Monday, 17 December 2012


Away from the sound of drums, I wrote a few things this past couple of weeks about Britain, politics, poetry, and such ...

1) A review of the year in The Quietus. I sort of agree with some of the comments to this: I don't actually think there will be a revolution next year. But I do think it's at least noteworthy that ordinary folk have started using the phrase again.

2) A review with Stephen Ross of Sam Riviere's 81 Austerities in the Oxonian Review. This turned into a diatribe against middlebrow reviewing in general.

3) Also in the Oxonian, an interview with Our Friends in the North writer Peter Flannery, which actually chimes with a lot of the stuff in the Quietus piece. Some great stuff about regional arts funding, politics, and populism in this.

Friday, 14 December 2012


Our God is Speed focuses attention on a single city.

Well how about boiling down this Deep-South-as-the-centre-of-the-percussion-universe meme to a single album?

New Orleans Funk: surely Soul Jazz's greatest ever compilation, and a veritable apotheosis of late-twentieth century drummery. When I was a 16-year-old living in the wilds of rural Northumberland, this was all the rhythmic education I needed.

Re. Ringo, in response to Joe's comment below and Blissblog's, I think I stick by the view that Ringo is clunky, but that's not to say that he's not great. If you listen closely to Rain, you can hear that he's frequently out of time, and those fills are basically what a ten-year-old would do if you told him to be "adventurous" with the kit. But it's because of this that Rain works. Pop music is always undergirded by a populist impulse which means we applaud amateurishness and gaucheness far more than technical virtuosity. Or rather, the ideal thing is when we hear an amateur doing something extraordinary, when someone tries on a role that she or he is not quite at home with, and the listener thinks I could do that, any man or woman could do that, on an extraordinary day. This is partly why X Factor and its attendant culture is so damaging: it reverses the populist principle by taking incredibly ordinary stuff and pretending it's somehow technically accomplished, effectively saying to the populace you think you could do this, but you can't, because you don't have the X Factor. This is elitism, pure and simple.

Or, in Adorno's phrase, the "barbarism of perfection".

There's clearly a lot more to say about the formula primitive = good in pop. If you want a radical example, I think this is why early Oasis were so good: they had a truly dreadful drummer in Tony McCarroll.

This must be the shittest beat ever committed to record, but it works perfectly in context (as a foil for the trippy, corruscating guitar line; as an onomatopoeia of hopeless mundanity; as a launching pad for a melody that soars).

Here's another one:*

And another:

Rave exploited exactly the same trick (primitive pulse + soaring hook), but that's outside of our purview ...

Charlie Watts is another notable example of the primitive-populist principle in action:

I could go on, but you probably hate me enough by this point.

*I would advise all you Oasis sceptics out there - and I'm aware that's probably everyone - to give Listen Up and Fade Away some serious attention. They really are rather good.

Thursday, 13 December 2012


Drumming in pop: shitter = better.

Part of why pop music has always been resistant to muso professionalism (unlike, say, jazz) is that as soon as the rhythm section departs from the groove (the self-abnegating communitarian base) into narcissism and stylised elaboration, the whole thing will collapse. This is why the "drum solo" is so often cited as the ultimate transgression and tragic flaw of seventies prog.

So I've always had a lot of sympathy with the Stephen Morris of New Order theory that a drummer should try as hard as possible to resemble a drum machine. Ringo is another obvious (pre-electronic) example.

Listen closely and it sounds pretty clunky on a technical level, but taken as a whole (in Heideggerian jargon, when we regard the totality of equipment) it sounds fucking immense. As long as the drummer doesn't try anything fancy, everyone else in the band can get on with the baroque stuff (production as in the above example, songwriting, lyrics, politics) with the added bonus that simpler drumming is also likely to be more conducive to dancing from a listener/audience point of view. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think this is the hardboiled essence of late-twentieth century pop/rock/whatever, the thing that really distinguishes it from other macro-genres.

But, as the walrus said, THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS ...

The obvious Western indie example is of course Reni. On pretty much every Stone Roses tune, there is a palpable sense that Reni is single-handedly rescuing music that would otherwise be lumpen and grey, and transforming it into danceable, genre-crossing future-funk with a sort a casual, effortless virtuosity. Everyone knows the obvious examples (Fools Gold, the I am the Resurrection outro), but listen to his drumming the whole way through Where Angels Play, the way it builds and wanders and shimmies:

Without Reni, this would be dull as dishwater. As it is, the other members of the band are spurred on to be better and more alive and Where Angels Play gambols with magic.

Then there are the virtuoso moments from funk and groove-based music proper. The obvious example here I guess would be Tony Allen. Again, one of the most noteworthy and heroic examples of his brilliance is when he "rescues" this tune, which would otherwise be relatively trite white Western pop:

Now this is a drum solo, of sorts. But it gets exactly the right balance between groove and ornament. The drum riff is pretty constant throughout, but when the melody begins to open out around 3:30, Allen cracks open a can of virtuoso - ever so briefly, only for about 20-30 seconds - and when the vocal melody drops we're in Elysium again.

