In the spirit of turning things upside down, breaking the rules and doing things my own way I’m going to start at the end. Wired Next Generation followed two days of Wired 2016, but I’m going to serve up some Next Generation gems first.
Wired Next Generation is mental fertiliser, creative juice – food for thought – which brings me neatly on to the work and wisdom of Heston Blumenthal. A self-confessed irritant at school, always asking “why?”, Heston’s curiosity and over-active senses have led him on a culinary and scientific journey inspired by human evolution and imagination. Despite beginning his story with oysters he cites Einstein, rather than Rick Stein, as an inspiration and shares his infectious energy with a captive audience.
Inspiration was never in short supply at Wired Next Gen, with heart-warming accounts of the triumph of education over adversity in a refugee camp in Jordan by Syrian campaigner Muzoon Almellehan, who is now a proud resident of Newcastle and happily getting to grips with the Geordie accent. Read Muzoon’s blog posts explaining her work and experiences here.
Samantha Payne presented a ground-breaking social, medical and technological innovation in the form of bionic upper limbs. By using 3D scanning and printing, she and the team at Open Bionics have slashed the cost of bionic upper limbs by 10 times and produce them in four days rather than four months. For the world’s 2 million upper limb amputees, this provides not only functional, but personalised affordable limbs. Samantha’s work turns kids (and adults) into bionic superheroes, questioning the future superiority of human anatomy over bionic alternatives. Empowering and moving, this transformative tech was demonstrated and explained by Tilly:
“What have you done today?” asked Oliver Franklin-Wallis, Assistant Editor of Wired, of the audience at Wired Next Gen after Google Science Fair award-winner Krtin Nithiyanandam explained how at the age of 15, he combined two antibodies to devise a way to detect early onset Alzheimers, drastically improving patient prognosis. Since then, he has devised a way to alter untreatable breast cancer cells into treatable ones. He is now 16. Oliver, I’m going to pass on that question…
Rounding off this article with a lyrical trip to the playground is Hussain Manawer. After getting sacked from Sainsbury’s (for eating a doughnut on the shop floor) he moved on to a job at Primark, followed by a stint at Coca Cola. He studied Quantity Surveying at the University of Westminster, which was “pretty dry” and went on to found his youtube channel Hussain’s House, seeking to support youth causes through artistic expression. He has since raised his voice at the One Young World Summit in Bangkok to speak for those who suffer from mental illness but struggle to be heard.
Hussain’s speech won him a Rising Star Award and a place on a space flight in 2018, when he will become the first British Muslim to go to space. His honesty, candour and wit are disarming and charming. Here’s a clip of him taking us back to the playground.
To play us out, here’s Swedish popstar MY, who is unsurprisingly difficult to track down on a Google search. Here she is at Ohheymy.
Thank you Wired, for the sparks and the seeds that will help the next generation of bright minds to blow ours. Bring it!
Looking back to look forward, here’s the first instalment in a round-up of inspiring and enlightening talks from Wired Next Generation at London’s Tobacco Docks. 2015 offered up a hint of what’s to come in 2016. Brace yourselves. It’s techtastic!
Start early, said Jordan Casey, the teen from Waterford in Ireland. He taught himself to code aged 9 after convincing his grandma to buy him a book about building websites. He was playing a game called Club Penguin at the time and wanted to make his own video games. He learnt HTML code then decided he wanted to make apps – but he’d need a mac for that. Jordan asked his parents for one, but they didn’t understand why he needed a Mac – he already had a perfectly decent computer. Jordan’s entrepreneurial spirit extended to writing a fake letter from an ‘Apple executive’ to his parents explaining he needed a Mac to progress with coding and create apps. They promptly bought said Mac. Jordan then went on to create his first app, the game Alien Ball VS Humans, which shot to the top of the iTunes chart, with Minecraft slotted in below at number three. Not bad.
I watched the film Prometheus last night (better late than never) and it strikes me that humans messing with the aliens is a recurring theme and point of interest as we hurtle into our tech-driven future. More on that later.
Jordan is currently growing his business, Casey Games, travelling around the world and encouraging teens to follow their dreams. “If you know what you want to do, don’t wait!” he says. Now 15, he admits his age means he’s not always taken seriously, particularly when trying to gain investment, but he is firmly focussed on the end goal and that motivates him to continue. I was lucky enough to grab a snap with Jordan after his inspiring talk.
Jordan and I
Hyeonseo Lee offers a personal and moving insight into life under the oppressive North Korean regime. Following a life well into her teens of seeing people tortured and publicly executed for speaking out about injustice, she secretly watched TV broadcasts from neighbouring China on her television while shielding herself from the outside world in her bedroom, sealing the windows with thick curtains so that the flickering light couldn’t be seen. By viewing Chinese TV broadcasts she realised that she had been brain-washed by her government and that oppression, human suffering and murder were wrong – until then they were a ‘normal’ part of daily life. Looking around the audience at Wired Next Generation I see hundreds of bright eyes apparently trying to process the difficulty and horror Hyeonseo has experienced. I also sense a collective understanding of how important her story is and that opportunity and freedom are the most important privilege and right that we have. Hyeonseo’s talk can inspire us to appreciate, aim high and share our stories. Given that she had to unlearn 17 years of false propaganda-driven education in order to begin her tertiary education in South Korea and eventually share her experiences further abroad, her story is an extraordinary one.
