how much longer must we tolerate mass culture?

Thursday, July 24, 2003


People think I’m taking the piss when I talk about my fear of helicopters, or assume I’m just desperate to appear interesting or weird or deep.

Trust me, I’m not.

I guess ‘phobia’ might be overstating the case a little – I don’t collapse in a sweating, hive-covered heap when I see them. But they bother me, unsettle me, give me the creeps, make me anxious.

When I was a kid I found them slightly disturbing – they didn’t appear to abide by the kind of physical laws I was taking for granted – but not worrying really.

I suppose it started at Stonehenge. Tripping as the sun came out, being chased across fields by the best (i.e. most psychotic) that the combined constabularies of Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire and the Met could throw at us. It was bad enough that my then girlfriend had been caught beneath a scrum of panicking hippies as the police baton charged us, bad enough that I’d tried to fight my way back to her against the flow, seeing the barbed wire in her legs (she still bears the scars apparently).

But when they brought on the helicopters, when the windowpane acid was making things really twisted, that’s when I lost it. Running blind across the fields on the other side of the road from the stones, searchlights strafing us, a metallic, Robocop voice intoning the whole ’20 seconds to comply’ Silver Bullet routine. Then seeing a family – 2 parents, 2 kids, concerned Guardian reader types, not even hippies really – coming to the conclusion that this wasn’t their battle, they weren’t the people the police wanted and surely if they just stopped and stood still the police would realise that.

Then seeing the police – and I know it was the Met despite the fact they were all free of numbers and insignia, because you just don’t get this level of brutality in provincial forces – club all of them to the ground, kids and mother and father. I know we didn’t throw rocks at the police because there weren’t any to throw. Trust me, I looked. I wanted to see a policeman’s face erupt in blood the way that kid’s had.

All of this to a soundtrack of barked instructions from the helicopter and the constant thrum of the rotors.

Haven’t been able to handle helicopters since.

Started noticing the effortless menace they could add to any film – from Apocalypse Now to Capricorn One, from Thelma & Louise to Goodfellas – with the way they could appear from behind trees or cliffs, or hang malevolently in mid-air.

And then the demos – the CJB riot, Reclaim The Streets, all the greats – knowing that the helicopters were tracking us and identifying us and triangulating us, all the better to pen us in and break our skulls.

And the one ludicrous significant drug deal I ever tried to pull off – whilst on a paranoid coke comedown, looking like what I was - outside a Brixton pub, as a police helicopter (in truth probably hunting down another escapee from Brixton Prison) seemed to be circling nearer and nearer.

I bolted home, abandoned the deal, lost a month’s rent.

So no, not a phobia, and not truly debilitating.

But real and uneasy and enough to add some twin-rotored spice to some of my nightmares.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

blogworld is weird world

it's ceased to be a source of amazement just how many blogs there are using up bandwidth much better employed on much more worthwhile stuff like Joan Bakewell porn sites and 5 million word attacks on 'Why American Beauty was a fucking lie', for example. But since starting this blog, due as i've mentioned before to John Eden's blog i've found myself engrossed in what seems to be a fairly hermetically sealed subgroup of blogs, often riddled with arcane knowledge, impenetrable arguments, heated disagreements about matters of import to as many as 4 or 5 people and often protracted post-modern namecalling.

None of this, I hasten to add, is an insult. The ongoing debate about industrial music being fought between the three headed beast that is John Eden, Matt Molotov and Paul Meme (whoever he may be) is instructive, funny as fuck and veers from careful reasoning to thinly veiled abuse.

My relationship with industrial music and culture is a fairly slight one, I guess, so I’m definitely not going to get involved in the argument because I’d be way out my depth and because it seems to be coming to a close anyway. But while I do understand some of Matt’s concerns – the often rather infantile attempt at shock tactics for their own sake, some of the more suspect imagery and references – he does seem to be taking an absurdly absolutist, ‘black and white’ (literally) view of the whole thing, as John has pointed out:

“Coming back to the religion thing, I think the precise point that Matt was making was not that Whitehouse were “anti-religious’ (which I would take to mean a completely materialist, rationalist, atheistic worldview) but that they represented an “evil” form of spirituality – an inversion of the white light of xtianity.”

I think John is onto something (he really is going to start thinking I want to fuck him soon!) with his references (relating to Whitehouse, I think, who I have no time for at all incidentally) to the difference between ‘shocking’ and ‘disturbing’.

