Repeater’s Favourite Reads in 2020

It’s been a wild year, but you know that already. To mark the end of 2020, Team Repeater would like to offer you the gift of book recommendations; from Norwegian satire, to Mexican witchcraft, to Posadism, UFOs and Apocalypse Communism; there’s a little bit of something for everyone here..

All of our lists are available to browse and purchase on our Bookshop.org site – available here.

Josh

 

I Want to Believe: Posadism, UFOs and Apocalypse Communism by A.M. Gittlitz (Pluto)

 

Yes, there’s the memes, the UFOs, the communicating with dolphins, and the advocating for nuclear apocalypse, but this book is also a really interesting and intricate history of South American Trotskyism, with J. Posadas as its centre.

 

Fabulosa!: The Story of Polari, Britain’s Secret Gay Language by Paul Baker (Reaktion)

 

A fascinating and touching linguistic radical history about how language can be used to resist oppression and foster solidarity.

 

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle (Scribe)

 

This gripping postmodern thriller set amongst the video rental stores and farmlands of rural Iowa shows Darnielle continuing his appreciation of the lost and the ordinary from his songs with the Mountain Goats into his fiction. 

 

The Romance of American Communism by Vivian Gornick (Verso)

 

A wonderful book that grapples with the lived experience of “being a communist” like no other I’ve read.

 

Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon (Vintage)

 

After years of repeated false starts and broken promises to myself, I finally read the whole thing this year. A mammoth novel that travels across space and time to tell a sort-of historical story with hundreds of characters and multiple plot lines, including striking workers, cowboys, a boy scout troop travelling the world by blimp, magicians, secret societies and conspiracy theorists, etc., etc., etc., etc…

Ellie

 

Wretchedness, Andrzej Tichy transl. Nichola Smalley (And Other Stories)

A book so good I wrote 25% of my dissertation about it. This is a displaced and disorienting patchwork of polyphonic narratives, masterfully translated from the Swedish. 

 

Just Us: An American Conversation, Claudia Rankine (Allen Lane)

An important medley of cultural artefacts which collectively, experimentally explore Blackness and the implications of blonde hair in contemporary America. Urgently and ingeniously composed.

 

Suppose a Sentence, Brian Dillon (Fitzcarraldo Press)

Written in any other style by anyone other than Brian Dillon, this book’s pitch – a chronological ode to the author’s favourite sentences – would likely fail to pique my interest. Just totally, joyfully brilliant.

 

Hurricane Season, Fernanda Melchor (Fitzcarraldo Press)

I read this book cover-to-cover on a wooden palate in my garden on a very hot day, which, in retrospect, was conducive to the process and atmosphere of reading. An intense read, best consumed hastily whilst hungrily eyeing up your neighbour’s barbeque. 

 

Six Poets (Toothgrinder Press)

This anthology was given to me in a brown paper envelope over a distantly-shared bottle of wine outside the Cutty Sark. Dicing up the blank page with eruptions of mysteriously fonted language, I return to this collection when I want to feel better. 

 

Akikomatic: The Work of Akiko Stehrenberger (Hat & Beard)

I rarely buy Art books, but Akiko Stehrenberger’s riotous fever dream of psychedelic cinematic watercolours is my favourite exception. If I could figure out a way to display each and every image in this book, I totally would. A great Christmas gift for film lovers.

Mike

 

Afropean: Notes from Black Europe, Johny Pitts (Allen Lane)

This account of an interrail trip navigates the complex histories of race and class in Europe, attentively exploring the ambiguities of identity and experience. It’s also a fascinating journey through the streets of Europe with a very likeable companion.

 

Stalingrad, Vasily Grossman (Vintage)

I finally returned to and finished Grossman’s Stalingrad, translated and published in English for the first time last year. As with his most famous novel Life and Fate, its sensitive, humanistic treatment of a range of characters caught up in war is done incredibly movingly. Even at 1088 pages, I didn’t want it to end!

 

Long Live the Post Horn!, Vigdis Hjorth (Verso)

One woman’s journey of self-discovery and her mission to save the Norwegian postal service? Long Live the Post Horn! is really a lot more than that, and I was enthralled by this jaunty, delightful book about fighting the privatisation of the post.

 

Bernie’s Brooklyn: How Growing Up in the New Deal City Shaped Bernie Sanders’ Politics, Theodore Hamm (OR Books)

As well as a lively history of New York municipal politics and socialism in the New Deal era, this small book explores the lives of an ensemble cast of figures, from Arthur Miller to Eleanor Roosevelt to Woody Guthrie, and speculates on the impact of postwar Jewish Brooklyn on the future Vermont senator.

 

Not a Novel, Jenny Erpenbeck (Granta)

I love Jenny Erpenbeck’s novels so I was overjoyed to finally get to read her essays this year. I’m halfway through at the moment.

 

Notes from an Apocalypse: A Personal Journey to the End of the World and Back, Mark O’Connell (Granta)

Mark O’Connell’s investigation into those making advance preparations for societal and ecological collapse was the book to read in the indefinite lockdown. As well as an engrossing tour through missile silo bunkers, compounds and exclusive camping retreats, Notes is a sharp study of the wealthy individuals keen to put their survival ahead of the rest of us, and a moving reflection on the allure of pessimism and the value of hope.

Competition: Tell us your favourite Bowie lyric and win a copy of Ashes to Ashes!

On the third anniversary of the death of one of the world’s most influential musicians, we’re giving away three copies of Ashes to Ashes: The Songs of David Bowie 1976–2016 ,  by Chris O’Leary. The book hits everything from “Heroes” to the Labyrinth soundtrack, from his 1985 camp duet with Mick Jagger on “Dancing In the Street” to “Where Are We Now,” his comeback single in 2013.

All you have to do is tell us your favourite David Bowie lyric. Let us know by retweeting this tweet and commenting with it. We’ll announce three of our favourite next week.

T&C:
Competition closes end of day 13 January 2018.
Open worldwide.
Enter by following Repeater on twitter, liking and retweeting this tweet, and commenting with the lyric. The winner will be decided by Chris O’Leary. Only entries on this tweet will be considered.
Multiple entries allowed.

Repeater Books at Unsound Festival

Last month Repeater’s Director of Marketing Tamar attended Unsound Festival in Poland with our authors Paul Rekret and Ryan Diduck.

The main Repeater events were a Mark Fisher reading group organised around the forthcoming collection k-punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher (2004-2016), a panel on the aesthetics of field recordings with Paul Rekret, and a talk by Ryan Diduck on his book Mad Skills.

In his review of the festival for Cult MTL, Ryan Diduck described it as having:

 unimpeachably cool programming, airtight organization and access to some of the most unconventional and remarkable venues, including an ornate synagogue in the Jewish District, a decommissioned salt mine and a sprawling Soviet-era hotel called the Forum.

You can also check out our full range of fantastic music titles below:

Advertising Revolution: The Story of a Song, From Beatles Hit to Nike Slogan
Alan Bradshaw and Linda Scott

“… a fascinating study of a key episode in our recent cultural history.” – Jeremy Gilbert, Professor of Cultural and Political Theory at the University of East London.

 

 

 

Red Set: A History of Gang of Four
Jim Dooley

“The definitive history of Gang of Four, along the way explaining why their music meant so much for the embryonic leftwing ideas of their dedicated followers…” – openDemocracy

 

 

 

Mad Skills: MIDI and Music Technology in the 20th Century
Ryan Diduck

“Do you like electronic music and Marxism? You’re in luck… great for gearheads and anyone who resents the rise of black-boxed control mechanisms.” – Pitchfork

 

 

 

 

The Turkish Psychedelic Music Explosion: Andalou Psych (1965-1980)
Dan Spicer

“… as a knowledgeable and thoughtful overview to a scene which is now more accessible than ever, this serves as a perfect introduction.” – The Wire

 

 

 

Under My Thumb: The Songs that Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them
Rhian E. Jones and Eli Davies

Vogue Books of the Year 2017

“…a book that arms us with the clarifying arguments we need in this moment.” – Jessica HooperFrieze

 

 

 

Down With Childhood: Pop Music and the Crisis of Innocence
Paul Rekret

“…takes the reader on an exhilarating tour through the recent history of pop music and politics” – The New Inquiry

 

 

 

 

A Memoir: From Oran to Marseilles
Maurice El Medioni

Maurice El Médioni (born on 18 October 1928 in Oran, Algeria) is an Algerian Jewish pianist, composer and interpreter of Andalusian, Rai, Chaabi, Sephardic and Arab music. This book contains his original handwritten memoirs, translated by Jonathan Walton.

 

 

 

The Music of the Future
Robert Barry

“Robert Barry’s excellent, exhilarating, free-ranging study relishes, and invites the reader to bask in, its sea of scholarly research and the idiosyncrasies and connections it yields.” – David StubbsReview 31

 

 

 

Triptych: Three Studies of Manic Street Preachers’ Holy Bible
Rhian E. Jones, Daniel Lukes, Larissa Wodtke

“This book rightly asks a lot of the audience and in exchange delivers a lot back to them – just like The Holy Bible.” – Guy Mankowski3am Magazine

 

 

 

Post-Punk Then and Now
Mark Fisher, Gavin Butt and Kodwo Eshun

“… skilfully maps a range of critical perspectives on post-punk, particularly those that fit into the vein of Capitalist Realism.” – Guy Mankowski3am Magazine

 

 

 

Smile If You Dare
Ramzy Alwakeel

“As well as a keen critical edge, it is equipped with an undisguised mad love for the source material, a sense of passionate abandon induced by the tragic/ecstatic synth-pop that pours out of the speakers.” – The Wire

Tariq Goddard and Carl Neville review John Carpenter at Shepherd’s Bush Empire

To celebrate Halloween, Repeater publisher and author of Nature and Necessity Tariq Goddard and Resolution Way author Carl Neville reviewed John Carpenter’s live show for The Quietus!

Everyone will have their favourite John Carpenter movie, ours is Escape From New York. Or perhaps Halloween. Or maybe The Thing. But then we forgot, how could we, about They Live, and yes Prince Of Darkness, let’s be honest, is also a great late film. I have a soft spot for Christine, my fellow reviewer doesn’t do soft spots, and neither of us has ever sat through Starman. We are here for the music of course, but equally like the rest of the audience (last seen together at the old Forbidden Planet on Denmark Street), we are also here to reverence Carpenter and pay tribute.

Read the full review here.

“You can count me out… in” — Alan Bradshaw on fifty years of the Beatles’ “Revolution”

On the fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles’ “Revolution”, Alan Bradshaw, co-author of Advertising Revolution: The Story of a Song, from Beatles Hit to Nike Slogan, recounts the story of one of the most famous and controversial adverts of all time.

 

Fifty years ago, on 26 August 1968, the Beatles released their highest selling 45 rpm — the “Hey Jude”/“Revolution” single. While Paul McCartney’s “Hey Jude” garnered the most attention and is commonly regarded as one of the Beatles’ most perfect songs, John Lennon’s “Revolution” is arguably the song with the most interesting story in terms of its politics, and its afterlife in one of the most seminal and successful advertisements of all time.

“Revolution” was composed by John in Rishikesh in India where the Beatles were meditating with the Maharishi following a tumultuous year which saw their manager, Brian Epstein, commit suicide, and in which they had encountered extraordinary opprobrium from the far-right in the USA, who bitterly resented John’s off-hand statement that the Beatles had become “bigger than Jesus”. While the Beatles meditated, the global politics of 1968 exploded: Martin Luther King was murdered, the violent Prague Spring marked a turning point in Soviet history, the American War in Vietnam raged on, the Cultural Revolution was afoot in China and major riots and protests erupted in London, Mexico City, and, most notably, Paris. John decided that the time had come to explicitly address politics, as he explained, “I wanted to say my piece about revolution. I wanted to tell you or whoever listens and communicate, to say ‘What do you say? This is what I say’”.

At this time the Beatles were transforming from loveable mopheads who toured singing romantic jingles into studio-based psychedelic avant-garde bohemians. They were moving away from boy-girl love songs and towards evangelising about romantic philosophy, as marked by songs like “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Fool on the Hill” and “Nowhere Man”. While each of these songs were intended as interventions into how people should live their lives, none of them were directly political. Indeed within 1968, the very idea of political pop music was a rarity and mostly something edged towards by “underground” bands like the Doors and Jefferson Airplane.

“Loveable mopheads”

“Revolution”, John’s step into direct political expression, takes the form of an imagined dialogue between himself and a would-be revolutionary. However the latter remains silent, and instead we hear John’s numerous rebuttals. Each verse begins with refrains of limited agreement from John such as, “You say you want a revolution, well we wall want to change the world”. In each third refrain, John establishes his critical distance and sings “but if you’re talking about minds that hate, all I can tell you brother is you’ll have to wait” as well as the famous line “But if you carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow”. Then follows repetitions of the line “don’t you know it’s gonna be alright?” The song was recorded in London’s Trident Studio in a slow bluesy version with John lying down to sound more meditative. Interestingly, in one line he sings “But when you talk about destruction, don’t you know you can count me out… in”, suggesting that he was ambivalent about his actual political stance. Disagreement followed between the band over the song’s commercial potential and eventually John agreed to re-arrange the song into a more hard rock upbeat version despite his concern that the lyrics would now be more difficult to understand. The faster version was far harder than the norm in the 1960s; as producer George Martin recounted, “We got into distortion on that, which we had a lot of complaints from the technical people about. But that was the idea: it was John’s song and the idea was to push it right to the limit. Well, we went to the limit and beyond”.

The fast version, in which John does not sing “count me out.. in” but simply “count me out”, was released as the single alongside “Hey Jude”, while the original slow version appeared on the White Album, which was released later that year. A third version also appeared on the White Album named “Revolution No. 9”, though it bears little resemblance to the other two versions. It is in fact a scramble of electronic sounds and nonsensical phrases (“take this brother, may it serve you well”, “the twist, the Watusi”). John later told the press that the sounds of “Revolution No. 9” were meant to mimic what actual revolution would sound like.

“Psychedelic avant-garde bohemians”

Upon release, the “Hey Jude”/“Revolution” (featuring the rock version) record rocketed to huge success, selling eight million copies and being their most successful 45rpm ever. Within the media, attention fixated upon “Hey Jude”, which was widely acclaimed. “Revolution”, by contrast, received little attention: for example, the Record Mirror review simply wrote “flipside: pacier, punchy but on a less spectacular scale”, while Record Retailer managed to be even more concise “flip: faster, more compact”. When the White Album was released later that year, “Revolution No. 1”, the original version, also received little commentary (the Melody Maker reviewer wrote “it’s different, softer, with the words clear”). “Revolution No. 9”, however, attracted plenty of criticism, with the same critic declaring: “There is, in fact, no music in this cacophony of sound: the sort of noise you get when you spin the selection along the short wave at two in the morning. Noisy, boring and meaningless, which can only be some private joke for the Beatles’ inner circle.”

