It’s pretty unlikely I’ll get anything else done this year now, as I’ve hit my New Year-period wall prematurely, from which I can never imagine the possibility of making anything new again – until I make something new again. Perhaps I do my own yearly roundups because I somehow feel that I’m unjustifiably forgotten about. When I regain my bearings from the egotistical gravel pit, I recognise that it’s likely over 90% of us feel this way. But all the same, no choice but to play The Game.
So here’s a list, in a more or chronological order, of the best bits of what I have done in 2015; and believe me, there’s a lot of bits I’d rather regret. Regarding the visual works, I feel THE LONG NIGHT OF A NEEDLESS STORM is my strongest piece, both in visuals and title, it’s the best attempt I’ve made all year of interlinking all the problems of today indirectly back to the dominant political agenda.
Not Humanly Possible (A4, ink on paper)
A Cognitive Austerity (A4, ink on paper)
Five MORE Years… (A4, ink on paper)
“Hardworking Tax-payers, Inconvenienced” (A4, ink on paper)
Pain is Barred an Outlet (A4, ink on paper)
“Sad, LONELY, Frightened” (A4, ink on paper)
Everybody’s Fracking (95X130cm, mixed media on paper)
The Self [ie] Under Siege (A4, mixed media on paper)
“Can We Stop Now, Please?” (A4, mixed media on paper)
Debtland (2015, 110X77cm, mixed media on paper)
Artwork for Wear Your Band T-shirt to Work Day (explanation here)
Sounds that made up my year…
“the rotten soil of nowhere land”
Zomby – Where Were U in 92′
Real McCoy – Runaway (Tory election victory-sting-soother)
The Fall – Frightened
New Order – The Village
Goat – Let it Bleed/Gathering of Ancient Tribes
Sleaford Mods – Double Diamond
Wu Tang Clan – C.R.E.A.M
Sleaford Mods – Mcflurry
Sleaford Mods – Jobseeker
Sleaford Mods – Tied up in Notts
DMS – vengeance
Sleaford Mods – Teacher Faces Porn Charges
Rufige Kru – Menace
Congress – 40 Miles
Chumbawumba – Tubthumping
Sonz of a Loop Da Loop Era – Far Out
The Chameleons – Don’t Fall/Second Skin – (again)
“They keep calling me”
Amidst the pretty stark turbulence I experienced as 2015 began I became obsessed with trying to write something about Joy Division’s eternal-presence in my life. But I never got anywhere, convincing myself it needed to be a project of a sizable, I-know-everything-about-Joy-Division, quality due to the task of writing about one of those bands guarded with pitchforked-opinions by musos. But it felt crucial for me to write something both for myself, and for the reason brilliantly articulated in Mark Fisher’s Ghosts of My Life: “If Joy Division matter now more than ever, it’s because they capture the depressed spirit of our times. Listen to Joy Division now and you have the inescapable impression that the group were catatonically channeling our present, their future. From the start their work was overshadowed by a deep foreboding , a sense of a future foreclosed, all certainties dissolved , only growing gloom ahead.” (Mark Fisher, Ghosts of My Life, 2014).
Ben Hewitt’s article Joy Division: 10 of The Best, in the guardian this week, gave me an motivational template: I’d use a selection their songs to expand on all this stuff about the band that I have been driven to tell people in pubs for the past 3 years. But I don’t have any desire to write about a fave song list per se: the album tracks I reference gain a great deal of their significance when listened to within the context of the entire album (this should seem obvious, but in the Ipod age, the ‘shuffle’ features heavily in the way we listen to music). I also wanted to use individual tracks to explain how the din of their resonance seems to get louder and louder the further we (in UK terms) descend further into the Thatcherite experiment that may finally be coming to end… “this dream it takes too long”. And although I found only managed to write about 7 songs, they were more than sufficient. Thus I have proceeded in writing the blog I’ve been wishing to write all these years.
In the past few years it seems overwhelmingly the case that we are looking back to a certain time for answers to a present day inertia. Yet we don’t seem to realise that this is what we’re doing, and so just continue doing it blindly. Cultural artifacts from the 70’s into the early eighties seem to be constantly at hand for reference on all media platforms. For example, Ben Hewitt’s article: although I think it’s brilliantly written in its own right (far more imaginative use of language than I could ever achieve), and it creatively touches upon material that relates to their ‘channeling of the present’, it also seems oblivious to it. When he writes of Dead Souls that “…Curtis sounds like he’s being pulled by ghostly apparitions, trapped in a place “where figures from the past stand tall / And mocking voices ring the halls”…” isn’t the most ghostly aspect of all in how this perfectly describes our relationship to Joy Division in the 21st century? Such articles and documentaries don’t seem to understand the motive behind their accumulative coming-into-being 35 years after Ian Curtis killed himself. Of the 7 Joy Division songs I have picked, I have tried, when possible to introduce them in relation to personal experiences, 1. Disorder
“Could these sensations make me feel the pleasures of a normal man?”
It must have been 2010; in that murky moment between something bad (New Labour) and something worse (all-out-Tory Class War-disguised as ‘the coalition’). Up until now Joy Division had been off my succession of cheap mp3 players for a few years – having told myself that the obsession I had with them in my early 20’s, some five years back into the thick of Blair’s Britain, had been a sign of immaturity, and that they’re subsequent increasing popularity was no more than a Topshop accessory. As the fall of 2010 arrived with the threat of immobilising snow storms entrenching a deeper existential inertia, it all reversed, and I found myself hurtling back towards some kind of early 20’s point.
We were drinking at a friend’s flat in the back-end of Barnsley- one of those new-build apartment complexes, squeezed in amidst unhappy-looking Victorian terraces still stained by the soot of a vanquished industry. A few cans downed and then it was time to head into town, myself regrettably still hooked the mirages of fulfilled hopes and dreams that coated the shell of the so-called Blair-year Party-times. But this was now descending into its zombie stage.
We came to an agreement that we needed a ‘going out song’, and we chose Disorder. The throbbing beat of the bass drum kicked in, and the trance-like state took over for the first time in years. This wasn’t a flashback, as I was back there again. The way my slightly inebriated friends were moving around the room, getting seduced into the whirlpool-like nature of Disorder when played at volume, made me realise that this wasn’t some “Lets all dance to Joy Division” indie-cool trend: this was real. My early twenties-daily dependency on Unknown Pleasures didn’t seem so weird any more. My friends may or may not have been depressed, but they existed, like me, in secretly-depressed times. At that point, despite differences in opinion of the severity the global and social issues outside the window, Joy Division felt like understanding of life that we all shared.
The insightful left-wing group Plan C convincingly argue, in their essay We are all Very Anxious that anxiety is the dominant ‘public secret’ of this current stage of capitalism (which doesn’t mean to say that other negative emotions have disappeared, just that this is the definitive one of our age). By ‘public secret‘ it is meant that it is “…something that everyone knows, but nobody admits, or talks about. …[W]hen discussed at all, they are understood as individual psychological problems, often blamed on faulty thought patterns or poor adaptation”.
I would add that there are two public secrets; the anxiety we endure being the first, and the second being that we exist in ‘depressed times’, and many of us spend much of our lives rocking painfully back and forth from anxiety to depression. But what is incredibly important here is that Joy Division share the public secret with us, ‘catatonically channeling our present’ as Mark Fisher says. What makes Disorder so [Unknown]pleasurable is that it shares that publicly hidden anxiety with us. It speaks about something we normally have to hide. The guitar riff between verses is so riddled with panic it is intoxicating, it recognises the pain that is otherwise barred an outlet.
From 2010 onwards I remembered what this music did for me. How it’s darkness was often a life-saver. Perhaps a necessity as I stared down the barrel of a nastier, more Tory reality. As the drums continue to smash out in a death-drive whilst the rest of song exhausts itself into finitude, Disorder becomes an introduction to a record that makes no emotional compromises; doesn’t pretend things are OK; makes no effort to pretend it sees a bright side to life. And this is why from this point onwards it resumed it’s place as a make-shift prescription tablet ‘day in day out’, from 2010 onwards.
“I’ve lost the will to want more, but I remember when were young”
The mid years of New Labour were a weird time for those of us in our late teens and early twenties. So many people I thought were sorted were actually in a real mess, trapped between small-town college courses they had no interest in and bleak job prospects, propped up by bi-weekly drug or drink intake. I never put 2 and 2 together at the time. One friend from back then spoke of his recent depressive spell: “It’s like somebody flicks a switch, and I’m gone for days on end.” The minute-long opening to the track Insight has something of the uncanny about it. The soundscape of lift-shafts moving and doors locking is so close to epitomising the nausea-like continual-return of depression it’s almost an unreal sensation as the shivers go down your back and you think “fuck me, that’s exactly how it is!”.
I was pleased Ben Hewitt included it in his list of songs, although it’s with tracks like Insight that I come to realise that listing album songs merely for their individual qualities is somewhat lacking. Insight’s intro is the seminal moment in Unknown Pleasures. Even after the self-destruction of Disorder, and building terror in The Day of Lords, there is still potentially room for another world, another way. But Unknown Pleasures is the world of the depressive; once that door locks the depression sufferer knows all-too-wll what world we’re in; he/she knows that feeling of that ‘locked door’, once you’re inside “gone for days on end”. Insight plays the pivotal role in signifying that this is no ordinary record; you’re entering a specific world, at which point sufferers of repetitive bouts of depression have a moment of strength due to being able to invite others into it. It has much the same relationship as Heart and Soul does on their second album ‘Closer’ – the position of the sorcerer’s hand, dictating the overall direction of the record. Their producer Martin Hannett was clearly quite unique, his ability to conjure the soundscape around Joy Division’s tracks is so fitting the only word you could use in hindsight of what Joy Division became is ‘perfection’. It now almost seems like he was electronically connected to Ian Curtis’s emotional state, forcing him to be the cypher for our present day cyberspacially-fucked subjectivities.
Insight makes sense of what has been and what is to come from the viewpoint of clinical depression. But if we are to conclude that we live in a secretly-depressed time, then that sense seems far more wide-spread than merely being down to personal shortcomings. Insight really does channel something. The world they and their post-punk contemporaries saw/foresaw, one where social democracy was crumbling under a return of more powerful and relentless capitalism, where industry no longer needed them, no longer of value to society, well all that never went away. All that happened was that it was buried under the incessant command to be positive and proactive in the market fundamentalist economy that requires us to be market individuals, where opting out of the game is all but impossible without dying as it seeps into all potential waking (sleeping) moments due to computer technologies. This sense of having “no future” actually intensified, but was barred an expressive outlet amidst an intensifying downpour of aspirational dogma. I think this is why these days we so often find ourselves praising certain artists from the Post-Punk-New Wave crossover of the late 70’s to early 80’s, because that period seemed to be a ‘breathing space’ for raw emotional response to the early days of the Thatcherite transformation, before it became so entrenched that raw expression became so much harder to articulate; a ‘reflexive impotence’ (Fisher) that not only affects our ability for political engagement but also our emotional expression – “smile or die”.
