Tag Archive | Neoliberal

The Eternal Blip (A Mary Celeste Decade) and other works in progress

I’m really in a work-in-progress point at the moment. I’ve got a bit more time, because I’m doing a part-time Masters, and working less hours.  Getting into more debt by taking a loan and returning to further develop my art may seem like a foolish move to some, but with working five days a week (no matter what that work is!!) the sheer lack of time was meaning my ability to think creatively and strengthen my work was being starved. Fair enough some may say: ‘that’s life’. If I was to stay working 5 days a week I would have had to give up making my work, because it had no room to maneuver and expand, and could only contract. But I saw an opening to keep on working on it, and that’s what I’ve done.

The Eternal Blip (A Mary Celeste Decade)

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/239828894″>An Eternal Blip (A Mary Celeste Decade)</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user60125733″>John Ledger</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>



Timeline of opening and closing of horizons (2008-2018)

For years I have been reeling from accusations that not only is my work very negative, but I also am negative. I have never accepted this, and from a person who suffers quite a lot of anxiety, I think it’s a given that on first impressions I’m not as warm and accommodating as I’d like to be, even though I nearly always come around, when I have chance to ‘breathe’.

The work (or ‘what I can contribute’) is more difficult. I’ve felt that my work has been trying to help harness a ‘dark optimism’ or a ‘punkdrunk idealism’ for some years now. But maybe it hasn’t been a strong enough element. I have become tired of trying to piece together how fucked up the grand scheme is, if it shows no sign of leading anywhere, especially when the grand scheme, and the awareness of it, isn’t offering yourself out of a future of deteriorating mental health and behavioral patterns.

It may not seem evident within these works in progress straight away, but there is a concerted effort to try to reach out to others in the work. The Eternal Blip (A Mary Celeste Decade) basically tracks the past ten years, since the year when the financial crash happened to now, asking if others feel the same way as I do: that with retrospect it feels like a lost decade (?).

Now, I haven’t been forced to rely on food handouts, had to choose between heating and eating, or found myself on the streets (an awful new normality in the past ten years). But in hindsight I feel like it has stunted me, almost caged me in a previous point of my life. I feel like when I shut my eyes and reopen them, I can’t remember the decade, as it has been sucked from under me.

The parallels between a long depression, and the memory loss it can cause are very closely tied, and I can only hope that it isn’t a lone experience, because I want the other aspects of the work to make sense to people, as they are where the optimism lies.

Within this submerged soundscape there are points of emergence that correlate with times within the past decade when I felt ruptures in default reality fabric occurred. For good or for worse, new horizons felt palpable, as was a sense to act. Ultimately the default reality fabric reasserted itself, and, arguably the depression/memory loss resumed.

From the 2011 English riots to Trump, from Corbyn to Brexit, constructive or destructive, the fact is that these ruptures offer(ed) alterior possibilities from the business-as-usual outcome. I don’t know, I just know how I feel /felt in these moments seemed to contain some kernel of something other, that allowed me to imagine myself in relation to the world in a different manner.

Below is a series of maps that work with the same motives, which are an extension of mapmaking I have been doing for around 5 years now.

Battlegrounds between potency and impotency








Fighting For Crumbs…


I’ve been involved in setting this project up for the best part of a year…

Over the past few years or so I have found a few people who were agreeing with my growing sentiment:

That the mood and spirit of this society (global too) was in a deep depression, and that this had to be addressed before there could ever be a popular movement that would well and truly galvanise the daily-downtrodden’s into believing in something so much that they were prepared to fight for it.

(Let’s be honest. I’m a daily-downtrodden myself. I’m no freedom fighter.)

Trying to hold a belief that another world is possible up to the light of a new day in UK2015 was like holding a flower up to a nuclear blast – it withered and recoiled before the toothpaste was on the toothbrush. Before you know it the old depressive-pleasure-seeking kicks in: cider after cider, angry self destructive acts, a spree of undecipherable text messages  – enough to write another day off until a new dawn fades.

Art has been my backbone in a world which seems bent on being cold and meaningless in equal measure. Without it I’m a mollusc looking for the nearest dark spot to dwell in For “there are brighter sides to life and I should know, because I’ve seen them, but not very often”. And I always recoil to my work as an antidote-maker.

I’m bored of expressing this. Deeply bored.


Another world….

…a better world

Isn’t there a plant in the desert that only flowers once a generation? Is that not a perfect analogy for English optimism?

