Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Among all the recriminations over the plight of the European Union and Eurozone at the moment, it’s easy to forget that just over fifty years ago, the continent was at war with itself. It’s testament to the power of the European Union since then that there has been relative harmony on the continent as a whole ever since (bar war in the former Yugoslavia and a nasty dictatorship remaining in Belarus). For this writer, it would be an enormous shame if the UK left the EU, and not just because of the inconvenience that could result when visiting the continent. Despite claims to the contrary, the United Kingdom is tied irrevocably to Europe, both geographically and culturally. The European Union exists whether the likes of UKIP like it or not, and comparisons with prosperous Commonwealth countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and Canada ignore the fact that those countries are far away in other continents and have never been linked to the EU in the way that the UK has.
Furthermore, claims that the UK would be better off outside the EU often site the examples of small, wealthy countries within Europe but not in the EU, such as Switzerland, Norway and Iceland. Yet, as part of EFTA (along with tiny Liechtenstein), those countries are still, in a sense, linked to the EU, and still have to comply with laws from Brussels when they want to trade with the EU. At the same time, while they also have to pay into the European Social Fund, as non-EU members they have little say on where that money stumped up is spent – a situation that is arguably less democratic than being in the EU and having a say on policy and where funds are spent (no matter how torturous those negotiations might be).
Indeed, comparisons with Norway also forget that the Scandinavian country is extremely oil-rich; in comparison, it’s a moot point how the threat of Scottish separatism could affect the access to oil of a post-Union UK breakup. If the unthinkable happened and Scotland hypothetically did separate, the remaining UK, whatever it would be called (“Kingdoms of England, Wales & Northern Ireland” doesn’t quite flow somehow), might still have access to some oil, but dramatically less than before (though it would probably continue to do trade with a sovereign Scotland). In such a situation, the remaining UK would look isolated if outside the EU – even if an independent Scotland decided not to join the EU and/or Euro currency (which is not an impossibility, given Alex Salmond’s frequent references to joining an “arc of prosperity” that would include Norway and Iceland).
The EU may not be perfect, and there's no doubt that the popular discontent looming throughout the Eurozone has certainly put a strain on the whole idea of a united Europe. The argument that the single currency was always in some senses a flawed project without all EU countries signing up and agreeing to full fiscal union back when the Euro was implemented - which would, of course, consistently have led to questions of national sovereignty - has some merit, though many countries (Austria, Finland, The Netherlands, etc.) within the Eurozone seem to be doing fine at the moment. But that’s a digression to another topic entirely, as is the hypothetical question of where Britain would be if it had elected to join the Euro rather than stay with sterling. The point is, at a time of recession in the West and the looming dominance of China and India, the UK’s best option – whatever its future shape – is still, in my view, to be part of an EU of half a million people rather than alone, especially if Scotland elects to go its own way. Furthermore, it’s easy to forget that while the EU isn’t, admittedly, a country as such, it still remains – just - the biggest economic bloc in the world.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Here's a quick reminder that this is taking place on Saturday 29th October.

Full details in my previous post about the night.

Image taken from Disclose.TV

Really enjoyed this article on Wired magazine's website about the mysterious Russian radio station UVB-76. It almost brings to mind Tarkovsky’s Stalker, in which two men, accompanied by a guide called the ‘Stalker’, visit a strange, haunted place called the Zone, where the visitor’s deepest metaphysical desires are said to be granted. You can imagine the UVB-76, which is based somewhere near the border with Estonia, most likely deep within a pine forest, existing in a forbidden zone, where no-one fears to tread. The reality, of course, is probably a bit more prosaic, and the reality of its military function most likely dissapointly mundane, despite the fact that notions of Soviet/Russian espionage have always exerted a wild hold on the Western imagination. Nonetheless, when you listen to the beeps and static of the ‘Buzzer’, as it’s been nicknamed, via this website, with the lights off and headphones on, you can understand the attraction of this mysterious station, which according to the Wired article has gained up to 41,000 listeners (and if you don’t believe me that people are obsessed, check out this forum. It’s especially spooky when you can hear audible voices in the background. Either the chatter is interference from other stations, or – more excitingly – it is coming from UVB-76 itself and is people talking near the microphone, which seems to be placed near the buzzer. Who knows what they are talking about?