I have previously written about this uncanny-like-relationship music from this period has with our contemporary situation. It’s like what happened from then onwards was some sort of icing over, and that we now stare at these voices as if they have been frozen in time, floating underneath the ice. I wrote previously of Kate Bush and Joy Division in particular. I think of the music video to Kate Bush’s Breathing (based on nuclear war – another issue that, although as relevant today, seems frozen into a 70’s/80’s time-pocket), and the images of her trapped behind the see-through skin of the bubble she is encased in seems to pretty-much visualise what I mean here. Perhaps the drive towards retrospection in this current moment is due to a slow-awaking to the horrifying future-less reality we actually exist in, finding ourselves with no choice but to push away all the hyperbole that disguised this truth to us from its onset there-on-after? 3. Novelty
“You’re on your own now, don’t you think that is a shame, but you’re the only one responsible to take the blame…so what you gonner do when the novelty is gone, ?”
A sense of loss. Novelty was actually one of the first Joy Division songs I ever listened to. Aged 18 (2002), it was a cassette featuring a Joy Division compilation on the one side, and Television’s Marquee Moon on the other. It signaled the end of teenage life. I was experiencing my first ‘They Live’ moment (where he puts on the sunglasses and sees the Real), when the comforts and sugary surface of the social construction fell away, leaving me shit-scared of a world my nervous system has no way of coming to terms with. It resurfaced into 2012 when my messy inability to adjust to a Masters course in 21st century London made me face the truth that I my youth had now come to an end, with no progression to another stage of life on the horizon.
I reference these two points because I think it is arguably most tragic of their songs, because it seems to document the point of loss – that point where a little something of you dies inside, from which ‘New Life’ proves impossible for many. Mark Fisher in his 2005 Kpunk blog The Nihil Rebound (published in Ghosts of My Life, and probably the strongest piece on Joy Division I know of) writes that “what separated Joy Division from any of their predecessors” was that their “bleakness was without any specific cause… …crossed the line from the blue of sadness into the black of depression, passing into the ‘desert and wastelands’ where nothing brings either joy or sorrow…Curtis sang ‘I’ve lost the will to want more’ on ‘Insight’ but there was no sense that there had been any such will in the first place”.
Yet I don’t think Novelty does this: it is even more tragic in that it evokes the act of loss. For me Novelty shares the same emotional space as The Smiths’ This Night Has Opened My Eyes (“and I will never sleep again”), the result of which Morissey sang he neither “happy or sad”, just numb. The songs evokes a point of departure. The Smiths, hailing from the same city, would (in my opinion) not make a song that came as close to the point of bleakness as this, whilst for Joy Division it signals the point of departure to “a bleakness without any cause”. 4. Digital
“Feel it closing in. Day in Day out”
As 2005 got messier and messier, I briefly entered a wider social group including of a group of lads from the incredibly-deprived former pit villages of the Dearne Valley (Thurnscoe to be exact), and a group from former mining communities straggling between Wakefield, Barnsley and Hemsworth. All of the places somewhat left abandoned after the pit closures, and which saw our area of South/West Yorks (Darton) as posh – a consequence of us getting the M1, and it becoming a split community of tepidly-affluent commuter houses at one side and council houses built for coal miners at the other.
Sections of this wider group would end up fighting and momentarily-despising each other (mainly over women), and each constituting a more-or-less ‘with it’ group leader and many emotional or physical wrecks. The Dearne Valley lot had no time for Joy Division’s near-death finale Closer, but were obsessed with Unknown Pleasures (and the album tracks most akin the Unknown Pleasures sound), even wearing the album-sleeve t-shirt. I would’ve thought it a fashion accessory back then, until I realised how much of a ‘fucked up’ generation I belonged to, and why such music may just appeal to these people.
“Let’s All Dance to Joy Division” was a track by a then in-vogue indie-cool outfit The Wombats (to which you WON’T find a link on here). It seemed to treat their surging popularity as something with a comical tint to it, as if we were all easy-come easy-go hipsters unaffected by REAL shit. But I saw no joke in what these tracks meant to me, at a very turbulent point, and even 25 years after they ceased to be. Before the death of small town student nights, the customary dingy indie night club would play non-album-track Digital for us every Wednesday, demanded as necessity and eventually granted.
If it weren’t so minimal the message would be lost. The song is like a drill piece, which, like the outro solo to Shadowplay, is violently unwilling to divert from it’s acceleration towards a dead end. It is 3 minutes of medicinal joy, an energy-release from the general continuity of mild-distress. “I feel it closing in”. If one sensation is necessarily put to the back of the minds of those who hit their twenties in the post 9/11/post Iraq invasion world of increasing cyberspace-interpenetration, it is one of being on borrowed time; where the future has imploded and is hurtling back towards us. ‘Stay young – what else is there anyway?’. With our hands perpetually hovering over our panic buttons, and our feet walking a tightrope above depressive dysfunction, Joy Division’s chaotic hell begins to arrange the look of the world in a way we can deal with. A way we could deal with, back then, when I for one most certainly relied on their music for survival at the most unstable of points. And yes, we did dance to Joy Division. 5. Decades
“Here are the young men, the weight on their shoulders”
Decades, the final song on their second (and last album) begins with a soundscape the feels like entering some sort of bone-yard-remnant of unquantifiable suffering- but a suffering being undertaken with total indifference. Again, Hannet’s soundscaping seems, in hindsight, so close to a putting the seal of inevitability over Curtis’s then-imminent suicide, that you often wonder if he truly was a man caught in the wrong place at the wrong time: a tortured pop artist, radical to the cause, caught in the crusher of one huge transformation paving the way for the a much worse world: one lacking a future. The chilling intro conjures to mind a scenario similar to the raising of the skeletal dead from a parched graveyard on one of the most unnerving of Ray Harryhausen‘s stop-frame-motion scenes in the 1962 film production of Jason and the Argonauts.
Decades doesn’t just seem to drag behind it the weight on the shoulders of the punk/post-punk generation, it seems to drag the ghosts of all previous proletarian generations, embodying the destruction of all that the working classes had worked for/fought for. Not only do Curtis’s vocals sound like the voices of the dead accidentally picked up on a tape recorder, but it is as if our forefathers are raised, bent and buckled by two centuries of exploitation, to see the future they believed they were building for their grandchildren crumbling into wasteland.
“I guessed they died some time ago” (Interzone, Unknown Pleasures)
Joy Division were beyond a cause, and weren’t political, even when Curtis sang of the worst excesses of unaccountable power. But without meaning to or not, they remain a cypher for the collapse of a humanist future, the swansong of a post-punk movement that woke up to the depressive reality of the no-such-thing-as society-nihilism that was Punk’s rallying call; the ‘spirit of ’45’ had been buried and a new nastier phase was on the cards. Curtis’s own political leanings and obsessions were more collateral damage than anything, conveying a sense of despondency with the course being taken by humanity, who seemed too far gone to be able to threat any longer over rights and wrongs. As I said before, this despondency articulated by post-punk never went away, but has been largely denied a contemporary articulation due to appropriation of any idea of individual expression into ‘market individualism’. Consequently their legacy grows larger and larger. Collateral damage indeed.
Ten years later The La’s, a Liverpudlian band, fronted by Lee Mavers, who was hell-bent in trying to make the best pop album in years, closed their only album with two tracks that seem to be living through Post-Punk’s anticipated breakdown in a city smashed by the Tories, Failure and Looking Glass. After the defeat of working class solidarity by Thatcherism in the 80’s, The La’s’ self-titled album now seems to make more sense in 2015 than it’s more lauded ‘Madchester’ contemporaries whose energies were far more easily subsumed into a more omnipotent capitalism’s demand that we enjoy our servitude. Although stylistically following the late ’80’s guitar-band tendency of looking back to the 60’s for solace, the lyrics to the La’s’ Failure “So you open the door with the look on your face. Your hands in your pocket and your family to face, and you go down stairs and you sit in your place” could easily have found a fitting place within Decades. But the incessant demand to ‘dance, dance, dance to our servitude‘ of neoliberal capitalism is wearing thinner and thinner by the day. I think the increasing popularity of Joy Division with young people is a sign of this, even if there little self awareness of the motive.
“there’s a taste in my mouth as desperation takes hold/heaven knows it’s got to be this time …..avenues all lined with trees.”
It’s early 2002. I’m a anti-social 18 year old, plugged into his cassette tapes, still capable of day-dreaming in the learning centre of a now-demolished college. A tune comes back into my head from some early childhood point. This was a few years before the days where a tune could be found in just a matter of seconds after remembering it. If this could be classed as memory at all: as memories for me seem more akin to the pre-digital-tech cassette player, in how the original pitch of a track always seems to be lost in translation; a memory/cassette-tape error that allows for a unique relationship with a tune. This only really became apparent after I recently re-watched the film Donni Darko; Love Will Tear us Apart features on the film, and I am convinced that it plays at an higher pitch, which incidentally makes it sound like a cassette tape version.
The tune I remembered in 2002 was Love Will Tear us Apart. But it took me until the summer to actually manage to listen to it again. Thereon-after, as my teenage inertia was superseded by a young-adult inertia (based around what I would come to see as ‘Depressive Pleasure-seeking‘.), Love Will Tear Us Apart became an staple in The Retro Bar at The End of Universe; former bars would be replaced by future former bars, with their only continuity being the ‘stuck record’ of the ‘Indie Disco’. The hair-raising synth and drum outro feels like it could stretch out into eternity, due to perpetual dependency placed upon music that was new when capitalism’s ‘slow cancellation of the future’ was only just beginning. The ‘eternal present’ of our capitalist reality has to come to an end, in some form. But the end cannot be seen from within. But, my god, it is longed for.
As with Atmosphere and These days (written at a similar point) Love Will Tear us Apart and Ceremony (although properly recorded as New Order, after Curtis had died) share the same sense of painful longing for something that never materialises – “this dream it takes too long” as Curtis sings in 24 Hours. Ian Curtis’s lyrics may have been most directly attributable to the specificities of his collapsing personal life, but it is clear that there’s a longing here for something that stretches far beyond these confines, towards a promised world, perhaps? the dreams of postwar optimism, now falling into tatters in front of the atomised, lonely type of Utopia offered by Thatcherism. It is inconsequential whether Curtis voted rightward or not, he was caught in the headlights of a pivotal moment in history and expressed an anguish an increasing proportion of us identify with.