The week that followed from May 8 2015 was actually a special week for me, for it felt like I was sharing something with others. What I felt I shared was a despair and fear now that the Tories and the media were taking their gloves off for some sadist pleasures. And I felt this sharing of despair beginning to jolt people into a sort of action most of us hadn’t engaged in before. But it didn’t last…

Rotten Soil….

…A couple of months later I discovered the Sleaford Mods. Their channeling of the rotten soil of nowhereland sank into hole where a soul, a love of life should’ve been. An Antidote. Later that year I was surprised to find that a film called Invisible Britain, that followed the band, was following them on a tour of the Ingored-lands. The Ignored-lands I meandered within and wrote about: mainly Barnsley and Wakefield.

I felt an idea coming along..

This idea was given one leg to stand on when I was asked by friends to put on an exhibition at the Wakefield Labour club (Aka The Redshed).

2016 marks the 50th birthday of The Redshed, also known as The Labour club. Situated in the heart of the Yorkshire city of Wakefield, the place is somewhat unique, and has defiantly resisted the capitalist forces that have penetrated nearly everything else around it. A year-long line-up of events are now marking this anniversary.

Sandra Hutchinson, a lifelong supporter of the club, spoke of how The Redshed began at the height of the social and political changes happening in the 1960’s. In-spite of the seismic troubles around the world, it was an age of political optimism, and there was a strong belief that things could be and would be changed.

I needed to put something on that spoke of the disbelief that has penetrated the years I’ve been an adult.

Artist Corinne Deakin coincidentally came up to me thinking of doing something very similar. Looking at the way the arts were being pushed out of the reach of many people due to 5 years of needless austerity, low wages and high living costs. I must’ve said the words ‘fighting for crumbs’, in one of my waffles that I never remember, and Corinne remembered it and said that we need to call our project this.

And then it just seem to fall into place. I’d worked with the artist John Wilkinson the year before, and knew his work and thoughts were ideal for our project. And during conversations with friends Rebekah Whitlam and poet Jonathan Butcher I realised how appropriate their work was to addressing the cultural mood of this secretly unhappy Island. Corinne knew a photographer from Barnsley called Connor Matheson, who was just that little bit younger than my own town centre social circles for me to have know him prior to the this project, but I think I’d already seen his photographs and thought they would work well alongside our works, especially John Wilkinson’s paintings. In a way that is sort of Inspired by Invisible Britain, I thought it would be great to make a talking head documentary for this project – the Fighting for Crumbs documentary will be on show at the Redshed event, and hopefully all way through the Gage Event. Anyway, here’s a link to all that. https://www.facebook.com/events/1766943633588740/

Here are a few lines from each artist. All I can say is that I hope whoever reads this can make it to at least one of the events that we are putting on:

John Wilkinson (B 1962 – Sheffield based)


The price of coal

The Price of Coal

Austerity, the ugly reality of post-war Britain and the backdrop to the founding of the welfare state has come back to haunt us once again. Trying to invoke that spirit that enabled us to survive and rebuild the last time, David Cameron famously said ‘We’re all in it together’ but the truth is that we’re not, and it isn’t the same. A North decimated by industrial decline and unemployment is not the same as the manufacturing centres that provided the growth and foreign trade that led us to economic revival in the 50’s. A class abandoned because the education bar has become too costly to climb over is no longer the motor of the economy, and so the economic benefits of whatever financial services revival they paid for never reach them. Instead of building the State that supported growth we are dismantling Health, Education, Housing and Welfare, and replacing all but the cheapest labour with technology that frees us from work and with it income. As an artist, my work is a response to the world I live in – a mirror that reflects reality, and what it might become. Through it I express my compassion for a people who built the foundations of our world, and will be left to rot in its basements until we can see what is happening, and ask for better. Then I’ll paint pretty landscapes.

Corinne Deakin (B 1988)

Corinne Deakin

During the past 5 years, or perhaps longer, we have seen old architecture and independent business give way to gentrification and cuts that effect the working class. Education is being stifled and the youth of Britain are entrenched in large debts they may never be able to pay off, with suggestions of unfair consequences. The idea of community is disintegrating, as we are encouraged to evolve into self absorbed, cutthroat individuals where its constant networking and making a career for yourself is based more and more on who you know, not what you know- and it never hurts if you’re born into wealth. Glorifying low paid internships and getting very little in return. This is the ideology that’s being sold to aspiring artists; the dark introduction of how to make it as a successful artist today.

