The death of Lil Peep: how the US prescription drug epidemic is changing hip-hop

This week, rapper Lil Peep died of a suspected overdose. Hip-hop has always been open about recreational drug use but how did constant references to depression and prescription painkillers move into the mainstream?

Pop a Perky just to start up / Pop two cups of purple just to warm up Quavos lyrics swim through the slow, narcotised production of Slippery, a track by rap trio Migos that has become one of the genres biggest hits of the year with nearly 150m views on YouTube. For the uninitiated, Perky is Percocet, a painkiller made up of paracetamol and the opioid oxycodone; purple is a drink made from codeine-based cough syrup. Quavos drug use is as improvisatory as it is blithe, and is just one example of a rap scene where substance abuse has become normalised.

This permissiveness has claimed a talented victim in Lil Peep, a New York-born 21-year-old rapper who died this week of a suspected overdose. On his Instagram in the hours leading up to his death, he said he was taking magic mushrooms and honey (a kind of super-concentrated version of marijuana, turned into a wax); another picture sees him with an unidentified substance broken into pieces on his tongue. He is also filmed dropping bars of Xanax, the anxiety medication that has become perhaps the most fashionable drug in 2017s rap scene, into his mouth.


Why is there an opioid crisis in America?

Almost 100 people are dying every day across America from opioid overdoses more than car crashes and shootings combined. The majority of these fatalities reveal widespread addiction to powerful prescription painkillers. The crisis unfolded in the mid-90s when the US pharmaceutical industry began marketing legal narcotics, particularly OxyContin, to treat everyday pain. This slow-release opioid was vigorously promoted to doctors and, amid lax regulation and slick sales tactics, people were assured it was safe. But the drug was akin to luxury morphine, doled out like super aspirin, and highly addictive. What resulted was a commercial triumph and a public health tragedy. Belated efforts to rein in distribution fueled a resurgence of heroin and the emergence of a deadly, black market version of the synthetic opioid fentanyl. The crisis is so deep because it affects all races, regions and incomes

Lil Peep also rapped about drug-taking: I hear voices in my head, they tellin me to call it quits / I found some Xanax in my bed, I took that shit, went back to sleep; Sniffin cocaine cause I didnt have no Actavis / Smokin propane with my clique and the bad bitches; Gettin high cause my life dont mean shit to me. His vision of drug-taking was not without pleasure, but certainly a means of escape as well as straightforward hedonism a marked change in rap culture.

Three drugs are most commonly associated with hip-hop: alcohol, weed and crack. The former is often used merely as a straightforward wealth signifier: Hennessy and Courvoisier cognac, Cristal champagne, Patrn tequila and Grey Goose vodka. Blended with a gin and juice, Snoop Dogg hymned the relaxing properties of marijuana (laaaaaid back…) while Cypress Hill synthesised its paranoia with the creepy malevolence of B-Reals voice.

Crack cocaine was a different prospect: the rappers never got high on their own supply. On Clipses Grindin, Pusha T says that four and half [ounces] will get you in the game and that he is known in the neighbourhood as Mr Sniffles, but his laser-precise flow suggests sobriety and business nous. On the 2014 mega-hit Trap Queen, Fetty Wap introduces his girl to his stove hes not showing off his new Aga, but rather where they will cook crack together. The songs pop beauty conjures a couple revelling not in the drugs high, but the emancipation it gives them as a result of cash from its sale. By shamelessly leveraging the glamour of criminality, these rappers appeal to prurient middle-class audiences (including a sizeable white demographic) and by pointing a route out of poverty, they appeal to working-class ones too.

Around the turn of the century, rappers increasingly started dabbling in designer drugs, too, particularly ecstasy. Eminem recorded two songs from The Slim Shady LP while high on it, while mentor Dr Dre suggested on Bad Intentions, take an X pill, how the sex feel? A little-noted detail is that the civic euphoria of Jay-Zs Empire State of Mind is powered by the drug: MDMA got you feeling like a champion / The city never sleeps, better slip you an Ambien. Kanye West sees a whole party melting like Dali after dropping molly, raps now-favoured name for ecstasy (also namechecked by the likes of Tyga, Rick Ross, Rihanna and, infamously, Miley Cyrus). In their songs at least, there are no comedowns, only the dizzy, meaningless highs.

But at the same time, prescription drug addiction took hold of the US last year, 91 people a day died of opioid overdoses. Thanks to a robust marketing campaign, sales of the opioid painkiller OxyContin grew from $48m (36.5m) in 1996 to $1.1bn in 2000; in 2012, 282m prescriptions were made for it a bottle for every American. Its popularity has tailed off slightly, but other prescription drugs often used recreationally have joined it, arguably in part thanks to the inadvertent marketing by rappers, who have swapped uppers for downers.

Lil Pump with a drug-shaped cake. Photograph: Jerritt Clark/WireImage

The attention-deficit medicine Adderall has been rapped about by Danny Brown and sung about by Justin Bieber; as well as Migoss championing of the aforementioned Percocet, Futures Mask Off, another huge rap hit this year, has a chorus that runs Percocet, molly, Percocet.

But its Xanax the drug Lil Peep boasted about taking six of in a video hours before his death that has become the most prevalent. Each pill is an oblong divided into five chunks, with X A N A X imprinted on each; as a design it has real visual impact that enhances its appeal. A$AP Mob-affiliated DJ crew Cozy Boys were formerly known as Blackout Boys, and used Xanax bars as their logo; current hot property Lil Pump celebrated getting a million Instagram followers with a Xanax-shaped cake. Etsy is weirdly full of Xanax jewellery. Guesting on iLoveMakonnens track Tuesday, even the clean-cut Drake admits to having Xans in an Advil bottle before swiftly reassuring us theyre just for that nights boo: I dont take them shits but you do.