I listen to Love Will Tear us Apart and Ceremony with that sense of longing that other Joy Division’s songs do not allow for: the social world I long for, not the one being blown into atomized, lonely pieces by the end-game of neoliberal (market fundamentalist) political economy. It’s an in-the-making conclusion that I never thought I’d come close to making when listening to Joy Division; that there is a longing in some of their final songs that looks for an escape route from certain-demise, a last gasp of life. Ceremony’s “Heaven knows it’s got to be this time”, is a plea: that ‘I want another chance to live!’. “Avenues all lined with trees”, a social world of vitality, for our families, that we once saw as a guarantee. For me, in this past year, these lyrics have served as a mute wish I carry around with me to supersede this awful stage in something I have no embarrassment in calling ‘the human project’. You see, with all these documentaries, and articles, we are looking back to Joy Division to trace our steps back towards a future that was stolen. We want it back.
Relatively recent BBC4 documentaries regarding popular music from the 1970’s to the early 1980’s have once again got me fixated on that I would call the pivotal moment in leaving a world that believed in the future into becoming one that is incredibly despondent, yet whilst being lit-up with an end-of-the-world-selfishness to paper over the melancholia and sickness that prevails. If this sounds like an over-dramatic interpretation of our current predicament, I’ll try my best to explain why I increasingly feel this way, especially in my blog I’m writing regarding the recent showing of the Joy Division documentary on BBC4. However, this blog deals with Kraftwerk, specifically the 5 landmark albums they released in a row from 1974 to 1981 (Autobahn, Radioactivity, Trans Europe Express, The Man Machine and Computer World).
One really interesting thing I find about Kraftwerk, something talked about in David Cunningham‘s essay Kraftwerk and The Image of the Modern, (featured in Kraftwerk: Music Non Stop) is that they, along with many other German musicians/artists growing up in post-war Germany (I should say, West Germany), sought out something that was their own cultural identity, not the the Anglo-Saxon rock ‘n roll scene at the time of their inception. And in doing so, looked ‘back to the future‘, bypassing the black hole of Nazism to look back to the modernism of early 20th century Germany (such as the Bauhaus movement and the early Frankfurt School). But rather than looking back in a retro-fetish sense, a tendency dominating contemporary music, Cunningham writes that “[T]hey [Kraftwerk] gain their meaning as modern from their dynamic relation to past works [my own italics], through a determinate negation of what precedes them…” and whilst their immediate past was “…the increasingly stagnant conventions of a dominantly Anglo-rock or popular music of the late 1960’s … Kraftwerk’s own articulation of  modernity, at the level of its accompanying image…is more often the than not dependent upon a certain non-synchronous reactivation of those stranded [by the horrors of Nazism?] objects made up of past visual and conceptual motifs drawn from a specifically 1920’s European Culture.” (2011)
Regardless of its quirks, I’ve never really been interested in listening to very early Kraftwerk, when they had long hair, and played guitar, because somehow it doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t conjure the futuristic, the grand modernist impulse that their 74-81 group of albums do – an aura that simultaneously remains exciting to this day to anyone still ‘accidentally’ infected with the desires of a modernism, whilst gut-wrenchingly melancholic due to the conspicuous absence of that aura in our current (non)times.
Why Does the Future Still Feel Analogue?
The first 4 of these aforementioned albums were all released in the 70’s, in an era that I’d argue was still modernist in nature (if we are to talk about the idea of it being an uneven, disjointed, yet somehow still collective grand project looking forwards). And I’d argue that all 4 of these albums, even when they deal with the dark issues looming over the post-war period (Radioactivity, etc), have a real Utopianist essence to them – certainly taking from the early 20th century spirit. But I believe the reason Kraftwerk worked is because it was still possible to be Utopianist in the mid 70’s.
If you listen to Autobahn or Trans-Europe Express on a bright midday moment, when the private-profit social-infrastructure (especially in the UK) is functioning as it is supposed to, you can almost momentarily shirk the gut feeling that the future has disappeared, stolen maybe. Whereas the machines-are-singing-back-to-us Ohm Sweet Ohm, the final moment on 1975’s Radioactivity, can almost be emotionally overwhelming in the way that it conjures the feeling of an almost magical aura, mainly due to its conspicuous absence in these (non)times. (If magical seems like an overly powerful world, I mean that beyond the fog of the aspirational hyperbole of contemporary life, the emptiness seems so engulfing that the likes of me, born halfway into what Franco Berardi called ‘the slow cancellation of the future’, become convinced that the void within contemporary life wasn’t always so hard to avoid.)
The 5th album, however, Computer World, has a crucially different feel to it. Basically it is the end of the modern: Computer World is a postmodern world. I associate the beginnings of postmodernity, with the incoming Margaret Thatcher/Ronald Reagan(1979/81) agenda of “there is no alternative (to capitalism)” (aka ‘no future’), and the increasing individuation which, if anything allowed the creeping digitisation/computerisation of life a much easier penetration of our (increasingly) personal affairs. This only really started to kick in the at the end of the 1970’s and the beginning of the 1980’s, a point when we began to see ‘the slow cancellation of the future’ to (quote both Franco Berardi and Mark Fisher). Computer world was released in 1981, within the crucible of this seismic change, but at which point The New in culture was still possible and still felt “to be infinitely available. [Whilst now] the 21st century is oppressed by a crushing sense of finitude and exhaustion” (Fisher, 2014).
Mark Fisher puts arguments forward at the beginning of his book Ghosts of My Life as to why theorist Fredric Jameson‘s argument that “the postmodern ‘waning of historicity’ is synonymous with “the cultural logic of late capitalism” is a truth. For me it is already a given. And although I’m leaving this as a given with in this blog, I’m saying so as much as I feel that Computer World documents their synonymous relationship, which is why the album sounds more like contemporary life every day, whilst the previous 4 albums both sound like the before and after of this ‘eternal present’ of a computerised quagmire.
Is Computer World the first postmodern album? Maybe not exactly. Many people would say mid-70’s punk, even the Velvet Underground in the late 60’s, were postmodern in their deconstruction of pop music. But for me, Kraftwerk, with these 5 albums really showed that they had their radars fully tuned to the seismic cultural shifts, and, whilst they showed that modernism was still very much a living thing in 70’s, I’d argue that Computer World was the first album to document the postmodern world we’d all come to recognise – more than anything due to the way that we still see the previous 4 Kraftwerk albums as futuristic.
“Business, money, numbers, people”
The words on the tracks Computer World and Numbers are spoken in a very punctuated manner that evokes the pressing of buttons. It all sounds so eerily familiar when we feel lost, powerless, lonely, and insignificant in a post-millennial broadband world, where the information overload fills us with disbelief and a desensitisation to the world, whilst addicting us to the pursuit of contact with others. The loneliness is crucial here; one song on the album evokes the human being sinking further into a cyberspacial abyss, but desperate to be pulled back out of it ...by someone.
“I don’t know what to do, I need a rendezvous”
The track Computer Love is a tragic track in our sad times where it rings so true. It isn’t a song you’d instantly think of when thinking of tear-jerking tracks, but it really does depict our escalating epidemic of loneliness, so movingly written about in 2014 in an article by George Monbiot. A friend once argued that Computer Love was an upbeat track, but for me, hearing it at the back end of 2008, it is a ode to the fate that would fall befall our species. Computer Love not only sounds more relevant today, it seems to depict a potential descent that knows no end. The omnipresence of computerisation enables corporate state interference and profit-motive social media platforms to make us increasingly slave-like to behavioural patterns the increase physical isolation.
Computer Love is far sadder than even Nick Drake’s (for example) odes to the pain of loneliness, because music such as Nick Drake’s evokes a idyll that cyberspacial communications may as well have obliterated due to the way to it disconnects us from each other whilst purporting to do the opposite (who could anymore imagine the world described by Drake existing, without the constant interruptions from cyberspace or our itching desires to be reconnected to it?). Despite people I know finding true companionship via Online Dating, for me it is a symptom of ‘Our Age of Loneliness‘ (Monbiot) and is, like all social media platforms, saturated with the imperatives of a marketised form of individualism, with the obnoxiously elitist dating sites being at the extreme end of this. Online Dating seems to me to now be a ‘When in Rome’ situation: although people do find love/happiness etc, the reason people go onto it is because we’ve become so lonely as a species that meeting people in any other way can seem impossible.
Kraftwerk – After the Future
After The Future is the title of a Franco Berardi book that examines how this slow cancellation of the future from the late 70’s onwards occurred. With Autobahn (1974), Radioactivity (1975), Trans Europe Exrpess (1977), The Man Machine (1978), Kraftwerk entice us with visions of ‘tomorrow’s world’. However, once they had produced Computer World (1981), which “might well be Kraftwerk’s greatest achievement…” with “…its turn to the increasingly abstract spaces of the global rather than the European…” (Cunningham), was there a future left for Kraftwerk to articulate? David Cunningham seems to suggest that the group lost their way after this album, with in a air of inevitability due to the wider context, with “the return of vague invocations of a European avante garde coffee-shop culture on Electric Cafe (1986), seeming unconvincing and unfocused.”
The fact that The BBC broadcast the Kraftwerk, Joy Division, and Synth Britannia documentaries all within the space of a month inevitability touched upon something. They had an air of difference from music documentaries focusing on the 60’s or post-89 music documentaries. But what made them different, and why show them all now? Although all documentaries were intelligible and sensitive to the changes to how we live, and lived in the 70’s/80’s, they were finally frustrating in how they failed to recognise why (I believe) they were even being shown now; not just the high demand for nostalgia for (a time that believed in) the future, but melancholia that constitutes the hipster-less moments of wanting a future again. The Joy Division documentary (for example) articulated the creeping social, political and existential misery that the band channeled with uncanny brilliance, but then completely failed to pick up on/or even acknowledge that the reason such documentaries are being made now is due to the undead presence of these feelings, oozing from the cracks between the hyperbolic lies of the late capitalist pleasure sphere; I am convinced that the reason Joy Division T-shirts are being worn by people born after 1990’s ‘Britpop’ isn’t down to the fashionable nature of ‘dark things’, but is actually because they speak a truth, denied mainstream articulation, that an increasing majority of us connect with.
