Thursday, July 31, 2008

From Tehran with Love

One of the things I like about 'blogging' (like earlier fanzine production) is the possibility of direct communication with unmediated voices from around the world - rather than dealing with organisations and party lines. One such voice is Selma at From Tehran with Love. As well as being a fellow Leonard Cohen enthusiast, Selma has posted on being a woman in Iran faced with the religious police: 'the second before going out of the door every morning, you look into the mirror not asking yourself “do I look good” or “how does my hair look today” but wondering if what you are wearing is “legal” and fearing what if this manteau isn’t long enough (below knees, wearing trousers mandatory too) and if it is loose enough and if black is dark enough for them?'.

I noticed that in response to a government threat to crack down on blogs she posted these lines:

One day we’ll sing our freedom
One day we’ll laugh in our joy
And we’ll dance

Dance as synonym for freedom, right up my street, so naturally I googled to check the source and found out that they were actually from a song by... Sting ("We'll be together"). Let's just say I've never been a big fan! I've always had him down as very smug and comfortable, preaching platitudes from some tantric cloud. But actually, reading the lyrics, I thought it was quite remarkable that he'd written a song about the disappeared in Chile (murdered by the state in the aftermath of the 1973 military coup). Remarkable too that he'd structured the song around the image of the dance:

They're dancing with the missing
They're dancing with the dead
They dance with the invisible ones
Their anguish is unsaid
They're dancing with their fathers
They're dancing with their sons
They're dancing with their husbands
They dance alone
They dance alone

One day we'll dance on their graves
One day we'll sing our freedom
One day we'll laugh in our joy
And we'll dance

Even more remarkable that this song, written about events in South America thirty years ago, should inspire dreams of freedom in the Middle East today. And remarkable too that I should be moved to post about a songwriter whose work I have always dismissed out of hand. Another prejudice challenged. Still haven't listened to the song mind!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Collapse magazine: Black Noise by Mark Fisher

In the mid-1990s there seemed to be a cottage industry at Warwick University churning out techno-theory and Deleuzian drum & bass thoughtism. One product of this was '***Collapse' magazine, edited I believe by Robin Mackay and Robert O'Toole. I must admit that I was always slightly ambivalent about this - was it raiding academia for some tools to understand the exciting times we were dancing through, or was it domesticating that explosion of sonic/somatic/social experimentation by making it into a respectable focus of academic scrutiny?. I've always been up for some critical thinking and reflection, but sometimes it felt like it was slipping so far away from the lived experience of raving as to amount to a kind of theoretical colonisation.

Anyway here's a piece on jungle by Mark Fisher (K-Punk) - or more precisely a cut-up by him with quotes from the writers listed at the end - first published in ***Collapse, number 2, Spring 1995:

