March 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

A little detail in Lisa Blanning’s interview with Jam City that I feel obliged to write some question marks around. (There’s lots of other bits that prompt a “yes… but” from me, but I’ll leave those – seems unhelpful, a mirror of the European far-left’s “clean hands, pure souls” attitude to the anti-austerity parties, all 2 of them.)

I think a lot of the digital culture that we live in makes a virtue out of being freed from the physical, freed from the earth, in a way that can feel quite emancipatory. And it’s really important to escape or transcend a lot more concrete versions of identity that imprison us on Earth; they can be incredibly oppressive. But at the same time, it’s important to not lose track of that physical world, and we want to reclaim the physical from all the things that make us want to escape it.

The internet was a real lifeline for me growing up. That can be incredibly powerful, that freedom, the unearthly, the intangible, the freedom to create your own avatar. But at the end of the day, I still have a body, I still live in an actual place and I want to be able to make peace with that…. None of us should have to feel uncomfortable in our own skin…. We have huge online club music culture, but that doesn’t make sense unless we’re in the dance, or we’re hearing live music, or whatever it is. And we’re hearing it loud, and we’re feeling its physical impact on us with bass…. I need to be around other people, I need to be in a community, I need to be able to touch and feel things, and feel music.

Is the equation between ‘tangibility’ & ‘community’ really sustainable? A whole host of related or subsidiary equations has proliferated in the conjunction of gentrification’s brutal sweep & the growth of social media: between the “bricks-&-mortar” bookshop/record shop/independent cafe & “the local community” (who may just as easily be the gentrifiers who have, directly or indirectly, purged London of its existing communities); between vinyl as a format with physical properties & “real” music, as opposed to a) contemporary pop, mostly distributed digitally & b) its various doppelgangers in club music (PC Music, Future Brown, etc.); between shared social space & the common goods of lived social relations (friendship, solidarity, sex, etc.) It’s probably to some extent neither here nor there to point out that these equations are precisely at the heart of gentrification’s official ideology, of the cover for the process of wiping out public space wholesale, including all our beloved or not-so-beloved clubs. But more importantly they require the repression of a whole stratum of experiences about sound & sociality. “None of us should have to feel uncomfortable in our own skin”: a truism as good as any other, & one wh/ like most truisms is defined by its frequent violation. Clubs were, for me, the very centres of discomfort. Everything about them set – & continue to set – my stress centres burning. Not just the usual discomforts of a club culture whose gender politics have degenerated disastrously since The Loft/The Music Box/NY ballroom/whichever golden age floats yr own boat – groping, catcalling and shoving dickheads, overpriced bars, bad pills, bass-weight-as-pissing-contest bullshit, a lamentable lack of slow jams – but all the stuff that comes as standard w/ the commercial club format – security, queues, searches, ID, crowds, volume, but most of all the social aspects: having to go w/ friends (what friends?) or acquaintances & the sheer awkwardness of failing to do so, bumping into people, being relentlessly on display to others, people randomly striking up conversations or silently judging the awkwardness of your body, the acrid sweat rolling down your forehead, the faraway look in your eyes as you think of that Jay Dee 12″ & wonder hopelessly when the DJ’s going to break out the Teddy Pendergrass, etc. The physicality of the club in other words is the worst thing about it, the very thing that instantiates the body in the most unpleasant skincrawling webs of social relation, marked by the brands of class, labour, gender, race – in other words, the things we fled to the internet & the privacy of the record to forget. Of course the internet is, in one sense, a kind of entryist replacement for the great Nietzschean club experiences of the 20th century, in wh/ clubs permitted people to become what they were: the terrible pirouettes of Northern Soul, mirrors of the antique cult rituals of Dionysus, Sex & the Roxy, the Blitz kids, rave, etc. Wh/ may perhaps be helpful – we can’t after all, in spite of what narrative focalisation tells us, be “Vincent… the very best dancer in Bay Ridge – the ultimate Face” – & the internet sometimes offers the appearance of further levelling in this respect. Jack is of course right that the internet leaves a fundamental lack w/ regards to the experience of sound, but I still can’t trust the equation of ‘community’ & what it is in sound that we pursue. You may want to “reclaim the physical from all the things that make us want to escape it”, but those things are at the very heart of the club form. Sound itself fights against the club as it exists in this prison of a society: evanescent, a memory as soon as it appears, sound mocks the distinction between physicality & absence, ‘community’ & solitude (or loneliness). If clubs existed as they should they’d be places to be alone w/ peace, to be imperfect w/out abjection – to get out of the awkwardness society imposes on the body, as much as “out of our heads”.