Monday, October 10, 2011

After covering the National Union of Journalists’ Delegate Meeting 2011 earlier this year, I thought it would be interesting to attend the Rebellious Media Conference this weekend, of which the NUJ had a stall. Despite that terrible name – it was originally meant to be called the Radical Media Conference until a media company with the same name stepped in with a lawsuit – the two-day split-venue event turned out to be a good distillation of left-wing media. Organised by an umbrella group containing a number of publications and organisations – New Internationalist magazine, Peace News, visionOntv and others – the conference saw the likes of Noam Chomsky, John Pilger and ZNet’s Michael Albert, as well as speakers from UK Uncut. While the seminar involving Pilger was illuminating with its discussion on how mainstream media reporting is still subject to pressure from Governments, he remained in bullish mood, at one point insisting slightly disingenuously on the subject of Libya that the massacre in Benghazi “never happened” (surely that’s because NATO stopped it from happening?). Albert, meanwhile, had some good points to make on the left-wing movements’ crisis of identity, and how in America the 60s protest movement failed to capitalise on their successes and possibility for change in the following decades – leading, of course, to the nadir of much of the materialist 80s (embodied, to use a striking image, by Jefferson Airplane morphing over twenty years into the turgid Starship:

But, despite his soporific voice, which nearly sent me to sleep at one point, the highlight was Chomsky, with his profound insistence that the UK is following the US in its dismantling of the traditional NHS with the Health and Social Care Bill (Obama's attempted changes to the US Healthcare service notwithstanding). The NHS is one service that the Britain can justly be proud of, an egalitarian, accessible, efficient service which all of society is entitled to use. Yet, to use an example, while British Rail was not perfect, it’s unlikely that it suffered from many of the Byzantium problems which have resulted from contracting out the railways to different companies in the post-privatization age. Could the same fate now befall the NHS?

Monday, October 03, 2011

So yet another installment in the GoodnightLondon/Pennyblackmusic series of concerts is on the cards at the end of this month, taking place at the usual manor south of the river...

Morton Valence
The Doomed Bird of Providence
Rome Pays Off

Saturday 29th October 2011
The Half Moon, Herne Hill, South London (directions here)
£5 in advance from here
£6 on door
A description of the acts can be found on the Last FM page

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Spot the difference...

The first three pictures are of the Montreal Biosphère in Canada; the latter two are of The Eden Project in Cornwall, south-west England. Both are geodesic domes. The first was designed by the great Buckminster Fuller while the latter was inspired by him.
Walking around the Biosphere while in Montreal this summer was a true highlight of this year, with the dome's Utopian feel balanced by the alarming exhibitions on global warming and rises in sea temperatures. It's fascinating to think of the contrast between Fuller exploring the geodesics structural synthesis with nature and Le Corbusier's concrete urbanism, both of which were occurring at roughly the same time-span. In John Brunner's dystopian novel Stand on Zanzibar, Manhattan is imagined - like in Yevgeny Zamyatin's We - as surrounded by an enormous geodesic dome. In hundreds of years time, when global warming accelerates and the seas rise, such domes may be the only method of survival for the world's cities.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Walking around Paris’ rue Oberkampf (“one of the city’s premier after-dark hangouts”, apparently*) while on a trip to the City of Lights recently, my first impressions were just how ostensibly quiet things were. A few people milled outside bars, but for the most part the area seemed muted and languid rather than the boisterousness of the Bastille area. Then it hit me: people don’t go out drinking until midnight here, as with many other parts of Continental Europe. I was there at 10:15pm - too early.
I’ve touched on the contrast between opening hours in Britain and Continental Europe once before, but it still seemed to apply more than ever in my mind after this trip across the Channel. The ritual culture of drinking heavily before the 11 o’clock curfew and then all converging on the street at the same time (leading to the inevitable punch-up or some such activity) has become so embedded in the British psych that many people find it nigh on impossible to imagine an alternative. The Government’s slight attempt to relax opening hours hasn’t been adopted by many drinking establishments (there have been exceptions), and the result is an infantile drinking culture that sees no prospect of changing. It doesn’t have to be this way.
This is not an encouragement for people to get even more legless than before (and consequently put a strain on hospitals). While there would certainly be an increased amount of idiots in the short-run being admitted to Casualty wards, hypothetically if drinking culture were introduced there is no reason why British drinking culture wouldn’t adapt to Continental hours in the long-run, leading to a more relaxed drinking culture.
Exmouth Market, a busy pedestrian area near Farringdon full of independent shops and a great atmosphere by evening, is an example: it could be the equivalent of some of the side streets I saw in the Bastille area; yet by 12:30am everything remained shut and the area was completely deserted, with only one pub nearby open until 2am. Much of the area around Jaguar Shoes, Catch, The Spread Eagle et al, where Kingsland Road meets Old Street, is the same, leading to puzzled looks from many tourists after midnight. Late night clubs – the vast majority of which you have to pay to get in, of course – which genuinely do open late are not included here, of course, but rather simple opportunities for drinking after 12:30 or so.
We can hardly lay claim to London being a ’24 hour city’ in comparison to rivals such as Paris or New York when an irrelevant law left over from World War I continues to stymie the city’s nightlife.

