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Why Cassini Is Ending Its Life with a Kamikaze Plunge - Facts So Romantic

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“‘Are we alone? ‘Is there other life in the solar system?’ We want the real answer, not the ‘oops’ answer.”Photograph by ESA/ISS038 / Stuart Rankin / Flickr

This Friday, NASA’s Cassini probe will run out of fuel and take pictures as it plummets at 75,000 miles per hour through Saturn’s atmosphere. It won’t be crashing—the heat from friction will make Cassini immolate in the sky.

Cassini has had a good run. Since arriving at Saturn in 2004, the probe has transmitted stunning images of the ringed planet, including its uncanny hexagonal storm, and of its many moons. It found the largest, Titan, harboring methane oceans and icy Enceladus venting water-rich plumes from over 100 so-far identified geysers; the latter might bear ocean life beneath its miles-thick ice cover. Cassini’s dive towards Saturn’s surface will present scientists with a never-before-seen perspective of the planet, along with its atmosphere and magnetic fields, and data on Saturn’s rings’ age and make-up.

It’s the possibility of contaminating Saturn’s moons, though, that is the more interesting motivation for what NASA has been calling Cassini’s “Grand Finale.” “Whenever NASA plans any missions, they always include plans for what we call spacecraft disposal,” said Morgan Cable,…
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81 days ago
Zagreb, Croatia
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Brief Cautionary Notes On Branded Combination Nootropics



Taking nootropics is an inherently questionable decision. The risk isn’t zero, and the benefits are usually subtle at best.

On the other hand, mountain-climbing also has risks, and is so devoid of benefit that the only excuse mountaineers can come up with is “because it’s there”. So whatever. If someone wants to do either – well, it’s a free country, and we all have to amuse ourselves somehow.

But even within this context, special caution is warranted for branded combination nootropics.

I wanted to make up a caricatured fake name for these sorts of things, so I could make fun of them without pointing at any company in particular. But all of the caricatured fake names I can think of turn out to be real products. MegaMind? Real. SuperBrain? Real. UltraBrain? Real. Mr. Power Brain? Real, for some reason.

Even the ones that don’t make sense are real. NeuroBrain? Real, even though one hopes that brains are always at least a little neuro. NeuroMind? Real, with its own Indiegogo campaign. The only thing I haven’t been able to find is a nootropic called BrainMind, but it’s only a matter of time.

These usually combine ten or twenty different chemicals with potential nootropic properties, then make outrageous claims about the results. For example, Neuroxium says on its ridiculous webpage that:

Neuroxium is a revolutionary brain supplement formulated to give you ultimate brain power. Known in Scientific Terms as a “NOOTROPIC” or “GENIUS PILL” Neuroxium improves mental functions such as cognition, memory, intelligence, motivation, attention, concentration and therefore happiness and success.

Your first warning sign should have been when they said “genius pill” was a scientific term (or as they call it, Scientific Term). If you needed more warning signs, this is word-for-word the same claim made by several other nootropics like Synagen IQ, Nootrox, and Cerebral X. So either they can’t even be bothered not to plagiarize their ads, or they change their name about once a week to stay ahead of the law.

I was eventually able to find a list of the ingredients in this stuff:

DMAE (dimethylethanolamine bitartrate), GABA (?-Amino-butyric acid), Caffeine anhydrous, Bacopa monnieri leaf extract, NALT (N-acetyl-L-tyrosine), Centrophenoxine HCl, Alpha-GPC (a-glycerophosphocholine, Agmatine sulfate, Gingko biloba leaf extract, Pine (Pinus pinaster) bark extract, Phosphatidylserine, Aniracetam, CDC Choline (Citicoline), Sarcosine (N-methylglycine), Vincamine [Lesser Periwinkle (Vinca minor) aerial extract], L-Theanine (?-glutamylethylamide), NADH (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide), TAU (triacetyluridine), Noopept, Adrafinil, Tianeptine, Piperine [Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) fruit extract 445mg.