March 18, 2015 § Leave a comment

It’s revealing that the anti-Kanye petitioner focused on the “threatening” spectacle of ‘All Day’: the masked-up crowd in top-to-toe black streetwear except for chains, under the light of pouring flames. The performance is a metonym for – a mirror of the whole visual grammar of – Ferguson. (To judge by a quick google search, I’m literally the only person who’s pointed this out – the other results are bloggers petulantly asking why Yeezy was “silent” about Eric Garner, which suggests just how useless some professional malcontents are at reading sonics & images.) Even the lyrics – & of course the core of ‘meaningful’ ‘real’ music is its focus on profound content – should be enough: “people still gettin’ popped on the day to day”, “get low, stay low”; that closing fragmented vocal sample like a police siren 20 years on from ‘Gangsta Gangsta’, an omnipresent articulation of social terror. What is “threatening” in the context of official culture – “Glasto” as long Home Counties snooze, l’apres-midi d’un Jools Holland – is the notion that black men, women & children might visibly claim any power over their own lives in the context of militarised state terror, even if only in the toxic sphere of culture; might present themselves (if they present themselves at all) as anything other than the harmless, helpless innocents of liberal fantasy.

March 11, 2015 § Leave a comment


In the new issue of The Wire, I’ve got a review of Christian Marclay’s current show at White Cube (you can read occasional Wire contributor Nick Richardson’s LRB piece on the exhibition here – although I disagree w/ him about some fine points, for reasons you can guess).

March 7, 2015 § Leave a comment

March 7, 2015 § Leave a comment

Notebook (steam)

March 2, 2015 § Leave a comment

13602177914_129508e543_h“Modernism was about some form of agony, then; but the point is that the agony, in modernity, is not separable from delight. That is true of the Manet, but also true, I would argue, of the Picasso. This is why Picasso’s effort at an imagery of horror is bound up with a pictorial dialogue with Matisse. “I shall show you that horror is beauty, under modern conditions”: that seems to me what Picasso is saying. And it was not as if Matisse simply disagreed with him, or failed to see what Picasso’s art meant. Certainly horror and agony are never the right words in Matisse’s case. He wanted to go on believing in the dream of appetite and sensation. Of course – but in practice he too knew that the machinery of pleasure and possession was just that, a machine; and that time and again what the machine churned out was a vision of plenitude on the verge of stridency and overkill (or smugness and fancy dress). […]

Nobody is denying that this impulse is integral to modern art, and responsible for many of its highest achievements. But it is a moment. On the other side of the isolated and phantasmatic in modernism is always the dream of the figure taking its place in space again, and exercising its new powers. Against Picasso’s terrible eternal present there is always de Chirico’s dream of history. So I go back to Nostalgia of the Infinite, and put beside it another Malevich – a painting done sometime during the terrible years of forced collectivization around 1930. I see these two pictures as modernism facing the world – of course, in both cases, facing it in a profoundly strange way.

What do I think was modernism’s subject, then? What was it about? No doubt you can guess my starting point. It was about steam – in both the Malevich and the de Chirico a train still rushes across the landscape. It was about change and power and contingency, in other words, but also control, compression, and captivity – an absurd or oppressive orderliness is haunting the bright new fields and the sunlit squares with their eternally flapping flags. Modernism presents us with a world becoming a realm of appearances – fragments, patchwork quilts of color, dream-tableaux made out of disconnected phantasms. But all of this is still happening in modernism, and still resisted as it is described. The two paintings
remain shot through, it seems to me, with the effort to answer back to the flattening and derealizing – the will to put the fragments back into some sort of order. Modernism is agonized, but its agony is not separable from weird levity or whimsy. Pleasure and horror go together in it. Malevich may be desperate, or euphoric. He may be pouring scorn on the idea of collective man, or spelling the idea out with utter childish optimism. We shall never know his real opinions. His picture entertains both.

Modernism was certainly about the pathos of dream and desire in twentieth century circumstances, but, again, the desires were unstoppable, ineradicable. The upright man will not let go of the future. The infinite still exists at the top of the tower. Even in the Picasso the monster flashing up outside the window is my monster, my phantasm, the figure of my unnegotiable desire. The monster is me – the terrible desiring and fearing subject inside me that eludes all form of conditioning, all the barrage of instructions about what it should want and who it should be. This is Picasso’s vestigial utopianism. You think that modernity is a realm of appetite and immediacy! I’ll show you appetite! I’ll show you immediacy! I shall, as a modernist, make the dreams of modernity come true.

Modernism was testing, as I said before. It was a kind of internal exile, a retreat into the territory of form; but form was ultimately a crucible, an act of aggression, an abyss into which all the comfortable “givens” of the culture were sucked and then spat out.”

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