Friday, December 27, 2013

Seasonal greetings, all. Apologies for the lack of posts, which has been down to work, the inevitable busy period before Christmas, and generally feeling shitty.
Earlier this month I attended the final three-day UK festival of All Tomorrow's Parties, which took place at its original stomping grounds of Pontins Camber Sands. ATP will carry on going (including hosting a two-day fest in Iceland next summer), but have announced that it will no longer be hosting the regular three-day festivals in the UK which became its trademark.
I've been to a fair amount of the ATP UK festivals over the years (you can view pictures here from it here on Flickr - more will be added), so this really did feel, as the tagline put it, like the 'End of an Era'.
For those not acquainted with the ATP three-day music festivals which have just ended, they usually took place at a British holiday camp, with at least one band 'curating'. Said band headlined the festival and chose the other bands on the bill, as well as the films in the cinema and on the TV.
The festival began at Pontins holiday camp in Camber Sands, Essex - a desolate coastal resort with even more desolate Dungeness, famous for its bleak-looking landscape and power station, just nearby. It then moved after a few years to Butlins holiday camp in Minehead, in Somerset, a tiny town with an estuary facing the Welsh coast across the water. The first ATP at this site was the first one I went to, thus sadly missing the magic of those first ATPs in the early 2000s, which really did sound special.
Over the last fifteen years, ATP's roll call of curators is as close to comprehensive in left-field music as it's possible to get: Belle & Sebastian (as curators of the Bowlie Weekender in 1999, which morphed into ATP), Shellac, Mogwai, Slint, Sonic Youth, Vincent Gallo, Thurston More, Mike Patton & The Melvins, The National, My Bloody Valentine, The Mars Volta, The Breeders, Portishead, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Animal Collective, Pavement, even the ticket-going public themselves (with 'ATP vs The Fans'), and a ton of others...the last of which, which took place at the beginning of December, was curated jointly by ATP themselves and Loop – a band slightly before my time, but whom I've discovered subsequently while checking out the late 80s UK scene of bands such as Spacemen 3, A.R. Kane, Bark Psychosis, etc.
Unlike the hardcore ATP fans, many of whom have been to something like thirty ATPs, I have only been to a couple (well, about ten). The first was curated by Thurston Moore, at the new site of Butlins Minehead. I think the year was about 2007 or so, possibly earlier. My recollection is of the insanity of that first ATP, at Butlins with its abrasive line-up of power electronics, noise, punk, out-there rock and free jazz outfts. There was Nurse With Wound's barrage of post-industrial noise, with David Tibet (of Current 93), the latter screaming “I'll see you on the dead side of the moon!” to a stunned bar staff more used to Steps tribute bands; My Cat Is An Alien playing a two-hour long drone while I chucked chairs around the room with my pals (it was that kind of weekend); Iggy & The Stooges live onstage at Butlins, almost like a dream; The New Blockaders, a group of men in radiation outfits with a bunch of power tools onstage, much of which they revved up to a background of deafening power electronics while a front row of beards watched on, the security men looking disctinly uncomfortable (it was 1pm on a Saturday afternoon, after all); Sunburned Hand of the Man crowding the stage on Sunday night with about twenty band members, one of whom spent the entire time blowing bubbles at the audience while dressed in a Victorian outfit and oversized pink sunglasses...then there was the procession late at night with people with sheets on their head, circles cut out for them to see.
Subsequently ATPs that I've been to have been no less insane, including a 10-hour set by Oneida, the Wu-Tang Clan's GZA queuing for a hotdog, and spontaneous concerts by Lightning Bolt everywhere in the holiday camp but the stage. But going a number of times has meant that I've been able to check out delights too, such as the cinema showing ATP documentaries, the swimming pool (with underwater sounds broadcast as “Wet Sounds”), and (ahem) crazy golf.
The genus of ATP wasn't just the idea of curation by a band or individual, which hadn't really been done much before at a three-day festival. It was the setting in these faded British holiday camps such as Butlins and Pontins, with the public staying in chalet accommodation, which lent the whole atmosphere a surreal kitsch when juxtaposed with the frequently experimental nature of the music. ATP pioneered a whole other kind of festival, one smaller-scale and free of corporate sponsorship, in contrast to mega-fests such as Reading and Wireless; at ATP, a lack of VIP areas meant that bands and the public converged together in the on-site pub (literally – I was standing next to Michael Rother from Neu! at the pub counter queuing for drinks at the event this December). This smaller scale model of a festival can be echoed in festivals such as Liverpool Psych Fest, Supersonic, Supernormal, Colour Out Of Space, and others, which will be the festivals of choice for yours truly in the next few years, in the absence of ATP – who will themselves carry on with boutique festivals abroad, in exotic locations from Iceland to New York and Australia. Just not Pontins Camber Sands or Butlins Minehead. 

