Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2013 POP

This was the best year for the pop single I can remember:

10. Sky Ferreira, "You're Not the One"

9. Miley Cyrus, "We Can't Stop"

8. Lana Del Rey, "Summertime Sadness" (Cedric Gervais Remix)

7. Pusha T, "Numbers on the Board"

6. Taylor Swift, "I Knew You Were Trouble"

5. Naughty Boy, "La La La"

4. Duke Dumont feat A*M*E, "Need You (100%)"

3. Rizzle Kicks, "Lost Generation"

2. Lorde, "Royals"

1. Chvrches, "Gun"

Trendier addenda:

Sunday, 29 December 2013


I'm going to nominate some categories (partly picking up on stuff already thrown up on the decade blogs and elsewhere):








(Carl has already nabbed it, but great minds etc ...)

Thursday, 12 December 2013


Caught the first episode of this last night. So far it's fine social-realist TV drama in the tradition of Our Friends in the North, Tinker Tailor, Red Riding, etc, and certainly better than anything the Beeb have done this year I reckon. (Definitely better than last year's shambolic effort in this regard, anyway.)

There's quite an interesting political thread running through it, too. Christopher Eccleston is deliciously demonic as gambling club owner John Aspinall. An unusual amount of script space is given over to Aspinall's Randian dialogues full of references to Alpha Males, biological determinism, the survival of the fittest, the importance of accepting the growth of an inferior underclass, and all that shite. He's basically a walking Adam Curtis theory, a right-wing crank grumbling about the power of "the Miners" in social-democratic post-war Britain, a sinister Blimp full of embittered determination to reassert what he calls the "natural order". Of course, the character is all the more shady because his views will become depressingly mainstream some ten years after the early-seventies moment that provides the backdrop to Lucan's narrative.

Another interesting thing is the way this class narrative is synthesised with a powerful feminist argument. Egged on by Aspinall's reactionary Alpha Male spiel, Lord Lucan starts to intimidate his wife Veronica - mentally and physically - in an attempt to get her committed so he can win custody of his children. Fortunately, this is the progressive early seventies rather than the Downtonite 1920s, so the courts decide in favour of the independent, sound-of-mind woman against the imperious, bullying aristo. The tragedy is that the working-class nanny who has supported Veronica in the run-up to the trial is bludgeoned to death by a crazed Lucan at the end of the first episode.

The symbolism here - of a brutal, quasi-Darwinian patriarchy reasserting its authority after a period of "effeminate" egalitarianism - is not difficult to grasp. The unheimlich contemporary relevance - bearing in mind certain recent uber-Darwinian pronouncements of the British Conservative Party - is also striking.

And then you realise who Aspinall's step-nephew is:

There can be no more denying it ...

The conspiracy theory is the true realist art form of the twenty-first century.

Sunday, 24 November 2013


... about Mark Fisher's "Exiting the Vampire Castle" piece is its underscoring of "a set of snobbish and condescending attitudes that it is apparently alright to exhibit while still classifying oneself as left wing".

Predictably I think, this is exactly the form a lot of the criticisms of the piece have taken. Lots of the contra comments on Facebook and Twitter have adopted exactly that "tone ... as if they were a schoolteacher marking a child’s work, or a psychiatrist assessing a patient" MF identifies.

People have tended to refer to the Vampires' Castle piece using words like "crude" or "incoherent". Then there's this slightly noxious piece (which, with its link to a photoshopped caricature, verges on character assassination). The starting point of the critique here is that "the reasons given [by MF in the Vampires' Castle article] ... do not lead to the conclusions he offers", that "it does not follow its own stated reasons". In other words, the teacher steps in to reprimand the pupil who hasn't polished his argument just-so.

FFS, the article is actually called "B-grade politics"!

Here again: "... a case of someone who’s read a bit of philosophy and theory but simply doesn’t understand the subtlety of the claims advanced therein."