If the mainstream music media were largely unmoved by “Revolution”, the reaction within the leftist press was a stark contrast, as they seemingly went into competition with each other in search of harshest condemnation. Ramparts declared “Revolution preaches counter-revolution”, the New Left Review called it a “lamentable petty bourgeois cry of fear”, the Village Voice wrote “It is puritanical to expect musicians, or anyone else, to hew the proper line. But it is reasonable to request that they do not go out of their way to oppose it.” The Berkeley Barb sneered “Revolution sounds like the hawk plank adopted in the Chicago convention of the Democratic Death Party”. Black Dwarf dismissed the song as “no more revolutionary than Mrs. Dale’s Diary” (Lennon wrote in response saying “I don’t remember saying Revolution was revolutionary — fuck Mrs Dale”). However some critics attempted more ambiguous interpretations, for instance Greil Marcus wrote, “The music contained a message of its own, a message of its own, a message of its own, a message of excitement and freedom, which works against sterility and repression in the lyrics… The music doesn’t say ‘cool it’ or ‘don’t fight the cops’”. Other notable responses to “Revolution” include Nina Simone’s parody re-writing of the song to insist upon immediate revolution, while Charles Manson’s “Family”, in their build-up to their vicious homicides, parsed over every cut in the White Album with “Revolution No.1”, in particular, apparently telling them that the time for peace and love was over.

So how are we to assess “Revolution” today? In the context of the Beatles’ wider political commitment to love as the ultimate revolutionary force (best exemplified in the song “All You Need is Love”), it might be more astute to regard the song as an instance of what Jeremy Gilbert refers to as “acid communism”; a sort of tactical commitment to the revolutionary potential of yoga, meditation, veganism, sexuality, drug consumption, etc., rather than anti-leftist counter-revolutionary politics, as it was regarded by some at the time. Moreover, the various iterations of “Revolution” might each be regarded as very different types of political statement. As per Greil Marcus’s review, which notes how the hard rock arrangement seems to contradict the “repressed” lyrics, we might ponder the problem of how political content appears in popular music. Popular music theorists like John Scannell, for instance, note the affective capacity of popular music is often most intensively experienced at a physical level (i.e. it might make us want to dance in a particularly sexually charged way) and that this somatic capacity can be more meaningful than the content of the lyrics, leaving us with the possibility of a far more ambiguous reading of the song. Indeed given Lennon’s own ambivalence, most explicitly expressed in “count me out… in” lyrics as well as the alternative renderings of the song, we might best conclude that “Revolution” is a song probably best not read beyond its own ambivalences. Yet the song is often heralded by the right, listed for example, as one of the great conservative rock songs by National Review, and used in the campaign trail by none other than Donald Trump himself. This is partially because the song’s history was only beginning in 1968.

By the 1980s, an era in which the so-called “flower power” of Sixties idealism was being superseded by materialism and yuppy culture, and which began with John Lennon being violently shot to death outside his home, “Revolution” was about to receive a new lease of life when the Oregon-based advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy sought to use the song in an advertisement to launch a new air bubble gimmick for Nike shoes. Wieden+Kennedy had just succeeded in using Miles Davis and Lou Reed songs in their adverts (an ad for Honda scooters using “Walk on the Wild Side” finished with Lou, sitting on a scotter wondering “why bother walking?”) and they clearly relished the challenge of being the first agency to obtain permission to use an original recording by the Beatles. In selecting the song, the agency had departed far from the brief, which was grounded in having a straight-forward product-centred ad, yet when the idea was pitched to Nike, the client’s response was “You’ve given me my Lou Reed!”

Lou Reed, not setting for walking

The process of obtaining permission was complex, unlike other campaigns where it was possible to use Beatles songs in ads in the form of cover versions — for example, “Taxman” was used by H&R Black tax advisers ¾ but obtaining the rights to use a Beatles’ original recording was another matter. In 1985, Michael Jackson had outbid Paul McCartney to buy the performance rights to a whole catalogue of Beatles songs and it was his representatives who contacted Yoko Ono to solicit approval on behalf of Wieden+Kennedy. Ono, it seems, managed to persuade Capitol/EMI to release permission. Janet Champ, who was part of the team that came up with the idea of using “Revolution” for the spot, remembered the matter as follows:

What made me feel really good about having this spot was we wrote Yoko Ono and we went and told her what the idea was — I didn’t get to go, but we sent the idea to her and we asked her what she thought about it — and she loved it… And the Beatles were all behind it, too, so once they said it was all right, we felt pretty good about it”.

Ono later explained to Time magazine that she didn’t “want to see John deified” nor for “John’s songs to be part of a cult of glorified martyrdom” but instead to be enjoyed by a “new generation”, “to make it part of their lives instead of a relic of the distant past”. The deal reportedly amounted to $250,000 for EMI and another $250,000 to SBK Entertainment World for the copyright and entailed a media campaign that cost between $7 and $10 million. The deal complete, Janet Champ recalled the day EMI’s master tape of the Beatles recording arrived at the agency in Portland:

We had the master tape right in our hands of the song and we got to put it on and hear all the mistakes and you know [reverent pause] the actual master right out of the vault from Abbey Road and they played it on separate little speakers so you could hear when Ringo dropped the drumstick or somebody made a mistake and it was so beautiful and clear. And everybody in the recording studio came in, came out of the halls all the way down to this rom to hear this for the first time. That was a great moment.

For Nike, who commissioned the ad, the stakes were enormous, and it was their first step into major scale TV advertising. Their sales were plummeting, largely due to Reebok absorbing market share as part of the 1980s aerobics fad. Reebok’s sales had risen from $3.5 million in 1982 to a staggering $307 million by 1987, leaving Nike reeling. Nike CEO Phil Knight recalled the moment as follows:

Until then, we really didn’t know if we could be a big company and still have people work closely together. Visible Air was a hugely complex product whose components were made in three different countries, and nobody knew if it would come together. Production, marketing, and sales were all fighting with each other, and we were using TV advertising for the first time. There was tension all the way around. We launched the product with the Revolution campaign, using the Beatles song. We wanted to communicate not just the a radical departure in shoes but a revolution in the way Americans felt about fitness, exercise, and wellness.

The ad was edited by Paula Greif and Peter Kagan, who had just been nominated for best editing, best cinematography, and best art direction at the 1987 Video Music Awards. Notes from post-production meetings indicate that an overall theme in “revolution in fitness lifestyle” was being sought but it was about “feeling good”, not “looking good”, and hence a frame with a man combing hair was removed. “Unfortunately , NIKE is a ‘macho’ company,” the notes read, so the original opening frames of three shots of women were eliminated.

Like the original three songs, there are three versions of Nike’s Revolution — two were hard-rock versions, with one softer version with doo-wops. It was the hard rock version that was the major spot and it consisted of very jerky black-and-white hand-held camera film, with a few archival inserts, that shows Nike athletes and ordinary people participating in a variety of sports at various levels of seriousness. There are whites, blacks, men, women, and a toddler. A woman plays air guitar and a huge laughing crowd runs into the ocean. As Scott Bedbury, who later became Nike’s advertising director described it, the most striking image was the toddler

running with his arms raised out in front of him, legs turning as fast as they could to keep pace with his upper body. His torso was tipping forward as only a toddler’s can, when discovering what it’s like to run full out for the first time. These images were not merely evocative and beautiful but meaningful, particularly in juxtaposition to each other. The message behind this medley of images marked a new outlook for Nike: the Nike brand now spoke to old as well as young, to women as well as men, to world-famous champions and obscure street athletes, using different images but the same voice.

The ad can be interpreted as offering a theme of empowerment and transcendence and a personal philosophy of everyday life, and part of the ad’s success is how this philosophy is reinforced by the song. The clip from “Revolution” includes the opening guitar barrage and the closing yelps of “alright”, but only a few lyrics: “you say you want a revolution, well, you know, we all want to change the world… But if you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out.”

The ad was a massive success — Nike orders increased by 30% immediately and sales doubled over the next two years. Moreover, Nike and Wieden+Kennedy had struck marketing gold, and the ad’s philosophy of empowerment and a personal philosophy of everyday life became the basis of their marketing positioning for the coming decade and laid the foundations for Nike to become one of the true giants of branding. As the sociologists Robert Goldman and Stephen Papson argued, from that point onwards, Nike and Wieden+Kennedy started to stand out in what they described as the cultural economy of images. The sheer scale of their domination within this supposed “sign economy” is staggering to behold. By 1991, Nike held 29% of the global athletic shoe market and its sales had exceeded $3 billion. Indeed Wieden+Kennedy, a small rookie agency, had finally established themselves as a major player in global advertising at the vanguard of the creative side of the industry.

Yet the use of “Revolution” by the Beatles attracted controversy too. Time magazine wrote “Mark David Chapman killed him. But to took a couple of record execs, one sneaker company and a soul brother to turn him into a jingle writer”. The Chicago Tribune described the ad as “when rock idealism met cold-eyed greed” and the New Republic commented “The song had a meaning that Nike is destroying”. Yet what meaning Nike was destroying was a puzzle. A rock critic for the LA Reader wrote “When Revolution came out in 1968 I was getting teargassed in the streets of Madison. The song is part of the soundtrack of my political life. It bugs the hell out of me that it has been turned into a shoe ad”. John Doig, a creative director at Ogilvy & Mather, remembered anti-Vietnam demonstrations with “bloody police truncheons coming down and Revolution playing in the background. What that song is saying is a damned sight more important than flogging running shoes”. “Revolution”, it seems had apparently morphed considerably for some listeners from a “petty bourgeois cry of fear”, all catalysed by a sneaker spot.

The most significant response was the $15 million lawsuit filed by Apple Records against Nike, Wieden+Kennedy and Capitol Records in an attempt to half the airing of the commercial. Apple claimed that, even though Nike had legally obtained permission for the rights to the music, it had used the Beatles “persona and good will” without permission. This charge is peculiar given how the ad producers had understood that the Beatles themselves had apparently approved the spot. The explanation perhaps lies in the sequence of unsuccessful suits Apple Records had filed against Capitol/EMI, through which the Beatles’ company had attempted to regain control over royalties derived from new formats like CDs. Reportedly the action was settled confidentially and out of court, after the campaign had run its course. Later, Nike and Wieden+Kennedy used “Instant Karma”, a solo song by John Lennon, in an ad, perhaps reflecting its better relationship with Yoko Ono, while Apple, EMI and Capitol agreed that no Beatles version would ever be used again to sell products — truly the Nike Revolution was a one-off.

Despite the massive boost in sales for Nike, the critical attention generated by the ad appears to have festered on Nike with long-term consequences. Negative press coverage on Nike started to accumulate, focussing on its patriarchal culture, its labour abuses, the brand became accused of tempting young black kids into buying athletic shoes they couldn’t afford and even blaming Nike for occasional murders. By today, in anti-globalisation protests, Nike is typically identified as one of the most offending “bad apples” of the corporate world. Dating from the Revolution campaign, Nike emerged as a target: big enough, salient enough, and suspect enough to draw fire across a range of issues. The long-term impact of using John’s song was thus to attract attention from an audience poised for broad-scale critique.

We can recognise the moment of the Nike Revolution ad as having not just launched Nike into the stratosphere of brands, but also helping to concretise the everyday wearing of sports shoes. Writing these words thirty years later in a university library, it is striking to note that the majority of students come to study wearing shoes designed for professional sports activities. The fact that this apparently strikes nobody as even slightly odd speaks to how we are living in the legacy of extraordinary marketing campaigns and market transformations. Indeed, the possibility that so many people are wearing these shoes is because John Lennon, meditating in Rishikesh, decided to address the politics of 1968, reminds us that the collision of culture and politics in the medium of advertising creates the most unpredictable outcomes imaginable.

Alan Bradshaw is the author, with Linda Scott, of Advertising Revolution: The Story of a Song, from Beatles Hit to Nike Slogan.

Tariq Goddard in conversation with Brett Anderson from Suede

Tariq Goddard, Repeater publisher and author of Nature and Necessity, had a chat with Brett Anderson from Suede as part of Radio 4’s Only Artists series, which brings two artists together to talk about their creative work.

You can listen to the programme in full here.

Listen to Daniel Spicer’s Turkish psych compilation!

In anticipation of the release of Daniel Spicer’s new book The Turkish Psychedelic Music Explosion: Anadolu Psych (1965-1980) next week, have a listen to a Turkish psych compilation Dan compiled for The Wire‘s primer series in 2011.

Listen to it here.

The book is released next Thursday (15th March)!

Read an extract from Mad Skills

Next week we’ll be publishing Ryan Alexander Diduck’s Mad Skills: MIDI and Music Technology in the Twentieth Century, a cultural history of MIDI and it’s impact on the ways music is made and consumed.

From today you can read an extract from the fourth chapter, “Synthesizer, Sampler, Mixmaster, Spy”, in The Wire.

In the beginning, there was the word. The word was a voice. The voice had a speaker. And the speaker knew the magic words. Fast-forward thousands of years to a time when humans behave like robots and robots behave like humans. Nobody knows the magic words anymore. Computers don’t distinguish between messages of love or hatred. Microchips make music and war with indifferent equivalence. All word, every voice, is now code. It has been for years.

You can read the rest of the extract here.

Mark Fisher on The Fall

To commemorate the passing of Mark E Smith, below is Mark Fisher’s analysis of The Fall’s Grotesque (After the Gramme), from The Weird and the Eerie (2016).

 

“Body a tentacle mess”: The Grotesque and The Weird: The Fall

The word grotesque derives from a type of Roman ornamental design first discovered in the fifteenth century, during the excavation of Titus’s baths. Named after the ‘grottoes’ in which they were found, the new forms consisted of human and animal shapes intermingled with foliage, flowers, and fruits in fantastic designs which bore no relationship to the logical categories of classical art. For a contemporary account of these forms we can turn to the Latin writer Vitruvius. Vitruvius was an official charged with the rebuilding of Rome under Augustus, to whom his treatise On Architecture is addressed. Not surprisingly, it bears down hard on the “improper taste” for the grotesque: “Such things neither are, nor can be, nor have been,” says the author in his description of the mixed human, animal, and vegetable forms: “For how can a reed actually sustain a roof, or a candelabrum the ornament of a gable? Or a soft and slender stalk, a seated statue? Or how can flowers and half-statues rise alternately from roots and stalks? Yet when people view these falsehoods, they approve rather than condemn, failing to consider whether any of them can really occur or not.”

— Patrick Parrinder, James Joyce

If Wells’ story is an example of a melancholic weird, then we can appreciate another dimension of the weird by thinking about the relationship between the weird and the grotesque. Like the weird, the grotesque evokes something which is out of place. The response to the apparition of a grotesque object will involve laughter as much as revulsion, and, in his study of the grotesque, Philip Thomson argued that the grotesque was often characterised by the co-presence of the laughable and that which is not compatible with the laughable. This capacity to excite laughter means that the grotesque is perhaps best understood as a particular form of the weird. It is difficult to conceive of a grotesque object that cannot also be apprehended as weird, but there are weird phenomena which do not induce laughter — Lovecraft’s stories, for example, the only humour in which is accidental.

