oh comely

Penguin Books: 80 Little Black Classics for an 80th anniversary

words Laura Maw

26th March 2015

Have you noticed those big, bold adverts of different literary quotes recently? They’re part of Penguin’s exciting new project: 80 Little Black Classics.

At just 80p a book, Penguin are launching Little Black Classics to celebrate their 80th anniversary. These mini books are a treasure trove of different authors, essays and poems, ranging from well-known writers like Jane Austen and Christina Rossetti to titles by Kenko and Shen Fu. With a strong emphasis on translation, the series has a mix of works translated from Persian, Greek, Russian, Chinese and Arabic.

Penguin are teaming up with The Book Club this Sunday to celebrate the launch of Little Black Classics. Starting at 6:30 in Shoreditch, it promises a series of playful literary challenges, from miming Dante’s Circles of Hell to reading excerpts of Tolstoy in an erotic tone. There’s no need to have read the books beforehand--just turn up and enjoy a night filled with literary-inspired cocktails, games and quizzes.

Small enough to fit in your coat pocket and an excellent companion for a lunch break, Penguin’s mini books are perfect for discovering your new literary favourites.

Tickets are £5 and available here. 

An Interview with Petite Meller

words Linnea Enstrom

25th March 2015

New French act Petite Meller makes eccentric pop influenced by jazz and psychoanalytic ideas of the libidinal subconscious. In one video, she clings childlike to the chest of a man who carries her to the suburbs and rooftops of New York, whilst another explores her childhood fantasies in the south of France, wearing a baby’s hat. In the video for upcoming single Baby Love, she goes to Kenya and discovers a choir of schoolgirls, singing and dancing and kicking up dust in the sand.

But her videos aren’t just dreamy and cute. Using an aesthetic language of pastel colours, quirky fashion choices and odd symbolic imagery, they fall somewhere between an American Apparel shoot (the brand’s photographer Napoleon Habeica works with Petite) and plain awkwardness. Are the trips to Kenya and New York artistically rooted in the influence of African music and jazz on Petite’s sound, or do they exoticise and make symbols out of Africans and African Americans? I’m also torn between disregarding the close-ups of Petite’s body as simply objectifying and admiring her playful use of philosophical frameworks to emphasise sexual agency.

However you choose to read her work, there’s an undeniable exuberance to her music. We asked her about the meaning behind some of her songs.

How have you worked out the cornerstones of your sound?

I wrote Baby Love with Swedish producer Jocke Åhlund. When we were in his studio in Stockholm, I asked him if I could beatbox since I didn’t like the programmed drums. When he turned on the mic, African rhythms came out of me. Then we added bongos and the sax, my jazz inspiration. The humming melody is a very French chansonnier melody.

I pour all my childhood sounds into my music. When I was little, I used to listen to Dizzie Gillespie and Duke Ellington records until I fell asleep on the floor covered in them. Everyone was listening to funny French disco and my mum was always into heavy poetic chansons written by Baudelaire and Sartre. For me, music will always be a combination of those two genres. That’s why I call my genre “mon nouveau jazzy pop”.

Where does your fascination with childhood, the subconscious and sexuality stem from?

I’m doing my Philosophy MA at the moment, focusing on psychoanalysis. I have always been attracted to Freud, Lacan and Deleuze, but also Shakespeare and Kant. They all deal with dreams and the unconscious mind. For Freud, dreams are based on a childhood memories that wear different costumes every night. In my Backpack video, I show scenes from my childhood, discovering sexuality for the first time through a physic game and while walking alone in the open fields and feeling pleasure for the first time. Those little discoveries of life are what I want to show in my videos.

There is a line in Backpack that goes “I can finally think of time physically”. What do you mean by that?

The water ski scene in Backpack is the free feeling of acknowledging that things are falling into their place. That's how I feel now, growing up and realising the things that used to hold me back are all there for the sake of making me who I am.

What can you tell us about Baby Love?