Having lived with someone heavily involved in the OTO and all the sword-waving, borderline fascist crap that entails, and I suppose being of a pretty sceptical, materialist bent, I’m curious about John’s background in TOPY et al*, and I’ve read around the subject (was a time when I couldn’t pick up a book, magazine or record sleeve without hitting the same esoteric wall, a line connecting John Dee, Stewart Home, Crowley, Alan Moore, Iain Sinclair, The KLF and the TOPYs) but it simultaneously fascinates me, perplexes me and ultimately leaves me feeling like I can’t be bothered to go the extra yard to explore something I suspect I’d probably find wholly empty.

In the same way, the importance of some of Coil’s music for gay sex magick or whatever is of little consequence to me, and I’ll stick to the more ‘musical’ (ahem) releases. But it would be stupid of me to deny that whatever the key players in this scene (if it even is a scene anymore) are into obviously informs and adds texture to the work they make – you absolutely cannot ignore the ideas behind it and just listen to the tunes (like you have to with late Van Morrison for example, and I’d have put an ‘ironic’ emoticon here if I knew how to post one!).

So maybe I’m being an industrial/chaos magic dilettante, another post-goth (and yes, there was a point where I would have to deny myself the ‘post’ get out clause, I’m afraid) geek looking for leftover cheap thrills from other people’s dirty work.

Or maybe – and I hope – it’s because extremism or experimentation can still give me a real hard-on. Not the relentless harder > faster > louder machismo/endurance tests of speedcore and gabba, because that’s just not extreme anymore. But I still seek out, time and money permitting, music which will give me the fucking creeps or challenge me the way Hamburger Lady did the first time I heard it

And Matt’s lumping together of ‘industrial’ music into some homogenised and loathsome whole is ridiculous. He knows as well as anyone that there’s a world of difference (in sound, intent, worth and sense) between Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, Merzbow and Coil, Neubaten and Whitehouse and he’s just being obtuse.

Anyway, I said I wasn’t getting involved so I’m going to shut the fuck up and look forward to RE:TG, as much as a curiosity as a cultural event.

* not for a minute intended to imply that the OTO and TOPY were about the same thing at all, save – from my very limited understanding – a belief in the importance of ritual etc.

well, the below posts regarding my reggae-related self-doubt notwithstanding, i'm doing it all over again anyway.

inspired by a gap in the People's Republic of Disco schedule (which could become a permanent one if my meeting with my (ex?) partner tonight goes badly), i'm launching Riddim at the Windmill, helped by landlord, flatmate, reggae mainstay and lovable nutjob alex 'dj badly' holland.

i guess it's not a million miles away from the idea behind Dubhammer (but hey, that was my idea too, and don't let any fucker tell you otherwise! :) ) - in that we're planning to cover a lot of ground - roots, dub, digidub, ska, dancehall...

hopefully i'll manage to squeeze in some Bug records and some really clicky Euro stuff (Fenin, Rhythm & Sound and the like) amongst the more obvious tunes.

i have a few decent connections, and DJ Badly has scores, so we should be able to get some cool guests, Johnno and Neil from Zion Train both seem up for doing something and our friend at Westbury Music has promised to lend us any of her old stars who happen to be in from JA. and we're kicking off with John Eden, who judging by his Shake The Foundations mix should be storming, and cover a gap in mine and Badly's reggae knowledge - newer conscious stuff seems to pass me by, much as i like it.

and what is DAMN FUCKING SURE is that we'll be steering well clear of cod-rasta business, partly out of respect and partly out of disdain (i'll save that for another post!).

No lions, no HiM, no red gold n green and no fucking patois on the flyers *

in fact, i reckon there could be a big frog motif ("riddim") to make sure that nobody takes us seriously, ourselves included.

august 23rd, the windmill, 8-late, £3, if you must know!

* the use of the word 'riddim' avoids the patois pitfall, i reckon, because i believe it's used more broadly now and has a meaning that stands on its own merits and isn't just a crass co-option. or something. i'm sure matt molotov could write something far more erudite, but then he smells of pooh

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Long time no blogging - the last two or three weeks have seen the suicide of
a friend and a week at Glastonbury, both of which seemed to preoccupy me

Marcus was one of those people that you never planned to run into but were
always glad if you did. Of COURSE part of what made him interesting and
charming and edgy was part of what killed him in the end, but my friendship
with him wasn't just some kind of vicarious deal. He was genuinely
interested and interesting and though weeks or occasionally even months
would pass without me running into him, I always knew I would see him
somewhere eventually. Somewhere unseemly and way past our bedtimes.

