Show them where you’re from


I’ve reviewed Darkstar’s new album Foam Island up on the Repeater blog. In the piece I also comment on representations of class, Sleaford Mods and their documentary Invisible Britain, and Mike Savage’s 21st century seven-tier model of social class. It starts like this:

When future historians come to make sense of our peculiarly disappointed moment (and good luck to them), some will no doubt wonder where the anger was. Every decade of the 20th century had its Marx-quoting middle classes and placard-bearers hailing the imminent end of capitalism. But recent political events have outstripped the imaginations of even the most jaded pessimists. In five years’ time there may be no effective welfare system or health and social care service to speak of. Austerity is re-elected, the prime minister inserts his penis into a dead pig and retains credibility, and the leader of the opposition is called a terrorist sympathiser for opposing another ill-thought out military disaster. Strange times.

There is a prevailing sense of paralysis and defeat all across ex-industrial Britain. And this particularly effects the young, who have not known anything else. So, what is their story?

Read the full piece here.


The destruction of meaning? Book review



Simon Hardy’s recent essay the Destruction of Meaning is a great read, and I used a book review to critically engage with some of the wider problems of propaganda, power, and political possibilities. That review is now up at Review 31, and there’s an excerpt below:

‘Propaganda that looks like propaganda is third rate propaganda’: so said Lord Northcliffe, Director for Propaganda for the British Ministry of Information in 1918. Northcliffe possessed a unique monopoly on news production in the early 20th century, owning both the Daily Mail and The Times, and his work in producing effective anti-German material during the first World War has been credited as the first modern instance of effective mass propaganda. Whilst today we have our Rupert Murdochs and Richard Desmonds, and the increasingly-centralised ownership of media production to a few multinational giants, analysis of propaganda and its means of propagation still remains somehow lacking. An era of popular scepticism and cynicism about the integrity of politicians, police and bankers has yet to be coupled to a wider rejection of media and information production. Why is this, and what can be done?

Simon Hardy’s long essay Destruction of Meaning is a welcome contribution to a Marxist analysis of media and communication. Presented in engaging, accessible and enjoyable prose, Hardy’s argument rests on the Confucian claim that when language loses its meaning, people lose their freedom. This presents serious trouble for a critical public. On the one hand, as Hardy claims, it leads to a growing ‘irrationalism’ across the globe as ‘public opinion’ (itself a dubious construction) increasingly supports a right-wing agenda that would seemingly harm its own interests. On the other, it relies on a new neoliberal world-view that this is an age beyond ideology and politics, where in our economic meritocracies, politicians act in the interests of only the hard-working and deserving. In such a wilful irrationalism, welfare, immigration or labour rights are framed only in emotive terms of ‘toughness’ and ‘fairness’ – shifting the debate from causes, interests and the common good to more simply how voters should ‘feel’ and emotionally relate to certain, selective, heroes and villains. How can a serious understanding or discussion of political debates and events occur when there is, from the outset, a total falsification or distortion of their meanings by media outlets and political discourses? And moreover, how did this project – and Hardy considers it a project – come to pass? …

Click here to read the remainder of the review-essay.

I’ll also be talking tomorrow evening at Housmans with Mark Fisher about Negative Capitalism, all welcome.

The Pop Group reform – Garage 11/09/10


Washed up, out of shape. Overweight Mark Stewart struggles to hold himself up tall, squats down and slurps a pint of cider, before standing again, drawing upon the lyric print-outs onto large font to recall the words to each poorly-rehearsed song from over 30 years ago. The ageing crowd shake their hands and arses and skank in the old way, as the band hold it tightly together through 6 or 7 songs, before an encore where they play the first song once again, “We are all prostitutes“, with a little more gusto the second time round.

It’s a poor show, especially given Mark Stewart’s hot bursts in the past against reformations, ‘retro-philia’, and even last April boasting that the band would never reform, saying “There are too many fat men like Gang of Four trying to get attention these days.” The beer belly on Stewart as he sweats on stage, pounding his fist into the air, unfortunately catches my attention above all, and it’s unfortunate that a year and a half is all it takes to forget statements of integrity. The encore song is apt, and while the sound quality and production is excellent with good dub effects mixed live, this seems very much like another old group playing the past-punk reformation game.

I vow to my brother – who paid £17 each for our 2 tickets, and I thank him, and I don’t meant to sound ungrateful – that I won’t see another reformed post-punk group. But he reminds me that it’s already too late. We saw Iggy Pop and Suicide in Hammersmith earlier this year perform each perform one of their albums in its entirety, now homogenised to rock and roll classic status. There was a reformed-of-sorts Public Image Limited in Brixton, whilst Young Marble Giants toured last year, and even Peter Hook of New Order has reopened the Factory and taken Unknown Pleasures on tour. We saw Gang of Four at the Barbican, and James Chance at the Victoria in Mile End. During the 3 years we’ve gone to Offset, as well as array of excellent new bands we’ve seen reformations of Wire, Slits, A Certain Ration, Blurt and Gramme. For two Christmases I saw a clapped-out Pogues play at Brixton.

It’s too late though. These performances aren’t always entirely cash-ins – few saw James Chance – but they’re often motivated by 1. mortgage payments and 2. an understandable desire to relive youth, albeit with dire consequences. In all cultural spheres, when you hear “…is more relevant now than ever before…“ consider this the sound of death! What’s more common is the aged record-collecting audience and the equally aged band, now squatter, balder, chubbier, all reliving a youthful ritual. But we’re in our early 20s. Should we be here?

It’s a wasted opportunity from the Pop Group, a short set with nothing new to offer. There was talk of a new album by the “New Banalists“ as Stewart was promising, but in the end it was just mediocre old material. Exactly what the Pop Group should not have been. But everyone seemed exhilarated as they piled out the Garage, with two inchoate inebriates comparing notes within Highbury tube: “you see their sound sounded different then. It sounds right now, not so pretentious“.

Thirty years is a long time for the carnivalesque upstart left-wing funk to seep in. To be fair, the musicians kept time and played well. But it was still just not that good! While Stewart obviously had rehearsed at least Thief of Fire with the band, and the performances of She is Beyond Good and Evil and We Are Time were a little exciting and evocative of how good and underrated their first album Y is – Don’t Call me Pain and Don’t Sell Your Dreams were missing, as well as any new material at all. When I got home I listened to Y on record, with the karaoke performances at least reminded me what an exciting piece of music and punk statement that was.

But they’re happy. Maybe I’ve stumbled in upon the rituals of other cultures – and I should play the kind but detached, non-judgemental observer. This might be taken as a victory by Stewart, who in interviews name-drops at least every sentence, but the tribe here is old rock and roll music and its’ admirers. Leave them to it then, and leave me out!