And here: "What I would recommend Fisher is to do some reading". [sic]

Stepping outside of the internecine left for a moment, right-wing blogger Harry Mount made a very similar move earlier this month when he tried to discredit the "spoilt and childish" Russell Brand. Apparently, Brand's big problem in his journalistic writing is his overuse of "long, Latinate words that desperately scream 'I'm clever' at the reader". So according to Mount, Brand should "grow up" and "get a little more Anglo-Saxon" in his writing. These are highly contentious issues of style, about which there has been much debate for aeons. But Mount offers his maxim (Anglo-Saxon words=good, Latinate prose=bad) with the absolute authority of the High Tory schoolmaster.

Very different examples, but I think they're evidence of exactly the sort of imperious "reprimanding" tendency the Vampires' Castle conceit is trying to expose and challenge.

Thursday, 31 October 2013


How about this ...

1) The whole thing has very little to do with class, or, more accurately, the main issues of contention don't. That's not to say that class isn't very important to the wider arguments and to Russell Brand's personal narrative in general, just that it seems to have been introduced in a slightly irrelevant fashion in this instance. To be honest, I blame Facebook and its universe of crossed wires.

2) Debating Russell Brand's sexual politics is valid and necessary.

3) Overwhelmingly, the Newsnight interview was a brilliant, inspiring, moving, and somewhat out-of-the-blue incursion into mainstream discourse of certain key tenets of left politics. It is difficult to quantify the actual efficacy of something like this, but even if just on the level of morale and affirmation of political belief, hope and empowerment, Brand's intervention was magnificent.

4) As such, a real danger - and without wishing to misrepresent anyone else's argument, what I think the slightly mis-aimed criticisms of "identity politics" were trying to get at - is that a hugely positive (not to mention somewhat rare) assertion of left values in a space where that might actually mean something becomes nullified and negated by discussions about Brand's individual class and sexual credentials that, while clearly massively important in a wider sense, are not directly, immediately relevant to his statements about widening inequality, the moral bankruptcy of mainstream politics, the imaginative possibility of revolution, and so on.

5) The overall effect of this sort of nullification/negation is impasse, disillusionment, infighting, those "classic left-wing" curses, and leaves the door open for people further to the right to come in and truly dismantle what could have been a subversive and inspiring moment in cultural discourse.

6) Case in point: that wondercunt from Peep Show, who now comes out as a weirdly impassioned Blairite ultra, lecturing Brand in the New Statesman this week with all the snideness and callow intelligence of a public school debating team captain: "We tried [revolution] again and again, and we know that it ends in death camps, gulags, repression and murder. In brief, and I say this with the greatest respect, please read some fucking Orwell".

7) Do you think Robert Webb realises that Fucking Orwell was in fact a novelist, and not a political historian, much less a prophet of twenty-first-century hopes and dreams?

Monday, 28 October 2013


Sublime sounds from Newcastle's most insanely talented button-presser Calum Howard.

Sunday, 27 October 2013


A grey wraith in a blue leather case,
Still a marvel in some respects;
Reminder of a sci-fi world,
Of buried futuristic sects.

After 1979
Our reeling hopes were all erased,
But the last tape can be wiped again
And the dreaming past can be rephrased.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013


KILLER: Uncannily, I once ate an apple that tasted exactly like an orange. Does anyone else have any similar experiences they'd like to share?

Thursday, 1 August 2013


The Great Eight huh?

Hmm. Out of that list, this is the only genuinely exciting one:

Duke Dumont also pretty good, but it's just too chuffin retro (see also G** L****).

On the other hand, it's hard not to feel like we're riding some sort of very micro wave of optimism right now. I feel like chopping my own hand off after writing that. I know the entire North of England is descending into T.S. Eliot territory. I know London is booming because it's more or less become the capital of a newly feudal world order. I know it's probably all just cos of the weather.

But I dunno. Life is a handful of summers, and to me right now this feels like a good one.

Just a thought.

Thursday, 20 June 2013


Okay so the cover art for this now exists.

Revisions are still ongoing, however, so please do get in touch with any thoughts (pro or contra - in fact, especially contra, as I could do with some preparatory toughening up). The release date isn't until March.

While we're on the subject, there are actually some incredibly worthwhile comments in, and particularly below, the latest entry of Freaky Trigger's Popular series (on Some Might Say ostensibly, but really about Oasis in general).

Monday, 10 June 2013


Another hastily assembled diatribe for the Guardian.

