London Falling

It's Cool To Be Conservative (version), RTomens, 2016
More art here

London is open for business. And nothing else. Sorry. Don't try starting up an art/music/film etc space unless you have the money. You need money. We all do. You need somewhere to live. Just don't think you have enough to find somewhere in London.

Is London as dead, culturally, as I think it is? Or am I not looking properly?

Remember when listings magazines (City Limits & Time Out) were bursting with events? Perhaps you'd just found a Soho basement bar in which to spin tunes. Phone up a listings mag, get it placed there. Charge a few quid to get in and maybe you'd have a good night going. That's how it worked for me in the late-80s. A basement on Frith Street, £2 entry fee. The owner took a cut of the door. That all seems so long ago now, so impossibly easy that I must have imagined it.

Perhaps it was watching the new Julien Temple film about Keith Richards, Origin Of The Species, that got me thinking about cultural London today. In it Keith (sorry, 'Keef') talks about going to art school as if it was the last refuge of all educational drop-outs. Those were the days. That still was the case until tuition fees and the business bullshit careerist investment art world paying-for-the-privilege (Mummy & Daddy) situation today. Art's fucked in London; talk about monetised.

What else? I wondered if there were any alternative scenes happening and whether I was just too out of touch to know about them. The optimist in me says there must be, but the overriding cynic disagrees. How can anyone afford, let alone find a space in which to make an alternative happen?

Even the idea of 'alternative' feels outmoded. Each new generation just seems to embrace a world where music festivals, for instance, are corporate-sponsored displays of mediocrity which, as each generation knows no better, is thought to be exciting. Festivals for the whole family! That's a thing now. The gathering of the trendy parent tribe, for Christ's sake.

Note the supposed rise of the 'independent' bookshop. Sterile, squeaky clean, selling safe literature and with special events for the whole family! Perhaps a few nice zines made by Tabatha and Nigel too! Like everything these days, the places have no 'vibe' (ma-a-an), except that of clean-thinking, moderated independence overseen by Glasto-loving post-grad 'hipsters'.

From the post-war years of Keith Richards' youth would bloom a million flowers in the bombsite-strewn dustbin that was London. Bloom into a technicolour explosion of style, anger, wit and imagination that made the 60s what it was. Grotty 70s London, as well as housing William Burroughs for a while, gave rise to Throbbing Gristle (you know the connection) and Punk. A different reaction to society of the day from the previous decade, certainly, but at least another burst of energy and creativity, albeit 'negative'. At least it was angry.

These times can only spawn despair and docility. Despair by those who crave something else and docile acceptance of the status quo by everyone else, seemingly. Mainstreamers have always merely accepted and consumed what's normal, of course. The difference being that often, in the past, the underground would somehow break out and infiltrate their homes via TV, radio or magazines. It even changed a few minds in the process.

Well, goodbye to all that. Let's enjoy a Grime night at The Proms, shall we? Or Adele at Glastonbury! Did you see the Norman Cook set, by the way? If you can listen for more than two minutes, you're reading the wrong blog.

Did I tell you about the first time I went to the China Town dive bar on a Friday night  in 1988 and, whilst walking down the steps, was greeted by the sound of the DJ playing The Art Ensemble of Chicago? No? Never mind, it was just a dream...surely...

Punk: periodical collection

Edited by Paul Gangloff, featuring discussions with Stephan Dillemuth, Martijn Haas, Dominique Hurth, Eleonor Jonker, Gee Vaucher and others on zine-making, distribution and the ethos behind them. Very good book this, with some superb images made especially for the project.

'Stephan Dillemuth: One thing I think is important about these publications is that they serve a certain purpose, there’s a need to make them and there is a certain context for that need – that’s important. A lot of publications today are not made anymore out of need, but just to make money with advertising and for that they need “content providers”, that’s what writers and artists became. Service industry serves the manufacturing of redundant information, in order to generate revenue with advertising. There is no other inner need, no inner drive, no other purpose behind it and that’s also visible in the design, no simplicity, no directness, just packaging and hollow inside.'