Black Noise

BLACKOUT - Jungle is creeping necrosis eating away at melanin-deficient flesh. Genetic piracy hacking into white DNA and recombining it. A 'bacterium mutated into a more lethal form ... some malignant sci-fi creation ... out of control', a 'microbe... infected with a virus which 'switched on' lethal genes ...'
WHITEOUT - At the same time (and many "times" run simultaneously here) Jungle is whiteout, a hyperversion of whiter than white pop. Hear it as the latest product of the black fascination with white futurism that began with Afrika Bambataa's hijacking of Kraftwerk. 'What Afrika Bambataa and hip hoppers like him saw in Kraftwerk's use of the robot was an understanding of themselves as already having been robots,' .. Jungle's SF diss topias recall the posthuman teknoscapes imagined in the barely remembered, 'embarrassing' musics of Gary Numan, John Foxx, the Normal, Japan. But this time it's beyond the 'song', beyond any human speculation; now it's all a matter of interlocking circuits, 'the continual whirr of machines' .... ,The human persists only as ghostly traces, ambient decoration, sound effects: 'the residual subject off to the side, alongside the machine, around the entire periphery, a parasite of machines, an accessory of vertebro­machinate desire'.
D-FACED - So, of course, it's faceless, (dis)located at the point 'beyond the face' where 'cutting edges of deterritorialization become operative and lines of deterritorialization positive and absolute, forming strange new becomings, new polyvocalities'
"NEW ZONES of post-essentialist blackness.' Whatever top-down reterritorializations are imposed, blackness is a matter of deleting identities rather than defining them. 'Identity' in black culture is always a matter of becoming. There is no truth but the vehrshon. Anything that's not all-white Immediately becomes-black. Jungle is hip hop with the last vestiges of 'natural' funk removed + house shorn of all humanist glitz/gospel evangelism + digitized reggae +
BABYLON TIMEWARP - Nothing here is in real time. Everything you hear is timestretched, virtualized on the plane of consistency as digital information then actualized again as metallic voodoo simulacra. Slower or faster than the original. 'Accelerated trills up and down the piano, abrupt switches in tempo, moments of dread slowness punctuated by the highest squeals ...' Everything plays at (at least) two speeds. 'You're talking about things I haven't done yet...'
SPLICING - The sampler is just like the telepods in The Fly, taking human and non human, fusing them at the molecular level and moving them somewhere else.
GIBSON was already part way there in Neuromancer, 'It was called dub, a sensuous mosaic cooked from vast libraries of digitalized pop; it was worship, Molly said, and a sense of community.' Dub was always virtually present in hip hop, funk and house but it's been re-actualized in Jungle (and in every 90s music that matters) as low-frequency languor, half-speed bass. ('Its the ganja,' Molly said.,.') Anyway dub is not a form of music so much as a mode of parasitism, a viral contagion using host bodies to replicate itself: a version is what is left which the song has been hollowed out, involuted.
AFROFUTURISM . Jungle is unimaginable from where the White Man Is. From there, "Black' = prehistoric origins, the dark hole we came from. The future = history, i.e. more of the same. Jungle is the impossible combination of blackness and the future, the dark continent we're heading towards.

DREADNAUTS - Cybernauts. Afronauts. "Black people live the estrangement that science fiction writers imagine.'
JAMAICA - Nomadology: "The maroons were the first black rebels on the islands. The word refers to runaway slaves who formed their own outlaw communities in the mountainous interiors of islands like St. Kitts and Barbados. But the Jamaican maroons were the ones most feared by the British authorities'. Don’ t look for roots in JA, although in a certain sense it all begins there. "A rave, be it programming Jungle, Techno or House, is just a big dance with a massive sound system on which Djs present special mixes. In Jamaica they’ve been doing that for more than 40 years’

SHATTERED WINDSCREEN - "Hardcore is to pop culture as ramraiding is to Rumbelows - a slam bang concussion ..... Think of a Hi-Ace van as a sample, the ride as the rhythm, the crash as the beats and the adrenalin of getting away as the Interface between your body and the beats ... ‘Durban Poison' by Babylon Timewarp suddenly bursts into a moment of Oriental horns as if the inner city estate has cracked up to reveal a seething colonial unconscious underneath. Youth aren't revolting, this music says, they are reverting’.
WHITE TRASH – Yet Jungle could only happen here. It’s a peculiarly British assemblage; what happens when ‘the chickens come home to roost. The British Empire has folded in on itself. And as the pressure in the cities has mounted , the old national culture has started cracking at the seams’. Black and white fusing on the estates, in the dancehalls and on the plane of consistency.

BLACK ECONOMY – ‘ You can locate hardcore as the black economy of British culture. It’s effects extend way beyond music’.

CRACK UP – Breakdown. Shock out. ‘They don’t make much of a difference between states, you know? Aerol tells you what happened, well it happened to him. It’s not bullshit, more like poetry. Get it?’

ALCHEMY – Reggae has always been produced in conditions closer to a factory than a theatre. Hardheaded economic pragmatism drives the producers as they transmute MOR chart hits into bass heavy libidinal flow. Derritorialization as alchemy. ‘Zion smelled of cooked vegetables, humanity and ganja.

ILLEGAL SUBS – Rave was E-state music. DarkSide was Crack House.

