said of when I watched Blade Runner for the first time. Both were ground-breaking, inspirational pieces of art, that wowed the viewers at the time but in my opinion haven’t aged particularly well if you’re seeing it for the first time.

Nonetheless, it’s fun to see how these older pieces of entertainment have inspired the works that are coming out nowadays. It inspired one of the main characters in the Duffer Brothers’ Netflix original, Stranger Things. It inspired director Rian Johnson (The Last Jedi)’s characters in his movie Looper as well. It also was used to show the vision for the Matrix Trilogy by the Wachowski brothers.

Ironically, Akira was itself inspired from some of the visuals in Blade Runner itself.

So how is Akira doing nowadays? Warner Brothers have been trying to make a live action film of it for over a decade, but many fans are worried such a remake will ruin the film, especially after a lot of criticism of whitewashing came from WB’s choice to cast Scarlett Johannsen as Major in their Ghost in the Shell live-action film.

So nothing official is in the works yet, but I would love to see a live action film of Akira obviously. I also thought, along with many Japanese people apparently, that the casting of GitS wasn’t a big deal.

For now, I guess I’ll have to content myself with this fan-made live-action trailer of what that film could look like.

For more on the legacy of Akira, and the sources of this article, click here.

 

Gunship: Cyberpunk electronica with Saxophone and HQ music videos

Gunship is a British 2010 synthwave band that describes its music as “influenced by the soundtracks of 80s film, television shows, video games & cartoons” and “a neon soaked, late night, sonic getaway drive, dripping with luscious analog synthesizers, cinematic vocals and cyberpunk values, exploding from the front cover of a dusty plastic VHS case which has lain forgotten since 1984.”

The other thing that it is, other than doing an amazing job of describing its own music, is create music videos with a surprisingly high production value. The majority are stop-motion clay or cartoons, but they aren’t afraid of combining live action in their videos as well.

The fact that they have over 75,000 YouTube subscribers with only 21 videos posted is a testament to their high-quality music and visuals.

I mentioned Gunship in my post about Ready Player One, how they did a tribute video to Art3mis and Parzival. They also like to do a lot of gory, over the top music videos. So if you like that kind of thing, it’s a lot of fun. Most of their videos also have very nice vocals, which isn’t always found in most Synthwave nowadays.

Their upcoming work includes a song called Woken Furies, labeled and inspired after one of Richard K Morgan’s books and even borrowing his voice for some of the vocals. They’ve also done songs inspired by such places as Stranger Things, wrote a song for a retro documentary called “Rise of the Synths”, and wrote other songs with names such as “Cyber City” and “Drone Racing League.”

You can read a lot more all about Gunship and their inspirations in this excellent piece by The Verge.

If you like their music, keep an eye out for their album Dark All Day coming out in October 2018.

 

 

Blame! (2017) Movie review

For a more in-depth movie review, I highly recommend Neon Dystopia’s excellent Blame! review, but in my opinion this review is best read after watching the movie, since it describes all the acts of the movie and contains a bit of broad spoilers. For a spoiler-free review with the impressions from yours truly, please read on!

Blame! is set in a dystopian future where nature is a thing of the past, and the world is now consumed by an endless stretch of metal city, going on as far as the eye can see. A small human village is the last visible remains of humanity, scouring for food and trying to survive the attacks of the city’s robotic safeguard, who see the humans as illegal residents.

In comes the character Killy, who is looking for something and decides to briefly help the humans as he continues on his quest. The rest of the movie involves the humans working with Killy and another character, Cibo, in surviving the robot world and figuring out what happened to make the world the way it is.

In the first few minutes of the movie, I was immediately reminded of scenes from the Matrix and Animatrix. The vast open industrial fields, devoid of any plant life or non-artificial life, were very similar although different. Also, the watchtowers that the humans had to hide from, felt very similar to hiding from the watchful eye of the Squids in the Matrix, and the exterminators also felt similar even though they were not airborne.

The soundtrack to this movie does little to add or enhance the movie, which seems content on delivering the story and scenes by themselves. I should also add that the soundtrack is appropriately Japanese in sound, with the dramatic vocals and Asian-sounding stringed instruments.

Where Blame! truly shines, however, are in the action scenes and the visuals of the setting. The plot runs at a steady pace with the right amount of suspense, as the viewer is constantly scared that this last vestige of humanity might be wiped out or seen by the deadly machines chasing them. It also masterfully keeps the viewer in the dark, and very little is formally explained to the viewer as they try to discover, along with the main characters of the story, how the world came to be the way it is.

The action scenes contain a bit of CGI, but are masterfully interwoven with the anime in true action-packed anime form.

