Capitalist Surrealism


A Column

‘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 EyesNate 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.

Jean Encoule - January 29th, 2017

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