The Fall, “How I Wrote ‘Elastic Man’ / City Hobgolbins”, 1980

The confluence of the weird and the grotesque is no better exemplified than in the work of the post-punk group The Fall. The Fall’s work — particularly in their period between 1980-82 — is steeped in references to the grotesque and the weird. The group’s methodology at this time is vividly captured in the cover image for the 1980 single, “City Hobgoblins”, in which we see an urban scene invaded by “emigres from old green glades”; a leering, malevolent cobold looms over a dilapidated tenement. But rather than being smoothly integrated into the photographed scene, the crudely rendered hobgoblin has been etched onto the background. This is a war of worlds, an ontological struggle, a struggle over the means of representation. From the point of view of the official bourgeois culture and its categories, a group like The Fall — working class and experimental, popular and modernist — could not and should not exist, and The Fall are remarkable for the way in which they draw out a cultural politics of the weird and the grotesque. The Fall produced what could be called a popular modernist weird, wherein the weird shapes the form as well as the content of the work. The weird tale enters into becoming with the weirdness of modernism — its unfamiliarity, its combination of elements previously held to be incommensurable, its compression, its challenges to standard models of legibility — and with all the difficulties and compulsions of post-punk sound.

Much of this comes together, albeit in an oblique and enigmatic way, on The Fall’s 1980 album Grotesque (After the Gramme). Otherwise incomprehensible references to “huckleberry masks”, “a man with butterflies on his face”, “ostrich headdress” and “light blue plant-heads” begin to make sense when you recognise that, in Parrinder’s description quoted above, the grotesque originally referred to “human and animal shapes intermingled with foliage, flowers, and fruits in fantastic designs which bore no relationship to the logical categories of classical art”.

The songs on Grotesque are tales, but tales half-told. The words are fragmentary, as if they have come to us via an unreliable transmission that keeps cutting out. Viewpoints are garbled; ontological distinctions between author, text and character are confused and fractured. It is impossible to definitively sort out the narrator’s words from direct speech. The tracks are palimpsests, badly recorded in a deliberate refusal of the “coffee table” aesthetic that the group’s leader Mark E. Smith derides on the cryptic sleeve notes. The process of recording is not airbrushed out but foregrounded, surface hiss and illegible cassette noise brandished like improvised stitching on some Hammer Frankenstein monster. The track “Impression of J Temperance” was typical, a story in the Lovecraft style in which a dog breeder’s “hideous replica”, (“brown sockets… purple eyes … fed with rubbish from disposal barges…”) stalks Manchester. This is a weird tale, but one subjected to modernist techniques of compression and collage. The result is so elliptical that it is as if the text — part-obliterated by silt, mildew and algae — has been fished out of the Manchester ship canal which Steve Hanley’s bass sounds like it is dredging.

There is certainly laughter here, a renegade form of parody and mockery that one hesitates to label satire, especially given the pallid and toothless form that satire has assumed in British culture in recent times. With The Fall, however, it is as if satire is returned to its origins in the grotesque. The Fall’s laughter does not issue from the commonsensical mainstream but from a psychotic outside. This is satire in the oneiric mode of Gillray, in which invective and lampoonery becomes delirial, a (psycho)tropological spewing of associations and animosities, the true object of which is not any failing of probity but the delusion that human dignity is possible. It is not surprising to find Smith alluding to Jarry’s Ubu Roi in a barely audible line in “City Hobgoblins”: “Ubu le Roi is a home hobgoblin.” For Jarry, as for Smith, the incoherence and incompleteness of the obscene and the absurd were to be opposed to the false symmetries of good sense. We could go so far as to say that it is the human condition to be grotesque, since the human animal is the one that does not fit in, the freak of nature who has no place in the natural order and is capable of re-combining nature’s products into hideous new forms.

The sound on Grotesque is a seemingly impossible combination of the shambolic and the disciplined, the cerebral-literary and the idiotic-physical. The album is structured around the opposition between the quotidian and the weird-grotesque. It seems as if the whole record has been constructed as a response to a hypothetical conjecture. What if rock and roll had emerged from the industrial heartlands of England rather than the Mississippi Delta? The rockabilly on “Container Drivers” or “Fiery Jack” is slowed by meat pies and gravy, its dreams of escape fatally poisoned by pints of bitter and cups of greasy-spoon tea. It is rock and roll as working men’s club cabaret, performed by a failed Gene Vincent imitator in Prestwich. The what if? speculations fail. Rock and roll needed the endless open highways; it could never have begun in England’s snarled-up ring roads and claustrophobic conurbations.

It is on the track “The N.W.R.A.” (“The North Will Rise Again”) that the conflict between the claustrophobic mundaneness of England and the grotesque-weird is most explicitly played out. All of the album’s themes coalesce in this track, a tale of cultural political intrigue that plays like some improbable mulching of T.S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, H.G. Wells, Philip K. Dick, Lovecraft and le Carré. It is the story of Roman Totale, a psychic and former cabaret performer whose body is covered in tentacles. It is often said that Roman Totale is one of Smith’s “alter-egos”; in fact, Smith is in the same relationship to Totale as Lovecraft was to someone like Randolph Carter. Totale is a character rather than a persona. Needless to say, he in no way resembles a “well-rounded” character so much as a carrier of mythos, an inter-textual linkage between Pulp fragments:

So R. Totale dwells underground / Away from sickly grind / With ostrich head-dress / Face a mess, covered in feathers / Orange-red with blue-black lines / That draped down to his chest / Body a tentacle mess / And light blue plant-heads.

The form of “The N.W.R.A.” is as alien to organic wholeness as is Totale’s abominable tentacular body. It is a grotesque concoction, a collage of pieces that do not belong together. The model is the novella rather than the tale and the story is told episodically, from multiple points of view, using a heteroglossic riot of styles and tones: comic, journalistic, satirical, novelistic, it is like Lovecraft’s “Call of Cthulhu” re-written by the Joyce of Ulysses and compressed into fifteen minutes. From what we can glean, Totale is at the centre of a plot — infiltrated and betrayed from the start — which aims at restoring the North to glory, perhaps to its Victorian moment of economic and industrial supremacy; perhaps to some more ancient pre-eminence, perhaps to a greatness that will eclipse anything that has come before. More than a matter of regional railing against the capital, in Smith’s vision the North comes to stand for everything suppressed by urbane good taste: the esoteric, the anomalous, the vulgar sublime, that is to say, the weird and the grotesque itself. Totale, festooned in the incongruous Grotesque costume of “ostrich head-dress”, “feathers/orange-red with blue-black lines” and “light blue plant-heads”, is the would-be Faery King of this weird revolt who ends up its maimed Fisher King, abandoned like a pulp modernist Miss Havisham amongst the relics of a carnival that will never happen, a drooling totem of a defeated tilt at social realism, the visionary leader reduced, as the psychotropics fade and the fervour cools, to being a washed-up cabaret artiste once again.

The Fall, Hex Enduction Hour, 1982

Smith returns to the weird tale form on The Fall’s 1982 album, Hex Enduction Hour, another record which is saturated with references to the weird. In the track “Jawbone and the Air Rifle”, a poacher accidentally causes damage to a tomb, unearthing a jawbone which “carries the germ of a curse / Of the Broken Brothers Pentacle Church”. The song is a tissue of allusions to texts such as M.R. James’ tales “A Warning to the Curious” and “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”, to Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth”, to Hammer Horror, and to The Wicker Man — culminating in a psychedelic/psychotic breakdown, complete with a torch-wielding mob of villagers:

 

 

He sees jawbones on the street / advertisements become carnivores / and roadworkers turn into jawbones / and he has visions of islands, heavily covered in slime. / The villagers dance round pre-fabs / and laugh through twisted mouths.

“Jawbone and the Air Rifle” resembles nothing so much as a routine by the British comedy group the League of Gentlemen. The League of Gentlemen’s febrile carnival — with its multiple references to weird tales, and its frequent conjunctions of the laughable with that which is not laughable — is a much more worthy successor to The Fall than most of the musical groups who have attempted to reckon with their influence.

The track “Iceland”, meanwhile, recorded in a lava-lined studio in Reykjavik, is an encounter with the fading myths of North European culture in the frozen territory from which they originated. Here, the grotesque laughter is gone. The song, hypnotic and undulating, meditative and mournful, recalls the bone-white steppes of Nico’s The Marble Index in its arctic atmospherics. A keening wind (on a cassette recording made by Smith) whips through the track as Smith invites us to “cast the runes against your own soul”, another M.R. James reference, this time to his story, “Casting the Runes”. “Iceland” is a Twilight of the Idols for the retreating hobgoblins, cobolds and trolls of Europe’s receding weird culture, a lament for the monstrosities and myths whose dying breaths it captures on tape:

Witness the last of the god men

A Memorex for the Krakens

Down With Childhood — a mix by Paul Rekret

Down With Childhood: Pop Music and the Crisis of Innocence is out today! Check out this excellent mix by author Paul Rekret showcasing the multitude of ways in which children’s voices are used in music.  And for more of this kind of thing, come along to Cafe Oto in London on 7th October for a launch party with talks, DJ sets and specially commissioned live performances. More details/tickets here.

For more info/links to buy the book, go here.

Carl Neville on Mark Fisher, exorbitant sufficiency and the radical inner child

This is an edited version of a talk given by Carl Neville (author of Resolution Wayat a day of lectures in tribute to Mark Fisher last Saturday, 8th July, at Spike in Berlin. You can see the full list of speakers and lectures here.

( I was asked to give a talk about some aspects of  Mark Fisher’s work, so this is what I said.)

About a year or so ago I was briefly in contact with Mark about his book Acid Communism, which I’d heard rumours about, didn’t quite believe really existed and finally succumbed to the temptation to ask him about it. Anyway he sent me the introduction, which may have altered subsequently, and among the many striking observations there was one section and one phrase that particularly struck me, partly because I was thinking along similar lines and also because of what I was reading and listening to at the time.

I wanted to ask Mark lots of questions about this project and this particular phrase he’d used but it wasn’t the right moment to start burdening him with my insights so they went unasked, and so I am taking the opportunity to reconsider them now.

Mark uses a passage from Danny Baker’s autobiography to illustrate a moment that he then characterises as expressing a sense of “exorbitant sufficiency”:

I’ll think about that phrase in two dimensions, political and aesthetic, because as we are repeatedly told there is only aesthetics and political economy

First, here’s the passage from Baker’s autobiography.

“It was July 1966 and I was newly nine years old. We had holidayed on the Broads and the family had recently taken possession of the gorgeous wooden cruiser that was to be our floating home for the next fortnight. It was called The Constellation and, as my brother and I breathlessly explored the twin beds and curtained portholes in our cabin built into the boat’s bow, the prospect of what lay ahead saw the life force beaming from us like the rays of a cartoon sun. … I … made my way up to through the boat to take up position in the small area of the stern. On the way, I pick up sister Sharon’s teeny pink and white Sanyo transistor radio and switched it on. I looked up at the clear blue afternoon sky. Ike and Tina Turner’s ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ was playing and a sort of rapturous trance descended on me. From the limitless blue sky I looked down into the churning, crystal-peaked wake our boat was creating as we motored along, and at that moment, ‘River Deep’ gave way to my absolute favourite song of the period: ‘Bus Stop’ by the Hollies. As the mock flamenco guitar flourish that marks its beginning rose above the deep burble of the Constellation’s engine, I stared into the tumbling waters and said aloud, but to myself, ‘This is happening now. THIS is happening now.’ (pp 49-50)

The preconditions for this experience of exorbitant sufficiency get spelled out in the text—essentially the high point of a post-war social democracy and what Mark is keen to emphasise are the general preconditions of this particularly personal moment of rapture—in order to deflect the criticism that it only represents a nostalgic reflection on Baker’s part or a typical, halcyon moment from childhood. This is of a piece with many of Mark’s observation that the foundations for a particular continuum of working class art and music production, punk/post-punk/rave/drum and bass were based on the possibilities of a dropping out and/or going to art school, having a reasonably comfortable life on the dole, something which probably stops being possible around the mid-late 90s in the UK.

“there is something very specific about this moment, something that means it could have only happened then. We can enumerate some of the factors that made it unique: a sense of existential and social security that allowed working-class families to take holidays at all; the role that new technology such as transistor radios played in both connecting groups to an outside and enabling them to luxuriate in the moment, a moment that was somehow exorbitantly sufficient. (italics mine)”

One of the things that’s interesting in the book, or at least in its opening section, is that Mark has returned to the Sixties. In some ways the Sixties for an earlier iteration of K-Punk in its blogging heyday would have been anathema, the hippies and their tree-hugging, free-love organicist enthusiasms were everything that punk and cyberpunk stood against, and one of the main currents that has developed out of a particular strain of Mark’s thinking, a ccelerationism, is still quite openly anti-hippy in its orientation.

One of the ways in which hippie culture is/was anathema is in its focus on the child as symbol of nature and innocence and Mark was a famous early advocate of anti-natalist positions, championing No Future by Lee Edelman and so on.

  So I suppose my first question here would be; while we have to be careful to make sure we are looking at the techno-economic paradigm that make these highly personal moments possible, can childhood and the experience in childhood of continuous levels of engagement and enlargement, the constant learning, the, if you like, repeated epiphanies, be a good model for acid communist or exorbitantly sufficient subjectivities? I am also thinking here little bit of a recent proposal for a National Education Service in the UK, a non-neoliberal equivalent to the market demand for life-long learning, because there is something psychedelic in the world-renewing properties of theorising and reconceptualising and that’s consonant in some ways with Mark’s interest in the notion of an outside; this space beyond current conceptions and boundaries that we constantly push into.

Can we locate a radical version of the inner child? Can we repurpose it, move it away from kind of wide-eyed avatar of some essential goodness and wonder, into a questing and adventurous, intellectually omnivorous, polymorphous subject, one that retains openness to an outside and that doesn’t ossify into a “realist” “adult” or highly individualised subjectivity?

There are several categories that Mark identifies as being essential to this sense of exorbitant sufficiency, light and space are two of them, but the most essential is perhaps time, free or unpressured time, and the sense of unpressured time comes of course from being a child, but also from a lack of anxiety about the future.

Exorbitant sufficiency has an ambiguous relationship toward the future as the space into which we project both anxiety and hope, but both those projections occur only if the present is intolerable, fallen, and will be redeemed in some way by the yet-to-come.

You might want to say that in exorbitantly sufficient moments the experience is one of time being in-joint as opposed to being out-of-joint. I’ll tentatively suggest that perhaps the time is always out-of-joint but that there are positive and negative modalities of that disjointedness. And I’d also suggest that there’s something slightly bittersweet in Baker’s passage, which is perhaps why Mark says that it could “only have happened then” as it takes place just as a shift of a certain kind is occurring, and that shift is symbolised here by the transistor radio that Baker takes up onto the bow of the boat.


One of Mark’s most influential formulations or projects was hauntology. Hauntology expressed a time out-of-jointedness in its negative mode—a certain future should have appeared, a better present should exist but has failed to come into being and the remnants of this better present are scattered around us, provoking us, reminding us of the lost possibilities.