I only had a couple issues with this great movie. The first, was that the dialogue felt very basic and at times outright painful with its simplicity. Killy is a master at silence, brooding, and looking cool while not caring what others think of him. The humans seem to be very simple in their thought process, and take a while to come to conclusions that the viewer may have already realized from scene to scene. This, however, is a complaint that I already have with most anime, so maybe it’s just me.

The other issue I have with the movie is that although the pacing is great in general, sometimes the movie trips on itself in situations where they are running away from a pursuing enemy in one scene, and then all of a sudden stop to have a chat in the middle of what should be a fast-paced escape. This could have been remedied by having them talk while moving, or just limiting the at times asinine dialogues they have with each other completely.

Aside from these two minor things, however, the movie is a delight for those who enjoy seeing a rich dystopian world, fast paced action, and a quick plot rich in suspense and mystery. Overall I would give it a solid 9/10.

 

Review: The Matrix Trilogy

The ones that started it all. My love and obsession for Cyberpunk began with the incredible Matrix Trilogy. But why was it so good? How did it have so much of an impact? I will be going in depth to explain my complete adoration for this trilogy, (specifically, the first two) but I am keeping all three together in this review, with an obvious 10/10. I will try to be objective, but here’s my completely biased review of The Matrix Trilogy.

The less you know about the Matrix, the better it is when you watch it, but for the sake of this review I’ll have to spoil a little. I definitely recommend watching them in order, however, as I watched Matrix Reloaded (the 2nd one) before the original Matrix and was very confused. Even watching it in order can get pretty confusing at times.

The Matrix is set in two different times: The first, which you are introduced to, is set in New York in the year 1999. The Second, which you are shown later, is set in the future in 2149. The story follows the journey of a Mr. Thomas Anderson, a software company employee by day and a black-market hacker by night. He wants to find out what The Matrix is, and soon enough he meets someone named Morpheus who is willing to give him the answer, even if it’s more than he ever expected.

Read on for spoilers of the next two movies. The next line you see will be a general review of the themes and elements of all 3 movies, without spoilers.

 

 


 

The reason why I am taking extra measures to provide a limit to the spoilers you read here is because of just how good it is for you to discover what the matrix is in the way that the movie delivers the answers. This is one of the reasons why I like this trilogy so much, especially the first and second one: they take their time in providing you the answers, and you can’t help getting pulled into the story and wanting to know what the matrix is as well, along with the main character. The story pulls you in for an incredible ride.

Mr. Anderson discovers that the Matrix is a virtual reality system that almost all humans are a part of, unwittingly, which was built by machines as a system of control so that the machines can grow and harvest humans like cattle in order to live off of their bioelectrical energy. The machines decided humans would be the best source of energy, but to keep them alive, they need to be complacent, and this is why they are all connected via wires into the Matrix, where they can live a dream world and dream life.

In this movie, Thomas Anderson, AKA Neo, must follow a preordained path of the One, which Morpheus has been told through the help of someone called the Oracle. If you’re getting lots of religious undertones here, that’s quite intentional. Most of the first movie involves Neo discovering what The Matrix is, and trying to come to terms with being The One who has to save all mankind from their slavery in the hands of the machines.

In the second movie, Neo has accepted his role as the one, and the majority of the film revolves around him getting to “the source” in order to save the last human city of Zion and complete the prophecy as foretold by the Oracle.

In the final movie, Zion is under attack by the machines, and Neo is caught in the Matrix. He must first leave the matrix, and then attempt one last effort to reach through to the machines to again save Zion from the machines. This also involves facing his arch-nemesis Smith.

 


 

 

Alright, spoilers are done! Now to talk about some of the elements that make these movies so great.

The Matrix movies are great because they appeal to a wide audience. They have a lot of action, including car chase scenes, shootouts, sword fighting, and Kung-Fu (legendary Martial Arts Choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping was hired for the action scenes. If you watch Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, or Kung-Fu Hustle, you’ll recognize his fun wire-action style). It involves a bit of romance, although the romance present in the movies are pretty limited. It involves mystery, suspense, and a lot of thriller elements regarding the almost all-powerful machines and their counterpart agents in The Matrix. But finally, there is a lot of mysticism and Philosophy interwoven in the Matrix. And this last point is ultimately why I think The Matrix stands above most other movies. If you don’t like movies that make you think and ask questions about your reality, then perhaps a brain-dead movie of gratuitous action like The Expendables might be better for you. But if you want a movie that will free and blow your mind at the same time, then the Matrix is perfect.

There are many different themes that the movies play with. Here are some of the major ones.

  1. The nature of reality.

“What is real? How do you define real? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” –Morpheus

Due to what the Matrix is, a big part of the movie revolves around what counts as reality. Some consider the Matrix as one big lie, a dream that can’t be woken up from, infringing on our basic rights of choice and free will. Others think that the Matrix is better than actual reality, and therefore that ignorance is bliss, and the Matrix is a better reality than the alternative.