Some other magic moments:

Monday, 3 December 2012


This is hyperbole indeed, but at the end of a year replete with fucked up shit, this might just be the most fucked up thing of all.

The guy who smeared the Hillsborough fans asks:

Why don't [people in the North] live within their means, or move down here and see what it’s like to be taxed until they weep?

Thursday, 29 November 2012


An extract from the book is up on the Zero Blog.

When I wrote all that stuff about Mumford and Sons over two sodding years ago now, I honestly thought nu-folk was already on the way out.

It wasn't.

Monday, 5 November 2012


A friend asked me what I thought about the Mercury Prize …

I dunno, what more is there to say? I suppose I thought there had been another turn of the screw this year in terms of the hype, and concurrently, the irrelevance of the whole thing. The two seem to be related. The more hysterical and insular the mediascape gets, the less people care. As with the Booker Prize, The Guardian worked itself into a frenzy with ridiculous “hustings” comment pieces, profiles on the nominees, etc, all of which would have been unimaginable in, say, the late nineties. But like contemporary politics, the music industry is now at such far remove from anything like a communitarian base that even this level of coverage/noise will almost certainly have no lasting impact on Alt-J or any of the other artists.

It was interesting that Alexis Petridis said something similar in a Guardian piece/sales summary, but in a way that illustrated just how grounded in PR commentary coverage of music has become (the fact that it’s now possible to use the word “coverage” in earnest seems to be symptomatic of the shifts I’m talking about). Bands/artists wither into the void if they don’t develop "momentum", if they don’t get enough promo, if they don’t break through to “sustainable territory”. Of course these have been stock aspects of the music industry since time immemorial. But instead of abating – as one might think it would in these days of Occupy and ongoing burgeoning crisis – the capitalisation of art is deepening in ever more subtle and profound ways. The alternative has still not manifested itself. There still isn’t really anything to discuss other than career trajectories, no vocabulary outside of promospeak.

Nick Grimshaw: on balance, a lobotomised fuck.
Another instance is the recent switch between Chris Moyles and Nick "Friend to the Stars" Grimshaw on the Radio 1 breakfast show. Far be it from me to make a martyr of Moyles, who was clearly a grade-A fucking neo-Savilite working-class-Tory shit-sack. But at least there was a streak of bathos and scepticism in his presenting act. His replacement, by contrast, seems to be the result of a music industry conspiracy to get the most bland, capitalistic Yes-man imaginable installed in a position of public power and centrality. Grimshaw sounds and acts precisely like a PR man. This is probably at least in part because he used to be a PR man. Moyles was a clownish light entertainer, but Grimshaw speaks with the vague authority of Someone Who Knows About Serious Music, and plays whatever hype-bands need “coverage” in any given week. (There are manifest similarities here with the Mercury Prize, which was founded by the industry as a way of giving album sales a boost in the late-summer/early-autumn downturn.)

These might seem like minor developments, but cumulatively they have a big effect.

Of course it's a familiar story: “how the counterculture was superseded by hipster culture”. Hipster culture takes the remains of the left, the remains of the counterculture, voids it of subversion and makes it saleable. The centre ground comes to be dominated by superficially “innovative” art that is conservative or at best ideologically insensate, and one is continually forced to remind oneself that “indie” is the exact antithesis of what it once was. I repeat that I’m not saying anything very ingenious here, but I am surprised at the sheer formidable extenuation of these Adornian movements, and at the continuing lack of resistance.

In this bravura piece over at the Oxonian Review, Joe Kennedy says something very similar about modern British poetry, with much more pith and articulacy than I’ve mustered here.

And here, as a special appendix, is said friend’s soundbite summaries of the Mercury nominees, which are all pretty much spot on I think:

Sam Lee: "admirable ... a good kind of scholar"

Django Django: "don't like ... and the wanky clothes don't endear"

Richard Hawley: "sounds like fucking Kasabian to me"

Alt-J: "nicepresentableposhboys in interview ... ultimately sign-of-the-times wankers I think"

Field Music: "should have won ... they manage to be in good traditions but surprising and new at the same time"

Lianne le ...: "fairly boring"

Michael K: "can't believe this is on here ... pure pastiche surely?"

Jessie W: "zzzzzz"

Plan B: "I know nothing about rap ... but oddly I liked this more than most of the stuff here"

Jazz Trio: "err, they're a jazz trio"

Maccabees: "U2 pompous Bono vocals, stadium rock pretensions ... is this unfair?"

Friday, 2 November 2012


Great post by Peter Fanning over at the NUST blog, which summarises a whole lot of straightforward righteousness. No matter how many times I read that Bobby Robson quotation, it never seems hackneyed. It's the political dimension of sentimentality, innit, like I was saying about that Del Amitri tune earlier this year.

