1,520,000 pairs of eyes & ears…

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Infiti makes beautiful cars, but car ads, across the world, are interchangeable, predictable and patronising. I do the odd bit of brand consultancy and regularly explain this to clients, who take it on board, then carry on peddling the same bollocks. Car ads use the same words, the same gruff male voiceover, the same angles of studio car-shots placed out in the open then re-touched to buggery.

The twin peaks of my Advertising career were car ads, made at TBWA, where Elisa Arienti and I were the creatives behind ‘Inspired Light’, and ‘Chromatic.’ With a team of talented, insanely-hardworking individuals, we were able to create something iconic, and world-reaching. Across Facebook and Youtube, Inspired Light received over 300,000 views, while Chromatic is currently at about 1.22 million.

“Inspired Performance” was our brief, and after the success of Inspired Light, we pursued a route that would fuse design, music and animation, where the cars were not simply instruments, but made up a new kind of audio-visual fabric, one that would ebb and flow into new characteristics. We wanted to achieve a collaboration that would beautifully mess with your mind. A slow, electronic acid trip that was Suitable-For-Work. And if we could apply Chromatic to a 3D projection experience, I’m pretty sure I’d implode.

Cars have made music before. Honda’s Cog, Volkswagen’s choir. it’s hard to make something listenable, but not new. Our client Francesca Ciaudano bravely took the gamble with the three opinionated ladies sitting opposite her in the conference room again, and it paid off. Two Italians, two Egyptians and an opinionated brit sat down and figured out how to make this work, and then to recruit a German and Australian to make some magic.

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There’s something to be said here for the fact that beside the composer and motion-designer, the team was all female. It’s no secret in the Business world, and particularly Ad-Land, that while men are very good at talking the talk, and ‘bigging up’ their part in proceedings, women tend to get their heads down and get on with it. It’s why Sheryl Sandberg needed to write “Lean In”. It’s why you don’t get many female Creative Directors, and it’s why for the past two years I’ve been working on a book aimed at women from 16 – 25 called “Big Up Yourself” (- watch this space). It’s also why we were able to roll up our sleeves and make this happen, among ourselves, without two many cooks filling the pot with egos.

It’s rare that big brands root global projects in the creativity of this region; this ’emerging market’ that is both evolved and incredibly complex in beautifully segmented ways. Once we’d figured out how to describe what we intended to do, (and storyboarding what was essentially a moving abstract piece, reacting to sound was an absolute nightmare), we set about finding the right people for it. UAE-based producer Megadon Betamax created a dance track in his own distinct style, entirely from scratch, from the sounds of the cars of the Infiniti range. We knew he could compose it, and make it listenable. It was hard, and he was inspired in his process of collecting the sounds just as much as composing them together, but as a classically-trained musician and just as passionate as we were, he was our man.

Motion Designer Misha Shyukin, who had recently created visuals for Amon Tobin, was the perfect candidate to task with creating a hyper-responsive video to articulate this sound literally, and unpredictably. Take a glimpse at the visuals on his site and you’ll see this was a brief he eats for breakfast. His task was to route the visuals entirely on arabesque patterns of Islamic Art, in monochrome, because, you know, Chrome-atic. (See what we did there… but also – Monochrome always looks badass). The results were a feat of design that, if you pause at any point in the video, gives you a stunning composition worthy of a framed poster. And Shyukin’s skills are made even clearer in black and white.

I recently watched Chromatic in an office playing ‘Billy Jean’ simultaneously – and they worked beautifully to that too…

When we first heard the finished music our hearts were pumping. When we first saw the visuals we felt shivers.

Chromatic is one of the most precious projects I’ve ever been part of. It’s also the reason I left Advertising for Art – because if something as tangible as this; a long-running, arresting visual that now has paid-ads by other car-brands appearing before it when viewed on Youtube…  that gets over a million views, not by being sponsored but by being beautiful, can barely make a ripple within the very agency that created it, or by the right applications within the awards industry, (going in for packaging design, which, I’ll admit, was done beautiful too) this was not the Industry for me. The MD never once asked about the project.

While sounding like another in the army of jaded creatives that exit agency life with a bitter taste, it’s hard to understand or feel part of an industry that rewards posters stuck up a month before award season, seen by 25 people, with an expensive video to boot, and overlooks a multi-disciplinary project that gave artists reign to make something new.

