Archive | April 2014

(New Book) A Walk Down The Hallam Line: a personal account of the West Riding of Yorkshire

A Walk Down The Hallam

This account has culminated from years of wandering and musing around an area loosely centered around Leeds, Wakefield, Barnsley and Sheffield. It has been displayed in an arrangement of photographs taken between 2008 and 2014, that roughly span the time that the thoughts that make this personal account came together. Yet, always being somewhat concerned with the notion of place – what is urban, what is rural, what is home, what isn’t – it is probably more accurate to say these thoughts have grown over 30 years.

This ‘walk’ through 4 districts that span the old West Riding of Yorkshire is foremost a personal account, yet it also aims to serve as a psychogeographical account. I know psychogeography is a term that is often said to be thrown around carelessly. So, to my make my use of it more clear, I see it as a means of mapping ones experience of a place. I’m trying to show what inhabiting these places/walking through a human landscape feels like, because I believe doing so has much-overlooked potential for understanding a 21st century world that few would argue is working for the majority of us. Thus the accompanying photos aren’t the type to make pretty wall-hangings; all too often I find reality is massively cropped to take the more picturesque. I have chosen this area because it is a landscape I know better than any other. My time remaining on this earth as John Ledger will be indelibly-coloured by this area, whether I am in Barcelona or still in Barnsley.

Let the Lyrics Talk (new book)

This image and text book is about the phenomenological impact lyrics have on you; where they ‘philosophise’ for you, whether you want them to do so or not, by emerging in your stream of thoughts, articulating your unconscious, at least a long time before you find any other means of articulating it

The lyrics aren’t always from favourite songs; they’re just ones that can somehow identify with your life, and tell you things about your life, that would otherwise unlikely be recognised. Personally, pop music lyrics often haunt me as warnings of things going off in the world I am only half-aware of (half asleep to) or they reveal something I had thus far been unable to put into sentence.

Often the lyrics heard cut themselves from the rest of the songs lyrics and become specific to your own life, and your relationship to them bears no meaning to the lyrics of the song as a whole.

Regarding the images, there is no intention for them to be picturesque. They are more to do with the mundanity and psychological grind of much of life. The existential frustrations and longings such mundanity prises out of our souls is largely a response to the very opposite of that: the exciting, apsirational imagery of a capitalist culture, beaming from every poster and screen, that makes us feel that something is wrong if our lives are not always dynamic and exciting.

The songs are part of this culture and possibly evoke the dreams laden within it, even whilst they are often critical of the inconsistencies and injustices of this culture.

The Strokes, and The Retrofication of 8 Bit

Just a small snippet of a blog, that really doesn’t need elaborating on right now, yet is better off on here than Facebook (I get so tired of waiting of completely misinterpreted responses on there)

At least until the time of their breakthrough, The Strokes were the most Self-consciously Retro band. However, is it just a self-conscious retrofication styled on past bands, and the accompanying fashions? Or is there also a massive absorption of other now-retro cultures, such as 8/16 bit computer game tunes? Games which were beginning to be seen through the retro-gaze roughly at the same point (the early years of the new millennium) as when the strokes appeared. How can one listen to songs such as this one and not to come to this conclusion?

Additionally, I must add to the equation the timing of the coming of the Strokes both into my life and (persuasively arguably) into culture in general. Why? Because the timing of their retro-remedy was almost uncanny.

I first heard their retro-remedy Is This It? no more than a week after the ultimate horror-show spectacle of 9/11 – the event that simultaneously reinserted the horrors we (until then) 90’s-revved-naive-westerners thought were confined to the Pre-Berlin-Wall-Collapse 20th century, whilst being the genuine starting moment of the 21st century. Just as we were looking for the potential New, a seismically mediated horror-event sent us scuttling back for a perceived-as reassuring past.

Yes, a post-modernity of re-used aspects of modernist culture was already well under way before 9/11, but this event accelerated the process. When I first heard the Strokes I was an unexplainably-shy late-teenager in search of a safe-territory, in some type of 9/11 post-traumatic-stress-remedy that I believe many of us endured (which is why nothing we see after the 2003 Iraq invasion shocks us anymore). In retrospect (what an ironic word to use) they were but a jaw-bridge to a dangerously-backward-looking land. However, back then they really did feel like a god-send. Their self-consciously retro look was initially reassuring; nobody had any idea of the type of retro music frenzy that would ensue once we opened the drawbridge that was Is This It.

