Massively relieved to get this bxstxrd of a piece finished. Sums up just about everything I have ended up agreeing about with just about everybody I am able reach agreements with for just about every day during the past 2 years. I have found the process of fracking to be such an apt metaphor for the broader predicament of a culture saturated to breaking point by a hyper-capitalism.
Everybody’s Fracking (2015, mixed media on paper, 95X130cm)
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.”
Thoughts on the proposal to remove the ‘ugly’ electricity pylons from the Dunford Bridge landscape
I am disappointed to hear of plans to demolish the giant electricity pylons stretching from just beyond Penistone across the Pennines to Tintwistle. The BBC article states that the “50m (164ft) tall structures are set to disappear… as part of National Grid plans to remove ugly overhead lines” and “could be buried underground as part of a £500m scheme.”
The structures come into their own within an area known as Dunford Bridge, just within the South Yorkshire side of the hills; a post industrial gateway, not so much to the Peak District, but to the industrial/urban centres on either side of the hills; where there was once a freight railway line you now find a bicycle trail.
I will put my opinion on this proposal straight out there with saying how I place a high value on the presence of these pylons within this landscape. Additionally, I’d find it easier to accept their fate if there were clearly laid-out practical reasons for the National Grid plans to demolish them; for example, if the placing of the power-lines under the ground was more energy and environmentally efficient. But there’s no indication that this would be the case, and as my friend was saying to me; it will mean digging up so much of that landscape in order to place the power-lines underground. Also, the scheme is being funded by Ofgem, meaning the public (or ‘customer’) will foot the bill, something the BBC article only vaguely touches on. But none of this is getting to reasons I’m about to make as to why I like these structures; however, it at least refutes the anticipated-responses demanding me to see the practicalities behind such a plan.
The article quotes Anne Robinson from Friends of The Peak District, who says “There’s no doubt that customers are willing to pay and have a very small sum added to their electricity bills a year to make sure these landscapes are enhanced.”, and although I find a general consensus on increased electricity bills in our current situation hard to believe anyway, my main response to this is just how does such a plan ‘enhance’ this landscape anyway? And referring to other words used in the BBC article, just what is ‘ugly’ , and what is this ‘character’ of the Peak District?
The Peak District is a landscape totally molded by thousands of years of human activity. Moreover, like much of this national park, the Dunford Bridge to Tintwistle stretch is, at least in terms of what is likely was before human interference, a barren desert-scape, a bleak ominous-looking landscape. In fact desert-scape is too soft a description; it is more Martian-scape – there’s something other-worldly about it. And So be it. As they stand, they are ecologically unsound. But as places of intrigue they have enormous stature, laden with symbolic meaning. They contain a beautiful emptiness; a ‘climb-to-the-moon’ feel due to their roof-top-like place within the hearts of all those settled in the post-industrial cities that nestle in the beginnings of these dark dark hills.
What are we looking for from this landscape? What is this character, this non-ugliness we wish upon this place? Dunford Bridge itself is a graveyard for industrial transportation between two mass urban areas that still contain more industrial graveyard sites than they’d like to admit. It is now a bleak lost world, hidden within the huge huge hills – and this is what makes it such a fascinating place (it is also the location of the only large-scale project I’d sanction upon these hills: the re-opening of the railway line as a direct connection between southern Yorkshire and Greater Manchester). Is postcard-picturesque all we want in a country so quick to forget any unrevised past? The Dunford Bridge landscape is far more powerful as it stands precisely because of how dark, unsettling, and unworldly it is in comparison with the more pasteurised landscape further down the hills.
I’ve always argued that structures within this ‘beautiful emptiness’ take on a monolithic presence, and would certainly attribute this to the pylons which only really begin to reveal their alien-like nature in such a barren landscape. They can’t be ignored up here, that’s for sure. Yet this is what makes them so appealing, rather than something to be got rid of. They have a presence of prehistoric sleeping giants nestled as they are within these huge barren inclines. And they are so well webbed into the symbolic nature of the hills, as the pylons aren’t just a (East Pennines) practical connection to the lost-world-metropolis of Manchester, they act as symbolic carriers of cultural exchange – as if the chilling and dislodging grooves of The Smiths’ How Soon is Now, and the haunting synths of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear us Apart were being channeled through these make-shift obelisks to Modernism, sending Pulp’s abandoned steel workshop sound-scape backdrop back in return. All Jean Baudrillard says in how the essence of America is to found in its vanishing-point-deserts, can be said of these barren hilltops in relation to the industrial north (all-be-it on a very British toyland scale).