Speaking of which, I finally finished reading Ruskin's Praeterita the other day, which has an interesting section towards the end about Carlyle and Scottish art:
... the whole tone of Scottish temper, ballad poetry, and music, which no other school has ever been able to imitate, has arisen out of the sad associations which, one by one, have gathered round every loveliest scene in the border land. Nor is there anything among other beautiful nations to approach the dignity of a true Scotswoman's face, in the tried perfectness of her old age.
Okay, so maybe this is sentimental, gloopy Victorianism, especially the last sentence. But it nails Del Amitri!

By the way, I wouldn't recommend Praeterita. Lots of picturesque descriptions of the Alps and absolutely no proto-socialism. Having said that, in my edition there was a pretty good preface by Kenneth Clark, which I read at the end (so's not to spoil the story, y'kna); Clark points out that Praeterita was essentially a work of consolation written in the wake of Ruskin's political disappointments. The pathos of this went a long way to redeeming the book's escapism. But still, I would go for the critical, political stuff instead, if you're that way inclined.

Thursday, 18 October 2012


I get off the Overground at South Hampstead and it immediately starts pissing it down. I’m slightly late so I think about running, but I’ve got three layers on – a lot for an unreconstructed Northumbrian – and I don’t want to be sweaty and florid for the big man.
            Predictably, when I get to Abbey Road, I’m the first one there. Catriona the Warner PR lass meets me after a short while in the reception. She’s clearly a bit music-biz, a bit ersatz, but frankly, because of her base of friendliness and the fact that she’s not a 40+ man, she will seem more and more like a paragon of human decency as the next hour unfolds. The next person I’m introduced to, I’m never quite sure who he is. He could be the head of Warner, he could be the producer of the album, he could be the studio owner or Johnny’s manager. It doesn’t matter much. Because he looks and is dressed very similarly to Bill Nighy (Bill Nighy in, well, anything), I’m going to call him Bill, which is almost unquestionably not his name. Bill is in his forties, is wearing an expensive black suit with a black shirt underneath, and has one of those Stones-y haircuts which make me thank Sir Mick of Jagger I don’t live in Manchester any more.
            We head up to a small room on the second floor. When I daydream of Abbey Road, I think of the stock stuff: the Summer of Love, visions of the Beatles bursting into immaculate 3-part harmonies at the pinnacle of the twentieth century, Ringo eating a Chinese takeaway in the corner, that sort of thing. This room, however, looks like a basement in a sixth-form college in Stoke [no offence, Ms. Weston]. It must be less than 15 feet wide and 7 or 8 feet deep. There appears to be some sort of Blur box-set on a shelf on one side of the room (like, ew), and on the other is one of those tacky posterboard things, you know, the ones you buy from the pound shop that usually have a fuzzy picture of Al Pacino in Scarface on the front. This one has a picture of The Smiths on it, along with the words “The Smiths” in comic sans. (Only joking about the comic sans, but you get the idea.)
            I ask Bill if I can record the interview, like The Quietus has asked me to.
            “Oh no. This isn’t an interview you know”.
            “Ah. What is it then?”
            “It’s just a chance to listen to some tracks from Johnny’s new album and hang out with him!” Catriona says, with bubbles.
            “Ah. No problem”. Follows an awkward pause.
            “Sit anywhere you like,” Bill says finally. “The other journalists should be here soon, and Johnny’s just having a spot of lunch.” Which other journalists? I think to myself. What is this?
            I decide to sit in the chair in the corner.
            “Don't sit in that chair! That’s my chair. Sit anywhere, except there.” I literally laugh at Bill when he says this, but he doesn’t laugh back.

The other music journalists arrive about twenty minutes late, conspicuously dry after their taxi journeys from central London. Roger Fluellen Johnson from The Observer is in his forties, is wearing a trendy suit, and has one of those Stones-y haircuts too. Mike Thompson from Mojo is in his forties, is wearing an expensive suit, and has one of those Stones-y … you get the picture. Johnny arrives and he looks exactly like all the other guys, I’m afraid to say. Is this the man who wrote “Please Please Please (Let Me Get What I Want)”? I find it difficult to countenance the idea.
            Over the next half hour we are treated to seven songs played at ear-splitting volume from the forthcoming album, which nobody outside the room has heard before. Apparently the record company people were blown away when they first heard these works-in-progress, and thought: we really have to play these to other people. It seem that that’s where the idea for this “thing” came from (no-one else seems to know what it is either) – we just really wanted to share these songs. I find it interesting that the “other people” they want to share the tracks with just so happen to be representatives of the major music press publications (plus, inexplicably, me), but I keep my mouth shut.
            The seven songs are, without exception, unutterably lifeless, detumescent dad rock. The third one is, I suppose, not that bad. It could almost be by Wild Nothing or Real Estate (ie. bands who sound a bit like The Smiths in a decorative, 2012-hipster sort of way). But the rest is unequivocally awful, like Oasis but much, much worse, replete with lyrics like “I wanna leave town” and “lookin’ through my eyes now” and “wakin’ up in the sun now” (it’s always a bad sign when lyricists put “now” at the end of a line just to fill out the scansion).
            At the end of the seventh song, Bill leans over to the mixing desk, and theatrically turns the volume knob right down, to signal the end of the performance. We clap enthusiastically (even me - hell, what can a brother do?). Follows a long discourse from Johnny and the record company people about where the record “came from”, which is so heartbreakingly boring I won’t recount it.
            The assembled journos each take turns to say very bland, positive stuff about the songs. At one point Mike Thompson from Mojo pipes up, “It’s almost Smithsy, in parts.” The faces of the record company people fall flat. This is not the right thing to say, it seems.
            Bill interjects: “Hmm, yeah, we thought that at first. But then we thought, actually, it’s not so much Smithsy as … Johnny. It’s actually just Johnny.” Everyone murmurs eager assent, and the conversation is wrapped up. We get our coats and pile out of Abbey Road.
            “Goodbye Alex. Take care now”, says Johnny, as I head down the steps and out onto the waterlogged street.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012


