Sunday, April 17, 2011

City win the derby semi

"There is no scientific measure of boisterousness, but surely City's followers broke the noise record for a semi-final, keeping up a din that suggested no resentment at the choice of venue: 200 miles south of Manchester"

But there they were, defending strategic positions outside key transport hubs, baiting, hurling objects, chanting their war songs, like the hired thugs of a Gaddafi militia. Why was there so much leering hate in their eyes? These guys hadn’t been paid to act in this aggressive and arrogant way – they just merely believe it’s their right to make up the rules and do what they want because they follow Manchester United.

After the game, their goons see the chance to truly spoil the day out for Blues in colours unwise enough to want to get to Euston in time for their train. I hear one tries to hurl a lad over the elevated section of Wembley Way while the Blue’s kid sister looks on in absolute terror – what’s that code scrotes have about not starting on the innocents in colours? Some guy batters a 50-year-old because he had the temerity to use the ‘M’ word – you’d cry double standards if you thought it would make any sense at all to this bunch whose ethical code works on considerably higher multiples. Just ask Rio Ferdinand, Nani or Anderson after Balo thrust his shirt at the red section, most of whom had disappeared, from a considerably provocative position round the halfway line. This is much worse than unused substitute Gary Neville running down the line to gesticulate at our lot, apparently. On the train back, while we air songs of celebration the group next to us roll out their considerable array of hate-verse – Keane's assault on Alfy is still acceptable fayre and there’ll be stuff about Leeds and Liverpool too delivered with a snarl and a snigger though the crowd are 30-40 y/o, old enough to know better. We get to a Baker Street hotel bar and receive ridiculous, off-topic abuse from a bunch of coked-up twats. Win with indignity, lose with indignity as my mate says about them.

No doubt at all many of our guvnor aspirants gave as good as they got in many of the day’s many incidents (I heard, for example, a few Red coaches got pelted with objects as they rounded into the car park) so to paint the two tribes in binary oppositional innocent/guilty terms would be deluded. But on big occasions like this you take in all of what you see and hear, and many of my perceptions were brutally reinforced on Saturday. Of course we all claim workmates, social network connections, real friends, etc that are ‘decent’ reds – some might have even wished us luck for the final – but there just needs to be much, much more of these among the disproportionately large mix of their fanbase. 'Seperated (sic) by success' their banner claimed at Chelsea. Separated from reality, certainly.

You know the football by know, making detailed reports unnecessary. I had been confident at the start after a groundswell of noise leading up to the game and early on, not to mention the Poznan as their team was being read out (qualifies as banter to most but in United eyes would probably be an ‘intolerable outrage’) but then City started decided dodgily and Berbatov should have had Utd ahead. We had a half-time row about it in the dressing room and came out fighting, got the goal and kept up the pressure and to be honest they gave us little to fear for the remainder. The job’s not done yet though, but I’m sure we will not make the tactical howlers Coyle made against Stoke and we should have enough to lift that pot.

Here's some Blue music to bring you down nicely:

Doves' Words. In many ways these Blues' tunes have that hollow hope and irrational optimism that have characterised City's wilderness years, but no doubting the quality of this stadium anorak indie.

They went with C'mon Feel the Noise at Wembley. I'm going for Bring it On Down

Ecstasy-era New Order. Yesterday deranged a few senses or two.

One from Pickering and co in 1983.

And the move to the dancefloor justifies the diversion to this - Blue Six's Sweeter Love. Deep house as warm as Blues still feel inside now.
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Friday, April 15, 2011

Far from final semi-final thoughts

City-United FA cup semi-final day, Blues’ first since 1981 and the legendary Paul Power goal that beat Ipswich at Villa Park. United, on their regular trip to the twin towers (and with the likelihood of another trip there in May if they beat Schalke), will be heading up Wembley Way with a spring in their step, a bit nervous obviously because to lose to City on such a stage is unconscionable, but with the weight of reason on the side; not many think their team will bottle it. Also-rans in the Liverpool-led 80s, the club are the prime beneficiary of the era of Premiership commercialisation, and their fans are the perfect capitalist avatars, never ones to defer gratification, whether over the course of 97 minutes or the long-haul of a season. An unlikely comeback is their metier.

City fans travel to Wembley giddy in expectation (it’s an unusual day out for us) with many also sick with nerves. The mate I sit with at Eastlands says he has never got that infamous defeat at the hands of Spurs’ Ricky Villa out of his system, and neither did the club, in many respects. Thirty years on, this season is one of the best opportunities to exorcise that horror, which in turn would get that other infamous monkey of our back of all the years without a pot.