(Double-additionally: the fact that the band hailed from the very place where the horror-show spectacle had occurred intensified the potion; that is without a doubt.)

Upcoming Solo Exhibition: Just The Noise…

Gathering together 5 years’ work centered around large scale pen drawings; landscapes that depict the human condition pitted against the huge environmental, social and existential threats of the 21st century. A noise that fills everything.

Opening night Friday 16 May, 6:30 – 9PM

Saturday 17 May – Thursday 22 May 2014

Gage Gallery, KIAC, The Lion Works, 40 Ball Street, Kelham Island, Sheffield, S3 8DB

The La’s (album), and the plight of a working class city at the end of history.

I first listened to The La’s’ self-titled (and only) studio album when 18, in 2002, originally surprised to find that the album wasn’t full of ‘sunshine pop’ tracks, as expected due their only chart success ‘There She Goes’ being the only track I’d heard by them until then – at a time of my life still largely under the influence of The Stone Roses’ self-titled (and the arguably only valid) studio album. Yet, since then, the more I listen to The La’s, the more I feel it embodies a crucial and tragic moment in British social history. To generalise in terms of class, I feel it embodies the defeat of the working class, purposely set upon with a neoliberal agenda imposed by Thatcherism, played out here in the desperate and tragic plights of individuals. By the end of this decade (the 1980’s) what was happening in the UK had been part of a larger ‘alteration’ of the world, as capitalism asserted itself as triumphant over all other social systems. A port-city band, The La’s truly sound like shards of once valuable flotsam, washed up on the beach at the end of History.

The album was released in 1990, although the songs were written and recorded throughout the previous 3 years. 1987 to 1990 was a symbolic moment. This was the point when the idea of history as a process towards universal emancipation ended; the crucial point being in November 1989 when the tearing down of the Berlin wall came to symbolise what the American philosopher Francis Fukuyama had termed ‘the end of history’ – that we had reached the zenith of social progress, that we couldn’t move beyond capitalist liberal democracy, as the fall of this wall was a clear indication that the half-century long communist systems in Eastern Europe were crumbling. However, little did Fukuyama know at the time how this soundbite would become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Regarding British popular culture, 1989 was also the year when the Stone Roses released their (now) far better know self-titled album – going through a similar process of taking the previous years to formulate and The La’s (album). As with The La’s, their self-titled album is the band, making both albums works of art rather than releases made merely to please managers and fans (even Theodor Adorno may have warmed to them).

Why compare these two albums? Because they were both formulated and released in this historically crucial period; they are both incredibly revered albums; they were both born out of two once world cities, neighbouring cities, that were both suffering severely by this period (Liverpool and Manchester). The Stone Roses’ album has become synominous with so-called British working class culture (especially retroactively, and often crudely so), whilst I feel The La’s’ album embodies the destruction of that very class. That the eventually-obvious desperation in the songs is so relevent to our situation in 2014, when the majority are forced to compete against each other, in this neoliberal race to the bottom.

“Give me some money, as I’m right in a hurry, to find a way out of this” (Way out)

The musical scene that involved The Stone Roses, had a Utopian essence (an essence now seen as naive and now only deployed at retro discos), even (dare I say it? yes I do) a neo-communist impulse in the wake of the collapse of Soviet Communism in Eastern Europe. Yet with The La’s it was a social realism essence, one which they were evidently trying to climb out of. I feel that now, the further we move beyond the late 80’s/early 90’s, the less the Stone Roses (album) seems to embody the real social mood under the haze of then naive feel-good 1990’s optimism, and the more the La’s album seems to relate to the really-existing social reality underneath all that hyperbole, which is why I feel it agrees so much with the present mood, when nobody can believe in the 1990’s vibe anymore.

If you know what’s good for you, then you know what you can do, just don’t go down, don’t go down” (Doledrum).

