Swedish DJ bridges gap between global EDM and American popular music

Swedish DJ Avicii burst upon the music scene in 2011 with his breakout single Levels but it was this past summer that the musician took the world by storm with the lead single Wake Me Up from his debut album True, which was released on September 13, 2013.

Avicii_@_London_tentparty_(cropped)Many Electronic Dance Music (EDM) fans were skeptical when Avicii brought out a band equipped guitars, banjos and other instruments to perform Wake Me Up for the first time in front of thousands at the 2013 ULTRA Music Festival in Miami. EDM artists rarely use actual instruments in their performances so you can understand why people were confused when Avicii brought a band onstage.

The song, featuring a guitar strumming over a pulsating EDM beat with soul singer Aloe Blacc singing along ventured into new territory for the European-centric EDM community.  By incorporating Americana in the form of soul singers and a beat reminiscent of country music, Avicii was able to bridge the gap between global EDM and American popular music.

It was because of this smart combination that the song spread like wildfire once it was shared to mainstream radio stations across the United States on June 17th (the song peaked at 2 on the Billboard Hot 100).

Once his album was released, it became clear that Wake Me Up was not just an experiment, but a trend. Over the course of the 12 track album the Swedish DJ gracefully walks the line between EDM and other more ‘traditional’ music styles. By incorporating American sound with European style, Avicii has given EDM soul.

 

Racial conversation reignited following incidents

What do an NBA owner and a banana have in common?

Unfortunately, this is not some riddle. Unfortunately, incidents involving both have brought the state of race relations back to the forefront of human consciousness on both sides of the Atlantic decades after racism was said to be dead.

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The Clippers protest the comments made by their owner by throwing their warm up jerseys in center court in the pregame warm ups of their first round playoff game against the Golden State Warriors. Photo by Jose Carlos Fajardo.

On this side of the pond, recordings of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling making racist remarks emerged. Outrage ensued. Companies suspended and canceled sponsorships with the team; players warmed up with their practice jersey’s inside out–concealing the logo of the team whose owner not only insulted his players but also a nation and world that believed days of racism and prejudice were long gone.

Unfortunately, again, another incident the same weekend in Spain indicates that modern day racism is not isolated to the United States.  In Saturday’s match against Villareal, FC Barcelona’s Dani Alves, a Brazilian native, had a banana thrown at him in the middle of the match.

The near simultaneous occurrence of both incidents highlights the state of racial relations in the Western world. As an issue mostly spoken about in the past tense, these incidents indicates that racism is still very much a modern day issue. Institutionalized segregation and racism may be over, but occurrences like these show that deep-seeded prejudice and ignorance still exist in 2014.   While NBA commissioner Adam Silver acted swiftly and sharply by banning Sterling from the league for life, the response to the banana throwing incident and other recent incidents has lead to sharp criticism of those that govern the world’s most popular sport.

Alves, the player involved in the latest banana throwing incident called on FIFA be more proactive in combating racism in soccer. Although FIFA sent a strong message to youth development programs by punishing FC Barcelona for illegal players, Alves believes that FIFA needs to concentrate on more important things than the happenings at La Masia (FC Barcelona’s youth academy). “[FIFA] needs to give their attention to more serious things,” Alves said.

Although FIFA President Joseph Blatter tweeted his support of Silver’s decision, many in Europe (Alves included) are calling on him to do more to combat racism that has plagued leagues for decades.

 

One of Blatter’s harshest critics is retired British NBA player John Amaechi, who believes the punishments enacted by the NBA will translate to more “pretty posters” by FIFA instead of substantive action taken to combat racism in Europe.

In America, a long and sometimes ugly history with race relations lead to decisive and meaningful action in a league where a majority of its players are African-American. On the other hand, if the past is any indication, European soccer officials will continue to wait for the next banana peel to slip on.

 

 

 

Catalonia’s Treasured Peak

“Welcome to Montserrat– the closest place to heaven on Earth.”

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The view of Montserrat abbey and surrounding village from the bus station. The monastery and surrounding village has existed since 1025.