ESCAPE VELOCITY - "An escape for language, for music, for writing. What we call pop - POP music, pop philosophy, pop writing ... To make use of the polylinguism of one's own language (to make a minor or intensive use of it, to oppose the oppressed quality of this language to its oppressive quality, to find points of nonculture or underdevelopment, linguistic third world zones by which a language can escape, an animal enters into things, an assemblage comes into play.'
PRESENT TENSE - "There is only a NOW that is either blissed-out or dread-ful (dread is a kind of jouissance in negative, a slow subsidence into uncontrol and panic.'
MULTIPLICITY - 'Ragga' and 'Jungle' designate multiplicities not unities: get up close to either and they fractalize into micro-multiplicities rather than fragment into component parts. Ragga was already a becoming reggae of hip hop, hip hop was already a becoming electro or soul and funk. The becoming jungle of ragga and the becoming ragga of jungle is only one zone of intensity, only one intersection, to be tracked in this music. Rewind to the becoming jungle of rave, the becoming jungle of hip hop, listen again to the becoming dub of jungle: then fast-forward into becomings and couplings not yet synthesized. The temporality isn’t white culture linearity (one form superseding another) but rhizomatic involution (the past as template not monument). Think recycling not revival.

'There was a kind of ghostly DNA at work in the Sprawl. something that carried the coded precepts of various short-lived subcults and replicated them at odd intervals’
CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED - 'We know that 13-17 year olds are nothing more than demon seed, the damned children of England (an estate block in drawn out and terminal decline)'
'Fads swept the youth of the Sprawl at the speed of light. Entire subcultures could rise overnight, thrive for a dozen weeks then vanish utterly’
GREY ZONES - What happens when white and black are (re)mixed. Temporary Autonomous Zones. Unpoliced, unlit, unseen. Suddenly. anything can happen. Hello darkness.
Deleuze/Guattari - Anti-Oedipus/Thousand Plateaus/Kafka; ­Simon Reynolds - Blissed Out; Dick Hebdige Cut'n'Mix; Liz Hunt - What's Bugging Us; Kodwo Eshun -Reviews; Mark Dery - Black to the Future; William Gibson Neuromancer ; Steve Barrow - The Dawn of Dub .

Monday, July 28, 2008

Oh! Neil

On the radio at the weekend I heard something I thought I would never hear - a song with my name in it. 'Oh! Neil' (1960) by Carole King is in the great tradition of answer records, in this case an answer to Neil Sedaka's 'Oh! Carol', written for her. The song sunk without trace, but both King and Sedaka ended up working in the legendary Brill Building song factory churning out some of the great pop songs of the 1960s.

Why is it that some names are more popular in songs than others? There seem to be hundreds of songs about John (and Johnny) and Jane, perhaps because the names themselves have an everyperson popularity (Jane and John Doe). I am sure young women called Jane the world over get sick of lovestruck boys making them mix CDs with Sweet Jane and Famous Blue Raincoat ('Jane came by with a lock of your hair'). Rosie and Billy are also popular, particularly in old folk tunes. Some names have a musical resonance because of historic individuals. Thanks to Warhol superstar Candy Darling we have Candy Says by the Velvet Underground, Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed ('Candy came from out on the island') and Some Candy Talking by the Jesus and Mary Chain.

Meanwhile the rest of us struggle to find a single song for our loved ones to sing to us when we are feeling blue - oh the injustices of the world!

My unscientific theory is that names are more likely to be used in songs if they a) rhyme with lots of other words b) are two syllables or less c) are popular names d) end in a hard consonant if they are a single syllable, or d) end in an 'ee' sound if they are two syllables. If somebody wants to make me a grant so that I can give up work I would be happy to study this in more depth.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

More songs about flowers and owls

'There's something in this valley... it's owls and flowers, and it's dangerous'
(Alan Garner, The Owl Service)
'there was a new sound, very close, broken by the water, but he could hear it, and it went on and on - a voice, humming, mumbling, scarcely words, but it was a kind of song''
'It was almost a chant. "Come, apple-sweet murmurer; come, harp of my gladness;
come, summer, come."' (Alan Garner, The Owl Service)
As I mentioned in the previous post, when Goldfrapp played at last week's Lovebox festival the stage set included a pagan lite smorgasbord of wolf masks, antlers and dancing maidens. At one point, a group of dancers in brightly coloured feathery costumes entered the fray - apparently owls.
The most recent Goldfrapp album - Seventh Tree - includes owl imagery aplenty on its cover - with a photo of Alison Goldfrapp in a kind of owl costume and a drawing by her of an owl/woman.