The propulsion of rockets in space hasn’t innovated much since the 1920’s and our current rockets are propelled chemically and electrically. Ryan Weed’s company Positron Dynamics proposes a new type of fuel – energy generated by combining antimatter (positrons) and matter, which results in huge amounts of energy that if harnessed, could reduce the duration of a flight to Mars from months to minutes. Currently it takes 10 years to get to Pluto. Antimatter-generated energy would make this journey 1000 times faster. By my calculation, that means the journey to Pluto would be reduced from 3642.5 days (87,420 hours) to 3.64 days (87.5 hours). Voyager One currently takes 45 minutes to travel around the world but using this new energy source it would take 3 seconds.
In a nutshell, this means that with our existing understanding of physics we could use this antimatter-generated energy to travel to outer-space within our lifetime – you, me, our friends and family. It’s exciting stuff and brings us another leap closer to outer space and life beyond Earth. It also makes me think about sci-fi film portrayals of outer space. As mentioned, I watched Prometheus last night. Set in 2089-2093 and with a 2.5 year fictional journey back to Earth from an unnamed planet (suggested to be in outer space) I wonder whether this ‘futuristic’ estimation is already vastly outdated. In 2093 it will almost certainly take only days or weeks to reach outer space, based on antimatter energy calculations. The overriding suggestion of impending doom and desolation brought by isolation and distance between planets will no longer hold up as outer space becomes accessible – It will be an extension of our lives on earth.
Ryan Weed explains the phenomenon of antimatter annihilation in his Jaguar sponsored video with Wired, filmed at the European Space Station. This is quite literally rocket science and we are going Interstellar! I’m inclined to start designing a collection of space flight-ready jumpsuits right now (I am a huge fan of pilot, boiler and jump suits, as documented on my Instagram feed and that of my fashion label).
Ryan Weed of Positron Dynamics – Wired 2015
Janty Yates’ space suits for Prometheus: pics-about-space.com
Bradley L. Garrett is a social geographer and urban adventurer with a penchant for exploring the derelict and condemned. He scours the underbelly of our great city, revealing forgotten spaces and initiating dialogues about how those spaces could be used in the future. The spaces he has explored (without permission, he says adding to the thrill and excitement of the adventure) include 14 abandoned tube stations, see Aldwych (below) and Battersea Power Station. The underground cavities of London tell us about the infrastructure of our city and how things function above ground. He encourages all of us to go and explore (cue horrified faces on parents of eager teens in the audience).
Bradley’s images of power cables and an intact section of Aldwych station
National Grid Excavation, East London: bradleygarrett.com
Finsbury Park Reservoir, North London: bradleygarrett.com
Aldwych disused Tube station, London : bradleygarrett.com
See more incredible images from Bradley’s European-wide adventures on his website.
Stand by for the second instalment. And Happy New Year!
Beatie Wolfe moves to the beat of her own drum. An entrepreneur, recording artist, song writer, polished public speaker and folky technophile, Beatie is making and promoting her music, her way. We met at The Hospital Club to talk about music, fashion and technology.
An Independent artist with an impressive roster of mentors and collaborators some of whom were met through family contacts, others by chance at events and gigs – She met Wynton Marsalis, who now mentors her, while gigging at Ronnie Scott’s. She’s not shy and grabs unexpected and obtuse opportunities with both hands. She is pushing the limits of her musical vision and staying true to her love of storytelling, eschewing potentially lucrative big label offers. It’s a bold move that she says is instrumental in maintaining her integrity as a recording artist and allowing her to work with other artists, maintaining the freedom to say yes to exciting collaborations without a big label calling the shots.
It’s fascinating to hear Beatie’s journey. She began playing piano aged 8 and confesses she used her piano tutor to transcribe her songs for her, rather than learning to play herself. The piano was restrictive in a way the guitar was not and a chance conversation with a Spanish handyman (who happened to be a guitar virtuoso) fixing her parents kitchen led to lessons and a passion for getting her songs down on paper via acoustic guitar. From then her storytelling and songwriting passion grew.
The decision not to study music was an early one – Beatie says she prefers to learn on her own terms rather than in a pre-prescribed way. A degree in English Literature followed secondary school, culminating in a dissertation on the poetry of Leonard Cohen (an act of defiance against her tutors who contested the choice citing Cohen’s work as absent from the English literary canon). Beatie got a first and the dissertation has been published and shared with Cohen since. Beatie is articulate and eloquent and admits she’s honed her email-writing skills over the years which has helped her make initial connections with people and grab opportunities. She is clearly a highly motivated, goal-oriented entrepreneur who is neither phased by the fame or expertise of her peers and mentors nor prone to listening to those who say there’s a ‘right way’ of doing things. There’s the path most trodden, then there’s the Beatie path.