Baby Love is an example of pleasure coming out of pain, which is basically the Lacanian meaning of the word 'jouissance’. It's about a broken heart and a hysterical woman dancing the pain away. I felt really connected to the story of the schoolgirls in Nigeria who were kidnapped. I can’t forget how they used to have a normal lives with dreams, style and broken hearts. At the same time, I was searching for a fashionable African film, but only found traditional ones. I wanted to show a more real reality. When I got to Nairobi, I saw Hadija sitting on the porch in a slum crossroad. She told me about her dream to be an actress and she had the perfect strong and ambitious character. I follow her in the video, where she uplifts me from my sorrows and directs me to the schoolgirls. With their joyful beat and rhythm, they exemplify the essence of life.

You often create abstract dream worlds in your videos. Do you ever feel detached from the surrounding world?

I'm just creating realities that for me are more real and more close and honest to the unrepressed content that persists in our minds. Bringing libidinal unconscious dreams into reality is what fascinates me. The fantasies become reality. Like in dreams, I see my life like chance encounters. It's about being open for it and accepting it when it come. That's how I've met my directors, manager and the cast for all my videos.

Photo by Mafalda Silva.

An Interview with Roger Nsengiyumva on His New Film 'Sixteen'

words Corinna Parker

24th March 2015

With Sixteen, writer-director Rob Brown brings kitchen sink drama to the 21st century and gives it an urban thriller twist. On an estate in East London, Jumah, a former African child soldier, is forced to face up to the violence both in his past and in the present. Days before his sixteenth birthday he witnesses a stabbing, and has to decide whether to speak up to the ones he loves or stay silent.

Roger Jean Nsengiyumva plays the lead, Jumah, with a poignancy and ease that gives Sixteen its powerful emotional essence.  We spoke to Roger about approaching traumatic story-lines as an actor, how he stayed in character and why he will always dream big.

What attracted you to this role? I was impressed by Rob’s sensitivity towards Jumah’s story. You have to be careful with stories like these because they are still going on. There are eight year old kids being abducted right now and taken to fight in the jungles in the Democratic Republic of Congo. You have to approach the topic with empathy. Rob had that in person and it was in the script as well.

How did you try to relate to Jumah’s story? It was all through research and reading, and through Emmanuel Jal’s book, War Child: A Child Soldier's Story. I tried to understand the emotions that one goes through in a traumatic experience. One of the things that Emmanuel Jal had to do in the desert, when he was out there for god knows how long, was drink his own piss. That was the only form of liquid that didn’t have loads of diseases in it. That really stayed with me.

How did Rob Brown direct you, and what was your relationship with him like during filming? It was Rob’s first feature and he approached it with such an air of cool. He has a really nice method of asking you what you think your character would do. He was protective of the script but also very much up for asking what creative ideas you had. He made sure you understood the character and what was happening in the story.

Jumah’s silence is very significant in the film. Did you struggle at all with the lack of dialogue? No, I loved it! I get some scripts and screenplays and think they are saying too much or too little. For this one, it was almost perfect, how beautifully it aligned with the music and the atmosphere around Jumah. I’m not going to say it was easy, because it wasn’t. But it was really refreshing.

How was the filming of Sixteen different to your previous acting experience? I had to find real empathy towards portraying a character. I lived with Rachael Stirling, whose character Laura looks after Jumah, during the eighteen-day shoot and I had to stay in the character’s voice during the rehearsals. Little things like that helped me develop my understanding of film and how much preparation goes into it.

You were discovered for your first feature film, Africa United. Was acting your dream before that? I wanted to be a footballer, but I got dropped from Norwich Academy at the age of 14. I started training to join the army, and as I was training I got spotted. Since then acting and film is now pretty much my life.

You sound like a pretty driven character. I’ve always held the responsibility of looking after my mum. When she moved to England after surviving the Rwandan genocide it was just me and her. I feel as though I can’t really repay her enough for what she did for me. So I might as well give acting a shot.

Sixteen - trailer for a feature film by Rob Brown from Rob Brown Director on Vimeo.

What's next for you? This April I’m working on a big project. It’s a film I wrote about an incestuous couple who sow the seeds of a revolution. They meet at an orphanage and refuse to be adopted by different parents. We’re currently looking for a female lead. I’m going to be co-directing it and performing in it.