Xanax now underpins an entire subgenre of rap: sometimes dubbed SoundCloud rap, as many of its progenitors upload it to that music streaming service, it is characterised by a fug-headed mumbling flow; raw, lo-fi production full of clouds of noise; and constant references to depression and prescription painkillers. Along with rappers such as Yung Lean, $uicideboy$ and Lil Xan, Lil Peep was at the heart of this scene; it has moved into the mainstream, too, with Lil Uzi Vert, whose track XO Tour Life features a couple discussing suicide. Spotify caught on, dedicating a playlist to the style called Tear Drop its top 10 is now full of Lil Peep, with a tribute reading: Gone too soon We will always remember you.

This style is also called emo, but where that word has previously been used to describe punks who analysed their own emotions with a forensic level of detail, here the emotion is underanalysed: these rappers feel bad, but theyre not sure why.

The fact that some of them are unable to verbalise what theyre feeling, leads them to fall back on rap cliches around bitches and clips, and simply compounds the overall feeling of desperation. This is an inevitable cultural byproduct of the US, where the marketplace has been allowed to triumph, and silence moral concerns about the availability of these drugs. Because theyre profitable, people are allowed to just get on with self-medicating, without trying to understand the reasons for their sadness.

But perhaps these rappers ennui goes wider than mere Xanax, and into a numbing effect of our wider culture. One of the most chilling aspects to Lil Peeps death is that his cries for help were so public, and yet went so unanswered perhaps as a result of the paradoxically distancing effect of social media. He wrote on Instagram hours before he died: I need help but not when I have my pills but thats temporary one day maybe I wont die young and Ill be happy? But were inured to see Instagram as performative, not real, and its inherently aspirational vibe along with the sheer visual noise of its scrolling feed drowns out individual torment. That Spotify named its playlist Tear Drop, selling back these artists real pain, doesnt help.

Rap has always told its drug stories in more than just its lyrics. Snoop conjured the sensuality of his own buzz through his very vocal cadence and languorous G-funk backing, as well as his words. In Houstons chopped and screwed scene, rap tracks are radically slowed down, designed to match and enhance the corporeal sluggishness that comes from drinking codeine cough syrup. And its the same with this new breed of rapper: their deadened flow and sad, anxious production replicates the anti-high of Xanax in sound. It can be hard to tell which of them are genuinely troubled and which are like the fake gangstas of the crack era trading off the glamour of drugs and pain. But the tens of millions of streams theyre getting mean it doesnt matter: their popularity shows that people are hearing their own pain, fellow participants in a culture that has been left to manage its own wellbeing.

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Coal for your ears: Joe Scarborough releasing Trump-themed Christmas EP

Don’t be jealous, but the folks at Business Insider managed to get their hands on an advance copy of Joe Scarborough’s Christmas EP, “A Very Drumpf Christmas.” If the idea of a Trump-themed Christmas EP sounds too hard to believe, understand this is Joe Scarborough we’re talking about. It’s real, and it’s bound to be spectacularly lame from early accounts.

Maxwell Tani writes:

The EP includes three songs, complete with sleigh-bell jingles, lyrics about reindeer, and a track titled “The Drumpf,” a jazzy, ballad-tempo cut seemingly indebted to “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”

“Oh you can save our Christmas from going kerplumf, from that orange creep that children call the Drumpf?” the band sings on “The Drumpf,” which also references former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci.

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John Legend: Trump is an embarrassment to the country

The music star talks about everyday racism in the US, how his wife Chrissy Teigen makes him bolder and why La La Land shouldnt be written off as a white film about jazz

On the morning of our interview, John Legend was hitting out at the president of the United States on Twitter again.

You cant be impeached if you resign first, he wrote in response to Donald Trumps latest social media missive. Just a thought.

I feel like its not super controversial, he explains that afternoon. Ithink Trump is an embarrassment to the country. And his approval rating isterrible.

Legends three-legged, rescued French bulldog, Penny, is scampering through the halls of his Los Angeles home like an asthmatic pinball, and he pauses for her to pass underfoot as he brings us two glasses of ros. He is wearing a white T-shirt and jeans and his mood is the human equivalent of the prayer-hands emoji. That seems to be his default. Its difficult to picture Legend angry or anything other than the absolute essence of calm. He doles out thoughtfully articulated thesis statements in a rhythmic murmur, perhaps best described as a mix of pillow talk and a TED talk.

Legend, 38, released his sixth album, Darkness and Light, last December, which earned praise from the Guardian for its musical weirdness and lyrical bleakness. Now he is preparing for an arena tour of Britain this autumn, where he will be joined by his 16-month-old daughter, Luna, who does not much appreciate this whole interview thing.

Da-ad! she calls from upstairs, her voice echoing into the dining room. Luna! Legend yells back, cutting himself off mid-sentence. She knows Im talking, he says.

Luna pads downstairs and joins Legend at the piano. The shelves behind him are covered in awards, including 10 Grammys and an Oscar; her onesie is covered in tiny pink owls. He runs his hands over the keys as she smashes them intermittently, pausing for me to clap, then staring back at her dad for approval. They have clearly done this before. Lunas giant brown eyes and halo of curls make frequent appearances in the feeds of Legends 7.1 million Instagram followers, as does his wife, Chrissy Teigen, a model, feminist firebrand and celebrity in her own right. (Actually, she has more than 14 million followers, but whos counting?)

Together, the two frequently peel back the curtain on their lives, from whatever movie they are watching during a night in to pointed takedowns of the US president.

