Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Comedy skirting meaning

i've put Czuk's comedy review on Sonic because Meeja Hoors is still down...

Stewart Lee is back on tour after more conspicuous times in the public eye as Springer opera man and the usual detours into writing, TV comedy and, also, artifact curation. Naturally, the appearance of someone with a track record ensured a packed crowd in the culture-free environs of SE23, at the newly airbrushed Honor Oak by the south circular (he’d originally been down to play the more insalubrious but now-also-about-to-be-refurbed Amersham in New Cross). Tony Law did an excellent support.

You already know whether you were likely to go and see Stewart Lee's new Edinburgh show: go if you can and beware of spoilers (misquoted ones at that) in what follows. Lee hinges his new show around having been voted 41st Best Stand Up Comedian of All Time on a Channel 4 Top 100, an excuse to meditate on the comedian's desire for approval from family, from the public. As for the former, his status cuts no ice at home: the recurring riff is his mother repetitiously and unfavourably comparing him to the lightning wit of Tom O'Connor who she saw years ago on a cruise ship:

“He was amazing Stew. He came out, he asked this man in the audience, ‘What do you do for a living?’ and the man says ‘I work in the oil industry’ and quick as a flash, Stew, Tom O'Connor says ‘Are you a sardine?’. It was hilarious. No, wait – the man says ‘I'm in oil,’ that's it, and quick as a flash, Stew, Tom O'Connor says ‘Are you a sardine?’. It was hilarious. He came out...”

With these and other citings, Lee mapped the bars of his own prison: contempt for those he needs the approval of (“you: the Public -- who, when given the chance to vote for your favourite comedy moment of all time, will invariably go for: Del Boy, falling through the bar,”); contempt for but apparent dependence on the commissioning whims of TV; contempt for his racist, ignorant and tasteless family; contempt for the spectre of the washed-up comedian, formerly critically hailed with something to say, reduced first to game shows (cf, Lee's recent appearance on 8 Out Of 10 Cats, for which his shame was palpable) then cruise ships, via sex scandal and a nervous breakdown.

Though the set included well-directed and eloquent rage against the vacuity of TV and the repulsiveness of the Littlejohn anti-PC lobby, as well as gestures towards what is obscured behind the bullshit – “beauty, truth, thought”, “the chance to feel or think something different” (with illuminated hyperlinks to Martin Luther King and Evan Parker) – I was sorry that it had to come wrapped up in self-analysis. Perhaps it was an unfortunate aspect of the need to weave together a coherent thread for an Edinburgh show; perhaps Lee genuinely can't sit down at his word processor without the broken, weeping soul of Tom O'Connor appearing before him. Perhaps Lee's furious critique of Maconie culture is all the more effective and honest if he vivisects his own dependence on and complicity with it at the same time. My fear is that, rather, his critique is needlessly blunted by this approach – by the repeated message that he is just a comedian.

The penultimate segment has Lee acting through a repetitious, Robert the Bruce-themed joke that is ridiculously drawn out, laboured and unfunny-funny; Lee in the story is an arrogant, lazy sell-out who's only interested in creativity if he gets paid for it; the 'real' Lee telling the story is a craftsman, weaving together the show's riffs in a flight of wonderful, genuinely funny, surrealism.

Lee's climactic gag combined hope and redemptive meaninglessness. “After all this seeking of approval... I got one laugh recently that meant more than anything, and that was from my 14-week-old son. And the way I got him to laugh was by balancing this small, stuffed orange giraffe on my head... and standing very still, without varying my expression, for as long as I could.” Which he did. It was a sublime moment of infant Zen, though it caused ripples of warmth among the Honor Oakers rather than out-and-out hilarity.
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Friday, July 20, 2007


Bliss-up to the links to Derek’s sites, someone who has been brave enough to stick his head above the parapet of doubt by suggesting that the new Burial gear is, a bit samey. “A coda to the album” may turn out to be a generous appreciation of the unknown amphibian’s latest reverbs.

I'm with him too on Tinchy's forthcoming album on Takeover. He was always 'star material' and this lifeless r&g explicitly acknowledges that the mainstream fields could be courted on their terms.

