“Perhaps all pleasure in only relief” – William S. Burroughs
As a Recoverist, an activist in long-term-recovery from substance misuse, I have spent much of the last seven years reflecting on the complex needs, behaviours, tendencies and spectrum-related issues that have shaped my self-medication of the existential pain that dominated my misusing existence. Somewhere between what Raoul Martinez defines as the twin peaks of ‘the luck of birth’ and ‘the myth of responsibility’, I eventually realised that I was no longer prepared to accept what I had become. This process of change has inspired a critical re-evaluation, an ongoing process of personal discovery.
Whilst it is important not to get hung up on labelling, it is also vital to understand the personality of disorder, and the fundamental principles at the heart of dysfunction. We all share more in common than we do differences, and we all sit on spectrums of disorder, as well as continuums of improving health and wellbeing. Obsession and compulsion play their role in the choices we make, of both lifestyle and self-medication, and long after the toxins have been removed from the bloodstream, these disorders seek explanations, and, eventually, compromises, in order to allow us to instal order where chaos once ruled. Learning to ‘be here now’ is way easier to say than it is to do.
“Not all addictions are rooted in abuse or trauma, but I do believe they can all be traced to painful experience. A hurt is at the centre of all addictive behaviours. It is present in the gambler, the Internet addict, the compulsive shopper and the workaholic. The wound may not be as deep and the ache not as excruciating, and it may even be entirely hidden, but it’s there” – Gabor Maté, ‘In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction’
I have taken much from the work of Maté, himself a self-confessed compulsive-obsessive classical music collector, and I fully recognise the importance of attachment, conditioning, trauma and resilience in shaping human responses to what Bruce K Alexander frames as ‘the Age Of Dislocation’: “Global society is drowning in addiction to drug use and a thousand other habits. This is because people around the world, rich and poor alike, are being torn from the close ties to family, culture, and traditional spirituality that constituted the normal fabric of life in pre-modern times. This kind of global society subjects people to unrelenting pressures towards individualism and competition, dislocating them from social life. People adapt to this dislocation by concocting the best substitutes that they can for a sustaining social, cultural and spiritual wholeness, and addiction provides this substitute for more and more of us”.
Although I have no formal diagnosis in place, extensive psychotherapy and screening by the National Autistic Society strongly suggest that Autistic Spectrum Disorder and Anxiety Spectrum Disorder have historically shaped my response to the world around me. Understanding spectrum behaviours allows me to improve not only my own responses to the world, but also those I work with professionally as a substance misuse practitioner.
Having detoxified the substance pollution from my personal landscape, it has become increasingly possible for me to identify negative behavioural and personality traits and manage them appropriately. For those of you by now wondering where this month’s column is going with all this, my consumption of music and the collection of vinyl artefacts features heavily in this suite of behaviours. Over the years, I have grown and lost many a collection, and the forces of compulsion and obsession have played their part continually.
As a teenager, I began to grow my first collection in the land of the dinosaurs, the older-brother-dominated world of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Rainbow and progressive rock. Back in those days, the cultural tendency to long-ponder the proliferation of gatefold sleeves on the event horizon of double live albums meant that I spent as much time polishing the record’s covers than the records themselves. I was obsessed with the pristine nature of the artwork, rather than the quality of sound. Once I had satisfied myself that a sleeve was free from any evidence of human contact, I would compulsively slide it into a protective PVC cover. Before long, I would extend this practice to polishing the PVC sleeves themselves. This presented untold anxiety whenever my nascent collection was under scrutiny from visiting friends. Girlfriends teased mercilessly with regard to the polishing, and certain friends would deliberately remove album covers from their sleeves just to check out my disproportionate reaction, often verging on palpitation. Elements of this obsession survive to this day in my inability to care for records whose sleeves have been damaged: bumps, dinks, grinds, stains or, heaven forbid, seam splits, the curse of the mail order shopper.
The arrival of punk rock’s year zero revealed a new tendency: I exchanged the thirty or so albums of my meagre collection in one transaction, and left clutching records by The Damned, The Clash, The Stranglers, and the ‘New Wave’ compilation on Sire Records. This process illustrates the irrational variation in the perceived value of a record whenever it’s engaged in some kind of exchange process. These days, collection culls lead to yard sales on Discogs, to fund the ever-increasing cost of meeting the need of incoming desires and purchases. Heaven knows the amount of money I’ve lost on the terrible deals I’ve carried out, desperately motivated by the compulsive need to own a particular record, in that particular pressing, now.
Back in the day, vast tracts of time would be consumed travelling the record shops and vinyl emporiums of the land, digging through the crates, in search of illusive ‘wants’, and brand new ‘needs’, bartering deals with a proffered carrier bag of considered gems in the hope of exchange. The death of the record shop and the rise of the internet has inevitably changed this practice intrinsically, but the song remains the same. Every night, on returning from work, I trawl the online portals of Boomkat, Soundohm, LVEUM, Mr Bongo, Honest Jon’s Records, Low Company, and beyond, in search of vinyl medication at the close of another day at the coal face. Increasingly, the moments between discovering a ‘want’ and clicking ‘add to basket’ resemble the rush a gambler experiences when their horse crosses the line, or the euphoria an opium smoker embraces as another deal burns on the foil.
In the last few years, I have been forced to face the fiscal reality that this practice cannot go on indefinitely. Around eighteen months ago, I set up a Discogs account in a bid to address the situation in a meaningful and constructive manner. Whilst I still outspend what I bring in by some measure, I am now at least functionally accountable for my actions, and, although I would hate to be labelled a ‘flipper’, from time to time records do sell for more than I paid for them. For a while, I naively figured that this could become some kind of business, replicating the unbridled joy I experienced as a youthful sales assistant at Discovery Records. Unfortunately, the cost of postage, mailers, commissions to Paypal and Discogs, and the time spent tripping between the post office and home, means that I’m kidding myself to be thinking that I do anything other than break even. In the end, I view it instead as responsibly managing my mental health.
Storage, meanwhile, presents its own collection of obsessions: filing; alphabetising; quandaries over genre pollution, leading, inevitably, to genre quarantining; PVC versus poly sleeves; ringwear; accessibility issues. For many years I’ve operated an A/B/C system, with the A) shelf housing my contemporarily treasured items; the B) shelf housing punk, hardcore, black metal and industrial/noise; and the C) shelf being, presently, a space on the floor where aforementioned relics from the pre-punk dinosaur days languish in the shadows of their former glory. Then there are the culled overspills, a couple of hundred items of which are listed on Discogs, and hundreds more awaiting listing, or a bulk disposal at some opportune juncture. Thousands of records, thousands of pounds, hundreds and thousands of grooves. The crown jewels of the 1976-84 British punk rock explosion represent a pension of sorts in their own right, but this cache was sadly depleted following a psychotic episode in 2008, triggered by Interferon/Rebetol, leading to the disastrous dissolution of that particular collection, along with the a catacomb full of extremely valuable black metal.
As someone who considers themselves to be a Marxist, it’s somewhat perplexing to consider the extent to which capitalist markets dictate the way I consume and collect music. In my defence, the majority of the records I’ve bought in my lifetime have been released by independent labels, or, these days, by the artists themselves, but I am guilty of using Amazon on occasion in a ‘must have immediately’ moment of compulsion, for that next-day-delivery delirium. A few years back, a girlfriend would text me nightly with the words: ‘do not add to basket’. As I ponder the passage of time, and reflect on these issues had they not been flagged-up, or, worse still, were I ever to operate a computer whilst under the influence, whilst in possession of a valid credit card, things could be far, far worse. Sober, drug free, and with a working understanding of the compulsions and obsessions that shape my behaviours, I am able to build responsibility parameters of my own, and police myself through the process of maturation.