It's all about the way in which London is becoming like the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz while everywhere else becomes like the Bog of Eternal Stench in that '80s film Labyrinth so beloved of modern-day hipsters.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Tuesday, 21 May 2013


In this season's Premier League the margin between 7th and 8th (12 points) was almost the same as the gap between 8th and the relegation zone (13 points).

The plutocracy is: Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, Everton, Liverpool.

The two money/power bases are London and Cheshire.

Everyone else is a relegation candidate.

There's a double-meaning in this.

Sunday, 12 May 2013


Simon Reynolds’s blogpost of this week scratches the surface of an unseemly micro narrative that says a lot about contemporary culture, journalism, and How Bad Things Happen.

To sum-up: Eve Barlow wrote an effusively positive review in the NME of the new album by indie hype band Peace. My personal take on this is broadly the same as Simon R’s: Peace are a prize-winningly unremarkable band, and therefore the only way Barlow could say anything at all interesting about them was to engineer a phoney war between “old” (people who criticise current pop for its derivativeness) and “young” (people like Peace and their fans, who, paradoxically, don’t mind the fact that the vast majority of current pop is old, derivative, and retrogressive). From this syllogism Peace emerge as a half-way interesting proposition, a shining ideal of young-oldness, or old-youth, or some such unholy oxymoron.

Subsequently, Neil Kulkarni laid into Barlow’s argument. For all its judiciousness, Kulkarni’s attack had the unfortunate upshot of transforming the phoney war into a more or less real one. In blogposts and via social media, many people – eg. Reynolds – applauded Kulkarni’s critique. On the other side, Eve Barlow and an array of mainstream media types – Rob Fitzpatrick, Eamonn Forde – rushed to discredit the “old” Kulkarni, in a series of rather mean-spirited, even faintly bullying exchanges on Twitter that derided him as an out-of-touch ranter.

I’m compelled to enter this bunfight for two reasons. Firstly, on a basic level I find these attacks on Kulkarni (who, I should add, I don’t know personally, even if we are “friends” on Facebook) to be a tad sinister. Secondly, I think this opposition between “young” and “old” – one that both Kulkarni and Simon R replicate to a degree – is manifestly absurd, and shouldn’t be entertained as anything other than a cynical attempt by a mandarin wing of music journalism to present a shallow justification for its professional underpinning (ie. good, comment-worthy pop music), in a period when pop music of the NME/indie variety is indisputably not very interesting.

Some paragraphs of Bildungsroman. I turned 29 a couple of months back. In some uncharitable interpretations, this might make me “early-middle-aged”, or something. But surely most people would agree that I’ve got a reasonable claim to be some kind of “young”. And guess what? I don’t like Peace. Moreover, I feel pretty certain that I wouldn’t have liked them ten or even fifteen years ago. Maybe, at a push, when I was 12 or 13. But definitely not after that. By the age of 14/15 I was fortunate enough that my musical inner life had started to be shaped by encounters with the progressive tendencies of the day: the hip-hop and r’n’b of the turn of the millenium, drum n bass, techno, post-rock, left-of-centre indie (Beta Band, Mogwai, Bjork, Stereolab, et al).

It seems to me to be a simple objective fact – and I say this with no relish and much sadness – that these sorts of significant minority tendencies (which, let’s be honest, were ailing even in the late-nineties), are either non-existent or atomised to the point that they are almost invariably microcosmic and marginalised in the current climate. Okay, there’s plenty of good stuff out there, as the cliché runs. But in terms of a culture, of a wider aggregate of the good stuff, I don’t really see anything visible, and I don’t think even the positivist yea-sayers at the NME could dispute this (I’d love to be proved wrong).

My view on this hasn’t changed noticeably for well over ten years. I felt this way in 2002, when I was 17/18, when the success of bands like the Strokes and the White Stripes seemed to announce of the end of the actually-existing phase of the counter-culture. I felt at that point that I was witnessing the takeover of an ultra-corporate, pastiche-heavy, avowedly conservative strain of neoliberal art. I still feel this way today (at the end of my youth, as it were).