This landscape is the incidental outcome of human activity; and no less so than the wastelands of former warehouses in surrounding urban settlements such as Sheffield – in fact they compliment each greatly. The pylons, I would argue, now play an important part within this incidental human landscape, which shouldn’t be disguised as anything other than. Both ‘beauty’ and ‘ugliness’ are subjective, and the ‘default beauty’ we desire of our misleadingly-termed ‘natural’ habitats is an environmental and cultural dead-end. The promise that the underground power-line plans are aimed at enhancing the Peak District ‘character’, as stated in the article, is seriously misguided as to what this character actually is – in my opinion, of course.
The whole emphasis on ‘ugliness’ and ‘character’ renders the functionality of the pylons an irrelevant issue. Thus leaving us purely with a debate around whether we like them in the landscape or not. Like the now famous cooling towers (formerly) next to Meadowhall, Sheffield, many people protested against their demolition (although this didn’t stop them being demolished), recognising just how powerful a feature they were on that landscape, no less intrinsic than the features we foolishly perceive as eternal/of original essence to a place. I personally think all arguments made against these pylons are oxymoronic, because what they are claimed to be in their essence, is also what Dunford Bridge is in essence. They are all one, in the dark, unsettling beauty that is this area,
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.
Just a small snippet of a blog, that really doesn’t need elaborating on right now, yet is better off on here than Facebook (I get so tired of waiting of completely misinterpreted responses on there)
At least until the time of their breakthrough, The Strokes were the most Self-consciously Retro band. However, is it just a self-conscious retrofication styled on past bands, and the accompanying fashions? Or is there also a massive absorption of other now-retro cultures, such as 8/16 bit computer game tunes? Games which were beginning to be seen through the retro-gaze roughly at the same point (the early years of the new millennium) as when the strokes appeared. How can one listen to songs such as this one and not to come to this conclusion?
Additionally, I must add to the equation the timing of the coming of the Strokes both into my life and (persuasively arguably) into culture in general. Why? Because the timing of their retro-remedy was almost uncanny.
I first heard their retro-remedy Is This It? no more than a week after the ultimate horror-show spectacle of 9/11 – the event that simultaneously reinserted the horrors we (until then) 90’s-revved-naive-westerners thought were confined to the Pre-Berlin-Wall-Collapse 20th century, whilst being the genuine starting moment of the 21st century. Just as we were looking for the potential New, a seismically mediated horror-event sent us scuttling back for a perceived-as reassuring past.
Yes, a post-modernity of re-used aspects of modernist culture was already well under way before 9/11, but this event accelerated the process. When I first heard the Strokes I was an unexplainably-shy late-teenager in search of a safe-territory, in some type of 9/11 post-traumatic-stress-remedy that I believe many of us endured (which is why nothing we see after the 2003 Iraq invasion shocks us anymore). In retrospect (what an ironic word to use) they were but a jaw-bridge to a dangerously-backward-looking land. However, back then they really did feel like a god-send. Their self-consciously retro look was initially reassuring; nobody had any idea of the type of retro music frenzy that would ensue once we opened the drawbridge that was Is This It.
(Double-additionally: the fact that the band hailed from the very place where the horror-show spectacle had occurred intensified the potion; that is without a doubt.)
Gathering together 5 years’ work centered around large scale pen drawings; landscapes that depict the human condition pitted against the huge environmental, social and existential threats of the 21st century. A noise that fills everything.
Opening night Friday 16 May, 6:30 – 9PM
Saturday 17 May – Thursday 22 May 2014
Gage Gallery, KIAC, The Lion Works, 40 Ball Street, Kelham Island, Sheffield, S3 8DB
The most lasting sensation from my late twenties right up to the early days in my thirties is one of being out of time. Like the gaps in which to pursue all the things that make me Me have been narrowed into very skinny pavements on which to manoeuvre next to a massive, busy and noisy road (the secondary sensation thus being the result of the difficulty of pursuing what makes me Me; a painful sensation of trying to preserve a bit of what I think is me, which usually feels like the front of my face is slipping off my head).
Maybe I always had this sensation, on some level of intensity. The words “it’s getting late”, pasted onto my mind from a P J Harvey song, were very present at the beginning of my 20’s; the way that song lyrics often identify with the dominant sensation you are having, even before you have been able to consciously acknowledge the sensation. Regardless of what the original lyric was referring to within the context of the song, the impacting lyric soon disassembles itself from the song and gravitates towards your own story.
The feeling of it getting late/of not having much time left certainly bares testimony to the first time I truly acknowledged the extent to which we had already made the planet less human-friendly, by carrying on with business-as-usual under the umbrella of short-term-thinking-idiocy. It was indeed getting late, yet I was within the 18-21 age bracket and supposed to have my life ahead of me.