Simon Reynolds has previously picked up on this and the link to the fantastic (in every sense) The Owl Service, a 1967 novel for children by Alan Garner.

I think there may also be another source - The White Goddess by Robert Graves, in which he reconstructs/imagines a Celtic 'Tree Alphabet'. According to Graves, in this alphabet 'The seventh tree is the oak'.
Like Garner in the Owl Service, Graves draws on the Welsh folk story of Blodeuwedd, a woman magically created from flowers who is later turned into an owl.

For both Garner and Graves, she is a flower/owl goddess with both creative and destructive aspects. For Graves too she is a form of the White Goddess, the poet's muse and source of truth: 'The poet is in love with the White Goddess, with Truth: his heart breaks with longing for her. She is the Flower-goddess Olwen or Blodeuwedd; but she is also Blodeuwedd the Owl, lamp-eyed, hooting dismally, with her foul nest in the hollow of a dead tree'.

Graves also links owls to the Greek myth of the Sirens, enticing sailors to their deaths with their songs: 'Their wings were perhaps owl-wings, since Hesychius mentions a variety of owl called the Siren'.

The Owl Service, and the film The Wicker Man, both embody a recurring urban fantasy: that the British countryside, particularly its Celtic regions, is the home to secret pagan cults surviving from the pre-Christian era (see also Peter Ackroyd's Dorset novel First Light).

The content of these imagined cults is usually a heady brew of sex and the kind of fertility sacrifice James Frazer wrote of in his enormously influential The Golden Bough (first published in 1890). Robert Graves' description of an orgiastic pagan ritual gives a sense of the mixture of fascination/revulsion/titillation wrapped up with this fantasy: 'No poet can hope to understand the nature of poetry unless he has had a vision of the Naked King crucified to the lopped oak, and watched the dancers, red-eyed from the acrid smoke of the sacrificial fires, stamping out the measure of the dance, their bodies bent uncouthly forward, with a monotonous chant of 'Kill! kill! kill!' and 'Blood! Blood! Blood!''

All of this is grist to the mill of much weird folk. Unlike the earlier folk revivals, there is little concern with the suspect notion of the authentic music of the folk. Instead there is more of an interest in folklore (and its contemporary cinematic retellings) as a repository of strange and uncanny images, myths and stories.
Goldfrapp have sourced their visual aesthetic from this pool more than the lyrical/musical content of their songs, although a track like Little Bird with its striking imagery of a crow 'with mouths for eyes' would sit along the slightly spookier sounds of Joanna Newsom or Bat for Lashes. But bats - as opposed to owls - that's a whole other post....
'She was tall. Her long hair fell to her waist, framing in gold her pale and lovely face. Her eyes were blue. She wore a loose gown of white cambric, embroidered with living green stems of broom and meadowsweet, and a wreath of green oak leaves in her hair'
(Alan Garner, The Owl Service)

Thursday, July 24, 2008


I enjoyed the Lovebox fesival in East London's Victoria Park on Sunday, food, fair rides, sunshine and all, but most of all some excellent music. We started off with the wonderful Rachel Unthank and the Winterset's Northumbrian folk, particularly impressive were Blue Bleezin’ Blind Drunk and a cover of Robert Wyatt's Sea Song - the latter sung by Rachel's sister Becky who shares singing duties in the band. I prepared to cringe when they announced that one number would feature the sisters clog dancing but in fact it added an impressively energetic percussive dimension.

If this band demonstrated the simple power of a piano, fiddle and human feet and voices, over on the main stage the headliners took a less minimalist approach - with both Goldfrapp and Flaming Lips demonstrating the power of massed dancers, props and costumes.

Goldfrapp's recent Seventh Tree album marked a turn to a folk-tinged electronica so naturally the stage had to be filled with Wicker Man-esque singers and dancers in white dresses and flowers in their hair, not to mention women in bikinis and wolf masks dancing round a pole topped by antlers! The tempo quickened up as the set progressed through some of their pacier recent material (such as Happiness and Caravan Girl) and onto earlier anthems like Ooh La La and Strict Machine.