Visit any zine fair today and you'll see a lot of material that's all 'packaging and hollow inside', despite being personal and handmade rather than to 'generate revenue with advertising'. For some, small press is on a par with cake-making and other crafts, hence it's popularity. The political or cutting-edge art aesthetic is largely missing. It's as if makers long for the old ways (of production) in this age of technology, but use them to create little more than pretty, vacuous product. 

The obvious difference today is that the overriding spirit of the era from the 70s to mid-90s is absent. The politics of living then (on the dole, protest, rebellion), fuelled in part by music was of it's time. Today, 'protest' or artistic rebellion is more likely to take the form of memes that clog your Facebook wall...oh, and those petitions. And Tweets, of course. Hardly substitutes for hand-crafted images and stapled pages which you can hold and feel in more ways than the purely physical. Punk: periodical collection is freely available in PDF form, but having the book is better. Read more and buy it here

Column One - Boiling Pool

Just as I had complained about the lack of good new music along come '...953 fragments, 722 situations, 952 interruptions & countless Sources, intensions & beings' courtesy of Berlin's Column One in the form of their new album, Boiling Pool. But it's not music! It takes something 'non-musical' to supply the remedy to all the average music around - naturally. If you know Column One you'll know they're capable of creating all manner of soundscapes from lengthy 'ambient' minimalist works to music with beats and a lot else in-between. 

This is a kind of masterpiece. I've had it on repeat all afternoon whilst working on various pieces of art. That way, fragments become familiar and such is the nature of the album that, unlike music, it never gets boring. Even I can only listen to a Charlie Parker album so many times in a row - none, in fact, because I never do that. Who would have an album on repeat? 

Boiling Pool begs to be repeated. Each snippet is brief, aside from occasional things such as a woman la-di-da-ing or a field recording and accordion, the contrast with sound-effects-type snatches makes it work all the better. I'm reminded of John Zorn's card game experiments, but actual samples increase the effect dramatically. Perhaps this is ideal non-music for these times of short attention span restless clicking. If that bothers those who wish for lengthier engagement with supposedly deep, expansive 'ambient' music, they'd best stay well away from Boiling Pool. For these ears, though, it's perfect listening for right now and an antidote to contemporary long form indulgence containing very little. 

Out now // 12" vinyl // limited edition of 245 numbered copies. Get it here.

The Poor Listener & The Poor Barber

Awful isn't it? Same ol' complaint - you get to 'a certain age' and it's harder to find new music that excites you. Same ol' complaint people have made since Pop music was old enough to be pored over by those of the first generation who probably mourned the demise of Elvis. Apart from the still with-it crowd who got excited by...Frank Zappa? 

Anyway, I'm wondering where all the great new music is over the last few weeks. Feels like it's all over (electronic dept) - though it's not, of course. I fully expect my jaded ears to prick up some time soon. So, thankfully, the mass of historical sounds we've all collected serve a good purpose. You always knew they did but it's a double-edged sword, basking in brilliance form the past. On the one hand you can't believe how good Bernard Parmegiani was, but on the other, how lacking in equal imagination/creativity most modern electronic music is by comparison. It's probably a stupid comparison to make anyway but I can't help myself when people like Aphex Twin are regarded a 'geniuses'.

Enter King Tubby, who I've been listen to again lately. I've just found this version of the John Holt classic, Ali Baba, which Tubby has mixed into a dub at least twice counting this. Killer machine gun/drum salvos!

Iannis Xenakis - La Légende D'Eer

I'm all for 'preserving spatial movements', aren't you? Thankfully then, that's what Martin Wurmnest has done for this, his 'remix' of Iannis Xenakis' La Legende d'Eer. It certainly sounds better than the crappy version I've had on file for years...all the better for showering my noodle with a million splinters of sound (!?) It's not pleasant, but you must take your medicine like a good girl/boy, minus the spoonful of sugar. Rumour has it Wurmnest did sweeten the pill with another remix, pushing back the electroacoustic complexities in favour of upfront EDM beats, for The Kids. I don't believe it. 

