Food and Drink: The last six months have seen lots of real world events pivoting to video, but the staunchly traditional Great British Beer Festival has to be the most unexpected one yet. CAMRA came up with a similar idea to the one BrewDog used for their virtual AGM a few months ago - send them £46, and they'd mail you eleven bottles of beer (a standard set of five British favourites from Drone Valley, Grey Trees, Eyam, XT and Oakham, plus another set of six in a style of your choosing) to be drunk in front of your computer during a weekend of guided Zoom tastings. We decided to subvert the Britishness of the event and went for a secondary set of foreign muck from St Bernardus, Duvel Moortgat, de Molen, Schlenkerla, Hitachino Nest and Früh. Cheryl Cade's international tasting session was a jolly and informative affair, while Roger Protz's British tasting was notable for him getting through all five beers in 35 minutes, alarming the people who'd assumed that you had to drink each bottle dry before starting the next one. In addition we had Q&A sessions with hop and malt suppliers, and an entertaining (but hard) informal pub quiz at the end of the weekend. The event was refreshingly clear of beardy beer bores (we had just one, who inevitably wouldn't turn his mic off during a Zoom session), and the whole event was surprisingly educational - when the main focus isn't just banging ales down your neck, as it tends to be in real-life beer festivals, there's a lot of knowledge being passed around. I'm not sure I'd want the GBBF to be like this every year, but it worked incredibly well in the circumstances.
Movies: Five years ago today, one of the items I reviewed in this bit was the world premiere performance of Max Richter's Sleep, his notorious eight-hour piece of music designed to be listened to literally while you were sleeping. So it only seems fair that today, I throw in a quick review of Max Richter's Sleep, a film by Natalie Johns that's effectively a making-of documentary about the piece. Starting from the basic idea - actually the connection of two independent ideas from Richter and his partner Yulia Mahr, who proves herself to be the conceptual thinker behind a lot of his work - we follow its evolution up to an extraordinary open-air all-night performance in a Los Angeles park, with the audience lying in multiple rows of camp beds. Possibly the least interesting thread in the film is the series of interviews with LA audience members, pretentiously set up as if they're dreaming the interview in the middle of the show. But the most unexpected one is the focus on Max and Yulia's home life, and particularly how they were struggling financially for a large part of it. They come across as a lovely couple, throwing around some big ideas while always staying firmly grounded in the real world. If you're okay with watching a film that takes the rhythm of its editing from a piece of music that's intended to make you doze off, then there's a lot to enjoy here. You've missed Sleep's tiny theatrical run: on the night we saw it, there was one other person in the audience, which counts as a success in social distancing terms. But it's currently available on demand from the likes of Curzon Home Cinema, and you'll be able to get it on physical media from October 12th.
Travel: I never really know which category to use for my writeup of the Japan Matsuri each year. I tend to assume Travel is the safest bet because a) people travel to London to see it, and b) it's a festival that's largely about persuading people that they'd like to travel to Japan sometime. Of course, both of those points are less true in 2020. Still, the transfer of this year's Matsuri to the online Japan Matsuri Presents is certainly a lot less surprising than the GBBF's similar journey. Stretched out from the usual one day to a full weekend, we got the same cavalcade of Japanese culture that we would have got live in Trafalgar Square, but with the added bonus that guests didn't have to be flown in from Japan in order to take part. Certainly some of the quieter elements - for example, the Kakehashi Koto Ensemble's hour-long history of the instrument, complete with several full performances - simply wouldn't have worked in the open air. We didn't have to queue for ages for food, because we got to make our own, with a series of Zoom cookalongs to make our own okonomiyaki and sweet pancakes. For me, the highlight was Ura Ura Lockdown, effectively an hour-long fringe matsuri in the middle of the main one: driven by the anarchic spirit we associate with Frank Chickens (whose founder Kazuko Hohki is one of the organisers), we got everything from Hibiki Ichikawa and D.J. Takaki's mashup of traditional shamisen and modern turntablism, to No Cars and their delightfully daft indie stylings. It's all finished now, of course, but there's still some content lying around in the Matsuri site's Discovery Area: maybe it's time you discovered the joy of Radio Taiso.
In the meantime, your Simian Substitute Site for October 2020 is The Flying Monkey Movie House and Performance Center, a fine-looking arts complex located in Plymouth, New Hampshire. The programme's a little sparse at the moment, because of, you know, everything, but there's still stuff going on. If you're interested in film, they've got a screening of the original Nosferatu in the runup to Halloween: while if music's more your thing, on October 9th they've got Pink Talking Fish, a tribute band that plays the music of Pink Floyd, Talking Heads and Phish, possibly even simultaneously.
Regular visitors to this site will know that at this time of year, I'm going to be heading more in the direction of film. Yes, despite it all, October is still London Film Festival season, and that's pretty much all that's going to be happening here for the next few weeks. We'll start off with one more book publication announcement, meaning that I'll have 31 years worth of LFF movie reviews available in print. Then just a couple of days after that, it'll be time to start work on reviewing year 32. As ever, expect daily reports of screenings: this year I'm hoping they'll be a mixture of both virtual and physical events, though obviously everything could change at the drop of a facemask.
Continue to look after yourselves, and all that. How are you keeping, anyway? (Space for answers below, as usual.)