Jonathan Butcher (poet, B 1978, Sheffield)


Over the last 40 years the structures that should constitute a society have been eaten away by ideals which have been instigated by the few, with the intention to pollute the many. Ideals that strive to restrict us and attempt reduce human expression to the level of the banal and the superfluous; achievements considered wasteful,and without worth. We have been left empty, yet we are expected to remain grateful for the meager gains we have scraped together; gains which when pursued only through shear necessity, place money above time and psychical and mental strain above thought and basic fulfillment. Slivers of hope are offered, but are usually temporary, and for the large part conducted by those just as driven by this machinery as those they purport to despise. This now continual scenario enforced upon us attempts to define us. It claims to speak on our behalf, without offering a single answer to this problem or a solution to our fate.

John Ledger (B 1984, From Barnsley, works in Wakefield)


There has arisen a deep disbelief in the abilities of the human race, without much shared understanding of how we came to feel this way. Maybe it comes from the fact that with what we now know (regarding climate change, the impacts of social inequality, living memories of 20th century horrors), there’s a sense that we SHOULD be in the process of building a far better world to live in. But NO: in 2016 we are within a state of affairs that is making us scrap amongst ourselves for pieces of barely anything. Are we surprised if nervous breakdowns and spells of aimless rage are commonplace amidst this deeply absurd situation?”

Rebekah Whitlam, Sheffield, 1984

Vanitas Britannia.

Since the recession there has been a pseudo-nostalgia of post-war Britain. Kettling, rioting, and protests were swiftly detracted from by weddings, jubilees, and cake on the BBC. The “keep calm and carry on” craft trend has escalated; beer, baking, and bunting have become synonymous with community togetherness.

Whilst we crave authenticity in ourselves and our society, empty slogans are sold back to us. The commodities of craft offer us promises of a community, but leave us all the more alienated. As handmade, locally sourced businesses cash in on redeveloping the streets, financial and emotional security remains distant for their neighbours and the divide becomes increasingly widened.

As a textile artist I feel a pressure of balancing a vision of socially inclusive creativity without undercutting myself and other artists financially. The lapping of cushions, cards, and craft is at my feet, but how do I not become part of the problem?

Austerity strains us economically and is having a detrimental effect on personal integrity and creative freedom.

Connor Matheson (B 1992 Barnsley)


The works I am showing in Fighting For Crumbs explore the everyday lives of normal people in the Post-Thatcher era, with particular focus on themes such as family relationships, the local economy and drinking culture. With a specific focus on the north of England, this project is an accurate representation of working class culture, depicting the everyday lives of people who are often vilified in the mainstream press as “scroungers” or “yobs”. The work shows the effects of government economic policy yet also shows the human element, relationships and humour in life and celebrates the diversity of people and the character of areas.

Gage Gallery, Ball Street, Sheffield, S3 8DB

Monday 8 August: Opening night. 6:30 – 9pm
Friday 12 August. Music and poetry night. 6:30 – 9 pm

The Redshed, 18 Vicarage St S, Wakefield WF1 1QX

Saturday 13 August. 1Pm onwards. Film-viewing, and talk by JD Taylor
Normal gallery opening times: 8 August – 13 August, 7-11pm (call 01924215626 to check room is not in use)





England’s Nervous Breakdown

Lost for words

…not strictly, but they are wrapped up in a thick cloud of confusion and contradiction. But I’m putting out there EXACTLY how I’m feeling in the wake of last week’s referendum vote.


Sheffield, 25 June 2016

Is this the nervous breakdown of a country? It’s becoming an unavoidable truth that what I’ve seen happening over the past few years has gone into overdrive since 23.06.2016. People around me having some sort of meltdown – something I suspect is happening because the strain and the pain of DECADES of Thatcherite Britain has suddenly become unbearable. Brexit, like it or not, seems to have worked it like an accidental alarm-switch.

Was Brexit an unexpected exercise of a country’s nervous breakdown, long overdue? And was this unexpected exercise the last, skewed, but true exercise of democracy we had left?

It is without doubt that there are people in places around the world enduring a hell the English (as this is mainly regarding the English) cannot imagine. But has this country, the first capitalist country on earth, finally broke down under the experience of late capitalism? Has life under this faded-glory-stained neoliberal project hit saturation point?

Last week I was off work, but, after failing to set up a postal/proxy vote, I wasn’t confidently care-free enough to miss voting. So I decided to spend my days off work heading a bit further than usual. It seemed the right thing to do upon a terrain that could, so to speak, be shifting under my feet.