In other generics - jungle on L Double's show was tearing on Wednesday. And it took me back to that particular social gathering (long extinguished in my life) away from the rave - round your mate’s, dance radio show or mix tape or cd pumping out. If weed’s involved, your whole body will be shaking on the sofa, a much better communication of your enjoyment than the stoned syntax and confused commentary. Text for the rewind if it’s on the radio, maybe just rinse out on your throne or, even, get up and dance. On this show, it pleased me that some d&b is showing that it can switch from the tired Pendulum extremes to just plain hardcore nutty again, songs maintained by their sheer effrontery, their outré infantilism. Here, jungle plays a headfuck role, get on the dancefloor and have so much coming at you by way of superfast amens, insistent riffs and grimey bass and mid-range undertow that the bombardment serves as a clean-out in a way that the genres tied to the matrix can’t. The two that caught my ear in this vein I think were by Roughcut & Foxy, the former employing a demented android voice against the digi-screeches, the latter with Scheme revisiting the Bad Company end-of-days riffs. You can see how this senseless dementia still reels in the youth.

A certain electro-house clanker whose ID escapes has been in my head for a while now, after hearing its attenuated plink-plonk riff at a Brixton party a few months ago. It’s probably been out for ages but grows on you like Tiefschwarz’s take on Spectrum did a few years ago. So it was a nice surprise to hear it quaking out of a car stereo coming down Honor Oak Park the other day. This is an indicator that the repopularisation of house via the funky strain is taking all the other 4/4 vibes with it into far more of a mass acceptance than it could have hoped for a few years ago. In general, nothing is likely to replace garage as the main car stereo round my southeast ends any time soon.

As I have appointed myself unofficial chronicler of the nascent Ronson-led rock soul scene – a couple more motifs of this movement have emerged in recent weeks. Some remixers have revamped Frankie Valli’s already-tidy cut Begging, adding some generic noise-out guitar that these days is not EQd to add any weight to the sonic texture but floats well enough on top of the 60s American blue-eyed soul. Still, must admit that with the addition of a third element, a ravey piano, that enough bases are covered and I’m reeled in.

Now the Coral are joining in too, opting i'm sure completely co-incidentally for a Detroit stomp on their latest single. Cynically, this is another way for the less progressive indie kids to get out of the latest dance craze, the heroic energy of new rave, while comforting themselves that they do indeed still like a jig to music with substance and that they’re right-on multiculturalists, a l’Office actor Martin Freeman (in himself emulating the leader of narrow-horizon rock Paul Weller – the Style Council didn’t go that far).

Lastly, Czuk’s anarchist choir The Slackers are putting on a show at the South London gallery on Saturday. As he says: “If you're anywhere near London and if you like the sound of singing 'Ke Arona', a lovely South African 'all power to the people' anthem in four-part harmony, with quite a few other people, then come along. No previous singing experience is required and the clothiest ears are welcome...”
They’ll be on from 8-9 or thereabouts. The night also features The Errorists and DJ Rubbish and is called Banding Together.
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Monday, July 16, 2007

I’m confident because I’m a southern parasite

The various estimable threads around class confidence were probably not intended to inspire a slew of confessionals relating the contributors’ own experience, but, er, well…. Let me say from the outset that I broadly agree: they’re a bunch of wankers, those in the middle classes and upwards. I should know, I am one, for hristo's sake.

My family were ‘working-class’ in that they worked blue-collar jobs (not ‘professions’) and never had a great deal of money. Both parents were from large families in postwar societies in which austerity and locality still dominated for at least two decades for the majority. My sister and I were the first generation to even consider higher education, but would only be doing so with means-tested grants, before the complete disintegration of welfare state notions of universal education. And in marked contrast to those wealthier scions we did not have centuries of genealogy behind us; in fact, a generation or so removed from my great-grandpa the info stops, because, I dunno, it’s probably to do with peasant immigration or something like that, back in the eighteenth. Heading towards their late-60s now, my Dad still works and my mum would if physical ability allowed her to. They can’t rest on the laurels yet.

At school there were the usual extremes of council estate youth and actual pikeys abutting the liberal creme who sent their children to state school as a point of principle – I didn’t feel comfortable with either. By the last years of my secondary education, we had risen up to a middle-class-sized house, mainly on the back of their mad hours and going without the traditional adult indulgences/treats (alcohol, a social life) to pay for it.