* According to the Rough Guide Pocket Guide to Paris 2011. And when are the Rough Guides ever wrong?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

(Image taken from

2011 has been a year where I’ve vowed to take up that which I’ve put off for ages. And one of those things is cycling around London.
First, though, a gripe. I’ve only been using the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme for a few months, but already the limitations of the scheme are obvious. Go into Hackney and Stoke Newington and there’s not a single docking station, given that the scheme only stretches as far as the south tip of Kingsland Road. Likewise no coverage in Mile End and the whole Docklands area in east London; Brixton and East Dulwich in South London; and none in Shepherds Bush and Hammersmith in west London. The scheme, by and large, seems designed for those who work in the Square Mile, King’s Cross/Islington, and the West End, with some docking stations thrown in the important parts of South London for good measure (for those from outside London unacquainted with the service, and/or who haven't perused TfL's Barclays Cycle Hire mini-site, each of the 'pin marks' in the image above represents a docking station, where you pick up or 'dock' - i.e. leave behind - a bike).
There’s certainly a high density of docking stations in those areas which are included in the cycle hire scheme, but surely it would be wiser for them to be less concentrated and instead spread out over the city. All the areas mentioned above are relatively near to central or inner-city London, but also have a huge number of residents who would benefit from the scheme.
It’s true that there is a huge demand within central London, to the extent that I’ve passed docking stations entirely empty (though I may have simply passed at the moment when all the bikes have been took away in those Cycle Hire vans to be repaired). But in general the scheme still seems biased to a relatively small area.
Despite that, cycling through the back streets of London opens you up to a whole new vista of the city, with areas that you never thought existed. London has a capacity to surprise just when you thought you knew it well, and the endless stream of previously unseen squares, winding canals and obscure back street areas has opened up in a new, dynamic way compared to taking public transport. I’m beginning to realise now what I’ve been missing all this time. Taking up cycling has opened up a new dramatic perspective on the city. And you’re not forced to listen to people’s tedious conversations on their mobile.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Walking around London today was a weird experience, with a subdued, intangibly jittery and apprehensive atmosphere. On the surface, everything felt normal, but underneath, you felt that tension could rear its head at any moment. It brought to mind the days straight after the 7/7 bombings. It seems incredible that Hackney, the borough I grew up in, and the other areas of East London in which I’ve lived (including Tottenham), are in the news around the world.
Two articles in particular on the rioting have been especially illuminating. This one in Time highlights just how different the London 2011 riots are to those which took place in Paris in 2005. The riots in Paris took place in the banlieues, away from the mostly affluent inner city residents. The areas hit in London, by contrast, are not only ethnically heterogeneous but also contain poor and wealthy living virtually cheek-by-jowl, which has meant that the riots have, in the words of the article, been “surging right up to the doors of the comfortable, middle and upper-middle class homes” (such as happened in Notting Hill). This is contrasted to Paris, where many of the banlieues where the riots took place are geographically remote from the rest of the city, both physically (exacerbated by the Boulevard Périphérique motorway) and mentally, with many residents complaining of their disenfranchised alienation from wider French society.
What’s also disturbing too in that article is the mention of how the new Sarkozy government brought in money, social programs and better transport links to the blighted areas in Paris subsequently. In recession-hit Britain in 2011, by contrast, the focus on the Government has been on cuts to benefits and services. While many of the rioters have undoubtedly been mindless idiots keen to join in with the carnage, there is nonetheless an acknowledgement here in this revealing article in The Guardian that cuts in services may also have played a part, particularly in this interview with a local on the Pembury estate in Hackney:

"They just want to be heard," said a young black woman. "This is the only way some people have to communicate. "Were cuts in services a factor? "Course they are. They cut our youth project by 75%. We used to work with gangs, run a workshop that brought police and young people together. Gone.”

Of course, that still doesn’t excuse the mindless nature of the rioters, particularly when they have targeted local businesses, people, cars and buildings. These are the same kind of people who make taking buses in London such a misery much of the time. I never felt the urge to join in looting when I was the age of many of the rioters, and neither do many ordinary working people. It’s quite obvious that many of the opportunists who have joined in with the riots have brazenly took their chance to loot and arson local stores full of DVDs/TVs/trainers rather than display any interest in serious objection to Government policy or human rights (hence the absence of the anarchist/anti-globalisation brigade in these riots, many of whom are in any case from an educated, white, middle-class milieu rather than working-class teenagers from the estates). It’s true, too, that there are many different factors in play – background, culture - that have led to the mindset of those that have took part as opposed to those who haven’t, and which would lead to another article entirely.