And the weird thing is, a lot of these are decent choices. Everyone knows caffeine is a good stimulant. Adrafinil is the over-the-counter version of modafinil, an FDA-approved medication for sleep disorders; many of my patients have been very happy with it. Bacopa monnieri has been found to improve memory in so many studies I can’t even keep track of all of them. Noopept is an approved medication in Russia. Tianeptine is an approved medication in France. All of these are chemicals with at least some evidence base behind them, which are potentially good for certain people. If some nootropics user were to say they wanted to try adrafinil, or bacopa, or noopept, or any of the other stuff on that list, I would classify them with the mountain climber – doing something risky but not necessarily stupid.

But taking Neuroxium/Synagen/CerebralX is exactly as bad an idea as you would expect from the advertising copy.

For one thing, they don’t list the doses of any of these things – but they have to be getting them terribly wrong. A standard dose of adrafinil is 600 mg. A standard dose of bacopa is 300 mg. A standard dose of Alpha-GPC choline is about 600 mg. So combining standard doses of just these three ingredients means you need a 1.5 g pill. This is probably too big to swallow. The only pills I know of that get that big are those gigantic fish oil pills made of pure fish oil that everybody hates because they’re uncomfortably big. But this is just what you’d need to have three of the 22 ingredients listed in CerebralX at full doses. The pill is already unswallowably large, and you’ve only gotten a seventh of the way through the ingredient list.

I conclude that they’re just putting miniscule, irrelevant doses into this so they can say they’ve got exciting-sounding chemicals.

For another thing, all of these substances have unique profiles which have to be respected on their own terms. For example, lots of studies say bacopa improves memory – but only after you’ve taken it consistently for several months. If you just go “WOOO, CEREBRALX!” and swallow a bunch of pills and hope that you’ll do better on your test tomorrow, all you’re going to get are the short-term effects of bacopa – which include lethargy and amotivation.

Most sources discussing Noopept recommend starting very low – maybe as low as 5 mg – and then gradually increasing to a standard dose of 10 – 40 mg depending on how it works for you. Some people will apparently need higher doses, and some find it works best for them as high as 100 mg. Needless to say, none of this is possible if you’re taking CerebralX. You’ll take whatever dose is in the product – which they don’t tell you, and which is probably so low as to be meaningless – and stay at the same level for however long you’re taking the entire monstrosity.

Tianeptine has a short half-life and is typically dosed three times a day, unlike most of the other things on the list which are dosed once per day. CerebralX says you should take their whole abomination once a day, which means you’re getting the wrong dosing schedule of tianeptine.

GABA, taken orally, doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier and has no effect. The only way it could possibly make a difference – and even this is debatable – is if you join it to niacin to create the N-nicotinoyl-GABA molecule, which these people did not do. As a result, their GABA will be totally inert. This is probably for the best, because most of the things on their list are stimulants, and GABA is a depressant, so it would probably all just cancel out.

Piperine is a chemical usually used to inhibit normal drug-metabolizing enzymes and enhance the effect of other substances. This is very occasionally a good idea, when you know exactly what drug you’re trying to enhance and you’re not taking anything else concurrently. But I can’t figure out which drug they’re trying to enhance the activity of here, or even whether they’re trying to enhance the activity of anything at all, or if they just heard that piperine could enhance things and thought “Okay, it’s in”. And if I were giving someone a concoction of twenty-one different random psychoactive drugs, which I was dosing wrong and giving at the wrong schedule, the last thing I would want to do is inhibit the body’s normal drug metabolism. The entire reason God gave people drug-metabolizing enzymes is because He knew, in His wisdom, that some of them were going to be idiots who would take a concoction of twenty-one different random psychoactive drugs because a website said it was, in Scientific Terms, a “GENIUS PILL”. Turning them off is a terrible idea and the only saving grace is that the dose of everything in this monstrosity is probably too small for it to do anything anyway.

Taking any of the ingredients in CerebralX on its own is a potentially risky affair. But if you study up on it and make sure to take it correctly, then maybe it’s a calculated risk, like mountain climbing. Taking everything in CerebralX together is more like trying to mountain-climb in a t-shirt and sandals. You’re not taking a calculated risk as part of a potentially interesting hobby. You’re just being an idiot.


