Figuring out life within the confines of being a 20-something.

Saturday, 23 February 2019. Sofar Sounds invited Selin to play an acoustic gig at someone’s house in North London. Sounds cool, we’re in. At around 18:45 we arrived at the house – it was more of a mansion – set up our gear in the living room, and then left to get some beer for the duration of the show. We walked for about five minutes to get to the nearest Waitrose. Selin texted me and asked if I can buy her some jaffa cakes. I had about three pounds on my card so I managed to buy a small bottle of water and a bag of mini jaffa cakes. Dustin and Ollie (guitarist and bassist respectively) got the beers. Good lads. Dustin handed me a beer for the walk back.

“Crouch End is a hub for independent shopping and cafe life with a plethora of vintage and second-hand boutiques and quiet residential streets lined with period property. No wonder it’s so popular with artists and their children” writes newspaper Ham&High. And that’s true. The area also looks respectful, dare I say posh or perhaps even luxurious.

Which is probably why we got surrounded by about seven black guys on our way back to the show.

It was dark and the streetlights were few and far between. No CCTV cameras, no other residents or pedestrians around. They approached us from behind, so we didn’t notice them until they blocked us off and backed us against a wall.

“Where you from?” one of them asked me. They pushed us around a bit. I didn’t answer. “Give me your phone” someone else said. They didn’t pull out any knives or weapons. So I said, “I’m not giving you my phone, dude.” Then one of them reached for my phone, which was in my jacket pocket. I pushed him away and repeated myself. I realized that they were quite young. They looked like they were between the ages of 12 and 18. “Give me your wallet then,” he said. I told him I don’t have a wallet on me. Someone else reached for my phone but couldn’t grab it. “Stop doing that, you always do that!” one of them told him, indicating that this isn’t their first time attempting to steal from strangers. “Give me your money motherfucker!” he shouted. So I explained to him that we don’t have any money on us; in fact, we were on our way to play a gig to earn some money. He looked a bit confused when I said that. I offered him my bag of mini jaffa cakes. “I literally spent my last pounds on this bag of cookies,” I told him. He ungratefully replied, “I don’t want your fucking cookies man!” Well too bad, dude, coz that’s all I’m willing to part with.

I don’t remember seeing this happening myself, but Ollie told me that they took his phone and asked for his passcode, which he didn’t give them, and then they realized it was an Android so they handed it back to him. Gotta have standards when robbing people.

They did get a hold of Dustin’s wallet, though. It contained all of his personal bank cards, his company credit card, his driver’s license, his Oyster travel card, and thankfully no cash.

We managed to shuffle around a little bit to create some space between the three of us, which meant that the group surrounding us spread out as well. Once some space opened up between the gang, I made a run for it. Ollie and Dustin ran in different directions, so they didn’t know whom to go after, which allowed us to remove ourselves from the situation. Kind of.

One of them caught up to me and tried to trip me. I was still holding my can of beer, so I threw it at him and it hit his chest. A middle-aged man turned the corner and was walking towards us, so I told him “They’re trying to steal from us!” His response was, “Yeah, yeah” and he kept walking. But the fact that this man showed up was enough to scare the robber away. He turned around, ran down the road, and joined the rest of the gang who were off to who knows where.

A few seconds later I met up with Ollie who was already on the phone with the police. Dustin came walking back up the road, also on his phone with his banks to block his cards. He eventually managed to block them and as far as I am aware, no payments were made with any of those cards after the robbery.

The police arrived, so we got in the van and patrolled the area to see if we can spot the group in alleys or stores. We couldn’t find them. It was funny looking at the expressions of people walking around and seeing three young men in a police car. A woman smirked at me as if to say, “Serves you right.” The police took our details and dropped us off back at the house.

We composed ourselves, opened our beers, had a smoke, and tried to calm down a bit. Unfortunately, we missed the other acts, but I heard they were great.

Well, then it was our turn to close the night with some of Selin’s originals and two covers.

News spread pretty quickly about the incident, so I’m sure that played a part in the sympathy of the audience when we performed because that was the most respectful and attentive crowd I’ve ever played for. It was an absolutely amazing and thoroughly enjoyable experience and definitely one of the best gigs I’ve played sofar. Or so far. Nice one Jan, you really nailed it with that one.

