‘Interpassivity’: A state of passivity, particularly cognitive or emotional passivity, enabled or facilitated by the appearance or potential of interactivity. This concept explains how works of art/media seemingly provide for their own reception. The term was coined by Robert Pfaller and Slavoj Žižek, and combines the words ‘interactivity’ and ‘passivity': subject matter can therefore become its negative when illusory interactivity produces passivity. Put simply, in 2017, the act of consuming allegedly subversive art forms has taken the place of activism. In a society that profits from your self-loathing, liking G.L.O.S.S is no longer a rebellious act.
The death of author and political theorist Mark Fisher this month was a crushing low. To lose a mind of such diagnostic agility so early in the grand scheme of things has been both heartbreaking and disempowering. In what is destined to be a defining year, in terms of the divide and conquer agenda, Mark’s death is yet another body blow to left unity. As a cultural diagnostician, Fisher has been illustrating the pervading cynicism of neoliberal perspectives via cultural association since the dawn of the 21st century. A contributor to The Wire, The Guardian, Fact, New Statesman and Sight & Sound, Fisher’s own titles include ‘Capitalist Realism’ (2009), ‘Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology And Lost Futures’ (2014) and ‘The Weird And The Eerie’ (2017). A founding member of the interdisciplinary research collective known as the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit, Fisher spent a period teaching in a further education college as a philosophy lecturer before founding his highly influential blog, k-punk, in 2003.
Eight years down the line from the publication of ‘Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?': the Labour Party is being torn apart by the Blairite right; fascism is alive and well in America; the far-right is gaining power throughout Europe; our unelected Conservative prime minister has pledged our compliance as a nation with the Trump regime; Post-Brexit (itself, merely a smokescreen for the privatisation of the NHS?), the Tories are planning to turn the UK into a tax haven for the corrupt, a money-laundering hub at the centre of what we used to call ‘Europe'; and our heath and social care services are being dismantled to pay the interest on the PFIs forced on them by both Blair and Osborne in the nineties/noughties. Meanwhile, the citizens of erstwhile ‘Europe’ (surely it can no longer be called ‘Europe’ without us in it?) are buying up our infrastructure in a process that actually reduces the cost to them of their own nationalised service industries. As Trump’s executive orders fly out of the White House in the form of Tweets, the rest of the world cowers. As David Stubbs observed in his recent obituary of Fisher for The Quietus: “You can vote for whoever you like but capitalism stays until the end of time. Understand that democracy’s bounds preclude its removal. Your dreams of revolution and foment are buried in the 20th century. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a dangerous fool”. This is Capitalist Surrealism: There Is No Alternative.
As the pressure mounts, and the doubts stack up, I find myself retreating. Here, inside this frankly fragile mind, the art with which I brighten the corners becomes ever-more symbolic with each fake news broadcast. I have spent much of January immersed in a miasma of electronic white noise, searching for notes in the analogue gloaming, tracing their trails towards tunes: tunes often buried deep within my own subconsciousness. Foregoing structure in the interests of emotional connectivity, the eternal quest for the grail continues. Having lived with Helm‘s ‘Olympic Mess’ (Pan) for approaching two years now, the time it has taken me to fully appreciate its inherent emotional depth is indicative of the pace of my personal musical evolution, as much as my own social and spiritual development. New art forms should take time to digest, that’s exactly the point! New concepts and theories, likewise. If I get something immediately, I will doubtless tire of it within a dozen exposures. As culture duly evolves, we as cultural observers have to up our game accordingly. Over the last few years, The Lowest Form‘s bassist Luke Younger‘s ascent in the guise of Helm has been spectacularly organic. Exponential expansionism has enabled him to hone his craft, supporting Iceage across the globe, culminating in a performance that took place on a bill with Maurice Louca in front of a sold-out audience at the Rawabet Theatre in Cairo, on October 22nd, 2015. As a document, the cassette/digital release ‘Rawabet’ (Alter) encapsulates this period of growth, capturing logical progressions through the kind of ‘on-the-roadworks’ traditionally associated with rock groups. ‘Rawabet’ develops material from ‘Olympic Mess’ alongside newer compositions to point the way towards the next Helm full-length. Helm have become culturally embedded.
The dissolution of Danish band Lower in 2016 cannot be divorced from Age Coin‘s debut album, ‘Performance’ (Posh Isolation). Lower’s angular art, however proficient and Bunnymen-esque in its stature it undoubtedly was, was inescapably tethered to the past. Age Coin, conversely, embrace the disciplines of now and zen, staring intently into the future, however tenuous that future may be! Having run parallel to their work with Lower since 2011, Kristian Emdal and Simon Formann have developed Age Coin in the form of a handful of cassette releases/12″s for both Posh Isolation and Luke Younger’s Alter, marrying electro-acoustic practice and nascent industrialism to a strident club aesthetic. ‘Performance’ seriously ups the ante from previous Age Coin material. There’s a luxuriant feeling of superabundance throughout. ‘Performance’ is profuse, exuberant, teeming with flourishes of an external widening of the cultural lens. The cello of ‘Domestic 1′ and the piano of ‘Domestic 2′, for example, are tantalising glimpses of a diverse pantheon of influence that could arguably include Torbin Ulrich & Søren Kjærgaard‘s ‘Meridiana: Lines Toward A Non-local Alchemy’ (Escho) and Laura Cannell‘s contributions to Peter J. Evans‘ ‘Broken Telephone’ (BALTIC) project with Mark Fell and Rhodri Davies. Age Coin themselves describe ‘Performance’ thus: “Take in the view or let yourself be part of the language. Let the engine run and dip in to the swampy collective intelligence. ‘Performance’ is a hybrid memorial for all domestic actions committed in the name of love.” Initially available on opaque clear wax, as with nearly everything on Posh Isolation, these won’t hang around for long. Be nimble, be quick.