Sure I’m biased, but here in the Middle East is a forward-thinking brand, doing what other, bigger brands should be doing, doing what’s preached at awards/creative-events across the world – a CAR brand, enhancing experiences, attracting without invading, and inspiring, with the product still at the heart of it, without being an outright ad, with a story to it, and a conversation around it. 98982924249897.56331c1b8398c.jpg

Here’s the project on Behance. 

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Dirty Laundry

I’ve not written for a while. It’s been a shitty year. Not shitty in the grander scale of things –compared to the year of a close friend battling cancer and divorce with bravery and humour, or the friend whose abusive marriage ended, coming to terms with how much of herself she almost lost, with creativity and hard work. “Shitty” doesn’t describe the year’s points that ruptured the lives of a Bangladeshi Blogger or music fan in Paris. Mine was a universal problem; a simple heartbreak.

We all have them at some point, and they can leave a mark. I thought I was better, but I let mine take seven months to seep in, five to absorb, to grieve for times before the rot set in, to build again, watch it topple over and build again. The world has bigger things to deal with than my break up. This post is for me to put the whole sorry mess in a jar with a neon “Don’t you DARE do this again” label, place it on a high shelf and leave it there, and come back amd truly smash it when I’m grateful for what I have in future. This is a purge. A catharsis. A Fuck-You.

I had my heart broken before, so when I did it to someone else, I felt the sharpness of knowing exactly what I put him through. I’m grateful we’re friends again now, because I don’t think you stop loving someone, even when your lives cut different arcs.

Of course heartbreak is ripe for creativity – everyone staying at the hotel thinks they’re the only one. Beautiful songs spring out its intensity, and multi-million-selling albums say the world wants to hear. I write songs. Perhaps this time I should’ve done an Adele… But when you treat art as therapy, unless its earth-shatteringly incredible, you risk putting the audience in the position of having to verify your pain. I’ve sat through tedious acoustic gigs where the subject wasn’t able to defend their corner, while we colluded with the ‘victim’. And I didn’t want to trade emotions for Likes. So I wrote an album about Bees and Ants, made portraits of people I admired, abstracts of emotions that were positive, but still, this angry prose is about to come tumbling out of me like a lava flow at a children’s party.

In August 2014 a smiling individual (we’ll call them ‘X’) sat beside me on the sand and asked if we could spend forever together. I called my mother, then wore a diamond for 13 months. I’d spent at least 12 years in relationships before this one, and am still in touch with each of them. I felt the gleam we had now was more than enough for the rest of our lives, enough to throw an engagement bash for 300 people on our roof, sponsored by two drinks brands, and we were blithely happy.

There were warning signs, and I trundled through them gleefully in the passenger seat. In month one, X said, “You’ll have to get used to the kind of attention I get when we’re out”. I laughed it off – I’ve never been the jealous sort, and somehow my blindness stopped me laughing at a ridiculous phrase. Friends smiled, and stayed quiet.

I shrugged off Promo girls holding a little too tight for photos, or messaging later in the night. I vilified the ex who spent six months talking to my partner every day, who glanced at me with a sadness I didn’t try to comprehend. I placed blame on the others, like a daytime chatshow host would have us do, when two girls are goaded on while the man-in-the-middle slouches, shrugs and smirks at the audience and the cameras.

Together, we gorged on Netflix, held one another close, wrote notes on the mirror and grew into habits: a shared love of good music, presents for no occasion, foot-rubs, weekends away, the odd headshave. We cooked each other meals, shared laundry, chores, opinions and dreams.

Then mirror notes became motivational quotes not for at me. Cuddles in one arm, Facebook in the other. Presents became IOU-concert tickets that never materialised. Meals I made were never right, and stopped being made. Decisions started with a choice from what my partner was willing to do, and I carried on hanging soggy pants on the balcony.

Then bigger questions loomed, like children. My fiancé wanted me to have our babies, and talked about it often, but there were Pinterest boards with bespectacled toddlers in bowties, tweed or mohawks, and not a blonde hair in sight. I pictured barefooted smiles, muddy hands and messy hair. We argued hypothetically about fundamentals – I  felt it was unfair to think it was fine to love your children more than the partner you have them with – that creating a family meant not having children as extensions of yourself, or clothes-horse insurance policies to love you unconditionally. I felt children are a part of forming a unit for life – in which parents are there for each other first; the rock that carries the whole thing. It’s not always possible, sure, further from it now than ever in these times of Tinder-from-the-toilet, but I was lucky enough to take that rock for granted all my life – to have two parents who were not just rocks for the three of us, but for every stray we brought home, and there were plenty.