But that’s too easy. I have a larger point here, which is that these sorts of branded combos are bad ideas even if they’re by smart, well-intentioned people who are doing everything right.

Tru-Brain is undeniably in a class above CerebralX. It has a team including neuroscience PhDs. It seems to be a real company that can keep the same name for more than a week. Instead of promising a GENIUS PILL, it makes comparatively modest claims to be able to “perform at your peak” and “stay sharp all day long”.

Correspondingly, its special nootropics combo makes a lot more pharmacological sense. For one thing, it’s a packet rather than a single pill – a concession to the impossibility of combining correct doses of many substances into a single capsule. For another, it limits itself to mostly things that some sane person could conceivably in some universe want to dose on the schedule they recommend. And it’s only got seven ingredients, none of which counteract any of the others or turn off important metabolic systems that God created to protect you from your own stupidity. This is probably about as well-designed a branded nootropics combo as it’s possible to make.

But I would still caution people away from it. Why?

Last year, I surveyed people’s reactions to various nootropics. I got 870 responses total, slightly fewer for each individual substance. Here are the response curves for two of the substances in TruBrain – piracetam and theanine:

These are on a 1-10 scale, where I directed responders to:

Please rate your subjective experience on a scale of 0 to 10. 0 means a substance was totally useless, or had so many side effects you couldn’t continue taking it. 1 – 4 means for subtle effects, maybe placebo but still useful. 5 – 9 means strong effects, definitely not placebo. 10 means life-changing.

Some substances known to be pretty inert averaged scores of around 4. Piracetam and theanine averaged around 5, so maybe a little better than that. But the most dramatic finding was the range. Almost 20% of people rated theanine a two or lower; almost 20% rated it a nine or higher. More than a third placed it in the “probably placebo” range, but 5% found its effects “life-changing”.

The effect of nootropics seems to vary widely among different people. This shouldn’t be surprising: so do the effects of real drugs. Gueorguieva and Mallinckrodt do an unusually thorough job modeling differences in response to the antidepressant duloxetine, and find a clear dichotomy between responders and nonresponders. This matches psychiatric lore – some medications work on some people, other medications work on others. I particularly remember one depressed patient who had no response at all to any SSRI, but whose depression shut off almost like a lightswitch once we tried bupropion. Other people fail bupropion treatment but do well on SSRIs. Probably this has something to do with underlying differences in their condition or metabolism that we just don’t know how to identify at this point (sample simplified toy model: what we call “depression” is actually two diseases with identical symptoms, one of which responds to SSRIs and one of which responds to bupropion).

I think this is why there are no multidrug combo packs. Your psychiatrist never treats your depression with a pill called “MegaMood”, boasting combination doses of Prozac, Wellbutrin, Remeron, and Desyrel. For one thing, either you’re giving an insufficient dose of each drug, or you’re giving full doses of four different drugs – neither is well-tested or advisable. For another, you’re getting four times the side effect risk. For a third thing, if one of the four drugs gives you a side effect, you’ve got to throw out the whole combo. For a fourth, if the combo happens to work, you don’t know whether it’s only one of the four drugs working and the others are just giving you side effects and making you worse. And if it sort of works, you don’t know which of the four drugs to increase, or else you just have to increase all four at once and hope for the best.

All these considerations are even stronger with nootropics. There shouldn’t be universally effective nootropics, for the same reason there’s no chemical you can pour on your computer to double its processing speed: evolution put a lot of work into making your brain as good as possible, and it would be silly if some random molecule could make it much better. Sure, there are exceptions – I think stimulants get a pass because evolution never expected people to have to pay attention to stimuli as boring as the modern world provides us with all the time – but in general the law holds. If you find a drug does significantly help you, it’s probably because your brain is broken in some particular idiosyncratic way (cf. mutational load), the same way you can double a computer’s processing speed with duct tape if one of the processors was broken.