Skull Defekts’ member and iDEAL Recording‘s chief Joachim Nordwall‘s latest offering, ‘The Ideal Black’ (iDEAL Recordings), is a gruesome foray into the intense theatre of metal machine non-music. Feeding a bunch of tone generators through a wall of Marshall amps, Nordwall succeeds in making the emotional physical, with this relentless collection of terse, amplified electronic statements. Fundamental rhythms lock these five analogue emissions into something approaching anti-grooves, transmitting vitality through the animation of the abstract, with a spiritedness that somehow drags effervescence out of the gloom to create exuberance. ‘The Ideal Black’ is surprisingly way more fun than that process may suggest. The first time I heard this record, I felt it in my atoms, simultaneously. The tones oscillate across a dub landscape, hand in hand with Demdike Stare‘s early work and the sickness that informs Nate Young‘s ‘Regression’ outpourings: “I had to record something that was not music. Something pure, pulsating and far from any attempt to make it accessible in any way. I wanted something true, something filled with energy. A pulsating energy. To stop myself from working like I always do, I decided to record in a studio in Gothenburg, and send my sounds through a massive wall of amps, to make it direct and as organic as possible, and hard to control. The machines were in power. I was just assisting. This is my ideal black. A place I enjoy to place myself in” – Joachim Nordwall, Gothenburg, December 2016.
Wolf Eyes’ Nate Young’s ‘Regression’ series has pretty much established the template for dread-electronics since 2009. ‘Regression Vol. 1′ was originally released on cassette by Joachim Nordwall’s iDEAL Recordings in the same year as Mark Fisher’s ‘Capital Realism’ was first published by Zero Books. 2017 bears witness to a vinyl pressing on iDEAL for the first time, on truly beautiful translucent purple wax. It could be argued that the horrific sounds contained within ‘Vol. 1′ represent the existential angst of a world coming to terms with the capitalist reality that there is no alternative. As a premonition of Mica Levi‘s future classic soundtrack to Jonathan Glazer‘s ‘Under The Skin’, the imagination of alien intervention is omnipresent in the grooves of ‘Vol. 1′. Nothing is as it seems. The mysterious hand guiding proceedings from behind a curtain has wider parallels that refuse to go quietly. Neither noise nor ambience, this is esoteric dub, an audio grimoire for a disaffected populace. Reminiscent in places of Kluster, there’s a Kosmische vibe bubbling away on the back-burner in the back woods log cabin of the Blair Witch Project of neoliberal dread.
Young Echo and Killing Sound member Sam Kidel’s sophomore solo album, ‘Disruptive Muzak’ (The Death Of Rave), is a subversion of the use of the kind of elevator muzak pumped into our ears whilst we languish on hold with the DWP, social care interfaces, and other local authority phone lines. Drawing on research by the Muzak Corporation and the tradition of youthful prank calls, Kidel rang a succession of aforementioned audio portals and played his own incidental music down the phone to them, recording their incredulous, and often ennui drenched, responses. These field recordings were later assembled into the 20-plus-minutes (plus instrumental version) presented as ‘Disruptive Muzak’. As a piece of social commentary, ‘Disruptive Muzak’ epitomises the very concept of capitalist realism. There is no alternative. I’m going to end the call. You either comply with this process, or you don’t. Somewhere Kafka is demanding unpaid royalties. The normalisation of alienation is complete. The emotional experience of listening intently to ‘Disruptive Muzak’ is really quite profound. Kidel is questioning our relationship with technology, economics and socio-political theory. The right wing austerity-led policies that dictate cuts in benefits, social care, health care and the employability of the nation through zero-hours contracts damage those on the margins of need, those most likely to require the support of services and state; the ones jumping out of the plane without a parachute, the ones walking the tightrope without a safety net. Sam Kidel’s ‘Disruptive Muzak’ is the soundtrack incarnate of capitalist realism.
The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of art struggle. The spectacle of accumulation demands that repetition, the fetishism of commodities, reification and alienation be its most glaring superficial manifestation. Ideas improve. The meaning of words participates in the improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It erases a false idea, and replaces it with a left idea.
As this early shot of The Slits from 1927 attests, punk rock was anything but original. As these pages have implied previously, there is very little new under the sun. Digging in the crates of Greil Marcus‘ ‘Lipstick Traces’, a theme can be traced: through essays, manifestos, film scripts, photographs, poetry, protest songs, collages, and classic texts, from Marx to Henri Lefebvre, revealing a tradition of shared utopias, solitary refusals and impossible demands.
Heretics such as The Brethren of the Free Spirit in medieval Europe; The Ranters in seventeenth-century England; The Dadaists in Zurich in 1916 and Berlin in 1918, wearing death masks, chanting glossolalia; one Michel Mourre, who in 1950 took over Easter Mass at Notre-Dame to proclaim the death of God; the Lettrist International and the Situationist International, small groups of Paris-based artists and writers surrounding Isidore Isou and Guy Debord respectively, who produced blank-screen films, prophetic graffiti, and perhaps the most provocative social criticism of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s; inspiring in turn the rioting Parisian students and workers of May ’68, scrawling cryptic slogans on city walls and bringing France to a halt. These ugly times that envelope us now, like a poisonous miasma of accumulated wealth, demand a response that rises above: “will this do?”
As Mark E Smith once said: “All you daughters and sons/Who are sick of fancy music/We dig repetition/Repetition in the drums/And we’re never going to lose it/This is the three R’s/The three R’s/Repetition, repetition, repetition”.
Listening to almost every Fall record post-‘Live At The Witch Trials’, one has to surmise: history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. Bodies of work are therefore sparse. Real magick tends to occur sporadically, before interring itself in cultural detritus to dutifully await archaeological rediscovery.