So au revoir ATP, it was nice knowing you. Here's to the last fifteen years of mayhem and fun.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Photo by Hywel Williams © 2006 (taken from
The ebb and flow of the Thames Estuary has always captivated and inspired artists and writers. An exhibition currently on show at the Museum of London Docklands, due to finish on the 27th October 2013, captures this fascinating interzone, focusing on the poetic psycho-geography of the winding river as it meets the English Channel. From the WWII paranoia of the Maunsell Forts, their decay and erosion captured by a blogger living in isolation in one of the forts, to the Bow Gamelan Ensemble utilising the semi-industrial zone of the Rainham Barges, Estuary captures the existential reaction to this powerfully dramatic segment of land, with its saltmarshes and mudflats, the river winding through desolate vast vistas both physically and in the mind. Along the way are captured the flotsam and jetsam of the river’s journey in Gayle Chong Kwan’s The Golden Tide, capturing the detritus and junk left over, whether condoms, food packets, cocaine wrappers or needles – the human imprint. As the Thames winds through Essex to the North Sea, the exhibition captures the ghostly semi-urban feel of the area, full of factories, wind farms, and sewage-treatment centres, like something out of the landscape of Tarkovsky’s Stalker
Fans of industrial music will like the footage of the Bow Gamelan Ensemble in action in 1985, on site at Rainham, captured in Jane Thorburn’s short film 51º 29’.9” North - 0º11’ East, Rainham Barges (the title a reference to the map grid reference of the site, with the ‘gamelan’ referring to the Malaysian percussive instrument). Surrounded by abandoned concrete barges, the trio of percussionist Paul Burwell, performance artist Anne Bean, and sculptor Richard Wilson are filmed frequently nearly submerged in water, utilising everything solid floating around them for percussive effect. They’re also captured sending sparks flying with various machinery while on dry land, making an unholy racket along the way, in a nod – conscious or otherwise – to industrial music.
Elsewhere in the exhibition, William Raban’s Thames Film - shot in 1986 and narrated in a dream-like poetic prose by John Hurt - starts at Tower Bridge before making its way (via tantalising shots of the pre-Canary Wharf Docklands) to the sea, taking in power stations, ports and Canvey Island seaside resort. The calm, hypnotic ebb and flow of the sea is also captured in Horizon (Five Pounds A Belgian), in which a camera in a wide static position captures the sea off Margate in different weather conditions, the sky filled with different hues and shades of dark, casting shadows on the waves. Occasionally kite-surfers and golfers enter the frame, before amiably disappearing off-screen.
But the real find is Stephen Turner’s Seafort Project, in which Tuner took up residence alone in 2005 in the Shivering Seafort, one of the Maunsell Forts built in the Second World War as a deterrent to German aircraft using the river as a navigation aid. These huge turrets still rise today out of the sea near Whitstable in dramatic fashion, but have essentially been abandoned for seventy years, with the Port of London Authority up until 1992 maintaining a gauge to measure the state of the tide. The time span he chose to spend in the fort – thirty-six days – was deliberately set to correspond with the tour of duty that military personnel spent in the forts during WWII.
Communicating to the outside world via a blog and webcam, captured in the exhibition on two large screens (one for text and the other for images), the installation captures the sheer solipsist claustrophobia and isolation of the forts, surrounded by rotting decay and rusting machinery as they face the elements. Accompanying images show parts of machinery, images of birds resting on the side of the forts, barely legible old letters, and holes in peeling walls. The impression is of a man slowly going insane, yet he finds things to do with his time: in an environment of steel and concrete, he manages to nurture some life by growing an herb garden.
Meanwhile, the waves beneath him lap endlessly as the English Sea opens up. From there, the current makes its way out into the Atlantic Ocean.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

For the last few months, while the weather has been hot, I have been cycling and jogging along the River Lea, starting off from Springfield Park and navigating through there through Walthamstow Marshes, though the Lee Valley, through Hackney Marshes, and all the way to Hackney Wick. Sometimes I’ll even go the other way, down to Tottenham Marshes and Tottenham Hale. All these ‘marshes’ were drained a while ago, so they’re actually more like fields, providing a much-needed source of calm and green in the area. It’s made me become more interested in just how much London is intersected with canals and rivers (other than the main one, of course – the Thames), and how it’s affected the topography of London.