If everyone’s brain is broken in a different way, then not only will no drug be universally effective, but drugs with positive effects for some people are likely to have negative effects for others. If (to oversimplify) your particular brain problem is not having enough serotonin, a serotonin agonist might help you. But by the same token, if you have too much serotonin, a serotonin agonist will make your life worse. Even if you have normal serotonin, maybe the serotonin agonist will push you out of the normal range and screw things up.

Most effective psychiatric drugs hurt some people. I mean, a lot of them hurt the people they’re supposed to be used for – even the psychotic people hate antipsychotics – but once you’ve brushed those aside, there are a lot of others that help a lot of people, but make other people feel worse. There are hordes of people who feel tired on stimulants, or sleepy on caffeine, or suicidal on antidepressants, or any other crazy thing. You rarely hear about these, because usually if someone’s taking a drug and it makes them feel worse, they stop. But psychiatrists hear about it all the time. “That antidepressant you gave me just made me feel awful!” Oh, well, try a different one. “That’s it? Try a different one? Aren’t you embarassed that your so-called antidepressant made me more depressed?” You’re pretty new to this ‘psychopharmacology’ thing, aren’t you?

Thus the tactic used by every good psychiatrist: try a patient on a drug that you think might work, make them report back to you on whether it does. If so, keep it; if not, switch.

If you take a seven-drug combo pack, you lose this opportunity for experiment. Suppose that two of the drugs make you feel +1 unit better, two others have no effect, and three of the drugs make you feel -0.5 units worse, so in the end you feel +0.5 units better. Maybe that seems good to you so you keep taking it. Now you’re taking five more drugs than you need to, including three making you actively worse, and you’re missing the chance to be a full +2 units better by just taking the drugs that are helping and not hurting.

You’re also missing the opportunity to play with the doses or the schedules of things. Maybe if you doubled the dose of one of the drugs making you +1 better, you could be +2 better, but if you double the dose of the other, you start getting side effects and the drug only breaks even. If you experiment, you can figure this out and take twice the dose of the first and the starting dose of the second, for +3 better. Taking them all as part of a combo ruins this: if you try taking twice the dose of the combo, nothing happens.

(And a special word of warning: if some stimulant product combines caffeine with something else, and you feel an effect, your first theory should be that the effect is 100% caffeine – unless the “something else” is amphetamine. There are like a million products which bill themselves as “organic energy cocktails” by combining caffeine with some rare herb from Burma. People drink these and say “Oh, this high feels so much more intense than just drinking caffeine”. Yeah, that’s because it’s much more caffeine. Seriously. Check the doses on those things. I will grudgingly make an exception for some chemicals that are supposed to decrease caffeine jitters, like theanine, which might have a real effect. But the stimulation is from caffeine. Go get an espresso instead.)


But don’t drugs interact? Instead of viewing these seven drugs as seven different variables, shouldn’t we view them as coming together in a seven-color beautiful rainbow of happiness, or whatever?

Once again, I can only appeal to psychiatry, which is still unsure whether there are any useful interactions between its various super-well-studied drugs which it’s been using for decades and prescribing to millions of people. Take the CO-MED study, which combined the popular SSRI escitalopram with the popular NDRI bupropion. Since depression seems to involve abnormalities in the three major catecholamine systems, and escitalopram hits one of these and bupropion hits the other two, this seems like exactly the sort of synergistic interaction we should expect to work. It doesn’t. CO-MED found that the two antidepressants together didn’t treat depression any better than either one alone, let alone produce some synergy that made them more than the sum of their parts. They did, however, have about twice as many side effects.

Other smaller studies say the opposite, so I’m not saying never try escitalopram and bupropion together. I’m saying we don’t know. These are intensely-studied drugs, the whole power of the existing system has been focused on the question of whether they synergize or antisynergize or what, and we’re still not sure.

Also from psychiatry: we know a lot less about the mechanisms of action of drugs than we like to think. Ketamine has been intensively studied for depression for a decade or so, and we only just learned last year that it probably worked on a different receptor than we thought. SSRIs might be the most carefully studied drug class of all time, and we still don’t really know exactly what’s up with them – it can’t just be serotonin; they increase serotonin within a day of ingestion, but take a month to work.

