(Issue 176)
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TINY ART, BIG IDEAS

This week we dropped a claw into the arcade-grabber game that is the Birmingham art scene and it came up clutching Tam Bernard and Kieran "Key" Powell, makers of mini, micro scenes of some considerable magnitude. 
Pals of more than 15 years, they met while gigging for different bands and their friendship progressed to a bizarre shared passion for creating tiny scenes using model railway people, under the combined name LOW LFE. "I’ve always been a little obsessed with the concept of small people, right back to being a kid and watching The Borrowers," says Key. "Over several years and even more beers, somehow, Tam and I found our way to this style of art. Everyone's into something, right?"
Their work, more often than not, carries hidden — and not so hidden — moral messages. "Hopefully that's our point of difference," explains Tam. "Quite a lot of people are into miniature art, but much of it is rather samey. There seems to be a natural leaning towards food. You know, the classic shot of a young girl under a giant mushroom, Alice In Wonderland sort of a set up. That's not for us."

Pictured above Who's Killing All The Bees is their CSI-style nod to the the global bee crisis. "We want to get this message into schools," says Tam. "If any bee charities read this and want to work with us, we'd provide a forensic report to accompany the image, to teach kids about the importance of bees. And ask why corporations and governments are doing very little about the population decline."
When Trump was elected Tam and Key rummaged through their leftover figures, found some punks and a guy on a ladder, and got to work. Taking Shepard Fairey's world famous and unmistakably ominous OBEY slogan and blending it with the harrowing faces of John Carpenter's satirical sci-fi horror flick They Live, LOW LFE created an eerie mini billboard of the now President. "We stuck the punks in, flipping Trump the bird as a bit of a f*ck you to the guy," says Key "And took this photo on an actual giant billboard in Birmingham. Our work is 100% shot outdoors. No studio work. No Photoshop."
The most common place Tam and Key find themselves photographing is in Key's back garden, in Rednal. My Phone Died (above) is one such instance. “When someone’s phone dies it’s as if it’s the end of the world," explains Key. "Even the terminology— 'my phone’s dead' — is properly melodramatic, isn't it? So we poked a bit of fun at that. We put the phone in its box, as a coffin, and had 'Slave to the update' as the epitaph. That's pretty much what we've all become, right?"

Hardly likely to bag themselves paid work from Apple, Tam and Key are, however, open to commissions. "As long as the companies aren't f*cking dirty," they stipulate. 
Their most recent work is in response to news reports of fines being handed out to beggars. "What the hell's that all about?" asks Tam. "These people need help, not fines." The guys are brimming with ideas ("we want to do a scene set in the future where kids are touring a polar ice cap museum, learning about what the ice caps were"), but holding down full time work while producing their art means there's only so much they can get done. One day, though, they swear blind, they're going to exhibit their tiny work for all to see, physically and in person. They have interest from festivals for next year but nothing solidly based in Birmingham. If only they could reach 15,000 Brummies who love championing local artists, in one handy email. 

SMULTRONSTALLE:
NOW WITH ADDED FRIENDS


Brilliant, mad or brilliantly mad? Alex Claridge (yes The Wilderness chap) is going behind the bar for the very first "Friends of Smultronstalle" — a series of complete one-offs bringing chefs, bartenders, artists and other industries into Birmingham's cocktail answer to the world. Get more Alex in your life on May 25, with a six-course liquid-led menu, which will inevitably veer into some food accompaniments. Book one of eight spots at £75, by emailing reservations@barsmultronstalle.co.uk. And in case you fall outside the lucky octad, Smultronstalle's got a new menu to keep you coveting a spot on their cancellation list. In keeping with their Tokyo feeling digs (pictured), the new offering introduces the Japanese concept of 'omkase' to the drinks scene in Brum — which literally means 'to entrust the chef'. For £40, you'll get four-courses tailored specifically to you. Reservations here. Brilliantly mad is the correct answer by the way.

FILM PICK: FREE FIRE


Workaholic Brit director Ben Wheatley’s follow-up to last year’s High Rise is good, but could have been great. We’re in Seventies Boston. An arms deal between what’s clearly the IRA and a South African arms dealer goes wrong – and that’s Jenga, plot-wise. The rest of the film is one shoot-out, in one location, with the various factions’ loyalties developing with the situation. A superb cast (Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley and Brie Larson are barely half of it) make it work, but shouldn’t a film about a gunfight have decent gunplay in it? Times & trailer

SWING, JIG, REPEAT


Sometimes staying up all night and dancing vigorously is exactly what your hard-working cranium requires. When that opportunity falls over a bank holiday, you pretty much owe it to yourself and those around you. Swingamajig's bringing four stages of electro swing, gypsy folk, acrobats, and the highest concentration of movement you can find per square metre across the city, on April 30 from 2pm. In addition to all the soundage, there's plenty of dance workshopping, a vintage fair and streety sort of food. If you've never been, this is B-ham bucket list territory. Tickets from £25
Venue: Yorks Cafe Ikon, 1 Oozells Square, Brindleyplace, B1 2HS; website
Choice: Slice of The Calabrian (£3.75) Chooser: Providence

We have no idea how we feel about a pizzeria that offers a cauliflower cheese base. And despite going to Yorks' newly-opened cafe at Ikon (which does exactly that), we remain no closer to knowing, as the team had a choice of a sourdough based Margherita or veg-ladened nduja creation by way of pizzas by the slice. And the next option up is 20 inches (at £20), which seemed maybe just slightly excessive for our table of one. Back to that which we did devour, The Calabrian is a cheese-lovers sweet thing, loaded up with mozzarella, vegetarian parmesan and ricotta. The seasoned sourdough is the right amount thin and crispy and the nduja does a stand up job of cutting through what could turn into an over-powering fromag-erie. The beer offering (including Siren Craft and Wiper and True) makes this good looking addition to Brindleyplace's armoury worth the trip alone. We'd rather forgotten about the whole cauliflower base thing by the time we'd finished. Pizza menu
 
  • El Borracho is taking over the kitchen at 1,000 Trades from April 3 to 29 for galleons full of tapas. From 5pm Monday to Thursday and from 1pm Fridays and Saturdays. El menú
  • Moseley Record Fair is at St Columba, Chantry Road from 1pm on Sunday. They've got collectible vinyls as well as compact discs — remember compact discs?
  • If the lack of IMAX in Brum city centre got you all weepy feeling — you're going to like April 8 — when a parade of blockbusters are returning to Cineworld's screens. More
  • There are over 50 festivals taking place in and around the city this year. Attempt to keep up with them using this handy compendium
  • Fuckup Nights is a global thing, in Brum for the first time on April 10. Hear about the biggest business failures of entrepreneurs, then ask them questions and drink beer. Register
"The difference between pizza and your opinion is that I asked for pizza." - Bill Murray
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WORDS: Katy Drohan, Andrew Lowry
IMAGERY: Jack Spicer Adams (Smultronstalle)

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