One such recently exhumed find is Count Ossie & The Mystic Revelation Of Rastafari‘s ‘Grounation’ (Dub Store Records), an unimpeachable classic, considered to be the pinnacle of Rastafarian inspired music. Master drummer Count Ossie’s band, including the incomparable tenor saxophonist Cedric ‘I’m’ Brooks, recreate a Rasta grounation, or gathering, playing and chanting a sublime supplication, including bible readings, in praise of Emperor Haile Selassie I. Available as a triple vinyl set or a double CD edition, ‘Grounation’ is the first in a radical triumvirate I have spent the festive period digesting; the second being Errol Brown‘s ‘Orthodox Dub’ (Dub Store Records), a miraculously rare and seriously obscure collection of killer dubs, one of the very few hardcore seventies dub albums mixed by Errol Brown. This selection was originally recorded by BB Seaton at Duke Reid’s legendary Treasure Isle studio, and mixed in-house by the Duke’s nephew, Errol Brown. A radical departure for all concerned, this bold dub album was never officially released, although a few clandestine copies reputedly did the New York rounds at the time. Original copies now change hands for exorbitant sums on the collectors circuit; the third and final find is Yabby You & The Prophets‘ ‘Beware Dub” (Pressure Sounds). Almost 40-years after its original release, ‘Beware Dub’ has lost none of its power and conviction, and this reissue should hopefully confirm its status as one of the key dub albums of the 1970s.
Dragging the legacy of Count Ossie, Errol Brown and Yabby You kick-drumming and screaming into the twenty first century, Jamaica’s Equiknoxx deliver ‘Bird Sound Power’ (DDS), a veritable cornucopia of avant-dancehall mutations released on vinyl for the first time ever. Ramming twelve crooked riddims onto two twelve inch discs, core members Gavsborg and Time Cow are abetted by Bobby Blackbird and Kofi Knoxx, with vocals by Kemikal, Shanique Marie and J.O.E. (R.I.P). Propelling reggae forwards in both space and time, Equiknoxx nod towards King Jammy’s foundational digi-dub in a paradox that is both utterly forward reaching yet classically grounded in the grounations of Rastafarian tradition.
Meanwhile, DDS Records patrons Demdike Stare return with their first full-length since 2012’s ‘Elemental’. Released on my birthday (Dec 2), ‘Wonderland’ (Modern Love) provides nine excursions in the reapplication of existing structures with wit and verve, and is proving to be the gift that keeps giving. Constructed from the fallen masonry of the edifice of intelligent dance music, ‘Wonderland’ is a post-everything dub masterpiece that steals the finest elements of what has come before to assemble a state of the art manifesto for where dub technology needs to go next. Plundering the archives of alt.electronica, industrial house, ambient techno, jungle, grime and psychoacoustica, ‘Wonderland’ reinvents the wheel to forge a future unitary urbanism for revolutionary relaxation. Released on double lime green vinyl, and as a triple CD that includes two bonus discs compiling the entire ‘Test Pressings’ 12″ series, ‘Wonderland’ sits comfortably alongside Zomby‘s ‘Ultra’ (Hyperdub), rattling away on repeat into those wee small hours traditionally occupied by those condemned to stay awake during holiday periods.
Finally this month, everyone loves a bit of intrigue, and there is little more intriguing in the art world presently than the true identity (or otherwise?) of alleged Serbian sound painter, Abul Mogard. Reputedly an erstwhile Serbian factory worker-turned-synthesist, who on retirement from his job at a nameless ‘factory’ which he’d ‘held for decades’, craved the ‘mechanical noise and complex harmonics of the industrial workplace’, found that the best way to fulfil that need was through electronic music.
trakMARX wasted no time in contacting tMx‘s man on the street in Novi Sad, Predrag Ljuštikin Stražmešter, who not only described the official scenario as ‘too prosaic’, but also dismissed the name Abul Mogard as ‘totally fake’. Whatever transpires in this regard, Mogard (or whatever his name is) has his early work complied by Ecstatic Recordings in the form of a rather sumptuous artefact fittingly entitled ‘Works’, a double vinyl affair on smoked grey wax. ‘Works’ comes soused in an emotional richness that’s hard to forget once experienced. Broad daubs of distorted bass and naturally glorious harmonic progressions paint panoramas of wide open, grey-scaled skies, whilst equally conveying the intimate feel of an operative with their nose to the machine (grindstone?), working the unconscious tool of history to bring about a revolution that is neither toil nor spin: a heterodox economic theory of value that argues, that both in the case of the machine and the tool, their average daily cost is the value they transmit to the product.
Bottle of Cobra Zero, I’m not a mess
Desperately clutching onto a leaflet on primitive chord progressions
Supplied to me by the London SS
It’s anyone’s guess how I got here
Anyone’s guess how I’ll go
I stopped smoking years ago – pull your Levis 511s up
Fuck off, I’m going home”
It was forty years ago today (or thereabouts: Artistic License Dept.) that Uncle Malcolm taught the band to play, and to mark the occasion with some style, a lingerie salesman from the East End of Old London Town has burnt all his dad’s old stuff in a huff to express his disgust at the memorabilia-fair-come-reformation-parade that Ye Olde Punk Rock has become, on this most auspicious of anniversaries.
All over the land, first wave oldies and bandwagon jumpers alike have thrown their arthritic arms up in the air and raised their asthmatic voices to protest at the allegedly criminal waste of literally millions of pounds worth of vinyl, posters, handbills, t-shirts, mouse mats and coffee mugs. The sound of thousands of COPD affected lungs clapping in unison is more powerful than the strength in a union, these days. Could he not have simply sold it all, and given the money to charity? What about the children? Please don’t forget about the children.
The insults have duly rained in, on Facebook post threads and Twitter feeds, setting social media platforms alight with all the wit and repartee commonly associated with a demographic who continue to see cultural worth in the works of Jimmy Pursey, Billy Idol or Richard Jobson. In wades Bill Drummond (didn’t he burn a wad of cash once, too?), with his customary panache, to nail the debate to the wall, as he has done previously at other anniversarial junctures:
“1: Punk, as defined by The Sex Pistols and The Clash, was a punk focused and framed by two men, Malcolm McLaren and Bernie Rhodes. The punk they focused, framed and presented to the world was from an East End, rag trade, Tin Pan Alley worldview. It was about short-term gain, pile it high, sell it cheap. It was about shock and novelty. There was little difference between it and the vaudeville or music hall a hundred years earlier. Or maybe Larry Parnes with a dash of Guy Debord. And none of what I am saying takes anything away from their creativity, or from the greatness of Johnny Rotten or Joe Strummer and the records they made. And I know it is easy for me to pontificate at several decades distance.