So when people take these incredibly weird substances that have barely been studied at all, where we have only the faintest clue how they work, and then say from their armchair “And therefore, drug A will enhance the effects of drug B and C” – this is more than a little arrogant. Is it all made up? I can’t say “all” with surety. But it might be.

The best-known and most-discussed interaction in nootropics is piracetam-choline. Piracetam increases levels of acetylcholine, which is formed from choline, so it makes sense that these two substances would go well together. Most sites on piracetam urge you to take them together. TruBrain, which predictably is on top of this kind of stuff, combines them together in its combo pack.

But there’s never been a human study showing that this helps., another group which is usually on top of stuff, summarizes (emphasis carried over from original):

[Choline] may augment the relatively poor memory enhancing effects of Piracetam in otherwise healthy animals, but administration of choline alongside Piracetam is not a prerequisite to its efficacy and has not been tested in humans

I surveyed a bunch of choline users, using a little gimmick. Some of the forms of choline sold these days don’t cross the blood-brain barrier and shouldn’t have an effect, so they provide a sort of placebo control for more active forms of choline. In my survey, people who took piracetam with inactive forms of choline didn’t report any worse an experience than those who took the real thing.

This is the most famous and best-discussed interaction in the entire field of nootropics, and it’s on super-shaky ground. So trust me, the CerebralX people don’t have good evidence about the interactions of all twenty-one of their ridiculous substances.

I have to admit, I’m not confident in this part. Maybe psychiatry is wrong. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if we just throw five different antidepressants with five different mechanisms of action at somebody at once. Realistically, maybe this would involve some supplements: l-methylfolate, SAMe, tryptophan, turmeric, and a traditional SSRI. One day I want to try this on someone I know well enough to let me test things on them, but not so well I don’t mind losing a friend when it all blows up in my face. Until then, keep in mind that anyone who says they bet a certain combination of things will produce a synergistic interaction is engaging in the wildest sort of speculation.


One more piece of evidence. The 2016 nootropics survey asked people to rate their experiences with 35 different individual substances, plus a branded combo pack (“AlphaBrain”) of pretty good reputation. The AlphaBrain performed worse than any of the individual substances, including substances that were part of AlphaBrain!

This is of course a very weak result – it wasn’t blinded, and maybe the survey responders have the same anti-branded-combo prejudice I do. But it at least suggests knowledgeable people in the nootropics community are really uncomfortable with this stuff.

90% of the people making branded combo nootropics are lying scum. A few, like TruBrain, seem like probably decent people trying to get it right – but are you confident you can tell them apart? And if you do manage to beat the odds and get something that’s not a complete pharmacological mess, aren’t you still just going to end up with an overpriced bundle of black boxes that won’t provide you with useful information, and which, empirically, everyone hates?

If you’re interested in nootropics, consider trying one substance at a time, very carefully, using something like to learn how to take it and what the possible side effects are. If you can, do what people like Gwern do and try it blind, mixing real pills with placebo pills over the space of a few weeks, so you can make sure it’s a real effect. If you find something that does have a real effect on you, treat that knowledge as a hard-won victory. Then, if you want to go from there, tentatively add a second chemical and test that one in the same way. Do this, and you have some small sliver of a chance of doing more good than harm, at least in the short term.

But if you’re going to order a combination of twenty different things at homeopathic doses from somebody who thinks “GENIUS PILL” is a Scientific Term – well, I hope it works, because you need it.

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111 days ago
Zagreb, Croatia
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Is Amazon's AWS Hiring 'Demolishing The Cult Of Youth'?