His death really fucking hurt, more than I could have imagined it would - I
know we can't measure grief out in handy units or anything but this was a
real kick in the head. The fact that it was two weeks before somebody found
him was just too fucking awful and ironic - not that it made any odds to
Marcus - and I suppose relates to the way most people seemed to connect with
him: happily but serendipitously. I guess he just fell through the gaps, and
the less said about Lambeth Council kicking him out of his still empty squat
in Rushcroft Road (where he was near his friends when he needed them) and
abandoning him to the arse end of Streatham, the better.

Couldn't go to the funeral. I've buried too many friends and I'm not sure I
can keep going through it.

As for GLASTONBURY, it was fun but it felt like an effort. I'm still picking
through the little I can remember to work out if it was just a bad set of
circumstances - being too fucking hot, wearing blister-raising footwear -
that made it hard work at time. Or if it - say it quietly - is because at
nearly 35 I'm just too fucking old for that kind of high-impact 'fun'.

Aside from the expense - and I could have taken a good fortnight's beach
holiday and come back with change - in a way I felt like I'd seen it all.
For years, I actually enjoyed the rather predictable aspects of it - knowing
where the candle-powered steamship stall would be, and who does the best
brandy coffee on site (Blue Moon Café, if you're interested). And I've
always enjoyed kidding myself that I'm less a punter and more involved than
that, be it by being on various guest passes or - this year - having a
spurious involvement in some DJ business.

Going with my flatmate - who truly is part of the furniture there, and knows
everybody - added to that, but somehow this year it didn't really gel for me
and I actually spent quite a lot of time staggering around by myself, quite
gently off my face but always looking for something more spectacular and
exciting than whatever it was I'd just abandoned. I guess the people I was
with - being stoners, for the most part - were quite happy just chilling and
chewing the fat - but my predilection for fast drugs and visual stimulation
made me restless for the most part.

As for highlights - the Flaming Lips played the gig I guess they were always
meant to do: overblown, celebratory, joyous, just the right side of cheese.
Aphex Twin in his DJ AFX guise proved he could still pull it off when he
could be bothered. I never even worked out where he was on the stage (if he
even bothered to show) but the set was beautiful, working it's way from
quite bucolic electronica to some really quite fucked up noise towards the
end, all interspersed with some assumedly deliberately naff techno samples.
I'd love to claim I remember any particular tunes. I'd be lying.

Zion Train played a blinder as ever. I can see why they're reviled by most
people, 'serious' reggae fans included. Although free of rasta indicators,
they instead fill the void with platitudes and meaningless positivity,
although Jonno is getting better and better as an MC. But in an environment
like Glastonbury (and as one of the last bands on, playing to a crowd who
really want it) Zion Train pull it off like no other - it's simplistic
hands-in-the-air technodub and it made me jump around like no man at my age
with my blisters should have done.

The Skatalites were cursed with an appalling sound mix and a tendency to
stray way too far into the 70s for their set - they were a good reggae band,
but they were a much better ska/rock steady band and that's why we were
there. And Jocelyn Brown didn't bring much to the party than slightly forced

Jazz Jamaica All Starsfared better, and overcame my fear of / disdain for
jazz by making sure that any solos were always balanced against a steady ska
backbeat. I don't have the energy to explain my feelings about jazz. Suffice
to say that something, ANYTHING to grab hold of - a steady drum pattern or
something - can ease the pain for me slightly. And in Ashley Slater they
have a great trombonist. And if I could be a great musical anything, I think
trombonist could be it.

I think one of the mistakes Glastonbury Festival is making (perhaps
inevitably and unavoidably and for commercial reasons) is to lose sight of
the way it used to book bands - according to a mood or time of day rather
than chart placings. Even if I were a Moby fan (and I'd welcome terminal
cancer into my house more warmly than a Moby record) I can't imagine he'd be
my choice to finish a festival. Ditto to some extent Radiohead, although I
guess they qualify as an 'event'. The era of Glastonbury always putting on
reggae bands on a Saturday afternoon, and a band like the Pogues early
evening when everyone isn't too drunk to dance, are clearly over. That said,
any caveats I have about the increasing (but still reasonable)
corporatisation of the festival are weighed against the realities of the
situation - Glastonbury couldn't survive without playing the game to some
extent, and I'd rather have it like this than not at all.

And for all those wilfully clueless fucks who stand in their tofu-powered
yurts in the Green Field lamenting the 'babylon' (spit!) down below the
railway tracks, I ask only this: do you really think you'd be there,
demonstrating your turnip carvings, if the kids down below - that you hold
in such lofty disregard - hadn't shelled out their £100+ to come and see
REM, eat burgers and wear dreadful hats? Their cash makes your smug little
hippy enclave viable. Without them, you'd be back in your suburb or
preaching to the converted at some dreadful Green Gathering or another. Man
cannot live by yoghurt alone!

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