The River Lea has always been there, a constant feature of my life growing up in this area of London. Its name possibly comes from the old Celtic word for ‘bright’, ‘lug’, though there are other, competing claims. When England was ruled under Danelaw, sometime in the 800-900s, it was used as part of the Danelaw boundary. Meanwhile, cities and areas of London owe their etymology to the river: think of Leagrave, Luton, Leyton, and Leamouth, all variants of Old Anglo-Saxon signifiers of an area near the river Lea.
It begins all the way from the Chiltern Hills and winds its way through Hertfordshire and its various towns, before entering London via Enfield Lock (again a reference to the river), just beyond Waltham Abbey. From there it navigates through all the places familiar to me: Edmonton, Chingford, Tottenham, Walthamstow, Upper Clapton (right near Stamford Hill), Leyton…and Hackney Wick, which is where I’ll usually finish. Along the way, I pass pubs overlooking the river and hundreds of moored barges, many with people living in them; some sell drinks, some are full of people playing music; some even sell books.
But the Lea carries on beyond the Wick, winding right around the Olympics site in Stratford and through Fish Island, Bromley-by-Bow, Poplar, Canning Town, and Leamouth. There, its work done, the river terminates at Bow Creek, running eventually into the Thames. One day, I’ll attempt to cycle the full distance.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Some non-Arbeit Gallery posts will be coming up soon, but for now, this is what we're doing this weekend as part of the annual Hackney WickED festival, which takes place in the Hackney Wick area and involves lots of arty shenanigans (though it wasn't on last year due to the Olympics nearby), with many galleries hosting private views and other events and workshops taking place. Here's some stuff about our contribution to the festival, with a PR release below.

We are extremely excited to announce that, for the first time, Arbeit Gallery will be participating in the annual Hackney WickED festival, taking place from 16 to 18 of August 2013. On 16 August at 6pm, we are proud to present Formed View, a multi-media performance piece by the artist Christopher Matthews. Formed View investigates politics of perception of the moving figure through different kinds of improvisation. It is a collaborative research piece in which the body operates as a performance site and an object of observation, a piece “looking into how the body gives us signs that we both can and cannot read, how the moving body can operate in registers defying expectations”, as the artist himself puts it.
The installation involves Lyle Wheeler, a contemporary dancer, improvising with the support of movement practitioner James Haswell D’Arcy, whilst artist Sally McKay and writers Alexandrina Hemsley, Jamila Johnson-Small and Charlotte Ashwell of BELLYFLOP Magazine make responses. Their responses will be fed to television screens so that spectators outside of the space but within the gallery can witness the research process. In doing so, Matthews hopes that fundamental questions will be asked: “What is the role of the dancer as he/she is being watched?", "What is the role that the physical appearance of the dancer plays in the situation?”, “What role does the mode of presentation play in the perception of the moving figure?”, “How does improvisation affect or not the relation between the performer and the spectator?”
Formed View will be streamed live on the Hackney Live website, the digital pilot platform initiated and funded by Hackney Council.

We invite everybody to watch the performance inside Arbeit Gallery via the TVs and/or participate remotely through the Hackney Live website. Christopher will answer questions and comments on through the social media platform during the performance. To be part of the streamed event follow us on Twitter - @hackneylive #hackneylive and like us on Facebook - fb/hackneylive.

Christopher Matthews (b. 1980, USA) lives and works in Hackney, London. Currently, he is a CreativeWorks London Entrepreneur in Residence with Roehampton University where he will be devising courses on themes around the artist as a nomad. Christopher was an Emerging dance artist in residence at the Southbank Centre in 2011 and that same year was awarded a Wild Card residency in Croatia by Jardin D’Europe. He was a resident performer with the Hayward Gallery exhibition and tour of Move: Art and Dance from the 60’s and British Art Show 7: In the Days of the Comet. In 2012, he was a core performer for Tino Seghal’s These Associations at Tate Modern.

BELLYFLOP Magazine is an East London based artist led online magazine. 

Friday 6-9pm
16th August 2013
Arbeit Gallery
Unit 4, White Post Lane, Queens Yard, Hackney Wick, London
E9 5EN

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Memo Mori, by Emily Richardson
Greetings. A whole load of stuff taking place at Arbeit Gallery in Hackney Wick this weekend as part of the grass-roots Lab Film Festival taking place in the surrounding area. On Saturday we’ll be hosting ‘One Pound Cinema’, in which we’ll showcase a selection of short films directed by emerging local and international film-makers from midday all the way to 9pm, all for the princely sum of, well, £1.
On Sunday, meanwhile, from 6-9pm we will be hosting for free a programme of artists’ moving image works entitled London Seizure Part 2: Extension of the Zone of Operation (the first part of this series was screened at Bermondsey Project in Southwark last month).