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Tech analyst James Governor argues that Amazon's cloud business is "demolishing the cult of youth." It just announced it is hiring James Gosling, one of the original inventors of Java... Meanwhile James Hamilton continues to completely kick ass in compute, network, and data center design for AWS... He's in his 50s. Tim Bray, one of the inventors of XML, joined Amazon in 2014. He's another Sun alumni. He's 61 now. He still codes. When you sit down with one of the AWS engineering teams you're sitting down with grownups... Adrian Cockcroft joined AWS in October 2016. He graduated in 1982, not 2002. He is VP Cloud Architecture Strategy at AWS, a perfect role for someone that helped drive Netflix's transition from on-prem Java hairball to serious cloud leadership. Great engineering is not maths -- it involves tradeoffs, wisdom and experience... The company puts such a premium on independent groups working fast and making their own decisions it requires a particular skillset, which generally involves a great deal of field experience. A related trend is hiring seasoned marketing talent from the likes of IBM. Some other older companies have older distinguished engineers because they grew up with the company. AWS is explicitly bringing that experience in. It's refreshing to the see a different perspective on value. In a later post the analyst acknowledges engineering managers are generally older than their reports, but adds that "If AWS sees value in hiring engineering leadership from folks that are frankly a bit older than the norm in the industry, isn't that worth shining a light on?" In response to the article, XML inventor Tim Bray suggested a new acronym: GaaS. "Geezers as a service," while Amazon CTO Werner Vogels tweeted "There is no compression algorithm for experience."

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193 days ago
Zagreb, Croatia
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Poly Styrene Is the Punk Icon Who Deserves Your Respect

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Once you hear Poly Styrene's high pitched, opera-trained warrior shout exclaiming "OH BONDAGE UP YOURS!" on the tail of a sweetly uttered "some people think little girls should be seen and not heard" you're immediately moved by the legendary X-Ray Spex frontwoman. Poly Styrene may have been a small, braces-wearing teenager, but nobody was gonna shut her up, even before she achieved punk icon status. No way in hell.

When I first heard X-Ray Spex, Poly's voice cut right through my disheveled pile of teen-angst and cheap thrift store clothes and shook me to the core. It was the 90's and I was just getting into punk and listening to a lot of cassette tape mixes generously bestowed upon me by my much cooler and more informed friends. I couldn't help but notice how much Poly Styrene's voice reminded me of other punk girls I was getting into at the time, like Kathleen Hanna and Corin Tucker, to name a few. It didn't dawn on me at the time that this voice had come 20 years before the others and why that was significant.

Now, more than two decades later (I'm old now, but who cares) and this obscenely sexist, racist, and idiotic era in our political history seems like the perfect time for a Poly Styrene revival. That's why the crowdfunding efforts for I AM A CLICHÉ, a documentary about Poly co-written and narrated by her daughter Celeste Bell, feel especially prescient. Germ Free Adolescents, the one and only X-Ray Spex album, turns 40 next year and the film is set to be released in time to celebrate.

If you're not familiar with the album or Poly Styrene herself, welcome. It is, as the saying goes, better late than never. While the Sex Pistols were being produced/manufactured by a fetish-wear shop owner/marketing genius (Malcolm Mclaren and Vivienne Westwood's shop was literally called SEX and sold bondage gear among other items), a young Poly Styrene was obsessed with dayglo and plastics, the idea of rebelling against cheap consumerism, and not being (literally) tied down by the man. After seeing an early performance of the Sex Pistols on Hastings Pier on July 3, 1976 (her 19th birthday), Poly—whose real name was Marian Elliot-Said—thought that if those guys could make music, she could too. So she picked her new name from the yellow pages and placed ads in NME and Melody Maker with the header YOUNG PUNX WHO WANT TO STICK IT TOGETHER.

The young girl with a mouth full of braces who had run away from home at 15 to tour the English countryside christened herself Poly Styrene, a cheeky name chosen for being lightweight disposable plastic, and she was about to take the London punk scene by storm. Once she formed the band, the X-Ray Spex played their debut at London's Roxy after only six rehearsals. They quickly gained popularity with Poly's voice and completely unconventional look making a huge impression.

When I started getting into Poly's music in the pre-YouTube years, so I wasn't able to see all the incredible video footage of X-Ray Spex that's out there today. If I had, I probably would've mimicked Poly by rocking pastel, dayglo colors, and crazy headbands, instead of trying to be grunge, and I definitely would have been way less ashamed of my braces and curly hair. And seeing a young woman of color fronting one of the most famous bands in the early punk scene would have been beyond inspiring.