On Tuesday I cycled all the way from Barnsley to York (exhausted, dehydrated, thus all the more porous to the Northern Europe-like feel to North/East Yorks – the red-tile rooftops could convince you there was no body of sea between Yorkshire and Denmark). YORVIK . On Wednesday I went to London, endured a far-more than customary level of alienation at Frustration at the all-out ‘Remain’ consensus congregating around the Kings Cross-based leafleters (even though I voted Remain myself). I felt wounded and inarticulate in a London that felt self-congratulatory-soaked in something that was promoting a cause that had no idea of the type of wounding I was feeling, a wounding I KNOW I’m not the only one feeling, because the wounds are slumped in the city’s streets corners when it bothers to acknowledge them. An anger rising up through the drains of Thatcherite Britain.

But I had too many friends with too many SENSIBLE reasons to vote Remain and too many frightening reasons not to vote Leave for me to take such a reckless leap for the cause of the anger I’ve been feeling for so long now. And on Friday morning I was stunned into inertia just like everybody else.

Aren’t we all lost right now? Heads boiling with a million voices all at once. Looking for blame victims. But I won’t blame 17 million leave voters by calling them stupid or racist. Calling people stupid for what for them is a genuine concern leads to nowhere, except a self-congratulatory flurry of Facebook ‘likes’.

“The Cunt with the gut and the Buzz Light-year haircut…calling all the workers plebs” (The Sleaford Mods)

In recent British history nothing has been as divisive as the destruction of the working class base, built over years of struggle, fucked over by Thatcher, and the market fundamentalism then driven between us all. Yet we overlook ‘the war between all’ conjured by this, and we parrot the words of a more affluent less trapped metropolitan elite for whom issues of race and gender are solely moral issues, and nothing to do with class stratification. The result is what you see in the video above. A top down, media perspective, which doesn’t even need to be based in London to be London-centric, looking at all those intolerant, stupid places like Barnsley -cherry picking the mixed up and politically incorrect voices.“Oh why, oh why can’t they be like us decent London Folk?” A slowly bubbling rage.

“I work my dreams off for two bits of ravioli and a warm bottle of Smirnoff “


So, these places where the majority voted ‘Leave’ – what do we do with these people who refused to do “the right thing”?

In 2015 the documentary Invisible Britain followed the music group the Sleaford Mods on a tour of towns not on the ‘cool-list’. Not just ignored by other music groups but also by the London-centred gaze of society. Invisible Britain is perhaps the only contemporary documentation of the great ignored that hasn’t stuck to a preconceived, condescending stereotype, laden with mockery or contempt. Expensively-educated Sacha Baron-Cohen springs to mind…

When you hear the Sleaford Mods, the lyricist Jason Williamson’s anger, if you ask me, is like a momentary placing of the head back on the shoulders of the decapitated and disempowered body of working class rage. Williamson’s seething anger at the alienation and humiliation of a contemporary life experience many can relate to gives a voice to this rage when the world is made to feel so unaccountably chaotic that the only tools for understanding it available are tools to blame yourself with for the hell that surrounds you. But, as the film states, they are still largely a lone voice.


Manchester, 24 June 2016

That which informs racist anger isn’t born out of fresh air. Nor can those who spout it vanish into fresh air  – which is what I often feel many on the diminishing liberal class long for. Out of mind out of sight.

What do you do with these people, then? “Get rid of the buggers? “. Create two separate States?  One called ‘London‘, for the ‘tolerant’ ‘open-minded’ folks and ‘the rest‘? Actually, doesn’t this petition already exist?  The ‘I’m alright Jack-multiculturalism’ mantra conceals an hidden contempt.

The Leave result has clearly blown everything else out of the water. And as denial against it kicks in, the truth of what has simmered underneath the seeming tolerance and liberalism of the past few decades is coming out. It’s nasty, and I’m sorry to say the most upsetting things aren’t just coming from ‘racist idiots’ but from the younger section of the Remain supporters, chatting away in the cooler parts of town. Behind the ‘coolness’, their inherited social Thatcherism is rearing its ugly fucking head. Their contempt isn’t for the migrants, it’s for Britain’s socially immobile who will “probably never leave their home town never mind live in another country” (actually heard!). It’s an hidden hatred for the existence of those who “clearly haven’t tried hard enough to better themselves” and join aspirational and cosmopolitan Britain. It’s not a contempt for people from other countries, it’s a contempt for the working class of this country, and it’s equally toxic – if not more due to its invisibility.

