“There is scant support in the Square Mile for Jeremy Corbyn and his followers. There is no enthusiasm in a predominantly pro-business ward, such as Queenhithe, for idealistic but old fashioned cooperative socialism” – Brian Mooney (councillor for the ward of Queenhithe)
Even as the Labour Party won a record five seats in the City of London elections on Thursday (23/03/17), so the entrenched stalwarts of the privileged right seek to negate the responses of the left. Picking up the theme of comedian Stuart Lee‘s ‘Content Provider’ from February’s column, it is increasingly difficult for commentators delivering anything other than the austerity party line of the hegemonic right to make their voices heard in the sea of piss-infected apathy that surrounds this septic, crumbling archipelago, circa 2017.
In a nation that once prided itself on being left-orientated, almost by default, my generation grew up under the moral umbrella of organisations and ideals such as Rock Against Racism (RAR), The Anti-Nazi League (ANL), and the Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Seemingly united under the banner of ‘punk rock for all’, we had no idea that this nascent ideology would culminate in a startlingly sinister parody of dysfunctionality thirty-odd-years down the line. The social injustice, inequality and pure mania of hatred that fills our news feeds hourly echo the crassest proclamations of any totalitarian project worth its salt mines. In a climate of fake news, false flags and little hope, but for the chosen few, is it any wonder that self-medication is the sport of superkings?
In times such as these, we look to the ‘young men’ (casual historical sexism, notwithstanding, itself a generational signifier, in terms of gender equality!), not the men of Manchester (so much to answer for), I might add, who’s inherent conservatism, it could be argued, ushered in the very cultural elitism that has become de rigueur in a country where only Ed Sheeran makes any money from music in 2017. As we struggle to discern any cultural specificity betwixt underground and overground, these are dark days, indeed, where bodies litter the streets, double-drawer devans litter the countryside, and the rhetoric of braying laughter reverberates around the Commons. Collective memories of the Miner’s Strike, Clause 28, the Poll Tax Riots, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, even the demonstration in protest at the government’s proposed reforms to further education of 10th November, 2010, all pale into the insignificance of history (written by the winners!) when compared to today’s march in London (25/03/17).
In the wake of events in the capital this week, the aforementioned hate of the common right and the orchestrated symphony of judgement from the un-mandated ruling right will join together to berate, condemn and pillory any objections to the continued steamroller of neoliberalism in its inexorably efficient bulldozing of public edifice, as it collapses into the pockets and wallets of the capital-rich elite.
Its at times like this that we look West, to Stevenage . . . less than a year ago, I’d never heard of Bad Breeding. I’d lost hope of a younger generation picking up the baton of protest and running with it. It was with much anticipation, then, that I read Paco Mus’ listing for their debut long player, and immediately sought out a copy from source. An early indicator of the integrity of the group was apparent from the FOC access to WAV files of the record from their An Age Of Nothing cartel. The second indicator being the forthcoming communication from the group’s vocalist, Chris Dodd. My copy of their self-titled debut long player had arrived damaged in the post, he simply replaced it with a fresh copy without question, and a bond was forged. That’s how integrity works. ‘Bad Breeding’ (self-released) marked the birth of a resurrection of hope, for me, a generational signifier that la lucha continúa.
As we shape up to the release of Bad Breeding’s masterful sophomore full-length, ‘Divide’, on the ever-reliable LVEUM, I was motivated to conduct the first interview we’ve run in these pages for some considerable time. That’s the mark of my respect for this group, their music, their art, their determinism, Paco Mus, and the need to continue the struggle, by any mean necessary:
trakMARX – How’s morale in the Bad Breeding camp as we type?
I think it swings between joyousness and indifference. We watched a re-run of that final episode of Inspector Morse the other night, The Remorseful Day, which is a brilliant piece of television, but then had to get up to lug bricks and stock-pick stationary in a distribution warehouse at five in the morning. I think the jump between those emotions are decent descriptors of ours lives at the moment: monotonous swings of ups and downs, just getting on really. Having said that, we’re excited to put out the new record and play shows, although that inevitably means losing our jobs again if we play for anything more than a week or so.
trakMARX – Two long players in a year . . . that’s an admirable work rate! What’s the primary driver of this frenetic productivity?
I think it stems from a fear of not having an outlet for our frustrations and concerns. Stevenage is a town of quite limited options in terms of getting your word heard so coming together in a room and hammering things out feels like it goes some of the way to working off whatever resentment we’re building up at the time. We work manual labour jobs during the day, leaving the limited time in the evenings free to do something that doesn’t involve plasterboard or shifting bags of sand. We don’t really have the money to travel into London, most of what we have has to be self-generated in our own little room. We’ve never really had the financial comfort of sitting back and affording ourselves time. It’s always been very pragmatic, almost dogmatic in some cases, as we break days up between working and trying to write music. If we stop, we just regress into that same monotonous process again – and that’s not to deride the meaningfulness of our work or the type of work we do – it’s just that being able to have a source of release keeps us slightly more chipper. We just enjoy making stuff and playing together, sounds like a bit of a beige cliche but it’s true for us.
trakMARX – ‘Divide’ is coming out here on LVEUM, and on Iron Lung in the States. How did both these arrangements come about?
It was just a case of playing gigs and meeting decent folks. Good people find good people in the end and that’s how I got to know both Paco and Jensen. They were into the first record and stuck it in their distros and from there we just went on to give the new recording a home. Both of them have been releasing amazing things for years and do a lot of good stuff to help bands.
trakMARX – If you had to pick three LPs you dig from each label’s roster, how would that work out?