I’m hanging out my laundry here, and playing the victim is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I struggle with voluntary or continual victims – it’s a state you’re the only one that can shake yourself out of, and my family is not brilliant at sympathy. My mother grew up tough because she had to. She was never, ever cold, but she wasn’t going to let us go soft. As a family, when our friends need us to listen, we often don’t know what to say – we want to be pragmatic, to fix, when, as a therapist will verify, often, all people want is an ear. Only now, in my thirties, I’m learning how to listen. I’m not very good.

But my family listened, and although they tried, I couldn’t see a way up or out.

X was not a villain. Just as music is both an individual meditation and a shared consciousness, so is Love. No two people experience it the same way. You might both identify with a song, or place, but you process those feelings in completely different ways. Nobody can love you the same way you love them, but they can compliment it – understand, respond, reciprocate. X did feel a version of love, but couldn’t demonstrate it in day-to-day things, express it verbally, or defend it when it got difficult. Despite sharing a bed, Whatsapp became our main means of communication, and in that, we were both guilty.

But some elements of Love are fundamental. While people often cheat on the ones they love, and can feel the full spectrum of emotions kind and unkind, Commitment is tangible. It’s bigger than a ring, status or tattoo. It’s what that ring means. It’s not a public statement, but a private, everyday process of little things securing a bigger picture, long-term. Changing loo roll, remembering to buy the juice with the bits, plucking your partner’s hairs, saying goodbye with a kiss, bringing both plates of dinner out of the kitchen, five minutes in the day. Sometimes it’s on autopilot, sometimes it’s a conscious effort – I’m an appalling timekeeper, with a hopeless memory and no organizational skills. But little things embody the base, an invisible coating over the long-term warmth, spasmodic ecstacies and voluntary dizziness.

One night we went for dinner; my partner facebooking as I looked out over the Marina. The wedding came up. “We’ve got to push it back to next year. I’ve got too many things on before then”. “That works for me, my art isn’t making much money right now..”My art was a source of uncertainty too. The roles we were used to when I was in advertising were not the same now. “I’m going to live in New York next year” … Oh. OK. I went quiet and contemplated what decisions had been made.

When we got home, my fiancé went to the shop, returned with one Cornetto, sat beside me on the couch, licking it and watching facebook videos on the smart phone. “Can I see?” “In a minute”.

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My sister listened and succeeded in snapping me out of various bouts of insecurity, reminding me of things  an outsider can, and I needed it. We drew up to-do lists, -date nights, other tactics.

But mentions of me disappeared from statuses; solo-selfies and shots of #sockgame #onpoint increased. Winks at waitresses continued, with or without me, and wet laundry was regularly left in the machine. Late nights at work became late drinks with colleagues, with the odd all nighter. I went out more, drank more,  passed out on friends’ couches more.

At the low point, I went for a drink with someone I knew was attracted to me and let him kiss me. It gave me a piece of control I hadn’t had in a while. X said it was the Equalizer – that “it takes two to break up a relationship.” And that was the biggest bullet.

Even the strongest, most equal Love can become cancerous when a poisonous helping of insecurity, or even resentment, become part of the mix. Yes, you should work to fix. Yes you should never give up without a fight. But which fight, if both parties lose? I’d never felt so lonely as I did now, and I didn’t know what I was fighting to save anymore.

I watched all of Breaking Bad, the Matrix… Towards the end, I spent a few days running after my partner across a UK music festival. Sprinting into a tent for one gig, there was no glance back for me. In that act of running after someone who didn’t care if I was there, whatever it had been, this wasn’t love.

We flew back separately for deadlines. I returned three days later, at 7am to an empty flat and unslept bed. Last night’s Facebook status described ‘sexy ladies on stage’, and without needing to discuss, the rings came off.

Days later X was sleeping with someone new. X moved out. I started a new job. Friends in Dubai, Birmingham, Berlin and New York felt closer than ever. I got addicted to getting my hair done every week and dated a few smart, creative folks I now call friends. One almost got under my skin, but recognised that the best thing he could give me was space.