This idea is given a certain kind of empirical base by economists like Carlota Perez, who is essentially a long wave theorist of capitalism and who argues that a shift toward a different type of post-Fordism, a production regime not based on oil, mass production and disposability should have occurred around the 1970’s but the “spatial fix”, essentially the opening up of China and the economic power of big oil to suppress alternate technologies, among other factors, have kept us trapped in an unnaturally elongated, slowly and unevenly differentiating Fordist moment.

Interestingly the subject that Perez imagines as the new consumer of this deferred future/present is very similar to the figure of the Hipster. She believes that elites lead the way culturally, so these would be moneyed connoisseur,  interested in the specialised, high-quality, durable goods. interested in recycling and reclaiming and oriented toward vintage and low energy intensive forms of commodity accumulation, creativity, “up-cycling” if you like. So, to a degree, the 2000s, in which Mark formulated his hauntology, was haunted both by the remnants of the Utopian promise of an early order, modernism, intersecting with these kinds of harbingers of a Perezian future, temporally stranded and wandering around Dalston waiting for solar panels and vertical farming to arrive.

Time can also be out of joint in a “good way” however and I’d think here about Mark’s complaint that with regard to modern technology’s role in music, you can’t hear it anymore, using the example of Brian Eno’s synths and tapes and the way they irrupted into Roxy Music’s often quite standard, pastichey pop and rock tunes, inducing in the listener an exhilarating frisson of Future Shock. Here the time is out of joint because the future is forcing its way back into the present, opening a passage in space-time and allowing the ghost of the yet-to-come, more an angel than a ghost perhaps, to come floating in.

In the passage with the young Danny Baker on the boat we have a couple of key interrelations, firstly the surrounding countryside offering an image of the eternal, the pastoral and sublime, the boat and its engine, an older classical form, an established type of technology and the emergent, the future, as symbolised by the radio.

As it notes though, the radio is tiny and portable and the moment therefore captures something of an inflexion point in terms of the possibilities of Future Shock as an affect or an experience, and it’s a notion which disappears from the culture probably from the late 70s onward and is, to some extent an addiction that people of a certain generation have never been able to wean themselves off. Indeed you might want to argue that a lot of the accelerationist project both aesthetically and politically is redolent of Future Shock envy on the part of a younger generation.

For this Future Shock to occur I think the technology has to be visible in the same way as it has to be hearable in music, hence in a kind of vulgarised, or at least popularised, hauntology, and in steampunk we have a fetishisation of clunky, monolithic early versions of technology with huge, glowing cathode tubes, gramophones, vast banks of synths and so on. So as technology miniaturizes, blends in with its surroundings, becomes invisible, becomes more of a discrete frame, as architecture does too around this point, then this kind of juxtaposition, the eternal, the residual, the emergent begins to disappear. Even though cyberpunk, extropian and to some extent accelerationist fantasies focus on seamless integration, technical augmentation, the man-machine and so on, in a way a certain affect a certain dramatic temporal tension is lost with miniaturization, the future side of the relationship falls away, becomes invisible and the present feels lopsided, dislocated, out of joint.
So I suppose another question I would have there is, what’s the relationship of exorbitant sufficiency to time? Is it only possible at a given historical moment, a good out of jointedness? Is this why it can’t seem to come again?

The term exorbitant sufficiency expresses that one has enough yet that enough feels luxurious, far in excess of what’s required. So this is a paradox or an oxymoron, and this sense of completeness in the moment, this lack of orientation to the future puts me in mind of Todd McGowan’s recent work. McGowan’s a Lacanian, which makes reading him a rather forbidding prospect, at least it does for me , but essentially McGowan tries to build a politics, an anti-capitalist politics of the death drive.

To very crudely summarise his argument, we have suffered an originary loss and we try to replace this loss all through our lives by pursuing an object that will stand in for the loss, here, commodities, which promise us a sense of completeness but only lead us to experience disappointment, because what we actually want is the disappointment itself, the loss that allows us to desire again. The chase is better than the catch, as Motorhead succinctly put it.

McGowan believes ALL orientation toward the future is inherently bound up in capitalist desire, that the constant search for and repetition of failure maps onto the structure of capital accumulation, orientation toward the future as a salvationary space is caught up in the logic of the profit motive, commodity production etc. All of this is expressed through the kind of counterintuitive and paradoxical formulations of which Mark was fond, the title of his big book being “enjoying what we don’t have”. What we should stop doing for McGowan is precisely thinking about the future, seeking out boundaries and limits to overcome in the  belief that beyond them there is a true satisfaction possible as we already have everything we need or possibly everything we don’t need. Or, perhaps better still, we already don’t have everything we don’t need.

There are problems with McGowan’s work in that it fails to address the body and material needs, poverty and so on. It’s hard not to be oriented toward the future and accumulation if you don’t know where your next meal is coming from or you face crop failure this summer, and so there is an extent to which McGowan is really perhaps addressing, in a more rarified register, the Affluenza that bedevils his students and his peers. Either way, this refusal of the future overlaps in some ways with Marks exorbitant sufficiency; the moment burgeons into a sense of plenitude because in some ways it’s been bracketed off. The relationship with acid here might be fairly clear. Acid shuts down the memory and the sense of anticipation, the music critic Simon Reynolds likening its results to one being dazzled by the moment.

So the next question I would have asked is whether a postcapitalist desire is at odds with a demand for the future and whether an exorbitantly sufficient renunciation of the future isn’t also an option to be considered? Does the idea of exorbitant sufficiency map in some ways onto the idea of Communal Luxury more than Luxury Communism.

Thinking about exorbitant sufficiency as an aesthetic, one of the songs Mark mentions as exemplifying this is the Kinks’ Lazing On A Sunny Afternoon, free time, a certain luxuriousness of surroundings, life devoted to the ludic, but also crucially a loss or a sense of being unencumbered.

I am going to suggest a series of qualities that I think are required for a work to add it to a canon of the exorbitantly sufficient and do that on the basis of some of my interpretation of the phrase I have already outlined.

I think it should it contain a sense of the good childlike, in the sense that it must have a certain numinous quality, a sense not of breaking into new territory/overcoming boundaries but of transformation or enlargement.

It should concentrate on a concentrated moment and that moment should be, paradoxically, illuminated by the eclipse of the future

Should have a sense of ease and lassitude.

Should formally express a relation and tensions between deep time and the traditional and the defamiliarising possibilities of the technological but without aiming at the sense of the ruptural that characterised Future Shock

It should have something of the reverie and the epiphany.

I am going to nominate a song for this and that’s Estuary Bed by The Triffids from an album with the interesting title, Born Sandy Devotional.

The song title is also relevant. Estuaries are as much a combination of forces pulling in different directions as they are a confluence, an arresting of  motion and a deepening of it, rich, teaming environments alive with growth, ancient and yet also densely populated, worked over by humans, in some ways undermined by them.

 Here are the lyrics:

The children are walking back from the beach/ Sun on the sidewalk is burning their feet/Washing the salt off under the shower/And just wasting away, wasting away

The hours and hours and hours

Come on, climb over your father’s back fence/For the very last time we’ll take the shortcut/Across his lawn/Then lie together on the estuary bed/Perfectly still, perfectly warm

Sleep no more/Sleep is dead/Sleep no more on the estuary bed/Ache no more/Old skin is shed/Sleep no more on the estuary bed

I see you still/I know not rest/Silt returns along the passage of flesh/ I hear your voice/I taste the salt/I bear the stain, it won’t wash off/I hold you not

But I see you still/What use eyesight if it should melt? What use memory covered in estuary silt?

I know your shape/Our limbs entwined/I know your name, remember mine

Sleep no more/Sleep is dead/Sleep no more on the estuary bed/Ache no more/Old skin is shed/Sleep no more on the estuary bed

There is an emphasis on childhood, un-hurried time, sunlight, nature, the sense of rebirth, sloughing an old skin, awakening, mutual embrace, a mutual transformation. The track itself is essentially a pretty straight, folk-rock track given a particular brightness and ambient edge through the production, and as it progresses the lead vocal becomes increasingly detached from the background, swimming of into a kind of overlapping, multi tracked, oneiric drift, urging whoever the song’s addressee is, perhaps the singer themselves, to awake, to face life replenished. There is nothing but two people lying together in the sun, in a particular favourite place and yet the song implies this is everything, more than anything one could want, exorbitantly sufficient.

So, I suppose all of this would just have been a long preamble to the question, What do you think of this song, Mark? Do you like it?

To which his answer would almost certainly have been “no”.

Only got better? David Stubbs on the Blair “revolution” of 1997

This is part one of an edited extract from 1996 and the End of History by David Stubbs, published last year by Repeater. Part two coming next week. 

“For the future, not the past. For the many, not the few. For trust, not betrayal. For the age of achievement, not the age of decline.” – Tony Blair, Labour Party Conference, 1996.

“I think if we win the election, the greatest burden on Tony Blair and the rest of us will not be delivering on the economy so much as the huge expectation that we will somehow be the agents of a different ethical order.” – Jack Straw, 1996.

In 1996, the Labour Party were regularly commanding leads of over 30 in opinion polls against the Tories. The party was in a unique position. In the past, it could only hope to achieve power when the incumbent Conservatives had made a hash of the economy, or plunged the country into darkness through their industrial relations incompetence. In 1996, however, this was not the case. Mortgage interest rates had dropped from double figures in the 1990s to under 7%. John Major’s administration had put the brakes on some of the worst, conspicuous excesses and injustices of Thatcherism. There was already a feelgood factor in the air. As the Guardian airily put it,

Unemployment is down, people are shopping more (car sales are up more than 10%), house prices are rising, the London Evening Standard says ‘Suddenly, Britain is feeling really good’, building societies are soon to create millions of new shareholders

And yet, fewer and fewer people felt good about the Tories. A series of allegations of sleaze involving Neil Hamilton and Jonathan Aitken, amongst others, spoke of a party who had done themselves too well and for too long at the political high table. Major himself cut a greying, weary, beleaguered figure. His risible, high profile Cones Hotline, in which members of the public could report apparently unnecessary traffic cones, had been quietly closed in 1995, having fielded fewer than 20,000 calls in its three- year life (a figure that frankly seems remarkably high). Major’s wistful visions of a Britain of warm beer and “old maids cycling to church in the morning mist” seemed to belong to the credits of some Sunday evening middlebrow period drama rather than a Britain whose heartbeat was pounding assertively with the delirium of the End of History. This was a dead man talking.

What’s more, the social liberalism regarded as loony in the 1980s had now become mainstream, with even Richard Branson looking to join in on the victory lap. 1996 was the year Virgin Vodka would introduce an ad featuring two men kissing. As for the Tories, Michael Portillo was obdurately upholding a ban on gays in the armed services.

Thing is, the country was not falling to pieces. It felt buoyant. There was simply a crying need for new faces at the helm, to displace an old guard who felt disassociated with the sense of self-confidence and triumphalism of Cool Britannia. “Things can only get better”, the refrain on which Labour would surf to victory in a year’s time, implied that the country was at rock bottom – but it was not. The feeling was more like: “Things are good – but they could be even better”. It was into this breach that Tony Blair stepped, a saviour for a country that did not particularly need saving – or certainly did not require the salvation he had in mind. It was as if he were being gifted the Premiership.

In 1996, Tony Blair was presented with the opportunity to present David Bowie with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Brits. You sense it was a slightly invidious task; as Chris Evans introduces him to the stage with customary half-wit (“foot-tapping, pop-loving, he’s got nice hair, Tony Blair”), the sound system strikes up facetiously with Bowie’s “Fashion”, as he descends the stairs in an estate agent’s suit and orange polka dot tie, his hairstyle, like Glenn Hoddle’s, having weighed anchor somewhere in 1978 and receded ever since. The half-soused crowd greet him with no great enthusiasm; there’s a low, mocking drone as he takes to the podium which he tries to ignore in that rictus way of his that would later become more pronounced when facing angry members of the Women’s Institute. And then, as if addressing the CBI rather than some of the dimmer bulbs of the Britpop alumni, he speaks:

It’s been a great year for British music. A year of creativity, vitality, energy; British bands storming the charts, British music once again back at its rightful place at the top of the world.” He talks of how new bands are able to draw inspiration from “the bands of my generation – the Beatles, the Stones, the Kinks – and the later generation, the Clash, the Smiths, Stone Roses.

It could well be that Tony Blair, former guitarist with Ugly Rumours, was sincere in this tribute. But, coated in a politician’s unctuousness, the words seem today to proceed from his mouth in an utterly stilted fashion, all the more so because when he actually took office, he was far too busy waging global warfare to monitor and extol the health of British music. It’s probable that this was the very last time he uttered the words “Stone Roses”. The list encapsulates far more shamelessly, loudly and clearly than any mumbling, equivocal frontperson corralled under its banner the guiding principle of Britpop; the history of music in the UK as a retrospective series of white lines down a grey, established road, a tribute to British heritage, enterprise and industry. Interesting who is missing from the list: Joy Division (too despondent – they were on the other side of the sun of the 1990s), the Sex Pistols (too anarchic, despite the fact that they removed the sting from their legacy by reforming for purely financial reasons in 1996), and, strangely, Oasis, despite their own, fulsome praise for Blair.

It wasn’t the only effusive comment Tony Blair made about British pop during 1996, as he brazenly sought to associate his forty-two year-old self with the crest of the Britpop wave in a way the late John Smith could never have done, and John Major never hope to do. Blair was all over pop in 1996, as energetic as a ligger in his attendance of awards ceremonies, always ready to talk up the energy of British pop, as if to imply, by osmosis, that he was a key generator of the broader energy it represented. “Rock’n’roll is not just an important part of our culture, it’s an important part of our everyday life”, he claimed, as if rock’n’roll were as vital to his daily routine as cleaning his teeth and saying his prayers. He wasn’t always selective in his upbeat praise; he described Morrissey as being part of our “vibrant” culture – Morrissey, with the possible exception of Alan Bennett, probably the least vibrant human being on earth, then as now. And, killing three birds with one stone, he sought to conflate rhetorically the rise of lad comedy, the England team of Euro ’96 and the trad indie du jour by alluding to the “Three Lions” anthem thus: “Seventeen years of hurt / Never stopped us dreaming / Labour’s coming home.”

Embarrassingly, however, Blair dazzled in 1996. This extended to to vast swathes of the electorate, including many who would marvel that they hadn’t known better. The lefty tanktops pooh-poohed him, but then, those malodorous malingers would, wouldn’t they? Meanwhile the Tories hired Charles Saatchi to rework his 1979 magic with their “New Labour, New Danger” posters, in which a grinning Blair was depicted as red-eyed and demonic once you peeled back a strip from his plausible veneer. They convinced absolutely no one of the Red Terror he represented; they might as well have waved garlic at him. For many of us sceptical about Britpop, we were affected by the New Sanguine of which Blair felt a part; he blazed white like the blinding light in a doorway to an uncertain future – an exit point at least. And he mentioned the Stone Roses. My God, a future Prime Minister mentioned the Stone Roses! This was surely something worth clutching at.

