Concurrently to Reynold’s article is a hilarious but brilliant post here by K-Punk (this man really should have a column in The Guardian) about the fetishism of autoeroticism in Ballard’s Crash. It reminds me of that interesting period in the late 70’s and early 80’s when you had dark cyber-punk classics such as The Normal’s Warm Leatherette, Throbbing Gristle’s sardonic ‘United’ single, and A Clockwork Orange. Ballard’s book chronicled a group of dejected 30-somethings who find themselves aroused and liberated by having sex while crashing cars. The human scars end up being attempted replicas of what happens to their automobiles – the subject matter of Warm Leatherette, with the automobile couples bleeding into one with the car (there’s many metaphors like this in the book, in which man and machine become one).
Vaughan’s messianic, deranged personality kind of reflected some of the titillating themes of post-punk at that time, such as the obsession with dominance – just check out this amusing footage of Genesis P-Orridge live with TG onstage.
It’s funny that Gang of Four seems to have become seen as the archetypal post-punk band now, as I’ve always thought that Joy Division and something like ‘Warm Leatherette’ captured post-punk more. This era is kind of summed up in this fantastic bit in Simon Reynold’s book:
“And yet, as colour-depleted and crumbling as these now post-industrial cities were, it was possible – perhaps essential – to aestheticize their panoramas of decay. The post-punk groups found two writers especially inspiring in this regard. Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange, set in a near-future Britain, features roving gangs of marauding youths midway between skinheads and punks, vicious dandies who live for gratuitous ultraviolence. Both the book and the 1970 Stanley Kubrick film version capture the desolate psychogeography of the new Britain created by the ‘visionary’ town planners and fashionably Brutalist architects of the 1960s – all high-rise blocks, shadowy underpasses, concrete pedestrian bridges and walkways. This same traumatized landscape served as the backdrop – but also, in a sense, the main character – in J.G. Ballard’s classic seventies triology of Crash, Concrete Island and High-Rise. Likewise, Ballard’s earlier short stories and cataclysm novels obsessively conjure an eerie, inhuman beauty from vistas of dereliction – abandoned airfields, disused weapons ranges, drained reservoirs, abandoned cities.”
The above might sound a bit pretentious, but I can kind of see where he’s coming from. The ‘60’s utopian experiment gone wrong’ of places like Elephant & Castle (and Southgate’s futuristic tube station, above, which looks like something from Doctor Who) is kind of an example of this, with E&C’s endless underpasses and concrete walkways surrounding the strange clearing that the roads surround, with its bleak, expressionless building (is it some kind of miniature power station?). It can be a really eerie place sometimes. Soon it will be gone, of course, with the new million-dollar plans for the area…it’s this kind of dystopian feel that Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire, and PIL kind of captured a bit more than Gang of Four, and in the way that they used primitive synths or tape machines alongside conventional instruments. In a lot of ways, Throbbing Gristle were just as much a post-punk band – even though the guitar was barely recognisable – as GOF. I finally got to see GOF live up in Glasgow at the Indian Summer festival this summer, and I thought they had more in common with heavy punk stuff than post-punk in a way, but others would obviously disagree. It seemed kind of weird watching them doing these anti-capitalist critiques while at the same time well aware that they’ve all got comfortable media jobs, well entrenched in corporate life (there’s a link somewhere on Simon Reynold’s to some blog post where it exposes all the jobs they’ve got – apart from the guitarist that is, who’se apparently a total alcoholic). In any case, Shellac and the Liars are more post-punk than Bloc Party will ever be.
K-Punk’s blog gets even more weirder, with a strange four-way blog discussion about pornography, involving Infinite Thought, The Measures Taken (another blogger interested in dystopian landscapes), Bacterialgrl, and Different Maps And Poetix, whoever these people are (doesn't anyone go under their own name anymore?). What that Ballard book brilliantly picks up on is the way that porn is overlapping with consumerism and the mainstream; you only have to look at many r ‘n’ b videos to see what he means. Or the works of NYC ‘cinema of trangression’ director Richard Kern.