Which actors do you take most inspiration from? I take inspiration from any and every film. I really like the subtlety that Marlon Brando brought to film, and if we were going to go with someone recent, my favourite actor would be Tom Hardy. He’s a sort of chameleon--I like that he brings something different to every role. I’m with his agent, and I always go in and think he could have been there a couple of hours or days ago. 

Sixteen opens at the Lexi Cinema in Kensal Rise on 25th March and then in cinemas across the U.K.

Sponsored Post: Films to Catch at Cineworld

words Tamara Vos

23rd March 2015

The Oscars applauded some incredible talent, but there were several films that might have slipped your radar while the awards-buzz was going on. 

As well as screening all the classics, Cineworld show several alternative options for those of you who are after a slightly different cinema experience. As well as 3D, IMAX and DBOX viewings, Cineworld also screen Bollywood, South-Asian cinema, plays and opera, which is perfect for theatre-lovers who don't have easy access to the stage.

Here are our favourite things that screened at Cineworld which you might have missed. 

Catch Me Daddy

A young girl and her boyfriend are pursued by bounty hunters in this gritty, award-winning British chase thriller. First-time actress Sameena Jabeen Ahmed who plays the lead won Most Promising Newcomer at last year's British Independent Film Awards for her extraordinary performance.

Globe on Screen: The Duchess of Malfi

The filmed-theatre series returns to Cineworld with a dark Jacobean tragedy starring Hollywood actress Gemma Arterton, filmed entirely by candlelight. Experience the Globe like never before - from the comfort of a cinema seat rather than with leg-cramp standing in the yard! 

The Royal Ballet - Swan Lake

Love ballet, but can only ever afford the seat miles at the back right behind the marble pillar? You can now watch the finest ballet productions from the comfort of your cinema seat, such as this opulent production of Tchaikovsky's first ballet score, Swan Lake. Never again will you miss a pirouette or a pas de bourrée! 

Sponsored by Cineworld

Recipe Friday: Violet Bakery's Chocolate, Prune and Whiskey Cake

words Liz Seabrook

20th March 2015

Welcome to our third Recipe Friday! London bakers Violet​ are supplying glorious cake recipes from their new book "The Violet Bakery Cookbook" all March. And today's yummy bake is chocolate, prune and whiskey cake. Hello, weekend!

Chocolate, Prune and Whiskey cake

The recipe for this cake first appeared in the Observer Food Monthly Christmas special as my Prune and Armagnac Cake. Prunes and Armagnac are a classic French duo and their affinity with chocolate is undeniable. One summer Damian and I were staying with our friends Tim and Darina in their cottage in West Cork, Ireland and I decided to make this cake. There was no Armagnac in the kitchen, but there was some Irish whiskey. It was just the working man’s whiskey, nothing too fine or peaty. The result was gooey, chocolatey, boozy and sticky; it’s more of a pudding than a cake. This makes one 20-23cm cake, which serves 6–8.

125g prunes
40ml Irish whiskey
240g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), chopped into small pieces
200g unsalted butter
5 eggs, separated
100g caster sugar
¼ teaspoon sea salt
150g almonds, ground
butter, for greasing the tin

One. Soak the prunes in the whiskey. If you can do this the night before, all the better.

Two. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C (fan)/gas 4. Butter a 20–23cm cake tin and line with baking paper.

Three. Put the dark chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and place over a pan of barely simmering water. Make sure the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl or it may spoil the chocolate. Stir occasionally to emulsify the butter and chocolate. Once the chocolate has melted, take the pan off the heat to cool slightly but keep away from any draughts.

Four. Put the whites and yolks into two separate bowls and, starting with the yolks, add half of the caster sugar and whisk to thicken. Fold the thickened yolks into the melted chocolate, and set aside. Chop the prunesinto eighths and add to the yolks along with the ground almonds.

Five. Beat the egg whites with the remaining caster sugar and the sea salt until soft peaks form. Fold into the chocolate mixture just until incorporated. Pour into the prepared cake tin and bake for 30–35 minutes. The cake will be slightly soft in the middle but do not overbake it or the gooeyness will be lost.