The prospect of finally ridding the country of the Tories intoxicated even some the most hard bitten. Noel Gallagher was the most conspicuous example, as:

There are seven people in this room who are giving a little bit of hope to young people in this country. That is me, our kid, Bonehead, Guigsy, Alan White, Alan McGee and Tony Blair. And if you’ve all got anything about you, you’ll go up there and shake Tony Blair’s hand, man. He’s the man! Power to the people!

He later sheepishly confessed he’d been “off his head” when he bellowed this pronouncement, in which the Oasis members effectively amounted to a shadow cabinet in waiting, but he wasn’t the only one. In co-opting the English Euro 96 anthem he wasn’t just piggybacking on a pop moment, he was tapping into the snarling sense of frustration still festering from the 1992 disappointment, when, despite leaning about as far to the right as seemed feasible without toppling over, Neil Kinnock still lost to John Major. Next time, anything would do. An ugly tap-in, a penalty shoot out, a Blair administration, so long as we won.

I was among those who had suspended my leftist qualms and joined in the chant for Blair, another who should have known better but found the urge to back this gift horse irresistible. Or was he a Trojan horse? Suppose, I told myself, Blair had dropped Clause IV, was cosying up to Murdoch by having Labour’s front bench trade and industry team abandon its support for a tough regulatory regime on the ownership of newspapers and television broadcasting in favour of a freer market, simply so as to deceive the public, business and the media that the party was deliberately forfeiting its leftist teeth, that it was the party that would no longer bite? And then, once in power, use his overwhelming mandate to exercise a full-blooded, socialist transformation of the UK? Be the New Danger the Tory posters depicted him as for real, after all? In any case, wasn’t that what Margaret Thatcher had done prior to her election in 1979? She certainly hadn’t frightened the British public by detailing the full extent of the right-wing programme with which her name would become synonymous. Might Blair have a similar trick in mind?

There was no excuse for such inebriated, wishful thinking. One had only to read, if one could be bothered, Peter Mandelson and Roger Liddle’s The Blair Revolution, published in 1996, which set out in no uncertain terms what kind of “revolution” New Labour were planning, one that certainly would not involve hordes of cloth-capped proletariats storming the gates of Downing Street à la the Winter Palace in 1917. No – what would be really revolutionary about the Blair Revolution is that it would be entirely non-revolutionary, making it the most revolutionary revolution of all. A revolution no one need fear, least of all our latterday Tsars.

This is part one of an edited extract from 1996 and the End of History by David Stubbs, published last year by Repeater. Part two coming next week. 

Yeats, Graves & the Bunnymen — Alex Niven


The origin of the luminous phrase ‘killing moon’ is obscure (at least it is to me). Google throws up no reference other than the 1984 Echo and the Bunnymen tune, and a 1994 video game called Under a Killing Moon, ‘the largest of its era’ according to Wikipedia. Elsewhere, there are stray hints. An early draft version of Yeats’s ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’ begins:

Many ingenious lovely things are gone
That seemed sheer miracle to the multitude,
Changeless and deathless; above the murdering moon …

For Yeats the moon had an occult symbolism, which we can fit into a broader Romantic tradition of viewing the moon as a source of terrible beauty. This was, more or less, the lunar worship famously avowed in Robert Graves’s The White Goddess (1948), which argued that the Romantics—and indeed poets going back into prehistory—celebrated the moon because it preserved memories of an ancient matriarchal society. In Graves’s account, prior to the arrival of male sun gods (Apollo, Christ) European societies paid tribute to a female deity associated with the moon: a ‘White Goddess’ at once ‘terrible, beautiful, inspiring, and destroying’. For Graves, all true poetry must pay homage to the Goddess and her ultimate dominion over the creative soul:

The reason why the hairs stand on end, the eyes water, the throat is constricted, the skin crawls and a shiver runs down the spine when one writes or reads a true poem is that a true poem is necessarily an invocation of the White Goddess … whose embrace is death.

Graves’s theory was highly influential, and for better or worse we can see it impacting on post-forties poetry in all kinds of ways (the life and work of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, both of whom were White Goddess devotees, is a notable example).

While I doubt that Ian McCulloch had Graves in mind when he sat down to write ‘The Killing Moon’, it seems clear that the wider, ancient poetic tendency of exalting the moon’s dark majesty and sway over human fate is somewhere behind the lyrics of this incredible piece of music:

In starlit nights I saw you
So cruelly you kissed me
Your lips a magic world
Your sky all hung with jewels
The killing moon
Will come too soon …

I’m not trying to shoehorn this pop lyric into an orthodox study of literary influence. All lyrics set to music (from Campion to Beyoncé) are different in texture from non-musical poetry—they are less dense and allusive, and so do not lend themselves to the techniques of close reading established over the last century or so of literary discourse. But I think we can probably agree that this sort of writing is nonetheless something unique and lovely. Like the best pop lyrics, it emerges from the moment when adolescent simplicity and sincerity are perfected with a sudden flash of mature self-awareness—a Bildungsroman in a nanosecond.

More concretely, as mentioned, we can see literary presences filtering through here to a work of art that is not self-consciously literary. Even if McCulloch was not as versed in the poetic canon as someone like Ted Hughes, he was writing in the early 1980s at a high watermark of popular literacy: a time when certain historical conditions (generously funded higher education, a strong counterculture, widespread intellectualism, no internet) meant that literary pop songs happened as a matter of course, growing organically out of the social-democratic soil, as it were. ‘The Killing Moon’ with its evocative title and lyrics—not to mention its sophisticated melody and arrangement—is one of the greatest and most successful translations of the Romantic literary aesthetic into the medium of the late-twentieth-century pop song. And it manages the feat without even trying.

But what, after all, is the song about? The arresting chorus hook (‘Fate / Up against your will / Through the thick and thin’) doesn’t need much decoding. Indeed—and again, note the effortlessness—apparently this fragment came to McCulloch full-fledged in a dream, just as the melody of ‘Yesterday’ was magically gifted to another Scouse Romantic back in 1964. We don’t need to follow McCulloch’s claim that the lyric arrived direct from God to appreciate the simple profundity of lines like this: will and fate in an endless tug of war, with the earth of life churned by the footfall.

Of course, this is at bottom a song about a death wish, or perhaps just death (remember the White Goddess, her embrace):

Under a blue moon I saw you
So soon you’ll take me
Up in your arms
Too late to beg you or cancel it
Though I know it must be the killing time…

Perhaps you’ll forgive me if I move from the critical to the personal to attempt to understand the power of these lines. I don’t know why, but since (belatedly) discovering this song for the first time over the last month or so, I haven’t been able to break its dark spell. In echo of its composition, I’ve woken up many times in the middle of the night with the chorus hook ringing round my brain. Life for me is good right now, perhaps better than ever. But there is something not quite right in the night sky.

I cannot work out what is meant by the final couplet of the chorus of ‘The Killing Moon’, a song released in the year I was born: ‘He will wait until / You give yourself to him’. Does God, or the Goddess, wait mercifully for us to decide we have given up on life? And being so overshadowed by death, how are we to muster will, hope, energy in the meantime? Perhaps we are living in the killing time, sliding passively towards decay, with ingenious lovely things disappearing around us every second. Like so many others, I am finding it difficult to see a way forward right now. Political options have narrowed, the counterculture is gone, and the wisest man I knew took his own life at the start of the year. I can acknowledge the light of the morning, and savour how it makes my baby son smile. But you must believe me when I say that lately I have felt haunted by the killing moon.

Alex Niven is a Repeater editor, writer and lecturer in English Literature at Newcastle University. He is the author of Folk Opposition, The Last Tape and Definitely Maybe (33 1/3), and is currently editing a book of Basil Bunting’s letters for OUP. He blogs at http://thefantastichope.blogspot.co.uk

On coming to metal in middle age – Tariq Goddard reviews Neurosis at Koko

by Tariq Goddard for the Quietus

I came to extreme metal, or at least post-metal, sludge rock, or whatever experts in branding would describe Neurosis’s music as, late in life. I had been listening to music which sounded a bit like metal for years (Godflesh, Black Flag) and other groups that nearly were (ACDC, Sabbath), but touching the actual shore of the genre, far less travelling to its absolute heart of darkness, eluded me.

Looking back, the fundamentally tribal musical era, and atmosphere, I grew up in demanded that one chose sides in a way that might be considered absurdly self-limiting today, and if there were adolescents that lived metal, rejecting their look, rituals and war dances, preceded giving their music my unbiased consideration. Truth resided in appearance, and whatever lay behind that was stigmatised accordingly, especially when other surfaces had so much to offer.

So what changed in mid-life? Moving to the countryside, the deep resemblance of days to one another, barren views that appear to be waiting for you, immersion in things replacing swift responses to them – these all helped. Time also changed the way I expressed the same preferences and the form in which I looked for them. My mute incomprehension towards music like Neurosis’ became an incomprehension in the face of new experiences which their music slowly started to reflect, and metal, especially in its least filtered form, eventually began to make sense to me.

The search for a new musical vocabulary, or enlarging an existing one, had in the past struck me as too aspirational a way to embrace what must come as the result of instinct. Yet something like it had already occurred once before when I found that classical music, in my early twenties, spoke to some version of myself I had not yet become, the experience of listening to it the anticipation of a future sensibility it would take years to completely attain. Extreme metal, conversely, reminded me of a person I had been and a way of understanding experience I had never fully acknowledged; bluntly, painfully and sometimes fearfully, this recognition the ultimate fulfilment of experiences I had been unwilling to complete, or completely acknowledge.

A lot of libido, but no women — Eli Davies reviews Supersonic, the new Oasis documentary

Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of bombast in the new Oasis documentary Supersonic. Everybody’s busy going mad for it and making history and being the biggest and the best. In a lot of the interview footage there’s a kind of coked-up scattergun quality to both Noel and Liam’s speech; their answers often go on for too long, they’re seduced by their own hype, and can quickly descend into hyperbole and cliche.

There are, however, moments which cut through all this nonsense and which show something of what was good and interesting about the band. One such moment of insight comes during a 1994 TV interview that Noel and Liam are doing to promote Definitely Maybe. A journalist asks the brothers what fans can expect from the album and Noel answers, “Twelve songs about being alive and having fun.” There’s nothing earth-shattering about that description, of course, but its simplicity shows, at that moment, a pop star perfectly attuned to the role of his music. My friends and I loved that album when it came out and, while we knew that the songs as a whole made less sense than those by the more cerebral bands we listened to, but we could pick out the bits and pieces we did understand and use them to give voice to our fun, our boredom, our yearnings.

There’s not much about people like me and my friends in Supersonic, though (or in many discussions of Oasis, for that matter). For all the casual references to birds and girls that litter the film, women almost don’t exist at all as a reference point in the band’s world. I give them a free pass on this sometimes, telling myself that women are so basically absent in Oasis’s music that it can’t even really be counted as sexism, and I think there is some truth to this. On Definitely Maybe there are a couple of songs you could describe as love songs if you really wanted to, but there’s something non-specific about the desire, unattached to any particular person. The film’s footage from the early days fits in with this picture; you see the lads horsing around, recording demos, larking about as they watch the footy, and what’s obviously important to them all is having a good time with their mates. I was reminded of the boys that I used to hang around with as a teen, boys who were all too interested in their guitars/weed/box-fresh Adidas/each other to pay much attention to us girls (all of which was perversely part of their attraction).

There’s a lot of libido in the sound of that album, though: the growling reverb-heavy guitars, the sexy sneer in Liam’s voice on ‘Rock n Roll Star’, that note of rasping longing he strikes on ‘Slide Away’. At its best, Supersonic shows what was so great about Oasis in the early days and captures the visceral thrill emanating from the music and the gigs, the sheer excitement of actually being paid to be in a band for a living, the rage, the joy, all the stuff that their later bloated, self-indulgence drowned out. A few of the band’s more articulate interviews explain where some of that urgency came from; Noel, Liam and Bonehead talk about the days when everything in the band still seemed fragile and the threat of having to jack it all in, go back to their estates in Manchester and sign on the dole again was ever-present. It’s easy to forget that this is the world that Oasis came from and, as Noel tells us in more overblown language, this story hasn’t been repeated many times since, such is the way that the indie music scene has changed.

Supersonic begins and ends with film from one of the record-breaking 1996 Knebworth gigs, the point at which, it’s now widely acknowledged, everything started to go a bit wrong, when the excess and the ego took over. Even so, as I sat in the cinema and watched the band’s absurd rock star arrival by helicopter and heard the drama of the opening chords to ‘Columbia’, their opening song, i got swept up in it all again. Seeing them swaggering on stage, I was revisited by the strange paradoxical feeling I’ve had many times as a music fan: there’s part of me that that wants to be down the front in among the heaving, sweaty mess of the crowd, enjoying the music, but there’s another part of me that wants to to be the rock star, walking on stage to mass adulation and belting out those songs. The word ‘laddish’ gets used a lot to dismiss Oasis and their fans, often, in my experience, by other men, but this really only is part of the story; there’s nothing in that assessment that registers the experience of me and my friends and the girls like us, whose love for Oasis was a strange mix of desire, identification, ambition, and love of the music – we weren’t just standing in the crowd gazing adoringly at Liam. For all the machismo of the band themselves and the hype around them, I don’t actually remember those Oasis gigs as being particularly laddish and this seems borne out by the film, in which there’s always a decent group of girls and women representing down the front at their gigs.

Nevertheless, Knebworth remains a useful starting point for discussing the flaws and limitations of the band and, even more so, of the culture surrounding them. I was at one of those concerts and I remember even at the time feeling something wasn’t quite right; there was a consensus among me and my friends afterwards that it was “too big”. Some of us had been to the Earl’s Court gigs the previous year and loved them; they were also big, but they happened a few days after Morning Glory came out, and somehow seemed to make sense. Knebworth’s scale and the fact that it was happening at all seemed unconnected to anything else—there was no forthcoming or recent album to promote, it wasn’t part of a tour, it just seemed to be about making history for the sake of making history (and money, of course). It was also around this time that the establishment became properly interested in indie bands. It seems strange to me, now, that the Knebworth gigs were an item on the BBC news, but there they were; a rock concert had become about more than having a good time and was now being used as a symbol of something that had nothing to do with us (a thread which  of course,continued with Blair and ‘Cool Britannia’).

Oasis’s transformation from a fairly successful band charting top-ten singles into stadium-rocking mega stars happened in a wider context of excess in the music scene. You can see now how they were egged on by those around them, and how their worst of their behaviour— the boozy bust-ups, the ungracious award acceptance speeches, the hotel-trashings—were encouraged and applauded by record company execs and managers, those who, in theory, should have known better. I’m not making excuses for the band – all that stuff was all there in the early days – but it was never the most interesting thing about them. As their career progressed, however, all this was magnified and fetishised and it turned them into something vaguely grotesque and ridiculous.