United, players, staff and fans alike, will constantly tell you they have bigger fish to fry, but then spend virtually all their fan-time putting ‘little Citeh’ in their place in what arguably goes beyond puerile to just plain tedious. It’s their superiority complex, the bully in the playground at work. City, for their part, can’t match the other lot for history, size or even success in the derbies themselves (the last 30 years have seen something like a mere six victories over Utd) but since United’s cause became national and then international Blues feel they are more intrinsically embedded in Manchester, the famous northern city that used to lead the way. This local rivalry is one of football’s more notorious but sustained without the balance of Celtic-Rangers, Inter-AC, Barcelona-Real. Yet for sheer mutual hatred and existential difference between the two outfits it’s big.

This season common consent will tell you United do not have a classic team and have rode their luck a lot to get into a possible ‘treble’ scenario again but I ditched this view around about Christmas. If they play a full strength side there’s hardly any weaknesses in their side at all – in defence, three world class players and a Brazilian aggro merchant that’s coming good, three or four players with quality out wide and further quality upfront. With Scholes losing legs and interest, the centre is the only area of worry so they don’t play through that area. Sure, beyond their first 15 or so it starts to look weak but the fringe are used judiciously. They sometimes struggle in games and look like they have no Plan A but their Plan B, waves of attacks, crosses and half chances, is pretty good. Then there’s the much vaunted ‘will to win’, ‘pride in the shirt’, etc.

City by contrast were judged to have built a great squad but Mancini’s systematic/stifling style of play seems to have belied our potential and blown the chance to aim even higher in a generally poor Premier year. We have a good core, but exorbitant buys – Boateng, Kolarov, Dzeko – don’t seem worth the money even in market values let alone City values, while others – Balotelli – have at times been embarrassments. We’re told, and the case looks clear, that we have no Plan B in games. Yet it’s these players we’ll be relying on at Wembley. All will be forgiven of those that haven’t done enough if they stop United’s Plans and come up with a few credible ones of their own. But are the lads who don the Sky Blue aware of our rich history, the loyalty of our fans, just what it means – will they play for the shirt?

City fans keep being asked this false dichotomy – would we prefer top four or beating United in the semi? – as if that’s the only option on the table. Of course it’s not, and of course we’re all well aware that while we could beat United, win the cup and finish top three or four, we could equally lose to United and finish fifth. Given a similar scenario, the reaction from a United fan in this case would be – beat City, finish top of the pile and hoover up anything else that’s going. Because that’s what they do. Because they have earned and trade on this excess of confidence.

I was planning on offering my real-world newspaper 600 words on the Manchester semi-final, as they like a bit of sports colour from time to time. But it would have needed to be full of objectivity and free of bias, and I would have had to write it even if the Rags won. But I’m not trying to make it in sports journalism having had 15+ years at the back end of journalism so I don’t need to stick my head above the parapet.

United’s avowed ‘spirit’ is kicking in, they say, it’s the ‘business end’ of the season and Ferguson is a past master is tailoring campaigns to when it matters. In our expanded modern media hacks jump on anything bad to do with United such as players telling the camera to fuck off or the manager belittling referees, but they also give more than favourable coverage to United because they have a more than average amount of coverage, as the biggest team. ‘News conferences’ by Fergie take on the character of religious gatherings, where his every word is reported verbatim, rarely challenged then dressed up with matter-of-fact headlines and therefore given the illusion of implicit support. With his wealth of experience he deserves such lack of mediation, they argue.

There’s a lot to admire about United’s performances but you do feel such coverage about the ‘red juggernaut’ is pretty beneficial for them. They of course then have the insouciant affront to rare up about being victimised about the Rooney charge, touchline ban, etc when they were totally justified even if allowing for FA amateurism and inconsistency – Ferguson is happy to play the victimisation card even as he knows, on the balance of decisions, nothing could be further from the truth.

So despite City two and a half years ago following Chelsea in being the latest to ‘ruin football’ (but please tell me how you otherwise break up a decade-long cartel in a benign circle of financial privilege coming from almost guaranteed top-tier European football), we have somehow still not extricated ourselves from the underdog’s position in fixtures as ‘massive’ as this, and you get the feeling City may well be the neutral’s favourite. A win could stop a Rag landslide and shake things up a little which people have long been saying is necessary. All this is placed for Blues in the context over fear of the Fifa financial fair play rules, misgivings of Mancini’s management style and the intentions of the Abu Dhabi owners.

So while United are the modern consumer-hedonist’s choice, they ‘do what they want’ and what they want is endless gratification like the proper naughty rogues they are (sorry, some of them are; a great many others just ride the myth), City’s work-in-progress brings frustration and requires a lot of patience. Yeah Blues do their own thing and always will, but rarely under the collective banner of City success. We need to transcend pride in being a Blue to being the delirious face of a team who have picked up a pot.