According to relevant research, around one-in-three people in the Western World collects something or other. Collectors are often portrayed negatively as obsessive, socially maladjusted oddballs, in thrall to acquisitive drives, yet collectors cherish things about objects that few others appreciate, and are not necessarily materialistic in their motivations for collecting. At worse, record collectors have been described as socially maladjusted obsessives, no different to trainspotters! However, research by Dr. Susan Pearce reveals collectors as a group to be socially average, in many respects. Pearce argues that “collecting falls into three distinct categories: ‘souvenirs’, items or objects that have significance primarily as reminders of an individual’s or group’s experiences; ‘fetish objects’ (conflating the anthropological and psychological senses of the term), relating primarily to the personality of the collector; the collector’s own desires lead to the accumulation of objects that feed back into those desires, with the collection playing a central role in defining the personality of the collector, memorializing the development of a personal interest or passion; ‘systematics’, with the broader goal of creating a set of objects that expresses some larger meaning. Systematic collecting involves a stronger element of consciously presenting an idea, seen from a particular point of view, and expressed via the cultural world of objects”. I recognise elements of all three of Pearce’s categories in my collecting habits. Records to me have always been objets d’art (both aural and visual), as well as cultural expressions of intent. As well as the accumulation of artefacts, as musicologist Simon Reynolds has observed, record collecting also involves the amassing of data, information and knowledge of the culture surrounding artists, cults, scenes, milieux and movements. Is there something unique about recorded sound that dictates such slavish devotion?
The soundtrack to this month’s column reflects its subject matter. I’ve been obsessed with the following records for the last four weeks:
As I warned you last time out, Keiji Haino‘s ‘Watashi Dake?’ (Black Editions) has remained close at hand at all times. A work of sublime genius, its a record that demands devotional attention. It was recorded in the dark, in the dead of night, and I find those the best conditions in which to lose myself in its thrall. Utterly captivating in a way only true improvisational wonderment can attain.
Jac Berrocal‘s ‘La Nuit Est Au Courant’ (Souffle Continue) is described by the label as ‘Don Cherry jamming with David Bowie and Brian Eno in Berlin’, and is perfect for long summer’s nights of reflection. Alongside Jacques Thollot, Bernard Vitet and Michel Potage, Berrocal represents the pinnacle of the 70s French free jazz underground.
Jean-Francois Pauvros And Gaby Bizien – ‘No Man’s Land’ (Souffle Continue) is considered to be the the unsung hero of French No Wave, with absolutely no equivalent to challenge it in the massed ranks of France’s avant-garde. The record is rightly championed as the key artefact of a nation’s improvisational output. Recorded in 1976, it sits alongside This Heat‘s S/T debut as evidence that mediums other than punk rock were available that long hot summer, long ago. The irony is that it has outlived its spikey-haired contemporaries, in terms of shelf life, and is here now, for the first time to these ears, to stimulate and beguile in equal measure, a testament to its uniqueness.
Jean-Francois Pauvros And Gaby Bizien – ‘Pays Noir’ (Souffle Continue) collates three unrelated recordings from the same sessions as ‘No Man’s Land’, an essential addendum, there’s a godlike genius element to the spontaneity of this duo that sets them apart from the in-crowd.
Paolo Modugno – ‘Brise D’Automne’ (Archeo Recordings) – originally released on Stile Libero (Italy), ‘Brise D’Automne’ pays sumptuous homage to the Spiritual/New-Age/Folk/Electronic and Experimental coordinates of the 80’s Italian underground.
Lal and Mike Waterson – ‘Bright Phoebus’ (Domino) – 1972 folk-noir masterpiece, long recognised as one of British music’s legendary lost classics. Demonised on release, canonised by revisionist historians, ‘Bright Phoebus’ was widely regarded as folk music’s ‘Sergeant Pepper’ moment, a folk-psyche gem that has only been polished by the passing of time.
Croww – ‘Prosthetics’ (The Death Of Rave) – a record made from bits of an old record, namely Slipknot’s 1999 S/T debut: “Croww has turned Slipknot’s cultural cadaver into a polysemous mutant that works as a brutalist DJ tool, or indeed as an introductory mixtape/imagined soundtrack boldly expressing the artist’s individuality, which feels deadly important in an age swamped by mimetic clones blindly chasing empirical populism on one hand, or all too happy to wallow in staid ideas of nostalgia on the other. It’s a beguiling reminder that there’s always a third hand, a third track or third path”.
“Anything can happen in life, especially nothing” – Michel Houellebecq
In this state of capitalist surrealism, nothing is the norm. Something is but nothing. Something it is not. Nothing is worth anything. Nil plus nil is nothing. Notes change hands at an alarming rate. It’s impossible to prosecute the elite. Even when they would appear to be breaking every law in the land. If they are challenged, they simply lie. It’s nothing to do with them.
A month or so down the line from the Peasant’s Revolt, billions out of pocket to the DUP, the Northern Irish Peace process in jeopardy, the Magic Money Tree shaking like Stevens, the illegal May administration propped up by a bung-ho interpretation of the concept of ‘mandate’ has issued the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (formerly the Great Repeal Bill). This Bill gives government ministers the right to change the law without a vote in parliament. Sections 7, 8 and 9 of the Bill outline how delegated powers and ‘Henry VIII’ powers can be used by ministers to change the law. Ministers will, for instance, have the power to either replace oversight bodies of the EU (e.g. EURATOM), or to simply abolish them entirely.
The Bill states that ministerial powers can be used to address ‘deficiencies’ in EU law, and gives a list of circumstances (in Section 7 (2)), but crucially says that the legitimate uses of the powers are ‘not limited’ to the list given. So, it’s entirely unclear what the ultimate limits are. If the government wants to do anything that creates a criminal offence or establishes a public authority, it will (in theory) have to seek a vote in parliament, although there will not be the usual scrutiny of the full parliamentary process. If it wants to do anything else, it will have the power to do it, with minimal opportunity for MPs to intervene. If a government minister deems the matter to be ‘urgent’, they will be able to opt out of the vote in parliament. Frighteningly, there are no standards beyond a minister’s competence to define what ‘urgent’ actually means, suggesting that it will be ‘interpretive’, thus very difficult to challenge this use of power in the courts. Section 8 of the Bill gives ministers powers to change the law in order to comply with Britain’s international obligations, but gives no direct definition of which obligations. Without a clarification, it is theoretically possible that this will give ministers the power to change British law without a vote in parliament in order to bring us into line with newly negotiated trade deals, for example, the selling off of what’s left of the NHS to Donald Trump.
In a month that’s witnessed bribery, corruption, corporate manslaughter, acid attacks, hate-preacher inspired white van terrorists, and a cartoon May clinging to power like a refugee clinging to an upturned hull in a freezing North Sea, my soundtrack has reflected the powerlessness I have felt in the midst of all this insanity. As communities crumble at the first apparition of fear, division and resultant mistrust breeds paranoia and angst. The ultimate realisation that there is nothing we can do in the face of this onslaught plays on the mind. We find ourselves turning in on ourselves in recrimination and doubt. Sleep patterns collapse, and we begin to question the things we enjoy. We find ourselves treading water, killing time:
“Who has never killed an hour? Not casually or without thought, but carefully: a premeditated murder of minutes. The violence comes from a combination of giving up, not caring, and a resignation that getting past it is all you can hope to accomplish. So you kill the hour. You do not work, you do not read, you do not daydream. If you sleep it is not because you need to sleep. And when at last it is over, there is no evidence: no weapon, no blood, and no body. The only clue might be the shadows beneath your eyes or a terribly thin line near the corner of your mouth indicating something has been suffered, that in the privacy of your life you have lost something and the loss is too empty to share” – Mark Z. Danielewski, ‘
Typically, my flagship record at the heart of this poisonous summer of discontent is as dark as the heart of British society itself. Black Editions‘ reissue of Keiji Haino’s solo debut from 1981, ‘Watashi Dake?’, has opened up a portal to the Japanese avant garde that will doubtless shape the coming month: you have been warned! Originally released in a minuscule edition by the Pinakotheca label, the album has become the stuff of legend over the last forty years, and we’re suckers for legends and myths here at tMx. My previous exposure to Haino’s work had been minimal, but I find myself being drawn into his vast art like an innocent child compelled to enter a maze in a gothic horror movie.