Well, [Trumps] an entertainer, too, in a New York way, says Legend. When he is criticising something, he is usually projecting. So, he calls people liars because he is a liar. He talks about the entertainment business because he rose through the entertainment business. He talks about people being corrupt, because he is corrupt. He talks about people being violent because he encourages violence. So, hes usually projecting when he criticises someone. Legend and his wife are active in the resistance against Trump, ignoring fans on social media who tell them to stay in your lane.

Artists, I think, by constitution and disposition, are just more liberal than the average population. They tend to want progress and change, he says, and they also tend to have worlds that are more diverse maybe than the average person.

Time for a zoo visit! #LunasFirstTour

A post shared by John Legend (@johnlegend) on

The couple share a lot on social media, which is part 360 marketing strategy, part just their real life.

I think it would be harder if we were trying to put up some facade that wasnt real, but since who we are on social media is really natural and really a reflection of who we are in our private life in a lot of ways, I think it feels very unforced for us, he says. It feels like a natural conversation. When I talk about politics on Twitter, when I Instagram my daughter, these are just the things Im thinking about and the things I care about.

Legend and Teigen give a lot to their fans through social media, but it is also a way of controlling images of themselves. Ithink it devalues paparazzi photos when you control your own narrative, he says. I think we have enough wisdom to know when its the right time to share and when it isnt. Occasionally, well make a mistake but, generally speaking, Im happy with what weve chosen to share, and I think its generally better than the alternative of going through publicists and tabloids.

As a result, the line between Legend and Teigens private and public lives has become blurred as even the tiniest reveals on Snapchat and Instagram Legend taking off Teigens jewellery after the Grammys, Teigen posting pictures of her stretchmarks generate headlines. At this point, it is what their fans have come to expect.

It doesnt feel like its foreign to me to write a love song, Legend says. Itdoesnt feel like its foreign to me to express how I feel politically.

With his wife Chrissy Teigen. Photograph: David Livingston/Getty Images

Certainly he is open about the psychological toll of social media: Women get it much worse, he says. Because, anything you say, your looks are going to get evaluated no matter what, your right to speak is being questioned no matter what. I think the world in general is harder on women that choose to speak their mind about anything. I see it with Chrissy all the time. Its awful, but shes good at handling it. Plainly, he adores her. The couple, who married in Italy in 2013, have been together for nearly a decade, with the brief exception of one almost-breakup. I was really stressed and busy, he says. I was just like: Id just be happier single right now, and she was like: No. They were dating again less than half an hour later. She pushes me to be funnier, he says, not because shes trying to, I think its just being around her. And to be bolder.

If anything about his public perception really bothers him, its probably the love-song thing; Legend is deeply inspired by Marvin Gaye and, like his idol, has come to be attached to calling-card hits, which perhaps makehisworkseem one-dimensional.

People kind of expect a show or an album to be full of All of Mes and Ordinary Peoples, he says, referencing his biggest hits to date, But, if you come and see the show, you know its much more dynamic than that.

Legend has been making major-label records for almost 15 years now, starting with Get Lifted in 2003. Born John Stephens to a seamstress and factory worker in Ohio, Legend grew up close to the Pentecostal church. He started playing piano at age four, and began performing in services not long after. There was a brief crossover into theatre and he sang in an a cappella group at the University of Pennsylvania, where he went to college. Picture it, he says with a laugh.

Entering public high school at age 12 as a shy, previously homeschooled child meant it took Legend a while to blossom into a place where he was comfortable socially. He graduated high school two years early at age 16, and was prom king and student body president. After university, he kept singing, but his stellar grades led to a consulting job. That is, until his roommate introduced him to his producer cousin: Kanye West.

West wasnt a superstar yet this was right before he released his debut album, The College Dropout but he quickly ascended to notoriety and Legend became the first artist to sign tohis label, Good Music.

His fame was getting to the point where everybody was looking for who the next guy out of his camp was going to be, says Legend. And it was me!

Kanye Wests 2003 performance at the Canal Room, pictured with John Legend, Mos Def, Consequence and Damon Dash among others. Photograph: Johnny Nunez/WireImage

Teigen entered the picture in 2007, when a music video director paired them on a shoot for Legends Stereo. He showed Legend a photo of this Billabong model and said he thought they might hit it off. The resulting product is a staged look at the couples first day meeting and falling in love.

It was this one-on-one video of just me and a girl, and shes my love interest in the video, Legend says, with a far-off smile. We spent the whole day dancing together, grinding together, he continues, drifting off for a moment. And,uh, we made a music video.

Fast-forward to 2017, where they have become megastars as individuals and as a couple. Legend and Teigen have a massive amount of agency in their careers, although that doesnt mean there arent compromises. As a mainstream star, Legend is well aware that a careful balance between art and commerce is crucial to his continued success. A lot of artists are rather precious when discussing this aspect of songwriting. Legend is refreshinglyfrank.

Your main work is hopefully honest and true, and something that you also believe in artistically, but you also have to sell it, he says. Everybodys level of success at managing that balance is kind of what defines you as an artist.

Darkness and Light is a more meditative spin on his comfort-food soul. It is easy listening that contemplates the paradoxes of a public identity, laced with political edge. This is my most honest and soulful work, says Legend. It feels like the most me that Ive ever been.

Performing at the 2017 Essence Festival, New Orleans. Photograph: Invision/AP/Amy Harris

One song from the album, Penthouse Floor, presents itself as a jam about finding the nights party, but then reveals itself as an examination of power and the lack of diversity in influential spaces. It makes you want to dance, while unflinchingly asking who gets a seat at the table. That said, Legend finds the representation debate to be overrated: There have been plenty of examples of black success before, he says and he makes a nuanced argument for why La La Land (in which he starred) should not be written off as a white film about jazz.