The Flaming Lips followed with a stage invasion of men dressed as superheroes and women in pink hooded robes, while cannons fired confetti and lead singer Wayne Coyne rolled over the crowd in a transparent plastic bubble. Then on to one of their anthems, Race for The Prize - follow that. I love this band, they come across as a spectacular cartoon but wrapped up inside are very poignant songs of loss and hope. I have already declared to my family that I want Do You Realize played at my funeral but that would be unfair as everyone would burst into tears, even if they didn't like me. I had a tear in my eye on Sunday when singing along to to Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots which in my mind is about a young woman battling cancer (though there is debate online about whether this is the intentional meaning).

I didn't get round to checking out all the dance tents, but I enjoyed dancing to some pumping house music in the stockade, a circular enclosure defined by wooden poles with a disco ball hanging from a plane tree. The vibe reminded me of the crowd at the Good Times and Sancho Panza sound systems at Notting Hill Carnival.

Flaming Lips photo by Elsie Emm; Goldfrapp photo by Alison Mole at London Underground; Rachel Unthank by Rose.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Music from the death factory

Having recently come across the online journal Music and Politics (discovered via Normblog), I am working my way though some of its interesting articles. I would particular recommend Music in Concentration Camps 1933–1945 by Guido Fackler.

Fackler shows how music served as an instrument of terror -with guards forcing prisoners to sing on command for instance:

"Frequently, singing was compulsory even during forced labor. It was by no means unusual for singing to provide the macabre background music for punishments, which were stage-managed as a deterrent, or even as a means of sadistic humiliation and torture. Joseph Drexel in the Mauthausen concentration camp for instance, was forced to give a rendering of the church hymn ”O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden” (“Jesus’ blood and wounds”) while being flogged to the point of unconsciousness. Punishment beatings over the notorious flogging horse (the “Bock”) were performed accompanied by singing, and the same is true of executions".

Music provided a terrible soundtrack to extermination :

"Loudspeakers mounted on special vehicles were in use in Majdanek, an extermination camp, and from them poured unremitting dance music – fox-trot – during executions, the purpose being to confuse the victims of the genocide, to quieten them, and also to drown out the screams of the dying. Marching music was switched on in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp when people were being shot. Former SS-Medical Director Heinz Baumkötter admitted under interrogation that the purpose was “to ensure that the next prisoner did not hear the shot that killed his predecessor.” When deeds like these were perpetrated, music – usually accompanied by alcohol – was deliberately used to lower inhibitions and drown out any scruples or doubts the murderers might have had about their actions".

At the same time music could be a way for prisoners to affirm their humanity:

"Music on command was one thing. But musical activities resulting from the prisoners’ own initiative took on quite a different significance, whether the performance was for the musicians themselves or for their fellow-prisoners... Music gave the prisoners consolation, support and confidence; it reminded them of their earlier lives; it provided diversion and entertainment; and it helped them to articulate their feelings and to deal with the existential threat of their situation emotionally and intellectually. Even the least conspicuous ways of making music took on a deep significance in the concentration camp. In this way singing, humming, or whistling served not only as a relaxing way of passing the time, but also helped prisoners in solitary confinement, for instance, to overcome loneliness and fear".

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Ukulele Underground

It happened like this – on Valentine’s Day this year my gf gave me a ukulele for a present. I took it to work that day and in a few idle moments taught myself some simple chords. That night we met up in our favourite restaurant, Champor Champor by London Bridge (incidentally once mentioned by Marc Almond in a radio interview as his favourite place to eat in London). I pulled out my ukulele and over the Malaysian starters sang her a song – The Book of Love by The Magnetic Fields (we were in a secluded part of the restaurant so nobody else could hear). In one day, I had joined the Ukulele Underground.

I think this story illustrates some of the things I like about the uke – it is portable, easy to play and actually quite romantic. In one of those moments of synchronicity, I recently came across a 2006 Ukulele special of The Idler in a charity shop. The introduction extolled the ukulele as ‘being good natured, uncomplicated, unpretentious, marginalized, misunderstood, subversive, iconoclastic, independent and individualistic’ and ‘a guerrilla instrument, a concealed weapon’.

I have played the mandolin for years, so the notion of the portable, guerrilla instrument is something that has occurred to me before – there certainly is a hidden history of itinerant strollers, refugees, prisoners, wobblies and other malcontents making music on small stringed instruments like ukuleles, fiddles, mandolins and the Greek baglamas.

