SONIC TRUTH: Slow painful personalisation since 2003. Moved from the legendary but now dead Cinestatic portal in May 09, fouling the migration from Blogger on the way. Other errors are catalogued here too
Friday, May 17, 2013
Don't often do this, and to be honest you could do it every week, but here is a round-up of decent stuff off the 'nets in the last week or so. Click 'em up, bookmark them, print them (on recycled paper) for the next bus journey!
Old people like new music, while young people like old music, but convince themselves it sounds fresh. Young people call them 'too old to appreciate new music'; old people worry about a decline in critical standards and a rise in prejudice. Alex Niven crystallises an unseemly row over latest Midlands chuggers Peace (like them if you have to, enjoy their 'moment', just dont claim originality for them). http://thefantastichope.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/in-which-retromania-gets-personal.html
We're Now Here, but this is Where We Were. In an interview about his Bristol rave scene novel, Bert Random deftly explains elements of the rave era and how it is different in a net-led age: "There was a certain amount of post-Cold-War naive optimism in the early 90s ... there was a faint possibility things might actually turn out okay – and that naivety is quite appealing from a distance. Obviously 20 years of grim neoliberal economics and authoritarian politics has screwed that idea into the ground." http://upclosemaspersonal.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/living-for-weekend.html
A short debate about digital immaterialism, and the dancer-serfs
"The deluge of music, video, images, and words unleashed by the web has created an environment that is toxic to any kind of underground culture actually developing" Bert Random
Frank Capri is a former writer-at-large for the long-disbanded Whorecull. Shortly after the Iraq invasion of 2003 he retreated to a Tibetan monastery in order to "karmarize" and "deal with a lot of discordant emotionality". In 2007, karma restored, he joined Lehman Brothers "on an entryist tip". The rest, you might say, is history. The Truth caught up with Frank recently for a think-off in a secret location in London's square mile. The specialist subject du jour: music and work, mediated by meditations on robots.
Frank Capri: I go through phases but I'm gradually convincing my head that the automaton is a device to appropriate time and make workers docile. Take the metronome. It's a metaphor for stupidity; but not in any creative sense. The dancer-workers imagine it's a dialectical thang where stupidity transcends and sublates its conditions of existence in some higher consciousness. Frankly this argument is a cliché that I'm bored of hearing: the idea about "sound" which every bedroom DJ knows off by heart: a stripped down beat, noise, drum roll, more noise, crescendo... followed by some sort of euphoric condensation in which the dancer-workers are given time to take a swig of their Red Bull, before being compelled to start the whole routine from scratch. Or else get the night bus home just in time to get up the next morning for work. Whether the "work" in question be "real" or "virtual" dole-ite subsistence. I'm getting off on Chopin these days, not robot percussion.
S Truth: We are in a world where those funky Apple product ads are pure ideology, and the wider point ur making about barely knowing the conditions of our existence hold true. Not totally sure that an aesthetic swinge to the likes of Chopin can get us out of the immaterialist mire though. I just think western work-life has changed so much with the genuine digital age but we're still using old paradigms to try and define it. Fear of the Rise of the Machines is all a bit Adam Curtis isn't it?
FC: Yeah, maybe, but not machines per se. Let's not go bum up on robots. I did some empirical research some years ago with monkeys. It was all about time travel. [At this point Frank gets up to go to the bathroom and doesn't return for 40 minutes] Where was I?
Truth: You were talking about time travel.
FC: Sure. Which just proves my point.
Truth: Perhaps you could go over that again.
FC: Look. Old paradigms. I'm not big on that kind of scholastic chat. I just think machines are so booted up to human psychology that it's impossible to think around them. But let's get back to my earlier point about the metronome. It seems to me that right now the metronome is perfectly amenable to the use of TV and other digital media in the service of advertising. It might change one day, why not?
Truth. You mean Chopin might one day become more amenable to advertising? How does that square with the metronome beat theory?