So I just don’t think that the claim that Peace are a “young” band – one that only “young” people can understand – is at all credible (for every teenager who likes them I would be willing to bet there is at least one who finds them just as unimpressive as I do). To slander young people in this way seems patronising and even slightly paedophilic: as though people under a certain age are clueless innocents whose vitality and naivety older music journalists should valorise and fetishise if they are not to become “sad old men” (Barlow’s phrase on her Twitter feed for Kulkarni and Reynolds).

Of course age is a relevant factor in determining artistic appreciation. But I can’t see that it has any relevance in the Peace narrative. On the other hand, questions of culture and politics do. To reiterate, I think that both music and music journalism are in a pretty bad way right now. The fate of art rises and falls with that of its society, and I take it as a given that we're currently living in a rotten, neoliberal society where rotten, neoliberal art has become hegemonic. But if you’re a salaried music journalist, of course you can’t say this. So you have two options. You either have to become an automaton who regurgitates the blithely enthusiastic language of the press release or the advert (a route taken by many); or, as in Barlow’s case, you fabricate a mock ethic – in this instance, a pretty imbecilic avowal of adolescence, of “fun”, of “sexiness”, of surface delights of all kinds.

To be honest, in a sense I agree with Barlow’s point about music not necessarily needing to be new to be worthwhile. But I do think that music has to be culturally, popularly, democratically meaningful, and meaning is one of the first things that gets lost in a retromanic culture (pastiche being an attempt to retain form while evacuating content). It’s not especially worrying to me that Peace aren’t doing anything new. But I am profoundly worried that their formal conservativism seems to come hand in hand with an attempt to escape from their historical moment and its cultural and political pressures. In the absence of a historical, social dimension to music, the leap into the pseudo-ethic of the endless childhood is predictable.

When a band – when an entire pop culture – has nothing to say, as a journalist you will most likely have nothing to say either. Hence, when someone queries your intellectual standpoint, as Kulkarni and Reynolds did in the case of Barlow, it is understandable that the reaction was one of bemusement and a retreat into the bitchy vocabulary of the playground and the ad hominem attack. Unfortunately the mainstream of music journalism right now appears to be dominated by a peculiarly virulent strain of braindead consumer hedonism, by people who simply don't acknowledge that pop music can be debated about in politico-cultural terms. It would be (sort of) alright if these people were cognisant of their position, but depressingly I fear that they're just moronic capitalistic yes-people for whom pop music is a leisure pursuit and nothing more.

I’m keen that this doesn’t become another ad hom chapter in a somewhat pathetic mini war. But I looked up Rob Fitzpatrick (one of the anti-Kulkarni Twitter sniggerers) on Google, and – focusing purely on his writing – I was profoundly unsettled by what I found. In a debate with Dorian Lynskey on the Guardian about poshness in pop in March, he said this: “Pop went through a political phase (in an attempt to sell records and fund careers) when you were young. That affected you emotionally. I understand that. But that was 25 years ago, Dorian. Let it go”. Again, we have this horrible, playground tone, and the suggestion that reading pop politically or in terms of its social eloquence is somehow “old”. I just wanted to say that I’m not that old – not yet – and for me the lack of a political culture in pop is undeniably something worth fighting against. My hope, my belief, is that millions of other young and old people feel this way too.

Saturday, 20 April 2013


I'm speaking at this event on the 11th of May at the Quaker Meeting House in Manchester. It should be dead good. North-westerners: please come doon.

Speakers include Andy Wilson, Esther Leslie, Aninda Ramamurthy, Ben Watson, Caspar Hewett, and stax more.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013


"At Briggflatts Meetinghouse"

Boasts time mocks cumber Rome. Wren
set up his own monument.
Others watch fells dwindle, think
the sun's fires sink.

Stones indeed sift to sand, oak
blends with saint's bones.
Yet for a little longer here
stone and oak shelter

silence while we ask nothing
but silence. Look how clouds dance
under the wind's wing, and leaves
delight in transience.

- Basil Bunting (1975)

Monday, 15 April 2013


I (very quickly) wrote about this "football hooligan resurgence" thing for the Guardian.

Didn't have time to point to the obvious connections with Hillsborough, Thatcher, etc, unfortunately.

Monday, 8 April 2013


On this day I remember my mum, who died of breast cancer at the age of 56 in November 2005.

She was everything Margaret Thatcher, who surpassed her by some 30 years, was not.