A lot of people said: Youre making a jazz film, how can you have a mostly white cast? he says. That wasnt what the film was supposed to be about. It was a movie about two artists who were in love, two artists who were trying to figure out their art and their romance at the same time. Somebody else can make another jazz film that highlights other characters, people of colour, and the black people who invented jazz. (And, by the way, he was thrilled that Moonlight won the Oscar.)

Legend doesnt see a stark separation between art and artist, but he does make specific choices about where and how to express his beliefs. Some of it Im more comfortable putting on Twitter than I am putting it in a song, he says. You know, tweeting about mass incarceration policy, that medium is different than a songwriting medium, and there are things Ill say in a tweet or in a speech that I wont say in a song.

Mass incarceration and education are Legends two major initiatives and he has two organisations that focus on reform in both areas, contributing research, raising awareness and getting involved in political races where necessary. It is fundamental to the way he sees the world. For peoples lives to really change, I think systems have to change, he says.

The rise of Trump has ushered in gruesome displays of racism in US culture, most recently at the violent rally in Charlottesville by neo-Nazis and the KKK. We know that thats evil, Legend says of the events, But its also evil that having a white-sounding name versus a black-sounding name will get you 50% more callbacks for your interviews. Its not as violent, its not as physically devastating, but it affects black people every single day.

The overarching message of love in Legends music seems inextricably linked to his ethical compassion. Cornel West said that love in the public sense is justice, he says. So, Ithink about what it means to love your neighbour, to love the people across town. To him, love in practice means caring about justice and equality. This takes on a far heavier meaning given Legends presence as a prominent black man. He feels urgency in using his platform not only to speak out but to change systems. For any black person, our story has been so much about slavery and so much about dealing with Jim Crow, and we try not to think of ourselves and our people as a problem all of the time, or as someone in struggle all of the time. But we are struggling our people in general are struggling.

His voice is a little tighter now. We are sitting in his sprawling mansion, discussing his impossibly charmed life and the injustices he not only fights, but still feels in a very real way.

I know that Im doing well and Im very fortunate, but I have family members that have been locked up. I have people who are very close to me who have been in prison for years, so I never forget who I am and where I come from, he says, pausing before this next thought. Maybe it is more of a burden being black. Even if you succeed, you still have that memory and connection to struggle, but because Im in a position of privilege now, Ive chosen to make sure that Im not the only one who succeeds.

John Legends UK tour starts on 8September

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Not so fast: Despacito singers tell Nicols Maduro to stop using remixed song

Venezuelan presidents attempt to co-opt the global hit for political purposes backfires with Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee calling the use illegal

Venezuelan president Nicols Maduros attempt to use Latin hit Despacito – which means slowly to inject some cool into his controversial new congress has backfired quickly.

Maduros unpopular leftist government on Sunday promoted a remixed version of Despacito to encourage Venezuelans to vote for the Constituent Assembly, which will have powers to rewrite the national charter and supersede other institutions.

Our call to the Constituent Assembly only seeks to unite the country … Despacito! goes the Socialist Party-sanctioned remix of the catchy dance song, which was played during Maduros weekly televised show.

What do you think, eh? Is this video approved? a grinning and clapping Maduro called out to the crowd, which roared back in approval.

But Puerto Rican singers Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee on Monday said they do not approve at all.

At no point was I asked, nor did I authorize, the use or the change in lyrics of Despacito for political ambitions, and much less in the middle of a deplorable situation that Venezuela, a country I love so much, is living, Fonsi said in a message posted on Twitter.

Daddy Yankee, meanwhile, posted a picture of Maduro with a big red cross over it on Instagram.

That you illegally appropriate a song (Despacito) does not compare with the crimes you commit and have committed in Venezuela. Your dictatorial regime is a joke, not only for my Venezuelan brothers, but for the entire world, he said.

With this nefarious marketing plan, you only highlight your fascist ideal.

Millions of Venezuelans have been staging months of protests against Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader narrowly elected to replace the late Hugo Chavez in 2013.

Some 100 people have died in the unrest, which has further hammered an imploding economy that is running short of food and medicine.

Critics say Maduro is trying to cement a dictatorship by pushing forward with the Constituent Assembly this Sunday. He says it is the only way to bring peace back to the convulsed nation.

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Beyond Glastonbury: why Gorillaz and Disclosure are in a field of their own

More and more musicians are throwing their own festivals is this the future of live performance or a cynical fad?

Once, musicians were just workshy, financially illiterate types who were quite happy to turn up to a festival, make their quota of onstage welly bants and head on to the next Pieminister zone. Enterprise culture was treated with suspicion. If you put on a festival, you were basically Bob Geldof. And no one wanted to be Bob Geldof. Now, though, a generation raised on startup culture this eras answer to Fairport Convention, or Peter Gabriel or whoever is curating Meltdown each year wants to lean-in at boardroom level.

Artist-curated festivals are bigger than ever. In Sussex this weekend, Disclosure and Rudimentals Wild Life punches in the upper-medium size bracket with 35,000 punters a day expected; while todays Demon Dayz festival, hosted by Gorillaz, has sold out Margates Dreamland. Then theres the xxs Night & Day, which is so popular that, having already been to London, Portugal and Germany, therell be an Icelandic edition in July.

Its an insight into the artists mind, Disclosures Guy Lawrence explains. People feel more connected to the act. Its basically the music from our iTunes. Despite what were told about the hopelessly cut-throat nature of festival economics, Wild Life has been profitable since it started in 2015. That was one of the biggest surprises, says Lawrence. Obviously, wed expected to lose money in the first year at least.

