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”.

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