‘Watashi Dake?’ is a zen experience, a profound and challenging listen that betrays its age to remain as young as the day it was born, urging us to be here now. Haino’s vocals are whispered, then screamed, they rasp as they soar, they crack as they emote, they punctuate the atmospheric silences, almost at random. Silence is the uncredited instrument at the epicentre of ‘Watashi Take?’. Ethereal guitar figures entwine, this music is ancient, yet newborn, connected to the energy that flows through us all, flitting like shadows across the windmills of the mind. Haino states in a supporting interview (available through the Black Editions link below) that the album was composed in the moment. He is clear that his intention was to confound, his ambition to see his uncategorizable music filed under Country and Western. Invoking rustic blues, medieval chant, shamanic incantation and wilful awkwardness, ‘Watashi Dake?’ repeats and stretches Haino’s theme in trance-like-proto-post-evertything fashion, this record stands resolutely alone in a cannon of one. Black Editions’ issue is beautifully presented in a gold and silver cover featuring the photography of Gin Satoh that recaptures Haino’s original wish for the album’s initial release that proved too expensive to fulfil back in 1981. ‘Watashi Dake?’ is a piece of living art, a masterpiece created in the dead of night. A lesson in spiritual naivety for an impoverished West, a gift from the wisdom of the East.
Our second escapee from the past emerges from the dessert mist like a mirage of hope in a dust storm of depleted uranium. Morteza Hannaneh was a co-founder of the Tehran Symphony Orchestra, and ‘Tschashm-e-Del’ (Collapsing Markets) was originally recorded in the 1960’s for Tehran Radio. The recording had remained lost for decades, until being rediscovered by Hannaneh’s grandson, and is duly presented here in stunning artwork by Thomas Jeppe, issued by Parisian label, Collapsing Markets. ‘Tschashm-e-Del’ is basically a musical set to a Ghazal, an ancient Arabic ode, a poetic expression of the pain and beauty of love, loss or separation, written by Hatef Esfehani, a famous Iranian poet of the 18th century. The narrative focusses on the principles of Sufism and monotheism in the form of a love story between Hatef and a Christian girl. Hannaneh’s arrangement echoes the rhyming structure of this ancient classical form, maintaining traditions reaching back to at least the 10th century. ‘Tschashm-e-Del’ is a widescreen cinematic glimpse of a culture that has been all but obliterated post-revolution in most Western preconceptions of Iranian culture. Issued in a limited edition with d/l code and an accompanying booklet complimenting Jeppe’s artwork, ‘Tschashm-e-Del’ is an essential operatic reminder to adventurous listeners that we’ve not heard it all before.
The titular subject of this month’s column arrives in the form of Benedict Drew‘s ‘Crawling Through Tory Slime’ (Mana Records). Artist and composer Drew is a regular collaborator with the likes of Rhodri Davies and Chris Watson. His latest exhibition, ‘The Trickle-Down Syndrome’, is in residence at the Whitechapel Gallery from 7 June – 10 September 2017. ‘Crawling Through Tory Slime’ is Drew’s first vinyl release on the newly established Mana label (Andrea Zarza, curator at the British Library Sound Archive, and Blowing Up The Workshop founder, Matthew Kent), following a string of cassette releases expressing his visual realisations in audio format through his Bandcamp page. The record features two extended workouts that simmer and bubble like a saucepan of John Collis Browne cough mixture being reduced to passable opium oil. Chiefly embracing the art of dub, Drew has absorbed shapes thrown by recent Helm releases and, arguably, Pan‘s ‘Mono No Aware’ collection, and redefines them here in marginally accessible soundscapes. Rhythms clatter like Tube trains, electrically propelled at high voltage, the crackle of static, as psueodo-bass lines splutter temporarily, then fade from the terrain. Ghostly figures of alleged structure haunt the mixing desk like the half-formed memories of a particularly bad dream. Whereas Mana label-mate Mariétan (see below) used the sound of barge engines back in 1981, Drew engages similar oscillations, recalling the original washing machine gurgles of traditional acid house. Elsewhere, analogue tones gurgle and mutate beneath the slime. Its a short-attention-span sufferers field day. A concentration-obsessive’s nightmare on Redchurch Street. Designed rather than composed, ‘Crawling Through Tory Slime’ neatly documents the interpassivity at the heart of passive collusion, circa 2017.
Electro-acoustic sound interpretation is nothing new, we find, as Drew’s Mana label-mate Pierre Mariétan confirms with his expansive ‘Rose Des Vents’ suite. Commissioned by the French government back in 1981, as Keiji Haino was pushing the envelope thousands of miles away to the East, Mariétan was blowing minds here in the West. A Swiss composer, Mariétan studied under Stockhausen, Boulez and Gottfried Michael Koenig. Charged with documenting the urban landscape of early 80’s France in a musical format, Mariétan explores the contradictions between music and found sound. Presented as a collage of ‘field recordings, interviews, vegetable market catcalls, braying animals and urban hubbub’, ‘Rose Des Vents’ reflects a psycho-geographical map of Parisian locales, such as Bezons, Herblay, Montmagny and l’Isle Adam. For nigh on two-hours we glide through the past, imaginary passengers on a barge of transmission, soaking up the cultural resonance on a fascinating journey into sound. Make no mistake, this is a trip: a collection of scenes that form an aural play as cohesive as the narrative we encountered above in ‘Tschashm-e-Del’. ‘Rose Des Vent’ is a joy to behold, an interaction that inspires and excites, a cultural Tardis that shares the theme of discovery that acts as the kernel of this month’s column.
The /\\Aught label captured the imaginations of the abstract techno milieu briefly a couple of years ago in a strictly cassette-related medium. Revisited here in vinyl stages by Chained Library, the label duly announces itself with a brace of limited wax excursions. Agnes commence proceedings with the two-track 12″, ‘012016002001’, a razor-sharp acid bath of abstraction, rattling with attitude and intent. Both tracks fluctuate and vacillate in rhythmic abandon, like a metallic butterfly flapping its wings, aware of the hurricane that will surely follow. Xth Réflexion’s ‘/\\05-06′, meanwhile, combines both their previous tapes for /\\Aught over two slabs of clear wax, neatly housed in an over-sized semi-rigid perspex sleeve that will drive shelf-obsessives to distraction with it’s refusal to comply to standard specifications. Grubbing about in the same dubbed-out margins as Benedict Drew, Xth Réflexion gray-out with the best of them in a market-leader sense of relative originality. There’s very little out there that sounds like this, and nothing as competitive has emerged from the primordial slime in similar regard since the dawn of the decade. These 10-tracks are genuinely that essential.
The last brace of musical considerations this month come from Smagghe and Cross, and the essential Often Music. I have been living with ‘MA’ for a couple of month’s now, and every listen continues to surprise and engage me on a hitherto unexpected level. It’s hard to argue with fellow old person Andrew Weatherall’s summation of this remarkable record from an altogether remarkable label:
“At times the way the voice skipped intermittently, the recording sounded like an exercise in Uncle Bill’s scissors technique but in my defence the mic I was using was hidden. I knew Jean was recording me, he’d asked for an interview after finding my name in one of his black notebooks, but Jean didn’t know I was recording him. He was tuning into fading echoes and when he thought the tape machine was off he left an echo of his own. I caused such scenes on the way to and at kindergarten that first day my mother never bothered risking damage to my nascent psyche by making me return. Consequently come first grade my petulance had precluded me from the nursery school forged friendships of my new classmates. It’s why I’ve always been an observer. But I’ve never been an archivist. I never wrote the intimate details down. If you fix them on paper there’s a danger of shared ownership. The black notebooks contain coded references, the meaning once obvious now somewhat cryptic. Names, some possibly anagrammatical and numbers, presumably long dead phone lines. There are a few sketches but no photographic evidence of any kind. This to most of the population, with its need for minute by minute high def validation, sounds like a curse. I however feel blessed. Evidence is the enemy. Magick for me is the carp in Herman’s monastery pond. Brief flashes of gold as I disturb the murky silt of memory. It’s there that one of the only two recordings of Jean’s voice comes to an end. Jean has his copy obviously but if I know Jean, it’s long been lost or destroyed”.
