Was It Better When It Was Worse?

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A Column

The Caretaker/Sarah Davachi/Sons Of Kemet/Head Technician/Steven Julien

“The slow cancellation of the future has been accompanied by a deflation of expectations” – Mark Fisher

Was it better when it was worse? Was I smarter when I knew less? Was I braver when I was naive? Truth is, I’ve never had ambition, the concept is alien to me. Even before I came to understand that being here now is fundamental to a peaceful existence, I always intuitively lived for the moment. In the moment, instinctively. In order to survive, I’ve trained myself to not look forward to things. What’s the point in eroding the experience of the now for the promise of a future that may never come? It’s a risky practice, looking forwards. It takes for granted that we will actually be around to enjoy the future, a lack of humility that for me borders on arrogance.

Despite the crushing weight of capitalist surrealism in these last days of reality, I have taught myself to live without medication; to ignore the news; to take responsibility for my behaviours; to strive to understand my place in this world beyond the confines of fragile ego. Ironically, the worse things get for the macro, the stronger micro-me becomes in overcoming any barriers I may face. I have hope, I have dreams. These days my dreams are so profound they wake me. They shake me. Last night I dreamt that somebody loved me. This morning I woke to the reality that they do.

It’s not the slow cancellation of the future that has deflated my expectations. I’ve never had any expectations, great or otherwise. No future, Yes! future, pistols at dawn. Nothing ever plays out the way you expect it to. The more we imagine a situation, the less that situation resembles our imagining. As Raoul Vaneigem states, “People who talk about revolution and class struggle without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding what is subversive about love and what is positive in the refusal of constraints, such people have a corpse in their mouth”. I’ll face my future, one day at a time. I’ll continue my struggle, hour by hour. I will chose love over fear. Was it better when it was worse? It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.

Themes of inertia, bereavement, acceptance and nostalgia (for an age yet to come) haunt this month’s column. The passage of time, the frailty of mortality, both have weighed heavily on what passes for my mind these past few weeks. As Guy Debord wrote to Gerard Lebovici in 1973: “critique of the spectacle is also a critique of art. But art, so as to be critiqued and superseded, at first has the need to be free”.

Freedom? This contemporary montage, this capitalist surrealism, is but a patchwork quilt of relative truths, draped around the shoulders of the chimeric antibody of absolute truth. A comfort blanket of uncomfortable candour, a hair-shirt, masquerading as norms and values. A hypernormal world, transcribed into images, that are owned by everybody, and nobody. Totalitarian bureaucracy orchestrating alleged intellectual and artistic expression through the joyful division of communities and families. Pre-existing cultural data, re-used in whole or in part. Nothing new under the sun.

These days, according to a study conducted by Saga, older people are officially more fearful of developing dementia than they are of contracting cancer. When 500-adults aged over-50 from across the UK were asked which condition they feared the most, 68% said dementia, 9.44% said cancer. Meanwhile, just 3.88% said they were frightened of developing a heart condition, whilst only 0.73% were concerned about the risk of diabetes. There are currently around 800,000-people with dementia in the UK. As the population ages, this figure is expected to soar.

Much like the rustling walls in the House Of Leaves, the fourth ‘Everywhere At The End Of Time’ (History Always Favours The Winners) release in a series of six albums from The Caretaker is a shapeshifting, menacing, maze of corridors, documenting, as it does, the ravaging effects of early-onset dementia. Drawing us ever-deeper into a harrowing realm of fragmented narratives, the haunted ballroom’s resident DJ spins hallucinatory psychedelia, 78-rpm style. Over four side-long pieces, Leyland Kirby explores the post-awareness stage of moderate to severe dementia, through the mediums of confusion, frustration, and alarm. Previous visitations reappear like old friends we no longer formally recognise, only the vague sense of tenuous association remains.

Hipped to the essential nature of The Caretaker by Mark Fisher’s ‘Ghosts Of My Life’ (Zero Books), back in 2014, my relationship with Kirby’s art was initially founded on the universally-accepted brilliance of 2011’s ‘An Empty Bliss Beyond This World’ (History Always Favours The Winners). The ethereal sense of connectivity to the sounds that shaped the formative years of my deceased father was the hook that snared me. Listening sessions felt as if I’d somehow occupied his memory, hearing the music of his youth through a membrane, direct from the centre of his latent consciousness. Nostalgia for an era I’d only known through his memories, hardwired to my mainframe, by unconditional love.

The post-awareness stage is the darkest episode yet on this heartbreaking journey to oblivion. We are beginning to experience difficulty concentrating; decreased memory of recent events; difficulties managing finances or traveling alone to new locations; trouble completing complex tasks efficiently or accurately; in denial about symptoms; withdrawing from family or friends; socialisation is becoming increasingly difficult. Kirby captures these characteristics so evocatively. The sense of dread that prevails throughout is the pre-imagining of what stage five could sound like, and, almost incomprehensibly, stage six. With the final two stages due in September 2018 and March 2019 respectively, the promise that both ‘may be without description’ is ominous, to say the least.

As we age, we seek new domains in which to free our art. Consuming music in concert halls, as opposed to venues or clubs, is part of that maturation. The Elgar Concert Hall, at the heart of The Bramall, located within the opulence of Chancellor’s Court, University Of Birmingham, is home to BEAST x Bleep43, a summer festival of classical, gospel, jazz and electronic music. I was in town to witness a Sarah Davachi-curated evening of pre-recorded sound, featuring EMS Spectre-generated images created by Richard Smith. Canadian minimalist Davachi is widely regarded as one of the foremost explorers of sonic texture of her generation, and recent immersion in her simply stunning long playing debut for Sean McCann’s Recital Program, ‘Let Night Come On Bells End The Day’, duly rendered my attendance mandatory.