Six. Serve warm or at room temperature.

More Violet Bakes: Cinnamon Buns and Coffee Cardamom Walnut Cakes.

An Interview with Sonnymoon

words Linnea Enstrom

20th March 2015

Anna Wise and Dane Orr became friends when they moved into the same flat and spent the next few wintry weeks listening to Beatles covers. Now they make strange music under the name Sonnymoon, balancing meditative rhythms and poetic lyricism with sudden electronic bursts that disrupt any structural presumptions of how a song should unfold. It's like the creepy lullaby in The Wicker Man, but with synths and sleepy American vernacular tucked between Britt Ekland's wall beatings.

We asked Anna about their upcoming album, The Courage of Present Times, and what pop means.

What inspired the title of your album?

It takes a lot of courage to live in the present. Being human is a big job, and the world is changing so fast. We have a responsibility to be good stewards of this Earth. It's also a reference to one of our favorite poets, Walt Whitman.

Your new single Pop Music seems too subversive to be defined as pop in its original sense. What is pop to you?

Pop is music for the masses, right? A pop song is less than three minutes and has some verses, a catchy chorus, and maybe a bridge. Kurt Cobain called them radio friendly unit shifters. The music industry stamps them out like Campbell's Soup cans. Our song gives you a taste of a chorus, and then it's over. Pop Music is the Sonnymoon version of the Campbell's Soup can. It's also really fun to play live.

What's the story behind the track?

At first, Pop Music was about dream sex and admitting to yourself and your partner that neither of you are fully monogamous, since your fantasy-self is having polyamorous experiences inside your head. The meaning of the track has changed over time. Now, Pop Music is about how thoughts live outside our heads. Our thoughts are alive. They spin and interact like atoms.

What is SNS about?

SNS came from a poem of mine. It's about cycles: the cycle of the day, the seasons, the planets. I was thinking about us humans being stuck to the ground. We mostly travel in two dimensions, like little paper dolls.

How do you write songs?

I fill notebook after notebook with lyrics, diary entries, observations, theories, whatever. I do lots of free writes where I don't judge anything, I just write for ten minutes straight. I’m constantly receiving ideas, like when I'm dreaming or out biking and singing into open air. I bring a recorder along with me and pull over when inspiration arrives. I don't always have to be on the receiving end; I can retrieve ideas too. When I want a melody or a lyric, I peel back the curtain of my subconscious and reach in for the information. It's almost an out-of-body experience.

How do you push your experimentalist approach further?

I don't have a formal "approach". I do what feels natural. I don't think about song structures or push for "odd" choices. This could be explained by a lack of knowledge: I was a bad student in my academic days and prefer to follow my intuition.

Has moving from Boston to Brooklyn influenced your sound at all?

Oh yes. I live across the street from a playground. Every weekday the kids are out there screaming and being wild. I soak up the soundscape of life and am influenced by every place I go, everything I do, and everyone I meet.

Sonnymoon’s album The Courage of Present Times is out on March 25th.

An Interview with Laurence Sordello, Manager of the Curzon Bloomsbury

words Laura Maw

16th March 2015

Laurence Sordello has been the manager of the Curzon Renoir in Bloomsbury since 2011. Since June of last year, the cinema underwent refurbishment and is re-opening to the public at the end of this month as Curzon Bloomsbury, with a striking new design, six screens and a special film festival. A longstanding home for independent and arthouse film, the cinema’s new design is aptly influenced by film-makers Peter Greenaway and Andrei Tarkovsky.

We caught up with Laurence to talk about the cinema’s refurbishment, the Renoir’s giraffe skin patterned carpet and stories of its famous clientele. 

How did the refurbishment come about?

The idea was to allow the films to stay for longer, so instead of two large screens we wanted one large and five smaller screens. The biggest is called Renoir, after the cinema before, and we have the Lumiere, Minema, Phoenix, Plaza and Bertha DocHouse. Each screen is named after cinemas that have closed down in London, to preserve their memory, which I think is really sweet. In terms of technology all the screens will have the latest 4k high-definition projectors, and the Renoir will also have Dolby Atmos sound. When I was pregnant, I told the company that I’d never felt my baby kicking so much!