FC: OK. Granted. The listener cannot help but be hailed as a worker/consumer by the beat. "Get up!" It's a slogan once the preserve of James Brown, but now embraced by the brands, inducing us to work harder, fitter, stronger and then fuck up, piss up, blow out all the more harder. There's a perfect symmetry and social discipline going on in this metronome beat which apes behaviour at all levels of work, rest and play. Does subculture mean anything anymore, if we accept that we can no longer really distinguish work from leisure? Subculture's supposed to be the preserve of casuals who find spaces of stylistic solidarity – "resistance through rituals" – outside "the factory". But all that's changed. On the dole or in work, where does the factory end and leisure begin nowadays? All this factory discipline being imposed on the unemployed – not just by government but monumentally by the multi-task culture of Linked-in or what not – convinces me that it's one continuum, you never stop being a worker. And so the "bosses" need a universal beat.
ST: Leaving aside the related issue of the unchecked data harvesting of the likes of Google etc with one result being your lifestyle (once considered individualist) algorithmically thrown back at you, your line about subculture meaning nothing as we can't readily distinguish work from leisure is the most important. Subculture does virtually nothing now, or at least something entirely different as to how older generations would have understood it. This is not so much about cultural artefacts appearing ‘new’ or ‘fresh’ as their function – music to make us work and dance and work. This is why we have hipsters as our 'youth cult – little left to represent, nothing left to say, but hey my mate's just set up this bare cool vintage goods shop. Dalston is as much Harry Styles and, more importantly, gentrified spaces as it is scuzzy warehouse dos and independent arts collectives going beyond. So you're right – the role of popular music and the values it embodies are shifting. Little seems to cut it above the commodified techno-society today. It is accepted that brands are exploited for funding by culture operators. Appropriating the appropriators.
Yet most of the immaterialist development has come from the bottom-up as the infinite uses of internet communication have unravelled; problem is as you say that it is so easily co-opted by the management class. We're always-on these days, available for a second opinion, a bit of viral marketing, some (invariably free) work, etc, etc. The culture of delivering intangible goods for nothing easily slips over into the real world, where, for example, qualified interpreters have to boycott police and court work because some great outsourcer tells the MoJ they can do the job with monkeys being paid peanuts. New problems; same old exploitation. We have let our value and worth become degraded.
FC: This goes back to my earlier point about the monkeys. It was a totally safe experiment. But the company sponsoring it decided it would be cheaper to use real people!
ST: One aspect is what seems to be the supine nature of left debate, and therefore the lack of action, if Twitter's any guide. It seems fine minds and potentially powerful activists are addicted to 'the conversation' - no one likes to miss out on any cheap meme at the expense of theorising What Is To Be Done. 'We need a left of the left' - they sarcastically remark. Wrong, we need people who stop labelling themselves left but who do fuck all but sneer at more activist voices. We need people to get off Twitter. Hard sometimes to think Twitter is anything other than a valve where people are allowed to let off steam (and of course have a laugh, and look hip, and talk about food, and cats, and share tracks) to no great effect. Meh to the 'memes'. Both of these issues have the same factor – whatever the reason more and more people can't get off their computer, the smartphone, the tablet (the fucking machines). I do see positive elements to this interconnected autonomy, but people seem to dismiss the negative implications too readily.
FC: I'm hearing you! This is where the technology hasn't gone far enough. We're not enough Linked-in. If we're going to be Linked-in 24/7 then let's learn something on the way to the culture lobotomy clinic. Go beyond work, make knowledge an end in itself. Knowledge is the only answer to the perennial redundancy of human labour and intellect. Set theory, topology, differential calculus. Let's bring the Republic back down to earth through years of compulsory mathematics. Bring me your unskilled laborers – dishwashers, security guards, care workers – and I'll make them Platonists.