Nestled 30 miles west of Barcelona, Spain on a mountain that bears the same name, the monastery and shrine at Montserrat holds religious importance for the thousands of pilgrims and captures the imagination of the millions of visitors that come to the top of the mountain yearly to take in its breathtaking views and rare sights.

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The valley sitting 4,055 feet below the mountain peak. The mountain the monastery takes its name from was Spain’s first national park.

As the sight of the Black Madonna and a rumored location of the Holy Grail, the spiritual significance of this little mountaintop abbey is felt as soon as you step off the bus. Being one of the tallest peaks in Catalonia, and home to these historic artifacts lends Montserrat the nickname of “the closest place to heaven on Earth.” You can see a symbol of this nickname in the photo above with the stairway to heaven overlooking the valley.

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The monastery’s remote location made it a hiding ground for Spain’s intellectuals and youth during the rule of fascist dictator Francisco Franco.

In order to reach the Basilica where you can see the holy artifacts, visitors are required to maneuver through narrow alleyways that are characteristic of so many towns in Europe. However, the backdrop of mountain peaks makes for a trek that is not soon forgotten.  Vendors line the sides of the streets, selling their handmade products and the fruits of their labor. You can sense and appreciate the gifts and livelihood that Montserrat provides for the locals of the mountain villages.

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Four trees that sit in front of the entrance to the basilica and the Black Madonna. Planted centuries ago, the trees represent four key aspects of the Catholic faith.

Before entering the Basilica, four different trees that hold symbolic meaning for both the monastery and Christianity stand in view of visitors.  The palm stands for martyrdom, the cypress for eternal life, the olive for peace, and the laurel for victory.

While Barcelona may get the most attention in Catalonia, it is the tiny monastery and village of Montserrat that is the most poignant and enchanting. After a visit to that mountaintop, it is impossible not to take a little bit of heaven back down to Earth with you.

 

Instagram brings the world to Crimea

The rise of smartphones and photo-sharing apps such as Instagram has allowed citizens in the crossfire of the evolving political and military crisis in the Ukraine to share the conflict with the rest of the world.

Just as the Crimean War in the 1850s is heralded as the birthplace of war photography, the crisis unfolding on the same peninsula today is birthing another new kind of photography: social war photography. As the Ukrainian Revolution and subsequent Russian military occupation in Crimea unfolded, residents took to the streets, and their phones, to share the conflict taking shape around them.

Top: Instagram user Edouphoto documents a Pro-Russian protest taking place in Lenin Square in Simferpol on March 9th.

Bottom: Instagram user Raulgallegobellan takes a photo of a Russian solider standing guard in front of the Crimean Parliament building on March 6th.

Traditional media took notice of this new phenomenon for the first time on March 2nd, when the British newspaper Daily Mail published an article documenting the large amount of images, specifically selfies, emerging from the conflict zone on Instagram. The paper described the act of people taking selfies with Russian soldiers in the Crimea as “shocking”. Even Buzzfeed didn’t seem entirely sold on the idea. Twitter users also chimed in on the phenomenon.

However, the images coming out of the Crimea gives us a perspective on conflict that has seldom been seen before. Instead of relying on images from professional photographers, for the first time, those living in the middle of the conflict can widely share their experiences and perspectives. The Atlantic defends the socialization of war photography in a recent article. They compare the photos on Instagram today to the controversy in the 1850s, when photographers and cameras descended upon the Crimean Peninsula to document, and share, war to those away from the conflict for the first time.

The Crimean War was the first conflict to be extensively documented on camera. For the first time, people away from the frontline could view the destruction taking place.

The Crimean War was the first conflict to be extensively documented on camera. For the first time, people away from the frontline could view the destruction taking place.

The photos that are emerging show us that despite the complexity of the conflict in the news, the situation on the ground in Crimea may be even more complex than we originally thought. The rise of social media has taught us that conflict isn’t black and white after all, but rather consists of 20 filters instead.

 

 

A Change Brewing?

