“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven!” – William Wordsworth
Written in response to the French Revolution of 1789, Wordsworth could conceivably have been pre-imagining the later revolution of May ’68, or later still, our profound need for a global revolutionary response to the shackles of Late-Capitlism, circa 2017. How do we challenge David Stubb’s observation from January’s column: “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” (The Quietus).
As Slavoj Žižek argues: “We encounter here the old problem: what happens to democracy when the majority is inclined to vote for racist and sexist laws? I am not afraid to draw the conclusion that emancipatory politics should not be bound a priori by formal democratic procedures; people quite often do not know what they want, or do not want what they know, or they simply want the wrong thing” (The Guardian, 2016). Žižek concludes that the emancipatory left must therefore engage in the process of reform, to demand what is prima facie politically and economically possible within the current system, to dismantle the neo-lierbal agenda of personalisation from within.
John Holloway stakes the claim in his hugely influential ‘Crack Capitalism’ that our notions of revolution and emancipatory actions have to evolve along with the system that we are striving to dismantle. In the cracks where service does not meet need, community-led responses are planted as seeds to further widen said cracks through growth. Dan Swain nails the red flag to the mast in his review of ‘Crack Capitalism': “For Holloway, many things can form a crack – from campaigns against water privatisation to simply not going to work and reading a book instead. He writes passionately and eloquently about the different ways in which people resist the logic of capitalism in their everyday lives. However, it often seems that there is no clear way of distinguishing between effective and ineffective rebellions against capitalism. This leads to the impression that he sees the act of rebellion itself as more important than its success or failure. He mentions the miners’ strike in Britain, suggesting that the most important thing about it was ‘the sense of comradeship and community that was established’ (Socialist Review)”.
This paradox looms large at the heart of comedian Stewart Lee‘s ‘Content Provider’, his first all-new-material-show since 2011’s ‘Carpet Remnant World’. Informed by Caspar David Friedrich’s painting, ‘Wanderer Above A Sea Of Fog’, ‘Content Provider’ describes the culmination of personalisation, where individuals have been reduced to a narcissistic mass, wandering as lonely as clouds through a miasma of fake news in a perpetual state of interpassivity: atomised man in the era of digital consumerism.
As we luxuriate in the newly refurbished decadence of the Oxford Playhouse, secure in our status as members of the semi-rural liberal elite, Lee decimates members of the audience self-obsessed enough to be taking photographs with their mobile phones, before opening with: “Not everyone who voted to leave the EU is a racist. Some of them are just cunts”. Let’s examine that closely: ‘not everyone who voted to leave the EU is a racist’, meaning that some people who voted to leave were racists, which can hardly be denied; ‘some of them are just cunts’, again, undeniable. That that quote alone reopened the gaping wound that divides this country when I posted it across my social media platforms the following day, albeit in a deliberately inflammatory manner, is indicative of the main narrative thrust of ‘Content Provider': the two main psychological preoccupations of human beings: our ‘need to be right’, and our ‘need to be loved’, have seemingly been overwritten by new code that instead dictates that ‘we will be loved whether we are wrong or right’, come what may.
A veteran of Lee’s comedy, I was massively impressed by ‘Content Provider’. Lee is unparalleled in his status as philosopher-comedian, his theoretical and critical chops mockingly dismissed elsewhere by Chris Morris in the outtakes to Series Four of ‘Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle’ as ‘someone who attended Oxford but couldn’t be bothered’, Lee gracefully swallow-dives between juxtapositions in a technical flurry of comedic construction that is both eloquent and profound. The Twin-Towers of Brexit and Trump evidence the gullibility of the proletariat in swallowing the unfurling narrative of minority control in this Post-Fordist Age. In a brief encounter at the merchandising stand post-performance, Lee told me he’d just been having a bit of fun tonight, and that he was really grateful it had been received in such a positive light. I didn’t have the courage to ask him to pose with me for a selfie, such was the crushing weight of the denouement to ‘Content Provider’. Stewart Lee himself may be haunted by a form of Brechtian duality: ‘I’m coming to despise the character of Stewart Lee’, but he remains resolutely loved and admired by the semi-rural liberal elite.
Meanwhile, if quantum science is to be believed, somewhere in a parallel universe, Jacques Derrida and Franco Beradi sit sipping burnt caramel latte in the Cafe D’études Supérieures, on campus at the Sorbonne. The Sex Pistols‘ ‘No Future’ blares from the juke box, followed by Buzzcocks’ ‘Nostalgia’. The future has been stolen, society is but a spectacle. Guy Debord smiles, and a baby dies, in a box on La Rue Victor Cousin. It’s a sociologist’s paradise, each day repeats.