An addendum to ‘MA’ has since emerged in the form of ‘Untitled’ (Often Music), a two-track 10″ carrying the rapturous candour of ‘Jazz’ and the ‘cubist electro-acoustic dimensions’ of ‘Assassin De La Popcorn’. Smagghe and Cross are an unlikely duo, self-styled blind observers and one-eyed cats: a perfect fit in the audio-soup assembled for this month’s soundtrack of abstraction.
In conclusion this month, the Tories intention to push the country to the absolute brink is exemplified by the new UK Drug Strategy 2017. The government’s latest policy relaunch claims to be upping the ante in its war on illegal drugs in the midst of rising death rates, but with the ring fence removed from local authority health spending, and up to 50% cuts in funding in some areas, the policy has been roundly criticised by those in the field as more of the same: nothing. Seemingly, this is just another day at the class war class for the Bullingdon’s class of 1987. The latest available figures reveal that deaths are soaring: 3,674 drug poisoning deaths involving legal and illegal substances were recorded in 2015, up from 3,346 in 2014, the highest since comparable records began in 1993. Cocaine deaths reached an all-time high in 2015, and deaths involving opiates doubled over three years to reach record levels. In Portugal, where they decriminalised the use of all drugs in 2001, there are 3 drug overdose deaths per million citizens. Here in the UK, that figure is 44.6 deaths per million. Meanwhile, Uruguay is the first country in the world to legally regulate marijuana, and retail sales commence in late July. We are repeatedly told by ministers and lecturers that we line in an evidence-based world, and in Scandinavia, Canada, South America and Australia, that evidence is being used diligently in combatting the inequality and social injustice that informs mass self-medication and dependence. Here in the UK, we’ve somehow conspired to turn a relatively liberating concept such as asset based community development (ABCD) in to ABCDWP.
As the residents of high rise buildings all over the land have begun to realise, the lives of ordinary people are worth nothing. The society of the spectacle is stumbling towards the end game of decline, where civil unrest will eventually turn class war to civil war. Nothing changes if nothing changes.
The Peasants’ Revolt began in May 1381, triggered by a recently imposed poll tax of 12-pence, levied against every adult, wealthy or poor. The revolt was not just about the ethical distribution of capital, however, these peasants had a raft of issues around social justice, inequality and civil liberty. Their demands focussed on employment rights, social mobility, and an end to the oppressive practice of serfdom. Inspired by the work of proto-human rights activist, John Ball (John McDonnell), the revolt was led by Wat Tyler (Jeremy Corbyn). On 13th June, the rebels reached the capital, and traversed London Bridge. Once in the city itself, they attacked civil targets, destroying legal records, opening prisons, sacking homes, and killing individuals they suspected were associated with the Royal Government.
The parallels between the Peasant’s Revolt and GE2017 are heavily pregnant with artistic licence: May humiliated in June, forced into an unethical pact with the DUP, described as an agreement of ‘confidence and supply’, possibly in breach of both the Good Friday Agreement and the British Constitution. Humbled and ridiculed on the shores of political wilderness, berated, even, by members of her own party, themselves no strangers to backstabbing or assassination, condemned to form the spineless backbone of future LSE theses on ‘how not to conduct an election campaign’. Throughout the process, the May backhand wobbled, as she performed U-bend-turn after U-bend-turn, stumbling effortlessly, tripping through the cornfields of her own mind, like the Black Knight in ‘Monty Python’s Holy Grail': waffling, cowering, as the mighty Corbynator wielded Excalibur through her mandate, slashing her stealthy plans for the private sale of the NHS to ribbons: “It’s only a flesh wound!”
After a seven-week campaign that saw Labour produce a fit-for-purpose manifesto that set the hearts of neo-socialists alight, Jeremy Corbyn has become the most powerful political figure in the UK. On a night destined to go down in political history, or, at the very least, Owen Jones‘ special Guardian journalist’s notepad, the largest Labour swing since the Atlee administration of 1945 smashed neoliberalism in the face with a 3-wood of pubic contempt, simultaneously fucking the Blairite tendency in the arse with a rusty sand wedge. The youth of Britain stirred, doubtless mobilised by the shock of a relevant cover story in the NME, as hundreds of thousands of young people got off their lazy arses to kick the fuck out of pompous Tory politicians whose lazy stereotypes idly propped up the bars of gentleman’s establishments across the land. Old and young united in fear, motivated by survival principles usually associated with the kind of post-apocalyptic landscapes pre-election debating audiences were seemingly including in their policy demands.
As Corbyn filled public spaces with his adoring acolytes, fox hound Barry Gardiner ripped apart the paramilitary wing of the BBC press corps, tearing out the throats of Murdoch’s minions on a daily basis. Emily Thornberry captured hearts and minds with her meticulous accuracy and her unflappable delivery, the antithesis of the cliche-by-numbers stable strength of the May crash test dummy. Like a mannequin doused in grey paint, all the May could do was implore us to watch her dry. In car-crash media interface after car-crash media interface, she hurtled through windscreen after windscreen, in search of private health care initiative leverage mechanisms.
Meanwhile, bombs went off, atrocities were committed, the May refused to debate, and the BBC moved ever-further into an identity crisis that basically rendered it the Official Propaganda Department of the Conservative Party: for Lord Haw Haw, read Laura Kuentssberg. The May appeared in cowsheds, lay-bys, farmer’s markets, and well known dogging sites, but, as the cameras duly panned back, the big reveal was nothing more than a handful of specially bussed-in colluders, crisis actors on their day off, pimping for extra cash to cover dementia-related support for their elderly relatives. As the campaign trundled on, the elite’s desperation to smear the unimpeachable Corbyn forehand grew more desperate by the hour: Corbyn was in league with the IRA, Hamas, the PLO, he’d once gone on a picnic with Vladislav Surkov, during which he’d professed his love for the work of Yury Shevchuk. As all of this played out, the greatest trick Boris Johnson ever played was convincing the world that he did not exist.
Day by day, poll by poll, the gap closed. The right wing media, unable to subvert reality any longer, screamed: “mind the gap!” Through a tear in the space-time-contiuum, relative truth began to seep into the consciousness of the masses, by cultural osmosis. Palpable hope filled the air like pollen, forced down by the proliferation of CO2 gasses emitted by Murdoch’s patented Anti-Corbyn spray canisters, issued to all News Corporation journalists. As Tory millions were pumped into their faltering campaign through an offshore pipe under the cover of darkness, Labour activists controlled social media platforms with brilliantly executed content, including a series of shorts by renowned director, Ken Loach. Tory ministers were leaving copies of their manifesto in whorehouses, expensive restaurants, massage parlours and airport departure lounges, in the vain hope that they could lose every last copy before voters worked out that they were emptier than George Osborne’s soul. The ever-growing list of celebrities endorsing the party of The Many dwarfed Jim Davidson and Andrew Lloyd Webber, who urged anyone who’d listen to consider the plight of The Few. Amber Rudd insisted there was no magic money tree, but there was, and it was taking on a decidedly tangoed hue (later found to be Dutch Elm Disease, or William Of Orange Disorder).
As June 8th eventually receded, a nation considered the least painful way to keep abreast of incoming results and unfolding events. The smart money settled on Chanel Four’s ‘Alternative Election Night’, hosted by Jeremy Paxman, the cunt’s cunt. Despite the obvious pain of having to stomach Ann Widdecombe, not even the irrepressible smugness of David Mitchell or the tedious gameshow hostery of Richard Osman could dampen emerging enthusiasm for the rapidly collating data. The exit polls had manifested earlier, smothered in the afterbirth of optimism, like a newly born lamb. Throughout the ensuing night, those who give two shits about anything else other than themselves lovingly licked clean every Labour hold/gain emitted from the womb of the ballot box.