Tea is as synonymous with the United Kingdom as the Queen of England herself. However, new figures show that Britain’s love affair with tea may soon be going the way of the dinosaur. Every year since 2011, the amount of tea sold in British supermarkets has declined. Not only has it declined, but the amount of decline has roughly doubled every year. The amount of tea sold in 2013 was down over 6% compared to 2012.

Closing the gap. Google searches for coffee (blue) in the United Kindgom have grown to match searches for tea over the past 7 years.

Closing the gap. Google searches for coffee (blue) in the United Kindgom have grown to rival searches for tea over the past 7 years.

At first glance, it would seem crazy that Britain could turn its back on its most prized export. After all, in 1773 Boston patriots organized the Boston Tea Party and not the Boston Coffee Party. But this is 2014, not 1773. The worldwide expansion of American fast food chains (I’m looking at you, Starbucks) as well as a global society that’s increasingly always on the go has caused a sea change in British caffeine consumption habits.

Starbucks is fueling Britain's growing love for a cup of joe. The company now has over 730 stores and 12,000 employees since opening the first British cafe in 1998.

Starbucks is fueling Britain’s growing love for a cup of joe. The company now has over 730 stores and 12,000 employees since opening their first British cafe in 1998.

As tea sales have plunged at the supermarket and tea rooms, coffee sales have increased at a proportional rate in general and at a nearly exponential rate in public. The change is most dramatic on Britain high streets, where coffee sales hit the £1 billion mark in 2013 compared to only £480 million for tea. In fact, the coffee sector in the United Kingdom is growing at a rate 7 to 8 times faster than the British economy itself.

This news hasn’t gone over well with at least one person in the UK’s blogosphere. Emma Sturgess, in the Word of Mouth blog with The Guardian stated that it was “hard to swallow” Britain’s growing love for coffee.

The Americans may have had a big hand in introducing espresso to the Brits, but it is now a new wave of British entrepreneurs that are cultivating a distinctly British coffee culture. In much the same manner that happened in the United States in the 2000s, independent cafes are popping up all over the country. Not only do Brits want coffee. They want good coffee that’s just as meticulously prepared for them as their beloved tea. Urban blogger Peter Thomson has taken advantage of Britain’s growing coffee scene as a way to explore new parts of London. Other coffee aficionados have turned into teachers as interest in the art of making a latte has grown.

Perhaps Britain’s growing love affair with coffee is the final revenge of the Boston revolutionaries that gathered at the Old South Meeting House and planned the Boston Tea Party. One thing that is certain, however, is that the interconnectivity of today’s world will continue to alter traditional cultural values and tastes. We are becoming one giant, global melting pot.

A Tale of One City

Once written about in “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens, a globalizing world is causing the futures of London and Paris to become increasingly intertwined.

Despite being separated by the English Channel, the relative proximity of London and Paris have great implications in the new global economy.

Despite being separated by the English Channel, the relative proximity of London and Paris has great implications in the new global economy.

As the reality that a shrinking world requires cooperation on larger scales than in the past, recent comments showcase the persistence of an archaic mentality. Recently during a speech in January 2014, Anne Hidalgo, deputy mayor of Paris and a leading candidate to be the next mayor of Paris, claimed that the city of London was a suburb of the much nicer Paris. Hidalgo stated that Paris was cleaner, safer, more business friendly, better for families and attracted more visitors than its’ counterpart across the English Channel. These comments sparked outrage in London, where mayor Boris Johnson issued a harsh criticism of the the candidate’s comments and claimed that it was London, not Paris, that was the better city.

 

 


The comments and resulting feud highlights remaining parochialism in Western Europe from a non-globalized era. In an ever shrinking world, where record number of people commute and travel back and forth between the two cities in a trip that takes less than two hours, the short distance between two of the world’s great cities presents great opportunity in a globalized world.

In a world where communication is instant and distance means very little, London and Paris’ closeness allows for collaboration on an unprecedented scale. A sharing of ideas, human capital and money between the two great historic cities could spur innovation and development on both sides of the channel that would position the these two cities for continued success.