According to Celeste, much was made about Poly's mixed parentage in the tabloids after she became famous. Poly's mom Joanne was white and her dad was a dispossessed Somali aristocrat. Many assumed that the song "Identity" was about race when in fact it was inspired by Poly witnessing a girl attempting suicide in a club toilet. Similar to all the Brexit nonsense of today, England back in the 70's was full of racism and anti-immigrant sentiment. But Poly rose above the prejudice and defied stereotypes, having once said , "I've always been happy, and well, rather intrigued, by a family tree that includes Spanish Princes, Celts, Imams, Ancient Bretons, and Somaliland tribal chiefs that descend from Abraham and Sarah."

People also tried to make a big deal about where Poly grew up. They tried to paint a picture of Poly's supposedly rough childhood living a tenement in South London's ethnically diverse and low-income Brixton district, but Poly wasn't having it. "Mum was forced to leave Bromley because she felt it was too white and judgemental for me to grow up in and that we could never be accepted. That's why we moved to Brixton. But although life was a bit austere, we were always well fed, clean and respectable—mum was a legal secretary, and where we lived that was considered posh!"

Poly refused to be put into a box or labeled by people trying to sell her story. She was a totally different person when she wasn't on stage. As exemplified by this amazing Australian TV interview from 1977, Poly was rather soft spoken and not at all eager to put on a front for journalists.

Similarly, a piece following her around for BBC4 shows a mild-mannered, contemplative Poly gently navigating the London streets and getting ready for shows.

Poly really exploded out of her shell on stage. It's almost as if that voice had to come out somehow and Poly's body was just a vessel. And Poly was not about to dress up that vessel or package herself or play into anyone's notion of femininity. "I said that I wasn't a sex symbol and that if anybody tried to make me one I'd shave my head tomorrow," Poly declared in a particularly candid interview for NME in May of '78. Interestingly enough, she ended up shaving her head at Johnny Rotten's flat a few weeks later.

In this same interview, Poly talks about moving back to the country with her mom and sister after feeling utterly sucked dry. "You feel all the time that people are draining you, draining off your energy all the time until you think, 'Blimey, I haven't got anything left to give. Leave me alone.'" The Spex had just returned from NYC from a two week residence at CBGB where they played twice a night. All of Poly's playful visions of a plastic world had become too real. "For them it wasn't a joke, it was the way they lived for real. For me it was all a joke: play with it, indulge it, have fun with it because there's not really that much of it over here. But when you go there it's so bad that you think, 'God, if that's what it's going to be like I don't want it.'"

America's ultra plastic society as embodied by NYC in the late 70's and the energy vampires of London's Chelsea neighborhood were starting to bring Poly down. And this was before Germ Free Adolescents had even dropped. Poly's ability to put up a front and endure the challenges of fame was coming to an end.

When I ask Celeste about why the Spex only put out one album she replied: "My mother had a big mental breakdown when X-Ray Spex were at the height of their success. This was the main reason—it had all become a bit much for my mum and she wanted to do something more lowkey." Poly had also realized that she had bipolar disorder.

Celeste adds: "She always felt different from other people since she was a kid and had real problems concentrating at school and she had big anger management issues—she was always getting into fights and her moods fluctuated a lot. So she was aware something was not quite right from a young age. But it was not until she was 19/20 that it was apparent she was suffering from a full blown mental illness."

In a parallel to the explosion and quick death of the early punk scene in the UK, Poly was a bright burning flame that had no choice but to extinguish itself. But luckily Poly's spark remained intact. Before her 2011 death at the age of 53 to breast cancer, Poly put out two more albums—the moody, mellow, post-punk Translucence just after she left X-Ray Spex and the spunky, socially conscious Generation Indigo, which she released and promoted just prior to her death.

Up to the end, Poly stayed optimistic about the world and life itself like a true warrior. She told a reporter from the Guardian on her deathbed: "I try not to be negative or cynical. Even though we're in a crazy situation, economically, and with wars, when things go far right, they will have to swing left. We have to become more caring and sharing. Generation Indigo are the people who will protest peacefully, and it's happening already."