2: But even then back in 1976 and early ‘77 we were experiencing something else in Liverpool. There was another punk. A far more important punk. And this is the one that will never die. This was the one that was born in the imagination of teenagers in box bedrooms on council estates and two-up two-downs, across these islands. Teenagers who would have never stood a chance in previous generations. Teenagers in cities and towns from Belfast to Coventry, from Glasgow to Bristol, from Sheffield to Manchester and of course in Liverpool.
This punk had nothing to do with pink mohair jumpers or tartan bondage trousers. Had nothing to do with Mohican hair cuts or studded jackets. Had nothing to do sneering lips or wild stares. Had nothing to do with power chords played fast and loud. And certainly had nothing to do with the King’s Road. Thus nothing to do with an easily mimicked genre of music or style of fashion. This punk had everything to do with not waiting for permission. Especially permission from London. This punk had everything to do with doing it now, even if you had no idea of how to do it. Or even what ‘it’ was or still may be.
This punk first manifested in Manchester with the release of Spiral Scratch by the Buzzcocks on the 29 February 1977. And it has never stopped. It is happening now. And we would probably not even recognise it if it ran us down in the road tonight. It has nothing to do with the music and fashion from a long gone era”.
Meanwhile, in the words of Ye Olde Punk’s nephews, The Sleaford Mods: “You pretend to be proud of ya own culture/Whilst simultaneously not giving two fucks about ya own culture/What culture?/Fuck culture/The blueprint for all control”. Talking of control, Mark P once said to Alan Parker at some cruddy book launch or other: “Sid would have fucking hated you”. Every time I hear John Lydon, the self-appointed Archdeacon of The Church of Ye Olde Punk (Creative Control Mythology Dept.), spill crocodile tears over Vicious, I can’t help thinking that Sid would have probably hated him, too, had he been available for comment. Listening to the self-styled Richard The Third of Ye Olde Punk bemoan X-Factor-culture as karaoke, after releasing decade’s worth of Public Image Ltd records, provides valuable insight into Lydon’s stunning lack of self-awareness, as well as his limited critical faculties. Having married into one of the richest families in Germany, nee the world, Lydon still has the barefaced cheek to expect his long suffering minions to fund his vanity projects, instead of selling off a condominium or two. The swindle continues. Did you know there are over 303-different pressings of ‘NMTB’ on vinyl? Fuck off!
Can you imagine sitting around in 1976 discussing the relative controversy surrounding the abdication of Edward VIII? Thankfully, 2016 has scraped by with a minimum of this sort of thing, possibly because Ye Olde Punk Rock has had so many anniversaries it’s very anniversary is beginning to demand an anniversary of its own: I only popped into this anniversary to see what condition my anniversary was in. We’ve had the odd ghost-written autobiography (yawn), yet more 4-CD box-sets, just when mainstream culture en masse is ready to dismiss the CD as a dead format. If Ye Olde Punk Rock is to have an epitaph, it will surely be a mountain of CD box-sets, at a car-boot sale, in the rain.
The ideologically optimistic amongst us would doubtless argue: punk changed the world for ever, for the better! Did it, really? We are currently living in fear, in an age of dislocation, where any social movement advocating functional opposition to market forces is crushed by the weight of divide-and-conquer hegemonic dictate, driven by commodity fetishism. Women are still fighting for equality; minorities still rage against discrimination and oppression; the violence has become uber-symbolic; the society of the spectacle is beamed live and direct, into our own homes, at our own expense, at our alleged convenience; the haves-and-the-have-nots are now the haves-and-the-have-yachts; and the majority of the Ye Olde Punk Generation have sold their souls for something far more tangible than rock’n’roll, taking up lucrative careers, leading pseudo-political parties, intent on breaking up the only institution they’ve ever been elected into. That kind of thing. Bankers. The only notes that count are the ones that come in wads. Pensioner punks at bus stops. Blue-rinse spikey tops. Ramones t-shirts in Top Shop. Sex Pistols albums in Sainsbury’s. Seaside festivals. What are they rebelling against? What have you got? Certainly not Rock Against Scapegoating Refugees; Or The Anti-Farage League; Or The Campaign for Neoliberal Disarmament. Selling fanzines on regulated binary options. Drawdowns optional. Trustee liability. Retirement calculators. Fuck off!
As Bill Drummond rightly attests, punk rock “is happening now. And we would probably not even recognise it if it ran us down in the road tonight”. To help you avoid death by road accident, here’s a handy guide to contemporary UK punk rock that isn’t an embarrassing footnote.
Conclusion: “We’re all up in the top room of the pub/Getting heavy with the past that didn’t exist” – ‘A Little Ditty’, Sleaford Mods.
The Lowest Form
In a bid to evidence politicians from all sides of the house as having both a sense of humour and a reverence for ancient British sitcom, ‘Dad’s Army’ (1968 to 1977), recent exchanges across the floor laboured to utilise well-known (albeit generationally specific) catch phrases from the show, such as ‘they don’t like it up them’, ‘do you think that’s wise, sir?’, and ‘don’t tell them your name, Corbyn’. This hackneyed interface climaxed with the wry observation, originally uttered by the fictional Walmington-on-Sea-based platoon’s incalcitrant real life ex-undertaker and former Chief Petty Officer on HMS Defiant, Private Frazer (John Laurie): ‘we’re all doomed’. Not only is this statement resonant in terms of its nihilistic portent, it also forms the basis of this month’s column: fight or flight?
It could be argued that life is a series of Kübler-Ross models. An ever decreasing cycle of loss. From the moment we are born, we begin the inexorable march towards an inevitable death. Where once our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors used our fight or flight response at the crack of a twig whilst foraging in a forest, or at the growl of a predator whist at a natural spring, these days we use it to decide whether to lamp the dude at the water cooler droning on about Season 2 of ‘Narcos’, or instead go fetch another large latte with a shot of caramel from Cafe Uno. After all, if your coffee order is longer than three words, then you are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Developing this theme musically, this month I have been caught between two obsessively compulsive stools, that of traditional protest punk (fight), and nihilistic escapist doom (flight). The past few week’s have been a veritable genre war in what passes for my mind.
