I have a short creative-critical piece in the new issue of Tentacular mag thinking through James Goodwin’s reading of Ramayya, and Sascha Akhtar’s recent collection #LoveLikeBlood
I have a short creative-critical piece in the new issue of Tentacular mag thinking through James Goodwin’s reading of Ramayya, and Sascha Akhtar’s recent collection #LoveLikeBlood
Little review up here on the quietus – good lockdown listening
Gaika’s first LP proper Basic Volume (Warp Records) enters the continuum of the ghostly matter that we call musical (sub)culture at the cusp between aesthetics and politics. There’s a feeling of Gaika as a nodal point triangulating a problem of the contemporary. This LP is part of that emerging aesthetic project the groundwork of which has been in motion for some time now.
This idea of time is central, with futurist dystopia inscribed into London territory as if the antagonism of urban life produces this out-of-jointness in temporality itself. A gothic time. Gaika’s resonance, and ability to tune into and amplify this warped sensibility is exemplified in his cross-referential musicality, playing through British-Caribbean soundsystem culture and industrial electronics. There’s a crispness in production, with the likes of SOPHIE and Jam City contributing, which is part of a configuration of contemporaneity that is embedded across the tracklist bringing a particular intensity and density. This intensity, in typical gothic fashion, forms an affective atmosphere of impending violence. A colonial trauma bringing forward the proximity of a third world landscape, reinscribing a race-class analysis that connects the global south with antagonisms in Britain. This seems to be working against current ideas of race and identity which are increasingly defined by ones proximity to Britishness and normative conceptions of identity.
The aesthetic work put-in runs along the icy lines of embodiment and disembodiment. A bounded embodiment is shown throughout his live performance, visual focus on the body/face and interest in fashion, something he’s followed through with his fashion label Armour in Heaven. This textilic and tactile materiality is set against a disembodiment engendered through the overproduction of voice in his music. This voice triggers a sense of history, historicity even, like channeling a ghostly transmission of The Spaceape’s poetics of force. There is religiosity at play. The dedication to the memory of Gaika’s father furthers this idea of history and dis/embodiment. His announcement note reading: ‘We live in turbulent times. I hope this work inspires those in search of a better world. This is dedicated to my Father. Dad, I put the reggae song on’.
The force of history Gaika is channeling a reinscription produced through the aesthetic labour that undergirds and maps the Gaika project. The question in contention would remain in how this aesthetic critique can reproduce and manifest a socio-political prospering within – or after – the degeneration of an urban masculinity endemic in ‘immigrant sons’. Or put another way is there a critical transformation of social form at play here amidst the aesthetics of desolation.
Originally published on Southern Discomfort Zine (6/1/2015)
So the question of the day is temporality and its politics. Early twentieth century futurist modernism with its grand visions of embracing/deepening/cutting-through modernity gave way to fascist corporeality, communist statism, socialist tower-blocks, third world slums and, worst of all, the institutionalism of ‘modern art’. Then ‘no future’ with the Sex Pistols, autonomia 77 and Ayatollah Khomeini converging in militant dysphoria; truly post-modernist. And out of such wreckage the post-Fordist financialised ‘global’ economy looms, circulating the virtual representation //of commodities/of collateralised debt/ of production/ of containerised ideology// Subjectivities of time are pushed to extremes and representation becomes the key-word. Well how do we actually create space – where does our cultural production come into its own? What becomes of words // lives // memories // the all-important small things? Can we excavate ourselves out without containerising or homogenising and break out from the yoke of institutional legitimation// with fulfilment perhaps? Or are we stuck in the oppression of Now / of Identity / of the increasingly fatuous and vacuous gentrified present of revanchist fundamentalisms while rehearsing our self-indulgent monologues and arrogant entitlements? Are there futures worth constructing?