Still, I think the Idler article overemphasises the individualistic aspect. The ukulele is also closely linked to a collective tradition of amateur, participative music-making, a current that takes in mandolin orchestras and Irish folk sessions in pubs. The Idler issue also includes an article by Bill Drummond where he describes his wonder in stumbling across a room full of ukulele players in a pub in Newcastle: ‘The place was comfortably full of drinkers. From a dapper man in his late 70s to a lass in her early twenties with every age, sexual persuasion and physical type in between. What they all had in common was what they held lovingly to their chests. Each was holding a small but perfectly formed ukulele’. The group – the Ukulele Allstars – were like many such outfits, strumming away in a back room for their own amusement with no audience.

A few months ago, just after I’d picked up the uke for the first time, I saw a notice in my local coffee refuelling stop inviting people to come along to just such a gathering – and so I joined the Brockley Ukulele Group. We meet together once a week in the café after it closes and bang away on cover versions of everything from Belle and Sebastian to Bonnie Tyler. Yesterday we gave our first public performance at Hillaballoo, a South London community event, eight of us playing ‘The Only Living Boy in New Cross’, ‘Up the Junction’ and ‘At the Bottom of Everything’ (the Bright Eyes song).

I’ve also been along a couple of times to the East Dulwich Jug Band, a monthly gathering started up by Dulwich Ukulele Club where up to thirty people with various acoustic instruments meet up in a pub and write, perform and record a new song in one night. I’ve heard of other uke groups meeting in pubs, and of mass gatherings at festivals and on Brighton beach, sometimes with complete beginners being lent an instrument so they can join in. Inevitably there are uke blogs and websites, like Ukelelia and Ukelele Boogaloo.

They are everywhere. The Ukulele Underground is the man or woman sitting next to you. They have ukes in their bags and strumming on their minds.

Image: David Niven teaches Doris Day a C chord on the set of Please Don't Eat the Daisies.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Songs that Saved Your Life

There are songs that stay with you, that come back to you time after time, long after you've developed a sophisticated critique of the performer. Hardly a month goes by when a line from this song doesn't cross my mind, usually after a tiresome meeting at work. Sadly, despite my efforts to maintain a pose of Buddhist equanimity, that line is usually this one: 'In my life, Why do I smile, At people who I'd much rather kick in the eye?'.

The Smiths - Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now

I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour
But heaven knows I'm miserable now
I was looking for a job, and then I found a job
And heaven knows I'm miserable now
In my life Why do I give valuable time
To people who don't care if I live or die ?

Two lovers entwined pass me by
And heaven knows I'm miserable now
I was looking for a job, and then I found a job
And heaven knows I'm miserable now
In my life, Oh, why do I give valuable time
To people who don't care if I live or die ?

What she asked of me at the end of the day
Caligula would have blushed
"You've been in the house too long" she said
And I (naturally) fled
In my life, Why do I smile
At people who I'd much rather kick in the eye ?

I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour
But heaven knows i'm miserable now
"oh, you've been in the house too long" she said
And i (naturally) fled
In my life, Oh, why do i give valuable time
To people who don't care if I live or die

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Primal Scream

Bob from Brockley has alerted to me Primal Scream's cover version of Hawkwind's Urban Guerrilla, to which they have added the lyric 'I'm a suicide bomber'. The story of my adolescent fixation on Hawkwind and the anarcho-trance-rock-underground can wait for another post, but what of the Primals?

I must be one of the few people who think that Primal Scream were at their fey/faux psychedelic peak in their C86 indie pop incarnation ('Gentle Tuesday' etc.). Not long after I saw them at the Leadmill in Sheffield in their 'Ivy Ivy' phase - they had reinvented themselves as leather jacketed rockists and it was terrible. Remarkably, thanks to Andy Weatherall, acid house, and ecstasy, they made one of the greatest albums of the 1990s, Screamadelica. Soon though they were reverting to that authenticity fixation and ever since they have functioned, in the UK musical imagination at least, as a kind of talisman of the 'real thing', a late 20th/early 21st century rerun of The Rolling Stones - complete with vague gestures of rebellion, guitars, more guitars, and (yawn) much-hyped drug habits. A kind of vicarious lifestyle of arrested development for the consumption of Loaded laddists who never grew up.