There’s obviously been no space allowed in Supersonic for reflection about any of this, though. The key figures in the film – Liam, Noel, Alan McGee – all have “no regrets”, “would do it all over again” and “wouldn’t change a thing”. Not only does this demonstrate a kind of tiresome bravado, typical of the period, it also partly explains the limitations of Oasis as a band and why, once their early energy and urgency had worn off, their music could only go so far. They were never challenged by those around them and couldn’t be bothered to do it themselves.

Supersonic reminded me, on a very visceral level, of all that I adored about this band; but in so many ways it reproduces the sexism of the music culture it portrays. There are two women voices in the whole film; one of them is Peggy Gallagher, who gives moving accounts of her arrival in Manchester from Ireland, of her relationship with her abusive husband and of how she finally plucked up the courage to leave him. The other is Christine, the Oasis road manager, who appears as a kind of good-natured, long-suffering mother figure. I wanted to hear more from Christine, about her relationship with these men that she worked with and supported, how she dealt with it as a music industry professional in her own right. This film desperately needed more from women like her, more from voices who weren’t so interested in the hype, to cut through the bombast and give us something other than superlatives. As it is, it reminded me of what so much of our music culture still is: conversations between and about men.

Review: CHAOS 93 by Ocean Wisdom

Tariq Goddard delivers his verdict on Ocean Wisdom’s debut album

For listeners of a certain age, myself for example, who feel all of their forty-one years without yet regarding that as old, there exists an uncontrollable reflex when listening to music made by the very young. A mental registrar of the trail of influences on offer, and then a reluctant dismissal of the end product for being less than their sum. In a terrifying presentiment, or perhaps confirmation, of old age and invalidity, it becomes harder to infer what the purpose of these acts adding so little to what they love is, however blameless they are for having been born “late” in the history of musical evolution. This kind of grand reduction is an easy and cheap exercise: no one can feel venerable about practising it, and as being “positively” disposed to something is usually of no help (and the young don’t care what the fuck you think) the generational conversation dies stillborn in the traps.

Something like the reverse of this happens when encountering Chaos 93, the debut album of Brighton rapper, Ocean Wisdom. Spotting the influences is a delayed afterthought, mainly because the music is too arresting and immersive to bother doing so, and partly as where they are audible there is nothing derivative or hand-me-down about their employment. Traditionally British hip-hop has experienced many modifications, and has been at its most popular when transformed, or put at the service of another genre, be it Trip-Hop or Grime. Often playing it completely straight has drawn unflattering comparisons to the States, beginning with Derek B (LL Cool J adapted for laughs) and even the more credible Hijack (whose first album was produced by Ice T’s Rhyme Syndicate). Sharing a language with America, and rapping in it, meant there was never going to be a short cut to establishing a homegrown identity. Ocean’s trajectory, however, owes plenty to those who have tried, moving through Rodney P, Skinnyman, Roots Manuva, and his contemporaries on High Focus, a British equivalent of Def Jux, who, like that label, mentor the sort of boundary pushing hip-hop that musically and lyrically can end up anywhere.

As with his label mates Dead Players and Dirty Dike, who produces and guests on the album, Ocean combines the whispered introspection of Trip-Hop, with the speed and severity of Grime, embracing a similar Pound-Land realist approach to his subject matter. His is a lyrical universe that has emerged under the shadow of Sports Direct and reduced expectation aspiration, where Park and Ride is the new public space, and Red Bull and Vodka the refined drink of choice. Here hip-hop’s traditional braggadocio is deliberately undermined by shrill jackdaw mockery and relentless sarcasm, this is hip-hop that takes the piss. While the form is often faithful to the canon, there are cheeky nods to NWA and Dre, they’re inhabitants of a parallel universe, the weight of history all but thrown off as Ocean chatters away with confident invention, his caustic observations sharing more with The Sleaford Mods or Mark E Smith, than Jay Z and Nas.

As a rapper Ocean revels in busy and wordy compressed rhymes, flaunting his jerky erudition and quick intelligence, ‘watch me pitta pasta to different parts of a written pattern/plus alliteration a wicked blag for a sicker stanza’, while inverting the genres usual tropes, ‘fuck bench pressing, I cover my food in french dressing’ in obedience to its basic one: keeping it real. The verbal hyperactivity is deliberately out of step with the backing, which is mostly minimal, spooky and spare, the mixture of speed and space weirdly hypnotic, nowhere more so than when the music slows to an orchestral crawl. The sprawling exercise in thinking aloud that is “Heskey”, which seems to be about a kind of motorway-ennui, and not the giant striker who kept Robbie Fowler out of Liverpool’s starting eleven, is so unusual that Ocean leaves all comparisons behind.

In a year where the new isn’t always original, and the truly original not always likely to be popular, with two musical legends dead, and the pressure on those who still live to be interesting enough to deserve to, Chaos 93 is vital work in a maturing genre by a young talent, which should be as gripping a listen for those who know they’ll love it, as it is necessary for those who think they won’t.

Tariq Goddard is a British novelist and co-founder of Repeater Books.

REPEATER PLAYLIST #6 — WASHING MACHINES

Inspired by Matmos’ brilliant new album and live show, Ultimate Care II—made entirely from sounds created by and with their Whirlpool washing machine—we made a mini playlist of songs using or inspired by all things laundry-related.

matmos oslo

(Hear all the tracks plus excellent suggestions from Twitter on a Youtube playlist here.)

  1. MATMOS Ultimate Care II

Matmos have brought the machine they used to make the album on tour with them.

2. Vivien Goldman – Launderette

From post-punk/new-wave pioneer Goldman’s 1981 EP, Dirty Laundry. The EP had Adrian Sherwood, Robert Wyatt and John Lydon on the production credits, (although apparently Lydon’s credit is down to allowing the EP to be recorded on the sly during PiL’s sessions for the Flower Of Romance album (source) )

3. Sonic Youth – Washing Machine

Very pleased to have been reminded of this ace 1995 album. 20 minute wig out, The Diamond Sea, sounds like it could conceivably have washing machine sounds in it, but couldn’t verify this so went for the obvious choice.

(Trivia: before this album’s release the band had been considering changing their name to Washing Machine, thanks wikipedia)

 

4. Petwo Evans – Tumble

Petwo Evans make polyrhythmic club music often using found objects for percussion. This track features Rich Thair’s drumming on the inside of an old tumble dryer.

 

5. Kate Bush – Mrs Bartolozzi

Brilliant character/concept track from Kate Bush’s 2005 comeback album, Aerial. Widely reported as being “about a washing machine”, when asked about it on Radio 2 Kate Bush set the interviewer straight:

“Is it a song about a washing machine? I think it’s a song about Mrs. Bartolozzi. She’s this lady in the song who…does a lot of washing! (Laughs) It’s not me, but I wouldn’t have written the song if I didn’t spend a lot of time doing washing. It’s fictitious. As soon as you have a child, the washing suddenly increases.
What I like is that a lot of people think this song is funny, I think that’s great, but, actually I think this is one of the heaviest songs I’ve ever written! (Laughs)
I like the idea of clothes, they are very interesting things aren’t they, because they say such an enormous amount about the person who wears them, they have a little bit of that person all over them, Skin Cells. What you wear says a lot about who you are and who you think you are. I think clothes, in themselves are very interesting. It’s the idea of this woman, who’s kind of sitting there, looking at all the washing go round and she’s got this new washing machine, and the idea of these clothes, sort of tumbling around in the water, and then the water becomes the sea. The clothes and the sea…
I just thought it was just an interesting idea to play with, what I wanted to get was this sense of this journey, where you’re sitting in front of this washing machine and then, almost as if in a daydream, you’re suddenly standing in the sea.” (source)

 

6. Neal Howard   – Indulge 

This last one is a little tenuous but included because a) it’s an absolute banger  and b) it featured on Network Records classic 1990 Bio Rhythm compilation (Dance Music With Bleeps), which contained in the sleeve notes a brilliant and almost definitely imagined history of a Sheffield micro rave scene based in launderettes

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 13.55.12
source: http://dilate.choonz.com/?id=140

 

Update: As pointed out by @skeuomorphology on twitter, the Mr Fingers track mentioned in the sleeve notes is very real and also a ? certified banger

7. Mr Fingers – Washing Machine

 

 

 

RIP PRINCE ROGERS NELSON, 1958-2016

Neil Kulkarni

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear” – C.S.Lewis, A Grief Observed

Of course, what you mourn at first, is yourself. Too soon to reassure myself by recounting Prince’s importance, or his place in the canon, too soon to contextualise something that feels like a personal attack, by death, upon your reason. Right now, things are a little too raw because what you recount when you hear this kind of news isn’t just the person you never met, who you’ve lost – you recall the people who you’ve been with, the nights when he saved you and the mornings he woke you, that first flush of first love when Around The World In A Day tangled you to sleep nightly for a year, the kids you lullabied with those songs, the person you were when those songs first kept you intact and kept you alive. This isn’t about adding up marks, checking the legacy, nailing anything – rather you apprehend just how concretely and spectrally someone’s art can inhabit your life, your everyday – not just soundtracking it but dwelling with you, in your kitchen and your bedroom and your living room, colouring things, taking your hand, lifting you up. You recall, with the habitual focus of an adult, times and places and specifics but more evocatively you remember how your senses flared, your synapses sparked, how prior to your current deadening you were still so up for grabs, there to be made. You recall hope seen through tears, pictures you played on a constant mind-reel, sounds that are now cellular, inside you, part of your own unique visceral balance between idealism and despair. What you’re mourning is yourself. Because you wouldn’t be yourself without him. From the off, he was too much to simply apportion affection to. He was a burning bright filament of your animus that has now been extinguished. This isn’t over-reaction. This is what music can do. Continue reading “RIP PRINCE ROGERS NELSON, 1958-2016”

A neo-Isherwood – David Stubbs on Bowie, Englishness and masculinity

Guest post by David Stubbs. His next book, 1996 and the End of History, will be published by Repeater in 2016. 

The first time I didn’t meet David Bowie was at a junior school village hall disco at Barwick-in-Elmet, the small village near Leeds, in which I grew up. This would have been in 1973, I guess. The polish of the parquet tiled floor lingers palpably in my distant memory, as do the sea of flapping corduroy flares and stomping pop sounds of the stereo system they’d wheeled into the hall. Chief among them was “The Jean Genie”. Pop meant everything to me then; I kept an exercise book in which I would list in different felt tip pen the Top 20 singles charts rundown each Sunday. If an entry had gone up in the charts, it was listed in green, if it had gone down, red; if it had held its position to me, grey. I felt distinctly the schism in the charts. There was the stony rubbish, the mouldering crooners who still held sway into the charts appealing to an audience some of whose tastes had formed in the Edwardian age. Oh, and there were The Osmonds and David Cassidy but they were for girls and therefore beneath contempt.

And then there was our gang, our gang. The boys. There was Glitter, of course, Slade, The Sweet, Bolan – but even I recognised that Bowie was the Queen Bitch of them all. And I wasn’t the only one. All us boys, all us little hard boys, thought Bowie was the cock. No more so than on the minimal “Jean Genie”, which, though we didn’t know it, harked back to a tradition that stretched to Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy”. All we Dennis The Menaces who were anti-Walter, anti-softie, loved David Bowie. He was the juvenile delinquent in extremis.
starmanApologies. It would be nice to report that he effected an epiphany in our young minds with his unabashed androgyny, his deliberate effeminacy, the way he put his arm over the shoulder of his guitarist on “Starman”. It would be nice to report that this sort of behaviour confounded the macho bully boys in 1970s English primary and secondary schools, but that wasn’t my experience. Somehow, it made him more über-male. After all, we were used to long-haired blokes; we had them on the wrestling every afternoon, blokes like Adrian Street; we had them running rings round defenders on Match Of The Day, blokes like Tony Currie, Charlie George and George Best. We didn’t really know what homosexuals were, with The Naked Civil Servant still round the corner in the mid-70s but we knew what puffs were and David Bowie wasn’t puff’s music. There was too much hard guitar, wham-bam percussion and fast, honky-tonk piano for that. Puff’s music was Donny Osmond. Your Granddad might think Bowie was some sort of nancy boy but he didn’t get it, did he?

Of course, David Bowie was implanting all kinds of ideas about maleness and being that would flower later but for boys my age, he was simply a magnificent pop animal with whom we could somehow identify and root for; he made the out of reach seem slightly less out of reach. He mysteriously and disappointingly ascended out of the glam pop orbit in the mid-70s for reasons we couldn’t quite understand. In his place came the likes of Alvin Stardust and David Essex, the sort of ersatz poppers who, unlike David Bowie, would do shows like Seaside Special. Sightings of Bowie became rarer. His value only increased.

Then came Cracked Actor, the BBC documentary about Bowie broadcast in 1974. I watched it avidly; even though I only had access to a black and white TV, Bowie’s presence seemed to colour up the screen nonetheless. What enchanted me most about this bizarro, glamorous, scary monster, diamond-hard rocking man’s man was that he was very much an Englishman. He spoke in the broad, affable vowels preserved from his South London upbringing; he was milkman-matey, even as he tottered around in stacked heels and multi-coloured, flesh-revealing androgynous garb. This impressed me deeply. You could be this and you could be English.

I later went through a phase of deep Bowie scepticism in which I dismissed this manner of Bowie’s as nothing more than a pretence of unpretentiousness, the empty tones of a poseur who had no originality about him, was merely the sum of his chameleon colours. I got past that, fortunately. Today, it seems clearer than ever that, despite his worldwide peregrinations, gender fluidity and shape shifting, Bowie was at heart doggedly English and that being male and English, this somehow meant a great deal to me, to a degree that is almost shameful.

You sense it at the very beginnings of his career; those flickering colour images on YouTube of him as a young, dapper mod, seeking out the camera’s eye. Or the huge influence exerted on him by Anthony Newley, who combined acting and songwriting and despite his jetsetting success was very much the dapper Englishman, a Bond-like international emissary.

Much is made of Bowie coming from Beckenham, as if it is an ironic absurdity that he should have come from a staid, South London suburb but I’m not sure if Bowie himself felt that way. He wasn’t quite JG Ballard, with his seemingly improbable and perverse attachment to his suburban semi-detached home but he kept on a large place in Beckenham as late as 1971. The extent of his fame, the mania and collective, pent-up existential energies it exploded on the world meant that he had no practical choice but to remove himself, place himself in exile, in New York, Switzerland. However, as interview footage with my ex-colleague reveals, he maintained at all times impeccable English manners and courtesy, well above and beyond the call of PR duty. There are countless anecdotes of encounters with him which reveal that his natural instinct was to be matey, helpful and egalitarian, rather than diva-ish or stand-offish.

Of course, he didn’t make England his subject, a la The Kinks or Blur. And, although he politely took a lifetime achievement award from Tony Blair at the height of Britpop in 1996, in which his contribution to British pop was eulogised, the strand of British music that was taking his fancy at that point was the progressive, futurist reconfigurations of drum’n’bass, not the retro homage of Menswear. And yet that attachment to England pops up all over the place, in small but telling places, whether it’s a photo of him on a train chuckling over a copy of the British-as-it-gets Viz magazine, or a picture of him taken in Greenwich Village, NYC on his 50th birthday by Kevin Cummins, in which he’s clutching a Union Jack tea mug and a fag.