So let’s talk about time. Temporalities coinciding with our shared spaces intersecting with the banal day-to-day brought together encapsulated within the cultural object and its perennial memories glimpsed through the dirty window the distorted mirror; think the tight corridor streets and cracking facades of proper professionalism with its musk of displaced loneliness in Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood For Love. But the redemption is found in the quiet pride, the elegant dress, the depth of self-reflection in the shadow of the haunting lilts of the waltz; they looked better back then, to quote a Southern Discomfort regular. And then trying to break out of the neuroses overhanging in the darker crevices is the depth of struggle trying to search for a future while excavating the scraps of the past. Again think Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 with the melancholic flows of trains transporting frail visions of histories in the struggle to write/to carve/ out of the maelstroms fleeting ephemerality of the cold starkness of glistening skyscrapers and highrises accelerating time’s impasse. The writer’s search for a room, a simple space/raum, a constant lurch for a dream/traum as a struggle of language of articulation of experienced realities defined through a corpus with its oblique multiplicities. And yes its always political and yes its always presupposed by notions of belonging/entitlement/location through bodies and organs and races and genitaltraffik and (infra)structures of knowledge and yes its always conjectural conjunctural questions of the relations of power but its also so much more than that; it’s the (hi)stories of our lives.
Or think Jarmusch’s latest Only Lovers Left Alive with the moody dysphoria of ruinous Detroit and the darkened alleys of Tangiers seeping the slow memories of Tilda Swinton’s aged disposition searching for a space / the right feeling / the right thing away from the cluttersome neurotic cold light of day. Their ethereality transposed through the luxury-stricken plate-glass temples of Boris’s London whilst narrating the abstract present’s relation to avante-gardian Derek Jarman in Isaac Julien’s documentary montage on his archetypal life, Derek. Jarman one of those (post)colonial grand folk forced back to our rainy fascism island and the rubble of London and the bleak of Dungeness, Kent, searching for the fragments that make it all bearable, truly tolerant, carving out other(ed) realities.
Languages and temporalities.
Maybe a nod to another Southern Discomfort favourite C.L.R. James and his Beyond a Boundary is in order with its beautiful articulation of cricket, colonialism and class through the prism of lives and losses; English literature at its most sublime. Cricket as an arena of mourning / of melancholic rumination / of the gothic. Boundaries and languages.
In some sense we’re all trying to be Sammy Delaney’s Kid in Dhalgren traversing the Afrofuturist//Afropessimist psycho-geographies of Bellona-Detroit; cyclical and vital. Becoming one of Marechera’s lost acquaintances in strained networks and infrastructures that populate urban modernity; many looking for legitimacy; the losers finding themselves //no gods no masters no glory and certainly no romance #poorbutsexy
As @zentaurum, one of the fallen illegitimates, writes:
i don’t know, i feel like i’m struggling to maintain the struggle, like i feel i only really exist if i don’t resign myself to some definition, because this definition doesn’t really exist… but it’s too hard for those around me seeing me to let me float. like i hate it when people say i’m in between man and woman — no, i don’t like the space between the mattresses, i don’t need to be put there, i don’t need to be solid enough to be pointed at.
it’s really weird admitting that everything’s not super easy and that whilst this who that i am is kind of like a ‘solution’, it’s damn fucking difficult, and it’s not just the ultimate stop, the search-spotlight won’t find me, i’m displacing forever. and i don’t say so, that it’s so hard…
@zentaurum, Yesterday’s Names http://pinktightsandsidepartings.tumblr.com/post/95732272416/yesterdays-names
Maybe we’ll find our end past the credits after the fall but well maybe we’ll have to face that the implacable displaced othered-being always exists in the breaks and well maybe that’s the only closure there is. We are all the tragic fallen figure of Tony Soprano ending ambiguously, subject to rumour and scorn, grasping for timeless pasts // perennially writing other[ed] futurisms.
Originally published on Southern Discomfort Zine (19/12/2014)
The modernist monochrome street goth sport goth health goth aesthetic lies in the crypts of tumblr networks splintering into accelerated hyper-defined image culture bursting out into a fragmented post-Fordist-crash historical moment for the digitalised immaterial generation in which the present has to be reimagined and reinvented as we understand the future envisioned by the current ancien regime is already sold-off in a macabre maelstrom of financial algorithms. Yes that’s right the over/de/sensitised youth trudging on the treadmill of institutionalist futures are actually capable of cultural intervention as carnivalesque dissent rooted in historical consciousness; it isn’t the exclusionary privilege of twentieth century dislocated cultural exiles, though that might upset a grumpy old man or two. The fragments of the goth aesthetic reconstituted for our secular crisis represents one of the more historically conscious aesthetics that shows potentialities of dissent through culture and association.