Possibly influential for certain Noiseniks (although I won't blame Xenakis for spawning monsters), La Legende d'Eer starts with very highly-pitched sounds. At this point I should warn you, they may result in your collie dog running amok, possibly rounding up sheep in a random fashion, driving them out into the road, even. Do any farmers listen to this kind of music? I wonder. Someone should do a survey. I'd be interested in the results.

Halfway through the second part things become more noisy but that's just the beginning of our descent/ascent, although as the complexities and layers increase, being as smart as he was, Xenakis threatens to destroy you before reigning in a little and maintaining a level of rumbling, bubbling, banging an' clanging before the intense rush to the end. By part 7, should you still be capable of withstanding the treatment, the tortured machinery creates, in part, what sounds like late-Coltrane, mangled by technology. Before the final part we're taken down with a low-end fighter-plane-strafing-your-head zoomy, buzzing drone towards the vapour trail off into silence. 

It's on Karlrecords ...if you think you can handle it.


So David Toop asked Lawrence English why would anybody release music in the 21st century - a fair question. Why do any of us bother producing anything? Are we witnessing The End of Music, David? is that what you thought? But there's so much of it, these days; more, I would guess, than ever before.

Thankfully David Toop's Entities Inertias Faint Beings was worth releasing - it's more than just more mediocre music and you probably guessed that if you know anything about him. it must be tricky, knowing so much about all kinds of music and finding the will to still make your own. He must have a way of silencing the internal critic that's always berating him for making music that's not quite as extraordinary as ______________ (insert any avant-garde pioneer you like). 

This album is extraordinary, though, not because it leaps from the speakers and swipes your ears; it does the opposite, quietly creeps out but still seeps into your mind. Stealth is a healthy approach today. It must be tempting to shout loud and strike hard in an effort to get noticed, but you've probably noticed that all that shouting loses it's impact after a while.

What's played on Entities Inertias Faint Beings? This I wonder as it happens right in front of my ears just now. A drum is banged...something is rustled...guitar oriental instrument? fiddled if improvising in his studio, much happens that doesn't feel planned, exactly, although Ancestral Beings, Sightless By Their Own Dust is of a cohesive mood, the kind of ominous atmosphere with a bass pulse that reminds me of Willard in the jungle about to meet Cpt Kurtz. Intriguing and very worthwhile.

Released on Room40

Sex Pistols CD: Kiss This Ronald 'Buzzcocks' McDonald!

Kiss This

Kiss this, McDonald's! Jamie Reid should sue, but who 'owns' the idea of hostage font design? Not him, although he made it his and what does he get? Fuck all, probably, but perhaps he wept when he saw his Pistols art style used by them, who knows. I first heard about Morrissey bemoaning the use of The Buzzcocks' What Do I Get? then saw the ad a few days later. So what? Fast food & fast music, eh?

Appropriation, innit? Ronald McDonald knows, he's study the Situationists, just like Malcolm McClaren had. I'm sure. Besides, The Buzzcocks were never anarchic, were they? Only by default, by being there. What did you get for the ad, Pete (Shelley)? That's what I wonder. I bet the burger brand paid him well. 

Punk rock! Try some today, it's a tasty morsel wrapped in nostalgia! Catchy song, isn't it? Perhaps The Kids will like it and Google the band, discover Punk and start their own revolution in clothes, music, art and What do you think?

Being the 40th anniversary of Punk you can hear a few middle-aged folk mumbling "We need a new Punk rock now" to themselves...even I've said it, but only to myself. Deluded dreamers, we are. Not that I care. Or do I? Wouldn't it be great to see some spunky kids ripping up all the rules, along with their clothes, being dirty, making a noise and more importantly scaring society? Yeah, it would. It ain't happening. 