Whilst the style of The Stone Roses, and the larger ‘Madchester’ scene (with which they are heavily associated) looked casual in the sense of cool, relaxed and free to do what one pleases, the look of The La’s (in the images in the album’s booklet and the surrounding period) look casual in terms of ‘casual labour force’. They look like a group of young proletarianised young men, who look like they’re waiting around for work at the docks, or whom had just been laid off – having to become accustomed to work becoming less available. It makes one think of the famous social realist 1980’s drama based in Liverpool, boys from the Blackstuff, “a powerful depiction of the despair of unemployment in the early 1980’s” . The La’s, particularly Lee Mavers, look harsh and tired (although probably more directly caused by his then addiction problems), and they seem to be carrying the weight of their troubled city on their shoulders, as if Joy Division’s Ian Curtis’ (near-enough) final lyrics “here are the young men, the weight on their shoulders” were a prophetic vision of the working class man ten years down the line. Liverpool by the end of the 1980’s; battered, suffering mass unemployment, exodus on a scale not seen in any other British city (“Liverpool’s population in 1994 was estimated at 474,000, just 60 percent of the 789,000 in 1951” – View From A Train, Patrick Keiller, 2012) with the Tory government happy to consign it to ‘managed decline’ (god, I mean, they must have hated the city, what with its intelligent, un-shy prole sensations the Beatles, and its massive Irish ancestry, among other things – let’s get rid of it!). For me, even the soap drama Brookside (which began in the 1980’s) belongs to this weight on their shoulders; when the soap was gritty, realist, and unafraid to tackle “difficult issues”, before it died whilst trying to meet teen-targeting soap Hollyoaks half way.

The album is largely overlooked in favour of the most radio/retro-bar/spotify-friendly track ‘There She Goes’, which is to be expected, as this song fits to a picture of ‘care-free fun and sunshine times’ once separated from the album, nor do any of the album songs even satisfy the ‘death drive’ impulse which welcomes Joy Division’s music to the dance floor. Yet it is arguable that Joy Division’s “Nihil Rebound” (Mark Fisher, k-punk) foresaw the desperation that would infect The La’s’ melodies ten years later. Yet anybody can hear that The La’s obviously owe very little musically to the post-punk movement which Joy Division (inspite of their appeal to the eternal-ness of meloncholia) will always be associated. the La’s owe far more to the 1960’s, which arguably, due to The Beatles, and the Mersey Beat, Liverpool dominated.

Arguably the entire new musical culture of the late 80’s, early 90’s looked back to 1960’s. I don’t just mean The Stone Roses, but also the rave scene, because beyond the “fake music VS real (guitar music)” prejudice, rave music shares the same leanings as the 1960’s towards the “peace/love” mantra and psychedelics as a freeing up of the mind.

The ‘looking backwards’ shouldn’t be confused with the ‘retrophillia’ of our (non)times. In the late 80’s it was used to build with (towards a new horizon, now the walls had fallen), whereas now it is used to hide with (from the giant political, environmental and existential issues we now face). However, the motives that make The La’s look back feel very different to those of The Stone Roses and rave, and this is where they hold up the mirror the stark reality. To me the La’s’ stripped back melodies speak of the rising (largely) working class counter-culture, a rising Liverpool looking forward (like many of the industrial cities being regenerated in the post-war era) of the 1960’s, just as they were being systemically finished off by Thatcherism and the self-fullfilling ‘reality-enforcer’ that became the ‘the end of history’ theory.

The last two songs (forgetting the additional bonus tracks on all rereleases) on The La’s, are the climax of this desperation, perhaps suggesting that individual(ised) failure for the majority is rarely escapable. The track Failure takes a simple rock and roll format and takes it to the doors of most desperate accounts of individual proletarian failures in the Joy Division tracks ‘Novelty’ and ‘Isolation’.

“So you open the door with a look on your face, your hands in your pockets and your family to face. And you go downstairs and you sit in your place…”

Tensions in families pushed to their limits by an imposed economic reality that many just couldn’t/cannot ‘climb out of’. For me, these lyrics bring to mind Jarvis Cocker’s assertion that people from the more privileged ‘classes “will never understand” because they will “never fail like common people”. So much weight on the shoulders of those who’s ability to climb out of misery of poverty has so many odds against it; never enough energy to maintain the confidence to ‘succeed’. How can you not hear the above lyrics and think of the past 30 years through ‘The Boys From The Blackstuff’, the rising number of homeless on our streets, and the panic at the back at most of our minds about what the hell we’ll do if this current but precarious job position you hold suddenly becomes ‘surplus to requirements’?

For me, what we lost at this crucial ‘end of history’ point’ is now often found in cultural artifacts that were lost or (I would argue) misread during the hyperbole that lasted out till 2008. The last track Looking Glass is no ‘I am The Resurrection’, ‘Champagne Supernova’; no anthem to a ‘working class revelry’. The Looking Glass’ backing vocals repeat the line “sail away on the airwaves” from a previous album track. As the music speeds, and Mavers begins to sound manic, it is like the crash-landing of all that’s been before, like the life of a collective (a population, a class, a city) flashing before your eyes, smashing into unidentified flotsam on the shoreline at the end of history. They certainly shouldn’t be dismissed as just another ‘lad-culture’ band.