The Kraftwerk documentary used the Utopianist track Neon Lights to soundtrack a sped-up drive through central London, with no sense of irony. Yes, on a superficial level Postmodern London gels with the essence of Neon Lights, but having spent hours on end aimlessly strolling the totalised-urban-space of the centre, I am left feeling tomorrow’s world was hijacked, gutted, and yet left as a undead body in which to inhabit. I experience elements of Kraftwerk’s post-millennium tours, upon which this documentary rested, and focussed on as its foreground, like I would a much-liked device that has now been unplugged from the mains that initially supplied it with so much inventiveness. With the accompanying blocky computerised imagery inaccessable as anything but 80’s-computer-pastiche to anyone living now, I experience the comeback tours as Kraftwerk being subsumed into commodity fetish. Yet the documentary seems as oblivious to this as the Joy Division documentary seemed oblivious to the ridged-persistence of the pain the band evoked.
To me, their post-millennial comeback tours seem as tragic as the initially-intuitive documentaries uncritical response the usage of the Computer Love melody by post-millennial consumer-emotions-band Coldplay. Now, as far as sugary enjoyment goes, there’s a couple of tracks from the early Coldplay albums I do like; but an uncritical response to a band like Coldplay borrowing a melody from something-much-more-than-a-band that helped us imagine another type of world seems mildly criminal to the likes of someone who, no matter what, can never come to terms with the narrowed idea of life and civilisation that we’re sold every day. This is an entrenched feeling, borne out of daily reactions to life today, and I won’t suddenly envisage a better future by someone telling me “there’s decent contemporary [musical] artists out there...if only you’d try to look for them.”
Talking to a friend last week, he described personal experience of what had been on the tip of my tongue as we passed through the first week of ‘Firework Month (previously Bonfire Night). He talked of how he felt adults are becoming increasingly infantilised both in their attitudes and their leisure pursuits. Adults wanting toys, and wanting to talk about toys – in this instance.
The sentence that stuck in my head from our re-converging conversational subject was related to TV documentaries that deal with technology: “in the 1980’s we had Tomorrow’s World. Today, we have The Gadget Show.”Despite Tomorrow’s World being know for not always being a great documentary, it was very indicative of its time, and couldn’t conceivably exist in our current world, outside Silicon Valley-venture-capitalist-orientated lectures, and certainly not as prime-time television viewing. Tomorrow’s World eagerly anticipated possible futures we’d all be involved in, whilst its contemporary equivalents offer us nothing but novelties to play with, in place of a future. What happened?
As a population we have been disenfranchised almost entirely by the triumph of neoliberal economics. A slow all-encompassing triumph that, as Paul Verhaeghe shows in his book What About Me?, has (over the past 35 years) transformed the nature of society, but only by also transforming individuals, altering how they see themselves and their relationship with the world. It reduces us to a player in a “market-driven society”, making us compete against each other in a way that dissolves the very social safety nets/institutions that offered relief to inevitable ‘losers’ in an inherently rigged game.
Verhaeghe’s book really gets going when he begins to discuss how we live in an ‘Enron Society’:named after an infamous US corporation whose Rank and Yank model of a grand lauding for high performers and humiliating sackings for low performers, ended up leading to mass performance-fixing, bringing the corporation down, but not before totally doing away with any sort of adult agency, reducing workers to powerless infants.
This ‘new identity’ feels powerless to change anything beyond his/her own performance in such a structure: someone/something else is thus always to blame (scroungers, cheats, politicians, extremists, immigrants). And because of the lack of trust and sense of social responsibility of the neoliberalised worldly-outlook, the state ends up intervening with incredibly infantilising measures; “you can’t do that”, “you can’t have that here”(ironic how my local train stations have begun to use an actual child’s voice over the tannoy to issue out such incredibly patronising rules/regulations). Who’s want to think about the social? Better to entertain ourselves in our ‘private bunkers’.
No future, just high-tech toys. What future there is certainly isn’t public property. The future’s for the winners, and because there’s only a few of them, you should just take what you can, and enjoy what you can.
Whether neoliberal capital coincided with the triumph of digital technology, or whether the ‘postmodernising’ affect of digital life was actually realised by what theorist Fredric Jameson speculated postmodernism is anyway – the cultural logic of late capitalism – that fact remains they have equally extended into our external and internal landscape, as one seamless thing, making the idea of a another social reality unimaginable.
Being hooked up to what Will Self calls ‘the Man-Machine Matrix’, our long-view becomes a ‘damaged receptor’, as we descend into an eternal now. Together, yet alone (even increasingly relaint on the cold-calculative digital sphere for love) where a long-view and an adult agency may once have been, we find we have what Mark Fisher (Capitalist Realism) calls ‘reflexive impotence’, and are in a state of what he called ‘depressive ahedonia’, as in the inability to do anything but pursue pleasure.
Pleasure becomes the only thing we can pursue. In out hypermediated landscape, the promise of immediate pleasures is all around us; it is the only language being spoken to us, alongside its counterpart of terror and uncertainty via rolling news media, that makes us recoil from the outside world further, into a state that craves childlike security.
So it seems worthwhile adding that as well as new gadgets there is of course the obsession with vintage gadgets, which certainly correlate with the inability to picture a future, but are also symbolic of adults’ (at least the fortunate adults’) genuine childhoods, of general stability and protection from uncertainties – the state we wish to remain in as adults, now we experience a lack of agency in the face of this berserk and cruel outside the (hyper)media presents to us.
But as culture begins to mould around there being nothing but pleasure/’the good times’, it inevitably becomes an implicit order. If we aren’t enjoying ourselves then something must surely be wrong, with the place we are in/people we are with, or, more likely, we feel that something must be wrong with ourselves. The pursuit of pleasure becomes more prominent a feature of contemporary life than pleasure itself. In fact, what separates so-called binge-drinking culture, for example, from the age-old drinking habits of an island on the edge of Northern Europe, is this implicit rule that something is wrong if there aren’t ‘the good times’ all the time.
All this gets me onto why I felt incensed to write all this whilst fireworks that sound like rocks being thrown at the windows are going off evening after evening. I have often felt that the social reality we are amidst could quite easily be called “40 years hate-your-neighbour”, as one in overcome by inner rage over what feels like an horizon made of “inconsiderate people(!)”, as on mass they pursue their leisure fixes at all costs, not least in the suburbs and provincial town centres on a week.
The ‘Anti-Scrooge Brigade’ are soon on your case once you critique nationally instituted festive occasions, such as Bonfire Night or Christmas. But once the noise level of “somebody having a good time” becomes a form of harassment to others, as it permeates their ‘private bunkers – their only refuge from the hostile outside environment – you begin to wonder why we need to behave like this just to have fun. From hooliganist chanting and whooping noises, whilst walking from bar to bar, to letting off the loudest firework, enjoyment can no longer separated from the need to show the world that you are having enjoyment. The most energy is devote to making a statement, saying “fun is being had”.
If this social reality’s equivalent of Tomorrow’s World is the Gadget Show then the TV show that most perfectly ‘symptomises’ man-child’s “having fun at all costs”, it is the appropriately socially-offensive Top Gear, fronted by South Yorkshire’s 2nd worst export after William Hague; Jeremy Clarkson. But I believe that what people really hate so much about Jeremy Clarkson is that on a unconscious level they realise that getting rid of him (from the limelight) wouldn’t get rid of the “having my fun at all costs” individualism of which he is the figurehead.
But we hate it as much as we recreate it. What I gathered for Verhaeghe’s analysis of what neoliberalism has done to our identities is that it makes us into inherently contradictory forces; equally victims and perpetrators of the social reality. I, for one, am guilty of what Verhaeghe terms “depressive pleasure-seeking” an awareness of my long-view being a ‘damage receptor’ having no alteration to this state, as my civic, political responsibility crumbles bi-weekly into a need to be drunk. And, regarding festive occasions, as much as I loathe them, part of the reason for this is because I know that I will be (yet again) overcome by Fisher’s ‘depressive ahedonia’ during their periodical grip over culture. I await falling into pretty low places due a power surge of emotion telling me there’s something wrong because I’m not perpetually experience the ‘good times’. As I constantly keep reminding people, I am Entombed in Self-Centredness.
But before I designate a potential open goal for skim-reading-opinionist-OneUpManship, the most easy open goal is “how are you designating a society infantile when you still often have to rely on your parents to get by?” Yes, I haven’t managed to find a way of earning enough to be truly independent, and, no, you have completely missed the point of what I am referring to by infantilism. I mean infantilism in the sense of adults both resorting to a small, well-decorated bunker-world of boys toys and twee, which has hit a googoo gaga-level of hysteria in our post recession ‘keep calm carry on’ moment, and the culturally-imposed powerless position where all we are able to do is find pleasure.
My point isn’t that I know a solution – I wouldn’t include my own self-loathing admissions if I thought I did – it’s that I feel it crucial we all identify that there is a problem in the first place. We have an entire cultural response to anyone who shows unease at the demand to have fun, and this is what I mean by the Anti-Scrooge Brigade – it disguises the gulf between the commandment to have fun and genuine enjoyment.
It is when I find myself in Leeds city centre early Saturday evening (as an International city, by week, folds back into a provincial English town by weekend), or bombarded by relentless deafening fireworks, that it feels important not to let this all be seen as ‘folk having fun; let it be’, because it is a statement of fun, hiding the fact that genuine meaning to an adult existence has been thoroughly castrated. Regarding the conversation with my friend that this blog-post begun with, perhaps it is fitting to add that the consistent conclusion of our exhaustive debate, was that the only thing we felt we could do was to be critically expressive, through art, writing, and more thinking.
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.
Even though I intend this blog to be about my own responses and reflections on music that has informed my understanding of life during the past 20 years, I have been motivated to write it in the first place due to being captivated by the thoughts of many cultural theorists ; in particular, Mark Fisher and Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi. It is very likely that their thoughts on popular culture within the past 60 years have prompted me to internally revise my responses and reflections on music that has made an impact. But also, as in the case of Fisher’s writing on Joy Division, it has given courage to previously ‘unsure-of-themselves-thoughts’, realising certain drug-like-dependency-responses to the music (of Joy Division) weren’t an oddity, and immature as I’d previously dismissed them as being.
So… Here I have attempted to gather together songs that evoke in me a sense of a world once imaginable. A sensation that is both personal and social, because it is both within my lifetime and also stretching back beyond my life, fed into my understanding of the world as a young child, even as these ‘alternative worlds’ were fading and dying by the time I was born (1984). Sensations that once felt alive and now just have an haunting presence.
When did things begin to feel like they were no longer alive? And are wider cultural impacts internalised and lived by individuals acting within that society? I believe so, and I am convinced that I have indeed absorbed the wider mood into my own character.
