Wednesday, June 07, 2017

About OK Computer

The anniversary bandwagon chugs on; I talk to Greenroom about OK Computer, Naomi Klein, Emmanuel Macron and stuff like that.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

About nostalgia (again)

So, the 20th anniversary of OK Computer approaches, with the inevitable special edition reissue and all that entails. Thom Yorke has grumbled about the backward-looking nature of the whole Britpop phenomenon that dominated the cultural scene while he was recording the album but, as others have pointed out, it’s a bit rich to sneer at nostalgia when you’re celebrating the birthday of your own product.

To be fair, Yorke was actually attempting to do something a bit different with his third album, even if the Pink Floyd and JG Ballard references loomed large. But if he really does object to nostalgia so much, he’d better put his head under a pillow for the rest of the year. There’s the whole Sgt Pepper phenomenon, of course, which is a veritable babushka of nostalgias, packing any number of Victorian and Edwardian references in among the hallucinogens and Mellotrons. I heard David Rodigan lauding Bob Marley’s Exodus last night and, also from 1977, we can expect any amount of old punks getting wistful as Never Mind the Bollocks gets the same treatment later in the year.

Now I’m nearly 50,  a proper old fart, so all this stuff is squarely aimed at me; but what about the young folk for whom even Britpop is just a wispy rumour, something their parents did in the old days before Snapchat? To get an approximate idea, I picked up a copy of NME, a publication that probably stopped trying to tickle my own cultural tummy around the turn of the millennium. The first thing I saw was a wraparound cover promoting movie iterations of Baywatch (a TV show first shown in 1989) and Transformers (a toy line launched in North America in 1984). But the real front page doesn’t say much more about 2017; a moody shot of Liam Gallagher, a man in his mid-40s who had his first hit records 23 years ago. Moreover, the whole design of the cover, with Gallagher in a parka and a jaunty target logo hovering by his grumpy head, seems to be echoing the Mod revival of the late 70s/early 80s, which was in turn a nod to the social and musical eruptions of the early 60s, before even Sgt Pepper hit the racks.

So, has it all ended? Have we really drained the cultural well, so we can only sustain ourselves with echoes of echoes of echoes? Or, in the midst of all these old men looking backwards, is something going to pop up and surprise us all? Can’t see it myself...



PS: To contextualize the idea of Liam etc on the cover, it’s as if, when I first read the NME in about 1984, its exterior was adorned with Adam Faith, and films based on Dixon of Dock Green and Play-Doh.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Seven thoughts about #PepsiLivesMatter


So Pepsi made a commercial in which Kendall Jenner, who is apparently a Kardashian, sort of, shows up at a political demonstration and calmed everyone down with a can of fizzy drink and some people didn’t like it so Pepsi said, yeah, fair enough, we’ll pull it.

  • It’s just a classic example of recuperation, the tactic of reclaiming radical, transgressive  images/tropes in the cause of capitalism. The flipside of the Situationist tactic of détournement. Every time your favourite old punk anthem shows up in a commercial. That.
  • Until this thing happened, I honestly thought Kendall Jenner was a boy.
  • Everyone’s so clean and groomed and pretty. Is that what demos are like now? Blimey.
  • An Iranian friend has pointed out that the placard with supposedly Arabic text on it just contains random characters that don’t mean anything.
  • We’re all talking about Pepsi now.
  • And Kendall Jenner.
  • Right now, Coca-Cola is working on something bigger and better/worse.
PS: Also, this:

Sunday, April 02, 2017

About passports


A few months ago, I unearthed my first passport. It was the long-defunct British Visitors version, acquired at the age of 13 to enable me to go on a school trip to France, during which I would have my first snog, but that’s another tale for another day, or maybe never. A BVP was only valid for a year and allowed entry to a strictly limited array of countries, most of them in Western Europe; you could go to West Berlin, but only by air. Any other mode of transport would involve setting foot on Communist soil.