With the profile of this derby greatly expanded, every defeat by them makes it harder to achieve the plans of the wider City ‘project’ so for me there is no alternative to this semi but a win. And there’ll no doubt be another post on Sunday on this theme if we do. If we lose … well we all deal with the feeling in different ways but I’m sick of ‘feeling philosophical’. As a team we may not be ‘ready’ but it’s high time we ‘man up’, do what needs to be done including throwing Mancini's caution to the wind if necessary and experience derby victory when it matters as a catalyst for even greater achievement.
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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Live! Oneohtrix Point Never Review

aka Twitter is killing the longer-form review, what this blog was set up for in the first place ferchrissakes.

Oh, and the Games project was ok, but with Joel Ford merely adding hypnagogic swirls and rushes and reverb over the top rather than really integrating it into the 80s pop underneath the sound didnt always blend too well. It got the most attentive listen of the night from the hypsters though, some of which are pictured filling into the QEH foyer below:
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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Going on a static journey

Fantastic Hope blogger Alex Niven identified two phases of prevalent drug use on Up, Close and Personal, the first was a ‘radical hedonism’ often found in 80s working class lifestyles and concluded, rather messily, in Mondays-era Pills ‘n Thrills; the second a highly commodified and mediated post-rave ‘pseudo-radical lifestyle hedonism’ which has beset the culture from the mid-90s and seems to still be with us today. Many of those 90s musical figures – Primal Scream, Oasis, Mondays, Shamen – Alex cites had roots in different manifestations of this earlier phase. In this analysis rave and ecstasy can be seen as a diversion between the two more substantive periods, and creatively some came off better than others in using the era to enhance the sound.

It’s symptomatic of the newer phase of drug-use, with its corollary of vacuous public statements of use, that although Oasis clearly reflected both phases (the first as some-time inspiration, the second as their contemporary setting) they would often disavow any notions of deepness and meaning on these topics in their music even as their sound, lyrics and branding attested to their use as source material. Kind of ‘yeah we take drugs’ with a ‘what of it?’ rejoinder as if to play down any analysis. That’s because by this stage one drug was dominating that its users would rather keep out of discourse, cocaine (though pandemic usage of others such as skunk was in vogue too).

Much of the loss of subversive potential from radical hedonism to pseudo-radical lifestyle hedonism is attributable to this one drug, which was nowhere near as prevalent in the 80s and which even its users know rarely enhances a communal buzz let alone any countercultural energy. There’s a certain public guilt to succumbing to this most selfish of highs, leading celebrities to ‘fess up to usage for their own rebel cachet but often to talk about their habits and addictions to the more generic ‘drugs’ when they generally mean cocaine. Nobody minds a dabble, in fact those are the pictures our celebrity-obsessed culture craves to see in the papers and glossy mags and on websites, but we’re embarrassed when it gets to Sheen-like levels of addictive delusion. We always hear Hunter S Thompson still ‘worked’ while on coke but he was trading on past glories and certainly no critically acclaimed gonzo reportage was forthcoming in his later years.

So although fierce polydrug use still abounds around football matches or scuzzy pubs where working-class lads congregate in numbers the effect is certainly different because this one drug dominates. For the in-your-face there’s aggressive defiance; when lines are being chopped up on the pub table, the culture really is Shameless (that public eye thing again, but occlude the reality of a grottier dependency). But most are not that brazen, and it’s telling that the preferred locus for the use of cocaine, and for other, newer drugs like mephedrone and ketamine, and for a longer time crystal meth in the US, is back in the front-room of someone’s flat, with an approved group away from the action. As event-less time passes, there’s an acknowledgement that this is contributing nothing other than blah-blah-blah descriptions of one’s own buzz and, later, one’s own psychosis. In James Frey’s exaggerated crack memoir fellow non-travellers would be identified by the shifty question ‘do you like to party’ which was merely a euphemism for do you want to sit on the sofa and smoke the pipe until you’re hunting for anything left on the carpet. You also hear stories of parties in the margins where there may nominally be DJs or art installations, but really the focus is unfettered drug use. When there really is no interesting story one is willing to tell about coke, its place in public perception is fittingly dangerous but banal, a meaningless transgression.

In the 80s you get the feeling that there was some kind of validity and an effective praxis in turning away from the cultural mainstream, in disconnecting, in carving out little niches and subcultures, with drugs as a major focus of activity. If the drugs are still any guide to culture production in the 90s, it’s no surprise the Creative Industries Taskforces established to tap such alternative energies ended up courting the mediated, symbol-heavy, culture-as-brand, nudge-wink worlds of BritArt and BritPop.
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