Dawn eventually revealed a Parliament hung on Gallows Hill. The loser had won, and the winner had lost. Neoliberalism lay fatally wounded on the Rococo lawn of its Painswick mock-Tudor mansion house: “Come back, I’ll bite your bloody legs off”. The May refused to do the decent thing, and by 12.30pm on the 9th of June, she was on her knees, begging the Queen to let her form a government, with the aid of a Loyalist Paramilitary terrorist organisation, somehow intrinsically different to the terrorist organisations she had so recently condemned Corbyn for fraternising with.
Throughout the climax to the campaign, my soundtrack to this pantomime of performance has been the fifth-album-proper by post-everything Tyneside troubadour, Richard Dawson. ‘Peasant’ (Weird World), a record truly worthy of such narrative conceit, is a double concept album set in the dark ages (circa 450AD to 780AD) in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Bryneich, which covered North-East England and South-East Scotland in the 6th and 7th centuries. Developing Dawson’s fascination with Yr Hen Ogledd (The Old North), ‘Peasant’ explores the asset-based functionality of community through the eyes of twelve of its members: ‘Herald’, ‘Ogre’, ‘Soldier’, ‘Weaver’, ‘Prostitute’, ‘Shapeshifter’, ‘Scientist’, ‘Hob’, ‘Beggar’, ‘No-one’ and ‘Masseuse’. Dawson himself describes ‘Peasant’ as “a panorama of a society which is at odds with itself and has great sickness in it, and perhaps doesn’t take responsibility – blame going in all the wrong directions”.
Dawson generally considers his art to be community music, and in essence the central theme of ‘Peasant’ challenges the process of divide and conquer that is at the heart of the neoliberal personalisation agenda. Dawson suggests that the all-encompassing darkness of the dark ages has much commonality with our own fractured society, circa now. At its most pessimistic, it ponders whether Britain always been broken, simultaneously promoting the healing properties of connectivity in a considerably more optimistic manner. Dawson considers it to be an album of hope, a record he wants to be absorbed by as many people as possible.
Musically, ‘Peasant’ evolves beyond the structural minimalism of ‘Magic Bridge’, ‘The Glass Trunk’ and ‘Nothing Important’, for his fullest sounding record yet. Resplendent with flowing melodies, quivering on the edge of Dawson’s trademark avant-skronk, the signature sound of the album is that of jug band, equally in thrall to The Incredible String Band, The Magic Band, The Fugs, Davey Graham, or, most pertinently, Comus‘ 1971 opus, ‘First Utterance’ (Dawn Records). Dawson is aided and abetted by the Davies family: siblings Rhodri (pedal harp, lever harp, gong ), Angharad (violin) and father, John (trumpet, flugelhorn, soprano, trombone). Dawson himself handles guitars, drums and electronics, and the ensemble is augmented by a chorus of Jake Billingsley, Nathalie Stern, Sally Pilkington, Nev Clay, Dawn Bothwell, Rachael Macarthur and Vic Eynon. Recorded and produced by Sam Grant at Blank Studio in Byker, the sonic depth and breadth of ‘Peasant’ is equal to that of the Tyne itself.
Beginning with appearances, the record’s sleeve is a departure from the largely black and white textures of Dawson’s previous three outings, more in keeping with that of the Weird World reissue of ‘The Glass Trunk’. The lurid red and yellow of the cover’s graphics, and the use, once again, of the photography of Ben Wayman, establish a visual lineage that feels as if it may progress further down the line with future releases. Pressed on vibrant yellow vinyl, the limited edition comes with a set of twelve postcards, and is signed by Dawson personally:
Having spent a week or so in the company of ‘Peasant’, I’m slowly beginning to get to grips with the sheer exuberance of its expansiveness. The first few listens were exhausting, such is the enormity of this record. Having grown used to the intimacy of Dawson’s work over the last few years, the grandiose arrangements and the fullness of sound take some digesting. It has been suggested in some quarters that ‘Peasant’ is not a record that grows on you, but that seems an utterly ridiculous claim, to these ears. Every time I’ve sat down with this album thus far, I’ve discovered something new lurking in the aural miasma.
‘Peasant’ opens with the brief instrumental, ‘Herald’, a fanfare for the uncommon man, that quickly dissolves into a series of parps, vaguely reminiscent of Stewart Lee farting the ‘National Anthem’ during his ‘My Cat Jeremy Corbyn’ routine. ‘Ogre’ follows, the first song to be issued to Dawson’s impatient fanbase (Dawson had been working on what would become ‘Peasant’ when I last spoke to him at Supersonic Festival, in June of 2015!), back in April, announcing the timbre of what was to be expected in June. The song itself is as big and as ugly as its title suggests, stretching Dawson’s vocal dexterity from warm whisper to soaring falsetto, shimmering with Davies’ harps, hurtling towards a closing stanza that sets the choral tone for much of what will follow in its wake.
The second taster, ‘Soldier’, is up next, and on election day, and long into that historic night, I clung to the relevance of its lyrical theme: “I am tired, I am afraid, my heart is full of dread”. Post-middle eight, and post-exit poll, the mood changes: “My heart is full of hope”. ‘Weaver’ enters discordantly, then somehow manages to outdo its predecessors in its inherent magnitude, before rising to a choral denouement that invokes some hitherto unrecorded Ben Wheatley soundtrack. The video that accompanies the song portrays Dawson dancing around a walking cane, uncannily resembling a younger John Lydon, whilst lyrically the song contemplates the nature of gossip, spreading its own strangely prescient rumours, again hugely relevant on election night: “precipitating the early onset of Labour”.
‘Prostitute’ examines the oldest profession with tender refrain, flecked with psychedelic guitar lines and plinking, plucking nylon. ‘Shapeshifter’ struts along at a relative pace, as Dawson peaks and flows through the parameters of his range with untold glee. The most upbeat song on the record, Dawson has a long association with shamanic tendencies, and the subject of shapeshifting retains relevance to many prominent figures in our contemporary world. Nothing is what it seems, everything hidden within plain sight, that is the slight of hand of capitalist surrealism. ‘Scientist’ continues the forward motion, but at a slightly lower tempo. Make no mistake, these two songs are key to the continuity of ‘Peasant’. The song ends with Dawson’s take on the big rock ‘final bonk’, but on nylon guitar, instead of a Gibson fed through a wall of Marshalls.
‘Hob’ is another election night favourite, nestling delicately at the outward bound section of the record. The song tumbles down the stairs of inflection with a gentle shove from one of Dawson’s sweetest melodies, as old as time, as fresh as a the spirit of victory in the air. As the slowly stacking numbers pointed more assuredly to a hung Parliament on the morning of June 9th, the line “at the murmur of dawn there’s a knock at the door” assumed an ever-ominous portent for the May. The peel-of-bells riff of ‘Beggar’ is a campanologist’s delight, punctuated by stomping percussion that jumps out of the mix like a jack in the box. Angharad Davies’ violin shines with radiant beauty here. The penultimate ‘No-one’ is the record’s second brief instrumental interlude, bubbling with electronic interfaces, like a burst of static interference from a radio station of the future beaming its dissonance backwards into history.
‘Peasant’ closes with ‘Masseuse’, Dawson’s single most ambitious statement to date. The song recounts the tale of the quest for ownership of the enigmatic ‘pin of quib’. Riding a bastardised 80s hair metal riff interspersed with breakdowns that equal the darkness of ‘The Vile Stuff’ in texture and tone. For 10:49, every trick explored in the previous 50-minutes is tweaked to perfection for a stunning climax, basically a mini-opera in itself. The silence that follows only emphasises the brilliance of what just taken place. Every time I listen to ‘Peasant’, I find myself having to draw breath and reflect on the utter magnificence of what has just occurred.