Even when he was going through his Young American phase, despite the transatlantic vocal patterns he adopted, you always felt he maintained a consciousness that he was playing a (temporary) role, rather than lapse inadvertently into the faux-Americanisms of some of his peers. When he decided, as he unabashedly put it, to be the soulman, he made no bones about the fact that it was a premeditated pose, thereby avoiding some of the more embarrassing wannabeblack tendencies of 80s and 90s pop stars. And when he went to Berlin, he went very much as an Englishman, a neo-Isherwood, rather than someone determined to become an honorary Teuton. There was always that distance, that thespian consciousness. Finally, the very last photos of him see him just days before he died looking absolutely dapper in a perfectly tailored suit, a poignant echo of those early, Super-8 images of him as a mod about town.

Is this important? Surely the “essence” of Bowie is his existential departure from any sense of the “essence”. That you do not have merely to “be”, that you can become. However, I think of the words of my friend Phil Ramsden, who wrote that Bowie helped “to forge a new definition of what it meant to be a British man: something that wasn’t a City Gent or a chirpy Cockney or even a louche, lock-up-your-daughters kind of Jagger figure. Something that was a touch mysterious and non-self-explanatory.” That is important. The sliver of freedom Bowie on TOTP in the early 70s was one of freedom from a Britain still caught in the staid, repressive pall of a postwar Britain in which glimmers of a future beyond were relatively few and far between. Bowie wasn’t a departure from the dreary hegemony of English maleness so much as an expansion. Those of us who were male and English in his time are, in this respect, particularly privileged.

REPEATER PLAYLIST #5 – XMAS SPECIAL

2015 is looking like a pretty good year for Christmas music – there have been some good new xmas songs, Stormzy’s Shut Up might be xmas number 1, and no-one has released a cover of Fairytale of New York. So we’re pleased to present the Repeater Christmas playlist containing some brand new festive bangers, some old classics and not one but five versions of the best xmas song of all time, All I Want For Christmas (FONY is no. 2, don’t @ us). First of all, though, an exclusive and very christmassy track from our friends Petwo Evans (check out their Electronic Explorations mix)

Xmas in Ynysmeudwy – Petwo Evans (exclusive)

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/237852833″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]

Here’s a couple of great brand new 2015 xmas tracks by RP Boo & Fetty Wap:

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/237629671″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=’450′ iframe=”true” /]

Three undeniable christmas classics:
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9jbdgZidu8&w=420&h=315]

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFMyF9fDKzE&w=420&h=315]

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DiXjbI3kRus&w=420&h=315]

Feeling down at xmas? Wiley’s got you, just go and have a dance with Shirley…

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3TDPRZ8zD64&w=420&h=315]

…& if that doesn’t help we’re even including a couple of tracks especially for lost-cause bluesy Scrooges

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g2Nc-s44tUc&w=420&h=315]

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4hootugHBA&w=420&h=315]

This 2010 Vybz Kartel & Sheba track is probably the filthiest xmas song ever (the official/ clean version here is basically a different song)
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aT08bYTrOWE&w=420&h=315]

& finally a selection of versions of the greatest Christmas song ever made:

An excellent 2013 DJ Q remix…

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBNc65g8eYU&w=420&h=315]

The cute 2012 live version with The Roots on Jimmy Fallon…
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWEfszb9h8Q&w=560&h=315]

The super-kitschy Justin Bieber duet version: [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGFNmEOntFA&w=560&h=315]

This is just weird:
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDACj0tkD-s&w=560&h=315]

& this MIDI version is even weirder, and brilliant:

https://red3blog.tumblr.com/post/135098280942/formeldeharv-i-put-all-i-want-for-christmas-is

But let’s face it, nothing beats the original:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXQViqx6GMY&w=420&h=315]

Merry Christmas from Repeater!

Show them where you’re from: a trip round Darkstar’s Foam Island

When future historians come to make sense of our peculiarly disappointed moment (and good luck to them), some will no doubt wonder where the anger was. Every decade of the 20th century had its Marx-quoting middle classes and placard-bearers hailing the imminent end of capitalism. But recent political events have outstripped the imaginations of even the most jaded pessimists. In five years’ time there may be no effective welfare system or health and social care service to speak of. Austerity is re-elected, the prime minister inserts his penis into a dead pig and retains credibility, and the leader of the opposition is called a terrorist sympathiser for opposing another ill-thought out military disaster. Strange times.

There is a prevailing sense of paralysis and defeat all across ex-industrial Britain. And this particularly effects the young, who have not known anything else. So, what is their story?

Darkstar have set out to capture something of it in their third album, Foam Island (Warp records). Washed-out, woozy and subtly groovy, it’s electronica that pulses, bleeps and sighs over twelve tracks. There is a consistency of rhythm that connotes animation and motion, a light-touch percussion of peaceful getting-by over bleeding-heart dramatics. Most interesting of all, sampled into many of the songs are the voices of young people from Huddersfield, who the Darkstar duo interviewed over the summer of 2015, around the time of the general election. James Young and Aiden Whalley present here their findings, the hopes and desires of young people in one small town, as they endure and find spaces of pleasure and communal belonging.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vCH_-jUqdc&w=560&h=315]

Let’s start with “Stoke the Fire”, one of the strongest tracks on the album. It’s the album’s challenge to its subjects, beginning with a deceptively simple hooky beat and a scene-setting statement that says what it sees (‘Live in a wasteland, but hope for a palace’), one that taps into the underlying feeling of sarky resilience and dreams postponed round ‘ere. Textures cohere and take form over a building pulse. Low-key evocations match them, ‘take the challenge’, ‘the time to try has come’, ‘the hold of fate has swung’. It seeks out a truth written in the ordinary experiences and feelings written out of the mainstream media’s island story. ‘Stoke the fire, so young’ repeats the chorus. Something in that dormant energy, alive but self-contained, needing the oxygen of something to make itself known. ‘Show them where you’re from’. A mantra-like chorus follows, ‘speak or hold your tongue’, speak up, speak out, or let it pass, give up, give in, pass the baton, pass the mic.

Voice is often confused for authenticity: the voice of the young, the voice of the disenfranchised, etc. One shouldn’t forget who selects what voices, how they were edited down, or what questions they were asked. Darkstar approached young people around Huddersfield train station. Their frank approaches to strangers invited amusement and scepticism, and at times they were confused for undercover police. But it worked.

The ambitions of the album are best realised on “A Different Kind of Struggle”. They asked strangers about their lives, a question more complex than it sounds, and through building trust, established this. Darkstar’s voices, all young, a mixture of male and female, speak brightly of what they live for and their values. ‘Loyalty, kindness and honesty, just basic things’ gives the first track its title and focus, as a young woman’s voice repeats and is looped, Steve Reich-alike, as another man talks of the inter-connectedness of friends, and another young woman, of being able to feel herself. ‘I’m not a materialist person… it’s not a full thing’ says another in “Through the Motions”, bringing light to a lilting if often detached, affectless sound. ‘I’ve not experienced that much of the world’, says Javan, ‘and it’s because of that, I feel content here’. Friends, family, glimmers of hope between the ‘arrears’, ‘compromises… concrete structures’ composted into the story.

Community is a recurring motif, even a preoccupation, as Young and Whalley explore their own estrangement from a particularly Northern community. Though from Winsome, Cheshire and nearby Wakefield, respectively, Darkstar have spent the last few years in exile, working and recording in London. Both North (2010) and News from Nowhere (2013) tried in different ways to capture a sense of Northernness, a rare and possibly non-existent quality, associated with abandonment and anger. The production of the latter even involved living fifteen months in Slawaite, a village a few miles south-west of Huddersfield, in order to tap into this subterranean juice. But missing were voices, people’s actual experiences. So the summer they spent smoking and drinking with a crowd of young people, ‘like a holiday’ says Whalley, welcomed in.

One gets a sense of that intimacy in the album. ‘Ruskin Grove, we call it the Gaza’, says Daryl, tongue firmly in cheek, at the end of “Inherent in the Fibre”. We’re on a post-war housing estate in nearby Deighton, a strip where Daryl likes to sit back and watch the world. The police put a surveillance camera up, but it was quickly taken down by concerned locals. Laughter, easy times. ‘Enjoying the sun, drinking some brandy with you’.

The result is a rich series of documentary portraits that deserves praise for resisting the obvious clichés about Northern grimness or authenticity. In its focus on feeling, it does sometimes miss out the landscape necessary to contextualise these young people. The physical landscape of mass suburban housing estates and retail parks, the billboards and broken roads, is not here. The mental landscape, of underpaid, overworked inertia, being stuck in a place, or the ambient anxiety of social care responsibilities for disabled parents and friends as statutory services disappear, is only partly alluded to. ‘It sounds a bit bad, but I try to stay out of it’, says a young woman on “A Different Kind of Struggle”. Her words give this island its impermanent structure. ‘If I do start thinking about it I get worried. I’m in my own little bubble’.

Sleaford Mods are another group that’ll make the Austerity Britain mixtape of the future. Whilst Foam Island was being produced, two documentary film-makers followed the band on a tour of a number of small towns around Britain, filming shows and interviewing fans. The resulting documentary by Nathan Hannawin and Paul Sng, Invisible Britain, shares a common aim with Darkstar, using music as a form of documentary and expression of communities in Britain left behind, silenced or out of sight.

Interspersed between footage of Jason Williamson caustically and wonderfully berating jumped-up individuals in jobcentres, quiet streets or on Question Time, various protest causes set out their stall, from JENGBA (Joint Enterprise) to Unite the Union. Their earnestness is often out-of-kilter with the singer’s own scepticism about political change. What’s most interesting is his own meta-commentary on Sleaford Mods’ political significance to its fans. Like the young people on Foam Island, he’s capable and confident in expressing his own individual anger. But asked to give a political position he becomes awkward, resistant of the pressure to take the mantle of poet laureate for the disaffected working class. Whilst austerity and toffs in Westminster are the problem, the solution’s not clear. At one point he blames human nature for the political malaise.

Though two decades older than most residents of Foam Island, he taps into a similar current of contemporary anger, a more desperate one, ‘it’s a different kind of struggle now’, as an older woman describes, lending another track its title. One wracked with a kind of insular feeling, of being under attack. Though the inhabitants of Foam Island describe their small town as island-like, detached yet self-contained, easily overlooked from outside but with its own rich inner life, their comments seem better purposed to describing the inhabitants themselves. Under immense social pressure (‘like all councils round here, we’ll soon have less money to run local services’, goes a Kirklees council voiceover in the track “Cuts”, £83million cuts so far made, £69 million of ‘savings’ to go), the inner life of the mind remains intact, webbed in friendships and fantasies. ‘Ya distance yerself to concentrate on yer own journey’ says one girl on “Go Natural”. Such a resilient yet blinkered persistence in fantasies of individual survival and success, necessary as they are, are what Lauren Berlant calls ‘cruel optimism’. It makes for broken hearts.

This refusal to hold a consistent and positive political idea is often lauded. John Harris in the Guardian praised Foam Island for not sounding like protest music, and heralds its representation of ‘deep political disengagement’. His social journalism, a beacon of light in a sea of chinless mediocrity, is at times hamstrung by an unexplained contempt for ideas. It’s as if they’re some kind of rabbit-shit wholefood, foisted onto the dinner-plates of ordinary decent folk by a minority of highly-strung lefties, with their iPads, haircuts and intersectionality (cue tittering). This is not the case. There is something patronising and self-defeating in this attitude, one that at times strays into Jason Williamson’s talk. A hostility to being so pretentious as to have an idea and want to do something with it. ‘Jumped-up’ and ‘being pretentious’ are other ways of rendering having ‘ideas above your station’. In taking up the mic or the pen to simply narrate the futility of intellectual and political change, the effect is not unlike that of a sermon by the medieval clergy: passion, catharsis, emptiness, empty hope.

Darkstar were invited to perform last week at the Barbican on a bill with Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods, and others, as part of a series of events on social (im)mobility in the arts. The event was commendable in its political focus. Subjugation by Oxbridge toffs and private school bores has now been extended to music and the arts, and the only media channel now presenting working class lives is Channel 5’s regular slew of benefits misery entertainment. But many invited speakers on social class were either regular talking heads or leading academics, or involved in PR agencies. There was still the problem of the working class not speaking, of the term ‘class’ not even being said. Ordinary people were still out of shot.

This comes at a time when depictions of class are unclear. The traditional bastions of the organised Left have fallen short on description: radicals talk of the ‘multitude’ or ‘the 99%’ or, after the late Laclau, ‘the People’ (in a non-nationalist, empty signifier way, obviously), or ‘the count of the uncounted’. Yes, there are some valid theoretical reasons for this. But it’s effectively consistent with the popular narrative that class doesn’t exist, that the working class disappeared sometime in the 1990s. ‘We’re all middle class now’ – think on that famous line by Lord Prezza of Two Jags. It doesn’t matter that John Prescott never actually came out with it. Around 1996, the dawn of the Blair project, it was essentially true, it indicated a changing structure of feeling. You didn’t know any of them, and it didn’t apply to your friends, but probably everyone now was middle class, and if they weren’t, something was wrong with them – they weren’t working enough, were scrounging on benefits, not paying their way.

In this new world order, class is now something to be ashamed of, a sign of failure. It also explains why political movements that can speak the language of pride, fairness and community, whilst giving vent to its frustrations, are succeeding. The Left isn’t getting it, I hear talk of ‘rainy fascism island’. When I travelled around the island interviewing people, collecting their voices, it blew my mind how much courage, intellectual boldness, dreaming and disappointment I found. Island Story is intended as a barometer of this changing structure of feeling, one that makes the contemporary experience of working class like nothing else in history. That shame, that buried anger, there is nothing comparable in the 1980s or before. Young people are being brought up in it, breathing the air, taking on its shape and norms. And we don’t yet know what the effects of that will be.

Mike Savage and other sociologists have recently attempted to update our notions of class. In Social Class in the 21st Century (Penguin, 2015), they expand what class means, accounting for social, economic and cultural factors. Drawing on a UK survey of around 161,000 people, they offer seven new categories: the elite, established middle class, technical middle class, new affluent workers, traditional working class, emergent service workers, and the precariat. Yet the methodology is weak, as Danny Dorling has noted: these 161,000 people were a self-selecting sample found through a BBC online survey in 2011, which systematically over-estimated its own social status (a smaller representative survey of around 1000 was appended). Its dependence on cultural and social factors mean that, even if you’re a zero-hours care-home worker, having friends who are teachers or listening to classical music could catapult you into the middle classes. The categories themselves are weak: what retail or catering assistant or postal worker is a ‘new affluent worker’? Would you put carpenters in the lowest rung ‘precariat’, and NHS midwives in the ‘established middle class’? Most categories can be refolded back into working, middle and upper, whilst accounting for internal variables of age. But its most interesting contribution is its own inaccuracy. Who wants to be working class? Who even knows what it means?