With that said, late capitalist cultural logic has had no problem in appropriation with the likes of ubiquitous conglomerate retailer H&M managing our metropolitan streets with images of Alexander Wang’s latest haute goth collection. And well the absurdity of the k hole #normcore trend is high tragic farce at its finest in which contentless ideology is packaged and sold to a gentrified culture of creative industries attempting to live out orientalist fantasies of the ‘poor but sexy’, to quote Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit. The gentrifying accumulation of cultural capital; a governing pathology of social cleansing of subaltern subjectivities attempting to manage avant-garde forms of social reproduction into capital’s flows of ideology.
In “enigmatic” artist Dean Blunt’s work we find a sharp critique and simultaneous counter-construction of the death of the black aesthetic. His most recent album Black Metal (a nod to the Norwegian realms of dysphoric icy metal articulation of a much grimmer counter-point to everyone’s favourite 90s disaffected youth Kurt Cobain) problematising black commercialism’s fetishisation of white pasts and simultaneous subsumption of contemporary avant-garde while he himself crosses textured lo-fi with Stravinsky’s sublime. Case in point, Kanye West’s newest album Yeezus with tracks such as ‘Black Skinheads’ and ‘We are the New Slaves’ epitomises a spectacle’s dearth of #pureideology, much in the same way as black capital’s first lady Beyonce’s ‘Feminism’ or Rihanna’s #seapunk style does the rounds on saturated tumblr image culture. Interestingly Kanye West called on a bunch of slightly more experimental producers for his latest LP, including Caracas’s Arca – by way of New York and London of course – whose latest album Xen is thematically centred around a non-gendered/genderqueer avatar named Xen. This arguably reflects the increasing metropolitan hybrid queer nature of a western avant-garde, although we may also want to raise questions of the historical context of such cultural production, namely the contradictions of the ‘global city’ with its flows of racialised capital and state violence, alongside avant-garde forms of social reproduction that can all too easily be subsumed into ideologies of manageability and institutionalism.
18+ are an American duo playing away in the underbelly of internet, releasing mixtapes for free on their tumblr and screening their videos at the likes of the Venice Biennale with their music consisting of seedy haunting pop sounds evoking the ‘deep web’ while in line with the trend of vaporwave; a kind of embrace and deconstruction of an accelerated hyper-circulative culture while in the process constructing something quite extraordinary across a number of mediums. Until recently they referred to themselves as boy/sis but have since ‘come out’ with their first material release (LP Trust) revealing their IRL personas. Living in hegemonic times of totalised narratives and coercive reductive ‘identities’ integral to our socially reproduction/to live/ carving out a space from fragments to construct something hinting at the ethereal, even sublime, that falls beyond existing taxonomies of articulation offers a potential for unmanageability; unmanageability as dissent against banality. It all lies in the temporal fragments; in the breaks; the avant-garde as gothic; gothic as the distorted mirror-image of banal governing hegemonies.
Classical post-industrial post-colonial kid playing around with electronic sounds, messing with clothes design and of course the more than occasional fashion-shoot,tweeting, naturally / problematising the spectacle of manageable yuppified ‘creative industry’ media forms while satiating an age-old desire for some decent audio-visual culture, as misplaced as that might sometimes seem. Sometimes gratuitous cultural consumption is all you can do to get through the grimy neurosis of post-Fordist traumas and there ain’t nothing wrong with that; it offers other spaces //other narratives//other aesthetics//other[ed] others breaking up psycho-geographical temporalities.