Just how did this happen? The last thing anyone predicted was that 2012 would be dominated neither by an expansion of Occupy nor a resurgence of right-wing populism. Instead we have a government that is doing exactly the same thing British governments have done for the last 30 years, ie. moderately strengthening and deepening neoliberal expansion. I don't care if Labour get in next time around, they show absolutely no sign that they'd do anything other than very cautiously modify the right-of-centre agenda; I mean, I seriously doubt whether wondercunts like Balls and the MilliPods would even have the fucking guts to roll back Osborne's latest attempt to play Battleships with the human rights of the populace with this "shares for rights" fucking travesty. What a fucking fucking bunch of fucking cunts.

But seeing as this is The Fantastic Hope an all (although in this instance The Barely Excusable Escapism is far more accurate) ...

I was saved from a total nervous collapse yesterday by getting properly acquainted with the new Nas album, moments of which are so astonishingly accomplished and vital, it literally made the hairs on the back of my neck bristle.

Sum highlights:

Music is good. Even if life isn't.

Saturday, 6 October 2012


We might have
fallen quite
in love.

Her father
the widowed
Mr. Withers
was in town
visiting his
on carboniferous

he wandered
on the coal wharves
we disputed
the relative merits
of painting
and music.

I wrote an essay
nine foolscap
pages long
dedicated to the
total overthrow
and discomfiture
of her opinions
and the establishment
of mine.

She wasn’t pretty,
rather, pleasant
in a wild-flower
sort of way,
especially if her
eyes were
looking at you,
and her mind
with them.

I said
to this fragile,
freckled, fair,
slip of a girl
on Camberwell Green
in the Spring of ’38.

A short
while later
her father
“negotiated” her
to a Newcastle
coal merchant,
who treated her
pretty much
as one of his
coal sacks
and she died
within a year.

(Ruskin, Praeterita, pp. 207-8.)

Friday, 28 September 2012

Thursday, 13 September 2012


As is now unambiguously clear, part of the reason both Hillsborough and the subsequent cover-up happened in the first place was a popular belief that football supporters are invariably aggressive, recalcitrant, stupid, lumpen, and dishonest. This attitude was present in the minds of the police and emergency services as the tragedy unfolded. It was present in the minds of the police hierarchy and the Tory MP Irvine Patnick as they sought to deflect blame away from themselves and onto the fans as easy targets. It was present in the minds of The Sun editors who sought to shoehorn the tragedy into a wider propaganda campaign directed at discrediting British (particularly northern) working-class people in the wake of the miners' strike and the general mood of insurrection of the Thatcher years. It was present in the minds of all the people at the time who eagerly seized on the received Sun/government version of events as confirmation of their prejudices. Over the last two decades, it has remained a popular attitude, for example, in the mind of Boris Johnson, who argued that people in Liverpool were wallowing in "victim status" in the wake of Hillsborough. It is still the popular perception in the minds of many people today.

On the right, football-bashing follows the form of the old "rugby is a thug's game played by gentleman; football is a gentleman's game played by thugs" adage. This is a pernicious and influential, if boring and predictable, class-based stereotype. On the left a more elaborate complex is evident. For all that the Blairite soft (soft) left valorised football in the nineties and noughties as an accessory of its Cool Britannia mythos, it seems that many - if not most - people on the left even now share the right-wing disdain for lumpen, thuggish football fans. In place of the usual class-based right-wing slurs - drunkenness, yobbishness, sheer common stupidity - leftist commentators attack football and football fans from leftist angles of attack: football supporters are racist, or misogynist, or passive, imbecilic consumers of a capitalist leisure industry. Marc Perelman's recent book for the left-wing London publisher Verso, Barbaric Sport: A Global Plague encapsulated this tendency.

What we might call the "empowered left" - journalists, publishers, media figures, politicians - typically adopt some variation of the above position, substituting bien pensant critique for traditional snobbery (or perhaps conflating the two). The result is an intellectual consensus across the board: football is a thug's game. The London left carries on with its bookstalls, launch parties, discussion groups, music festivals, Twitter noise, online chatter. Meanwhile, people outside of the empowered left, the people who are always somehow exiled to the outside of the circle of thought and influence, are dying, being silenced, campaigning, and just occasionally - after many years of hoping and striving - achieving victories against a rotten establishment on the ground of the culture and causes that matter to them.