As the daughter of Republican Irish Catholic immigrants living in post-war Britain, my mum grew up with an inherited belief in egalitarianism and political change, in a society where a tentative form of socialism was making those values more widespread and more potent than at any time before or since. Like many members of the so-called sixties generation, my mum regarded society and our collective improvement of it as the greatest good. For my mum, self-interest, competition, and greed were great evils that had to be combated with a political philosophy of altruism, cooperation, Love.

Margaret Thatcher believed that there is "no such thing as society". She believed that individuals are primarily motivated by self-interest, and that, because of this, they should not be supported in times of suffering by any means other than the largesse of the charitable rich. She was a friend of murderous tyrants and zealously racist political regimes. She delighted in the violence and theatricality of war. She worked hard to destroy the solidarity and unity of British working-class people, to take away their jobs, their communities, their pride.

My life has been dominated in very different ways by these two very different women. Now they are both gone, and I feel very forcefully that it is time for us all to decide whose children we are.

Thursday, 28 March 2013


The reaction to this Miliband resignation thing is profoundly depressing.

Martin Kettle in The Guardian says:
... many of the things for which Miliband stands will simply not go away, however much Labour's old-time religionists and Pasionaras may wish it otherwise. Labour is not going to lurch into anti-Europeanism or big new welfare spending commitments just because the brainy ex-foreign secretary is heading out of the Commons. It is not going to do these things because it – and this includes Ed Miliband – knows it cannot win or govern on that basis.

Peter Oborne in The Telegraph says:
Yet after Labour’s 1997 election victory he was the poster boy of a new ruling elite which seized control of the commanding heights of British politics. Anti-democratic, financially greedy and morally corrupt, this new political class has done the most enormous damage. Since David Miliband was its standard-bearer, his political career explains a great deal about what has gone wrong with British public life, about why politicians are no longer liked or trusted, and about how political parties have come to be viewed with contempt. 

It says a lot about the ongoing media hegemony of Blairism in Labour-centric discourse that it's an ardent Tory who offers the pithy critique.

I have so much fucking rage for the Guardian right now. I mean, come on, David Miliband was one of the most odious politicians in living memory. How about headlining something vaguely left-wing for a change?

Friday, 22 March 2013


Most people regard Britpop as a dirty word, and of course I can understand why. Pretty much all of the great evils of the present were birthed or crystallised in that funny period between 1994 and 1997. Blairism, retro, and Alex James have morphed seamlessly and without ideological consternation into Cameronism, vintage, and Alex James. We haven't moved on. The mid-nineties are a nightmare from which we're still trying to awake.

So how do we dead awaken? Given that the nineties appear to be at the foundation of the present fucking farce of an epoch, the answer seems to be venture Dante-like into the Inferno in order to see what we can salvage from the flames. Thankfully Rhian E. Jones has been brave enough to do this in what is already the year's most passionate, most brilliant, most enjoyable book.

One of the great strengths of Jones's summary of gender and class debates as they impacted on Britpop is the obvious affection she shows for her musical case studies. It's easy to castigate the bands of this period, and indeed some people appear to have dedicated their lives to this vocation. But too often critiques of Britpop end up sounding like the reactionary rants they purport to oppose. It's elementary to slag off Oasis; it's far more difficult to actually try to pick apart what went wrong in this period, and to try to detach the worthwhile aspects of a variegated populist movement - arguably the last of the really cogent countercultural rock movements - from its obviously wayward, conservative tendencies. Clampdown pulls off this timely intellectual feat with aplomb.

The Manic Street Preachers emerge as obvious heroes of the narrative. But then arguably the Manics are in little need of critical redemption, mainly because they were artsy enough in their early years to secure the enduring affection of the bohemian liberal set. What's far more pithy about Clampdown is its wonderful exploration of a host of bands - Shampoo, Kenickie, Elastica - who have arguably been marginalised because of their association with the ephemerality of the period (and obviously accusations of "disposability" tend to be levelled far more often at female artists). These are sorts of bands people of my age remember with fondness but can't quite put a finger on why. Jones seeks out these forgotten pop fragments and makes a convincing case for their importance.

