Monsters, Tricksters, Stranglers: an extract from Phil Knight’s Strangled

Extract from Phil Knight’s brilliant new book, Strangled: Identity, Status, Structure and The Stranglers, out now, investigating “the greatest punk band”, their overlooked mysticism, and their erasure from punk’s history. – TS

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Picture for a moment a world in which the most significant practitioners of every particular musical style were written out of the history of that movement. For example, imagine The Beatles being excluded from the story of the Sixties beat boom; or Charlie Parker being mysteriously passed over in retrospectives of bebop; or King Tubby being omitted from narratives on the evolution of dub reggae. Such acts of neglect might seem unthinkable, and yet there is one genre whose self-appointed custodians do ensure the marginalisation of its greatest exponents, and that genre is punk.

For The Stranglers were the greatest punk band, not just in terms of commercial success, but also artistically. Though their peers often affected to shun them, it is remarkable how the group’s bass-heavy sound and gnostic, alienated worldview percolated throughout the genre, until, a couple of years after the initial punk explosion, almost every other band had come to sound like them. The Stranglers were the eye of the hurricane, the black hole at the centre of the punk universe, a present absence without whom much of the history of punk seems inexplicable, yet is chronicled anyway. Continue reading Monsters, Tricksters, Stranglers: an extract from Phil Knight’s Strangled

Camden: Last Survivor of a Dead Epoch by Tariq Goddard

This is an extract from Uncommon London, a new title in the excellent Uncommon Guide Books series, which will be published in June 2015 – TS

Camden: Last Survivor of a Dead Epoch Tariq Goddard

I wanted to be a writer at a time when my peer group wanted to rock. Even those who did not wish to be on the cover of the NME wanted to look like whoever was, and would show up in Camden with vague expectations of necking the same swill as Liam or Noel, their numbers increasing as the unlikelihood of it grew; the Gallagher brothers having long gone up to Primrose Hill to quaff the more salubrious stuff.Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 09.46.58

For those who remained faithful to the dream that was Camden, there was always the early nineties zeitgeist to look back on. A time when grebos, junk shop clothes horses, Adidas cretins and shoegazers colonised The Good Mixer and other ‘drinkers’ pubs, and where elderly Irish bookies sat next to gauche young show-offs out to make the era and boozer their own.

In these days before the great gentrification of London and unaffordable house prices, when the city’s declining population was only just being reversed, it was still possible to take the entertainment industry by surprise. Camden, beyond the market, was not lying in wait for its Dick Whittingtons in the form of walking tours and organic coffee: it had to be taken as it was; a working class area that a pub-based music scene had emerged from, largely by default (and through proximity to the Polytechnic of North London in Kentish Town). For those who disliked their music in poorly ventilated back rooms with carpeted walls there was always this plus; their world was theirs and no one else’s, relying on word of mouth and supported in public only by the then vibrant weekly music press. This ensured relative exclusivity and some halo of cool to an otherwise cut-price and basic state of affairs.

You were either one of the initiated or not, and as most people even in Camden didn’t care one way or other, the initiates had a free hand. With it they were able to pursue a programme of (modest) musical experimentation and to remain one step ahead of the commodification that would eventually kill their way of life.

Continue reading Camden: Last Survivor of a Dead Epoch by Tariq Goddard

Cargo Cult – an extract from Alberto Toscano & Jeff Kinkle’s Cartographies of the Absolute

This is an extract from Cartographies of the Absolute, the new book by Alberto Toscano & Jeff Kinkle, out later this month from Zer0 – TS

Cargo Cult

cargocult

Cargo Cult is a photomontage from Martha Rosler’s series Body Beautiful, or Beauty Knows No Pain, produced between 1966 and 1972. The series, starkly inter-cutting the devices of female domestic labour (fridges, washing machines) and commodified nudity, was produced – initially for political circulation and intervention rather than gallery display – concurrently with Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful (1967-72), another series which projects the imperialist carnage of the Vietnam War into the feminised décor of American domestic space. Though its theme – the profitable ‘industrialisation’ of women’s beauty – is blunt enough, the possible connotations of the image are not exhausted by its apparently direct materialist-feminist intention.

The term ‘cargo cults’ is commonly used to refer to the collective ritualistic practices of certain groups, principally in Melanesia and Micronesia in the Pacific, which reacted to the traumatic encounter with colonial power and capitalist technology by mimicking the appearances of the devices of alien domination (say, by building a wooden airport and airplane) in the messianic belief that this would bring the ‘cargo’, the unexplained plethora of goods which the white man – who could never be seen producing these goods – seemed to dispose of in unlimited amounts. In the 1950s and 1960s radical anthropologists – most memorably Peter Worsley, in his The Trumpet Shall Sound (1957) showed that, against a condescending gaze on this primitive reaction, many dimensions of the cargo cults showed a rational response to both the trauma and the fluctuations of capital (a system which viewed from these islands seemed to involve no production and a thoroughly irrational and unpredictable fluctuation in values). Continue reading Cargo Cult – an extract from Alberto Toscano & Jeff Kinkle’s Cartographies of the Absolute