Nevertheless, it takes a bit more than a detached gaff to become truly middle class: culture, wine, books and conversation are all important – there were none of these in my house. And for a while I was blissfully ignorant of circumstances (not just your current status but history, locality etc), until I was detached from them, at Leeds for university, co-ordinates fluttering. I studied English and that at A level but I don’t know nothing about shit and all I have got is the arrogance of youth to pull me through. Or maybe I am a gypo scumbag?

The reason why people still recoil a lot these days, or wonder why you are pushing that line, when you say you are/were working class, is because of media conditioning to make you believe that all working class people are lawless, amoral, fat, carcinogenic chavs; when of course the majority are the decent people soi-disant trying to live a life of dignity. So when they see someone be articulate, urbane, polite, bling-free, it jars with their expectation of what a dirty little prole can be. The rich may ape the clothes, music, culture and language of the poor but they sure as hell ain’t willing to live like that.

Because it was drummed into me to achieve things better than we already had, I am almost always surrounded mostly by bourgeois. On the outside looking up/in. So what fills me even to this day is an inferiority tinged with outright resentment. The latter I don’t mind because I don’t want to be in their world, thinking their ways, but the other can leave me bitter, spiteful, irascible. The sight of a posh bloke ‘at the footy’ still inspires rage at their co-option (did anyone just see on that cooking programme the soccer ‘guys’ watching that footy with ‘the beers in’ at a ‘mate’s’ – while, er, being served haute Bharati cuisine from the latest celebrity chef? Football is finished). Why on earth would you even want to talk to someone like Katie off the Apprentice? Rory isn’t even real. Nobody has that much privilege imprinted on their face. But they sense it too, even now a few incidents revisited in my head, where I have been pointedly given the cold shoulder by the confident rich, make me feel cold with ineptitude.

But contrasting all this is my own innate self-confidence. Other factors as suggested above from school have contributed, such as being half-decent in class and half-decent in football, but I have always thought this has stemmed from regional lines, from my being a southerner, or more precisely (the horror!), a Surrey boy.

Doesn’t matter whether you’re working class or not, in the county that rhymes with slurry you have an implicit sense of entitlement, my attitude could be simplistically boiled down to being a taker not a giver: we don’t make the popular culture; the popular culture is made for us (The Jam very much an exception); we’re on the outside looking in and assessing. Learning to dj while at university and doing shitty little music/football journalism for it is hardly going to correct the input/output parasitical deficit. All you tortured artists in the north and London churn it out, and we’ll react with our numbskull geezasthetics. Get a few of us together and we’ll be grinning like a bunch of Hampshire cats, happy in our relative safety, self-assured to the point of hubris, free of existential woe. And it goes on:

‘I don’t have to earn the right to be anything (only the money with which to recreate) – I’m already a fucking cool cat, new mod type with his finger on the pulse, son. Innit, etc.
In the home counties, we are parasites, in-between cultures and we are proud of it. London is on our doorstep and we make use of it but thank Christ I don’t have to live there it’s a dump, etc, etc.’

This was my attitude from about 16-25, bar a few years of post-rave serotonin depletion at university. I acknowledge not every mush from Surrey is going to feel this sense of affirmation, but that’s my take on it.

Comedown or not, one of the reasons I was never an in-crowder on campus was that so many of them were rich bastards. Step into my world. No thanks. But I would still walk around thinking I’m the bee’s-knees – solipsism is a dangerous thing – with or without weed it can send many young men off track for years.

At work now, the double-thread and releated sense of liminality still looms. I go in confident of what I can do but leave deflated by the bourgeois monochrome set, and their demands for a grey life. The confidence drains at about the moment of the first interaction, when the first public presentation is required. I don’t say what I needed to say in my head so schlep back into my corner. In fact, I have to draw a distinction between the operational stuff (ie, the actual job) which I can do I my sleep and the other stuff (meeting, relationships, the office culture) which, seemingly, is only want some well-connected people in the office, can only do. Being factored in is not only the feedstock of class and place, but also that sense of being inbetween; while that indifference and diffidence can help disconnect from office politics, maybe that remove always puts you at a disadvantage too.

