Healing As A Subversive Act


A Column

Batu/DROOGS004/Harrga/Heith/Helm/HXE/Jook/Kids C Ghosts/Rainer Veil/Xyn Cabal

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare”- Audre Lorde (1988)

Deaths by drug overdose, suicide or alcohol-related conditions amongst middle-aged men in the UK have now surpassed those of heart disease. Originally dubbed ‘deaths of despair’ in the United States by Nobel Prize winning economist, Sir Angus Deaton, the phenomenon has now crossed the Atlantic. According to a new report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) published on May 14th, deaths of despair amongst middle-aged British men have been rising steadily since 2010. In 2017, they drew level with deaths from heart disease, they are now chasing down deaths from cancer. Deaths of despair amongst women are also rising, but at a notably slower trajectory.

Deaton links US deaths to the current epidemic in over-the-counter/prescribed opioid painkillers; economic factors; faltering standards of living; the erosion of social institutions such as the church, trade unions, love and marriage. Although there is no comparable research yet here in the UK, opioid-related deaths have risen from 800-a-year in the mid-1990s, to 2,000-a-year currently.

Home Office data supports the premise that UK deaths of despair began to rise significantly in the mid-80s, around the time of the Miner’s Strike and Thatcher’s crushing of the British Trade Union movement. The subsequent decline in traditional manufacturing industries and the rise of service industries has consequently affected gender roles that have held sway for generations. In 2004, female employment rates were notably lower than those of males. In 2019, the IMF report suggest that this no longer the case, implying that women can be more employable than men in today’s marketplace in certain demographics,  where traditional male perspectives of gender privilege are duly being challenged.

With deaths of despair spiking again post-2010, another causational candidate becomes apparent: austerity. The wholesale dismantling of the welfare state has included the introduction of draconian measures in controlling unemployment. The use of sanctions against those who fail to meet strict job-searching requirements have made the experience of looking for work progressively more soul destroying. With societal inequality at an all-time-high, and social mobility akin to Victorian Britain, the final solution of Thatcherite values in the UK circa 2019 are manifest in death and despair.

In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act. In a society that has destroyed all adventure, the only adventure left is to destroy that society. Self-love, therefore, becomes a subversive act. In order to heal Broken Britain, we must first heal ourselves, heal from within. We are conditioned from birth to serve others before ourselves. We are taught that any other way is selfish. We are instructed that hard work, stress and efficient production values lead to success. We are told that exhaustion is evidence of our true worth. We are indoctrinated to disengage from our feelings, to deny our emotional truth. To eschew wisdom in favour of logical, rational thinking. We are not educated in emotional first aid. Our mental health services have been in decline for the last twenty years. The NHS is under attack, privatisation by stealth.

To reclaim the power of self-love, we must begin by writing ourselves new stories. 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”. We need, therefore, to rewrite our own stories. We need to care for ourselves first. A complete and vibrant version of us renders us better for others. To be the best human being possible. The best version of ourselves yet. To fully realise our sense of purpose and potential, we need to show up, slow up, and pay heed. We need to care. We need to hone our present-moment-awareness, about what we’re thinking, feeling, experiencing, and about what others are thinking, feeling and experiencing around us. Human beings are social animals, isolation is the enemy of collectivism. Collectivism is the enemy of surveillance capitalism. Our connectivity to our fellow humans is imperative for our survival. Learn to notice self-as-context. To recognise our role as the micro within an ever-expanding macro. Our gut feelings tell us exactly what we need. We need to reconnect to the infant in all of us. Rediscover the imaginations that ignited our childhoods. We will need to be brave to crack these well-worn grooves in our cultural and personal narratives. To put ourselves first: to practice healing as a subversive act.

Music can help us to heal. Music therapy has demonstrated efficacy as an independent treatment for reducing depression, anxiety and chronic pain. Music has positive physical effects, it can produce direct biological changes: reducing heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels. When we listen to music, our brain releases dopamine, essential for the healthy functioning of the central nervous system. Music effects emotion, perception and movement. Music can recall associated memories, instigating positive transference. Music can physically heal us too: Fabien Maman, a musician and acupuncturist, devised the Tama-Do Academy based on his extensive research, that showed that human blood cells respond to sound frequencies by changing colour and shape. His findings demonstrate that sick or rogue cells can be healed or harmonised with sound.