Until this gulf is somehow narrowed, until the assumptions of ugliness are banished, until the negative, knee-jerk epigrams disappear that are still widespread about football, the British regions, and a mainstream oppositional culture that is not some "white working-class" throwback but a living and breathing normative radicalism in potentia, the really powerful will remain free to depict tragedies like Hillsborough however they see fit.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012


Slightly puzzling lack of comment from the left about the Hillsborough findings.

I'd like to think this isn't another instance of Badiou-reading Alfie Meadows supporters disdaining, y'know, actual working-class causes outside of London/the London commentariat. But then I can't be sure.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


70s Bowie is Opening Ceremony, 80s Bowie is Closing Ceremony. All putatively/aspirationally socialist pop ever is Opening Ceremony, all unabashedly consumerist and passive pop ever is Closing Ceremony. The distinctions have been there for decades, of course; we just haven't had such a universally-understandable distinction until now.

Robin Carmody on Facebook. Broadly true I think.

Friday, 10 August 2012


You get older and the roar starts
the quiet flourishes
you wonder where the crowd went.

A cause to canvas for?
I wake up in the morning.
It takes me hours to focus

but when I manage it
I hum dully, rigged
with a sort of ease, mindful

of the Galilean orbits
the way the sun splinters
tracks in the nightly snow.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012


The land is a well-kept secret. From the row of houses lining the main road of the village the fields tumble greenly down to the river and then shoot back up to the top of the valley - a wide, world-shunning vista. Plantations of pines clumped against dry stone walls. Moors on the periphery, pillars of smoke in the distance. The train track follows the curve of the river as it severs the dale's green swathe gently in two, winding through the old station empty since they stopped digging limestone decades ago. Quarries hide in the woods on the hillsides, their last-hewn stones wound round with grass; conifers and craters where men once crowded to work.

A long, blank summer. I buried myself in the car panel warehouse, working 8 til 7, endless weeks, raw calves, hauling sumps, windscreens, bonnets. Black Monday mornings wilting in the sunless heat, pocketing small change, pointlessly stoic. Bowman, the village cartoon, fat cigar-smoking capitalist, would wander down from his boss's layer, a tumoured warren: conservatories, protuberances, a gothic folly of the eighties. When he stooped behind us the air greyed over with greed, magnetised our last filaments of strength, his charcoal laugh the true sound of a century in which the old villainy is occulted but stoked, unabated.

At break time we sat in the corner of an oil-grimed hut. Jordan's breasts smiled at us from a faded poster, a sun-worn diptych of the nineties. Those men hated that job, but they sat there for each other, trying to make jokes ring, finding ways to overlap, mostly agreeing. It was here that I saw paradise for the first time: in the arrangement of people, hatred of the residual cartoons, the proximity of minds. I think about the warehouse every day, though I rarely go back to the village, and some say it doesn't exist.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012


For those who haven't already seen it, there's a fantastic new Euro 2012 blog called Straight Off the Beach featuring contributions from a number of pacey word-wingers.

My fave post so far is Joe Kennedy's look at the tendency of modern punditry to "read between the lines before actually reading the lines themselves". Coverage of the modern game does seem to have reached a point of absurdist over-analysis, with stats, tactical imaging, etc. I mean Masri's goal last night was just a pretty fucking good shot wasn't it? As such I found the the sight of Gareth Southgate getting his fibre-optic visualisation in a twist about the poor defending pretty risible. Seems like another symptom of bogus technocratic rationalism, capitalist realism, whatever.

Oh and don't forget that South Africa 2010 veteran Minus the Shooting is also producing some pretty snazzy stuff!

Monday, 4 June 2012


I'm editing the Oxonian Review right now, and wanted to give y'all heads up that we've just published a particularly competent issue, of which the highlights are as follows:

Wednesday, 30 May 2012


Managed to set down most of me thoughts about the Stone Roses reunion in a piece for The Quietus.

In the original draft normative radicalism was italicised: it's the keystone of the argument.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Somewhere change is
afoot. By the banks
of a flooding river
tracksuit girls
huddle and mutter,
through the gutters
of stadiums, Dundee,
Dalkey, basement tapes,
car parks black
with siren squall,
a turquoise landscape
by the Roman Wall,
bedrooms, banlieues,
everything strays into the
light at least once.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012


Sublimely spot-on close readings of contemporary music journalism by Neil Kulkarni.

In fact, I can see a lot of potential in dissections of this kind: they belie the notion that the technocrats are technically proficient.

An elitist culture is necessarily an intellectually impoverished one.

Some of those quotations have to be repeated, they're so godawful:

Coming on like a twin of ‘Live Forever’, Noel Gallagher’s no-nonsense lyrics, a typically bolshy delivery from “our kid” and a guitar riff which sweetly echoed George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ added up to the very first Oasis classic.