ST: An LRB piece by Rebecca Solnit covered the Google and Apple buses that take new San Fran residents out to Silicon Valley and back every day, and how this tech driven culture directly links into the gentrification ossie. These tech workers are destroying the need for cheap, local services as they're not there and only have time to eat out, drive up rents, homogenize the culture (basically they're fine with a latte and a wifi) and are eating away at the Bay area. It’s an elite monoculture that doesn’t care about the poor sods left behind.
FC: Let's Platonize the fucks.
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Monday, May 13, 2013
Notes on four days at #MCFC
It began on Friday. Stories leaked of Pellegrini being earmarked as new City boss. Guillem Balague doing his journalistic job to break exclusives of course. But giving fellow Catalonian Roberto Martinez a huge boost. There was a word for it - Destablisation. But this was no conspiracy, just converging circumstances.
City stayed silent - that’s how they ‘conduct their business’, we were told. Why back a condemned man if we’d regressed from last year’s zenith? Mancini had been nudged all year by hacks keen to deliver a fall guy. Abu Dhabi and the Hispanophonic mafia were at least consistent. They never backed him then too.
(The pall actually developed on Wednesday; Fergieout meant another ‘Man U week’. Effusive praise from every area of the sphere – business, tabloids, politicians. Continuity; legacy; doing things the right away. That’s what the Arabs promised. That was what was happening at OT. Our preparation was overshadowed.)
Saturday, and 45,000 plus Blues headed to Wembley in expectation. We came with cans, refusing to pay for every aspect of modern #commerceballs. Having been licked by Budweiser, the FA, the trains, the rest of the sorry bunch. His head gone, Mancini U-turned on playing Pants, who’s going anyway. Joe Hart to start; Cup to be won here.
Something’s not right; complacency against ‘little Wigan’, maybe not enough fight. Squeezed in the middle and shit out wide. Wrong substitutions too. Barry sells Zabaleta short; Zaba dives in recklessly; he walks. Who’s that ginger sub on for them? Ben Watson, about to score the winner. The giant Pants would have got that, or Zaba on the line.
That awful sinking feeling, a missed opportunity, a fucking mess of a managerial situation. #Cupforcockups returns, but the Latics deserved it, definitely. Dave Whelan’s a self-regarding tit but impossible to deny them that. And some of us stayed to clap them off; not every loser would. Sometimes it’s better to go in hope than expectation.
Sunday, Ferguson finale: what? A late OT winner you say! Champions ceremony. They know how to draw the spectacle out, pure brand hype, #tears flow worldwide. Blues switch off and switch back on the gallows humour, still nothing announced. Blues want eras and empires as well as moments too. A 60-year-old can’t build those.
Now it’s Monday 13th May - exactly a year ago, pure reverie could begin. All those Aguero videos; the Yaya-Kolo dance; Makems winding up Reds. Merson’s Lovebites; ‘you’ll never see this again’, so drink it in. That’s Sky talk; as fans we’re helplessly exploited every step of the way. By 11pm Manciniout - decision may be right but circumstances weren't.
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Saturday, March 16, 2013
First things first I didn’t think it was loud enough. Not sure how or why I was looking for more impact; a mate reported continued ringing in his ears a few days later on. Maybe I got the booze combos and levels right to dull the cacophony a bit, maybe the foreboding of sonic terror had played a role. But My Bloody Valentine at the Hammersmith Apollo on the final night of their brief UK run was still bloody great – power, poise and, yes, some pain. And I think that as I write this my ears begin to restrain, a psychosomatic trigger to an all-enveloping sensory experience.