We’re all fine. Nobody is hurt or traumatized or anything. It was unnecessary and unfortunate, but thankfully everyone is alright. It could have been much worse.

Here’s something I want to leave you with: If you’re young and you have no caring guidance in your life, it is easy to slip into crime. It’s easy to make crime a career. Where else would you get your money if you have no skills to offer a potential employer? If you are like that, try to educate yourself. If you can’t do that, at least try to do some good. And if you don’t know how to do that, then at least try not to do something you know to be bad. Crime is the lazy way out. Learn how to use your aggression in the right way. Put that energy into something good. Play football. Build something. Make music. Perhaps you’ll even earn your money doing that.

Let me be the new Mini Jaffa Cakes Brand Ambassador


I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase before. It’s been turned into memes and it’s a popular statement among young people who work in jobs that don’t require much or any experience.

I mean, of course! Why would we be required to put in more effort for the legally least amount of compensation? Add to the notion that career advancement opportunities and substantial raises are nothing but empty promises because no matter how hard we work or how well we do our jobs we don’t receive any of it. And on top of all that, it’s likely that we don’t even enjoy our jobs, so there is virtually no motivational ground for us to put in 110% every day. It just doesn’t add up!

You know, in 1945, the concentration camp in Sachsenhausen contained around 65,000 prisoners. That’s no mere housing complex; that’s an actual city. It was so large, in fact, that the main camp was subdivided into about 30 sub-camps that utilized forced labor to produce German armaments.

One of the sub-camps was a shoe production facility called “Schuhläuferkommando” which means something like “the shoe walking unit.” The malnourished, disease-ridden prisoners were made to walk in circles for about 40 kilometers each day in new shoes on a track consisting of different surfaces such as gravel, sand, and broken stones.

The SS officers didn’t think this was malevolent enough, so they forced the workers to wear shoes that were two sizes too small while carrying sacks of sand weighing 20 kilograms.

The reason this story is important is that the guards exploited the need for humans to engage in useful activities and rendered it completely meaningless. It was a successful attempt to ruin the human experience to the degree that it’s almost hard to truly comprehend.

If hell exists, that’s it.

Now that we’ve established the nature of hell, let’s take a look at a more optimistic scenario.

If you happen to occupy a position in the minimum wage category, you have successfully set yourself apart from the jobless by acquiring a role in the oversaturated working class, which is a remarkable accomplishment in itself.

Great, but my job is meaningless and boring.”

Even if your job is “meaningless,” which it isn’t because you’re not a prisoner in a concentration camp, you can at least attempt to be the most competent force within your group of colleagues by doing your job exceedingly well. Mainly because there is an abundance of widespread incompetence across various disciplines, especially in the UK for some reason, so why not tackle that problem? You’re receiving money for it after all.

Not enough, though.”

Then ask for a raise. What an idea, right? Tell your employer three solid reasons why you deserve a raise and two solid reasons why it would be worse for the company if you didn’t receive a raise. Construct a compelling argument and present it confidently instead of conducting passive-aggressive strikes or waiting for the manager to notice your exceeding efforts because they simply won’t.

Pro tip from a former manager: Managers tend to focus more on negative things because problems need to be solved immediately. The concomitant is that they ignore most positive contributions of their employees’ continual maintenance and improvement of the company.

And what if I don’t get a raise?

Another pro tip: If you ask for a raise and your reasons are valid but you’re denied, ask to speak with your manager’s boss or consult your HR department. It’s a lot more expensive to hire new personnel than to reward existing staff for their work, and any manager worth his or her salt knows this. But make sure your argument is compelling and ideally backed by numbers because that’s what people higher up the business hierarchy care about.

What if I can’t come up with reasons to get a raise for my job?

Third pro tip: If you can’t think of any financially beneficial reasons for the company to give you a raise, create them! For what else did we go to university other than to improve our ability to think, speak, write, and create solutions? Unless the universities didn’t actually teach us those things, which is a reality we should seriously consider.

As a collective unit subdivided into individuals, us young people should aim to harness our talents and abilities and make ourselves as useful as possible in return for an appropriate reward based on the nature of our work because that’s part of where the meaning of life is. By doing so, we actively promote our generation’s willingness to make the world a slightly better place by making ourselves slightly better individuals and thus a slightly better collective unit.