Clampdown then, is a celebration of the disposable, the ephemeral, the kitsch of Britpop, and a recovery of the political potential inherent in these values. When these largely working-class mores at the centre of British culture, something must be going right somewhere along the lines. The working-class cultural upsurge of the mid-'90s that was briefly epitomised in Britpop was widespread and profound. If its energy was quickly siphoned off by Cool Britannia, that shouldn't stop us from trying to recover something from the rubble.

You must read this astonishing book.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013


An inglorious decline over a number of years due to avarice, self-interest, horse-racing, lack of resilience, and general spectacular boringness.

Or: a lobotomized parody of George Best for the neoliberal age.

Thursday, 28 February 2013


Right, no excuses, you've all got to come along to this ...

Mark Fisher, Peter Fleming, and myself will be talking at Waterstones in Trafalgar Square, at 7.00pm on Wednesday 13 March, 2013. Tickets are £5 including wine.

The event title is:

Capitalist Realism: What it is and How to Fight It.

Vis aids ...

Wednesday, 27 February 2013


[From the introduction to United - The First 100 Years: The Official Centenary History of Newcastle United (updated edition), 1995]
It is a great honour and privilege to write a tribute to my football club on the occasion of the publication of this new book on its history. As someone who was brought up in the North East and now represents Sedgefield constituency, I know how important it is that we now have success in sport.
            The current era is the most exciting for the club and its fans since I first began supporting the team in the early sixties. Becoming leader of the Labour Party puts great demands on my time, but wherever I am on a Saturday I anxiously await the results. And, as someone who has a keen interest in sport, when political engagements permit, I consider it a great privilege to be at the match with the family – especially at St James’s Park. Though I have to confess that there isn’t always domestic harmony at 4.45pm on Saturdays. My elder son, Euan, supports Liverpool, as does his mother, and my younger son, Nicky, backs Manchester United.
            Football is a great passion, loved by countless thousands of people throughout the country. When I get to a match I’m always reminded that Bill Shankly’s famous comment ‘that football is more important than life or death’ s much to Tyneside as on Merseyside.
            I recall as a teenager being elated by Supermac and his hat-trick home debut against Liverpool in 1971. But, of course, in football as in politics we have to live through the darker times as well – and I recall my gloom when we lost the FA Cup final to Liverpool in 1974. I didn’t see Jackie Milburn play, but he and Jimmy Smith, whose genius on the field I did witness, were my great childhood heroes.
            We are very fortunate to follow the club in the current era. This is the most exciting period since I started supporting ‘The Toon’. We are a forward looking club with a magnificent new stadium, an ambitious and enterprising management, on and off the field and, of course, a great squad of players.
            I wish everyone in the club well and know that we can build on our current success. Most importantly we can foster high standards of endeavour and conduct inspiring our young people – which I think is the greatest contribution one generation in sport can bequeath to the next.
            I know that this revised edition of the history of the club will give great pleasure to everyone.

[No commentary needed, I feel]

Friday, 15 February 2013


This piece by Tom Ewing is great.

Those motifs are at the front of my mind right now, what with this and all. Definitely Maybe as a tug-of-war between John Smith and Tony Blair versions of Labourism isn't a bad notion.

By the way, please feel free to send me any virulent anti-Oasis arguments at this point. It's best we get that sort of thing out of the way sooner rather than later. (I know: I should be so lucky).


On a completely unrelated note, I recently came across the foundation moment of The Fantastic Hope buried in this otherwise highly embarrassing old list of putative band names (Phillip?!). Seeing as I forgot to celebrate the fifth anniversary back in September, consider this right here a fuggin party!

Monday, 28 January 2013


Anyone like poetry?

For the one of you at the back bashfully murmuring half-assent, myself and the indubitable Joe Kennedy are going to be reading a long-ish collaborative poem at this event in Bethnal Green in February. You should definitely come.

Vague concept: the North Pennines, the past, the future, leftism, modernism - the usual shite.

In a similar vein, I've got a poem out in the latest issue (XIV.2) of Oxford Poetry. Buy it!

(Actually there seems to be a problem with ordering single issues on the OP website so you might have to do the two-issue subscription thing, which is only 3 quid more.)

Monday, 21 January 2013


I agree wholeheartedly with this.

But how? Where?