Trip hop progenitor ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ is really a slick piece of hip-hop soul blessed with Shara Nelson’s broken bawl and some muted beats and cowbells from 3-D, Mushroom and Daddy G. It came out under the more politically sensitive band name of Massive during the first Gulf War and ensured the collective remained the urban sophisticate’s artist of choice for the next decade.

This last one definitely the best:

As it stood, it was an absolutely pleasant slice of indie pop dreaminess.

Monday, 14 May 2012


I don't wish to comment on Joey Barton's latest piece of performance art, but I continue to be intrigued by his portrayal in the mainstream press. This today from The Guardian's Five Things We Learned From the Premier League This Weekend:

For all that he has tried to reinvent his image this season and make himself the poster boy for fascinated intellectuals with little interest in football – mainly by showcasing an in-depth knowledge of where the CTRL C and V keys are on a keyboard – this was Barton at his worst: vicious, thoughtless and selfish.


But seriously, if you don't believe me, check out something like this, from the New Statesman. In my experience, this is what most reviews in these sorts of publications (TLS, Guardian, LRB, etc) look like. You begin a piece by parachuting in some quotation/anecdote from somewhere or other as a way of showing off erudition and wide-reading. Okay, you could defend this on postmodern grounds (all writing is quotation blah blah), or by arguing that alluding to others shows a certain scholarly deference, but more often than not the contemporary habit is much closer to a wider culture of casual namedropping and the gossipy, celebrity-ish adoration of Great Men and Women. Merely adopting this stylistic tic is a sort of class password, a shibboleth of sophistication, a fast-track to the inner circles of court.

As such, isn't Joey Barton actually doing something quite interesting, quite revealing, in recognising that this simple methodology is a shortcut to power and influence in the modern mediascape? See also his fawnish Twitter exchanges with Piers Morgan and Alan Sugar (ie. the most repellent, reptilian Great Men in the postmodern universe). Why is Barton any different from those journalists who wheel out risible morsels of Philip Larkin's un-poetry for the umpteenth time in articles about the sixties? Why are his quotations of Smiths lyrics a topic of condescension and ridicule, while J.K. Rowling/David Cameron/Boris Johnson have adopted exactly the same point of reference as a way of shoring up the intellectual/moderately-radical-in-youth side of their PR bios?

Why are Barton's displays of erudition automatically dismissed as fake opportunism? Might I take the opportunity, by way of an answer, to reintroduce an old-fashioned phrase that is unfortunately becoming increasingly apposite in all kinds of contexts right now: class prejudice.

Not saying Barton isn't a tool, of course. I just think it's important we try to ascertain exactly what kind of tool.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012


All writers think that the world has reached its nadir, its low point … in fact this age will be lamented just like the last – that’s the paradox. What you can say about the world is that … it’s getting infinitely less innocent all the time. It’s been to so many parties, it’s been on so many dates, had so many fights, got its handbag stolen so many times … the accumulation is what makes the world seem that it’s worse always, because it’s never been through so much as it’s been through today …

- Martin Amis

Monday, 7 May 2012


A pattern of "allusion, not assertion" in response to Wayne's.

Thursday, 3 May 2012


Owing to a series of unfortunate instances such as banking problems, I had no money whatsoever between last Thursday and Monday, stuck in the house with nothing to do that I could realistically fathom much interest in and no money whatsoever. I have applied for various full-time positions over the years, but temping is a quick and easy fix, much like alcohol that merely serves to address short-term concerns before throwing you back to square one in the cold light of day. I’m nearly 30 and in a relationship. I’m not interested in being a major player in the rat race, but a little bit of dignity would be nice, or even a holiday if that’s not possible. 

Another great vignette about love on the dole by Dave Lichfield.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012


There's an interview about me book by the estimable William Farrell (of decades blog fame) up now at the estimable New Left Project.

Weird things, interviews. Chagall-esque caricatures: even weirder!

Sunday, 29 April 2012


A tune - what does it mean?

The way things are now:
A tune is an object, just one thing among many, isolated example, an entry in a catalogue, an item in a list.

Emphasis on its technicality, its volume, its power, its compressedness, its singular formal characteristics, its instantaneous appearance of "newness", its distinguishing features in the abstract catalogue of marketable goods.

What this leads to:
An emphasis on abstract technical qualities. Distinctions on the level of surface:


HIPSTER CULTURE - the spectrum, the rainbow, the list, the catalogue, the cabinet, the jumble sale, the fancy dress box, the auction house, the antiques fair, the curated exhibition, the museum shop.

(The digital pseudo-futurism of "The New Aesthetic")

In sum:
(eg. Brooklyn Beige, Lynch Lilac, Sixties Serge, Post-Punk Purple)

The Antedote:

What is this tune in the world?

How should we interpret it? (ie. what does it mean?)

How does it interact with its context/surroundings?  Does it even have a surrounding backdrop, or is it just an item in an ipod list, a colour in a catalogue?