Which inevitably got me thinking about how much Europe, and travel, and life have changed in the years since; and how much some people apparently wish they hadn’t. Apparently we’re all going to get dark blue passports again, something apparently greatly to be desired by many Brexit voters, along with smoking in pubs, incandescent lightbulbs, pre-decimal currency and the death penalty (we are not informed whether this will be carried out in public). It all rather supports my gut feeling that Brexit is less about leaving the EU, more about going back to an imagined yesterday of Morris Minors and outside toilets, where everything is grey or beige, except the people, who are exclusively white.

But back to the passports. It’s well documented that there were some clear correlations between voting in the referendum with regard to age (older people voted to leave, younger to stay) and educational background (the higher up the learning ladder you went, the more likely you were to be a remainer). But another interesting statistic shows areas that voted heavily for Brexit also had the lowest levels of passport ownership. Which suggests that for many people, the desire for a blue passport is yet another abstract yearning for something that doesn’t really exist.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

About Girlz Wetter


I’ve been sorting through a whole load of storage crates over the past few weeks, some of which have been undisturbed for 13 years or more. Inevitably some of the contents prompt a certain sting of nostalgia: in a few cases I can recall the precise circumstances in which I acquired a particular book or record, or wrote or drew something. But I’m also coming across things that push no buttons whatsoever, even if I feel they ought to.


One such example is this copy of the fanzine Girlz Wetter. Although maybe calling it a fanzine is to overstate its significance. It’s a single A4 sheet of pink paper, folded into a pamphlet tiny enough to fit in your wallet. There’s a review of a gig by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, an interview with Jef Steartfield of Plan A (me neither) and a rather NSFW 14-point “Guide to Being a Groupie”. And that’s your lot, as the back cover announces in no uncertain terms.

The thing is, I have no memory of how I came into possession of this piece. At first I assumed I must have got hold of it in about 1997/8, when I spent a lot of time on the Camden gig circuit: it was hidden amidst a pile of compilation CDs from that era, boasting tracks by the likes of Dweeb, Midget and The Bigger The God. But the Yeah Yeah Yeahs reference pitches it forwards, to 2001 at the earliest.

What’s interesting about that is that by then it would already have been something of a throwback, as the early rumblings of blogging and social media started to encroach of the turf of print zines. And what’s more, it makes no attempt to perform even those limited gestures of social interaction that print can offer. There’s no information about who the author may be, not even a pseudonym; no contact details, not even a good old analogue PO Box; it’s just there, in your face, make of it what you will. It’s entirely devoid of context, whether in itself or in terms of my own memories. And there’s something rather magnificent about that. I’d be intrigued to know who created it, but at the same time, I quite like the state of ignorance in which I find myself.


Monday, March 13, 2017

About Nazis



INT: ITV HQ - DAY

Big flip chart with a graph headed “VIEWING FIGURES” and a line pointing down.

Tony (Commissioning Editor): So, Simon, as you can see, what we really need is a blockbuster to lure them back.

Simon (Producer): Hmm. What sort of thing did you have in mind, Tony?

Tony: Well, what’s really getting them excited is Nazis. Swastikas over Buckingham Palace. SS marching down Fifth Avenue. That sort of thing.

Simon: Hmmm. OK, Tony, this is just off the top of my head... but what about a series that shows what would have happened if the Nazis lost the war?

Tony: Lost the war? Bloody hell, Simon, that’s so insane it’s almost brilliant. Tell me more.

Simon: Right, bear with me. Germany invades Poland and quickly takes over most of Europe. But Britain manages to hold out, Hitler overreaches by invading Russia, the Americans join the Allies after Pearl Harbour and following years of carnage and deprivation, with millions of people dying, the Nazi threat is finally vanquished.

Tony: Woah. This is blowing my mind, Simon. So what happens to Hitler?

Simon: OK, get this. Hitler dies. He. Dies. I haven’t thought of the details. Maybe he could shoot himself. In his bunker. Goebbels and some of the others do the same. But most of them are executed. One or two could escape to Argentina — which gives us a potential sequel.

Tony: But isn’t this going to offend people? Insulting the reputations of the brave hypothetical British resistance who didn’t sacrifice their lives to defeat the non-existent invaders?