Following up the magnificent, entirely acoustic, ‘All My Circles Run’ (Students Of Decay), could have been a challenge for lesser artists, but Davachi triumphs ephemerally. Let Night Come On Bells End The Day’, her fifth full-length in six years, is sublimely constructed purely from Mellotron and electronic organ, over five improvisational, meditative drones, as sensuous as they are beguiling. Baroque melodies weave in and out of the expansive space between tones, decorating the ether with delicate leitmotifs of iridescent sheen. The disassociated spirits of Godspeed You! Black EmperorLed Zeppelin and La Monte Young flicker in and out of the record’s grooves, bridging links to post-rock, classic rock and pioneering minimalism.

https://sarahdavachi.bandcamp.com

When it comes to plagiarism, the British Empire plundered the seven seas to claim their seven wonders for its own work. Great Britain, a nation built on the profits of slavery, shaped by the diversity of multiculturalism, infected by the stench of institutionalised racism. Nurses, doctors, builders, tradesmen, skilled workers, all have made huge contributions to the cultural worth and wealth of post-war Britain, suddenly they find themselves in a hostile environment. ‘Your Queen Is A Reptile’ (Impulse), the third album from Sons Of Kemet, could be considered in some ways prophetic.

Led by saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, featuring Theon Cross on tuba, alongside the twin-drum attack of Tom Skinner and Eddie Hick, Sons Of Kemet emerge headlong into the glare of the Windrush scandal with their heads held high and their papers in perfect order. The LP’s title alludes to David Icke‘s royal family lizard theory, and it’s worth remembering that Icke himself was filling stadiums at a hundred-pound-a-pop only five-years-or-so ago. Conspiracists are not the niche market some would prefer you to believe! The coronation of nine black women over the course of ‘Your Queen Is A Reptile’ represents the symbolic usurping of Albion’s reptilian monarch, replacing her with Ada Eastman, Mammie Phipps Clarke, Harriet Tubman, Anna Julia Cooper, Angela Davis, Nanny Of The Maroons, Yaa Asantewaa, Albertina Sisulu or Doreen Lawrence: a necessary social reordering, directly challenging the institutional racism that eats away at the collective conscience of this septic isle.

Musically, the album resembles a float moving through Notting Hill Carnival, absorbing and reframing the multiple cultures of a thousand sound systems in a frenetic sweep through Ladbroke Grove. The tuba’s role in dropping baselines present as electronic, at times, whilst the frantic Afrofuturistic rhythms of the twin drummers drive Hutchings’ horn in complex spirals of contortion. In places, weirdly, I’m reminded of The Clash, circa ‘Sandinista’ . . . on the cusp of ‘Combat Rock’, maybe . . . in particular, ‘Death Is A Star’ . . . are you positively absolutely? The vocal contributions of Congo Natty stylistically reminiscent of Paul Simenon’s luddite patois. Elsewhere, prevailing jazz sensibilities are infused with the reverberation of the Special AKA. I can imagine Jerry Dammers loving this record!

In the wake of Amber Rudd’s resignation, ‘Your Queen Is A Reptile’ could have claimed its first victim. In short, this record is a manifesto: it’s time to start again. The norms and values of neoliberal Britain, corruption and collusion, protect the few at the expense of the many. As Ben Okri states, “A people are as healthy and confident as the stories they tell themselves. Sick storytellers can make nations sick. Without stories we would go mad. Life would lose its moorings or orientation. Stories can conquer fear, you know? They can make the heart larger”. ‘Your Queen Is A Reptile’ convincingly states the case for reparation. It’s time to change the record.

https://www.sonsofkemet.com

This writer’s love of Brutalist architecture has doubtless come to your attention over the course of the last few years. My enduring love of bleep and roll has been less well documented. Both elements duly combined here on Head Technician‘s flawless ‘Profane Architecture’ (Ecstatic) is thus cause for much celebration. Pye Corner Audio head honcho, Martin Jenkins, dons his technical cap for this second outing for Ecstatic. Built using Roland TR-606, MC-202 and TB-303 boxes, plus the Roland System 100 modular synth, Jenkins raises audio edifices in sonic concrete that gurgle with acidic import when poured into your foundations. Detroit haunts the mix, Plastikman and Aphex Twin. This new brutalism is stark, hypnotic, towering in stature, monolithic.

https://ecstaticrecordings.bandcamp.com/album/profane-architecture

Dedicated to the memory of Ikutaro Kakehashi, the much-loved Roland founder and creator of the TR-808, London based artist Steven Julien‘s ‘Bloodline’ (Apron) follows in the considerable footprints of his critically acclaimed 2016 debut, ‘Fallen’ (Apron). ‘Bloodline’ expands in seven cuts, documenting the unconditional love and influence of family, and the cultural heritage that has shaped his art. Relatively basic in sonic palate, but dextrous in delivery, Julien’s signature sound pays homage to the founding fathers of Detroit techno. His rhythms are steeped in the wisdom of the ancestors. The jittery funk of ‘Roll Of The Dice’, the electro swoon of ‘Queen of Ungilsan’, swimming in the same gene pool as Equiknoxx Music, this is dance music with one foot in the dancehall and one foot up on the coffee table.

https://stevenjulien.bandcamp.com

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Jean Encoule - May 1st, 2018

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