Does it have a community? Does it have a milieu?

Might we say about it: they are trying to communicate something; we can hear something in what they are trying to say?
Or is it just an isolated object, a flash of individual brilliance, a display of technique, an assertion of power, the next big thing, this year's news, a trend, a gradient, a number, a filament, a degree, a letter in the alphabet, a chemical synthesis, a copper coin?

Where does it fit into life as a whole?

What is its location in the universe?

Where does it exist?

Across the span of our lives, and the lives of our children, and of everyone now living, what will it mean?

What is its resonance?
What is its harmony?
What is its position in relation to us?

What is its time? What came before, what will come after?
Why is it the present and not the past?

Tuesday, 24 April 2012


Jesus H Christ. A new collection over at Topman:


Soon people will start to realise what's going on here, right? Right??

Sunday, 22 April 2012


This is just plain racist.

Truly we are sliding back to the 19th century. (Thanks to Rob Cotter for the link).

Also, just stumbled on a quote of this guy's: "... how we felt with [Mumford and Sons], was like we were setting up a family business".


Tuesday, 17 April 2012


Review I wrote of Paul Salveson's Socialism with a Northern Accent over at the excellent New Left Project.

A good book.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012


Well now, this might just be one of my favourite photos ever.

Brutalism, mass collectivism, history, symmetry, Georgian town planning, a burger van: what more could you want?

Friday, 6 April 2012


Part of the reason the nu-folkers annoy me so much is their appropriation of something that in slightly different circumstances could be incredibly worthwhile. I was thinking about this at The Futureheads' gig at Union Chapel the other night, which featured acapella covers from their new album.

The thing about folk music is that it repudiates the commonplace that it's not about where you're from that counts. Of course it's ridiculous to be puritanical about background and origins; Richard Thompson was from Highgate after all. But it's also unequivocally true that there's a definite qualitative difference between music that is made in a context of rootless privilege and music that has at least some meaningful connection to place and history. The whole justification for folk culture is that it can pass on historical narratives and notions that have been jettisoned by the conservative mainstream. That's why the attempt by the latter-day Cameronite conservative mainstream and its cultural avatars to sell the folk myth is both utterly spurious and extremely dangerous in its likely effects: far from throwing the light on stories and places that capitalism keeps in the shade, it offers an enterprising bourgeoisie the chance to colonise the spaces and heritages that were never theirs in the first place.

Conversely, when you do hear real folk music that comes from a good place, the qualitative shock is unmistakable.

Of course it's possible to pick holes in what The Futureheads are doing (they're mid-career rock stars looking for a quirky new angle, they're not as echt working class as they seem, they're complicit with the record industry, etc). But in drawing a line back from their latter-day pop waywardness to a history that is undeniably theirs in specific important ways, they've produced music that is so palpably removed from the Mumford and Sons travesty that it comes very close to communicating something that has been expunged from the records in recent cultural history: artistic truth. You can quibble all you like about this description, but I think that we would all agree that this is something that exists and that we recognise manifestly when we encounter it. Without music that rings true with people's histories and worldviews, without a basic confidence that we have a truth and an authenticity that needs representing and needs to be advocated in opposition to the Cameronite debasement of roots, we're going to evaporate pretty quickly.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012


By Reynolds, has anyone commented anywhere on this Facebook group?

I stumbled across it on a (privately educated, Oxford uni-attending) friend's profile just now. No explication needed!

Which is fortunate, because I'm literally speechless ...

Monday, 2 April 2012


The Our Friends in the North echoes in current BBC drama White Heat are so blatant, they probably don't need require much elucidation. To quote liberally from the Wikipedia page:

The series follows seven students who first meet in a London flat-share in 1965 and consists of 6 one-hour episodes, set in 1965, 1967, 1973, 1979, 1982 and 1990. 

Milne has said she thinks its theme is "the disappointment of the Left."

etc, etc ...

Nevertheless, the comparison is a necessary one.

Purely on the level of surface, it's striking how much the emphasis has shifted in the last two decades from dialogue to visuals. OFITN consisted largely of astonishingly intimate and psychologically realistic episodes set against the backdrop of a nuanced, multi-dimensional plot that anatomised police corruption, the sex industry, post-war housing, the miners' strike, and the evolution of British political culture over the course of thirty years of election campaigns.  

White Heat, on the other hand, is a tapestry of gratuitous period detail, languorous cigarette/spliff smoking, close-ups of the ridiculously good-looking and anachronistically hipster-ish leads looking tortured and moody, melodramatic snogging, Skins-esque parties, partner-swapping, unearned sequences built around the fashionable countercultural soundtrack, and general unapologetic attempts to build a narrative out of a gelatinous glazing of radical chic and highly stylised cinematography.

The Culinary Aesthetic. I should point out that this is from a promo photoshoot for White Heat, rather than a still from the actual series itself. I think the point stands though.