If we interpret hauntolgy as the ghost of art passed, resurrected in some hitherto age yet to come, then the spectre of Marx shadows much of what I’ve been listening to in the past month. We begin with Orior, who’s exemplary ‘Strange Beauty’ (DDS), has been stirring the dusty corners of my semi-rural liberal soul exponentially since its arrival in the tMx bunker in January. Time Teamesque musical archaeologists, Miles Whittaker and Sean Canty (Demdike Stare), exhumed this collection from a pauper’s grave, somewhere in the South East of England, for release on their DDS imprint last year, and it was received so positively that its now been repressed on double gold wax. Prior to these sides, Orior’s only release was the 7″ ‘Elevation’ EP (Crystal Groove Records), back in 1979. Much later, Vinyl On Demand Records included an Orior track on their ‘Snatch Paste’ compilation, and a contact as a result of that release led our intrepid DDS detectives to Jeff Sharp (aka ‘Clip’), who fortuitously had a batch of old Orior tapes stashed in his attic. Andy Popplewell was soon at work, busily restoring said tapes, describing them as ‘pure gold’ from the offset of the process. The resultant ‘Strange Beauty’ album is everything its title suggests, and everything in-between. It’s staggering how contemporary these recordings sound when placed in current sonic surroundings. Demdike Stare cite Orior as a massive influence on their work, and it’s not laborious to make that connection. Over the course of twelve tracks, from the revelatory opener, ‘Larbico’, with its chiming church bell punctuation, and its promiscuous bass line, drenched with intonation, to the mournful piano chords of the closing ‘MA’, ‘Strange Beauty’ reveals itself at a leisurely pace. It took me weeks to fall in love, but once smitten, there was no antidote.
Another relic that has been filling my heart of late is The Tapes‘ ‘Selected Works 1982-1992′ (Ecstatic Recordings). Italian siblings, Giancarlo and Roberto Drago, a.k.a. The Tapes, existed between 1982 and 1992, releasing ten privately pressed cassettes, employing a means of production that encompassed mono-synths, drum machines, microphones and 4-track recorders. Pressed to vinyl for the first time ever, this indispensable collection captures pretty much every spontaneous moment the duo ever committed to ferrichrome. Alongside the work of John Bender, recently dug up by Superior Viaduct, ‘Selected Works 1982-1992′ is amongst the finest the genre had to offer back in the eighties. There’s an outsider art vibe to these twenty-one tracks, and anyone vaguely interested in the developmental curve of electronic music should investigate without delay.
Loosely connected to both these releases through Boomkat‘s umbrella association, Turinn‘s ’18 1/2 Minute Gaps’ (Modern Love) is an eclectic collection of contemporary rhythms: edgy, nervy and wired. Along with Willow and Croww, Turinn (aka Alex Lewis) represents an emerging new generation of the Modern Love community. After fifteen years of continued creativity, Modern Love have an established a livery and lineage that echoes the attention to detail of Factory Records. Turinn’s mongrel style captures the spirit of Lewis’ influences (he wears his heart on his sleeve), this is an album that has grown up in the shadow of Manchester (so much to answer for), as indeed has its creator. ’18 1/2 Minute Gaps’ delivers ten cuts of post-hardcore that factor in enough post-punk-shape-throwing to satisfy the Factory comparison, alongside shards of Derrick May, Burial and Autechre. From Detroit to Manchester, and back again, these sides reverberate with inventive atmospherics and punishing beats. The whole show has a freestyle feel, and with debuts from Willow and Croww both expected on Modern Love before the year’s end, 2017 threatens to be the year of the neophyte.
Hamburg, second largest city in Germany, a harbour city that acts as a portal, both into and out of the country, home to V I S Records, a fledgling label administered by Golden Püdel‘s Nina Trifft. V I S may have only released a handful of tapes and twelves since their inception in 2015, but a brace of cassettes they’ve unleashed this year are positively mandatory. The first, by Mother Mark (Mark Maxwell), of Glasgow’s Heated Heads, aka DJ Feedback, DJ Foodbank and DJ Floorfillers, comprises a 90-minute exercise in techno-concrete, split over two 45-minute tracks that are both menacing yet eerily beautiful. Vast, droning tundras of shimmering industrialism, interspersed with oblique melodic washes and snippets of spoken word. The second, curated by Stratos Bichakis, is ‘Greek Ethno Music Location Recordings’, a wondrous compilation of Greek experimental music from 1930-1988 that embraces a cornucopia of traditionalism echoing African influences that compel and intrigue. The download features and extra 60-odd minutes of music, burnt from associated vinyl compilations, and if you’re quick, a second run of cassettes have recently been pressed.