Facing the music: Disclosure. Photograph: PR

For bands, having your own festival is a chance to set the context in which youre seen (often left to chance in a field of cidered-up morons waiting for Good Charlotte). As Lawrence points out, its also an opportunity for fans to get to know you. In the language of marketing gurus, it also drives brand engagement. Just as surely as Nike Town isnt really a place to buy shoes so much as a place to imprint your brain with the memory of how awesome shoes are, festivals are a way to gather the tribe, then to help them develop a neural network of positive associations. All fine, so long as you come up with the rest of the goods. Notes Lawrence, Im sure if we were to release a dogshit album, people would have less faith in our festival.

But are these events actually fests, or just big outdoor gigs? Like Gorillazs one-off, the xxs Night & Day is effectively a headline set from the band, plus hand-picked supports. In March they ran it as seven nights at the Brixton Academy; roughly the numerical equivalent of one- and-a-half nights at the O2, but cannily dodging its sterility and corporate connotations, putting the our little thing back at the centre.

Either way, more cynical promoters are typically only a few steps behind any trend. It cant be long before the UK gets its first Fyre debacle. And when Ellie Goulding is left explaining why thousands of punters have been stranded on an airfield outside Crewe for 24 hours with only three toilets, we will see what bespoke grovelling looks like.

Wild Life is at Brighton City airport, 9-10 June; Demon Dayz is at Dreamland Margate, 10 June

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Heard it through the grapevine: can music really change the taste of wine?

The woman behind the worlds first oenesthetic wine and sound bar believes theres more to sonic seasoning than hype

Im sitting in a sterile sound-controlled basement. In front of me stand two large glasses, two bottles of vino one red, one white and a serious set of speakers.

This may not be the most conducive setting to scoff wine. But Im here for a very important scientific experiment: to find out if what we listen to affects what we taste. Or, to put it more simply, what melodies must one match with a pinot noir?

Thats a question sonic artist and wine critic Jo Burzynska has spent years exploring. This week her workshop on pairing wine and music runs at the World Science Festival Brisbane and Im getting a sneak preview.

The format goes like this: drink wine. Listen to music. Write notes. We start with total hush as a controlled taste. The main thing to do is just to pay attention, instructs Burzynska. A lot of people just drink wine and dont taste it.

After being told to slurp down my Jules Taylor sauvignon blanc noisily (a technique that fans air across the tongue, taking aromas up into your nose), I jot down some words.

First, theres silence: Floral, gooseberries, a herbal smell, musk, I consider.

Second, I listen to the chirpy, happy, upbeat Just Cant Get Enough by Nouvelle Vague: More sweetness, sherbet, less musk, go my notes.

Third, we hear the aggressive, post-punk band Skeptics and their controversial song AFFCO: Acidic, cloying, more claustrophobic ?? I query.

Finally, Lost for words, feels like an exam I scrawl.

Tasting the wines, I worry Ill get it wrong what happens if my palate isnt up to scratch? I wonder if the distinctions I have picked up are more to do with the fact that Im searching for differences, willing them into effect.

Jo Burzynska, sound artist and wine critic, believes music can change the taste of wine. Photograph: Simon Clark Photography

But Burzynska who writes her own notes simultaneously has similar experiences to me. Acidity and sweetness is associated with higher pitches; base brings out the body; and bitterness is connected with lower pitches. (Experiments done with toffee have found similar effects).

Then theres the emotional mood of the wine and the power of association. Our sav blanc is, according to Burzynska, summery, lighthearted, upbeat. Just Cant Get Enoughs carefree tone seems to speak to the grape.

This may all sound like airy-fairy gloss (with ample opportunity for brand marketing). But the last half-decade has seen an explosion in research of what is termed modulating taste or sonic seasoning.

Foodies are taking note, capitalising on a desire to surrender to their senses in the iPhone era. Heston Blumenthal was a pioneer when he first asked diners to listen to waves crashing while eating his seafood dish Sound of the Sea in the late 1990s. The single-table restaurant Ultraviolet in Shanghai uses surround sound as part of a technology-driven multisensory eating experience.

Burzynska herself set up the worlds first oenosthetic wine and sound bar in Christchurchs the Auricle Sonic Arts Gallery in 2014 (it has since closed). A soundtrack would be specifically chosen to complement the drinks on offer and if you wanted to buck the trend and get a full-bodied red anyway? It came with warning, laughs Burzynska, wagging her finger: This will not go with the music!

Jo Burzynska recording in the Cicogna vineyards on her artist residency in Irpinia, Italy. Photograph: Leandro Pisano

[Research] in the development of noninvasive brain imaging has confirmed that the senses are interconnected, says Burzynska, who is doing a PhD on the subject. Exactly why, we dont know. But Professor Charles Spence, of Oxford Universitys Crossmodal Research Laboratory, heralds sound as the forgotten flavour sense. (His work has been critiqued as atheoretical, trivial, and epiphenomenal by Neil Martin, a psychologist and a specialist in human olfaction and taste.)

Back in our closeted room, I reach for the pinot. Unable to find the perfect match, Burzynska has composed her own piece of music, Signature Pinot Noir, in partnership with Crown Range Cellar. As we both drink the liquid, resonant with hints of chocolate and black cherry, a fecundity of cello strings mixed with the silvery falsetto of birdsong washes over us.

The legato melody brings out the pinots silken texture, says Burzynska. [This wine has] some rich, sweet fruit I thought that probably needs something like a cello the timbre would go well with the body.