I’m sorry to say this but they may have just sunken your cosmopolitan dreamboat…


London, 22.06.2016

I can’t help but be convinced that, even though what evidently galvanised the victory for Brexit was a deep concern about immigration, the anger isn’t really meant for immigrants, but for the ruling class of this country, as inarticulate as the anger was. As self-harming as Brexit could potentially be to everyday people – it’s an anger about being ignored, overlooked and even looked down upon. And I’m not saying I don’t now find it all scary as fuck.

The same present day top-down reasoning bemoans the ‘loutish’ English for their seeming preference to take to throwing chairs and punches at other football fans than taking to the streets like the French. But after nearly 40 years of destruction of class consciousness and a narrowing of political horizons,  creating a state of stuckness that Mark Fisher calls ‘reflexive impotence’,  Brexit is a seismic working class revolt, even if it ends turning against the working classes.

The Ignored is geographical in nature, but it is fundamentally underpinned by class.

“The sorrows we suffered and never were free” Decades, Joy Division

In an article looking at why white working class children,  out of all ethnic communities, perform so poorly in the school exams they sit before joining the adult world, Paul Mason says that “Thatcherism didn’t just crush the unions, it crushed a story”. Far from pitting different working classes against others, Mason looks at what happened to a specific story. This was a story of a long history of struggle, from the satanic mills and mines of the 18/19th century, towards an increasingly equal and better country for the working class, propped up on paternalism and solidarity. But, he adds, “suppress paternalism and solidarity for one generation and you create multigenerational ignorance and poverty”.


The Vale of York. 21.06.2016

Left to endure the hell of ‘prole-life’ with no explanation to the pain felt, or meaning to guide you through it, it’s clear that migrants, who are nearly always thrown into the very same Ignored-lands, are mistaken as being the cause of this pain rather than being effects of the pain being felt.

After 30 years of misdirected rage towards the neighbours, the headless zombie of working class rage reacts in a destructive manner. I’m not saying what has just happened is a good thing by any stretch of the imagination, but the limits of my own imagination saw that something like this was bound to happen in the UK at some point. The cause for either a leftwing Remain or Leave were not being heard because they appealed to how they thought people should think rather than how they actually felt.

In a competitive world everybody wants to speak, but nobody wants to listen.

A Psychic Timebomb (2013)

A Psychic Timebomb (2013)

Blair and Cameron’s  Britain…so much to answer for…

… a Negative Hedonistic Britain

Humiliation. Aimlessness. Shame. Anxiety. Anger. Dead-end pleasure-seeking.

Drink to take the edge off the pain. Drink to run away from the pain. Drink to locate the nature of the pain. Drink to find a way out of the pain.

Sooner or later you can’t see anything else. And I’m not even alcoholic –  I just can’t deal with it all once the sun goes down.

I’ll be honest, I’ve hit a point in my life where I don’t think I can carry on in this manner much longer….I’m hearing you England.

Regarding the past ten years I can’t yet express the pain at the deep regret at the world I’m supposed to function in. It bursts out in drunken self destruction- it’d be articulated in sober tears if I hadn’t become so walled up over the years.

“Keep calm and carry on”.

It’s very hard not to internalise negativity. After all, it’s encouraged by a process that has seen this island become increasingly private and lonely over the past few decades.

“Feeling uneasy? then stick your headphones in and drift into private inertia”.

But with each passing post-2010-year I’m finding that what I thought was MY Story – that my struggle with depression has felt to have been caused by a loss, and REVERSAL of a sense that the world was becoming and fairer, more tolerant, less cruel place –  was actually lots of other peoples’ too. It’s just that it was experienced in loneliness. It turns out that through the last decades of the 20th century many of us thought the millennium would be the harbinger of something better, and the cost on general well-being from the reversal of this conviction must be so huge.

Post-Rave. Post Britpop. Post Binge-drink Britain… what next?

And so to Friday 24 June…

As my train traveled through Manchester, and as a country tries to function after the morning’s news, I look up at the hills that circulate the world’s first modern city. This is a nervous breakdown!  It sort of comforts me in some odd sense, because I feel like I’ve been heading towards one for a long time, and it looks like the rest of the country has found its rightful place beside me for this mass collective breakdown. Things could get very dark very quickly, if the racist incidents being caught on film are anything to go by, but I’m in a Kate Bush-methadone right now, as I listen to a slightly slowed-down version of her Wuthering Heights. It seems to always stir a deep conviction of there being something better beyond, for which the pennines (whichever side of the pennines) seem to become a more than adequate threshold to. Some of us can’t give up on Utopia.