During the past 35-40 years society has gradually become almost-totally saturated with the postmodernist logic. However, a term I find far more appropriate to describe this process would be Mark Fisher’s term ‘Capitalist Realism’: a cultural infliction that sustains an inability to be able to imagine a world beyond this increasingly stale, yet frightened, ever-present .I’d say full saturation happened somewhere between the late 1990’s ,the 9/11 horror spectacle, the damaged done to the belief in democracy due to the ineffective 2003 anti Iraq-War demonstrations, then to be compounded by the farce and global insult of the 2008 financial fiasco. This is certainly the case here in the U.K, if not most of the world.
I say this because even after Thatcherism’s ‘There is no alternative’ agenda (TINA) reigned triumphant in the 1980’s (that precipitated the dictatorship of individualism that began to make people ideologically blind to all things but their own reflection) there was still space for a rejuvenated feeling of a better world on its way in the late 80’s to mid 90’s. I think it is safe to say that this was largely instigated by events such as the fall of the Berlin wall, that symbolised the end of a globally disliked Soviet order/the cold war, and then a few years later what seemed like the end of Apartheid/the freeing of Nelson Mandela. But it was also instigated by the utopianism surrounding the beginnings of the digital/Internet revolution (before the very troubling realities became a spectacle spreading disbelief, from where nothing shocking could shock any longer). Basically a culture-wide naive optimism (blindness to the vacuum behind the big new brands that were promoting a golden new dawn; New Labour for example) led us to imagine and put expectation in what would slowly crack, break apart and melt away as we passed through the first decade of the 2000’s, revealing the cold and harsh real in ‘capitalist realism’. Now we are surrounded by the ghosts from these times; a faded colour, like the advertisement holdings left behind after the 2008 meltdown, fading away in the sharp light.
Basically, I (and probably nearly everybody else alive today – if they truthfully asked themselves) would wish the world to be different to how it is now – very different. I firmly believe that it shouldn’t have to be the way it is. And I will never be truly satisfied until it is no longer how it currently is – if that change occurs in my lifetime. Music that makes an impact on us can enable us to imagine the world as a different/better place, but for me at least, these days music is much more an enabler of a feeling that it just shouldn’t be like this (as it stands now). Thus music from a time in social or personal history (and I do my best to stress that both are infinitely interconnected) that evokes a feeling of the world being a different one, from the decaying social structure under capitalism that we feel stuck, haunts us, fills the space with these ghosts from the past. I suppose, before I go on to list the songs, the that this leaves me little choice but to stress the importance of popular music can play in our wish for a better world. Music cannot start a revolution (and in our times when we feel trapped in inaction, music that is angry with the state of things can often be merely cathartic; providing the feeling of action,rather than action itself), but it can, and has before, been a way of enabling an awareness of the possibility of change in society.
These songs either evoke a feeling of something lost, that seems irretrievable, or of a time in my life when I had optimism for a better world, that eventually dries in the successive vitality droughts brought on by let downs/disappointments. I have attempted to club the songs together where they relate to experience.
Kate Bush: Wuthering Heights.
On Youtube there exists a digitally stretched-out video of Kate Bush’s mystical-masterpiece Wuthering Heights – slowing down the track so that it lasts 36 minutes. I have never listened to all 36 minutes of it (I think I found the time to get 30 minutes through), but 4 minutes is enough to experience a strong hauntological presence in Kate Bush’s music – a background element that the stretching out of the song brings to the foreground. There is something of the uncanny about Kate Bush’s (specifically early) music, how it seems to be very much at home amidst the then-contemporary music of the late 1970’s/early 80’s, yet how it also seems to expand into a mythological England of yesteryear, whilst also seeming to stretch into a utopian future; a ghost in the machine/the record player.
I’ve heard the original record so much. It has been etched into my mind that it is a song I love. Yet the reasons for this are no longer conjured up by listening to it, as if repetitive playing on personal music players has drained these connections of vitality. Unable to access what made it sound so good all those years ago, I find this slowed-down version, whilst not being incredibly ‘listenable’, has hauntological traces of the impact the original record had on me, first as a very young child, when it became woven into my understanding of what good music is, and then aged 19/20 when it (and the rest of her earlier recordings) synchronised itself with a rejuvenated sense of vitality within me, largely based on the confidence making art gave me, and a naive belief that I had overcome the heavy negatives within me. Hauntology – as traces of something no longer present: I can no longer access what made the original sound so good to me, because they clung to a vitality that belongs in the past.
Some chart-moulded, nightclub-driven, songs accidentally reveal what they most commonly try to blot out of the audio-visual horizon: real melancholia, real loss. Informed by the hauntological revelations the stretch-out version of Wuthering Heights gave me, and the presence of (what sounds like) samples of upbeat songs from the (surface-level) upbeat 1990’s in the music of Burial, I wanted to play around with certain songs to unlock the hauntological ‘particles’ I was certain were present within them. With Every Heartbeat was one track I has been eager to stretch-out.
I recall hearing the late 00’s chart song some months after its release. It struck a chord with a peculiarly satisfying point of sadness/let down that came over me whilst I was waiting for friends returning from the bar in a expansive chain pub in Barnsley. The video for the song was playing on large screen whilst I sat, strangely captivated and moved by visuals that were incredibly ‘production-line-pop-music’. Yet it stuck, as it isn’t supposed to for a person who (at least then) still dressed and wrote music as if there was still a genuine oppositional alternative culture to a conservative mainstream.
Hearing it thereafter, it strangely became synchronised with the 2008 financial collapse and the resulting reality just a few months down the line from the aforementioned moment in the pub. It became a sound to represent a party that was just about to end, a party that had nonetheless frustrated most of its attendants (UK society), by being the only thing that there seemed left to do in a public-space-deprived, capitalist realist, credit-sustained existence, which often ended in tears and regret. It frustrated because during this period, the big night out had become the unacknowledged ‘dream-keeper’ of society; promising to fulfill or at least find us those human needs of love, happiness, meaning. Even before the crash this song felt like a sad wave goodbye to all this, as if you could sense it was over; “at least you gave us dreams, but I know now they’re about to go“. Of course, most UK towns still exist as the heavy-drinking wild-wests (at least to the sober) after 6pm, but it’s with an intensified bleakness, as if an entire scene could resemble one person’s drawn-face and lifeless eyes; we’re now just ghosts of our past reveling-selves, even more future-less than before, haunting places that once at least promised something, just going through the motions. With Every Heartbeat thus becomes very painful in this light.
Annex and Genetic Engineering – Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [OMD] from the Peel sessions recordings
Jacques Derrida describes hauntology as “the accumulation of ghost-like traces of the past as we move further into the Future”. These Peel session recordings already sounded like a past I remembered from my early childhood when I heard this record in 2009, even though they are sounds that evoke an era that was more or less ending by the time I was born (but there again why is it that childhood memories seem to absorb things you can’t possibly remember because you weren’t born then? It is as if the preceding years come pre-packed in you, from your family and the surrounding environment). The sonic structure, the synth sounds that evoke a future which often feels like it lost the will to materialise, remind me of a 1980’s I was in reality too young to remember.
“These are the lies they told us, that this is the only way” – Genetic Engineering. “This is the only way” is more than certainly an highly concerned ‘NO’ response to Thatcherism’s “there is no alternative [to capitalism”] assertion. Back then, however, it was an assertion, now it has become a cultural reality. In the summer of 2009, I was listening to this record whilst making my drawings in a studio in South Yorkshire, mixed with day trips to the nearest big financial and consumer centre, Leeds. I regret what happened that year, I regret what was probably inevitable in my life as if it wasn’t inevitable at all: the loss of the last bits of my early 20’s vitality, as I forced myself to take the issues seriously that has been running around my head for years, which forced me to look deeply into capitalism, climate change, and thus having to face the harsh truth that life will get less and less bearable by the year, unless something drastic changes.I am certain that the ghosts in the OMD-machine from the pre ‘capitalist realist’ gravitated towards the ghost-in-becoming of what died in me in 2009, and now listening to Annex and Genetic Engineering from the Peel Sessions is an haunting of both of these things as if they were the same thing.
Trans Europe Express, and Autobahn by Kraftwerk
Despite the Middle East oil crisis of 1973 – the impact it had on culture that would now have to take seriously the fact that resources and material advancement may not be infinite after all – Autobahn from 1974 seems to evoke a time when those things were firmly believed. The lush, superrealist album cover, and the bold step into ‘synthesiser-world’ look forwards to the future with wonder and excitement. Kraftwerk’s 1970’s work oozes the modernist impulse, and sometimes feels like music that could accompany modernist painting from 50 years prior to Kraftwerk. More than anything it sounds like a future that never came. Listening to Kraftwerk is (to paraphrase John Berger) nostalgia for the future. In current times, not even cultural products labelled ‘Science Fiction’, pulped into cultural white noise by an over-emphasis on CGI graphics, can generate a feeling of a future.
Kraftwerk’s music is music that carries ‘the new’, and, like the darker-underbellly-of-progress synthesiser music of John Foxx, it still maintains the essence of something new now. It has almost remained frozen, in radiant youth, in the age of retrospect and re-hash that came into being afterwards. I heard both of these albums at different points of ‘fresh feeling’ within myself. Stepping onto one of few the trains that arrive on time, and listening to Trans Europe Express I could half convince myself I was in a future that took a different track (no pun intended). In a similar way to the aforementioned OMD tracks above both the idea of a an era of new, and a feeling of the new within me, became attached and synonymous: the music now evokes the traces of them.
Dog Shelter and Unite by Burial
If I am to use Burial’s music here, it is to state with honesty, that my a lot of interest in hauntology was inspired by reading Mark Fisher’s thoughts on Burial, and my subsequent interest gained in the music itself. But the haunting feelings I had when I listened to the music were quite specific to my own personal experiences. Dog Shelter, a track from the Untrue album, particularly evoked this feeling. It now evokes memories of sat waiting for train in Sheffield train station, early summer 2012. Trying to think about whether or not I can make it to south London to go and study a masters. Burial is from South London, apparently. This made the music stick more.