That same silence on Sunday June 11th resonates like a bell from the ghost of the May. Again, I find myself reflecting on the magnificence of what has just occurred. The peasants have revolted, and a new radical politics has emerged from the confines of neoliberalism to promise the formation of a transformative Labour government that will echo the convictions of its 1945 precedent, in both ambition and integrity. More people have joined the Labour Party in the last 48-hours than populate the entire Conservative Party. Our membership is currently 800,000, and rising. Corbyn is a hair’s breadth away from the keys to 10, Downing Street, and all over the land, young people are singing his name as they pour out of the nightclubs of our towns, our cities, our hearts. I have waited all my life for a moment such as this. Avante, comrades, the battle has been won, the war in earnest begins here.
“Free markets, free elections, free media, free thought, free speech, free will – the language of freedom pervades our lives, framing the most urgent issues of our time and the deepest questions about who we are and who we want to be. It is a foundational concept at the heart of our civilization, but it has long been distorted to justify its opposite: soaring inequality, the erosion of democracy, an irrational criminal justice system, and a dehumanizing foreign policy” – Raoul Martinez
As we enter the month of May, the threat of a looming UK general election called by a non-elected prime minister in response to impending corruption charges levelled by the CPS shadow the lungs of the nation like the chest x-ray no self-perpetuating ex-smoker ever wants to see. The harsh realities of capitalist surrealism bite hard on a global stage seemingly preparing for thermo-global nuclear war. Only the plucky little guy from North Korea stands in the way of the inevitable capitulation of the underdog. Even the once-proud China is in talks with the comedy dictator with the satirical hair. Fascists are at the gates in France, and in every bedroom, on every estate across Western Europe, small bands of individuals with no actual friends are unfolding their swastika flags, polishing their replica iron crosses, and downloading survival technique handbooks.
Living in a country where what’s left of the working class buy The Sun on a daily basis so they can take their kids to Thorpe Park at a heavily discounted rate, whilst their neighbours are being shot for having vaguely anti-authotiarian stances, merely adds another layer of surrealism to an already heavily over-stitched tapestry. One can imagine folk wandering the corridors of Le Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux, yearning for simpler times, where narratives were linear, and epochs of stability were rife. Meanwhile, the political sensibilities of the both the metropolitan and rural liberal elite shudder under a bombardment of memes, as social network platforms groan under the weight of anti-capitalist observational politic.
The BBC’s campaign to destabilise Jeremy Corbyn at its zenith, the despicable May launches her somewhat risky gambit. Surely, with Labour so convincingly buried beneath an avalanche of right-wing commissioned, right wing-skewed, right-wing-press-delivered poll condemnations, there’s no way out of this cul-de-sac for our hero/saving grace? Surely we’re all fucked now? The only questions left are: how hard? For how long?
Obviously, that’s a matter of conjecture. One reasonably based on how much money you earn; how deeply your vein of collusion runs; what school you went to; and how little you actually care about anything other than your car, your holiday(s), your kid’s private schooling, or whether Chelsea win the premier league (NB: other elitist sporting ensembles are available, more on that next month, you have been warned!). As long as Sky TV keeps pumping disinformation into the cathode ray nipples of the gullible classes, and David Dimbleby holds sway over any faux-debate on moral turpitude, there will always be an England, and it will always stink vaguely of piss.
Any soundtrack to these confounding times, therefore, demands to be heavily infused with righteousness. So, pull up a pine scatter-cushion, bespoke-made by a retired NHS worker in her custom studio in St Ives, chuck another climate-change denier on the fire, and settle down for a rough guide to the consciousness-mingling ceremony the nation demands as it considers the choice between a future of equality, social justice, inclusivity and prosperity for all, or fucking itself in the arse with a spiked baseball bat, without the use of a lubricant.
Back in early 1978, at the height of the punk wars, here in the UK, whilst the revolutionary politics of The Clash, the Situationst International (SI) rhetoric of the Sex Pistols, and the anarcho-syndicalism of Crass ensured that future generations would never have to live under a facist regime, ever again, Vincent Ahehehinnou left the Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou without explanation. For nearly forty years, the reasons behind Vincent’s sudden departure have remained a mystery. Until now. In an interview included with Analog Africa‘s glorious reissue of ‘Best Woman’, Vincent’s first post-Poly-Rythmo album, rarer than a Labour voter in any given affluent suburb of the UK, arguably West Africa’s greatest singer comes clean about the circumstances surrounding his exit from the Benin troupe. ‘Best Woman’ ably collates four strident samples of furiously funky Afrobeat intensity. Treble-heavy guitar tones wrap themselves around spritely horns, underpinned by syncopated beats, focussed horns cut up the call-and-response male/female vocal intricacies in a hive of activity guaranteed to inspire rug cutting on an industrial level in the homes of both the rural and the metropolitan liberal elite. Bustling hi-hats, wah-wah workouts, complexed grooves and hypnotic, meditative vibes ensure that every cut is deeper than the last. Originally released on Nigeria’s Hasbunalau Records in 1978, Analog Africa’s Dance Edition imprint pressing has be remastered by Nick Robbins, cut by to vinyl by Frank Merritt at the Carvery, and personally approved by Vincent himself.
Remaining narratively with the mother continent, ‘The Original Sound of Mali’ (Mr Bongo) compiles sixteen Malian masterpieces for your edification and conciseness-expanding facilitation. Collated by David ‘Mr Bongo’ Buttle, Vik Sohonie (Ostinato Records) and Florent Mazzoleni, this gargantuan collection checks in at one hour thirty seven minutes of immensity, amply illustrating and amplifying the depth and breadth of the Malian aural tradition. Spread over four sumptuous sides, this breathtaking selection demands its place in any tired and flagging record collection. Blow those neoliberal cobwebs away with a truly eclectic journey through the eighth-largest country in Africa. With almost half the country living beneath the poverty line, and a Muslim representation of around 90% of the population, Mali bears more than a passing resemblance to a UK whose Tory dictators are using fear tactics to incite Islamaphobia on the one hand, whilst condemning an ever-growing section of it’s own citizens to the virtual workhouse of conceptual poor law politic. It’s time to take a leaf out of the book of Taureg rebels, who in 2012 declared the secession of a new Malian state, Azawad:
A1. Idrissa Soumaoro et L’Eclipse de L’Ija — Nissodia (Joie de l’optimisme) / A2. Rail Band — Mouodilo / A3. Les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako — M’Bouram-Mousso.
B1. Super Tentemba Jazz — Mangan / B2. Sorry Bamba — Yayoroba / B3. Super Djata Band — Worodara.
C1. Zani Diabaté et Le Super Djata Band — Fadingna Kouma / C2. Salif Keita — Mandjou / C3. Alou Fané & Daouda Sangaré — Komagni Bèla.
D1. Super Djata Band de Bamako — Mali Ni Woula / D2. Idrissa Soumaoro et L’Eclipse de L’Ija — Fama Allah
The double LP includes a 24-page booklet on Malian Music written by Florent Mazzoleni.
Further back in time still, in 1976, Marijata – a Ghanaian trio featuring Kofi ‘Electric’ Addison on drums, Bob Fischlan on organ and Nat Osmanu on guitar – dropped their debut sides for Gapophone Records. Recorded At Ghana Film Industry Corporation Studios, ‘This Is Marijata’ (Mr Bongo) has been a highly sought-after title by collector’s of African music for decades. Featuring four cuts of raw pulsating, insistent funk-based Africana, this RSD related release is one of the few reasons not to despise RSD with all your anti-capitalist heart. The title is available exclusively from the link below from 06/05/17, so don’t sleep on it:
Tracing the inherent spirit of Mali & Ghana across the mighty Atlantic to Jamaica, Prince Far I‘s Lloydie Slim produced debut long player, ‘Psalms For I’ (Deeper Knowledge), was originally recorded at King Tubby’s, again, in 1976. The cry of a people longing for a return to the ways of righteousness, ‘Psalms For I’ resonates in these times of capitalist surrealism. The album ranks amongst the greatest chant albums ever issued, the lyrics derived almost en masse from the Book of Psalms. This is revolutionary, meditative, cultural music, that established Prince Fari I from the offset as the prophet with the voice of thunder, soon be lauded, held aloft in a celebration of awe, by the UK punk generation, and the bands who blended their punk rock with conscious riddems with flows of radical prose. Comprising ten chants predominantly exploring Aggrovators-backed rhythms, Deeper Knowledge’s reissue marks a watershed in Jamaican remastering, pressed from new stampers made from the pristine-condition original mother plates. This masterful album is arguably Prince Far I’s finest moment, one that demands a place in every radical home, of both the rural and the metropolitan cultural elite.