With his first outing for the label since 2017’s ‘Murmur’, Omar McCutcheon (aka Batu) returns to Bristol’s Timedance with ‘False Reeds’. Crisp, spacious, deft of touch. Light, lush, insanely groove-worthy, Batu fleshes out the bare bones of his practice with arguably his finest work to date:


UVB-76 Music imprint DROOGS are back once again with their ill behaviour, this time in devastating effect, with this invigorating double-header from Holsten//Artilect. Holsten pretty much decimates the lower-end frequency delivery mechanisms of your speaker systems, along with any relative sense of bon homie you may currently enjoy with you neighbours, with sub-bass action of Brobdingnagian proportions. This one shakes the flying ducks off on the other side of the wall. Artilect, meanwhile, mines a late 90s seam, in a simmering display of static-laden intensity. Four slabs in, this label can do no wrong:


I’ve always been a sucker for the French language as a vehicle for radical discourse. From Metal Urbain to Rixe, the propensity for the Gallic tongue to convey the purity of disdain is unbridled. Miguel Prado (Nzumbe) and Dali de Saint Paul (EP/64, Viridian Ensemble & DSC) are HARRGA (‘a burn’ in the Moroccan Darija dialect). Formed mid-2017, ‘Héroïques Animaux de la Misère’ (Avon Terror Corps) documents their industrialised rage against the escalating Migration Crisis in incendiary fashion:


Shapeshifting is at the heart of Milan-based Heith‘s debut 12″ for his own Saucers label. Following-up his ‘Laguna’ debut for Haunter Records, and a handful of CDRs and 12″ releases over the past five years, the fractal 5-track ‘Mud’ EP blends experimental electronica with approximations of traditional elements with a vaguely Hispanic bent, to fashion an evocative and complete experience that is proving to be a true slow-burner with all who stumble upon it:


If you, like me, saw 2015’s ‘Olympic Mess’ (Pan) as a watershed of progression for Luke Younger‘s Helm, prepare to be dumbfounded by ‘Chemical Flowers’ (Pan). Composed in isolation at NO Studios in Essex, The Lowest Form bass-slinger and one-man-electronic-orchestra has excelled himself beyond all compare this time out. From the Alternative TV ‘Nasty Little Lonely’ quoting vibe of ‘I Knew You Would Respond’, to the bookended return to ‘Olympic Mess’ pastures of the titular closer, Younger drags rural nuance from urban decay in a festival of maturity that exemplifies his dedication to practice. Aided and abetted in these pursuits by string parts arranged and recorded by JG Thirlwell, additional cello played by Lucinda Chua, and saxophone by Karl D’Silva, Younger has crafted a post-everything masterpiece that elevates him beyond contemporary compare to a pantheon of his own:


London-based HXE (fka HEX) follow their previous outing on Liberation Technologies with the 4-track ‘INDS’ (UIQ). Continuing Lee Gamble‘s fine run of late, with essential recent releases from both Zuli and Nkisi, HXE’s enigmatic take on liquid industrialism provides concrete evidence of electronic salvage and deformity in practice. In collaboration with Paris-based sculpture artist Anita Molinero, ‘INDS’ inspires visual expression through sonic construction:


Brighton’s Jook finally delivers the much-anticipated ‘Flying Nimbus’ (Sector 7 Sounds) for the Bristol-based grime label. This one has pinged around the underground in the form of advance war dubs, nestling in the sets of the chosen few, for what seems like eons now, so its overground emergence can be rightly heralded as cause for celebration. All killer, no filler: and while the title track pushes all the low-end buttons for bass-mongers, its ‘Gold Rush’, for this soldier, that really sets this exemplary release up as future classic :


Catching John T. Gast in support of Ossia at the ‘Devil’s Dance’ album launch in Bristol back in February was a life-affirming moment. He seemed genuinely shocked post-set when I pounced to rain down the plaudits directly into his visage. Genuinely unassuming, a beacon of modesty, I’ve been mighty impressed with his body of work over the past few years, a real underground talent who’s doubtless happiest where he is. Anything he’s had his hands on has become a buy-on-sight scenario, and this 10″ dub plate from Kids C Ghosts – ‘Bankruptcy Dub’ (5 Gate Temple) – is no exception. Burialesque in many facets, but in no way homage. Follow the bread crumb trail, invest in the future:


Cinematic, expansive, inventive and eminently loveable, Rainer Veil‘s 5-year absence from our senses is brought to a close with the shockingly consistent ‘Vanity’ (Modern Love). Emerging with seemingly little fanfare from the contemporaneous commentariat, ‘Vanity’ is nothing short of exultation in excelsis: “Tracing rapidly mutating electronic forms, from ringtone hooks to latinate rhythms and Razor synth edits, ‘Vanity’ explores an instinctive swell of ideas and influences in perpetual and unstoppable forward motion, a sequence of flash frames captured and distilled for posterity” – Boomkat:


Finally, Athens-based Xyn Cabal debuts in fine style with the 5-track ‘Perfect Oracle’ (Death Of Rave). The imprint itself has long been a synonym for quality, and I’ve been an avid consumer of much of their output in recent times. Reminiscent in atmosphere and intent to Croww‘s 2017 for the label, ‘Prosthetics’,  ‘Perfect Oracle’ has been years in the making, and the attention to detail across the EP surpasses that of many a long player elsewhere. Marshalling sub-bass loops, clattering rhythmic nuance, Messier 87 intensity darkness and Arabesque vocal samples, ‘Perfect Oracle’ is simply Delphic, in every sense of the term:



Jean Encoule - June 1st, 2019

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