So this week I bought the Kiss This CD comp of Sex Pistols singles plus B-Sides and the rest of all that Bollocks. It was only a quid, which is why I bought it. It felt wrong, but I don't know why...perhaps because I've only ever known The Pistols on vinyl, but I'm not a vinyl fetishist. Glad I got it, anyway, just for the B-Sides. 

The Labour party is existentially doomed?


Unsurprisingly, existentialism is seldom referred to on the BBC's Question Time programme and, should you imagine it happening, you probably wouldn't envisage it coming from the mouth of parliament's only Ukip MP. So I was shocked to hear Douglas Carswell say the Labour party is 'existentially doomed' on last night's episode - what?! It instantly raised the philosophical level, if only for a few seconds. Then I realised he meant the literal existence of the Labour party, rather than their ongoing struggle to come to terms with an essentially meaningless and absurd life (although that might also apply).

Question Time guests aren't given to philosophising, preferring point scoring between MPs, with the interesting views often coming from guest non-politicians. Carswell's statement, before dropping the big existential bombshell (ha-ha!) about the Left's 'grand design' politics was also interesting, citing as he did this 'digital age' rendering grand design politics as untenable. Could he be right and not just Right? Can anyone other than the socially 'correct' Left say something valid? Surely not!

The referendum has raised so many questions, especially around the meaning of the Left in Britain today in relation to what were once it's core supporters, the white working class. It's seems incredible that the party lost touch with the working class but the warning signs were clear enough with Thatcher's victory. The final antidote to that being Tony Blair's Joker grin of optimism, soft Left politics and the fantasy that class no longer mattered. Politicians now no longer dare utter 'their' name, preferring terms like 'the ordinary working man and woman'. The mere mention of class is too cloth cap old Left! The combination of careerist Labour politicians and their denial of what society is really like are a recipe for alienation from The People.

It's ironic that the new breed's political ambition is founded, in part, on a form of idealism that's as loony as the hard Left's. They want a nice society in which everyone aspires not only to the materialistic social improvement mirage, but the multi-cultural united colours Benetton utopia. As accepting of immigration and mutli-culturalism as Brits have been for many years the tipping point was reached once the EU's free movement effect really took hold. Post-Brexit, the rift is obvious, between pro-Unionists happy to see as many European folk working here for a minimum wage as is physically possible and those who think it's wrong. There are other issues, of course, such as self-governing, and sovereignty. One tragedy being the notion that many Remainers accuse Leavers of being racist.

The Labour party struggles with this dilemma. To get in step with many potential supporters would mean accepting that there should be limits placed on immigration. Perhaps it's MPs fear there will be nobody to serve them a Frappuccino first thing in the morning if less young Europeans come here. It's a problem I've contemplated recently. This morning I asked the young girl in Pod what she was still doing here post Brexit. She laughed, of course. We both laughed. Then I asked her where she was from, she turned out to be Sardinian, then I pointed to the bleak, rain-sodden street and asked why. She cited employment, experience and improving her English. You can't argue with that.  

If the last general election is anything to go by, too many people prefer the idea of business first, ex-Etonian money management to honest, grass roots, socially-minded conviction. Labour's 'mission impossible', should they choose to accept it, is to forcefully, positively promote another way; one that recognises economic necessities without sacrificing essential social values rooted in hospital care, housing and education. 

If I dare evoke his name, Nigel Farage was laughed at during a referendum debate when suggesting, in so many words, that the economy mattered less than the concerns of many people today. His point being that for all of the UK's global business 'success' rating, it was far from being a successful society. Not on his terms, nor on those of many who voted Leave. Tories would say that economic chart-topping (well, high placing anyway) is everything if society is to improve. They're wrong. If nothing else, the Leave victory proved that. We weren't a happy nation before and we sure as hell aren't now. 

Brexit may yet prove a revolutionary force in politics, but for reasons not made obvious by most of the media coverage, which prefers to highlight conflict and negative economic charts. Now that we're all examining ourselves and Britain as a community, once the realities are realised and understood, can any of the main parties offer hope and, if not unity, some kind of positive role model? The anarchist in me says 'No way'. The optimist, who was once a Socialist, says it has to happen and Labour are the only party capable. First they have to make sure they do more than just exist and rise from the ashes as something other than a faint-hearted, ineffective opposition. Jean-Paul Sartre said: 'The best work is not what is most difficult for you; it is what you do best.' It's about time the Labour party realised that and started acting accordingly. 