But it also has a really nice acidity, a freshness, and that gets picked up by high pitches. So the birds were there to pick up the acidity I have found those higher pitches can also bring out the aromatics.

She stops drinking. I think the time is right for people to reconnect with their senses. Plus, she adds with a grin, theres plenty of fun to be had.

World Science Festival Brisbane runs from 22-26 March

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Y-fronts, dog shampoo and flannel shirts: when band merch gets weird

From pooch potion to underwear from Norwegian cosmic disco producers, band merch creators have outdone themselves recently. But have things gone too far?

Once upon a time if you liked a band you braved passive aggressive record shop assistants and bought their latest 7-inch. Then came the Beatles, and all of a sudden you could buy lunch boxes, little figurines and tea towels. They kickstarted a merchandise continuum that eventually saw my little sister sleeping under a Backstreet Boys duvet cover while wearing a Take That T-shirt and waiting to be awoken by an NSync alarm clock. Pandoras box was opened, and there was nonsense, underwear and JLS condoms inside.

Bon Ivers flannel shirt

That flannel shirt. Photograph: PR

Comma enthusiasts Bon Iver have come up with the perfect gift for the bearded, introspective, deep thinker. The 22, A Million Flannel is red, long-sleeved, has buttons, and is covered in illuminati symbols, so it could also double up as a present for Dan Brown fans. Medium and large sizes are on backorder until November, while XL and XXL shirts are on backorder until 7 December, which suggests Bon Iver adherents may not be such fans of Skinny Love after all. The flannel is made of the highest quality canvas flannel and costs $75.

Big Bois dog shampoo

So fresh, so clean: Big Boi. Photograph: Publicity image from music company

Big Bois shampoo. Photograph: PR

Its actually called Big Boi and Bobbi dog shampoo, and is a collaboration between the Outkast rapper real name Antwan Andr Patton and the pet shampoo creator Bobbi Panter. The two unlikely partners came together out of a common thread love of their pets! screams the website for Big Boi and Bobbi dog shampoo.

It sort of makes sense, as Big Boi is a noted dog enthusiast who started a kennel with his brother in Atlanta, which specializes in breeding American bullies. The shampoo comes in a range of fragrances including Tough and swanky, Cool and chic and Invigorate. Insert your own So Fresh, So Clean joke here.

Killer Mikes hacked email T-shirts

Michael Killer Mike Render and Senator Bernie Sanders. Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

On Thursday Killer Mike debuted a new clothing range based on the WikiLeaks hack of Hillary Clinton campaign manager, John Podesta. Mike, a noted Bernie Sanders supporter, appears in several of Podestas emails over the course of the primary campaign. The email in question was received by Podesta on 21 February and reads: I guess Killer Mike didnt get the message. Mikes clothing shows the quote in email format on sweatshirts that are priced at $65.

The sweatshirt does not mention the context of the remark. Mike had been accused of sexism after quoting an activist who said a uterus doesnt qualify you to be president of the United States. It also does not include an attachment to that 21 February email a screengrab of a tweet from Killer Mike which read: Saying uterus = sexist, POTUS having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a young intern and trashing her after caught tho?

Todd Terjes underpants

Todd Terjes underpants from his online store. Photograph: PR

Todd Terje, aka Todd Olsen, is a Norwegian DJ, songwriter, record producer and underpant maker. Olsen Underwear, a collaboration with the Original Eskimo clothing line, are sold through Terjes website. They come in a range of bright colours, bear a little biceps motif, and promises to be a great mid-hookup conversation starter. As long as your partner likes electronic music. The briefs are 100% cotton and cost 25 ($30) for two pairs. Oh, and for the underwear completists out there, Terje also sells socks.

Rap caps

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Room for one more? Panorama festival takes a gamble in New York

The people behind Coachella are putting on a festival starring Kendrick Lamar and LCD Soundsystem. In a crowded market, is it enough to lure New Yorkers?

After months of controversy including a turf war and a petition to block it from happening, the Panorama music festival will finally debut in this weekend.

Its entrance into the New York festival scene parks its tanks firmly on the lawn of the more established festival Governors Ball, which takes place on Randalls Island each June. The prospect of a new festival entering the city caused such a stir that Governors Ball organizers started a petition to ask Mayor Bill de Blasio to deny a permit on Panoramas original location: Flushing Meadows Park in Queens.

Panorama, which is organized by AEG Live and Goldenvoice, the company behind the huge California festival Coachella, later received a permit to hold the festival on Randalls Island albeit in controversial circumstances the same place as Governors Ball.

The lineups also target a similar demographic, with Kendrick Lamar, Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem headlining Panorama, and Governors Ball boasting Kanye West, the Strokes and the Killers though West didnt play as the final day of the Governors Ball due to bad weather.

Panoramas debut in New York has raised concerns that festivals may be reaching saturation as organisers compete for the same space. It remains to be seen whether New York has the appetite for two large and similar targeted events. While festivals have grown in the US exponentially in the last decade, 2016 has seen some slowdown in ticket sales.

Panorama has not sold out but the events producer Mark Schulman said the organisers were happy with ticket sales. Were really pleased with the ticket sales for the first year, Schulman said. We have surpassed our expectation.

Paul Tollet, the promoter of AEG and Goldenvoice, told the New York Times that they were not promoting the festival aggressively in the first year.

However Larry Miller, the director of music business program at NYUs Steinhardt school said that he had noticed an increase in print and radio promotion in the week leading up to the festival, a traditional last-ditch marketing technique to boost lower than expected sales. Also, at the time of publication three-day passes were available on resale sites for $100 below face value, further indication of a lack of demand.

There is also some warning signs of a national slowdown in the festival boom America has witnessed over the past decade.