Beatie’s recent Power of Music and Dementia project is the first of its kind to attempt to engage and reconnect dementia sufferers with emotions and memories through new music. The Independent reported it as ‘A musical miracle for dementia’ and it’s one example of an array of interesting projects she is involved with.
Beatie’s upcoming album is to be launched via cards embedded with NFC technology, enabling smart phone users to scan the cards (created in collaboration with Moo) to initiate instant song playback whilst viewing the song artwork and lyrics. It’s a tactile, immediate and intimate introduction to her music – via technology – which is what makes it so interesting. No wonder it captured the imagination of David Rowan, Editor of Wired Magazine and iTunes pioneer and founder of record label AWAL (Artists Without A Label) which counts Nick Cave amongst its artists, Denzyl Fiegelson. Beatie’s deck of NFC playback cards harks back to an era when music was sold on vinyl. It also reminds me of giving and receiving CDs as gifts, compete with the lyric booklet and album artwork. Nick Cave’s textured and embossed CD cover for the Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus album still sits proudly on my bookshelf as an object of beautiful design and Beaties cards are giving back that tactility in an age of downloads and streaming.
Individual NFC cards for each song off Beatie’s album
Beatie’s NFC launch is powered by Microsoft’s Nokia Lumia, whose fashion tech collaborations with Fyodor Golan were covered in my previous blog post.
I first met Beatie at Wired Next Generation and was compelled to speak to her on hearing about her upcoming collaboration with the head of soon to be revived fashion label Mr Fish, David Mason.
The founding designer, Michael Fish, crafted elaborate shirts for musical icons from the Rolling Stones to Jimi Hendrix in the late 60’s. He also created the kipper tie and velvet frock worn by Bowie on the album cover of The Man Who Sold the World, so it’s fitting Beatie is collaborating with Mr Fish’s successor for the launch of her new album.
Mr Michael Fish
Mick Jagger in Mr Fish dress
David Bowie in Mr Fish shirt and trousers with Angie Bowie
The images above remind me of fashion designer Jonathan Anderson’s direction at JW Anderson.
David Mason is also the Creative Director of British bespoke tailors Anthony Sinclair, famous for creating James Bond’s suits until Tom Ford took the mantle recently and whose first clients were the Beatles, followed by Eric Clapton and Elton John. Beatie bumped into David at the Royal Albert Hall a couple of months ago and he revealed he had moved into the flat once occupied by Yoko Ono and John Lennon – the site of many a famed and industry-defining recording, including Paul McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby” (incredible animated music video here) and Hendrix’s “ The Wind Cries Mary”.
Jimi Hendrix at 34 Montagu Square
Beatie went over for tea and on discovering the musical history of the room in which she sat, concocted a collaboration with David that at once allowed her to record the song Take Me Home to a gaggle of music industry insiders and David to measure them up for Mr Fish shirts, marking the relaunch of the fashion brand.
Beatie explained that there was still something missing in the mix and subsequently filled this gap by collaborating with BeatWoven – a textile designer creating digitally generated woven fabric from sound. The live recording of Beatie singing Take Me Home with the ambient sound of her audience at David’s flat at 34 Montagu Square is currently being woven into a fabric to be crafted into a gown by David Mason and launched at DLD (Digital-Life-Design) conference in January.
Beatie and her Pack performing Montagu Square recording “Take me Home”
The process of BeatWoven founder, Nadia-Anne Ricketts is a fascinating fusion of textiles and technology, explained in the video below.
A BeatWoven fabric
This isn’t the first time Beatie has explored promoting her music via technology and her first album 8ight launched with 3D interactive Palm Top Theatre app which projected Beatie atop a smart phone screen, effectively putting the listener/viewer in the front row of a virtual Beatie Wolfe concert. Pretty ingenious.
Beatie’s Palm Top Interactive App for *8ight
We chatted about the new album Montagu Square, which I had been listening to on my way to the interview. Firstly, I’m surprised at the simplicity and ease of the songs. It doesn’t sound overly-produced (which is refreshing after being forced to listen to commercial radio far too much recently) and a strong percussive sound with a bluesy overtone, especially on Green to Red. It’s sounds low-fi and honest. It’s storytelling – no bells and whistles. Maybe that’s why the innovative tech-led presentation works so well in contrast. In her music, Beatie is concerned chiefly with lyrics and expression. Her literature degree is an important and powerful tool in this amazing all-round creative tool-kit she has built. It makes me think about the BA fashion students I teach and how important a creative and entrepreneurial approach to life, study and work is, rather than simply relying on being a creative individual. Beatie’s story is both a lesson and an inspiration.
Beatie will be promoting her album via iTunes appearances stateside and public speaking engagements in the coming months and I can’t wait to hear next collaborative instalment. I’m finishing up this article listening to 8ight. Bowie’s Man Who Stole the World is next on my playlist (for musical and sartorial reasons).
Montagu Square is out on Monday 9th November. The launch gig is on November 12th. Check out beatiewolfe.com and iTunes for more details.