Barnsley. 27.06.2016


Hearing that the English national football team had lost to a country with the same population as the Wakefield District (and  I think the problem is mainly just about England),  it felt like a symbolic act of surrender on a much larger scale. The country needs to collapse into a weeping mess, because if it pretends it isn’t having a nervous breakdown than the pain will just be extended and aggravated. Let this ‘pumped up’ ego-bloated nation, deluded about its place in the world, deflate, otherwise the pain will intensify.

This is as much a note to my easily beaten self as anything, but: right now, in the midst of what currently seems Dystopian, let’s not be swayed by the common rhetoric over the foolishness of Utopian dreams.Beneath my pathos, the pain I showcase idiotically at times is a unflinching dream of that better world.

Daft Punk, Discovery: late dreams of a capitalist hyperreal utopia

About half a year ago I wrote about how two different albums by the band Primal Scream ‘are actually the same record, just flip-sides’ (or more like the contents of the first album had been brutally emptied out creating a nightmarish inversion that guided the second album). However, when it was written the first album was 20 years old and the second was 11 years old. Despite making it clear that my objective wasn’t merely to review the albums/or to say how much I liked them, I still felt wary that an initial sloth-like pace could be attributed to me (accredited the usual reaction of “where have you been for the past 20 years?”). I felt that the more sober message in the latter had been staggered in our culture by its latent denialism which the album attacked, and could now be of value in the present tense to aim to fulfil the hopefulness generated in the first album. By my standards, this blog was very optimistic.

During the time that has passed since writing this piece I have been occupied by the notion of certain media products being heavily pregnant carriers of the prevailing cultural Geist; more so after reading Steve Shaviro’s Zero books Publication Post Cinematic Affect (2010), which excellently explains certain media products which are symptomatic of the brutality of the logical conclusion of neoliberal capitalism. I have a bit of a fixation with many albums from the first 18 months of the new millennium because I believe there are some which are profound embodiments of  the then cultural Geist of the naive liberal dream of a capitalist democracy where things could work out OK, after the disastrous communist regimes in Eastern Europe had fallen down a decade earlier, and the 1990’s had such fun and cool surface to it, with its recycled swagger. I have this fixation because they almost seem to embody a crossroads with our world and another; a world which could never have been, yet they reside here, a now distant past of naive optimism. To me it still seems relevant to look at music/film from this period because of its other-worldliness to the present, just over ten years apart.

Even albums from this period which contained a dosage of sadness, a confrontation with the postmodern condition, were still meekly satisfied with the world: The Strokes’ Is This It and the Super Furry Animals’ Rings Around The World (both released in 2001) sound like albums sighing at the realisation of the End Of History, or perhaps from post-modern relativism; accepting that nothing grand is going to happen, and nothing can be better than it is now under liberal capitalism; but it is just a sigh, no more, and it is rather quite comforting; today it has the sound of something from a totally different world. But more than anything there was a naive optimism within society in the late 1990’s to the morning of September 11th 2001. It looked towards a millennium that could never be; one which seems more than a full millennium away from the post-Sept 11th world of increasing state authoritarianism alongside runaway neoliberal capitalism, which Shaviro depicts with such frightening insight.

The album that seems to embody such a late dream more than anything else is Discovery (2001) by the French group Daft Punk. Purchasing Discovery from the second hand store CeX for one pound last year (a store in which the collapse of civilisation already seems to have occurred, as one feels that they are almost looting products once deemed to have value but now so cheap) I was instantly taken back to a place I used to frequent; old day dreams tied to a world that seemed like it could have been, which still seems there if one puts on headphones and looks nowhere in particular. There was in a period in my mid-to-late teens where I used to visit the local Gymnasium; the singles from Discovery remind me of that period; a soundtrack for such an attempt at personal betterment from within a ‘non-place’ reminiscent of the virtual. But this self-betterment, like all of them in our culture, isn’t narcissism but (to quote Jean Baudrillard) “frantic self-referentiality: … It (the body) is the only object upon which everyone is made to concentrate” (America, 1986). It is a demand that we conquer ourselves. The opening track One More Time is an order not an encourgement.

