“So,” I say, shouldering my way through the crowd, “Job one is we find ourselves the bar. And job two is we try out some headphones. Sound good?”
“Sounds good,” Chris replied.
“'Scuse me mate,” I say to a man wearing a shirt that clearly cost more than my entire week's food budget, “Is the bar over this way?”
We immediately began to wish that Panasonic had hired a proper, empty venue for the event rather than holding it in what was already quite a full shop
“No. No, there's just a woman with a tray of champagne, I'm afraid,” he responds. Chris and I look despondent and scan the crowd, but no luck. We are in the basement of the Oxford Street branch of French Connection UK for the launch of a new range of Panasonic headphones, and we are a long way out of our depth.
Chris isn't a journalist. I'm barely a journalist, but he's even less of one than I am. He's a friend that I sneak into press events when the option of a plus one becomes available, or if I'm left in charge of invites and I reckon I can convince the company he's someone other than who he says he is.
This one time a year ago, Capcom invited me plus one to their London HQ to drink special Street Fighter X Tekken-themed cocktails, on the proviso that my plus one was another journalist and would possibly write about it. No-one from my office could make it. None of my freelancer friends could make it.
I called Chris, who on the off-chance happened not to be in work at his retail job in Crawley, and said:
“Chris. I need you. I need you for a gambit.”
We find the champagne, eventually, after doing two loops of the room. There's a branded backdrop underneath the stairs that's thronged with paparazzi, a novelty for me, who are performing flash photography assaults on people who are attractive enough to be probably famous. I don't recognise any of them, but then again, this isn't my crowd.
We make our way to the headphones table as the crowd spreads out to the sides of the room, and we see that there are five kinds of headphones -- cheap ones; kinda-cheap ones; old-looking ones; fancy ones, and ones that had secondary adjustment via a pair of swivelly arm-mounts just above the ear. They remind me of the design of the light-cycles in Tron.
I introduce myself to the PR manning the station as "Grant from Gizmodo," and Chris leans over and says that he's my “photographer.” He didn't need to; he's officially down as a plus one. We hadn't really agreed on a cover identity for him for this event, and the fact that he's taking pictures on his phone camera is suggesting that he might not be telling the whole truth. But he smiles and inserts a sort of half-chuckle into the word “photographer” that seems to paper over the enormous cracks in what is now our story.
There are a bunch of pink iPod Shuffles scattered on the table, all labelled with things like “FIRST DATE” or “BIG NIGHT OUT” or “LAZY WEEKEND.” The music on them is uniformly terrible. I take out my battered iPhone 3 from my pocket and dial up what I perceive to be a challenge: the filthiest dubstep that I can muster. Chris takes pictures at appropriate junctures as I do this.
There was a lot of quite expensive tech – in addition to these Nanos, which are pretty much the electronics equivalent of penny chews – just laying around the place. We weighed up the odds of getting caught stealing some of the more expensive bits and finally decided against it
“I need you to come to London right away,” I said, a year ago. “Capcom have asked me to bring another journalist to a private drinks event, and no-one's agreed to come with me. I don't want to sit in a room staring at a PR and getting drunk on my own because I don't have any influential friends.”
“Well, no. Of course.”
“So. You'll have to pose as a writer. Can you do that?”
“Who am I writing for?”
“Oh, God, I dunno. Maxim? Maxim. Yeah. I know a guy there. We can smooth things over afterwards. Are you in?”
He came as soon as he could.
Here is my review of the Panasonic headphones: I do not know a lot about headphones.
As you would imagine, the more expensive the headphones look, the better they sound. Even the cheapest ones are fine – you know, you can hear music through them; they play sound – but the others sound better. I don't know how to describe it. They create more sound? Yeah. They're soundier.
The dubstep sounds at least serviceable through all of them. Maybe classical music would have been better, in retrospect, or at least a genre made up of something other than all the bass left over from other genres shoved into a rough pile and left there.
Across the other side of the table is a woman who has been trying out all the headphones for the last twenty minutes, marking her out as another journalist and not a meedyuh type here for the mingles and free champagne. She's trying – awkwardly – to take a picture of herself wearing the headphones so she can take part in a Twitter competition to win a pair of the mid-range ones.