Was thinking about my past, my memories of my ‘worldly-outlook’ in the early 1990’s; that this song seems to have ghostly traces of certain ‘feel good’ songs that remind me of the early 1990’s, even if what I remember was mostly the mainstream music from this period. It’s My Life/Rhythm is a Dancer/No Limits/The key The Secret; a chunk of early 1990’s optimism poured into the mind of a 8/9 year old, for whom previous to that remembers all people projected into the living room from screens as stale, white, head-teacher-like people (in hindsight, probably Tories on the Sunday politics shows of back then). Whilst also these projected music videos seem to include mixed-race, exciting-looking (largely) females, especially from someone coming from a town where there must have been only 1 non-white person for every 1000 inhabitants. It was an exciting future, that slowly dried up, not least down to (what is clear in hindsight) the white public schoolboy culture-coup ‘Britpop’ that basically banished all that wasn’t white boy guitar music, that (again in hindsight) belonged in the past, to ‘towny’ (soon-to-be ‘chav’), ‘degenerate’ music, and helped tear up a future Britain in exchange for a Britain based on an idyllic collage of its past. Burial, two decades on, seems, for me to be a ghostly ‘what-the-hell-happened-to-that-early-90’s-vitiality’ ode, mixed with the dangers of an uncertain age of climate and political uncertainties. Listening to it before I went to London made me feel really solemn about the past, and how all that feel good optimism has vanished. But that a new start was needed, maybe to leave the past behind now; stop letting it haunt me. The plan to go to London was not successful though, and Burial’s music has subsequently taken on another layer of traces of a lost energy.
Unite specifically evokes a chilling feeling of the near future, regarding the threat of climate change, political/social chaos in the near future. Memory of song: early Spring 2012. An haunting sound,(like sound of long-gone city rippling through time) that gave me image of people finding love, as things begin to fall apart – gave me the chills. Like a musical response to Jean Baudrillard’s ask, specific to our postmodern time, to see apocalypse as something that has already occurred. Faint noises,like trains at night,are like the memory of having dreams, having a future. As if we’re now just going through motions until it peters out.Music that is in its essence brave, the noise of facing the storm not burying one’s head
Coming from someone who’s life lived has bared witness to the slow decline, stagnation, and retreat of progressive dynamics in pop music, this song almost seems to sound as if it is a vessel carrying all the break-neck-speed at which pop music progressed from the 1950’s to more or less the date the album Dare (which contains Seconds) appeared (in 1981). It is powerful, energetic, yet strangely tear-jerking at the same time. The sadness doesn’t lay with the song’s subject matter because of a famous president (John.F.Kennedy) being shot, but because the assignation itself is one of a few 20th century horror-spectacles that seem to capture the tragedy that befell the century, as the expectation of progress (that a “better world is around the corner”) collapsed.
Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi writes about how “in the last three decades of the [twentieth century] the utopian imagination was slowly overturned. and has been replaced by a dystopian imagination”. Although the assignation of John.F.Kennedy was in the early 1960’s, still a point of ‘high modernism’, retrospectively it literally appears as one of a few bullets that eventually brought the belief in a future crashing to the ground; and I am in no way arguing here that John.F.Kennedy himself was a man who would have been a major player in this, if at all, just that his killing was one of civilsation’s ‘disaster spectacles’. Pop Music’s progressive, modernist impulse was a short-sharp surge in comparison with the rest of modernism. But, again retrospectively-speaking, Seconds by the Human League is a song that visualises something like a bullet fired into the heart of a past world that believed in a future.
In his recent film ‘A Perverts Guide to Ideology’ Slavoj Žižek ends the film by quoting Walter Benjamin from almost a century ago, saying that “every revolution (if authentic) is not only directed to the future, but it redeems also the past failed revolutions. All the ghosts…the living dead of the past revolutions, which are roaming around, unsatisfied, will finally find their home in the new freedom”. To return to what I said earlier, I would not consider for one moment that music could play an active role in a revolution (that in our times when we feel trapped in inaction, music that is angry with the state of things can often be merely cathartic; providing the feeling of action,rather than action itself), but isn’t Žižek’s above use of Benjamin’s quote most noticeably happening right now in our times through our audio/visual culture, the still mainly consists of cultural products made 30-50 years ago? Are we not at this moment surrounded by most ghosts from past failed revolutions that any other time in human history? The question is then, will these ghosts “find their home in [a] new freedom”? Or will this state of long decline just continue to be a dumping ground for them?
Here is a jumble of songs that defined by 20’s. In order of the years I have tried to list the ones that super-glued themselves to those times in my mind. Thanks to Lee Garforth for providing probably almost half of the CD’s from which these songs stuck themselves to me. Music has a phenomenological potency; often you find lyrics and sounds creep into your head from certain time periods just because you’ve looked at something totally unrelated that is listed as being from that year. Remembered lyrics cut loose from the original song meaning and begin to mean something to your life at that time and place.
spring/Summer: “Your sun’s coming out”
Orange Crush – R.E.M, Otherside – Red Hot Chili Peppers, E-Bow The Letter – R.E.M, Stay Together – Suede, These Four Walls- Cast, Babooshka – Kate Bush, Army Dreamers – Kate Bush, Blow Away (for Bill) – Kate Bush, From Safety to Where? – Joy Division, Novelty – Joy Division, Sit Down and Stand Up – Radiohead, Sail to the Moon – Radiohead, Dream Brother – Jeff Buckley, Talk About The Passion – R.E.M, My Descent into Madness – Eels, Spring Healed Jim – Morrisey, Beautiful Mind – The Verve, Molasses – Radiohead, Anywhere – Dubstar, Breathing – Kate Bush, Wow – Kate Bush, Cloudbursting – Kate Bush, Komakino – Joy Division, Flaming – Pink Floyd, Interstellar Overdrive – Pink Floyd, Rabid Dog – Super Furry Animals, Palo Alto – Radiohead
Autumn/Winter: “I’ve been sound asleep for twenty years, If I’m sound asleep a hundred years”
Any Day Now – Elbow, Digital – Joy Division, Oscillate Wildly – The Smiths, Red Sleeping Beauty – Mccarthy, Should The Bible Be Banned? – Mccarthy, Stumble and Fall – Razorlight (I do regret having ‘Tony Blair-Rockstar-Borrell’ in here, but unfortunately this song has attached itself to some rather fond memories), Ommision – John Frusciante, Guiding Light – Television, A Forest – The Cure, Hairy Trees – Goldfrapp, Presuming Ed (Rest Easy) – Elbow, Black Dollar Bills – Hope of The States, Pounding – Doves, Close to Me – The Cure, Cirrus Minor – Pink Floyd, Julia Dream – Pink Floyd
Winter/Spring: “Something always goes wrong when things are going right, you swallowed your pride to quell the pain inside”
“How could anyone know me, when I don’t even know myself?
These Days – Joy Division, The Big Sky – Kate Bush, Watching You Without Me – Kate Bush, The Sound of Music – Joy Division, The Only Mistake – Joy Division, Nehemiah- Hope of The States, Me Ves Y Sufres – Hope of the States, Sick and Tired – The Cardigans, This is the Day – The The, The Sinking Feeling – The The, Charly – The Prodigy, Papa new Guinea – Future Sound of London, Sweet Harmony – Beloved, Almost Forgot Myself – Doves, Frans Hals – Mccarthy, Soul Mining – The The, GIANT – The The, NYC – Interpol
Summer/Autumn: “So I wrote it all in a letter, but I don’t know if it came”
Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down – Interpol, Leif Erikson – Interpol, Spellbound – Siouxie and The Banshees, Into the Light – Siouxsie and The Banshees, Abba Zabba – Captain Beafheart, Out of The Blue (Into The Fire) – The The, Angels of Deception, Prozac Beats – 18 Wheeler, Effil’s God – Eels, Strange Currencies – R.E.M, Slippage – Goldfrapp,Penny Royal Tea – N irvana, Nocturnal Me – Echo and The Bunnymen, Ocean Rain – Echo and The Bunnymen, Climbing up To The Moon – Eels, Sexual Healing – Kate Bush(a cover), You are The Everything – R.E.M, Uncertain Smile (single version) – The The, Perfect – The The, Winter – Tori Amos
Winter/Spring: “This is not really, this is not really happening. But you be your life it is”
Lorelei – Cocteau Twins, Sweet Adelene – Elliot Smith, Pitseleh – Elliot Smith, The Red Telephone – Love, Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale – Love, Deeper Understanding – Kate Bush, This Woman’s Work – Kate Bush, Back of Love – Echo and The Bunnymen, White Devil – Echo and the Bunnymen, The Infant Kiss – Kate Bush, Glosoli – Sigur Ros, Cornflake Girl – Tori Amos, the Upstairs Room – The Cure, Lament – The Cure, Yes – Manic Street Preachers, All We Ever Look For – Kate Bush, I Me You I’m Your – Jim Noir, Tower of Love – Jim Noir.
Summer/Autumn: “I’ve got a ton of great ideas, I’m really worked up, I’m on a good mixture, I don’t want to waste it…..I wait for the click. I wait, but it doesn’t kick in”
“I won’t fuck this over”
Mother. Sister! [Peel Session] – The Fall, Put Away[Peel Session] – The Fall, No Xmas for John Quays[Peel Session] – The Fall, Quiet Man – Jim Noir, The Only Way – Jim Noir, Don’t You Forget about Me – Simple Minds, Mad World – Tears for Fears, The Man Machine[full album] – Kraftwerk, A Friend of Mine – The National, The Hurting – Tears For Fears, Ideas as Opiates – Tears For Fears, Pale Shelter – Tears For Fears, Twilight of a Champion – The The, The Mercy beat- The The, Alcoholiday – Teenage Fanclub, Is This Music? – Teenage Fanclub, City Middle – The National, Mr November – The National, Suffer The Children – Tears For Fears.