Whatever you decide, it’s a fun question to ask.

2.  Fate vs. Free will.

Morpheus: Do you believe in Fate, Neo?

Neo: No.

Morpheus: Why not?

Neo: Because I don’t like the idea that I’m not in control of my life.

Are we in control of our lives, or have the decisions all been decided for us already? Because of the reliance on the Oracle to tell the humans what to do next, including the prophecy and fulfilling it, fate vs. free will has a big role in these movies. Morpheus, Neo, Agent Smith, The Oracle, The Architect, the Merovingian, these are all big characters in the movies that have their own thoughts on the subject, which they beautifully articulate in well-written dialogue pieces throughout the trilogy.

In addition to these two big themes is a lot of symbolism. You’ll notice already the heavy-laden meaning behind names such as Neo (new), the One (Anagram of Neo, relating to a messiah from multiple religious texts, in particular Christianity), and Morpheus (interpreter of dreams for the gods in Greek mythology). There’s also the crew’s ship, the Nebuchadnezzar, (the old biblical king), as well as Trinity, referring to the holy trinity and Neo’s love interest.

Another interesting thing to note is the preparation the actors had to do before even reading the script. Apparently, actors like Keanu Reeves and Lawrence Fishburne had to read three lofty texts: Evolutionary Psychology, Simulation and Simulacra (Modern French Philosophy on the nature of reality), and Out of Control, a predictive text on machines and control looking to the future as a cautionary tale.

Phew! So far we’ve covered the setting and basic premises of the movies, and the symbolism, philosophy, and genre-bending aspects of the movies. Now it’s time to talk about the special effects, the direction, and the soundtrack.

The special effects in 1999 were groundbreaking in and of itself. Something called “bullet time” became a household word, due to the scene where Neo is able to dodge bullets. In order to pull this off (again, this had never been done in this way before at the time), the special effects team set up a series of cameras surrounding the subject set up based on a simulation in order to take pictures in succession of something still or moving, in order to have a freeze-time or slow-motion effect while moving around the object around the same time.

Bullettime rig.jpg

This began a new method of film-making that affected TV commercials, movies, TV series, and video-games, all adopting the popular special effect. Adding onto the incredible scenes from the original Matrix movie, Matrix Reloaded added an element of fluid CGI movements in addition to the live-action actors and special effects, most notably in the scene called Burly Brawl that almost seems ripped out of an anime movie or a modern-day video game.

The incredible direction of the Wachowskis was crucial as well. Apparently they were very inspired by the bio-punk cyberpunk anime movie Akira (1988), and in fact used the anime as a way to explain their vision to Warner Brothers as a way to pitch their movie. They also hired people to draw storyboards of the scenes they had envisioned in their head, also very rich in special effects inspired from Akira or the Ghost in the Shell series. Usually a writer or director simply explains an idea with words, or maybe a few pictures. The Wachowskis had an entire comic made as a storyboard to show what they envisioned. That’s saying a lot.

Trinity Storyboard.jpg

The Warner Brothers took a gamble in funding this high-cost film, but it obviously paid off big time. The Wachowskis never thought they’d be able to make a sequel, but when they were told the producers wanted a trilogy, they decided to make Reloaded (#2) and Revolutions (#3) at the same time, both released the same year in 2003. With a budget of $63 million for the first Matrix, it raked in $463 million at the box office. The subsequent movies, Reloaded and Revolutions, cost $150 million and $110 million, and took in $742 million and $427 million, respectively.

Finally, we arrive at the soundtrack. I personally fell in love with most of the artists that collaborated on this phenomenal soundtrack, the main one being Don Davis. Davis focused on an orchestral score, classical in nature but grand as the movie deserved, for the first film. This was paired with music from other artists, such as The Prodigy, Rob Dougan, Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, and Rage Against the Machine.

The second movie, Reloaded, was able to fuse more electronic artists into the style, and less of the hard rock and punk rock artists. Don Davis also collaborated with Juno Reactor and Rob Dougan to create some great musical pieces. Another noteworthy mention is Fluke, whose song Zion (which is the last human city Neo is trying to protect) is played while the entire human collective rocks out in one last dance party the night before their battle with the machines.

There are just so many things that came together right in these movies, too many things to mention, but the incredible vision that the Wachowski brothers (now sisters) had is just mind-boggling, and I personally love the green-tinted virtual reality where anything can happen, as well as the nightmarish dystopian blue-tinted reality of Machines controlling the world and enslaving humanity. These films are simply very rich with all kinds of things.

So if you like Cyberpunk, Kung-Fu, Virtual Reality, Questioning Reality, Symbolism, Philosophy, Car chases and slow motion and Blade fights and fast-paced orchestral music with drums beating and electronic symphonies, then these films are for you. 🙂

Favorite trilogy ever. 10+/10.