Never rolled off the tongue has it, My Bloody Valentine. It’s an indie band trying too hard at an indie name with the hints of dark corrupted beauty only serving to burnish what would become their career trademark of awkwardness. The awkward name and the clumsy acronym (what is it, a Belgian hedge fund?) do not even hint at the at-times maddening path stumbled through by Kevin Shields and co, bankrupting Creation in the search for the perfect album (Loveless), then taking up to two decades making sure everything was absolutely, microcosmically right for the next release. Still people didn’t drift away, the rumour mill combined with a moribund white boy indie scene (well many just wanted their shoegaze back) to keep interest going right up until the cheeky, anti-commercial release on a Saturday night (as social media said, when MBV types will be at home!) via Bandcamp earlier this year. We got what we wanted with the lower-case ‘mbv’, more beautiful noises like the old beautiful noise, with a few iterations in the latter tracks. Did it need all that tinkering? Who am I to argue with the creators of Slow, Soon, Only Shallow and Honeypower to name just a few?
(white light, white heat etc)
And now we had the gigs. Standing to one side of the Apollo stalls as the first few songs such as I Only Said and New You rang out, I marvelled at how well crafted it all sounded – yeah it’s indie noise but every element has different levels and stresses in every song; the hushed vocals the only part to stay constant. That sweet-sick name, the obfuscatory imagery and the indie-schmindie song titles only hint at the sonic power therein, and merely reinforce the fact that they themselves struggle with and perhaps even have a disdain for the business of labelling and branding this art-music. To be a MBV fan was/is to be able unplug from the business of music and the music of business and to value it as pure aesthetics – when you hear them, all circumstances dissolve, nothing else matters but this highly developed blend of harmony and noise. As at home on the stereo, as here. This was the kind of performance a relieved crowd – you couldn’t call us a tribe because MBV are far too notionally disassociated from quotidian reality to represent anything other than the experiencing of art - had wanted for so long.
We move into the middle area and my uncritical love for what I believe is the carefully crafted, EQd and rehearsed MBV sound doesn’t quite make the whole of the 20 song-plus set. Maybe it is a little formulaic – after all this is just manic riffing by Belinda and Kevin, crazy drumming with regular fills from Colm and Debbie doing the arsequake bass, with only occasional bells and whistles on top – and a bit tossed off at times. It still hits hard though, and we’re shaking and freaking to the noisy fast bits and blissing out to the mellower, trancey bits where possible, although I think this is at least partly inspired by the dreadful chinstroking all around. For every person going for it there’s 10 more po-faced pseuds, even this short distance from the stage.
By the time we’ve reached the dark hole section of You Made Me Realise it’s loud enough alright; properly punishing. You want to recoil but all you can do is stand there and be violated by it. Gut wrenches, muscles tense, brain aches. Maybe they deliberately build up to that showstopper volume-wise, when arguably it would be better to have that intensity throughout.
Twenty-one years ago I insisted on spending more time drinking outside before we went in on the Rollercoaster tour – we missed Dinosaur Jr first on and my mate wasn’t happy. 21 years later he’s testing my patience by leaving it as late as possible to turn up. That tour was a moment for the US-UK indie noise scene, MBV, Jesus and Mary Chain, Dinosaur Jr and, implausibly, a Blur between phases, but in a snub interview from around that time, Kevin Shields said he’d got closer to where he wanted the studio sound to be, but that live was still a ‘frustrating experience’.
Not now, definitely not. Wonder 2 follows Realise and with its techno-like looped iterations charts another course for Shields and co. Saying what MBV live stands for brings only more abstraction – intoxication, extremity, stress, alterity – but maybe those qualities become ever more relevant as a proxy for the global meltdown. We lurch unsteadily out the exit doors and farther up see Wetherspoon’s is still open and stumble in, happy to have been knocked sideways but a bit senseless from it all. I’d take it all again.
Estonian h-pop star Maria Minerva came on joking about a punter quizzing her over being at the musical ‘forefront’, and then quickly got in to the knob twiddling and echo-laden warbling that is her thing, a self-contained, slightly cabaret performer not afraid to disdain her art by engaging the audience between songs. My Minerva purchase history of Alone in Tallinn, some Not Not Fun stuff and a few from the new album ill prepared for this, as I recognised little although with her frequent output much of it must have been new. When she gets it right, she renders decades of male-led DJ posturing obsolete. Other times, you think, easy on the echo, draw out the tune a bit more, these glitches and filters aren’t working. But the late 80s pop-percussive, quasi-balearic beats - without that era’s trappings of sincere experience and fed through the naughties synth blender - work well as the backbone of many of her songs.