In the wider context, though, at the same time as the cuts, we are seeing footballers and bankers in the UK paid obscene amounts of wealth, while corporations such as Barclays have been singled out by UK Uncut – quite rightly - for their tax avoidance. Meanwhile, rents have gone up at the same time as wages have stagnated, jobs have been lost and benefits have been cut, leading to serious financial difficulty and desperation for many. So while the rioters are mindless thugs, the events haven’t taken place in a sociological vacuum, even if another article in The Guardian points out that the rioters are from a diverse range of ethnicities.
If Cameron and Osbourne are serious about tackling the stagnating economy and putting some money back into the community, there is no choice but to raise taxes on the wealthy and on companies, while imposing financial regulation on the Square Mile and imposing limits on ridiculous bonus culture in the City by law. On top of that, rent controls - coupled with a genuine desire to protect individual businesses (as Paris has done to some extent) in the face of greedy landlords and the onslaught of homogenous chain stores which seem to blight many UK high streets so much - would actually endear me to the current Government. But I would be surprised if it ever happens. These changes might not fully avert another riot in the future, and whatever happens the Government’s future policy certainly doesn’t justify the looting, arson and terrorising of local communities, now or in the future. But the changes could lead to a more egalitarian society, in which people feel less disenfranchised and less prone to mindlessly smash up everything in their sight.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

My recent trip to Canada feels almost like a dream now. Montreal and Toronto were hazy and hot, with the Biosphere pavilion, in Parc Jean-Drapeau, a strange utopian vision in the distance. But what interested me particularly was trying out the Underground – or Metros, as they call them - in the two cities, and comparing the result with London. Both had large, wide tunnels with trains running both ways, leading to air being able to flow. The London network was nicknamed ‘The Tube’ for a reason – namely that the narrow tunnels are literally like a tube, with heat unable to escape anywhere. Consequently, even if the grills on a London Underground train are opened in the summer in order to let in air, they are essentially just blowing hot air into the train. On top of this, the ancient, creaking, Byzantine nature of the LU infrastructure of signals exacerbates many of the problems which any frequent user will attest to.
Having viewed underground metros in other cities, it seems to me that the only way that the LU’s conundrums can be really solved is by building entirely new tunnels, this time suitably large in length, right near the existing ones. This would mean that an entirely new track and infrastructure could be built. These new tunnels could then eventually link up with the existing stations. There could then also be exits in the stations to the old tunnels, which could be used as underground cycling tunnels. In the cycling tunnels you could have bright lighting and places to drink water.
Admittedly the idea sounds far-fetched – try convincing any member of TfL, as I have - but it would certainly iron out the Underground’s endless cycle of problems. It would also cost billions upon billions of pounds, of course – but then, in all likelihood, so is Crossrail.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Fantastic evening last Thursday going to a hearing of Eliane Radigue's work at a church near Bank - an 84-minute piece of deep minimalism in which everyone sat in a circle, eyes closed, concentrating on the music.
Going to the ‘concert’ (in reality a public broadcasting of her work) made me realise that many live gigs are actually the worst places imaginable to concentrate on music: there’s the mobile phones aloft, the toilet queues, the uninterested half-drunk audience at the back drinking Carling beer (the only on offer if it’s the ‘Carling Academy’), the unavoidable sound of someone’s mundane conversation near you…Thursday’s experience offered completely a different experience, where all you could do is concentrate on the oscillation vibrations of the music. Sometimes I think The Luminaire (RIP) were right with those signs telling people who liked to talk in the middle of gigs to go downstairs, as puritanical as it sounded. Thursday achieved a kind of beauty and purity with its hypnotic hour and a half, leaving everyone spellbound and drowsy at the same time by the end. ‘Somnambulant’ I think is the word I’m looking for – but in the right way rather than in the pejorative sense. Now I know what they mean by the phrase 'Deep Listening'.

Me interviewing current indie-pop heavyweights The Pains of Being Pure At Heart on Pennyblackmusic's updated edition this week...fascinating to find that they've played two venues in London that yours truly has also played at (The Betsy Trotwood - officially London's smallest venue - and the Brixton Windmill). When I was (very) young I thought in my naivete that playing these venues meant that you were a guaranteed rock star. How things pan out as you get older...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

It may have escaped your notice, but World Oceans Day happened recently, which celebrated...well, I think you can guess what it celebrated, given the title. You only have to go on the Events page to see just how extensive the festivities celebrating awareness of this day were. The oceans of the world are in as much trouble as some of the problems plaguing land, with overfishing and climate warming leading to alarming conclusions from scientists. So I thought I’d play my part by including a song (which you can stream below) on a local compilation which was released celebrating WOD. It’s a cover of The Dirty Three’s Sirena, which featured on their Ocean Songs album (you can hear the original version here). Sirena was a mermaid-like creature in mythology who lured men to the bottom of the sea, never to return. Perhaps less glamorously, the above pictures were taken by me at Brighton Sea Life Centre, in which you can go into a tunnel underwater while various sea creatures float around you.