I retain a residual fondness for Bobby Gillespie, like me his dad was a Scottish socialist/trade unionist, but I'm afraid that sometimes his political gestures are as cliched and clumsy as his rockist image. The suicide bomber chic of their version of Urban Guerrillla is in line with Gillespie's 'Make Israel History' comments a couple of years ago - his solidarity with Palestinians might be commendable but does he really want to line up with the suicide bombing 'sweep the jews into the sea' tendency? I don't suppose he does, but a kind of uncritical rhetorical extremism can be as addictive (and damaging) as heroin and guitar solos.

Bring back the Sonic Flower Groove!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Maya Deren

At Tate Modern today I watched Meshes of the Afternoon, a 1943 film by Maya Deren and Alexander Hamid. Deren (1971-1961) was to say the least a very interesting character - Jewish refugee from the Ukraine, sometime trotskyist, dancer, anthropologist, avant garde film maker and vodou practitioner.

Meshes of the Afternoon is concerned with dreams, shadows and reflections. It is not a dance film as such, but it certainly features dancerly movements - see for instance the section from about 4:30 in this extract where Deren ascends the stairs and then moves around at the top of the staircase (this is part one of the film - the second half is also on Youtube here).

Dance is more central to Deren's Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946 - discussed
by Erin Brannigan here), with the second half of this silent film featuring an extended dance in the open air. The party scene includes appearances by Gore Vidal and Anais Nin.

Deren was particularly interested in the relationship between music, dancing and states of apparent possession - it was this interest that led her to Haiti to study vodou. In a 1942 article, Religious possession in dancing, Deren wrote:

“just as various mechanical devices such as crystals and light are employed in hypnotism, so, I believe, drum rhythms are extremely important in inducing possession. As we know, rhythm consists in the regularity of the interval between sounds. Once this interval has been established, our sense-perceptions are geared to an expectation of its recurrence... Even more important, sustained rhythmic regularity and the fact that the source of it is outside the individual rather than within, means that consciousness is unnecessary, as it were, in the maintenance of concentration’.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Clothes that wear us

"there is much to support the view that it is clothes that wear us and not we them; we may make them take the mould of arm or breast, but they mould our hearts, our brains, our tongues to their liking" (Virginia Woolf, Orlando, Chapter Four, 1928)
Image: Charlotte Valandrey and Tilda Swinton in Sally Potter's 1992 film version of Orlando.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Songs about dancing (3): You! Me! Dancing!

This track by Welsh band Los Campesinos came out last year. There's an indie pop element to their songs, but also something harder - this one reminds me of Teenage Riot by Sonic Youth (their excellently-named song International Tweecore Underground mentions both Henry Rollins and Amelia Fletcher, so the US hardcore/indie pop dual influence is explicit).

Some of the lyrics are great too, I especially like the Rousseau-citing spoken-word bit at the end about the joys of coming home from a club. 'Twisted by Design' references an indie club night of the same name in Cardiff.

The beats, yeah, they were coming out the speakers
And were winding up straight in your sneakers.
And I'm dancing like every song who spends his bizzle
Like all my dance heroes would if they existed.

And it's sad that you think that they're all just scenesters
(And even if we were it's not the scene you're thinking of)
To taking props from like these boy band fashions
All crop tops and testosterone passion.

If there's one thing I could never confess,
It's that I can't dance a single step.
It's you! It's me! And there's dancing!

Not sure if you mind if I dance with you,
But I don't think right now that you care about anything at all.
And oh, if only there were clothes on the floor,
I'd feel for certain I was bedroom dancing.
And it's all flailing limbs at the front line.
Every single one of us is twisted by design
And dispatches from the back of my mind
Say as long as we're here everything is alright.

If there's one thing I could never confess,
It's that I can't dance a single step.
It's you! It's me! And there's dancing!

And I always get confused, because in supermarkets they turn the lights off when they want you to leave, but in discos they turn them on, and it's always sad to go, but it's never that sad, because there's only certain places you're guaranteed of getting a hug when you go... and on the way home, it seems like a good idea to go paddle in the fountain, and that's because it IS a good idea, and it's like we're all like Rousseau depicts man in the state of nature, we're undeveloped, we're ignorant, we're stupid, but we're happy.