In 2014, the market was buoyant. Coachella, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza each sold to capacity, moving hundreds of thousands of tickets. Nielsen Music reported that 32 million Americans said they go to at least one US festival per year half of them being millennials, the crown jewel of marketing demographics.

However, Panorama is not the only festival to have suffered slow ticket sales in 2016. Bonnaroos sales were the lowest in the festivals 15-year history and a 46% drop from its peak.

An Eventbrite survey of festival organizers, producers and production companies found that 45% of those who hold large festivals with 50,000 or more attendees were concerned about market saturation. The growth of the number of festivals has also shrunk the pool of sponsorship money, a key factor in making festivals profitable.

Wilson believes there may be a limit on the growth potential of music festivals.

Maybe we are reaching the saturation point, certainly of the mega festivals, Wilson said. I think we are beginning to bump up against the price ceiling.

In New York, the number of small festivals has also grown dramatically over the past 10 years, in line with the national trend.

Folk and jazz festivals have existed in New York since the 1960s, including the Schaefer music festival, which ran in Central Park from 1968 to 1976 and the Kool Jazz festival, which arrived in the city from Newport in 1972. However, Governors Ball gave New York its first mega-festival when it began five-years ago and now attracts 50,000 fans each day for three days. Meanwhile the number of niche festivals such as Afropunk and the Brooklyn hip-hop festival has also grown.

Tom Russell, a partner in Founders Entertainment and founder of Governors Ball, believes there remains a demand for festivals in New York but it is not limitless.

In New York City, its [the appetite] definitely growing, Russell said. I think youll see more and more festivals pop up, but I think youll see the best of the best succeed, and remain and then youll see theres ones that just cant make it, not pan out.

Founders was previously an independent company but recently partnered with the corporate concert organszer Live Nation in order to ensure it can compete with the deep pockets of AEG Live.

Other large US cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles have several large festivals a year but Wilson explains that the New York market is difficult for several reasons. This includes real estate availability, cost of operation, and competing for peoples attention with so many offerings on any given night. Using his students as a sample, he believes that there is still a strong appetite for festivals but that at less than two months apart, Panorama may have been scheduled too close to Governors Ball.

Panoramas organizers contend that there is more than enough room for both festivals in the city. Schulman also said that he doesnt want the event which is inspired by the 1964 World Fair to be described as simply a festival. It will feature installations from local artists and several interactive exhibits as the organizers wanted to fuse the art, technology, and music landscapes of New York.

It remains to be seen if two festivals targeting the same audience on the same grounds can survive in New York City.

If theyre serious about building a lasting festival brand in New York, they need to be prepared to play a long game, Miller said. Not simply judge whether to do a second festival next year on the basis whether they made or lost money this weekend.

  • This article was amended on 21 July 2016. The director of the music business programme at NYUs Steinhardt school is Larry Miller, not Wilson.

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Sharing Your Netflix Password Could Soon Be Illegal

There are two kinds of people in this world. The kind of people who pay for Netflix, and the kind of people who are still using their ex’s account to avoid it.

Sadly, I’m in the paying group. But for those of you still lucky enough to be getting a free ride on someone else’s account (mum, I’m looking at you), doing so could soon become illegal. So you should probably start saving your pennies to start coughing up the 7 a month or whatever it is.

Three judges from the US court of appeals (AKA party poopers) have issued a ruling that sharing passwords now constitutes acriminal act under the Computer Fraud And Abuse Act (CFAA).

Basically, no passwords at all should be shared – because the person caught using it could then be considereda hacker, as giving permission doesnt legallt count as actually giving permission…. or something.

The company behind the account such as Netflix has to authorise it, according to these judges.

Forgive me if I’m wrong, but surely the fact you can have different profiles inside one account is Netflix giving permission?

Jules AKA Julia, my mother who decided to help herself to my Netflix, and give herself a weird nickname. Thanks ma!

This allstarted with acase where a guy called David Nosal, a former employee of recruitment firm Korn/Ferry, used a colleagues login details to access a work computer, despite having had his own accountrevoked. He was charged with hacking.

One judge on the case did note though that using this to set a precedent threatens to criminalize all sorts of innocuous conduct engaged in daily by ordinary citizens, according to the Guardian.

An HBO exec has made a statementsaying that accountsharing has no impact on the business and is even a terrific marketing vehicle for the next generation of viewers.

Well if you say so.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments

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The Spice Girls at 20: Women werent allowed to be like that in public

After the release of Wannabe on 8 July 1996, the Spice Girls briefly became the biggest band on the planet. So what did it mean to be a devoted fan of Ginger, Sporty, Posh and co?

Twenty years ago , on 8 July 1996, the Spice Girls released their debut single, Wannabe. Within weeks it was No 1 in 31 countries, and the five had become more than pop stars they were archetypes: Scary, Sporty, Posh, Ginger and Baby. Its hard to imagine the 1990s now without the Spice Girls, and even harder to remember what kind of role models tweenage girls had before the band came along and mesmerised 10-year-olds the world over with their entry-level feminism, packaged under the name Girl Power.

Girl Power a term repurposed by Geri Halliwell after she spotted it on the cover of an album by the pop duo Shampoo was from the start a fan-based movement, and many of the fans were extraordinarily young. It wasnt unusual to find toddlers piping: Ill tell you what I want, what I really, really want and what they really wanted was to be part of the group. Failing that, they spent their parents money on the largest range of merchandise ever endorsed by a band, from cameras to crisps, deodorant to chocolate.