When she was breaking through, with all that Wire debate going on, being at the forefront may have concerned her. Having honed her act as a producer-auteur and got pretty good at not just playing at being pop but actually being pop (whatever that means now), she certainly deserves to leave poky backroom hipster stages and the forums of the cognoscenti behind.
Supporting Minerva were Patchfinder, a producer giving off mixed signals on image with an Inspirals bowl, perfect tache, army waistcoast and sportgear, who churned out orientalist flavours over the most moderne of post-everything beats and synth riffs, first with a singer then on his own. Quite promising. Like the tags on his soundcloud too.
Paco Sala, similarly formatted on stage as male knob twiddler with female chanteuse, harked back more definitively to ice-cold synthpop posturing but needed a bit more work to push that digital alienation.
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Thursday, January 24, 2013
Network housekeeping #2
The attack by Signatories in Blood on the In Amenas gas plant, whether immediate blowback from Mali or not, occupied the media agenda for four or five days and has already inspired daft shit from Cameron about a 'generational struggle'. I tried to join it all up on the millenial blog.
No children were harmed in the maiming of this culture, sorry making of this programme
Friday Download is Where It’s At in aspirational children’s television, a slick magazine style show presented by a troupe of wannabes telling the live studio audience of impressionable younger kids (and viewers on iPlayer) just what to like, and then not to like it if it has become passé the following week.
Kitted out in the very latest patterned jumpers, hoodies, checked shirts, jeans, accessories and branded ankle boots, there’s the double barrelled thesp who’s been on Outnumbered; the grating Essex-boy from Tracy Beaker; Amy Winehouse’s singer-niece (here’s the Daily Mail doing the usual perv-up on her 16th); the Brummy street dancer-cum-general tart (Man U fan, natch); the Manc all-rounder (a Blue); the girl off CBBC show Sadie J which wryly sends up the dilemmas of cool. It’s not a fully realised attempt at diversity of course, with guys outnumbering girls and southerners in the ascendant as per. In this world Olly Murs is on the standing committee of cool with the likes of alleged pothead Justin Bieber and One Direction.
Aside from the usual up-to-the-minute dubstep and trance-coated pop, the Bafta-winning programme relies for its claim of hypermodernity on each section being a ‘download’ – music download, dance download, games download, etc, and once each section is finished the presenter says ‘download complete’ with a jingle signifying the full file has successfully passed into your mind-computer. Get the conceit? Moving on…
Screened at the end of the school week (although as I suggested most remote-savvy kids including my 6 year olds hit it up on iPlayer at their convenience), there is no pretence at an educational element – BBC mandarins would doubtless assure us this element is ably covered in strictly enforced quotas elsewhere on CBBC) – unless you regard learning how to ride a jump bike or mastering the latest Mario Nintendo release to be pedagogically important. Friday Download is pure entertainment. The analysis of any cultural product, apart from the games where they tend to know their shit, doesn’t tend to get past the standard “OMG I love this / it’s good but not as good as their last one” school of appraisal. But this is not the point of a fast-moving, nay fast-downloading, kids’ magazine show. Indeed, its most instructive feature is Hot or Not, where the team move to a hot or cold section of the sofas to illustrate whether something is Hot, and therefore, er, Cool.
On come the guests (always young pop stars like Rita Ora and Rizzle Kicks, often stars from other CBBC shows), and the age dynamic comes into play. The pre-teen audience are in awe of the 15-20-year-old presenters, who in turn revere the early 20 something guests who have broken out into the grown-up celebrity world where they wannabe. On both gazing levels this must very much be what fame looks like. It’s a convincing illusion. Remind you of the playground, when even a passing word from a teenage elder can leave a huge impression? No nasty exclusive vibes here though, the patina of schools-out cool sees to that. That sense of aching cool can seem pretty painful for parents who have been through that socio-cultural blender (and still can’t shake it off in the commodified long adultescence), and can generate new anxieties for their children who, watching shows like these, may place undue weight on such priorities.