What are the major differences between the Renoir and the Bloomsbury?

I’d say the décor. The Bloomsbury Centre is striking in its modernist architecture, so it was pointless refurbishing the screens in a Baroque style. The architect Takero Shimazaki really preserved the minimalist concrete aesthetic in the décor – he painted most of the walls grey and kept the interior quite post-industrial and modernist. Our programming will stay exactly the same, so really the main difference is the opportunity to show more films.

Curzon Bloomsbury is opening with the Auteur Film Festival, a celebration of film directors. Could you tell me a bit more about that?

The festival will be a week-long celebration of the greatest directors’ main films. We closed the cinema with Boudu Saved From Drowning by Jean Renoir and we’re opening with another of his films, The Rules Of The Game.

Do you have any stories about different film-makers who have visited over the years?

One of the most interesting was definitely Jack Nicholson, who was filming The Passenger in the Brunswick Centre. It was before my time, but he came to have his coffee at the Renoir every morning. I don’t know if you saw the carpet at the Renoir, but it was a giraffe-skin pattern, and one day he turned up and said, “I want that carpet in my living room.” Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones used to come a lot. One day Terry Gilliam told me that he preferred my management to the “old bloke’s” and pointed at the photograph of Renoir on the wall. That was funny. Tony Benn also used to come quite often on Sundays. He would smoke his pipe outside the cinema and I'd know if he was in or not because I could smell his specific pipe smell at the bar. Mike Leigh and Ken Loach live quite locally too and sometimes I would go to work and meet them along the way at the supermarket. That was definitely something special!

What's your favourite memory from your time at the Renoir?

The screening of the French film The Artist at the Renoir was quite memorable, because it was such a feel-good movie and the atmosphere was great. But the loveliest moments are day-to-day things, like coming in and having my coffee when the cinema is empty.

The Curzon Bloomsbury is reopening to the public on the 27th March. 

Photos by Ben Fisher. 

Recipe Friday: Violet Bakery's Coffee Cardamom Walnut Cakes

words Liz Seabrook

13th March 2015

Welcome to our second Recipe Friday! This March, London bakers Violet​ are supplying a range of glorious cake recipes from their new book "The Violet Bakery Cookbook", which hit the shelves just yesterday. Today's scrumptious recipe is coffee cardamom walnut cakes. Read on, home bakers!

Violet's Coffee Cardamom Walnut Cakes

I love the English coffee walnut cake that appears on the menu of every museum café and National Trust house I visit. I’ve always loved the flavour of coffee in cakes and desserts. When I was little, my favourite ice-cream flavour was coffee and I could never say no to a coffee éclair. Adding cardamom to the sponge gives this walnut cake another depth. The three flavours marry very well. This makes twelve individual cakes.

For the sponge:
75g walnuts
210g plain flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground pink peppercorns
180g unsalted butter, softened
150g caster sugar
2 eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
210g crème fraiche
butter, for greasing the tins

For the icing:
200g icing sugar
2 tablespoons freshly brewed strong coffee or espresso

One. Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C (fan)/gas 3. Brush a 12-hole cupcake tin with butter. 

Two. First, warm the walnuts through on a baking tray in the oven. Do not toast them, you just want to bring out the fragrant oils. This should take less than 5 minutes. Let the nuts cool slightly then chop fine. Set aside. 

Three. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and spices, then whisk this mixture through the chopped nuts. Set aside.

Four. In an electric mixer, whisk the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy.

Five. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each one is fully incorporated, then add the vanilla extract. Mix in the flour and nut mixture and then the crème fraiche.

Six. Divide the batter between the 12 tins and bake for 20 minutes until the cakes spring back to the touch. Let the cakes cool in their tins for about 10 minutes, then gently pop them out (you may need to run a small paring knife around the inside of the tins to ease the cakes out). Place the cooled cakes upside down on a wire rack.

Seven. Whisk together the ingredients for the icing and spoon it over the cakes. Use the back of a spoon to gently guide it to the edges so that it willingly drips down the sides.

Read more: Cinnamon Buns by Violet