Exhibit #1: Ever since their debut EP dropped on Toxic State back in the debris of 2015, NYC’s mommy have had a firm grip on the ‘best band in Nuke Yoik’ crown. A trio, comprised of bass, drums and vocals, interspersed with harrowing samples and vague sonic interference, mommy tackle the prickly subject of mental health in the age of dislocation, with alarming resonance. The affects of five years of austerity on mental health services across the Western half of the globe have decimated an already stretched sector to breaking point. The harder Uber Capitalism comes, the harder we fall.
In terms of the situation here in the UK, The Guardian sums the situation up thus: “A cross-party inquiry by MPs into the funding of mental health services has received more than 95,000 personal submissions in an unprecedented display of anger over the state of the NHS. One woman who submitted testimony linking the lack of support to suicide rates said the failure of the system to respond to people in trouble was often “what pushes you over the edge”. She wrote: “I’m scared my husband could become one of these statistics.”
A separate YouGov poll commissioned and crowdfunded by the campaigning organisation 38 Degrees found that 74% of voters believe that funding for mental health should be greater or equal to funding for physical health. The amount actually spent on mental health by the NHS last year, despite government pledges to establish parity, was just 11.9% of overall NHS spending. Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the public accounts committee holding the inquiry, said the scale of the response underlined the strength of feeling that mental health was being underfunded. “We shall question NHS England and the Department of Health on how they can meet the government’s pledges,” she said. The poll findings come as a new report, to be published on Monday by the NSPCC, says NHS commissioners are failing to take abused children into account when planning mental health services. The charity says the government’s £1.4bn investment in children’s mental health services is not being deployed to aid children who need help after abuse. Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: “Often, it’s only when children reach rock bottom, regularly self-harming or feeling suicidal, that the services they need so desperately open up to them. This isn’t acceptable.”
Some 95,555 personal submissions on the care of children and adults have so far been made to the public accounts committee. One respondent, who lives in health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s constituency in Surrey, said that a lack of support had left her daughter isolated. She wrote: “My daughter has a longstanding mental illness that has caused her great tragedy and grief. She has not had sufficient help in the community over the last 10 years and feels isolated and insecure. She is a very vulnerable person and has gone missing several times, involving the police in intensive searches.” A woman called Eve, from Bexhill and Battle, wrote: “I work in the NHS with children and young people. I know first-hand that all the services are struggling with numbers, and children often have to wait for over a year for treatment after an initial appointment.” Dawn, from Sheffield, said: “I was able to see a counsellor on the NHS but only for a very limited time, not long enough to enable me to learn the skills I needed to help me cope day to day. “I was referred to a borderline personality disorder support group but this only ran during the day, which meant, as I work, that I could not attend.”
Earlier this year, a leaked report by a government taskforce painted a bleak picture of England’s mental health services, revealing that the number of people killing themselves was soaring, three-quarters of those with psychiatric conditions were not being helped, and sick children were being sent “almost anywhere in the country” for treatment. Suicide in England is now rising “following many years of decline”, with 4,477 suicides in an average year. There has also been a 10% increase in the number of people sectioned under the Mental Health Act over the past year, suggesting their needs are not being met early enough. In some parts of the country, more than 10% of children seeking help are having appointments with specialists cancelled as a result of staff shortages. David Babbs, executive director of 38 Degrees, said the response to the opening of the inquiry should be a wake-up call to ministers. “These figures reveal the deep divide between public opinion and the funding given to NHS mental health support by the government. “Almost 100,000 responses to a parliamentary consultation – nearly all raising concerns about the state of mental health services in the NHS – should sound the alarm to ministers. “38 Degrees members are sending a clear message to government: we need better mental health services, and mental health services need better funding.”
‘Songs About Children’ (Toxic State) delivers eight instalments from the interface between inequality and mental health. A rise in aural fidelity and compositional dexterity from last year’s aforementioned EP has not resulted in an easier ride. Not by a long chalk. If anything, the overall prognosis has somewhat worsened. The vocals have sunk deeper into the mix, becoming somehow more deranged in the process. The spoken word samples seem even more sinister than they did twelve months ago: “What about making him better?”, asks a concerned parent at the close of ‘N.Y. Presbyterian’. “I can’t do it”, is the professional reply.
This deterioration in mommy’s art seemingly parallels the erosion of mental health services, via titles that ooze uncomfortableness at every drum roll: ‘The Day I Turned 13′, ‘No More Fathers’, ‘Learning In The Bathroom’, ‘How To Act At Funerals’, which ominously closes with a lone female voice: “I’d never do this in a million years, I just wanted to be thin. I’d never hurt myself the way I’m going. I’d never hurt my family the way I’m doing”.
An atypical mommy song goes a little something like this: spoken word sample intro; bass guitar, fed through a distortion pedal and split through both channels, dropping a strident riff; chaotic, clattering drumming, chasing the bass like a dragon; disturbing, interred vocals, a swarm of flies, between your ears; random sonic interference; irregular feedback; spoken word sample outro.
There are no verses. There are no choruses. There is just stream of consciousness. It lasts about twenty minutes. Then you immediately play it again. Sometimes you think you can hear voices. Other times you think you are mistaken. Sometimes you feel you’re not alone. Other times you feel utterly alone. Mental illness is one of the loneliest feelings known to human kind. It’s safe to say that you have never experienced the full force of fear if you have never succumbed to paranoid delusions; paranoid schizophrenia; aural or visual hallucinations. mommy capture the desperation of that fear, and throw it back at your disregard with petulant nonchalance. Not since the work of Nick Blinko and his rudimentary penises has the anguish of mental torpor been conveyed so accurately.