And in amongst containerised creative industries there’s the ever-looming spectre of the kitsch; the epitome of reproduced tat for a people yearning for cultural capital, for taste and status, but falling into a pit of soft nationalist delusions of grandeur. But what if the kitsch is prefigured, even distorted, and weaponised into – yes our good friend – the art of the sublime. With their fluffy cute post-internet/post-digital/post-new post/post-aesthetic London-based PC Music are one of those sublime collectives weaponising pop kitschness in dissent to contemporary laddish bass club culture which unsurprisingly comes across as rather queer. One of the proponents – SOPHIE – presents an ambiguous avatar with hi-tempo hi-energy hi-definition pop via soundcloud, reflective of an accelerated hyper-circulative late capitalist ideology intensified by post-crash no futurism no doubt. In end times of postmodern simulacrum and capitalist realism perhaps all that is left are constructions from distorted mirror-images of temporally fragmented faculties/excavating cultural production/pure gothic/ pure qt.
Postblack postqueer posthuman posttemporal #amirite?
But meh maybe its all privileged posing nonsense, maybe time will tell; though dislocated migrant persons are always dissonant, always queer(y)ing the institutionalised logics of taxonomies; trying to [w]rite//to excavate the displaced multi-temporalities of modernity’s metanarratives, not that its easy//
tl;dr? time’s a right fucker
Fragments of the urban flail around us amidst un[re]constructed grime along perpetual gentrified postmodernist scorn to the brutalist textures of modernism’s militancy; perpetual post-crash crisis meets postmodernist stagnation. All we have left is to fight the ruinous cringeful banality of Farage’s [insert other appropriate white cis-man] rivers of bloody tears with some reconstitution of our multiplicitous historical present through the excavation of the traces of the epistemes that compose our lives.
Brecht spoke of modernism ‘erasing the traces’ of the cold past but the only thing that’s getting erased these days is the modernist canon. Brutalist Britain and its concretopias being sold off to make way for a future minimalist in content; gentrified villages as the nihilistic narcissistic white smarminess that proliferates the so-called ‘creative industries’ and all the post-Fordist capital associated with it. Finally ‘alternative’ capitulates to quaint kitsch revanchist throes of ‘community’, as if we couldn’t see the tragic farce anyway.
In the middle we find the post-imperial ‘traditionalism’ of UKIP via Thatcherism //lest we forget the national hysterics of the #jubilympics,// though London’s Overthrow is always on the cards. John Martin’s Apocalypse tracing the contours of the trauma of the industrialised urban Pandemonium through the frame of time forgotten; the gothic grasped as the art of the Sublime, of that which excites terror, much like Turner’s steaming train. And what of the most gothic of them all, Queen Victoria? Her mourning of Prince Albert typified in his memorial. Imperial melancholia; the pathology of a reactionary high gothic culture.
And it always comes right back to the banks of the Thames right? Marx’s capital a vampire extracting and accumulating the flows of blood as Conrad in Heart of Darkness recites the litanies of imperial repugnance while aboard the Nelly on the Thames haunted by the horror of Kurtz, Dracula by another mask. And so we find Coppola and Herzog refracting this metanarrative through the frames of 60s Vietnam and 16th century Latin America. Hollywood’s spectacle lands us face to face with Marlon Brando’s weathered mask in the context of the great imperial failure of purple haze and napalm death. Meanwhile Neuer Deutscher Film leads us through the gritty realism of white male entitlement embodied in Klaus Kinski’s tormented search for riches and power in the fabled El Dorado only to meet his lone demise on a raft in the middle of the jungle manically immersed in monkeys. Modernism spoke of the new media of film and photography creating fragments of ourselves; Kinski’s performance was sublime gothic exposing the crisis in the secular mind post-modernism and post-colonialism through an exploration of the past. Gothic becomes the distorted mirror.
Of course Kinski has also performed as our old phantasmal friend Nosferatu in Herzog’s 1979 homage to Murnau’s 1924 Weimar expressionist classic – classic in the sense that you always catch yourself referring to it without ever really bothering to watch it, reflective in some ways of the very nature of the reproduced representation of the figure of Dracula. Bram Stoker’s 1897 version itself based on existing folk tale tropes of the vampire evoking the British imperial paranoia of invasion (some things never change eh?). Stoker was Irish, one of the first British colonies of course, and maybe he glimpsed some solidarity with the minnows of east Europe during the height of European imperial rivalry before, of course, that great war, much to the dismay of the downtrodden European working classes toiling in industrial urban squalour of Marx’s capital and Foucault’s biopower. Luxemburg’s Socialism or Barbarism, right? Not quite.