To state that minimal wage necessitates minimal effort is an incredibly shallow analysis of what it means to be a useful member of a functioning society because that’s what we currently have in comparison to 80 years ago, and we damn well do not want a resurgence of hell – especially not in the time of snowflakes.

  

 

After attending a music university, performing at dozens of gigs in and around London, and paying close attention to the artists on stage, I’ve come to an interesting conclusion about the quality of music at live shows and its relation to the audience’s experience. It’s a theory I’ve been thinking about for the past few months, so it’s still in its inchoate stage, but coherent enough to describe the general idea in an abridged post.

I am currently writing a book in which I go into much more detail about this subject so I would appreciate your genuine feedback on this idea in the comment section.

In his TED-Ed Talk, Victor Wooten correctly points out that we should “approach music the same way we learn a language by embracing mistakes and playing as often as possible.” It doesn’t matter if your performance is covered in mistakes as long as you are able to adjust accordingly to assure, at least at minimum, an incremental improvement in your next performance.

It is of crucial importance that, if you’re blessed/cursed with an aptitude in music, you develop your skills in such a way that you maximize the quality of your musical expression to the best of your ability, because it will allow you to speak fluently and successfully participate in more demanding conversations such as improvisational jam nights.

If you do not put in the time and effort to develop your musical speech, you will not be able to contribute increasingly valuable ideas to the musical conversation across time. Assuming that you dare call yourself a musician (and a musician is not someone who can merely play guitar or sing to an acceptable level so much as a woodworker is not someone who can merely build a table to an acceptable level), you should be capable of participating in and occasionally taking the lead of a challenging performance. Of course, that also depends on the level of competence the conversation requires.

In any case, let’s take a look at what it means for a musician to “speak” properly.

In fact, let’s address the issue directly: Why are some live performances tasteless and boring when the potential for creative expression is virtually inexhaustible?

Well, for the sake of keeping it as short as I can without sacrificing the essence of what I want to say, here’s my attempt at a cursory answer:

The content of the musical discussion, not the technical proficiency of the performers, is my personal basis for discerning if the quality of music is good or bad. You can be a flawless master of your instrument and have nothing to say. You can also be an enthusiastic novice with a riveting story to tell. You might not be able to use the necessary vocabulary to fully instill the excitement you wish to emerge from your audience, but at least you have something to say.

My concern with the music scene in London, and in general, is that many artists have nothing to say yet they assume their positions on a stage, perform for other people who pay to see them, and think of themselves as musicians because they’re playing an instrument or using their voice to sing.

By the way, I’m not discounting the fact that all artists try to find their voice and, in doing so, go through periods of confusion, articulate vague ideas, and imitate popular genres and styles. Imitation is obviously part of the journey of learning how to speak. But that should not be the end product sold by someone who calls themselves a musician, especially if the motivation is to play a certain style of music just because it’s popular with people.

It is important to note that there is an inherent value in knowing what you’re talking about and providing additional personal insights to a crowd who wants to connect with what you’re thinking. By doing so, you extend your creativity outward as a reflection of your personality and you allow your audience to relate to what you’re saying. If the content of what you’re expressing is truthful then that is part of what makes a performance good.

The other part that makes a performance good is when you are completely comfortable in your technical abilities to the extent that you are competent enough to explore your instrument in an improvisational manner. In order to get to that point, however, you need to ascertain what your limits are by practicing meticulously. Otherwise, you have to push your physical and cognitive ability past your comfort zone in an attempt to surpass your limitations to the extent that the risk of failure is almost certain. The odds of that happening consistently at live shows without tearing at the reputation of your musical talent is slight to none. But if your comfort zone is broad enough, due to extensive training, the potential for creative experimentation without the risk of failure is sufficient to instill awe and extract genuine appreciation from the audience.

In essence, if 1. you have something to say and 2. you have the ability to say it within the context of a truthful and meaningful story, your live performance will always result in your audience thinking, “That was a good gig.”

There is so much more to say about all of this but I’m bordering on 1,000 words right now, which is a bit much for a blog post. My book won’t be out for a few years, but it’s currently in the works. Let me know what you think because your feedback will help me move ahead in my exploration of this massive topic. Hopefully, I will be able to conjure up a cohesive argument that will provide some clarity in one way or another for aspiring as well as experienced musicians.