Arbeit is located at Unit 4, White Post Lane, Queens Yard, Hackney Wick, London, E9 5EN (map).

Some info below on Sunday’s programme of screenings. There's also a lowdown on the individual entries here on Arbeit's website, with screen shots of each. The screening programme will be followed by a panel discussion with the participating artists.

We live in a world shaped by people. What some might call nature has been transformed by human beings, from the earliest communities clearing forests to the sudden acceleration of the process at the end of the eighteenth century with the beginning of the industrial revolution, through the origins of mass production, the large scale urban planning schemes of the modernist movement, the fragmented narratives of postmodernism, to the second decade of the twenty first century. As a process, this transformation continues, with more people than ever before now living in urban centres, mega-cities of steel and glass, engines of a global economy, fuelled by mass consumption.

In metropolitan areas such as London, changes of use and ownership of public and private space are often driven by economic imperatives and security concerns.  Urban developers and private investors make commitments to deliver an improved version of the city which is clean, secure and controlled, though, ultimately, what is created, as a result of this process, is a sterile and less democratic space for the public to use. In due course, these urban neighbourhoods become commodified and branded entities under the control of estate management boards and/ or local authorities, which make decisions on the current and future use of said neighbourhoods. 

A social pattern, well documented in recent decades, has seen creative practitioners, attracted by the easy availability of empty, disused or cheap spaces in former industrial areas, seize the initiative and become resident, temporarily, within the ascending spiral of regeneration processes.  The inevitable consequences are rising property prices, increased socio-cultural value and a highly contested space between various competing interest groups.

With regard to one specific former industrial area, Hackney Wick, it might be argued that no other part of London better evinces this perpetual re-negotiation and interpretation of space and resources.  With the arrival of the now familiar blue fencing, there was a clear signal that decisions about the use of urban space are not guided by the inhabitants of cities but by corporate interests. The blue fencing is symbolic of high security, control and exclusion, subverting even the ethos of events, which are supposed to epitomise inclusiveness, pluralism and democratic values.

The two part-film programme, London Seizure, represents a new contribution to the dialogue on the current social, economic and political climate in London. In order to contextualise the featured works, the screenings have been hosted by institutions in two separate areas of London significantly affected by regeneration processes, Bermondsey Project, Southwark and Arbeit, Hackney Wick.

The artists featured in Part 1: Urban DISease, shared the same motivation to record instances of disruption to the fabric of everyday urban life, with regard to both the quotidian and the wider socio-political agenda, giving voice to a general sense of unease.
The artists featured in this Part 2: Extension of the Zone of Operation, take a special interest in current practices governing urban land use and the hidden narratives behind market oriented housing policies. Oscillating between propaganda, political theatre and anthropological research, their works engage with the recent past, insecure present and uncertain future as a tool against disappearance and forgetting.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Schlager schlager schlager

So a friend of mine acquired a flat in Berlin a few years ago, only to find out that the owner had died shortly afterwards. An old man who lived on his own in the then-unfashionable and low-rent Neukölln district (now rapidly gentrifying – but then, aren’t they all?), the man’s flat included a cellar in which all kinds of crazy ephemera was left behind: calendars from 1983 (the year that his wife died), barely functioning bikes, tons of cigarette packets, sepia-tainted…and boxes and boxes of Schlager music.

Schlager music never really took off in the U.K. Obviously there was the language barrier, but that didn’t stop other Germanic, Northern European countries such as the Netherlands and Sweden having their own adapted form of Schlager in their own language (not to mention, according to that Wiki page, Slavic countries and even Turkey having their own form of the genre elsewhere on the continent). You could, of course, argue that Chas ‘n’ Dave were essentially a British form of Schlager, and having seen the duo twice I can vouch that their oeuvre is somewhat similar in sound if not language. They also share some visual similarities, such as the insistence on wearing men’s suspenders and braces (in the photo above, check out the two guys called 'Original Naabtal Duo' and, two cassette tapes to the right, the barely visible guys in the 'Super Stimmungs-Festival' thing).
The photo above, in fact, should give you some idea of just how many schlager tapes the man had - but that's just a fraction.

This includes what seems to be an inroad into straight comedy, as evidenced by the number of tapes by Fips Asmussen, above (still alive today) - such as Schlag auf Schlag ("Hit After Hit") - whose terrifying-looking website includes the prospect of a "Joke of the Week".