Discovery evokes a fantasy world, a virtuality free of friction, a world specific to the Utopian longing in capitalism. It gloriously embodies the work hard/play hard ideal of liberal capitalism, from where friction, if it occurs at all is only situated under the ‘life is a game’ banner of ‘what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger’; rejoin The Game tomorrow. All well and good if life worked that way, but it is an illusion, that to some extent, the entire premise of maintaining of positive attitude is balanced on under neoliberal capitalism. One which became more difficult to believe in after September 11th 2001, and then the Financial meltdown in 2008 (Philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s book First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (2009, Verso Books) uses Karl Marx’s ‘correction of Hegel’s idea that history necessarily repeats itself’ but that ‘”(h)e forgot to add : the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce”‘ to deal with these ‘two events which mark the beginning and the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century…’). Although, it is arguable that in such times the need becomes greater for us to cling to the illusion of a Utopian capitalist world free of friction, thus a necessarily virtual one, (which itself brings to mind ‘the phrase attributed to Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Žižek, that it is
easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism’, Informed by Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism, 2009, Zero Books), the geist captured in this record seems ancient.

I haven’t written this because I am critical of the album, quite the opposite: it is an incredibly seductive record. But it is what it seduces with which is of concern. So, as informed by Steve Shaviro, the aim here isn’t to place Discovery as a record that deliberately endorses the then prevailing geist, or as a record that aims to depict it: some bands can embody it without possibly being aware of doing so, and thus become brilliant historical artifacts. It is often said how Post-Punk music of the late 1970’s embodied the feelings of misery and fear in western countries during a time of mass decline and decay of the old industries; likewise the dance music scene of the late 1980’s/early 1990’s embodied a sense of optimism and a desire for freedom, at the dawn of a naively optimistic decade after the fall of many bad things such as the Berlin Wall.
Discovery continues that optimism, but after the freedom of early 1990’s dance had been largely co-opted into a lifestyle of self-betterment rather than freedom as such; now for nightclubs, gymnasiums, and holidays to the Mediterranean, and Festivals that have become corporate theme parks (track 5 Crescendolls, sounds a like an mp3 compression of a fairground ride). Discovery encourages us to transcend the screens around us, and live inside the Myths its media weaponry have been programming us with our entire lifetime. The album half transports you to a place that feels like it is waiting just beyond view in a capitalist society.

The cartoon characters that feature on the videos for the singles from the album (which one can never quite forget when hearing the songs, as they are the only spectacle for it, and they seep into your thoughts) could be anybody. Indeed the smoothness, lack of dimples, lack of split hairs on the characters (as with many more human-based cartoon characters) is the logical conclusion of life-as-conquest over our mortal bodies; our only destiny in a depoliticised world. This conquest is very alluring, and is a very seductive. As is Discovery: it is the music over which to plan your next trip to the gym, night out/holiday; a permanent betterment of physical and social self.

The desire to become cartoonised (cleansed of all mortal ailments) in such a society in turn cartoonises our desires. In fact this is the narrative of the single taken from the album Digital Love, where the content isn’t as threadbare as it possibly intends to be

“Last night I had a dream about you
In this dream I’m dancing right beside you
And it looked like everyone was having fun
the kind of feeling I’ve waited so long”
A virtual liaison, where nobody really touches; a simulated encounter
“There’s nothing wrong it’s just a little bit of fun…”
The liaison in our listeners mind becomes one between a cartoonised listener and a cartoonised desired person.
“Why don’t you play the game?” the song then entices us with. The purely capitalist game; a Utopianism that is of course virtual. One consisting purely of a ‘work hard, play hard’ ethic without the consequence of the physical/mortal world.
“Work It/Make It/Do It/Makes Us Harder/Better/Faster/Stronger” (Discovery, 2001)

Jean Baudrillard, in his accounts of the oldest Hyperreal place, America (1986), writes “America is neither dream nor reality. It is a hyperreality. It is hyperreality because it is a utopia which has behaved from the very beginning as though it has already arrived”. Of course, Baudrillard, like many writers before him, went to America to give a cultural diagnosis to what would spread from this “centre of the world” to everywhere else. Baudrillard was from France. So are Daft Punk. Judging by this, their prophecies are true to form. If Utopia is achieved already, reality cannot really be accepted; simulations of reality become the place in which to play Utopia out. Daft Punk’s Discovery encourages us to dive right in.

But could this world truly be believed in before the rude awakenings of the the first decade of the twenty-first century, especially the world after September 11th? Daft Punk’s Discovery still has more in common with many albums from that time than may at first seem apparent. Although without the jubilance of an avatar-like existence of Discovery, other albums from the period such as the aforementioned Rings Around The World by Super Furry Animals, and Is This It? by The Strokes (realised literally on the brink of the world-changing event of September 11th) still possess a sentiment that if we sink away from the problems of the physical world, ‘well, that’s all we can do. Nothing will really matter anymore, but that’s OK, because we’re safe here’. A sentiment that seems so far away now.