Sirena by DominicSimpson

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sad to hear the news this week upon returning from the Animal Collective-curated All Tomorrow's Parties of the passing of both Gil-Scott Heron and Ira Cohen. Both men operated in sub-cultures, with Scott-Heron touching on African-American militancy (as opposed to the afro-futurism of Sun Ra, who was operating at the same time). Cohen, meanwhile, a Beat poet whose truly hallucinogenic, lysergic-soaked photography and imagery culminated in the kaleidoscopic film The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda (which I once saw freak-out band Sunburned Hand of the Man perform a live soundtrack to), embodied a time when counterculture was genuinely something underground, with no Internet and little coverage in magazines. The plotless Thunderbolt Pagoda feels like watching a dream or something from the unconscious, which links it to the work of similar psychedelic countercultural directors of the 60s and 70s such as Alejandro Jodorowsky and Kenneth Anger (something that I touch on partially here).

There's something trance-like and beautiful about his images and films, as if the people in them have found peace with themselves. In a weird way, they remind me of one of the documentaries, filmed by the Sublime Frequencies crew, which was broadcast at ATP in the cinema, which showed the ecstatic faces of the Moroccan drummers and guitarists as they played their trance-like music (Cohen, in fact, lived in Morocco for a few years).
With the Foundry and the Spitz having closed down, and the Duke of Uke possibly in trouble, I sometimes wonder if there will be any space here in east London left in the end for the kind of counterculture that Cohen explored. On Old Street the homogeneity and feeling of encroachment from the Square Mile is becoming worse, with yuppie/city trader-type bars such as 'B@1' the tip of the iceberg. Still, certain venues - Cafe Oto, The Others, The Horse Hospital, Ryan's Bar, certain crossover art/music galleries, as well as others dotted around the city - have kept open and still attest to a kind of underground spirit. Yet the nagging feeling persists that while recessions in the past have led to a surge in creativity and inspiration (1978-84, as covered in Simon Reynold's book Rip It Up And Start Again, is a good example), the current one is simply leading to even higher rent than before and less alternative spaces. Oh well, there's always Berlin...

Monday, May 02, 2011

It’s always interesting to see how areas of London can in the space of a few years be suddenly be deemed as ‘trendy’ or ‘vibrant’ places to live where previously they weren’t. At one point in the late 70s, pre-absurdly expensive Notting Hill was at the centre of much of the counterculture in London. In the mid-90s it may well have been Camden Town; nowadays, I guess it’s a mixture of Brick Lane and my hometown of Hackney. I was at the Land of Kings festival (a kind of transferred cutting-edge take on the Camden Crawl) on Friday night at my old school area of Dalston, and the area has certainly moved on – Bardens carpet shop, for example, from which the sadly departed venue Barden’s Boudoir (now a dance club called The Nest) took its name, has turned into a boutique shop, while my old school has been turned into a pristine looking Academy. A couple of hip venues have sprung up, with some, such as Dalston Superstore (a few doors down from the Rio Cinema, where I used to go as a kid), seemingly entirely populated by fashion students/artists (others are barely more than hired Turkish pool halls). Meanwhile, leftfield theatre groups such as Stoke Newington International Airport (inspired by the genre-defying Punchdrunk) have blurred music, theatre and art in the area (as they did at LoKs in the Old Boys Club, a decaying mansion at the back of the Vortex Jazz Club, on Friday). Meanwhile, Stoke Newington Church Street – while containing some fine places (Ryan’s bar, Lucky 7 Records, The Drop, etc.) – resembles Crouch End/Muswell Hill more than ever. If the gentrification of Hackney continues, we may even see a situation where Tottenham – the final frontier – becomes a desirable place to live. The situation is no doubt analogous to developments in formerly working-class areas in New York such as Williamsburg in Brooklyn, which begs the question: where will the artists go next once the rent is unaffordable? At the moment, the answer is Hackney Wick, which offers cheaper warehouse space and living, and which has consequently seen a number of galleries (the Elevator and Schwartz Galleries, for one) and festivals such as Hackney Wicked spring up there. Yet one day, too, the cost of living there could go up. Then the cutting-edge artist set will end up moving into the Leyton and Walthamstow area, and maybe the cheaper parts of the Docklands. And if the rent goes up there too, could we see a situation where North London runs out of affordable places to live at all? If that happens, the exodus will be surely to Berlin or Detroit. Or maybe South London. Meanwhile, the encroachment of the City and its anodyne bars and suits on surrounding areas (such as what has already happened on Old Street, with the closure of the Foundry, The Legion, Smallfish Records, etc.) will continue unabated. Wonderful if you’re a banker, not so good for everyone else.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Looking forward to the exhibition at the Barbican on Pioneers of the Downtown NYC Scene in the 70s, involving Laurie Anderson and others. It makes me think that the 70s was where the real creativity in music and arts lay, rather than the 60s. Along with the Krautrock documentary below and the Sun Ra film further down in my posts, what it also suggests is that some of the best music can come out of serious recession, with disco, punk and Krautrock all emerging during economic strife. Watch the rest of the documentary on Krautrock on YouTube - one of the most amusing bits is Faust recalling their time with Richard Branson, and how Virgin tried in vain to market the band as a 'German Beatles'.
One of my favourite gig recollections was Faust at Corsica Studios, a venue in the back streets of Elephant & Castle, a few years ago. During the set, Jean-Hervé Péron paraded around the room with real chainsaws, before wearing what looked like a gas mask. During the end of the set, he then proceeded to let off a number of smoke bombs, which filled the venue completely with blue and red smoke. Unable to see anything, I wandered around dazed, noticing at one point what looked like a ring of fire burning on the floor. Péron then grabbed me, still holding a chainsaw, and told me "you must leave the venue as soon as possible!"
Everyone was huddled outside, with the smoke billowing out of the venue. The sound of a police siren was heard in the distance. Meanwhile, the entire time this was happening, the guitarist had left on a loop a guitar riff that he had played earlier at excruciating volume.
Finally, and unbelievable, the unmistakable sound of the band getting back onstage and jamming to an empty audience was heard, the smoke still swirling around.
Now that, I remember thinking to myself, is what I call a gig to remember.