There’s also outfits such as Truck Stop and Hallo Trucker! (both above), whose repertoire seems to be based around emulating fat American truck drivers with baseball caps and large beards, what with tracks such as 'Cowboy bei der Bahn' ('Cowboy By The Railway') and 'Old Texan Town, die Western Stadt', which doesn’t really need translating.
There’s also Freddy Quinn, a genuine ‘star’ on the schlager scene and nothing to do with Joaquin Phoenix's character in the recent Paul Thomas Anderson film about scientologists. His album Star Portrait includes such classics as the dodgy-sounding 'Auf der Reeperbahn nachts um halb eins' ('On the Reeperbahn at half past midnight'), and, even more peturbingly, something called 'Older Men Make Better Lovers'. There’s also 'So geht das jede Nacht' ('So it is every night'), in which his chick is caught shagging around, and the below medley in all its glory via the magic of YouTube.

Peter Alexander (below, on the right) also appears to have been another shlager superstar (he died two years ago, apparently), as well as accomplished actor.

 Best known for the ‘hit’ 'Und manchmal weinst du sicher ein paar Tranen' ('And Sometimes You Certainly Cry A Few Tears'), his self-titled album (well, I think it’s self-titled) got a spin by us. It includes such classics as ‘Ich Zähle Täglich Meine Sorgen’ (‘I Count My Daily Worries’), which sounds decidedly upbeat for such a depressingly existentialist song title:

So we decided to have a session while in the Neukölln flat where we would get wasted and listen to these tapes…hours and hours of them. By the end, I can certifiably say that it is the worst music I have ever heard in my entire life. I am still traumatized from listening to this soundtrack to insanity. But I think I’m OK now. Except when I watch all sixty-eight minutes and thirty-five seconds of the below, which I urge you to do, in order to understand the very definition of madness. Like living in Buddhist-inspired ascetic denial of all material gains up a mountain in Bhutan, you will feel cleansed and pure in mind by the end of it.

And then come to the night that we plan to hold in a Neukölln bar (a real German Kneipe, not one of those hipster joints that have spouted up in the area), where we will play the entire set of cassettes in tribute to the man’s life and death, all night. No songs by Can, Faust, or Neu! (or any other lauded Krautrock outfit from the mid-70s) will be permitted. Details of this forthcoming night will be posted right here on this blog - so watch this space!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

That's Satan told. Our saviour is a bearded dude with what looks like an England football kit on.

Photos by Simon Luker

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Mannequin Blast by Joseph Steele
While living in Old Street - now rebranded “Silicon Roundabout” for the convenience of endless gaggles of web developers – I got involved with a local modern art and multimedia gallery called Arbeit
Closing down after being priced out on the scene by a larger gallery (with squatters taking over the derelict space for a while), Arbeit has, to my delight, now reopened in Hackney Wick, an area that still has the feeling of something genuinely left-field, with an artistic community intact, rather than degenerating into a blur of yuppie bars and gourmet burger joints. Indeed, located on White Post Lane, Arbeit is right in the centre of things, located next to The Yard theatre and music venue, and across an industrial-looking square from Crate Brewery, where you can drink nice locally-brewed stout or porter (both of which, admittedly, I am hugely into, being a saddo middle-aged microbrewery obsessive) and eat delicious pizza while overlooking the local river (there’s also an incongruously industrial-looking German deli nearby run by a slightly weird woman, but I won't go into that). I’ll be involved with a few things there this summer, including the below, whose amusing press release I have copied and pasted. Sounds charming.

Steele vs. Freeakpong
Works by Joseph Steele and Nicola Frimpong AKA Freeakpong


"The world is beautiful, but has a disease called man". Friedrich Nietzsche

In a jolting new exhibition, artists Steele and Frimpong (aka Freeakpong) collaborate and join together in a savage-like force, forming an alliance against humanity. Their somewhat violent works comment upon everything they believe is wrong with the world (and that's a lot). They seem to hate us all - white, black, religious, atheist, homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual; relationships, families, babies...every single form of humanity, every single one of us, and whatever category we might fall under, they despise.
Both artists expose the worst in us, the audience. Both together as an artistic team and as individual artists, they describe how wrong we are, and remind us of our felonies and misdeeds, of our immorality and our ignorance. Nothing is ever good; negativity is inescapable and flows through every part of us into the deepest, darkest corners of ourselves, polluting our souls.

Freeakpong's child-like watercolour drawings explicitly confront and expose our innermost fears, darkest thoughts and corrupt fantasies. Sexism, hatred and political error are especially prevalent themes and play important roles within her obsessively detailed work. We are often caught off-guard as a spectator and pushed into feeling like the heroine character of the painting: defenceless, hopeless and naked, void of any excuses or answers - we have all done wrong.