Exhibit #2: Haram, a four-piece combo from NYC, led by Nader Habibi, a Lebanese-American from Yonkers. Nader’s parents fled the Lebanese civl war in the 1980s, and eventually settled in New York, where Nader was brought up a Muslim, whilst attended Catholic school. Haram is Arabic for ‘forbidden’. Nader’s lyrics are written exclusively in Arabic, and the band play a modern hybrid of old school hardcore styles that include shards of Italian punk of the early ’80s: Negazione, Chain Reaction, Ingesti and Wretched. This European influence and their Arabic delivery mechanism sets Haram apart from the rest of their NYC milieu. Their debut EP ‘What Do You See?’ (Toxic State) follows their influential demo of 2015, and was recorded and engineered by Emil Bognar-Nasdor (Dawn Of Humans, L.O.T.I.O.N.). The record’s striking artwork extends their outsiderdom from the Toxic State norm.
Growing up in South Yonkers in the early 90s, Nader’s hard-working parents had an apartment above a pizzeria, and Nader spent many hours being cared for by his extended family and the local community. He was raised a Shia Muslim, yet attended a Catholic school, and daily religious conflict meant that growing up Middle Eastern in a Christian faith school was often a lonely existence. His early years were filled with hip-hop, informed by peer influence, he was obsessed with DJ culture from his first beat, but he gradually turned to hardcore punk around the age of sixteen, and eventually formed Haram with longtime school friend, Martin O’Sullivan. Nader’s sense of persecution was heightened in August of this year when he was briefly investigated by the FBI and NYPD for suspected ties to ISIS. Not long after the investigation concluded, a spate of bombings in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan rocked NYC. Being Middle Eastern on the hardcore punk scene can also be a lonely existence.
“What Do You See?” was released in the aftermath of these bombings, and its a seething statement of intent. As Nader himself attests: “Haram is an unceasing fight against racial abuse and humiliation, the unimaginable massacres of our world, past and present. For the disadvantaged, the people of color, the transgendered, the homosexual, the abandoned, the orphaned, the impoverished, the wrongfully executed. The victims of war, the bullet-ridden, the barrel-bombed and chemically gassed. Those in mourning, those in despair. Everything about Haram is haram. This is my fight. And I am a proud Harami – stop me if you can”.
Exhibit #3: Agitprop punkers out of Stevenage, Bad Breeding represent the UK’s most convincing stab at a punk band worth dying for in eons. Formed in December 2013, the four-piece have capitalised on the early promise of a brace of 45s with one of the strongest UK punk rock long playing debuts in living memory. ‘Bad Breeding’ (self-released) is not only a record recorded as a record (8-tracks on side one, 8-tracks on side two: intro at the start of each side, and a build-and-crescendo approach to both sides, making it an authentic recorded for explicitly for vinyl affair), it’s also one of the best dressed pieces of vinyl of it’s oeuvre since the halcyon days of anarcho-punk syndicalism, and the glory of Crass Records.
‘Bad Breeding’, therefore, is sixteen stabs at the heart of neoliberal Britain. It shares much with the agenda of the Crass generation in its critique of both left and right. Lyrically smart, sloganeeringly savvy, vocalist Chris Dodd recalls the bark of The Redskins’ Chris Dean. Although Bad Breeding’s sound is intrinsically of the now, there are traces of hoary old rock’n’roll underneath the squall. I can hear bits of Flux Of Pink Indians, a couple of Spizz Energi bass lines (‘Where’s Captain Kirk?’), maybe a touch of The Mob in places too, but this is cavalierly its own creation, and it’s massively impressive on every level. Already feted by The Guardian, Radio One, and what’s left of the NME, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been late to the party on this one, but, as you well know, I’ve had my head up my free jazz hole for most of the last couple of years now, so it’s hardly a surprise.
You can d/l the LP from the link below, and order the vinyl direct from the band’s Big Cartel. As I said, the packaging is outstanding: inner sleeve; lyric sheet; posters; and a couple of academic essays that are written to degree standard, and are both fascinating reads in their own right. As an illustration of the mark of Bad Breeding as human beings, my copy of the record arrived damaged in the post. Not Bad Breeding’s fault, they’d packaged it as diligently as I would package anything I sell on Discogs, sometimes Royal Mail can be awfully slap dash, especially to record collectors. Anyway, a week or so later, Chris dropped me an email to see if I’d received the record. I mentioned the damage, and before you could say Tom Robinson, he’d not only agreed to mail me a replacement sleeve, he’d agreed to send me a replacement copy of the entire package, FOC. As with all three exhibits, Bad Breeding are the epitome of fight. They are punk rock, in every sense of the term, and they deserve your utmost respect, and your custom. They mean it, man!
Exhibit #1: Sometimes, a record sneaks into your life unannounced, without initial fanfare. It shrugs, sits in the corner, and sulks, but its very presence causes you to keep checking if it’s ok. At first, you’re not sure if you even like it, then, slowly, you keep looking up at intervals during abstract listens, nodding your approval sagely, before returning to whatever multitask you are momentarily distracted from. Eventually, you begin to realise that you’ve accidentally discovered some hitherto unimagined paradigm, and that synchronicity has somehow been realised. The band in question are Mizmor – ‘psalm’ in Hebrew – the record is ‘Yodh’ (Gilead Media), except they are not a band at all, in the traditional sense. Mizmor are a one-man-band, and that man is A.L.N.
Mizmor play the kind of sickeningly blackened doom that aptly matches the countenance of these troubled times: gargantuan music that sneaks up on you and smashes your brains out like Colonel Mustard, with the candelabra, in the drawing room. At times of flight, I revel in this darkness: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair”.
Comprising five songs almost longer than mommy’s entire album, ‘Yohd’ befits the descriptor ‘long player’ in every sense. It’s a record that reveals itself teasingly with repeated attention. I’ve been letting it infuse my consciousness slowly, during nocturnal listens, cocooned in the warmth of a duvet, as the cold nights have begun to draw in over the last month or so. There’s something about epic blackened doom that takes me back to my pre-punk adolescence, when the dinosaurs of Sabbath & Zeppelin still roamed the earth. I tend to listen to black and doom metal ensconced in my bedroom, back where it all began (not the same bedroom, obviously).