The boss seems to want to employ Reuters/Bloomberg editorial masochists, the type that work all the hours of the day, can take the criticism-bordering-on-abuse but, crucially, come out fighting because that was what punched into them at public/private/public-private school. Failure is not an option, but being continually demeaned and treated like a cunt is – and that’s why Simon had to win The Apprentice, because he is the avatar of this never more-prescient ‘I can take the knocks, I never shirk a challenge, the better to deliver them myself’ strain of ingrained middle classness. Did it ever go away? Well I ain’t going out like that, and I indulge delicious fantasies of the Do Me Bad Things variety towards the boss.

Even now, when I am the father setting the standards of living and the balance of factors make me indisputably middle class, I dread the possibility of the children developing in some of the conceited bourg ways listed above. Too straight, and they’ll come out like ‘bring it on’ office masochists; too twisted, and they’ll have the affected psychological ticks of the overindulged, as Antigram mentioned to IT.

The liminal line continues. I have often said that I have an inferiority complex as well as a superiority complex. I feel literally like the scum of the earth but I can walk tall; in my own milieu I feel untouchable (not like a dalit, the other way) but take me out of my environs and I struggle. Clearly it is not only class which can govern self-confidence, but if you are from the well off it can make success stories out of even the most tragically inept. And this is the whole point about the threads by Mark et al; advocating a socialised society far removed from where we are now, a future where that sense of inequity, the new forms of the old school tie, the helping hand for old pals, is not the rule.
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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Cooking up a brain wrong

After weeks of watching the nippers headbang against the playpen, it was finally my turn to jerk about in a controlled environment – ie, a club. Wifely permission had been secured – on Friday night I was going to have it like it's 1995.

We had toyed with Antiworld 777 at Creams and I’s old manor Aldershot, where all the generic hard dance repetitions were repping in huge tents all night, but in the end the allure of Braindrop under the London Bridge arches won out.

Terrible error. Braindrop was bad meaning fucking awful not bad meaning good. Walking in and noticing the dank aroma of the club (it was only when I mistakenly smoked a cig that I realized this was the smell of a smoke-free club), the initial bad signs came via the Breakbeat Orchestra – screechy female vox and crappy drums failing to augment some promising low-end brass elements.

Following that were more generic chunky loops: breakbeat-breakbeat (the Prodigy were played – surely this is not allowed?) to hardcore style breakbeat to Pendulum-style (death of) d&b to '4x4' d&b. Not a single tune had any top-end riff I could recall, no siren left repeating itself in my head. Nothing. Indeed, it was almost as if the mix was adjusted to accentuate just the rhythms. And the promised grime and dubstep of the second room was nowhere to be heard while I was there. Similarly, Shitmat may have shaked up the main room if he played, as the flyer suggested he would.

This was what the kids want – or is it? The reaction among the tops-off huddles of lads and gaggles of girls (a bunch of whom scrapped near the stage) was perfunctorily hedonic, but hardly next-level, hardly DC 10 on closing night. Lads splashed water over the toilet door to urge me to hurry up, so desperate were they to administer their latest rush.

So one could easily read into this that if this club is any guide, then rave is dead, there is no future in clubbing, the kids have taken over the asylum, choose your cliché here. Yet this place will probably thrive because it has that sought-after element for promoters - a community niche.

In the end it was our own requirements that did for us – ie, the need to be vaguely local, the cheaper the better – and it was proof if proof be need be that sometimes a bit more research and/or a bit more of a cavalier approach pays off. I may be still ‘into’ dance music, but I ain’t connected now.

By 2ish, bodily sensations were beginning to overrule reason but I still had to admit that I felt too old for this type of rave-off and that my musical preferences had moved on. As Czuk bravely raved on with the youngstas, by this time the no-smoking ban had been comprehensively flouted, I left, drifting down Bermondsey Street, New Kent Road and on to a nightbus at Elephant gutted that my night out was nigh on shite. Ever since, Ray Keith’s Chasing Shadows has been on my deck and in my head – doubly fitting as it’s old-school d&b with content more than a fuck-off riddim and because that night I was maybe after a sound you can’t get on today’s dancefloors.
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