Simon: I think we should take the risk, Tony. I see a closing montage of ravaged cities and concentration camps, a stern warning to viewers about the dangers of racist demagogues and a reminder that European nations should work together in peace and harmony...

(He tails off. Uncomfortable silence.)

Tony: Simon, you do realise that people like these shows because deep down they wish the Nazis had won after all?

Simon: Yeah, I guess you’re right. OK, shall we do the other thing?

Tony: Yes, OK, let’s do that instead. It’s less risky. Move back the News at Ten for an utterly inept and unfunny chat-show that everyone will take the piss out of on Twitter. Is Walliams free?

Monday, March 06, 2017

About American Gothic and the perils of familiarity


And so to the Royal Academy for America after the Fall: Painting in the 1930s. Or, let’s be honest, to see one painting, Grant Wood’s American Gothic, which as any file kno depicts the artist’s sister and the artist’s dentist, dolled up as bloody miserable farmers. And so there’s a fluctuating knotlet of gawpers around this one painting and by the time you edge your way between an elbow and a buttock to see it, a sense of disappointment is on the cards. Especially because a far better, more memorable and disturbing picture by Wood, Daughters of Revolution, is on the opposite wall, getting none of the love.


It reminds me of when I first went to the Louvre, at the age of 13. Obviously I took a peep at the Mona bloody Lisa, because that’s what you do, and I reacted the way everybody else does, remarking on how small and brown it is, and going off to look at the Davids instead, because they’re more fun (even if Napoleon is basically Hitler with a better tailor). And, just a few weeks ago, finally getting to see Lord Leighton’s Flaming June in situ at the artist’s gaff near Holland Park, on a brief respite from its Puerto Rican exile. Yes, yes, it’s a nice enough painting and it’s definitely fun to see it displayed exactly as it would have been in Leighton’s studio, but again it’s some of the other, less familiar images, such as Twixt Hope and Fear, with its subject’s bold, almost accusatory gaze, that catch the imagination.


So what’s my bloody problem? Why can’t I respond with appropriate reverence to something that’s widely hailed as a masterpiece? Is it just that I’m already bored with its very ubiquity, its status as a tea towel, a fridge magnet, a meme? Am I so hungry for new sensations that when I go to a gallery I demand to be surprised? And yet, if American Gothic hadn’t been in the exhibition, I probably wouldn’t have gone. Maybe that’s the deal; big ticket paintings act as a sort of aesthetic loss leader, getting in punters whose imagination is instead grabbed by something else.

Or is it just me?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

About Lazarus

So I went to Lazarus, which was great. And yes, it is a jukebox musical, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. The London run is almost over, so most of the things that need to be said about it have already been said, but what surprised me is how filmic it is — not just the inevitable back projections but the wide box in which all the action takes place, as if everything’s being shown in Cinemascope; the actors seem there but not there, flickering images on your retina. And yes, Michael C Hall is Thomas Jerome Newton from The Man Who Fell To Earth but not Bowie, and he’s not trying to be.

And inevitably I thought about what and who else is here but not here and what’s happened between the show opening in New York at the end of 2015, when Bowie was alive and would never die; and now, when a pantomime villain, a malevolent space beast has Fallen To Earth. 2016 happened, of course, and all the wrong people died.

And I thought about what art is going to look like in a world with the Bowies dying and the Trumps in charge, the people who fused Newton’s eyes still pulling the strings; and I went home and drank cold gin (I didn’t really) and ran my fingers over the scars that can’t be seen and read this depressing article in the FT about culture under Trump and this even more depressing article in The Quietus about the commodification of the alternative, not to mention the fact that his people don’t seem to think that hip-hop is properly American, and then I read about the government’s bright idea to turn the UK into a sort of cold, porridge-coloured Singapore (I went there once but it was closed) and all the stars that never were will try to sell mortgages to the stars that never will be and the only theatre will be jukebox musicals, but not like Lazarus. And there will still be music, but not like Bowie’s, more like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.