Winter/Spring: “If I could go back to where I began, I would Yeah – if only I could. I`d never do no one no harm. Wear a halo So heavenly I`d grow”
There is No Love Between us Anymore – Pop Will Eat itself, Poison to the Mind – Pop Will Eat Itself, Hello I Love You – The Doors, B-line – Lamb, Fly – Lamb, Look! Know! – The Fall, Autobahn [entire album] – Kraftwerk, Air – Talking Heads, Drugs -Talking Heads, Don’t Worry about the Government – Talking Heads, Polyethelene – Radiohead, Sympthony in Blue – Kate Bush, Coffee Homeground – Kate Bush, All Ablaze – Ian Brown, Chicago – Sufjan Stevens, Abel – The National, Armageddon Days – The The
Joga – Bjork, Human Behaviour – Bjork, Wolf at The Door – Radiohead, Soma – Smashing Pumpkins, Good Morning Beautiful – The The, The Violence of Truth – The The, YmweLwyr A Gwrachod – Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Magical World – Eels, Suicide Life – Eels, Come on Feel Illinois! – Sufjan Stevens, Jacksonville – Sufjan Stevens, Decatur, Or Round of Applause For your Stepmother – Sufjan Stevens, Ocean of Noise – Arcade Fire, Windowsill – Arcade Fire, No Cars Go – Arcade Fire
Winter/Spring “Do you think there’s someone out there? Do you think that they might know? And if they don’t do you think they should be told? Cos she’s living in a nightmare”
Casimir Pulaski Day – Sufjan Stevens, Body Snatchers – Radiohead, House of Cards – Radiohead, Unravel – Bjork, One Day – Bjork, Friendly Ghost – Eels, The Sprawl – Sonic Youth, Dirge – Death in Vegas, Soul Auctioneer – Death in Vegas, Acrlliyc Afternoons – Pulp, Joy Riders – Pulp, 100 Years of Solitude – The Levellers, The Likes of You and I – The Levellers, Happy Endings – Pulp, Garden – The Levellers, Nothing Left – Orbital, Impact – Orbital
“The artist fell in love with the reflection of himself, and suddenly the picture became distorted”
“But it was only fantasy, the wall was so high as you can see. No matter how he tried he could not break free. And the worms ate into his brain”
Burning Wheel – Primal Scream, Stuka – Primal Scream, Long Life – Primal Scream, Perfect (Original Version) – The The, Hit The Hi Tech Groove – Pop Will Eat Itself, I Think I’m in Love – Spiritualized, Stay With Me – Spiritualized, Come Together – Spiritualized, Kraftwerk – Trans Europe Express [FULL ALBUM], The Wall [FULL ALBUM] – Pink Floyd, John Foxx – Metamatic [FULL ALBUM], Gustav Holst – The Planets, Glimmer – John Foxx, Ohm Sweet Ohm – Kraftwerk, John Foxx – Miles Away, Computer Love – Kraftwerk.
Winter/Spring “They promised me paradise if I fell under their spell….they are many, we are few (is there no way out?)”
Computer World – Kraftwerk, Numbers – Kraftwerk, Me I Disconnect from You – Gary Numan, When The Machines Rock – Gary Numan, Are Friends Electric? – Gary Numan, Well of Loneliness – Mccarthy, Keep an Open Mind Or Else – Mccarthy, I’m Not A Patriot But – Mccarthy, Speed of Life – David Bowie, Sound and Vision – David Bowie, Babasonicos – Ian Brown, Green is The Colour – Pink Floyd, Cymbaline – Pink Floyd
Summer/Autumn “These are the lies they told us, the future’s good as sold”
Julia’s Song [Peel Session] – Orchestral Manoeuvres in The Dark, Electricity – – Orchestral Manoeuvres in The Dark, Dark Side of The Moon [full album] – Pink Floyd, Pretending To See [Peel Session] – Orchestral Manoeuvres in The Dark, Genetic Engineering [Peel Session] – Orchestral Manoeuvres in The Dark, Of all The Things We’ve Made[Peel Session] – Orchestral Manoeuvres in The Dark, Animals [full album] – Pink Floyd, 4st 71b – Manic Street Preachers, Computer Love (again) – Kraftwerk, Let Me In – R.E.M
Winter/Spring “I want you as the dream, not the reality … and I know that this will never be mine”
Never Be Mine – Kate Bush, Deeper Understanding (again) – Kate Bush, All I Need – Radiohead, The Reckoner – Radiohead, Scatterbrain(as Dead as Leaves) – Radiohead, There There – Radiohead, Spinning Plates (live) – Radiohead,
Summer/Autumn “Does Will Smith Lie? Does he ever cave in and cry?”
Everything in it’s Right Place (I might be wrong EP) – Radiohead, Pearly – Radiohead, Presidential Suite – Super Furry Animals, Fragile Happiness – Super Furry Animals, Don’t Fall – The Chameleons, Second Skin – The Chameleons, Thursday’s Child – The Chameleons, Porcupine – Echo and The Bunnymen, Bluer Skies – Echo and The Bunnymen.
Winter/Spring “you have tried your best to please everyone but it just isn’t happening… this is fucked up, fucked up”
High as You Can Go – The Chameleons, Black Swans – Thom Yorke, Failure – The La’s, Looking Glass – The La’s, Harrowdown Hill – Thom Yorke, I Walked – Sufjan Stevens, Atoms For Peace – Thom Yorke, Beverley Hills Cop Theme Song – Axel F (this is due to spending hours working in an exhibition where this was played over and over, Black Dollar Bills (again) – Hope of The States, Motorcycle Emptiness – Manic Street Preachers,
Summer/Autumn “…a powerful feeling that the American system is failing to deal with the real threats to life…”
2 Weeks – Grizzly Bear, Buddy Holly – Weezer, Digital Love – Daft Punk, Crescendols – Daft Punk, Dummy [full album] – Portishead, Going out of My Head – FatBoy Slim, Veridis Quo – Daft Punk, Ce Matin La – Air, One and One – Robert Miles, Let There Be Flutes – Bentley Rhythm Ace, Midlander (There Can Be Only One) – Bentley Rhythm Ace, His and Hers – Pulp, Animal Nitrate – Suede, Insight (Peel sessions) – Joy Division, Fugeela – Fugees, In Your Face – 808 State.
Winter/Spring:”Heaven knows it’s got to be this time, Avenues all lined with trees…”
Ceremony – New Order, In a Lonely Place – New Order, Return to Hot Chicken – Yo La Tengo, Belagusi’s Dead – Bauhaus, Genius of Love – Tom Tom Club, Wordy Rappinghood – Tom Tom Club, The Court of the Crimson King – King Crimson, Born to End – Manic Street Preachers, Love’s Sweet Exile – Manic Street Preachers, All Too Much – The Beatles, Across The Breeze – Sonic Youth, One of These Days – Pink Floyd, Forgive – Burial, Unite – Burial, Private Psychedelic Reel – Chemical Brothers, The Glorious Land – PJ Harvey, In The Dark Places – PJ Harvey,
Summer Autumn: “What you gonner do, what you gonner do when it’s over?”
Raver – Burial, UK – Burial, Dog Shelter – Burial, WitchHunt – Zomby, Natalia’s Song – Zomby, David’s Last Summer – Pulp, Oxygene – Jean Michelle Jarre, 21st Century Schizoid Man – King Crimson, Genetic Engineering – Orchestral Manoeuvres in The Dark, There’s Nothing I Won’t Do – JX, Novelty (transmission session) – Joy Division, Set You Free – Ntrance, A Forest (live 1980) – The Cure, Love Action – The Human League, Take me To The Hospital – The Prodigy, Pandemonium – The Prodigy, Temptation – Heaven 17, Once in a Lifetime – Talking Heads.
Winter/Spring: “On a clear day I can see solutions, to all the heavy shit facing revolution…. dry as matt emulsion”
The Trick – The Prodigy, Everything is Borrowed – The Streets, The Irony of it all – The Streets, Wounder – Burial, Fostercare – Burial, The Escapist – The Streets, Stolen Dog – Burial, Raquel – Neon Neon, Aladdin’s Story – Death in Vegas, Trick for Treat – Neon Neon, Steel Your Girl – Neon Neon, Street Halo – Burial, Michael Douglas – Neon Neon, Open Your Heart – The Human League, With Every Heartbeat (at Ghosts of My Life tempo) – Robyn with Kleerup, Seconds – The Human League, Souvenir – Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark
Summer/Autumn: “But as the world turns I learned life is Hell .Living in the world, no different from a cell… I guess that’s the time when I’m not depressed, But I’m still depressed…”
I’m slowly becoming more comfortable thinking about the experiences of my 3 month stay in London, now that it is becoming evidential to me that I wouldn’t have been able to complete my stay, or the course I was enrolled to. That it wasn’t a mistake to go, and then to leave; it was something I had to do and has possibly allowed me to return to that which I initially felt I had to leave, now greeting it with fresh eyes.
I made the decision to do a master’s degree right at the beginning of 2012, after beginning to feel that I was becoming trapped in a place in life that I wasn’t satisfied with, but being unable to picture a departure from for many years previous. There was a choice in destinations from where to undertake the course; between Leeds, part-time, the safest option, and Goldsmiths London, which was always a more ambitious-risk-taking option. But was it the kind of risk I wished to take? Sometimes you are so out of touch with your own subject (its capabilities and incapabilities) that you listen too much to your reflections in the hall of mirrors – reflections of what you think others will want from you.
A fear was coming over me. Something about the situation I was in (possibly the lack of change and optimism that it could change) was beginning to blunt the one thing that has given me a sense of self and confidence since day one of adulthood: my artistic expression. This fear joined forces with an existential anxiety, as I was heading towards my 30’s (with nothing to show for it but my art), and an informative anxiety, that the growing old and hiding from the unfolding world issues just wasn’t a viable option and I needed to immerse myself in whatever could sharpen my understanding of it. Basically I felt I needed to get myself out of a place where I felt that things could only get worse.
Looking at my decision to move to London now, it was a jigsaw that fell into place from pieces that just wouldn’t fit together in practice. I had made a way forward that wasn’t really such, to appease so many different pressures; I’d made a jigsaw out of ill-fitting pieces thinking it would confront my feelings of dead-endedness; my feelings of failure in both my eyes and the eyes of others; my inability to form relationships; my desire to sharpen my knowledge on social/cultural issues; and that out of this somehow a way forward would be paved, and I would ride out of my 20’s with a sense of self-pride.
I don’t need to overstate when I say that my every undertaking is haunted by a deep sense of something being wrong; whether I am emptying a plastic food packet and throwing it in the dustbin, drawing money from the bank, or listening to the same music on my mp3 player that I always have on to accompany certain daily routines. Most of the time this deep sense is overridden by the energy devoted to ‘carrying on with life’; most of the time, even when it does bubble up into my consciousness causing a sensation of being on borrowed time, slowly edging further to collapse (me and the world), I can deal with it by attempting to channel it into ‘something productive’. But the more of this there is to deal with in any given day the less chance my coping methods have of recovering; lack of life in a given area can throw one into objective despair, but so can too much life in a given area.
There was already an unspoken melancholy around moving to London in place before I even actually found a place to stay; before I even opted for London over Leeds. It felt as if the present had caught up with me, and with the world. It felt like moving there was the only real bit of logic left, that all these lines were reaching an horizon: I kept thinking to myself it was ‘a perfect storm’. ‘The perfect storm’ being that I have always had some kind of unappeasable frustration that I was going to live past my 20’s; being a male who, due to never finding his place, has never been able to appease his death drive; whilst being in a culture haunted to insanity by dead stars that burnt out before they reached 30; and also a culture that seems to offer no future, and no illusion of a future for those who can’t tune out from the signs of living in a ‘dying world’. The Jigsaw that was studying a masters in Culture Studies in London, seemed to offer a hypothetical conclusion to this death drive, that would never work in practice (many of us have this death drive, I just think many aren’t aware of it).