Andrey Tarkovsky’s film Solyaris (1972) – the classic form of the crisis of communism; stuck between rationalism and white masculinity, between East and West, searching for the great interstellar future of their counter-modernity only to uncover fragmented pasts. The transhistorical universalist subject shown to be the (white) working class (cis-man); let catastrophic spectacle ensue thanks to everyone’s favourite ambiguous brown leader of steel, Stalini. Pieter Bruegel’s 1565 painting ‘Hunters in the Snow’ haunting the souls of Eastern failure aboard Solyaris’s vessel. Most fittingly this painting has been brought into the post-Soviet world with electronic artist Dubna’s album artwork with the addition of modernist towering tower blocks rupturing time’s impasse. We still live in the wake of the Soviet’s attempt of breaking with the past. All that was solid did not melt into air, it only fragmented.
Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó aka Bela Lugosi was one of those classic souls toiling in the filth forced to flee Hungary to the centre of modernity’s many secular crises, Weimar Germany’s Berlin, after his involvement in artist’s unions in the short-lived post-WWI 1919 Hungarian Soviet Republic. Of course he wasn’t finished there and worked on a merchant ship to the good old States to become a proper white person and in the process also happened to end up as the archetypal Hollywood Dracula; a sublime life if there ever were one. But as Bauhaus hauntingly proclaimed in 1979 (the same year as Kinski’s Nosferatu) ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’. Incidentally László Weisz aka Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, central to the school of Bauhaus in the Weimar Republic, was part of the same milieu as Lugosi of emigrants from Budapest to Berlin in 1920. Northampton’s Bauhaus a mournful distorted mirror-image of Johnny Rotten’s crooning of ‘No Future’ as Moholy-Nagy’s grand modernist visions of the multimedia functionalism of art came true in the form of the IKEA towers of Croydon fame.
England’s dreaming, for sure, against the short memories of land of the free: Moholy-Nagy died in Chicago of course. Though there’s the other side of that American dream of course as found in Herzog’s Stroczek, partly based on the main actor’s life Bruno S., where a beaten-up ex-convict artist decides to escape the filthy detritus of West Berlin and ends up in the sticks of Wisconsin only for his dreams to take a plunge amid typical economic depravity with his wife leaving him for a lurid lorry-driver on his way to Vancouver. Yeah shit’s fucked. But you know it’s always harder for the queerer and darker ones of us but there’s less romance there I suppose, less respect and more pigeon-holing (see ‘diaspora kid’ Junot Diaz).
Or how about everyone’s favourite troubled black intellectual Dambudzo Marechera toiling against black essentialism and the walls of whiteness, escaping into the resplendent pages of English literature though historical consciousness and psycho-geographies always at the fore. As the old boy says, ‘But too often my friends are just as reckless and on edge as I am and sometimes the burden of each other’s needs is just too much and we load up our rucksacks and say goodbye without hard feelings. Just a sense of loss. My greatest disappointment has always been how one never gets the chance to give, and give unreseservedly. So I do that in my writing, only interrupting the flow when the life of it gazes unseeing at the typewriter keys.’ Constructing realities from possible narratives of pasts refracted into memory; not quite magical but something that obscures the hard cold boring logics of taxonomies of ruinous power and neurotic dominance.
The question of course is how to do so without falling into the traps of know-it-all smarminess or general misanthropy, and here the art of the sublime returns. That attraction of the urban decay and anonymity, the lack of community, the dislocative post-industrial fragments that have possibility if only you look thoroughly enough. See @hautepop’s http://street-goth.tumblr.com/ for the latest post-crash goth aesthetic, or Flying Lotus’s latest outing with ‘You’re Dead’ as bebop meets electronic soundscape to construct some sublime gestalt.
Memories as futures; futures as gothic; gothic as dissonant; dissonant dislocative memories reinvented for perpetual crisis against banal manageability.
 Dambudzo Marechera, The Black Insider, (Lawrence and Wishart, 1990)