Weaving back and forth in time, developing a narrative supported by unequivocal DNA evidence, any ‘Out Of Africa’-themed column worth its salt would not be complete without reference to Barney Wilen’s legendary double album, ‘Moshi’ (Souffle Continu) . Bernard Jean Wilen was a French tenor/soprano saxophonist and jazz composer, born in Nice in 1937. His father was an American dentist, turned inventor, and his mother was French. He began performing in clubs in Nice after being encouraged by Blaise Cendrars, who was a friend of his mother. His career was boosted in 1957 when he worked with Miles Davis on the soundtrack ‘Ascenseur pour l’Échafaud’ (Fontana):
“In 1970, Wilen assembled a team of filmmakers, technicians and musicians to travel to Africa to record the indigenous music of native pygmy tribes. Upon returning to Paris two years later, he created ‘Moshi’, a dark, eccentric effort, fusing avantjazz sensibilities with African rhythms, ambient sound effects and melodies rooted in American blues traditions. Cut with French and African players, including guitarist Pierre Chaze, pianist Michel Graillier, and percussionist Didier Leon, this is music with few precedents or followers, spanning from extraterrestrial dissonance to earthbound, streetlegal funk. Wilen pays little heed to conventional structure, assembling tracks like ‘Afrika Freak Out’ and ‘Zombizar’ from spare parts of indeterminate origins” – Jason Ankeny, AMG
I have mentioned this once before, but it bears repeating, Souffle Continu Records’ deluxe reissue features exemplary additional artwork along with high-definition remastered audio. This indispensable artefact also includes a twenty-page booklet on 200gsm art matt paper, including rare pictures, sheet music and original liner notes, plus a bonus dvd of Caroline de Bendern’s movie ‘L’intention de Mlle Issoufou à Bilma’, documenting Wilen’s incredible African journey.
Finally this month, no consciousness-mingling ceremony would be complete without exposure to Dadawah‘s majestic ‘Peace And Love’ (Dug Out): “Dark, hypnotic, tripping nyabinghi from 1974. Led by Ras Michael over four extended excursions, the music is organic, sublime and expansive: grounation-drums and bass heavy (with no rhythm guitar, rather Willie Lindo brilliantly improvising a kind of dazed, harmolodic blues). Lloyd Charmers and Federal engineer George Raymond stayed up all night after the session, to mix the recording, opening out the enraptured mood into echoing space, adding sparse, startling effects to the keyboards. At no cost to its deep spirituality, this is the closest reggae comes to psychedelia” – Dug Out Press
By the time we reconvene for June’s column, the die will have been cast, and we will either be celebrating a significant shift in the consciousness of the nation, or holding our bleeding arses and screaming. The decision facing our nation on 8 June 2017 is the most significant we have ever faced. This is no longer a choice, it is the duty of every human being residing within the confines of the UK to vote with their conscience, not their wallet. The time for collusion has come to an end, and the prospect of insurrection, public disorder and eventual civil war beckons, should a halt not be called to capitalist surrealism. In Jeremy Corbyn we have a Moses to lead us out of the wilderness of neoliberal selfishness, waiting in the wings are a phalanx of radical and angry younger politicians of a united left, who will build on the foundation laid by Corbyn as we reclaim our freedom in the name of a future, for all our children.
In the words of Slavoj Žižek: “the dream of an alternative is a sign of theoretical cowardice, true courage is to admit that the light at the end of the tunnel is probably the headlight of another train approaching”. It’s time to tackle that oncoming train; time to block the track; time to send it back in the other direction. It’s a tough reality to consider, but right now those of us with children will be roundly hated and despised by our offspring should we not seize the day and overthrow the corruption that has blighted most everything in this post-Fordian age. No longer will Fordist solutions suffice, the manipulation has been so seamless that only the implicit rejection of the values of greed and selfishness espoused by the Consevatives, New Labourites, Liberal Democrats that have shaped the last forty years can save us now! Avante!
“There is scant support in the Square Mile for Jeremy Corbyn and his followers. There is no enthusiasm in a predominantly pro-business ward, such as Queenhithe, for idealistic but old fashioned cooperative socialism” – Brian Mooney (councillor for the ward of Queenhithe)
Even as the Labour Party won a record five seats in the City of London elections on Thursday (23/03/17), so the entrenched stalwarts of the privileged right seek to negate the responses of the left. Picking up the theme of comedian Stuart Lee‘s ‘Content Provider’ from February’s column, it is increasingly difficult for commentators delivering anything other than the austerity party line of the hegemonic right to make their voices heard in the sea of piss-infected apathy that surrounds this septic, crumbling archipelago, circa 2017.
In a nation that once prided itself on being left-orientated, almost by default, my generation grew up under the moral umbrella of organisations and ideals such as Rock Against Racism (RAR), The Anti-Nazi League (ANL), and the Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Seemingly united under the banner of ‘punk rock for all’, we had no idea that this nascent ideology would culminate in a startlingly sinister parody of dysfunctionality thirty-odd-years down the line. The social injustice, inequality and pure mania of hatred that fills our news feeds hourly echo the crassest proclamations of any totalitarian project worth its salt mines. In a climate of fake news, false flags and little hope, but for the chosen few, is it any wonder that self-medication is the sport of superkings?
In times such as these, we look to the ‘young men’ (casual historical sexism, notwithstanding, itself a generational signifier, in terms of gender equality!), not the men of Manchester (so much to answer for), I might add, who’s inherent conservatism, it could be argued, ushered in the very cultural elitism that has become de rigueur in a country where only Ed Sheeran makes any money from music in 2017. As we struggle to discern any cultural specificity betwixt underground and overground, these are dark days, indeed, where bodies litter the streets, double-drawer devans litter the countryside, and the rhetoric of braying laughter reverberates around the Commons. Collective memories of the Miner’s Strike, Clause 28, the Poll Tax Riots, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, even the demonstration in protest at the government’s proposed reforms to further education of 10th November, 2010, all pale into the insignificance of history (written by the winners!) when compared to today’s march in London (25/03/17).
In the wake of events in the capital this week, the aforementioned hate of the common right and the orchestrated symphony of judgement from the un-mandated ruling right will join together to berate, condemn and pillory any objections to the continued steamroller of neoliberalism in its inexorably efficient bulldozing of public edifice, as it collapses into the pockets and wallets of the capital-rich elite.
Its at times like this that we look West, to Stevenage . . . less than a year ago, I’d never heard of Bad Breeding. I’d lost hope of a younger generation picking up the baton of protest and running with it. It was with much anticipation, then, that I read Paco Mus’ listing for their debut long player, and immediately sought out a copy from source. An early indicator of the integrity of the group was apparent from the FOC access to WAV files of the record from their An Age Of Nothing cartel. The second indicator being the forthcoming communication from the group’s vocalist, Chris Dodd. My copy of their self-titled debut long player had arrived damaged in the post, he simply replaced it with a fresh copy without question, and a bond was forged. That’s how integrity works. ‘Bad Breeding’ (self-released) marked the birth of a resurrection of hope, for me, a generational signifier that la lucha continúa.