Exhibit #2: The Pacific Northwest is a fertile realm for the discipline of black metal, and October saw Portland power trio Urzeit release their debut full length, ‘Anmoksha’ (self-released). Conceptually, ‘Anmoksha’ interprets the Hindu term of moksha – release from the cycle of rebirth impelled by the law of karma, the transcendent state attained as a result of being released from the cycle of rebirth – though the medium of blackened punk. Anmoksha, therefore, is the moksha-less void of being stuck in an infinite loop, neither dead nor alive, trapped for eternity. The central theme of the record is seemingly self-loathing.
Urzeit are powered by the drumming of Mizmor‘s A.L.N., but ‘Anmoksha’ is a million miles from the epic soundscapes of ‘Yodh’. Over a set of ten songs that fill the same hour as ‘Yodh”s five, a variety of tempos and styles provide a light and shade that contradicts the central theme of darkness outlined above. The twin vocal approach of guitarist R.F. and drummer A.L.N. adds another level of duality, as do the subtle shifts in guitar tone and attack that allow the album to rise and fall in intensity, as well as tempo. The record’s eerily beautiful cover art by Wormlust’s H. V. Lyngdal completes the package to render ‘Anmoksha’ and artefact worthy of worship.
Exhibit #3: Originally released on cassette by Caligari Records, Santa Cruz-based Gloam‘s debut long player ‘Hex Of Nine Heads’ has now been picked up on vinyl by Gilead Media, for a November release. Gloam’s alluring blend of atmospheric black metal and epic doom-laden progression was recorded by Greg Wilkinson at Earhammer studios, with additional tracking by Lord Vast at The Temple of Ouroboros. Mastering was executed by Dan Randall at Mammoth Sound Mastering. The transition from demo (2012), to EP (2014), to album, has been one of exponential growth for Gloam. With little Cascadian influences, and no punk running through their genes, Gloam hark back to the forebears of old school black metal, adding an atmospheric and progressive slant that is entirely their own.
The standard of musicianship on ‘Hex’ is often stunning. The drop-outs to lone guitars have a warmth of tone that draws you in holds you there. Sandwiched between flamenco intro/outros, ‘Torrents Of Blood’ leads a charge of three shorter songs trapped between the epic pillars of ‘Where Freezing Winds Forever Blow’ and the album’s title track. In many ways, ‘Hex Of Nine Heads is a record that takes me back, once again, to that bedroom of my nascent youth. As with all three exhibits, it’s an exercise in flight: an escape from the hypernomalisation that threatens to put us all to the sword, and sacrifice our very souls at the alter of greed, trapping us for eternity in the void between life and death: anmoksha.
They say it is easier to imagine the end of the world as it is to imagine the end of capitalism. They say that we know that we are fucked. They say the only questions are: how hard? And for how long? The elite know that we know that they are lying to us. They also know that we are too scared to do anything about it. It’s time to fight or flight: which side are you on?
“You’re gonna wake up one morning and know what side of the bed you’ve been lying on!”
If, like me, you’ve been hovering over the mouse pad consistently these past couple of months, considering every social media posting to the Nth degree, fearful of invoking the wrath of the PLP, and subsequent suspension from the Labour Party, then the reelection of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the party on 24/09/16 must surely have come as some kind of epiphany. It was almost time to start randomly running into brightly lit rooms shouting: “Put that bloody light out, don’t you know there’s a war on?” It comes to something when celebrity A-listers like Seaford Mods‘ Jason Williamson are suspended from the Labour Party! To the relief of likeminded critical thinkers the breadth of the country, it’s now culturally acceptable, once again, to post pictures of dilapidated ice cream vans, and judgementally label Tory Trolls and Blairite haters ‘silly little men’ (and, amusingly, they are almost always ‘men’). A uneasy calm has returned to the trenches of the Twittersphere, the smell of mustard gas and dry ice just a faint memory in the nostrils.
Now, not for a moment do I doubt the sincerity of Labour’s parliamentary executive in their struggle to ensure that democracy in their party is carried out to the letter, but it has been at times traumatic not to feel liberated enough to post the word ‘c**t’ every time one sees a photo of Owen Smith. Thankfully, that’s all behind us now, and we can concentrate on uniting as a national community behind our leader, as we take on the Tories, the PLP, Rupert Murdoch, right wing hegemony, the BBC, The Guardian, The Independent, The Mirror and the Laura Kuenssberg Army Faction. What could possibly go wrong? With this in mind, I have designed a graph that predicts the possibilities: The X-axis is labeled ‘Corbyn’s movement towards taking power’. The Y-axis is labelled ‘possible window for Corbyn’s assassination’. A very British coup.
Meanwhile, back at the plot, and strictly in the interests of continuity, you may recall that August’s column left this writer riddled with theoretical torpor on the Isle Of Lewis, re-enlightened, but facing a long drive south. Luckily, for me, more than anyone, I’m still here to bash out September’s instalment: gainfully employed, and therefore able to waste what little disposable income I do have on vinyl, in order to proffer some kind of guidance to those of you out there that still revel in outsider pseudo-culture.
Having returned from Orkney and Lewis repurposed and recalcitrant, to some degree, the month of September was mostly spent exploring new horizons, reflecting on misspent months misguidedly trying to save things that intrinsically didn’t want to be saved. I spent an inordinant amount of time changing profile/cover pictures on my social media platforms, always a dead giveaway that I’m wrestling with existential wardrobe monsters instead of sleeping. My ratio of posts about depression and mental health went through the roof. Those close to me in real life took me to one side and told me they’d been concerned. Cull after cull ripped through my record collection. Acres of vinyl appeared on my Discogs page, seemingly overnight. I’d begun to doubt my own vinyl existence. Was this the vinyl solution? I ruminated on the questionable motivations of anyone who would actually want to read this drivel anymore. Although my handlers insist that ‘traffic isn’t an issue’, and that people still flock to these pages, ostensibly to delve through the archives for rare pictures of Debbie Harry and Cravats 45 sleeves, I often wonder who the actual fuck could possibly share any of my naive eclecticism in these days of Orwellian prophecy.