But I believe that the feeling of being out of time isn’t just ecologically concerned. Growing up in a house (and here the notion of ‘house’ is meant to be something that spreads into the wider environment you grow up into) where the music, the focus of documentaries, and the general mood carried was from the decades before I was even born, gave me a feeling (one I only relatively recently began to locate with language) that history had already happened; or, more crucially: that it was more or less on the verge of wrapping itself up. Basically then an emergence of a feeling that I’d better rush out and do what I have to do/ say what I have to say before time is up. Furthermore, much of what had ‘already happened’ was in decades dominated by a culture of youth; the 1960’s, the 1970’s and even (in the counterrevolutionary form of the ‘yuppie’) the 1980’s. You could argue that the counterrevolutionary political economy agenda that came to fruition as the 1980’s began(that has remained dominant since) sent real popular culture back to where it came from, and gave us a bastardized form in its place.
The melancholy predicament I (and possibly others) experienced from our late teens onwards was that of being a spectator of an onslaught of energies and excitement from yesteryear, energies that had been and gone, tried to win, and eventually failed, leaving only their fashion styles, like shedded snake skins for us to mix up in a desperate but futile attempt at something new (to some extent we are all the tragic comedy character Nathan Barley). So, here was a sense that if you were to do anything in life (from finding love, finding success, generally being someone) it has to be whilst young (the unspoken message being revealed through the increasing marginalisation of older people), and it was compounded with a sense that there wasn’t much left anyway because what matters in our culture has already happened!
I’m not really sure though how I can locate the source of my obsession with the passing of time on the doors of these massive players in general cultural experience. There has to be some other reason why I watch the hour glass of my life, and civilisation itself, like a starving man watches food. So what is it? And do others feel it? I have just turned 30, but people have commented on how I discuss my life in a way that suggests that it is already over. Why is it always a feeling of something slipping away, and never of something growing? Is it just the reflection of a negative person, or is this sensation more widespread? An age of widespread negativity, that ‘things are only going to get worse?’ Maybe it’s as simple as somebody who’s constantly-renewing essence is a ‘glass half empty’ one. Am I confusing wider experiences with personal experiences? from what I observe in the world I’d say No, but maybe that’s because all I see in the social landscape is the things that confirm that my sensations are true. But surely they are true! …? I do have a tendency to place the overly positive people in life in either the category of ‘bullshitters’ or ‘the deluded’. But am I right? To quote Slavoj Žižek, surely “we are living the end times” of a 2 millennium old civilisation aren’t we? I crave not to be haunted by the passing of time; I have always envied friends who aren’t so. But I can’t shake the feeling of running out of time. That I, as male human (born to end), am running out of time, within a world (also born to end) which is also running out of time.
What is it that I feel I am running out of time to do? Well, some of my piers/contemporaries would say “to lose the obsession with time and the conventional expectations of having had to do certain things with your life”. I, being me, having to guide me to work every morning, having to eat for me, and find meaning for me; well, I would say I am running out of time to find emotional wellbeing, emotional unison with another(others), and an end to certain discontents that I once thought were the conventional ‘teenage existential difficulties’ until they never ended. And that this time is slipping away faster in a world where billboards/publicity increasingly demand youth or marginalisation, and the economic logic increasingly demands a ruthless career-driven orientation, or destitution.
What is it that I feel we are running out of time to do? “It’s make or break” is a thought that passes through the mind like an alarm clock that goes off every hour. Is it a feeling of running out of time to change the world before it is ‘too late’. 2009; the Copenhagen Summit, “oh no, what the hell are we doing?”; 2010, “voting Conservative will lose us ground on challenging the big problems we need to…..NO NO NO NO NO!”; 2011, The riots, Arab Spring etc, Occupy, all invested in a man knowing that ‘things can’t carry on the way they are’ equated to “something HAS to happen, just HAS to!”; 2012; bad year, too many flag-waving frenzies, so much energy trampled until it was just dust on the ground; 2013, a year of ghosts haunting the present; OUT OF TIME!. And Through all this “just don’t even get me fucking starting on our climate-fucking-up!”
So, a well-meaning friend, may suggest, for my own well-being that I “shouldn’t get hung up on time” that I should “just be”, and I appreciate it. But I am time. I consist of time as much as the Internet consist of porn and photographs of cats. You can’t stop getting hung up when you are the hung up; I hang up the coat I hang up myself too (which is probably why I never get invite to dinner parties). But what matters is whether it is just me who’s life is dominated by this sensation or whether it is a general feeling. And if it is a general feeling, what are we going to do about it? Because I think the supposed-novelty of being able to waltz around in the shedded snake-skin-fashions of any decade we wish has really seen its day as much as the decades have from which they fashions came from.