That's a proper journo right there.
I ask her if she wants me to take the picture for her, although really I'm just hoping to learn something about the headphones from an impartial source. I take it and she thanks me and we talk and she says that the headphones I'm currently holding, the 5s, are “very bassy.”
Is that a bad thing? I don't know. I mean, I like bass. Everyone likes bass, surely. But she said it in the way that you might describe a man's back as “very hairy.”
“Where are you from?” she asks, filling in the secondary topic of conversation for journalists everywhere after you've exhausted everything you can say about what you're supposed to be covering that night. I tell her I'm from Gizmodo UK and she says that she knows my editor and oh wait, am I the guy who wrote that hungover Toughpad piece?
I smile and nod and shoot a glance at Chris which manages to say “I've made it, Chris; people I've never met are talking about my articles,” and also “Can you get me some more champagne from the champagne lady please” at the same time. He scowls at me, grabs my glass off the table, and walks over to her.
“So, you're from Maxim. Say you're from Maxim.” We're in the lift ascending Capcom Towers at 6pm on a Friday. “They probably won't ask. In fact, don't mention it unless you're asked.”
We get out of the lift and wait for the PR to come through. Chris slopes off for a piss.
“Hi!” I say, when she appears. “Hi! I'm Grant. And the other guy is here too. The guy from Maxim. That I told you about. That's him. He's in the bathroom though. Taking a piss.”
“Okay,” says the PR. She asks me whether I've travelled far to get here today, which is the sort of thing that PRs ask you when they can't think of anything else to say. I say I haven't. We stare at each other for a while.
“Ah, here he comes!” I say, as Chris emerges from the bathrooms. “This is... Chris, yeah?” I pause a little as I introduce him and immediately regret it; I didn't need to construct any more lies around this, I didn't need to pretend that I could barely remember his name. Chris is my best friend. We were best man at each other's weddings. Now I have to get drunk and play Street Fighter X Tekken and pretend I'd never met him until just now.
It turns out that the other journalist writes for newspapers, which I'm always impressed by as newspapers pay top dollar for not very many words at all. I ask her what she thinks of the event – the ambient dance music; the scores of fashionistas; the minor celebrities; the headphones dangling from the ceiling in inverted forests.
“Well, I only come here to meet interesting people, really. And you're the only one I've met so far.”
It's a little harsh, but I'm inclined to agree (and to be flattered, enormously flattered, but I try not to let it show). This doesn't look like my sort of crowd. Everyone's very clean and impeccably-turned out; many of the men have even shaved. They look like the sort of people who'd walk into a club and already know everyone in there. They look like the sort of people who'd look good in a variety of hats. I can barely comprehend them.
We thank the lady for her time and advice and get some more champagne; I see the DJ stood behind the decks looking impossibly bored, and I decide I'll go and interview him. Panasonic made him the star of this launch, you see. He's a TV presenter or something but he's also a DJ and he had put together five special set-lists of music for tonight, and I figured I might be able to get an angle on all of this from him. Here is the interview text, verbatim:
“Hi, you're the DJ, right?”
“Cool, cool, I was wondering if I could have a quick word with you.” [Holds up dictaphone]
“So you've put together five special playlists for tonight, right?”
“Yeah. Well, George Lamb has. I help him out. You probably want to talk to him actually, but I don't know where he is right now.”
“Oh, okay. I probably do. Is he, uh, is he the famous guy?”
“Okay. Sorry about that. I'll have a chat with him later. Sorry to have bothered you. Sorry.”
We're in a meeting room off to the side of Capcom Towers, and a man from The Loading Bar in Falmouth is making cocktails for us. We are playing Street Fighter X Tekken. I am taking pictures of the drinks on my phone. The first one is a combination of Midori and sake, themed after undead samurai monster Yoshimitsu. The second is a sort of Long Island Iced Tea themed after a character who wears pink overalls.
The third is themed around a bear that is inexplicably a character in a game about a worldwide fighting tournament. How does a bear enter a fighting tournament? Who's filling out the paperwork for this bear? How is this bear paying for the flights to all these exotic locations?