As we shape up to the release of Bad Breeding’s masterful sophomore full-length, ‘Divide’, on the ever-reliable LVEUM, I was motivated to conduct the first interview we’ve run in these pages for some considerable time. That’s the mark of my respect for this group, their music, their art, their determinism, Paco Mus, and the need to continue the struggle, by any mean necessary:
trakMARX – How’s morale in the Bad Breeding camp as we type?
I think it swings between joyousness and indifference. We watched a re-run of that final episode of Inspector Morse the other night, The Remorseful Day, which is a brilliant piece of television, but then had to get up to lug bricks and stock-pick stationary in a distribution warehouse at five in the morning. I think the jump between those emotions are decent descriptors of ours lives at the moment: monotonous swings of ups and downs, just getting on really. Having said that, we’re excited to put out the new record and play shows, although that inevitably means losing our jobs again if we play for anything more than a week or so.
trakMARX – Two long players in a year . . . that’s an admirable work rate! What’s the primary driver of this frenetic productivity?
I think it stems from a fear of not having an outlet for our frustrations and concerns. Stevenage is a town of quite limited options in terms of getting your word heard so coming together in a room and hammering things out feels like it goes some of the way to working off whatever resentment we’re building up at the time. We work manual labour jobs during the day, leaving the limited time in the evenings free to do something that doesn’t involve plasterboard or shifting bags of sand. We don’t really have the money to travel into London, most of what we have has to be self-generated in our own little room. We’ve never really had the financial comfort of sitting back and affording ourselves time. It’s always been very pragmatic, almost dogmatic in some cases, as we break days up between working and trying to write music. If we stop, we just regress into that same monotonous process again – and that’s not to deride the meaningfulness of our work or the type of work we do – it’s just that being able to have a source of release keeps us slightly more chipper. We just enjoy making stuff and playing together, sounds like a bit of a beige cliche but it’s true for us.
trakMARX – ‘Divide’ is coming out here on LVEUM, and on Iron Lung in the States. How did both these arrangements come about?
It was just a case of playing gigs and meeting decent folks. Good people find good people in the end and that’s how I got to know both Paco and Jensen. They were into the first record and stuck it in their distros and from there we just went on to give the new recording a home. Both of them have been releasing amazing things for years and do a lot of good stuff to help bands.
trakMARX – If you had to pick three LPs you dig from each label’s roster, how would that work out?
We’d be here until Christmas I reckon. In terms of LVEUM, last year’s releases from Anxiety and ES were great. I’d have to say that my faves are definitely the Crisis re-releases and the Disaster – War Cry one that came with the flexi. In terms of Iron Lung, the GAG record is hilariously brilliant and that Copsucker LP from KIM PHUC is a gem too. I have quite a few favourites.
trakMARX – On early inspection, ‘Divide’ feels darker, denser, and possibly even more pissed off than ‘Bad Breeding’! How did, firstly, sociopolitical conditions, and, secondly, means of production, affect the end product?
I’d been working on bits and pieces of lyrics in the spring and I think a lot of the media coverage around the EU referendum – especially the portrayal of opinion in predominately working-class areas – got me thinking about how to thread things together in more conceptual terms. The overarching implications of the campaign coverage and its continued distortion of particular issues pushed me towards trying to write something that was framed just as much by a lack of clarity as it was me simply trying to vent. We wanted to create something that was as claustrophobic and dense as what we were sifting through in Stevenage.
Obviously there are some clear political discussions running through it. With Whip Hand it was my take on how pernicious government policy has contributed to the alarming emergence of social cleansing in the UK – the continued punishment of the disabled, the utter contempt for our homeless communities and the fallout of private-led development projects sanitising space to the detriment of those in need of social housing. The title of that song was looking back at that old English phrase of dominant positions in horse driving, people in authoritative places occupying the forceful role. When looking at something like Death, that was really exploring a community still coming to terms with the tragic death of David Clapson and the impact of abhorrent bureaucracy. On the other hand, Anamnesis and Loss were examinations of things going on in our personal lives – although I still tried to weave in some of those wider conversations too.
We saved for a while to work with Ben Greenberg and I think that was really important. When talking about making the record we kept coming back to this idea of production almost adding another way of communicating. We had this ideal of ‘machinery as language’ that we wanted work into the record – having something underneath the surface gnawing away at the listener. We tried all sorts of stuff to make that work: triggering drum hits against machine noise, sending the vocals out across water to hit a wall and then recording all the stuff that bounced back. We made most of it on an old boat so we had all this peculiar spacial stuff to play with, old tanks that served as echo chambers and other bits like that.
trakMARX – The presence of Killing Joke looms large throughout, to these ears, is that a valid observation?
I think there’s definitely a comparison to be made when looking at that industrial element. We all work with machinery of some kind during the day and have always sought to work that into the songs. I think that similarity definitely has something to do with the idea of us wanting to bring that other language into the record. It might seem odd, but we also got talking about This Heat and what they were able to do with production as a means of another voice – manipulating tape and the use of somewhere like Cold Storage. Obviously it sounds nothing like This Heat, but we wanted to examine that battle between making something human and something that has been steered by technology.
The most obvious song that tried to examine this was Endless Impossibility. Lyrically it was me reporting back on conversations I’d had around warehouses and sites about aspiration in the workforce and the looming impact of automation. You hear these tired arguments about immigrants or migrational workforces taking ‘our jobs’ when there’s this monumental change looming with technology and automation. The likelihood is that most of the work undertaken by us four won’t be there in its current form for much longer, which poses a lot of questions about the working future for people in towns similar to Stevenage. The second half of that song was us trying to demonstrate the struggle between people and technology, basically by layering those suffocated human elements beneath all of that production noise.
trakMARX – As one of the few bands in the UK right now delivering social commentary through their art, why do you think the current generation are seemingly so reluctant to stick their heads above the parapet and actually stand for something, anything?
It’s a difficult one. If you dig deep enough there are still a lot of artists making statements, but most of the discussion remains within circles below the surface or confined to certain corners of the internet – sometimes out of choice and often because it doesn’t fit whatever narrative the cultural gatekeepers in the media are piecing together. I’d say there are other things too: making political statements can often be a ham-fisted thing to do, while it’s also safer financially to make something that’s potentially easier to consume.
trakMARX – The other contemporary band that do ’say something’ are Sleaford Mods, and they’re a pair of middle aged men! What do you make of their art, and their well publicised observations that contemporary British protest music is dead!
They’ve been making music for donkey’s years and you have to appreciate that commitment to remaining outspoken and resolute. To be honest I haven’t really followed those observations about protest music. I think it still exists, you’ve just got to look in the right places. I think people certainly seem less apathetic than last year, you’ve only got to look at the growing number of community movements – but I do think we sufferer from things being so fragmented and self-absorbed. You don’t really have mass UK movements through music like you might have done in the past. Most of the interesting and empowering things happening now seem to be taking place at smaller community levels.
trakMARX – In terms of global protest music, Moor Mother’s ‘Fetish Bones’ was one of 2016’s unqualified successes, did that record affect you at all?
I came to that record late, but it’s really powerful. As a privileged white man it made me witness to so many elements of both historical and present trauma that sometimes get neglected in discussions over here. It’s a record that you can’t really forget about once you’ve heard it. The more time you spend with it the more it buries inside you too. When you start piecing together the lyrics and the collage of sounds it makes your stomach churn. Yeah, it’s something quite deeply affecting.
trakMARX – And finally, where next for Bad Breeding?
We’ll continue making stuff for as long as we can afford to. Making music and keeping a job is a difficult thing to do when you want to record things beyond an eight-track or play as many shows as you can. There isn’t any financial incentive in doing this so just as long as we continue to find the space and time to write, we’ll keep making records.
- trakMARX: ROCK AND ROLL, GARAGE PUNK, PSYCHE, HEAVY METAL, PROTO PUNK, KRAUTROCK, JAP ROCK, PUNK ROCK, POST PUNK, INDUSTRIAL, BLACK METAL, DOOM/DRONE, POST ROCK, NOISE, AVANT ET L'ART DE L'ETRANGER