(Additional: If I sound like I’m writing as if I’m a Liverpudlian, when I’m clearly not, it’s because, coming from South Yorkshire, I have long felt there to be some affinity connecting both places. perhaps due to them being places suffering similar degrees of devastation in the wake of Thatcherism. I remember a scenario whilst on holiday in St Ives, Cornwall (not yet in my teens). A liverpudlian (who I think I recall saying was down there working on a boat), sat next to my family in a pub, and who, slightly intoxicated, began asserting how badly Liverpool, and Liverpudlians had been treat by the rest of the country, and that nobody understands what it’s like (for them). My dad, who had been unemployed at the time of the 1984 Miners’ strike (which affected caused major upheaval for our area), but who by the 1990’s had managed to get himself a degree, and then a teaching job, which lifted us out of poverty (and allowed us to take holidays in Cornwall), argued that we knew ‘exactly what it was like’, as our area had been treat in largely the same way).

Yes, Spent indeed

yExhaustion in The Face of Everything (Ink on paper)

Just a few thoughts on JD Taylor’s article Spent: capitalism’s growing problem with anxiety. It’s anything but a comphrensive analysis. But I thought it best these small notes being shared rather than being forgotten about, as so many of my notes/thoughts-on essays do.

Spent: capitalism’s growing problem with anxiety is all incredibly agreeable; along with Mark Fisher he puts the issue of the mental illness epidemic right at the door of neoliberal financial capitalism. But there was one particular part, under the subtitle Anxiety Machines that generated the “yeah-I’m-glad-someone-else-thinks-this” reaction in my head.

A rise in the cases of allergies, and obsessive compulsive disorders over the past half decade. Yes, I’ve been keeping a eye-that-often-wishes-it-could-be-blind on this too. A Psychosomatic whirlwind, where fakery and truth are no longer discernable – neoliberal financial capitalism makes us anxiety machines.

“These might all be conditions of modern life: rates of allergies like hayfever and eczema in the UK population have risen to 44% in 2010, whilst rates of depression have similarly soared. Rising recorded levels of these ailments may signal a greater awareness and ability to self-diagnose these conditions, one could argue; but this alone doesn’t sufficiently explain why anxiety disorders began rising first of all. Anxiety and fear are psychological marks of domination in all social structures, but a specific anxiety and fear emerges in financial capitalism through the accelerating demands and pressures of working and living in the neoliberal era. Greater insecurity in the workplace or school leads to an intensification of individual failure that is also manifested in the growing trend of bullying, which further reinforces the cycle of stress, depression and suicide. I think this insecurity is also expressed through the very media used to communicate and function in everyday life. By this I mean the intensification of information technologies into domestic and personal life, what Paul Virilio calls a ‘tele-present’ world. From home computing for leisure, to the Internet, hand-held communication devices, and social networking sites, in the last two decades there has been an unprecedented intensification of technologies that continuously connect users to hyperactive news streams and a disembodied form of social interaction, whose psychosocial norms deserves deeper analysis.” JD Taylor.

If one could describe neoliberalism as a project, could it not be described as the darkest of psychological experiments imposed on a human being? Seriously, imagine a participant in a scientific experiment, (perhaps an adult from the 1950’s/1960’s) donning head-gear that simulates a neoliberal society, perhaps inducing an accelerated state (like in a dream) so that they feel acclimatized to it in no time at all. Then, is it not entirely plausible to imagine their body language changing, with an increase in nervous twitches, an increase in anxious self-analysing and diagnosing? Take a look around you (and a long look at your own habits), is not the case that in workplaces, city streets, and on the social media interface, that there has been a sharp increase in anxiety-ridden behaviour in the past half decade since neoliberalism was ‘doubled-up’ in response to its dramatic failure?

Is the sharp rise due to this double-dosage? Or is it just one part in a revving up of the then less-intense general problems of pre-crash neoliberalism, that most of us (if we’re truthful) thought would go away, as we used to feel about climate change, and the stop-start-stop-start escape from low paid jobs that Ivor Southwood termed ‘Non-Stop inertia‘? Come-what-may, I think it is wise not to dismiss anyone in our lives who seem to be ensnared by life-restricting issues as ‘moaners’, ‘pessimists’ or even ‘fakers’; I think that where we stand right now, we can all potentially be classed as sufferers of mental disorders without any wild exaggerations. As I said above, just look around, and give yourself a long hard look.