Steele's work, on the other hand, isn't a representation of fantastical occurrences. He creates first-hand scenes within space, where the space is his canvas. He creates tangible experiences with which the audience can interact with, drawing them in, to become part of them almost instantaneously. Ever wanted to be a porn star or a suicide bomber?! His central installation will decimate everything we believe in by freezing a moment in time; he glorifies a bomb and kneels appraisingly to the bomber, inviting you to do the same.

"This is the pit of my soul. I spit my thoughts and in feelings onto the canvas. It's disgusting to see" - Freeakpong

"I am terrified that I exist. I fill my work with violence and anger as a distraction" - Joseph Steele

Friday, March 29, 2013


The proliferation of YouTube and similar sites on the Internet has meant that old TV programs from one’s formative years can now be revisited: for my generation, that means UK 80s TV. Whether Mysterious Cities of Gold or Fraggle Rock or vintage 80s Dr. Who, YouTube and elsewhere on the Internet has uncovered these gems from my childhood, hitherto lost in the vaults or on VHS.
One program from this period – a one-off BBC film made just for TV called Threads, aired in 1984 – has been put up on YouTube in its two-hour entirety*, and watching it has been a revelation. It’s right there at the top of this article. Was the BBC really subversive enough to put up something like this on prime-time TV? It’s a moot point as to whether they would air something like this now, nearly thirty years on, on terrestrial BBC1 or BBC2 (it was repeated on BBC4 recently, but that sort of doesn’t count).
It’s interesting to read the comments on the YouTube page beneath the film, where many other Brits of roughly my age recount being shown the film while at school and being traumatised – not surprising, given how powerful is still is even now. I don’t recall being shown it at school myself, but you never know…it might have been aired in a GCSE module I did called Science, Technology & Society, and I’ve just forgot. Then again, it’s a pretty hard film to forget.
Threads is a work of fiction, but runs also as a simulated documentary about the impact of a nuclear bomb attack on Sheffield, narrated coolly by an anonymous English broadcasting voice while statistics (with that very early-80s large white or green pixels style) fill the screen: 3000 megatons in worldwide nuclear exchange; 210 megatons falling on the UK. The first half-an-hour zeros in on a number of ordinary citizens going about their lives in the city against a backdrop of increasing hostilities between the USA and the Soviet Union (and more broadly, NATO vs the USSR-led Warsaw Pact) in the Persian Gulf, with the UK embroiled as a supporting partner with the former. As news of impending nuclear war slowly sinks in, we see the effects it has on the general populace, as well as (in a secondary plot) a focus on the actions of the Chief Executive of Sheffield City Council, who establishes a makeshift bomb shelter in the Town Hall basement to house an emergency operations team. The latter plot ‘thread’ was meant to illustrate to the viewer the U.K. Government’s then-current continuity arrangements in case of nuclear war.
The film then shows the city being decimated in excruciating fashion by a number of nuclear blasts, the most devastating being a huge nuclear warhead detonated directly over the city. But it’s what happens afterwards that’s arguably just as searing on the mind. Slowly, the film shifts into something that could be from a Bergman film (or for more recent reference, The Road or Michael Haneke’s Time of the Wolf), in depicting the dystopian aftermath of nuclear winter, where the Sun has been blocked out from nuclear fallout and what’s left of the UK has been reduced to medieval Hell. Those who have survived toil an unyielding, sterile Earth, traumatised, while babies are born mutants from the radiation and mobs fight over food and shelter, devoid of compassion. What’s left of the barely functioning UK Government employs soldiers on the streets with guns who frisk the dead bodies of freshly shot looters for whatever they can find, while radiation sickness and rampant disease claim more lives. The bleakness and desperation fills every shot in this last segment of the film (mind you, come to think of it, none of the rest of the film is exactly fun either).
Watching the film makes it even more devastating to think that something similar was wrought to Hiroshima and Nagasaki in real life – on a smaller scale, of course, but with equally as devastating an effect for those affected. Then there’s the continuing fall-out from the nuclear reactor explosion in Chernobyl, which occurred just two years after Threads was released to an unsuspecting public. The film was released at the height of Cold War paranoia, along with record support for the CND around that time, but what’s interesting is seeing how little has changed in global geopolitics: the US is still threatening to encircle Iran, to the consternation of Russia, the inheritor of the USSR; the Middle East is still where the interests of the USA (and its allies) rub up tensely against the interests of Russia and Iran.
Channel 4’s output has attempted something daring over the last ten years of so – I’m thinking of Brass Eye and what I’ve seen of the recent Utopia, as well as the output of some cable channels (remember Monkey Dust?). But it’s hard to think of the BBC producing something as daring as this on terrestrial peak viewing time in 2013. Perhaps I’ll be proved wrong, though.