Another trio of antecedents that have shaped my February also come from the distant past: firstly, Italian Minimalist composer Giusto Pio’s ‘Motore Immobile’ (Soave), a masterwork with few equivalents: a beguiling organ drone in two movements, supported by piano, violin and vocal. Reminiscent of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s ‘F? A? ?’, minus the guitars and vocal samples, ‘Motore Immobile’ is an emotional smorgasbord that resonates long after the final note has faded. Beautifully packaged on clear wax by new Italian label, Soave Records, expect more indispensable items from Soave as the year unfolds.
Secondly, Jean Hoyoux‘s revelatory kosmische musik double vinyl reissue, ‘Planetes’ (Cortizona). Hoyoux was a Belgian psychologist, astrologer, and musician who created ‘Planetes’ and its follow-up, ‘Hymne’, during the early 80’s. It would appear likely that he died shortly afterwards, as nothing more was heard from him again. Virtually no information whatsoever is available on the man, except that he was obsessed with the healing properties of music. Originally issued on CRETS back in 1981, ‘Planetes’ was created using a Yamaha CS30, an ARP Explorer, a Roland RS90, a Korg VC10 and a Korg MP120, in seven movements at Groupe de Recherches Musicales.
The third and final component of this triumvirate is Barney Wilen‘s ‘Moshi’ (SouffleContinu Records). In 1970, Wilens, a veteran of the 50’s jazz scene who’d played alongside Miles Davis et al., assembled a team of filmmakers, technicians and musicians to travel to Africa to record the music of indigenous pygmy tribes. On his return to Paris in 1972, he assembled ‘Moshi’ from the material he’d captured in situ. The result was a dark, eccentric double album marrying avantjazz sensibilities to African rhythms, ambient sound effects and melodies rooted in American blues traditions. SouffleContinu’s deluxe reissue includes additional artwork, high-definition remastered audio, and a 20-page booklet including rare pictures, sheet music and the original releases liner notes. This stunning package also includes a bonus dvd of Caroline de Bendern’s movie, ‘A L’intention De Mlle Issoufou A Bilma’, that documents Wilen’s groundbreaking African journey.
Camae Ayewa, the Philadelphia-based protest musician, artist, and activist – a.k.a. Moor Mother – follows her incendiary debut ‘Fetish Bones’ (Don Giovanni Records) with ‘The Motionless Present’ (The Vinyl Factory), a collection of unreleased poems and soundscapes. ‘The Motionless Present’ is seen by its creator as a ‘statement towards understanding the disconnect between humanity and injustice’. The album features various new collaborations and previews of upcoming projects: Black Quantum Futurism, Moor Jewelry, Mental Jewelry, 700 Bliss and more. This limited one-time-only pressing is available to preorder here:
Finally this month, a brace of albums from Áine O’Dwyer – ‘Locusts’ and ‘Gegenschein’ – both originally issued on tape in 2016, have now been given necessary vinyl editions by Mark Harwood’s Penultimate Press. Recorded in 2015 at St. James’s church, Barrow-in-Furness, England, and the First Unitarian Congregational Society Church in Brooklyn Heights, New York, ‘Locusts’ is spiritually intense music that seemingly reverberates betwixt dimensions, seeping between parallel universes in its bid to remain invisible. Drawing on O’Dwyer’s Irish catholic childhood, but equally informed by her pagan adulthood, these keening, discordant folk laments occupy inherent contradictions, casting O’Dwyer as a conduit for ancient currents which lie at the edge of our perception. Enormous pipe organ tones, incredible vocal timbres and ominous bottom-end drones forge an esoteric whole that transcends space and time to move the listener somewhere only they can know.
Recorded at the Franciscan Friary, Limerick City, Ireland, on the Winter Solstice, 21st December, 2012, ‘Gegenschein’ features two lengthy pieces related to the Mayan Calendar’s predictions of the end of time, or conversely the beginning of a brave new epoch, which ever way you chose to interpret it. ‘Gegenschein’ is a genuinely astonishing spectrum of coruscating, competing overtones, that alternate between mystic drone and ecstatic fanfare, where swelling signatures crash into harmonic waves to present an overwhelming sense of spiritual turmoil.
With yet another album, ‘Gallarais’, forthcoming on MIE Music in March, O’Dwyer, arguably more than any other artist featured this month, truly represents the state of temporal, historical, and ontological disjunction in which the presence of being is replaced by a deferred or absent non-origin, represented by the figure of the ghost as that which is neither present, nor absent, neither dead nor alive.