Chris and I both play bears to celebrate – I a grizzly, he a panda – and knock the shit out of each other onscreen, oversized arcade controllers balanced on our laps. The PRs are drinking sometimes too, but careful not to take any eyes off us. We're very much being shown a good time.
At one point we are handed a full pint of Chambord-laced whipped cream (no kidding -- check out the photo) and we foolishly, drunkenly, try our best to drink it. Our façade is crumbling. We are cracking jokes with one another. We are referencing in-jokes that two men who met an hour and a half ago would be hard-pressed to develop in that time.
A PR tries to tell us about the combo system but Chris has an enormous whipped-cream moustache and I can't push the buttons properly for laughing at his stupid face.
We stand between some racks of coats hanging up in the corner of the shop. We have had almost enough champagne. Occasionally women carrying additional champagne walk near us and we look as thirsty as we can at them, in an attempt to blag some more.
“What do you reckon she does?” asks Chris, pointing at a woman in a beanie hat and a baseball jacket. We've been playing Guess People's Jobs for about fifteen minutes, now.
“I reckon she works for Vice,” I respond.
“Yeah. Yeah. Vice. That'll be it. That explains the hat.”
“What about him? Reckon he's a journo?” I nod at a man with an orange shirt and a pricey haircut.
“He's a journalist. But his Dad owns the mag.”
“Wait. I want that man's hair. I have to have that man's hair. Look at his hair.”
Chris didn't get a picture of the man's hair, but he did snap this excellent shot of the back of pop singer Pixie Lott's head. If you're interested in buying or licensing Chris's stunningly hi-res and crystal clear smartphone images, please get in touch and we can discuss royalties
The man in question has incredible hair: wavy, styled, salt-and-peppering into grey at the front. He looks like he makes the best cocktails in the world. I want his hair too. Everyone in the room wants his hair. Cameras flash at his approach. This is George, Aforementioned George, who proceeds to walk over to the DJ booth and start playing enjoyable but maybe-too-loud club classics whilst trying to simultaneously a.) throw his hands in the air and b.) maintain the impression that he just doesn't care. It's a sort of high-energy nonchalance that doesn't quite come off, sorry to say, Mr. Lamb.
Two people dance in the centre of the room; in the centre of this room full of people and moderately-priced highstreet menswear. One of them is carrying a microphone and followed by a cameraman; he's throwing himself into this, he's experienced at this sort of thing, he's charming the celebs – at least, the people who I assume are celebs – and opening them up, getting some quotes, creating some content. He's twice the journalist I'll ever be, and he's wiggling his bum in the air to out-of-date music in the middle of a fucking clothes shop.
“You can take home some of the drinks, if you want,” says the PR as we put our coats on and get ready to go home. “We've paid for them already and we can't leave them in the office, really.” I grab a half-bottle of vodka and Chris takes what remained of the sake.
We thank the PRs – I briefly remember we're supposed to be strangers, and ask Chris what tube line he's getting home as though he's not coming straight back to my house to eat takeaway pizza and then fall asleep on my sofa – and say our goodbyes: "Excellent night." "Thanks all round." 'I'll let you know when the article's up." "Many thanks." "Have a good evening." "See you later." And so on.
We take the lift all the way down to the ground floor.
“So,” I say as we hit the street, igniting a cigarette and taking a drag. “Perfect Crime?”
He smiles at me and cracks the top off the sake before sucking down a mouthful of the stuff.
It's time to leave. We ask if there's a spare goody bag going, but they're still getting them ready, so we go to a nearby McDonald's and order a McGangBang each before returning to pick one up. Here is a McGangBang; it is a Chicken Filet Burger wedged messily inbetween the layers of a Double Cheeseburger and eaten messily whilst trying not to think of what your parents must think of you now.
We walk back in half an hour later through a crowd of paparazzi waiting outside; grab a bag containing one (1) set of headphones and no information about any of the others available, and walk away.
“Are you drunk yet?” I ask Chris.
“Me neither. Let's... let's find a pub.”
Top image credit: Panasonic
Grant previously wrote about attending the Panasonic Toughpad conference, hungover and scared.