Thanks to Simon Luker for the heads-up on the film’s existence on YouTube.

* I’m assuming the copyright has expired on this (hence the fact that it hasn’t been pulled off YouTube, but maybe I'm wrong...

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Some more posts will be coming soon, but in the meantime, get ready for another night hosted by Pennyblackmusic in collaboration with GoodnightLondon, now at a new venue - Brixton Jamm...and yes, that flyer was designed by me, so it's not the best - but I'm available for graphic design commissions if anyone's impressed. (:

The Galileo 7
Dave Harding (Richmond Fontaine)
Tickets £5 in advance here. £6 on door.
Brixton Jamm
261 Brixton Road, London, SW9 6LH

Saturday 16th March 2013
A preview of the night, with description of acts, is available on Jamm's website here.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Still from Under The Cranes, courtesy of Under The Cranes blog and Hackney Archives
Been busy lately writing a number of articles on local film for the Hackney Citizen newspaper, the latest of which is this feature on a film called Under The Cranes. Directed by radio journalist Emma-Louise Williams, the film is a meditative, impressionist evocation of Hackney over the decades (my native borough), using local voices intertwined with both contemporary and archival footage. In the BFI’s words:

“A polyphonic meditation on time and urban space, a cinematic version of one of Charles Parker’s ‘Radio Ballads’, this Michael Rosen-scripted evocation of the borough of Hackney is a joyous wonder, an instant addition to the modern canon of filmic London. Super-8 streetscapes and archival alleyways rub up against Al Bowlly tunes and Malian kora music, the testimonies of contemporary Congolese immigrants is heard alongside proud retellings of how anti-fascist Jews purged the neighbourhood of Mosley’s henchmen in the 1940s, and child rhymes hang beautifully over a much maligned and increasingly gentrification-threatened area.”

That’s the short description. There’s also a long description of the movie’s themes here.

As part of covering the film, I got to see a screening of it at the Bishopsgate Institute, a great cultural institute right near trendy Spitafields, that I've never had a chance to check out before. The warm-up music was spot on, with plenty of Joe Meek records (including the Meek-produced “Jack The Ripper”, sung by none other than Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages – LOL), while the Q&A afterwards with Williams, Michael Rosen, and Ken Warpole (pictured below), was illuminating in delving into the contexts of the film. 

Rosen’s mention of the convoluted nature of what is currently happening on Dalston Lane, with the boarded up shops on the road having been sold from Hackney Council to ‘some bloke in Dubai’, only for Hackney Council to then buy the property back, all the while stopping local businesses from being able to buy the property outright, is an example of the hugely convoluted nature of property in the borough at the moment. 

In any case, the constantly changing face of the borough is only one more reason for seeing the film. I’m not sure if you can get it on DVD, but the film’s blog has details on upcoming screenings.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Hello! Is it me you're looking for?!

This sticker was spotted by me plastered on a skip in Camden Passage, Angel, a few months ago. I have deduced that it can only mean two things.
(1) It is genuine, and was part of Lionel Ritchie's equipment cargo boxes. I seem to remember him playing in London a few months ago. How it migrated to being on a skip in Camden Passage is a moot point, though.
(2) It's a postmodern prank dreamt up by a graphic designer with too much time on their hands, and who finds amusement in baffling passers-by.

Perhaps someone can enlighten me as to which one it is?

Saturday, February 02, 2013

The Great West Road, captured by me in January's snowfall
So I am leaving my temporary abode in West London and returning to my native North-East London. Along the way, I’ve checked out a number of country manors that are down the road from me, all of which look deeply desolate in the winter. Osterley Park and House, for example, where the band The XX will inexplicably be playing in June (right next to that cool bookshop I mentioned in my previous post).

There’s also Syon Park & House, which looks like the kind of thing you’d see in Oxford or Cambridge or York rather than West London just beyond the Hammersmith flyover. You can imagine Vikings attacking its forts in 850 or whenever it was England was under King Canute’s Danelaw:

But what’s been most if interest to me is a rather fascinating, deeply dystopian-looking, art-deco edifice right near me – The Gillette Building, which happens to be a Grade II listed. In case you’re wondering, yes it is named after Gillette the razors, but Gillette aren’t there anymore. So what’s it used for?