Already all of these highly professionalised young presenters have willingly jumped through hoops to arrive at the lower rungs of the showbiz ladder. You can’t say they have been openly exploited as their clear desire to be a noted TV-net bot alleviates any of those fears, and I’m sure they’re getting guidance from parents (albeit pushy parents projecting their own wanderlust onto their offspring). This is very far from a 70s/80s showbiz icon abusing his powers over a vulnerable child in the backrooms of a nightclub or radio/TV studio, with the leering entreaty ‘I can make you a star’. Perhaps the deliberate occlusion of adults from this show is meant to provide that kind of reassurance. Anyway, kids being endlessly foisted in front of the camera is no biggy these days, it’s just an extension of becoming social media-savvy, exploiting their immaterial labour in the way all youngsters are told is essential if they want to get ahead.
But still you would be worried for these presenters, and the next generation to come through in the audience, that the desperation to be a celebrity-player may be a corrupting force. Surely the depression, drink ’n drug binges and domestic violence are only a few years and a failed audition for Eastenders away? Fear not, however, as this new era of cool has never been so successfully appropriated by bland cultural forces. Despite their various twitter pages alluding to perhaps unhealthy levels of adulation and obsession by their fans, these highly trained conduits are probably too savvy never to go off the rails as the temptations of adulthood arrive.
If these young turks have a role model, beyond the merely musical likes of Murs, One Direction, JLS or Little Mix, it’s 1FM jock Greg James, the emblematic empty cultural vessel de nos jours. Haircut slightly hip but still tidy (he was a head boy), James does a bit of everything, club DJ, YouTube skits, grown-up TV chat with comic Russell Kane. He alludes to crazy student days or on the road but rest assured he is a safe pair of hands – so much so he’s just been in Afghanistan broadcasting for ‘our boys’. James, like every non-specialist Radio 1 jock these days, presents the playlisted pop dreck with as much enthusiasm as the cooler stuff, and would even resent any claim they have less value than the latter, because they all serve as fodder for those crazy days of youth. With the great British consolidation continuing, our culture will need more ciphers like him so we thank the Friday Download’s academy scheme for producing the right kind of starlet, burnout permitting.
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If the Mayans/conspiracy theorists are right, this is the year the world ends and you have but days to listen to the Hex Factor 2012, this year’s mix of the records that moved me like no others.
2012 has been another year of doom and gloom - continuing austerity, spending cuts and wage freezes, freak weather and floods, celebrity paedophiles and political sleaze, the never-ending wars, enlivened by hell freezing over as City won the league.
This year took me to places I’ve never been before, including Eastbourne in winter, not a pretty sight! Musically I made some new discoveries, including Pop 1280, Savages, Soft Moon and Haxan Cloak (not included here for reasons of track length, but well worth checking out). I think this is the first year that a cover version made the Hex Factor and it was also the first time I’ve eaten gluten-free wedding cake.
Old favourites Factory Floor, School of Seven Bells and a resurgent Jon Spencer Blues Explosion continue to delight. For the second year running, Blackest Ever Black is my label of the year and the event at Corsica Studios has already been blogged so I won’t harp on about it here.
If you are reading this, I’m assuming you don’t watch the X-Factor, but if you are, I hope it’s because you actually enjoy it and not just so you can spend Saturday night filling up my twitter timeline with your oh so ironic comments.
Remember to dress in black, wear pointy shoes and don’t take sweets from Jimmy Savile.
So it's all there: streaming and gleaming, forget all other christmas party options with this cheeky all-rounder in play. Thoughts about it over here. Soundcloud page here. The network, the network. You have a listen. I'll move on to something else now.