All this is par for the course. That otherwise decent Great Expectations adaptation over Christmas, for example, suffered from the same tendency to mistake the TV drama serial format for a sort of high-end Burberry underwear ad. (Do Burberry even do underwear? Fuck knows, but you get the gist).

But what makes White Heat a true travesty of the precedent set by OFITN is its emphatic rejection of the ostensible grounding in politics and history for an exaggerated pomo-liberal-humanist stress on the personal. The "personal is political" frame is also there in OFITN of course, and it's a worthwhile enough starting point for social realism (though actually titling episode 4 of WH, The Personal is Political is surely nudging the cliche a bit too far). But for all its glossy New Left references, White Heat has very little historical sense. Politics and history are alien presences that almost always get in the way of personal emancipation (sex, career, creative development) and interrupt the narrative in awkward, crudely obvious ways, like when a row breaks out over a radio announcement of Churchill's death, or when David Gyasi's Jamaican character is sus-ed driving away from a party (which means he can't return to get off with the female lead).

Personality trumps socio-political materiality every time. Everything positive in the narrative seems to arise from some ineffable propensity in the black-female-gay characters to do good in spite of the surrounding political context, without any counterbalancing sense that their emancipation might relate meaningfully in some way to the political struggles being fought outside of the Big Brother-style household. The "Left" whose disappointment is apparently the theme of the piece is reduced to a one-dimensional caricature in the form of the posturing vanity of the "left-wing radical" character, the serenely dislikeable slumming-it poshboy Jack (played by a guy who on many occasions clearly doesn't have a clue about the historical context of what he's saying).

Sexism, racism, and homophobia are not problems that are seen as having anything to do with a wider leftist egalitarian movement; rather, Jack's "precious class struggle", as one character puts it, is viewed as not only separate from but actively antagonistic to the individual identity struggles of the other leads, who are effectively compartmentalised stereotypes of marginal groups alternately quarreling and shagging each other in a sort of Darwinian soap opera, at the end of which hovers the reward of middle-aged middle-class respectability (though of course this will be mitigated by a mysterious tragedy experienced by the elderly characters in flash-forward sequences where they float winsomely around the domestic setting of their youthful sexual conquests and gaze nostalgically at impossibly cool-looking polaroids).

The writer of White Heat Paula Milne comments "Our Friends in the North was absolutely seminal. But it didn't have a lot to do with women, and it didn't have a lot to do with race, and it didn't have a lot to do with sexual politics". There wasn't much about race in OFITN, but there was plenty about women and sexual politics. It's just that these things were treated subtly as part of a wider narrative of political injustice in Britain that ventured further than North London and delved deeper than depoliticised liberal lifestyle reductions of gender-sexuality-race.

And the writing and acting in OFITN were just so much better ...

... if not the accents.

Friday, 23 March 2012


I'm late in mentioning this, but do check out The Worst Songs Project, an attempt to delineate the worst 200 pop records of all time. Tom May, David Lichfield, John Gibson, Robin Carmody and myself voted, and there are comments by four of us on most of the entries (note the ineptitude of my comments in comparison with the shock eloquence of the other three lads).

I think Florence and the Machine's "You've Got the Love" is up next week, which I'm very much looking forward to.

Speaking of which, I've got a putative idea for a book of essays (maybe a Zero thing) called something like Against the New Bloomsbury, about how modernism and the historical avant-garde generally is being turned into a bourgeois commodity in a privatised higher education system. Any takers?

Wednesday, 21 March 2012


I know I'm clutching at straws here on one of the darkest days of the century thus far, but I repeat, I'm adamant that we should see a small glimmer of hope in the figure of Andy Burnham.

Of course he's a Blairite golem in many respects, but if we're going to retain any faith whatsoever in the Labour Party - and I allow that there are pretty formidable reasons not to - Burnham's visceral left populism seems like the only game in town:

We will remind them every day of the damage they have done to our NHS ... While on a day like today it's hard for me to give any encouragement to people worried about what this government is doing, I can at least say this: that we will repeal this bill at the first opportunity and restore the N in NHS.

I know it's only rhetoric, but at least he's speaking the right language, and with a degree of sincerity and confidence. I can't think of anyone else in the political mainstream doing this in quite the same way.

Note the assertive, instinctive use of our. Not many politicians can get away with that without sounding disingenuous. When we find someone who can, we should be very cautiously optimistic.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012


Walking along
the street

and some guy
shouts "Hey

so I asked him
what "USA"
stands for

and his reply
was "U
Sexy Angel"

that was
of him.

(Hayley Rasoul via Facebook)

Monday, 12 March 2012


This was Blair's dream: a war hero's
welcome for himself, miles of minions
genuflecting everywhere. Drake
triumphing in the Solent summer.

Cameron is cooler. The crop fields
whisper to him as he stalks the city
framing parades, jubilees, pastoral pride --
but sport is too modern, too hopeful.

A charmed man from Chingford smiles
a sucrose smile. Bombs ricochet in
the East End of the pea-soup planet
and the victors graze in a vaporous sky.