Greetings, and apologies for the delay while I sort out work. Some posts will be up next week...stay tuned.

Friday, April 08, 2011

As mentioned, I'm covering the National Union of Journalist's Delegate Meeting 2011 this weekend, in sunny Southport, near Liverpool. Here is my coverage of the festival (the NUJ's official microsite for it is here), and there's some much more up-to-date accounts by me of proceedings on Twitter here too. Internet is monstrously slow, so bare with me...

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Ah, the joys of YouTube (Part 3)...

Fantastic spoof of the nation's favourite supermarket and it's Orwellian expansion...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Was busy on the march in London yesterday (I missed the various vandalism of buildings, in case you're wondering) and will be covering the forthcoming National Union of Journalists meeting in Southport. Watch this space!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Here's an article I wrote on housing in East Germany for my course, plus some decidedly unconventional places to visit. Click on the jpgs to enlarge them...

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Ah, the joys of YouTube (Part 2)...

One of the wonders of the Internet is that you can dig out hard-to-find material which, pre-Internet, which would have been virtually impossible to find otherwise (except perhaps on expensive import). So it is with underground cult films such as Sun Ra’s Space Is The Place, a truly bizarre blackspoitation classic from the 70s which you can view parts of below (the whole film was up on the wonderful UBUWeb site here, but didn’t seem to be working the last time I looked – could be either the new servers UBUWeb are using, or copyright issues).
SITP looks as if it was done on a budget of around $100. Sun Ra’s spaceship in particular looks like it was assembled out of sticky black plastic and makes pre-high budget Doctor Who (the 70s/80s version for those of us old enough to remember) look like Independence Day in comparison.
The plot – such as it is – seems to be a weird, lysergic-flavoured proto-The Blues Brothers (which would come a few years later), reshaped in Ra’s inimitable style, in which he tries to get people to his gig, is kidnapped along the way, dodges various mishaps, and only makes it to his concert at the last minute. He also sets up something called the Outer Space Employment Agency, which the DHSS probably wouldn’t approve of if it were attempted over here. The OSEA as Ra promotes it represents a utopia of sorts for the black race, unshackled by white oppression, and which will eventually ascend to the heavens. It’s at this point that the difference with The Blues Brothers becomes apparent, and in any case, the film is far more mystical, echoing at times Jodorowsky’s El Topo (which came out two years before) with its dream-like sequences in the desert, where Ra plays tarot cards with his opponent at a table.

