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...

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