Yes, I did shroud this plan in positivity, which I even managed to con myself with (“a chance to go study something that would allow me unlock so many doors on conundrums that had being whirling around my head for years”). I was finally appeasing the ‘academiacs’, feeling like they were demanding an ultimatum; but of course this ‘academiac’ was merely my paranoia that had formed a chimera from all the disparate sentences from many mouths, which had nestled on my shoulder . But I cannot deny that the plan was very much motivated by this frustrated death drive, always feeling that life wanted me to burn out. I say this openly because things that motivate me to do what I do are completely out of touch with how I actually live my life; not heroic at all, but nervously clinging on, waiting for the next small pleasure in life (think of the protagonist in the novel 1984 Winston Smith’s’ existential crisis over whether he should kill himself before Big Brother kills him in a slower, more humiliating way). The entirety of my experience of 2012 is centred around this hidden motivation.
I don’t of course think I am alone in being motivated by a death drive: I think many young men are. They are made to feel like it is what the world wants of them. Apart from those who feel they are given no choice in life but to join the army, it hardly ever ends in death. As I mention above, when one is amidst life, they have no intention of ending it, despite civilisation seemingly offering them no future past the next alcoholic anesthetising. Yet, probably because of this, they cling on to life even more desperately and clumsily, trying to secure some stability (usually whilst drunk). But in spite of this, the death drive never disappears, and at low points/points of severe shame in one’s life, it will result in bouts of self-destruction.
“As your life flashed before your eyes” (packt like sardines in a crushd tin box, Radiohead, 2001)
I discovered music by the artist Burial during the lead-up to moving to London. I’d already read about how Burial was eerily reflective of the non-times we occupy, because it possesses the lamenting sound of the present in its mournful obsession with the culture of the past; music that actually sounds like the past haunting the present as we experience it, as opposed to most modern music which just seems to directly mimic the past, resulting in pastiche. Burial captures the sound of our times: a time that doesn’t know its time, but knows something is wrong with it anyway. When I heard Burial, this was so true, and in particular it sounded to me like experiences of my own life caught in sound that still induce a haunting lamentation.
This departure to London really did feel like the capping of a life that I had to lead, rather than a bridge to new opportunities (I don’t really believe that opportunities exist; more that the will to carry on makes cracks appear in dead-ends, which we then must take if we want to survive). This was despite what my inner narrator told me. London felt like a place that I had already lived in, like a part of my life I had got to exercise; the world, past and present, all in one. When I was on the many Mega Bus trips from London back to the north, when I was looking for a room, certain Burial songs were the soundtrack. It wasn’t a bright future that occupied my mind, but a future situated together with echo’s from the past. After all, this is why I wanted to do a Culture Studies course; but the intensity of this feeling would be what made it impossible for me to complete it.
I never did find a room. The slow reactions when it comes to decision-making from somebody who has to travel in his head from the past in order to make a present-day decision, proved me not up to the task of competing for a room, for which there always seemed to be at least 5 other ‘contestants’. By this time I was already exhausted. But I’d centred my year around this plan to such an extent that there was nowhere else I could think to go. The make-shift positivity I make up around old friends, meant that whenever I bumped into one of them, I’d find myself pushing myself into a pro-active position from which I had to go to London.
I eventually had to move into halls of residence, which I initially didn’t want to do, because of a rental cost around 100 pound more a month than I felt comfortable spending. The higher cost just upped the pressure. However, at least I had finally landed (finally escaped them night buses from Victoria Coach Station!), and for a brief spell actually thought that my exhaustion with the plan was just that, an exhaustion with searching, rather than with the plan. I began to believe that my previous inertia in life was actually down to my previous geographical location after all. I certainly had enough people who I could phone up, who would confirm this belief as truth (not that their advice was meant as anything but help for a friend). The pressure to find work still seemed a bit of a way off, as long as I had some savings to rely on. And I instantly seemed to be able to make friends there. I thought it was actually going to work out.
But I couldn’t escape the obsessive routine patterns (mainly just going running and walking) that I have accumulated through the years as a means to wall myself in from the inability to truly overcome the initial bleakness of nihilism; and it was beginning to get in the way of everything, including studies. The course was fascinating, but I was learning for the sake of it being important for me to learn all of this, not for a grade. And I was lost and alienated once I was confronted with the formalities and structure of academia, via other students, as talk began on dissertations from day one. Of course, this is why one does a course! But it wasn’t why I’d really begun it. The reality of this ‘perfect storm’ was beginning to set in as the thoughts the course generated heightened my sensitivity to a world outside my (new) doorstep, that had far more of life’s ups and down to concern one with than where I had previously lived.
The place I stayed was New Cross in South East London (which I stress I did actually develop a soft-spot for in spite of my difficulties) situated under a busy flight path for passenger jets, next to a busy railway line, and near the very busy A2 road. I realised the world was no longer something I went to find, it as on top of me. It was now everything all of the time, good and bad, everything from every walk of life, every noise, every sight; people from all walks of life; opportunity and destitution all on one’s doorstep. When I woke up in the morning I could already hear the world’s heartbeat thumping away without me, and in the fragility of half-sleep this felt too intimidating to face and I really struggled to get out of bed (which is unusual for me).
Such difficulties in my daily life just kept on upping the pressure, whilst I had no space to replenish my mental well-being, which was being quietly eroded day by day by all the sights I would see in this ‘world-city’. Cities the size of London really do make one feel like everything happening all over the world is happening outside their doorstep. This can initially be exciting, but I just argue that I haven’t got the mental make-up to ride these waves, and I get sucked under and under. This sure was the perfect storm, but the reality has a far different effect, than an abstract idea of it being some kind of perfect coming together of things; if you’re susceptible to inner city pressure it doesn’t hit you at once, it slowly and silently starts to knock bits off you, like waves against a cliff face.
As much as the sad sights most certainly had this effect, so did the things that ought to have made me happier than I was in my old location. Because it was everything all of the time and no beginning or ending to all of this for many miles all around, a feeling of utter objective despair began to fall over me, where nothing mattered. The additional growing pressure brought an anger and a large amount of irrationality into the mix. I found myself in a mental state which I thought I’d departed from in my very early 20’s: that of avoidance of tasks and of people, of a uncontrollable aimlessness that leads to walking the streets for hours at a time not knowing where to go.
Even though I could still meet people for a drink, I was spending the day hiding from the words that I expected to hear in academic structures, such as ‘dissertation’ and ‘marks’, thinking how they meant so little to me, now I was amidst this objective despair. My inner narrative, that was telling me to go to London no more than a month before, was now repeatedly and compulsively saying “what am I doing here? why am I even here?” The reality of “a perfect storm”, that one’s death drive conjures up but cannot cater for, began to hit home. I didn’t really want to be back in academia at all, but felt that I ought to delve into the subjects that had concerned me so much. All I look for in a lived life is substance.
Thus, I wanted to go to the pubs to soften the harsh world that had on unfolded from the eyeballs outwards. Most other people couldn’t join me because they were down there to do what they were supposed to be doing: a one year, full-time master’s degree. being unable to ‘switch off’ at times to shield my well-being from everything-all-of-the-time I felt like I was amidst my own made lunatic asylum, and I began to feel self-destructive. Self destruction is the death drive becoming frustrated, impatient, and embarrassed at the life one has.
I then discovered an early and much more raw-sounding recording of a Joy Division track; a track that had much resonance with the part of my life when this happened before, in my early twenties. An early recording of Novelty by Joy Division, had such a desperate and tangible closeness to the way I was feeling at this point. I was listening to the song many times a day. I found the track incredibly addictive for these reasons, yet it was encouraging self-destructive thoughts. The only way I was cured of this is when I abandoned everything and caught the Mega Bus back to my home town. From up here, after bumping into friends, suddenly London seemed so great and exciting, I even spoke of it with positivity. But it was an excitement that I found unobtainable whilst amongst this world-city, and there were no safety barriers preventing this from recurring. When I began to feel like I’d already fallen behind with my course, it wasn’t safe for my well-being to be down there any more, despite all the friends I had made.
“What you gonner do, what you gonner do when it’s over?” (Novelty, Joy Division)
At the same time I also felt like I had no future back in Barnsley. This was increasing the self-destructive thoughts, because I felt trapped and stuck, between something I knew I couldn’t do and somewhere I thought there was no way of returning to. But eventually finding myself on a Megabus trip back to Yorkshire, I knew that I couldn’t return back now.
Eventually, after having no money for a while, and being back at my parent’s – and as much as I didn’t want to be here, it was a roof and food which is more than people have in this harsh times. – the slower and less immediate world up here gave me time to gather some perspective, and I started to look at my home town with a slightly different perspective, in spite of all its short-falls, and the times when I have felt let down by it. I also began to look at my life with temporarily less anxious tint. Yes, ideally, if I could find work in the nearby city of Sheffield, which is both a place that offers something to everybody but is also incredibly close to wide open spaces (the Peak District), but in these times this may just not be possible: living in Barnsley doesn’t have to make one ‘the laughing stock of the world’ as many would say it would. Putting things into perspective also meant not looking at London as a disaster but as an experience that maybe taught me more about myself than I initially thought. And nor should I try to bury my head from all that I learnt on the course in the short stay, in fear that it will make me feel great regret.
An often-used environmental motto is to ‘think globally but act locally’. But this motto doesn’t just have meaning for the cultivation of the earth, but for the cultivation of society. I’ve never been an activist of sorts (I would be lying to say I have been to many protests, even though I support, and would go if it wasn’t for the unnaturalness to myself of these certain ways of trying to change things). Maybe this town is my and many others’ project? Why did I flit to London? I’ve seen what a disastrous effect this flitting to the capital has on many other towns and cities.
I’ve begun writing and documenting this area with my global concerns, and with influences from what I learnt on the London course, in spite of my failure to finish it. One example of this, is a psychogeographical tour of an area I put under the banner of the West Riding of Yorkshire (Barnsley, Wakefield, Leeds, Sheffield), where I am using photographs alongside thoughts related to geographical experience that one often instantly forgets once they leave the vicinity, leaving the truth of things to more official documentation of areas, which never really understands the reality of human life in them. I feel this area has much to gain from being documented in this manner, the local papers, and free magazines never get to grips with what reality is really like here, instead usually resorting to advertising lifestyles usually unattainable to the majority.
As much as my home area has frustrated me and made me feel alienated at times, the only way to overcome this is to confront these sensations. I refuse to mock the place, as I am part of the place, and to mock it would be to mock much of what makes who I am. But I also refuse to compromise myself within this environment. If I can’t leave it, it doesn’t mean it has to be the end of my life, as many who scoff at those who reside in smaller towns would argue.