Over the course of Foam Island there are frequent evocations of fate. ‘The hold of fate has swung’ repeats over “Stoke the Fire”. In “Go Natural” fate is said to be ‘in disguise’, the pre-determination of events unclear to us but not the gods. Later in “Pin Secure” we’re encouraged to challenge what appears as fate, self-fulfilling prophecy, with ‘you call it fate’ – perhaps it is not. Then in “Foam Island” ‘his fate is scarred’, it burdens one who believes it so. There is no better word to sum up everything at stake now than fate: the bitter acceptance of what must come, like it did in the 1980s or the 1930s. Or to fight back, kick against the pricks, bring war against the gods, not out of hope for success, but because it’s the necessary and right thing to do. It all comes down to fate, or fatalism, however you see it. The naturalisation and normalisation of defeat is one of the most powerful functions of ideology.

‘In a positive way now, it’s about how our country’s run’, says a young guy on “A Different Kind of Struggle”. Seeing a way out of fate involves imagination. The idea of Foam Island came accidentally, when Darkstar watched a documentary about the Sex Pistols’ Xmas gigs in Huddersfield in 1977. They did a benefit show for the children of striking firemen. Entrance was free and the kids were given presents (all Sex Pistols merch, granted). Johnny Rotten stuck his face in a big cake and the children jumped on top of him. Now middle-aged, those kids there were electrified by it, by that show of support and the energy they brought. They recall it vividly. It indicated another possibility.

There is a value in documentary work like this: it brings to light how people feel, shows us that others feel as we do, that our grievances are common, and the cause clear. They are more limited in imagining what could happen. A voice can only relay the present spectrum of imaginary possibility, what political strategists call the ‘Overton window’. What lies next is imagining what might be possible. For that we have glimmers and stories, half-shots of memory, detached voices. Johnny Rotten in a Huddersfield nightclub narrating ‘Anarchy in the UK’ to pogoing teenagers; a member of King Mob dressed up as Santa, giving out ‘free’ toys to children in Selfridge’s; Tony Benn drawing up plans to democratise the running of the UK’s mostly publicly-owned industries; all moments, moments of something, like that revelatory vision of ‘one tone, clarity’ that ends Foam Island on “Days Burn Blue”.

That’s what makes Foam Island an interesting and worthwhile project. For all the problems of voice, they didn’t wheel out journalists, established artists and youth workers to speak for the young; instead, they asked them themselves. The resulting picture is richer for it, and the album combines occasional dabbles in melancholia (“Foam Island”) or political commentary (“Cuts”) with some light-hearted, upbeat grooves (“Go Natural”, “Inherent in the Fibre”). Whilst they might have gone further, and longer, integrating their young collaborators into the music itself, perhaps collectively writing lyrics to one or two tracks, it is a very good album.

Repeater playlist #4 – female Japanese artists of the 80s & 90s

“In putting together a brief playlist of Japanese female musicians of the 80s/90s I was surprised to discover that one of them, in fact, wasn’t a woman. Nonetheless I decided to include them simply because their work is so good. Susan appears twice, as do Midori Takada and Ichiko Hashimoto as solo artists and  members of Mkwaju Ensemble and Colored Music respectively. This is a far from comprehensive list but hopefully gives taste of some of the interesting and innovative work that went on, both Yellow Magic Orchestra related and otherwise. I claim no expertise in Japan, music or Japanese music but I am an ardent YouTube trawler and know what I like. Hopefully you will find something of interest in there too.”

Carl Neville will be publishing a novel, Resolution Way, with Repeater in May 2016. He  has an ongoing musical project – AYA – with Ayako Nikawadori (listen).  

“A long way to happiness” – Ramzy Alwakeel reviews the Pet Shop Boys’ Super

For all the Pet Shop Boys’ talk of having made “Electric, but more so”, Super is a very different beast from its predecessor. Perhaps it’s because the duo enjoy playing with expectations, but there is a striking disconnect here between the bright, brash artwork and the sad world lit up by the strobe lights.

The dark side of Super is not the brooding BDSM hinted at by Electric’s wildest moments, but rather the resigned grief of Elysium and Nightlife. Nowhere on Electric will you find lyrics anything like “I live every day like a sad beast of prey” or “no one understands us here/imagine how free we will be if we disappear”; nowhere else in pop music, probably, will you find the line ‘I sound quite demented’, but then this is a band that once shoehorned the words ‘Carphone Warehouse’ and ‘bourgeoisie’ into the same verse.

If we’ve met Super’s characters before, it was longer ago than Electric – they appeared in ‘To Step Aside’, ‘Dreaming of the Queen’, even ‘Opportunities’. And the flawed superheroes who lend this album its bold title are hardly the Avengers.

There’s the ageing autocrat pondering abdication on ‘The Dictator Decides’; the Shoreditch boys hoping their time at the top will last forever (‘Twenty-something’, ‘Groovy’); the star DJ, a celebrity only for as long as he can fill the dancefloor; the ‘Pop Kids’ whose romance and spark is dulled by the tedious march of time.

It must be said, though, that we visit some utterly barmy discos along the way. Oddest of all is ‘Happiness’ with its Junior Senior breakdown – so giddy, it’s easy to miss the bleak message that opens the album: ‘it’s a long way to happiness’.

And while Neil Tennant sneaks bits of himself into all his protagonists, only on closing track ‘Into Thin Air’ does it feel like he’s telling his own story: for four minutes, just like the dictator, he really does want to pack it all in. ‘Too much ugly talking; too many bad politicians’, he sings, perhaps describing the rabble to whom he has dedicated the rest of Super. If we didn’t know a third Stuart Price collaboration was already in the making, it would be tempting – and frightening – to see this as Tennant’s answer to ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’, the song in which Bowie laid bare his own premature flight schedule.

‘Into Thin Air’ is Super’s bewitching highlight. It has echoes of Relentless, the wistful dance album that came with Very; a flash, too, of the Nightlife dancers’ slackening subjectivity. This is what Robert Miles’s ‘dream house’ should have been in 1996: a lullaby for the ecstatic. After the sugar rush of ‘Say It to Me’ and ‘Burn’, ‘Into Thin Air’ slips calmly, unseen, out of the club. The day is so very young and instead of heading home our hero walks towards the sunrise, his head full of sound and his feet no longer touching the road, while his friends feign concern at their inability to find him in the darkness.

Promised You A Miracle: kpunk 80-82 video collage

A collage made by Mark Fisher (kpunk) to introduce a talk by Andy Beckett on his new book, Promised You A Miracle: UK 80-82. The event took place in the Department of Visual Cultures, Goldsmiths on 12th October 2015

REPEATER PLAYLIST #3 – BAE OF PIGS SPECIAL

Piggies – The Beatles

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXdKlpBOvs0&w=420&h=315]

We Are the Pigs – Suede

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxtIwh1Nz0k&w=420&h=315]

Pigs (Three Different Ones) – Pink Floyd

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOqblSqx_VI&w=420&h=315]

Maggie’s Farm – The Specials

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DA8KR0Qo8R8&w=420&h=315]

All Pigs Must Die – Death in June

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6cUC0s0tHBw&w=420&h=315]

(h/t @spitzenprodukte)

Stand By Your Ham – Pig Aid

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRcA-ckXv3o&w=560&h=315]

(a 2008 charity song made by pig farmers to raise awareness of high feed prices)

War Pigs – Black Sabbath

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jDvEbT0hb8&w=420&h=315]

(h/t @allononenote)

Fascist Pig – Suicidal Tendencies

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=erTLYlgHTn8&w=420&h=315]

Ham n Eggs – A Tribe Called Quest

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-_PHQ8sSvA&w=420&h=315]

Itsu – Plaid

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDDnuZAL9ps&w=420&h=315]

September (accidental) – Matthew Herbert

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgKxZu8N9dQ&w=420&h=315]

Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag – Pigbag

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omYKI8RJaIg&w=420&h=315]

Piggy – Nine Inch Nails

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQ4S9ydkMG4&w=420&h=315]

(h/t @danielcbristow)

Dear Diary, Men Are Pigs – Finally Punk

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5aqRDstmwk&w=420&h=315]

(h/t @panthermoderns)

Pigs in Zen – Jane’s Addiction

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PMGabbWM5s&w=560&h=315]

Making Bacon – The Pork Dukes

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2UE1XZRWJ0&w=420&h=315]

(h/t @stevefinbow)

And, of course, Cassetteboy – Getting Piggy With It 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBpQJ98rR4o&w=560&h=315]

An extract from Smile if you Dare by Ramzy Alwakeel

This is an edited extract from Smile if you Dare: Politics and Pointy Hats with the Pet Shop Boys, by Ramzy Alwakeel, which will be published by Repeater next year.

Two decades on, there’s something implausible about Very.

The Pet Shop Boys’ fifth album snuck posthumanism and panic sex into the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. Its arrogant title said: here is our essence; an easy reference point; a convenient definition. But once you probed it, touched its bright orange case with trembling fingers, the conceit started to unravel.

You looked at the sleeve inlay and saw giant eggs, conical hats and beach balls before you spotted any human faces.

Then there was the music. Very didn’t so much showcase the Pet Shop Boys as reinvent them. The 12 career-best songs Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe recorded for the album glinted awkwardly like CGI skyscrapers in the artificial sun for miles – and years – in all directions. Somehow they were too near, or too large.

Even Very’s packaging was curiously oppositional. CD cases were meant to be shop windows, dressed by fancy designers to sell the silver discs’ invisible contents. This one was opaque. To date, the album has been sold in no fewer than seven different sleeves, but Very’s first edition remains one of the most recognisable items in British recorded music history.

Tennant and Lowe were bored of compact discs. Their pocket-sized artwork was a snivelling apology for the glorious 12-inch sleeve it had replaced, its pathetic scaled-down images shielded by flimsy transparent plastic. This was the very psbconundrum they took to Pentagram.

Pentagram, which also designs buildings, gave them an orange box with three-dimensional polka dots on the front. It was a gamble – each of these unusual objects cost the Pet Shop Boys 40p – but Very’s limited edition was a success, rendering the album instantly visible in the racks: a flash of colour among hundreds of anonymous see-through cases.

The album’s vinyl and cassette versions mirrored the relief on the CD cover by arranging tiny photographs of Tennant and Lowe’s heads in the same polka dot pattern. It looked a bit like it was designed for babies, but novelty is sometimes the vehicle for genius.

As it happened, the CD case was an appropriate metaphor for what lay within: Very is rather difficult to miss. It’s a synth-pop obelisk, a wall of sound built from Tetris blocks.

After four smash hit LPs and a multi-platinum singles collection, one could have been forgiven for thinking the Pet Shop Boys had achieved everything, reshaping British pop music and surviving to tell the tale. Their 1990 studio effort, the stately Behaviour, had suggested a band whose members were growing old gracefully as they meditated on absent friends and Shostakovich.

Pop fans aren’t known for their attention spans, so by June 1993 it’s likely Tennant and Lowe’s 26-month absence from the UK top 10 had all but erased them from memory. They’d popped up as guests on a couple of tracks by Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr’s Electronic project in 1991, and produced a version of ‘The Crying Game’ for Boy George the following year – but in real terms the Pet Shop Boys were already a catalogue act, the stuff of TV retrospectives and pub quizzes.

This made it even more satisfying when Very’s impertinent lead single put them back on Top of the Pops. Rubbing shoulders with Lisa Stansfield, ‘Can You Forgive Her?’ was an undercover policeman at a children’s party, its five o’clock shadow an instant giveaway. The song was a blinking night sky of whirring, motion-blurred synthesisers that, even when Tennant started singing, was every bit as unreal as the costumes. In the spaces between orchestra hits, he spun a cautionary tale of humiliation, innuendo and denial while – incredibly – Lowe danced with three women holding cricket bats.

The next few months would see them achieve their only number one album, make a string of iconic videos, and score a career-defining hit with a song someone else had already released.

The voices disrupting white supremacy through sound – Adam Harper at The Fader

Excellent and important piece by Adam Harper at the Fader putting some of the most exciting artists currently making music into political context: 

It’s no wonder that African and Afrodiasporic artists are choosing to disseminate music in solidarity. In many cases, this creative decision is a strategy for dealing with the alienation that is so often a part of Afrodiasporic experience. As the London-based writer Kodwo Eshun puts it in his 2003 essay Further Considerations on Afrofuturism: “the condition of alienation, understood in its most general sense, is a psychosocial inevitability that all Afrodiasporic art uses to its own advantage by creating contexts that encourage a process of disalienation.” And yet in the continuing environment of white supremacy, this creativity is routinely either erased, appropriated, or confined to narrow and fetishized aesthetic areas. The music in this article—which is all linked by the multifarious connective tissues of underground culture (labels, releases, mixes, remixes, songs etc)—is not necessarily of the same belief or aesthetic, but can all be seen as resisting the supremacist paradigm in its many different ways and contexts. Often, it can be seen as exploring the way in which race intersects with gender, sexuality and/or queerness too.

…..

Needless to say, the artists mentioned here aren’t the only African and Afrodiasporic artists making challenging and beautiful music in the underground, just a few constellations—there are countless more voices out there. As it has been for centuries, since the traumatic dawn of modernity, finding such voices through music is not just a leisure activity, as it is marketed to many of us. It’s part of the urgent and fundamental search for self and identity in a world that not only erases that identity, or appropriates it, or predetermines it, or constrains it, or renders it fragmented and ostensibly paradoxical, but that also systematically commits physical violence upon people of that identity. This is why so many artists with minority status end up in underground music—this is why they are underground music. Fortunately, the underground can form spaces and networks where identity matters, is audible, and becomes visible.

Read the full article at The Fader.

REPEATER PLAYLIST #2

#2 in an occasional series of Repeater playlists. Like #1, this is a selection of new & old tracks we’ve been listening to this month, thrown together in a list. More coherent & themed playlists/contributions from authors coming soon… 

Sleaford Mods – Faces to Faces

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jX7J7jXKwQ&w=560&h=315]

Shura – Just Once (MssngNo remix)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVWZOdQgjdQ&w=560&h=315]

D’Angelo & The Vanguard – Ain’t That Easy

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZoxdPGu_4E&w=560&h=315]

Micachu & The Shapes – Oh Baby

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7EzjJvMLKo&w=560&h=315]

Kurt Weill/Bertold Brecht – The Threepenny Opera (1994 Donmar Warehouse production)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MG-mOnqWfg?list=PLkNr88pndaq2LLQClghAevqq2IengG0lZ&w=560&h=315]

Mr Fingers – Distant Planet

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JamFQhx52ts&w=560&h=315]

DonMonique – Drown

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o–s_Tm1iA4&w=560&h=315]

Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment – Wanna Be Cool

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9QSnTcDfzsk&w=560&h=315]

Kyuss – El Rodeo

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVm8G0ipETc&w=560&h=315]

Koreless – Sun

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jX7J7jXKwQ&w=560&h=315]