As is often the case when we flounder, adrift on hostile seas of musical indifference, searching for that elusive portal to lead us back to the Navidson Records, and, ultimately, the expansive rooms of the House Of Leaves, we stumble across that connection blindly, as if led by some ethereal cord. This time, a late night trawl through the Antipodean home of Lawrence English led to the observations of one David Toop, doyen of the golden age of impromental experivisation, on his new record for English’s Room4o Records: ‘Entities Inertias Faint Beings’. Toop therein describes how, during his mid-fifties, he began to tire of music as an exercise in tuneage, and instead began to look beyond mere collections of notes, to the distant void of sound itself. Synchronicity calling. I spent a long night listening and re-listening to the sounds of ‘Entities Inertias Faint Beings’, beguiled and fascinated by the hypnagogic power of Toop’s art. ‘Dry keys echo in the dark and humid early hours’ captured my imagination as I floated on my very own ocean flux. In this solitude, I too contemplated death, decay, and the gush of life: a spark lit the pilot light, and the boiler fired-up to heat my cold heart from within.
As if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared. From 1975 to 1979, Toop, along with a collective of fellow musicians/artists from the London free improv scene, including Steve Beresford, Annabel Nicholson, Evan Parker, David Cunningham, Lindsay Cooper, Eddie Prevost, John Russell, Derek Bailey, Hugh Davies, Peter Riley, et al., published a magazine that was to prove a watershed: Musics. Launched in Spring of 1975, Musics set the template for what would soon become an explosion of punk rock fanzines, covering the then nascent fields of sound art, field recording, free improvisation, live electronics, 20th century composition and audio culture. Published six times a year, and running to twenty-three issues in its 4-year tenure, Musics has now been collated and bound, and published as a single volume by Thurston Moore‘s Ecstatic Peace imprint.
Designed to challenge boundaries, Musics linked the worlds of free-jazz and academia to miscreants such as John Cage, Cornelius Cardew and Stockhausen, breaking even further ground with the inclusion of emerging indigenous and non-European musics. In the grand tradition of an anarchist collective, Musics was a haven for ne’er-do-wells, a hotbed of alternatives. As Toop himself attests: “With rose-tinted affection, I recall mass paste-up sessions with spray mount; a page of reviews of electronic music by women, written by Lily Greenham in 1978; in the same issue are five beautifully written and illustrated pages about listening in Greece; an aural sketchbook by Dave Veres was just one example of pieces about listening practice and field recording; there are also invaluable accounts of groups such as The People Band, Feminist Improvising Group, CCMC, Los Angeles Free Music Society, MEV, and the Dutch musicians associated with Instant Composers Pool”.
One of the artists involved in the creation of Musics was Peter Cusack, whose debut long player from 1977 has found a new lease of life through the impeccable imprint, Editions Blume. ‘After Being In Holland For Two Years’ typifies the rampant eclecticism of Musics’ mandate: wholesome, natural, abstract, a fascinating record, even some 40-years after the fact, it’s still impossible to genre-stereotype. A solo album of guitar noodling and field recordings, it presents as a collage of fuzzily focussed snapshots, hastily mounted into a vinyl scrapbook. Captured for posterity, yet somehow hanging in space and time in the very moment in which it was created. Reissued here for the first time since its first pressing, with extensive new liner notes by Toronto-based composer-performer Martin Arnold complimenting the original notes Cusack himself submitted for the record’s initial release, this limited pressing comes in a bold green jacket, with a fold-up tai-panel inner, on green wax, with an Obi strip.
Any thematic muse loosely associated to free jazz is not worth its salt without the inclusion of Peter Brötzmann, whose latest Full Blast jam with the Swiss rhythm section of Marino Pliakas (e-bass) and Michael Wertmüller (drums) has been glued to my turntable. ‘Risc’ (Trost Records) is the combo’s fifth long player, and finds the trio pushing the envelope further than its ever been pushed before. With sterling assistance from Michael Wertmüller (production), Gerd Riche (electronics) and Gareth Jones (mixing duties), ‘Risc’ stands out from the crowd in a year that has already seen a number of free jazz related future classics hit the decks (Fire!, Fire! Orchestra, Hedvig Mollestad Trio, Bushman’s Revenge). Riddled with contemporary electronic interfaces, the record’s seven cuts challenge continually, without recourse to either dullness or cliche. With an artist as consistently prolific as Brötzmann (a slew of releases already this year, alone), it’s often difficult to know when to jump in and when to pass. Although I’m personally by no means a completist, the man is one of the closest things to a hero its possible for a 53-year old to have in 2016, and ‘Risc’ is a mighty fine piece of work that will no doubt be troubling the scorers come end of term.
Elsewhere, I’ve been impressed with British saxophonist John Butcher‘s latest collaboration with the Portuguese RED trio: ‘Summer Skyshift’ (Clean Feed); embroiled in SomA and Noble’s expansive fifth Aethenor album, ‘Hazel’ (VHF Records); ensconced in modular don John Chantler‘s epic fifth album, ‘Which Way To Leave’ (Room40); totally connected to ‘Broken Telephone’, Mark Fell, Laura Cannell, Rhodri Davies and Peter J. Evans‘ collaborative quadruple 12″ set, originally purposed for Evans’ solo exhibition, ‘Across islands, divides’, at BALTIC B39; and totally mesmerised by Johann Johannsson’s number station-infused ‘Orphee’ (Deutsche Grammophon).
Finally, it is with eternal optimism that I sign off this month. Politically, I have renewed hope that the policies of conscience espoused by Jeremy Corbyn provide the rallying call this dislocated nation needs to rise against the continued oppression of the neoliberal elite. I felt privileged to be amongst the faithful in Birmingham on 17/09/16 to witness the power of the man in person. Amongst a crowd of over 2,000, I cannot recall such a groundswell of passionate support for a politician. It took me back to the MIner’s Strike rallies. It felt like a gig. Corbyn connected with everyone present. Universal connection in an age of dislocation. If you haven’t done so already, join the Labour Party.
Musically, I have learnt, yet again, that there is always something undiscovered and inspirational through the next door. The House Of Leaves has many rooms, there’s always something for everyone somewhere. In the meantime, I trust that the few of you left that still read this column take as much from reading it as I do from writing it. Musics. The food of love. Play on!
- 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