I’m obviously not suggesting that we are all suddenly wide awake in contrast with living in a dream beforehand. But it is much harder to hide from the problems of the world now. And although the troubles can still at times seem unreal, they no longer seem so far away. And as the need to cling to an illusion becomes more desperate, Discovery is still probably the best album to fit the headphones on us to drown out the world.  But, if others are like me, it is a fading sound of a late dream, now it is so hard to drown out the world; always expecting something to occur, where harmless noises that penetrate the music one is hiding under, become terrifying calls to remove one’s headphones, because the world is alive, not a playground frozen in time that such records embody.

But the ideology still tries to convince us to live in the world Discovery was brilliantly symptomatic of. The instrumental track Voyager sounds like a world in which the oceans have become an aquarium; the sky just a fantastic backdrop, as one flies through life. Again we see the ‘work hard, play hard’ ideal with no friction either side. In Ways Of Seeing John Berger describes the touristic ideal that capitalist publicity surrounds us with where “the entire world becomes a setting for the fulfillment of publicity’s promise of the good life. It offers itself to us. And because everywhere is imagined as offering itself to us, everywhere is more or less the same”. A place’s history, no matter how troubled, becomes a mere artificial backdrop to pleasure-seeking.

Voyager and the album title Discovery seem to conjure up a friction-free around-the-world trip, from where, in such an hyperreality, we become spectators of our own movies in our minds, and the latest logical extension of the ideology of self-betterment (self-conquest), social networking sites, allow us to display the movie shots in photo albums. Roland Barthes, in his essay The Lost Continent, (Mythologies, 1957) similarly describes a touristic approach to the rest of the world: “Penetrating (in this case) The Orient never means more for them (the producers of the documentary) than a little trip in a boat, on a azure sea, in an essentially sunny country”. But he warns that “the device that produces this irresponsibility is clear: colouring the world” (as in colouring in into a destination) “is always a means of denying it”

Many people I know are heading to Greece this very summer. All very excited; fun-times in bars/clubs staffed with English-speaking peoples. Live the  dream-scape that Voyager embodies, fair play to you, it seduces me from time to time also, but wait? Greece is in turmoil. The hell capitalism has created in the physical world has spilled out onto its streets; people cannot even afford to eat; will this cause a rupture to Voyager 2012?  It is the logical limit of late capitalist ideology hitting the roof of what is fighting back.

It is also useful to keep in mind that Daft Punk are maybe the digital heirs to the analogue world of one of the pioneers of electronic music: Kraftwerk. Kraftwerk were conscious of technological advancement, maybe ever-so slightly critical (one may be able to dance to Computer Love, but what it suggest is solitude and sadness). Daft Punk; digital equivalent; of neoliberalism and post Berlin Wall pleasure seeking; uncritical; embodying it; living it. And this is why Daft Punk are Kraftwerk version 2.0. First futuristic robot men, then cartoon kids who never get old, stay forever young. Possibly, Kraftwerk (before the melancholy nature of the 1981 album Computer World) is the sound of modernist thinking; progressive; a Utopia sought after, looked for. The Utopia in Discovery is the one of Baudrillard’s America: one already thought to have happened; an End of History utopia set in a capitalist hyperreality. Just keeping that virtual Game ticking over and over; “One more time we’re gonner celebrate it….don’t stop the dancing”. At the end of Digital Love, however, once the climax is over and the soothing synthesiser resonates to its audible vanishing point, I have the image of the smoldering twin towers just beginning to appear, as “that dream” was just a dream. Look Backwards now towards this dream-scape at the other side of the horizon. From here there is one fact of reality that is even harder to ignore that the rest: climate change has all but set in now; it alone can tear down any hyperreality

But if it is the sound of a capitalist Utopian dream that is now an utterly pathetic one, it is also the sound of an enslavement to the necessity of self-betterment/self-conquest at the cost of the power to try to change the condition of the human race; an enslavement that encourages us to want to be simulations of our mortal selves because of the impossibilities of a virtual perfection expected of us. Perhaps, in the current period of turmoil, and dread at the depths this system will happily take us to, unlike back then we can see this enslavement clearly for what it is?

(afternote: A friend pointed out with constructive criticism that I had failed to mention the important feature of Daft Punk’s song construction: that they are samples from other songs, altered. I already knew this, but had forgot to mention it. The use of samples, through digital technology is a method quite specific to music creation in a our post-modern (or post-fordist) times).