Theres nothing like a fan movement led by young girls to get adults backs up, and in this case the mercenary tone of it all riled them as much as the music. Theres a sort of arrogant sexism about what preteen girls listen to, notes columnist and author Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, who was a Ginger fan. It instilled in us the importance of being girls together, but [adults] look down on what the teenyboppers are listening to.

Shes not wrong. Much of the music press hated the group; Liam Gallagher let it be known that he was prepared to chin them (their response: Come and have a go if you think youre hard enough). I even wrote in the Guardian at the time: The Girls will undoubtedly be insulted by this, but they have more in common with Big Fun a faceless boy-trio who had some feeble hitlets around 1989 than they think. Both groups have a showbiz tang to them rather than the up-from-the-streets feel that is still crucial if a band is to be taken seriously. That was me.

OK, so I was wrong. But when I wrote that, authenticity was an important consideration when weighing up a bands prospects, and to me the Spice Girls were authentic fakes. They had been assembled after answering an ad in the theatrical magazine the Stage, while the title Wannabe had been lifted from the nickname given to Madonnas followers a decade before. They seemed so contrived in fact, the planning behind the launch was virtually military-level, affirms Selina Webb, then editor of the trade magazine Music Week. They were keen to have a piece in Music Week, so Geri and Scary came up to say hello because theyd been told to. But they did it in a charming, blow-you-away sort of way. The tried and tested way of breaking a band was to get excited about the music first, but with the Spice Girls, you got excited about them as people first. And they were unstoppable. They clocked up hit after hit nine No 1 singles and three top two albums, all selling in the kind of numbers that would make modern-day label executives weep.


The fans themselves, now in their 20s and 30s, remember things a little differently. Most fans were so young that the Spice Girls were the first band they had ever liked, and what they saw was something more transformative than just Ginger and the gang coining it from merchandise. Empowerment may not have been in their vocabularies, but when they saw the Wannabe video shot in one take at Londons then-derelict Midland Grand hotel, where the Girls rampaged through the rooms, jostling old people an ember of rebellion was kindled.

Mima Chovancova, a Slovakian who is now half of the Brighton-based DJ duo Tesla Girls was six she first noticed the band. It was my way into thinking about being a girl, and why that makes me different in terms of opportunities and standards. In Slovakia we didnt have young pop stars like that at the time the stars were middle-aged men or little kids, so when the Spice Girls came, it was just so powerful and happy and diverse. Each and every one of them was different. They were all mates.

Their merchandise wasnt available in Slovakia, but Chovancovas parents ferried things back from business trips to Paris. Her collection included Baby-style platform sneakers Emma Bunton was her favourite perfume, deodorant (horrible) and the entire set of Spice dolls. But the relentless merchandising takes on a different tenor when fans talk about owning lunchboxes and perfume: it wasnt money thrown away, it was a link to the group themselves, and to Girl Power.

The Spice Girls dolls, part of a relentless marketing campaign. Photograph: Johnny Eggit/AFP/Getty Images

I was most upset, because they did Impulse body spray and Ive never smelled anything as good again, says Elle Exxe, an electropop artist who was five when the Spice Girls launched. It had an orange top and their logo with different kind of fabrics. I was fascinated by how, even though they all had different personalities, they came together and became a unique brand.

Some fans were influenced in more formative ways. You have only to read the DenDen forum, run by and for Spice fans, to glean the impact they continue to have on some admirers. Currently, theres a lively discussion about whos to blame for a much-rumoured Spice reunion falling through. Amid much toing and froing, a disconsolate individual called Mads writes: It was meant to be a happy anniversary, and now its becoming the saddest anniversary ever. Not only we dont get a reunion, but apparently some of them are having arguments because of this anniversary.

Few fans are still invested to that extent, but they acknowledge the bands importance to their adolescence. Ciara Green was a tracksuit-wearing 11-year-old on an estate in Belfast and remembers her delight at seeing Sporty in Adidas get-up. Ginger, though, spoke to her most clearly: She was loud and obnoxious, and there werent many women like that on TV. I knew to an extent that I was a lesbian but I wasnt sure I had an affiliation with loudmouthed, tomboy women, and Geri was quite loud and had the qualities associated with men. Women werent allowed to be like that in public and to see them on Live and Kicking and getting completely arseholed seemed funny and brilliant. That ladette culture they were part of helped me to accept the way I was.

Joe Parry, a music publicist in London, remembers them helping him to acknowledge he was gay. I think it was the sense that they didnt care what other people thought. When I was a kid I was quite loud, and people didnt know how to take me because I was obnoxious. But the Spice message was about access and equality and liking your mum, and all that meant something to me. I wouldnt say they implicitly helped me to come out, but the underlying message of acceptance and empowerment did help, in a way. I was a fan until the very end.

Spice Girls fans in 1998. Photograph: Christoph Ruckstuhl/AP

Many fans deserted the band before they split in 2000. Halliwell had departed acrimoniously in 1998, exposing the friendship never ends bedrock as perilously brittle. It was the worst day of journalist Tina Edwardss childhood: I burst into tears and asked my mum to tell me it wasnt true. I was bawling my eyes out all the way to school. She followed the subsequent solo careers out of habit, but felt no emotional engagement: what was broken was broken. George Pringle, now a photographer, echoes the betrayal she felt when Ginger exited. I unquestioningly loved them, but maybe their only success is that they taught us about sisterhood, she muses. It was about sisterhood, but they couldnt even get along when Geri left was when the spell evaporated.

Yet all these fans confess to still knowing the words to the songs, and see the Spice years as formative. Because it all happened before social media, which enabled girls to organise into fandoms, there are no Instagram or Vine clips documenting gaggles of girls bawling along to Wannabe outside hotels and airports, but the memories will be with them for life.

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