She's also quoted as saying ""You remember that old song 'Que Sera Sera, Whatever will be, will be, the future's not ours to see'? I've always felt that. It's been a roller coaster ride, but I wouldn't change a thing."

Lucky for us, Poly's roller coaster ride is getting the cinematic treatment it so deserves. "I think in the documentary you will see that my mother was, apart from being an amazing performer and singer/songwriter she was also a true artist and visionary years ahead of her time," notes Celeste. I can't wait to see the film.

Check out the Indiegogo page for Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché here.

Rachel Fernandes is a writer, film producer, and programmer living in Southern California. Follow her on Instagram.

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223 days ago
Zagreb, Croatia
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Here's How to Recreate the Smart-as-Hell Sampling from Kendrick's "LOYALTY."

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"Ugh, rappers just steal other people's songs! Why don't they learn to play some instruments?" So says your terrible rockist friend (and at this point, why are you still friends with them?). Never mind that most beats nowadays are original compositions by musicians with strong ears for melody, harmony, and rhythm, but the older art of sampling itself is loaded with hidden meaning and careful craft. Case in point: Kendrick Lamar's summer jam contender "LOYALTY."

The track's notable for many other reasons—among them being Rihanna's guest turn as a rapper, not a hook singer—but maybe most intriguing is the funhouse mirror flip of Bruno Mars' "24K Magic" by producers DJ Dahi, Sounwave, and Terrace Martin. The loop is so warped and diced that it's nigh-unrecognizable on first listen, but as this unofficial but educational video from a YouTube producer shows, it's not all that complicated, just very clever. Reversing the intro, then pitching it up a few semitones is a cinch, but it's the microhouse-styled chops that really impress. Unfortunately, if you're like me, you'll only be able to notice these tricks and not enjoy the flawless rapping happening on top. Such is the price of knowledge. Watch the video breakdown of Kendrick's "LOYALTY." below.

Phil is a Mac scrub so he's never used FL. He's on Twitter.

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231 days ago
Zagreb, Croatia
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German Black Metallers Farsot Go Dark on 'FAIL-LURE'

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German black metal crew Farsot have lain fairly dormant since the release of 2011's Insects (save for a 2016 four-way split), and their heavily melodic, even more heavily atmospheric take on the genre has been sorely missed. When I say that they're "atmospheric," I'm not implying that they've ingested one too many shoegaze records or grew up outside Portland; rather, the atmosphere Farsot conjures coats each note with an overwhelming sense of darkness, eldritch unease, and quiet malevolence (and then recorded it all in a earthen cave dug deep underground a primeval forest). It's very much a throwback to the Second Wave acts that undoubtedly continue to inspire them, in that they have no problem reconciling the melodic and epic with the raw and downright spooky,

FAIL·LURE is only the long-running Thuringian quintet's third full-length since their inception in 1999, and also marks their Prophecy Productions debut. The band's proggy impulses are on full display, but this is most certainly still a black metal record—it just happens to be one that keeps you guessing a bit without succumbing to full-bore wackiness.

The band sent Noisey a statement, which read: "More towards the origins [of] Farsot. Create our very own mood between rough and rugged black metal temper of the early Nineties connected with an exploration of the infinite width of music itself. The approach is more spontaneous and intuitive, consciously refraining from "heady" leanings and patterns. This makes the songs appear even more compact and dynamic than ever before. Lyric-wise, FAIL·LURE addresses the inevitable dilemma between fascination and mania, desire and disgust, power and weakness – the seeming rift between the sexes. It is an allegory of life as a not endless game that cannot be won. This multi-layered concept is reflected musically on the album. The ambiance extends from the deepest depths to the highest heights without losing the relation to its uniformity. Get carried away..."

Listen to FAIL·LURE in its moody, spiraling entirety below, and keep your eyes peeled for an April 21 release via Prophecy Productions. 

Kim Kelly is going dark on Twitter.

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237 days ago
Zagreb, Croatia
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