We’d be here until Christmas I reckon. In terms of LVEUM, last year’s releases from Anxiety and ES were great. I’d have to say that my faves are definitely the Crisis re-releases and the Disaster – War Cry one that came with the flexi. In terms of Iron Lung, the GAG record is hilariously brilliant and that Copsucker LP from KIM PHUC is a gem too. I have quite a few favourites.
trakMARX – On early inspection, ‘Divide’ feels darker, denser, and possibly even more pissed off than ‘Bad Breeding’! How did, firstly, sociopolitical conditions, and, secondly, means of production, affect the end product?
I’d been working on bits and pieces of lyrics in the spring and I think a lot of the media coverage around the EU referendum – especially the portrayal of opinion in predominately working-class areas – got me thinking about how to thread things together in more conceptual terms. The overarching implications of the campaign coverage and its continued distortion of particular issues pushed me towards trying to write something that was framed just as much by a lack of clarity as it was me simply trying to vent. We wanted to create something that was as claustrophobic and dense as what we were sifting through in Stevenage.
Obviously there are some clear political discussions running through it. With Whip Hand it was my take on how pernicious government policy has contributed to the alarming emergence of social cleansing in the UK – the continued punishment of the disabled, the utter contempt for our homeless communities and the fallout of private-led development projects sanitising space to the detriment of those in need of social housing. The title of that song was looking back at that old English phrase of dominant positions in horse driving, people in authoritative places occupying the forceful role. When looking at something like Death, that was really exploring a community still coming to terms with the tragic death of David Clapson and the impact of abhorrent bureaucracy. On the other hand, Anamnesis and Loss were examinations of things going on in our personal lives – although I still tried to weave in some of those wider conversations too.
We saved for a while to work with Ben Greenberg and I think that was really important. When talking about making the record we kept coming back to this idea of production almost adding another way of communicating. We had this ideal of ‘machinery as language’ that we wanted work into the record – having something underneath the surface gnawing away at the listener. We tried all sorts of stuff to make that work: triggering drum hits against machine noise, sending the vocals out across water to hit a wall and then recording all the stuff that bounced back. We made most of it on an old boat so we had all this peculiar spacial stuff to play with, old tanks that served as echo chambers and other bits like that.
trakMARX – The presence of Killing Joke looms large throughout, to these ears, is that a valid observation?
I think there’s definitely a comparison to be made when looking at that industrial element. We all work with machinery of some kind during the day and have always sought to work that into the songs. I think that similarity definitely has something to do with the idea of us wanting to bring that other language into the record. It might seem odd, but we also got talking about This Heat and what they were able to do with production as a means of another voice – manipulating tape and the use of somewhere like Cold Storage. Obviously it sounds nothing like This Heat, but we wanted to examine that battle between making something human and something that has been steered by technology.
The most obvious song that tried to examine this was Endless Impossibility. Lyrically it was me reporting back on conversations I’d had around warehouses and sites about aspiration in the workforce and the looming impact of automation. You hear these tired arguments about immigrants or migrational workforces taking ‘our jobs’ when there’s this monumental change looming with technology and automation. The likelihood is that most of the work undertaken by us four won’t be there in its current form for much longer, which poses a lot of questions about the working future for people in towns similar to Stevenage. The second half of that song was us trying to demonstrate the struggle between people and technology, basically by layering those suffocated human elements beneath all of that production noise.
trakMARX – As one of the few bands in the UK right now delivering social commentary through their art, why do you think the current generation are seemingly so reluctant to stick their heads above the parapet and actually stand for something, anything?
It’s a difficult one. If you dig deep enough there are still a lot of artists making statements, but most of the discussion remains within circles below the surface or confined to certain corners of the internet – sometimes out of choice and often because it doesn’t fit whatever narrative the cultural gatekeepers in the media are piecing together. I’d say there are other things too: making political statements can often be a ham-fisted thing to do, while it’s also safer financially to make something that’s potentially easier to consume.
trakMARX – The other contemporary band that do ’say something’ are Sleaford Mods, and they’re a pair of middle aged men! What do you make of their art, and their well publicised observations that contemporary British protest music is dead!
They’ve been making music for donkey’s years and you have to appreciate that commitment to remaining outspoken and resolute. To be honest I haven’t really followed those observations about protest music. I think it still exists, you’ve just got to look in the right places. I think people certainly seem less apathetic than last year, you’ve only got to look at the growing number of community movements – but I do think we sufferer from things being so fragmented and self-absorbed. You don’t really have mass UK movements through music like you might have done in the past. Most of the interesting and empowering things happening now seem to be taking place at smaller community levels.
trakMARX – In terms of global protest music, Moor Mother’s ‘Fetish Bones’ was one of 2016’s unqualified successes, did that record affect you at all?
I came to that record late, but it’s really powerful. As a privileged white man it made me witness to so many elements of both historical and present trauma that sometimes get neglected in discussions over here. It’s a record that you can’t really forget about once you’ve heard it. The more time you spend with it the more it buries inside you too. When you start piecing together the lyrics and the collage of sounds it makes your stomach churn. Yeah, it’s something quite deeply affecting.
trakMARX – And finally, where next for Bad Breeding?
We’ll continue making stuff for as long as we can afford to. Making music and keeping a job is a difficult thing to do when you want to record things beyond an eight-track or play as many shows as you can. There isn’t any financial incentive in doing this so just as long as we continue to find the space and time to write, we’ll keep making records.
“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.
‘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
- 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