The existential line comes around the 51st minute.

Fractures CD (v/a) A Year In The Country

Fractures, a fitting title for these (UK) times - and a quick follow-up comp from A Year In The Country after The Quietened Village. Again, a quality selection of broadcasts from the other side, ranging from new Folkish songs and instrumentals to harder-edged electronics, the latter being more my cup o' tea in the form of The British Space Group's An Unearthly Decade and  Polypores' The Perfect Place For An Accident which, after 5mins of throbbing wave forms takes a nice slow dive into beatless disorientation. Time Attendant proves his worth once more with Elastic Refraction. Details here.

Jonty Harrison - Voyages

Since the UK bought a one-way ticket on the trans-euro (political) express (but has yet to punch the ticket and actually make the journey) the country's in a state of psycho-political chaos and music hardly seems important - and yet - where else can we gain a sense of beauty/truth/escape/relief but in that which gives us pleasure? So the train as metaphor for escape from immediate reality is obvious, excuse me...

Pierre Schaeffer famously recorded a train for the first example of musique concrète (Cinq études de bruits) in 1948 and Jonty Harrison must surely have had that in mind when making his own extended version of that pioneering work. He does, however, travel much further along the track, sometimes to the point of simply allowing train horns to 'speak' for themselves, which on paper sounds dull but proves strangely captivating. A master of sound manipulation, he treats concrète recordings so as to blur the lines between what we think of as 'real' and 'created'. 

These are not just train recordings, but sounds captured from all over the place, one example that leaps from the speakers being part 11 of Going Places, made from 'Floating quays strain at their moorings near Sydney Opera House (Australia)'. Bagpipes, frogs, a street demonstration and other recorded events are woven into this magical journey. Espaces cachés is a separate 14min piece which fully explores the wonders of acousmatic sound composition. Escapism may not be freedom but in these times Jonty Harrison's captivating sound world does, at least, offer blessed relief. Info, samples and shop here.

Annette makes her attitude towards Jeremy Corbyn and the system utterly clear...

Book: Unnatural: techno-theory for a contaminated culture

Charity shop find - edited by Matthew Fuller, this 1994 production absolutely belies it age, as you can see, but that's good and besides, doesn't everything? Mostly. Desktop production after Xerox zines saw the old feel lost but felt like a zingy new medium for cutting-edge cottage industrial types. Unnatural reminds me of how things looked for small press products, including zines, in the mid-90s. So now it appears dated, or evokes nostalgia, depending on your age. Cybernetic mutational anarcho-hybridisation was also very much a hot topic, what with this computer thing visible on the brave new horizon and it's threat of viral infection of the mind (phew, thankfully that didn't happen...did it?). Great work here from Graham Harwood and Mark Pawson along with others...

There's No Limit - Mark Pawson


Lies - Graham Harwood


With his permission, of course...

Collage by Simon Elmer

The Pyramid Stage, which is the setting for the highest unit-selling acts, is a raised platform some 40 metres square and maybe 10 metres from the ground. Below this stretches a sort of no-man’s land approximately 20 meters wide that ends with a high metal fence through which the foremost ranks of the audience peer. In front of this fence, and watching the crowd, is stationed a line of 30 or 40 uniformed security guards, who stand almost elbow to elbow. The crowd beyond, which numbers in the tens of thousands, goes back several hundred meters. Beyond the first 20 metres or so, however, the entertainers on stage are reduced to mere stick figures.