I went to India to paint a school in the foothills of the Himalayas. I found I could still feel sexy, and that it’s determined by the emotional state you radiate. I posed for a shoot, and a brilliant wordsmith wrote a few rhymes about me I’ll always treasure.

I was on track, but rumours of indiscretions kept trickling back. Five weeks into the reconstruction, X tried to address a few stories, but also suggested we give it another go, apologizing for throwing us away. Despite my friends’ loud warnings, I would find that ‘closure’ concept that is absolute bollocks.  There was a second overlap of the same three people in a different direction, and the complacency for this new partner, this innocent party, showed me what a terrible judge of character I had been all along.

Then I got angry, and the real break up began. I wanted to broadcast to the world the kind of person X is, but everyone knew. I got angry when others thought it would help to show me conversations, winks and asides I missed, names of girls I’d never met who knew all about me. And I was angry that I still wanted to know. And when I admitted ‘I’ll never forgive you’, a barrage of elated selfies and #myview tags filled the iPhones of our circle.

When we met after the first wave of revelations, I acknowledged my discoveries with a barrage of drunken swearing. I got the same smirk of the Middle-Man on the chatshow.

People fall in and out of love all the time. Relationships end, people move on. Thankfully this was never a marriage, and no children involved. And it’s boring being angry. It’s poisonous to nobody but the person that chooses to be. It’s a process, and I have to own my mistakes. I can laugh now when friends shout “Maddy! Don’t marry a haircut!” But there’s a cynicism that wasn’t there before. I don’t want to give myself away like that again, not unless it’s reciprocated.

I’ve learned that being by myself is good. That there’s an art to Solitude, and being comfortable in your soul. It’s different to being alone – and it’s good for you, to take time to understand what you’re about.

I’ll still be a golden retriever. I still have an innate capacity for joy that’s loud, bright and easily shared. I want to write, paint, sing, laugh and drink with good friends; and I do. I want to feel intense highs and lows that are mine. I don’t owe anyone anything, but I’ll take care of the folks who care about me, because they are the treasured, most precious things I have in the world. I’m getting back to being my noisy, flippant, huggy, eccentric, spontaneous self, and I’ll stay passionate and able to grab what I can now and whatever’s next.

An article on NPD as a growing phenomenon

 


Remember Tibet?

This isn’t normally a political blog.. but after spending Christmas in Northern India, there’s always room for a story of substance. Tibet has been ruled from Beijing since 1950, when China says it “peacefully liberated” the isolated plateau region. More than 2.5 million Tibetans have been ‘relocated’ within China in the last 10 years as well as hundreds of thousands of nomadic herders on the eastern plateau region.

At least 220 Tibetans have committed acts of self-immolation since 2009 in protest. China denies that its rule over ‘the Tibet Autonomous Region’ is repressive; that it has brought prosperity to an impoverished area, and that its relocation policy creates economic improvement.

Amid rampant mining and river-damming, Tibetan culture and traditions are linked intrinsically to the land that has been have farmed and revered for millennia. Wild horses are deities, neighbouring valleys have completely different dress and hair styles, and hairy hermits in caves become inspired legends. During our trip to Dharmsala in December, Fathima Mohiuddin and I were able to see a slice of that culture, where the Dalai Lama and over 70,000 Tibetans live in exile. Beijing regards the Dalai Lama as a radical separatist and is highly sensitive to any perceived endorsement of the Buddhist leader. A May 2012 meeting between British Prime Minister David Cameron and the Dalai Lama resulted in a 14-month diplomatic “freeze” until normal contacts (and extensive contracts) were signed and sealed.

The Dalai Lama denies he is seeking an independent Tibet. He’s not the only one. He says he wants greater autonomy for his homeland. There’s a lot going on in the world right now, and many more millions displaced… but it beggars belief that the world can ‘forget’, or look away, when a country helps itself to the historic territory of a neighbour. As an Englishman I’m not one to talk about carving up other people’s territory, and the International Community seems to have already started to accept what’s happening in Ukraine. Another Bleeding-heart-liberal Facebook status won’t make a lot of change, but this 16 year old serves as a reminder that a beautiful nation, and its millions, are still bleeding, and while China wants us to forget, and forcibly stops Tibetans fleeing to Nepal, diplomatic pressure is still a possible solution.

 

 

Here are a few links with more info, and I’m on the hunt for something substantial that lets us do more than simply point fingers…

The Tibet Post 

Human Rights Watch