Indeed, the presence of SITP, Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain and the afore-mentioned El Topo, and even never-to-be-repeated grand follies such as Caligula (yes, that one), suggest that the 70s produced some extraordinary one-off films, which would be difficult to repeat today. It’s doubtful that even many independent film companies would go near a Jodorowsky today, for example, such was the extremity of his vision. The Holy Mountain in particular is so out-there even today that it’s perhaps no surprise that Jodorowsky eventually wasn’t entrusted with in favour of David Lynch, with the unhinged Chilean director originally planned in the directors seat (and with a soundtrack by Pink Floyd and Magma, no less). Now that would have been incredible, but unlikely to be looked on benevolently by major film company reps (not that Lynch’s version made much sense either, mind you)
While it’s always interesting to see how far Ra was ahead of his time - with his hithero unheard of seaming together of jazz, rock, and unconventional synthesisers allied to an unbelievable work ethic - it’s also interesting seeing how much the mixture of unconventional, frequently avant-garde music, headdress and flamboyant gear that Sun Ra took to the max in both this film and in his stage performances have been used by the likes of latter-day freak-out rock bands such as Sun City Girls and the Sunburned Hand of the Man today. I once saw the latter perform a live soundtrack to an even more out-there film than Space Is The Place – Ira Cohen’s 1968 hippy mind-f**k The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda. It’s somewhat strange when you think about it that such a huge corporation behemoth as YouTube should be hosting such genuinely counter-cultural material, but then, alternative culture has always been co-opted by the mainstream, from grunge through to rave culture and beyond (with the style mags waiting at the door).
It’s difficult to work out what’s really going on in Thunderbolt Pagoda - I guess you kinda had to be there. All I know is, that’s one party I wish I were at…

Sunday, February 20, 2011

So here's to the next installment in the occassional Pennyblackmusic/GoodnightLondon nights...would be nice to see anyone down.

Anthony Reynolds (ex-Jack and Jacques)
Nick Garrie
The Hall of Mirrors
Alex Monk

Saturday 26th March 2011
The Half Moon, Herne Hill, South London (directions here)
£6 in advance from here
£7 on door
A description of the acts can be found on the Last FM page.
Plus DJs
and stuff
There's a great article by Hugo Rifkind at the moment in The Times (which sadly I can't link to due the paywall at that site) about internship culture, in which he cites the case where said internships at a number of particularly prestigious institutions have recently been sold for up to £3,500 at a fundraising Conservative Party Black and White Ball, as if they were antiques in an auction. Rifkind's point is that internship culture has become so ingrained and specifically designed for the wealthy, that the Conservatives think this is completely normal despite employing Alan Miburn as something called a "social mobility czar".
I'm pretty sure at one point internships generally involved a few weeks work, but not much more, and certainly to be fair "work experience" - which seems to be becoming increasingly distinct from "internships" - still are often not usually a lot longer than three weeks or so. On the other hand, it's now the norm for "internships" to last three months or even longer. Even worse, a lot of companies as far as I can tell simply won't even consider you if you haven't did an internship there. The desired effect, as Rifkind rightly points out, seems to be a shunning of any bright students who don't happen to have the financial clout and/or wealthy parents who also happen to have essential contacts in the right place. "Internships" seem to have gone from a valuable way of getting on-hand experience to being compulsory in order to get any decent job, leading those without the financial wherewithal or contacts isolated in a hopeless Catch-22 situation, regardless of any innate talent or how bright they were as a student. It's not what you know; it's who you know and whether you can afford it. While I would never pretend that the political culture is the same, in some ways this kind of cronyism isn't that different from the political culture which many disenchanted Arabs are protesting against in North Africa and the Middle East. British work culture may not be that extreme, but it's still no meritocracy.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


What with all the timely discussion of hauntology (which I'll admit I only half understand) at the moment, it's worth going down memory lane and recalling the dystopian books of John Wyndham that I read as a kid...such as this:

And this:

And, of course, one of his most well-known books:

Though this also became famous for the adapted TV series:

Leaving aside Triffids (which actually genuinely terrified me as a kid, with its indelible image of psychotic man-eating giant plants) and Chocky (which I can't remember much about and of which the TV series kind of passed me by - anyone else remember it?), the first two came to mind tonight when watching Never Let Me Go at the cinema.
(In case you've not read much about the film, and plan to see it, a spoiler is coming - you've been warned...most of the other reviews by now would have given away the story anyway...and there are spoilers over the two Wyndham books mentioned below too).
Indeed, while there are huge differences between The Chrysalids and NLMG - the three characters in the former can communicate by telepathy, and the the novel is set in some unspecified far future - I couldn't help but hear echoes of that novel and The Midwich Cuckoos while watching the film, with the relationship between the three in the former novel and the description of the sixty children in the latter echoing that of Ruth, Tommy and Kathy and Hailsham boarding school in the film respectively. Just as with the cloned children at the school, we know that there is something strange about the children in TMC, with their silvery-like skin and alien-like golden eyes; we then find out about their mind control and telepathic capabilities. Both sets of children, as becomes obvious, are not fully 'normal' humans as such (hence the children at Hailsham are never given surnames and are told they are "special"), with the consequent idea of lack of 'soul' - the very reason why the teachers at the college encourage the pupils to participate in art, so as to show society that 'clones' can have souls and display the emotions of their 'originals' (which ultimately fails, of course). The issue of genetics, 'cloning' and the accompanying ethical questions, then, is ultimately what unites the three. Furthermore, the deterioration of the character's healths in NLMG after their 'donations' are also reminiscent of the characters in other films such as Primer and Moon: the former self-imposed after the two protagonists make repeated 'copy' clones of themselves as they go back in time, each 'copy' unwittingly a lesser quality than the one before; the latter imposed by the state (as with NLMG) without Sam Bell's knowledge until it's too late.
But whereas Wyndham suggests happy endings of a sort - in The Chrysalids David, Rosalind and Petra ultimately escape to a far-off future society (imagined in the book's front cover pictured above) once their mutations have been discovered and exposed, while in TMC Zellaby destroys himself with a bomb to ultimately destroy the zombie-like children too - in NLMG there's no way out, and ultimately a kind of numbed acceptance pervades despite the primal scream near the end of the film: what do you do when your entire life in planned out in front of you, from birth to death? Where to go but ultimately disappear? I'd be interested to know if Kazuo Ishiguro has ever read any of Wyndham, but in any case, it's good to see a British film which credits the audience with some real intelligence for once.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Apologies for lack of posts while I've went through exam stress. I have, however, produced a three minute video for one of the modules on my course, which you can view below for your delectation. Reading J.G. Ballard's The Drowned World will always remind me of shooting the documentary now...

It's become so ubiquitous that it's actually incredible to think the Thames Barrier is only 30 years old, and that one day it'll have to be replaced. Doing that documentary also reminded me of these chilling images currently on display at the Museum of London, imagining a future London beset by climate change. Sadly the authors of those montages never got back to me to give permission for the images to be used in the documentary...

Monday, January 03, 2011

So, ATP was fun. Godspeed You! Black Emperor played three times for a combined total of seven and a half hours, and Neurosis about six, but even this was eclipsed by Oneida's ten hour set in the Crazy Horse stage, replete with all kinds of bizarre white sheets dangling from the roof (see picture below). Borbetomagus did their hour-long sonic holocaust of atonal guitar and free jazz; Tim Hecker's ambient drone was in full, blissfully loud volume in the centre stage; and "Weird Al" Yankovic was, well, "Weird Al" Yankovic. As with every ATP, the devil was in the details: the Butlins cinema showing bizarre French-Canadian avant-garde films all weekend to no doubt perplexed audience (one seemed to have clips from a Middle Eastern film involving excruciating footage of a cow being slaughtered); Jodorowsky's famously demented psychedelic masterpiece The Holy Mountain being perfectly timed for 3am Saturday, on the Godspeed channel on the TV in the chalet (just as everyone came back pissed from the Butlins clubs); decidedly mean-looking members of Neurosis in the toy shop...anyway, a Spotify playlist of the event can be heard here.

Speaking of Spotify, I have noticed this truly brilliant website, in which the detritus of the application's vast music library (which you can download here provided you live in, well, Europe) can be seen in all it's ragged glory, from Russ Abbot's 3rd album to 2 Live Jews (authors of As Kosher As They Wanna Be), Derek Bailey's Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (actually pretty good stuff - it's in one of the older posts), "Various Artists - Music For Bondage Clubs" (the mind boggles), "The Siberian Chipmunks Sing The Charts", "The Flatulent Phantoms sing 'Halloween Monster Farts'", and at least one Merzbow album (possibly not the album that was only available in a car)...there is page after page of this stuff, and it's utterly fascinating.

So, purely on the strength of their names/album covers, I nominate my own list:

Snoop Doggy Dogg - My Dirty Ho's - features "Bitches Ain't Shit" (Snoop's radical complex deconstructive post-modern critique of gender relations).

James Taylor - Covers - no idea about the music, but the man looks like an axe murderer on that front cover.

Carcass - Reek of Putrefaction - interesting...I'm still trying to decide whether I like "Pungent Excruciation", "Microwaved Uterogestion", or "Vomited Anal Tract" the best.

Jason Mraz - We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things - the album title is bad enough, but just look at that album cover. Just look at it. Did a five year old do it?

Cannibal Corpse - Gallery of Suicide - contains such singalong classics "Disposal of the Body", "Blood Drenched Execution", "Dismembered And Molested", and the charmingly reassuring "I Will Kill You". Gee, thanks for the kind words, guys....

The Handsome Beasts - Beastiality - actually I don't think this is on Spotify. But who cares, just look at that front cover (or rather, don't). As nominated by Pavement's Stephen Malkmus in 'The Inner Sleeve' section of a past issue of The Wire, in which artists nominate their favourite album covers.

This list will be updated regularly...and any contributions are welcome!