To compensate for this, large screens almost as big as the stage itself are positioned either side, where the acts are shown in close-up. Despite their physical presence at the festival, it is at this virtual image that nearly all the assembled viewers stare – not to see the performing act, which is mere background, but for the rare chance of finding themselves captured by the numerous cameras, and of seeing themselves, however briefly, projected on the same screen that they are staring at. To this objective, the audience dresses in bright and colourful outfits, the most photogenic girls perched on the shoulders of the most photogenic men, waving large flags that block out the view of anyone trapped behind them. Everything is geared towards catching the eye of the cameras and the millions watching, as the commentators assure us, ‘at home’. At these felicitous moments, which draw cheers more rapturous than any reserved for the nominal acts on stage, the cycle of reciprocal stares completes the logic of the spectacle.

The ground on which this vast crowd stands, which is known as the ‘Arena’, is the churned-up mud of a field on which cows graze for the remainder of the year. Because of this, members of the crowd must wear some form of rubber boots, which they bring with them, spending large amounts of money to buy the latest, most fashionable, most expensive brand. Like the watch of a rich undressed man lying on a beach, the rubber boot is the sign of class status in the society of Glastonbury Festival.

Between the raised stage and the metal fence is a flight of stairs, a ramp and more stairs, down and along which the brand-identity-member of each performing band may walk into the no-man’s area. Here, protected by additional security guards who stand behind the first rank and are retained for this purpose, the band’s brand-identity-member may receive what tokens of adoration his followers wish to offer him or her through the bars of the fence. This is known as ‘crowd interaction’, and has come to be an almost obligatory moment in the performing band’s set. Sometimes, if these offerings please him, the brand-identifier will bring them back onto the stage and display them to the crowd beyond, who view this intimate interaction with their idols through the images projected on the huge side screens.

Despite its high security setting, which re-enforces the existing physical, social and financial relation between the performance commodity and the paying customer, the Pyramid Stage is the site of enormous happiness, ecstatic outpourings and feelings of community, for which the attending congregation pay large, and sometimes enormous, sums of their own money, endure considerable deprivation and hardship, and even sleep in plastic tents, whatever the weather, in the designated encampments that surround the main compound. The entire camp, which last year held 200,000 people, covers 1000 acres of land, and for the 5 days of its annual existence is the 7th most populous city in the South of England.

Like the 2012 Olympic village, Glastonbury Festival is at the forefront of the transportation, accommodation and manipulation of the consuming masses that constitute the contemporary human conglomeration (the old distinctions between urban, suburban and rural no longer applying) to the demands of the spectacle through which they are brought within shopping distance of the commodity. Both are a sort of concentration camp of consumption (as opposed to those of production, which are largely outside the restrictive employment practices of Europe) overseen by multinational corporations. The fact these camps are willingly entered – even paid for by the consumers of their spectacle – makes them no less of a camp. And like all post-war experiments in social manipulation, control and indoctrination, the model for Glastonbury Festival is Auschwitz, which itself has been transformed into a tourist attraction equally willingly entered and paid for by the masses in search of authentic experience. The Arena is our gas chamber, the Pyramid Stage our crematoria, and Glastonbury, the perpetual festival of consumption, is the Nuremberg Rallies of our era.
On the outskirts and borders of the Glastonbury camp is a mass of secondary consumer outlets selling every kind of commodity-experience, from spiritual enlightenment to spiritual healing to spiritual communion (all, however, are purchased with material currency). In an imminent critique of the festival’s own mass commercialisation, these are advertised as the ‘real’ Glastonbury Festival. Like every outlet of mass consumption, Glastonbury has co-opted the economy of the market stall: it lends street credibility to jaded consumers in search of the authentic. But in the end they all go inside and line up at the tills. Even the Nuremberg Rallies had stalls selling dolls dressed in lederhosen and bands playing German folk songs. Nostalgia for the authenticity of a distant past is one of the selling points of the mass-manufactured commodity and the New World Order we have bought into. Glastonbury, which like Nuremberg is the site of a mystical (that is, lost) communal identity, complete with its own mythical site of pilgrimage in Glastonbury Tor, is perhaps the greatest conjurer of this illusion for the consumer-subjects of monopoly capitalism.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...