Like Battersea Power Station, it’s all a bit of a mystery. Some of the scenes from the entirely forgettable Rowan Atkinson vehicle Johnny English Reborn were shot there. Other than that, who knows? There’s hardly any activity inside except for the occasional sinister photoshoot that you can spy taking place in the basement. Those forbidding red wavy grills on the windows (left) make it look like something out of 1984 or The Handmaid’s Tale (the latter of which I’ve just finished reading) – you can imagine the Ministry of Truth or the Headquarters of the Republic of Gilead in there. It also reminds me of some of the decaying art-deco buildings that you see in pictures of Detroit, right down to these slightly creepy statues in front of the entrance:

Meanwhile, at night, it’s only lights come from the neon clocktower above, which – and this is extremely Orwellian – always has the wrong time. Perhaps secret plots are being hatched up there, a bit like in Hitchcock's Vertigo? Or...maybe not.

What a place it would be to have gigs and art happenings; you can imagine Godspeed You! Black Emperor squatting a decaying building like this in recession-blighted Montreal in the mid-90s and playing songs about the end of the world. Sadly, there is a manned entrance at the side to the car park at the back, which is pretty much the only way you can get to the building. So it's clearly guarded in some way. Well, you could put a ladder over the fence…but I won’t. Just like Battersea Power Station (even with the ludicrous current plans, which will probably lead to another housing crash when everything goes wrong - you read it here first!), it’s an example of another amazing building in London left to rot. Whether or not you like Tesco's, at least the Hoover Building is being used for something.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Near where I’m living at the moment in temporary digs, across the expanse of motorway, there’s Osterley Bookshop - a cool old second-hand place, the kind that you don’t often get in London anymore. There’s the kind of musty old smell in this place that you don’t get in Waterstone's. Paperback novels are piled up to the ceiling, often haphazardly on the floor; to get to the counter, you have to go through a maze of bookshelves reaching to the ceiling, all crammed with frequently crumbling books and esoterica. Everything’s slightly badly organised (but in a good way). To call the attention of whoever’s running the shop that day (it always seems to change), you have to ring a bell, and while s/he takes your money, they sell various kitchen tea sets and jumble sale stuff in an adjacent room. In the fantasy section, I couldn’t help but notice some Fighting Fantasy titles – and straight away they brought back lots of memories.

For those who are either too young or never read them, these enormously successful books, which probably reached their pinnacle in the mid to late 80s, were single-player role-play gamebooks created by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone (who I think run Games Workshop now), loosely based around a Lord Of The Rings-style fantasy theme (although it cast its net wide, embracing sci-fi, horror stories, pirates, vampires, and Mad Max-style Scorched Earth apocalyptic post-disaster themes). Each book would have 300-400 numbered ‘Sections’, through which the reader would progress, starting at Section 1. The reader’s protagonist would be given a choice of which subsequent Section to turn to at each one (“turn to Section 140 to fight the orc with your Sword of Gravalan, or turn to Section 320 to run away!”). To ‘win’ each book, you needed to get to Section 400. Along the way, you would know that your protagonist had lost, and needed to start the whole thing again, if you got to a Section where there was no subsequent Section to turn to (with your protagonist’s death usually described in melodramatic language: “Your will snaps. You scream in anguish and despair…You cease to exist. You are a Slave Warrior, a mindless minion of the Warlord of the Portal”. Or: “Dwarven Slave Warriors meet you as you run for the doors. Your adventure ends here”). Of course, you could always just cheat, but that’s sort of beside the point. Skill, Stamina, and Luck would also be a big component of the protagonist’s make-up, dictated by much dice rolling (in a similar manner to Dungeons & Dragons), and would be particularly important when fighting foes, whose Skill and Stamina would be pitted against yours. The most famous was undoubtedly the first in the series: The Warlock of the Firetop Mountain (pictured above). However, my personal favourite was Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! series, which was essentially one long adventure spread out over four books, with the whole thing a bit Lord of the Rings, right down to the climax taking part in an evil castle in a bleak, treeless Mordor-style environment. In between, the reader navigated cities, deserts, forests and Lord know what else. I discovered this site recently, which lists every single one of them (so someone was even more obsessive than me), original 80s edition Puffin covers and all, and those front covers brought back so many memories. These books were my lifeblood when I was about ten, when I would go down to WH Smith in Wood Green (the highlight of glamour, I know), and head straight to the fantasy bit of the book section. These are the ones I’m pretty sure I played, but there were probably others in the collection I tried out, too (including the Island of the Lizard King, which definitely wasn't about Jim Morrison). Who else remembers them?


And, of course, the afore-mentioned Sorcery series: