Saturday, December 25, 2010

Night Slugs 2010 and The Day Ikonika Made Me Cry Blood

"We are passing from the sphere of history to the sphere of the present and, partly, of the future." - Lenin, 'What Is To Be Done?', 1902

"What is to be DUN?" - Greena, in conversation, 2009

This time last year, I was on holiday in the Canary Isles for the Christmas break. It was warm. It was weird. I was a bit unwell, though hardly dying - it's just a bit disorientating being a Brit with a woozy head-cold, while so close to the Equator, in the deep midwinter. I was trying to write something about the nameless genres that were being played at Night Slugs in 2009 - at this point Slugs was still just a club night, not a record label... I wasn't really getting anywhere. This music is fucking hard to pin down, and it's my friends who are making it, which really complicates things.

It's been a dizzying year for London club music, and in particular for this cru, its friends, and family. If you don't know why Night Slugs is the label of 2010, check out the incredible Night Slugs Allstars compilation CD, and have a read of this: me and Alex Bok Bok discussing some of the remarkable music that's come out on Night Slugs already, to celebrate the birth of, and the entombment of our blog, Lower End Spasm... you can find the ~interview~ here.

Dan: there have been a number of moments this year where you've gone "MY GOD, WAIT TIL YOU HEAR THE NEXT ONE..."

Bok : yep!!!!! i genuinely felt like that all year

As a Christmas present (ha), here's a fragment of what I ended up writing back in December 2009, while wandering around Tenerife listening to Bok Bok, and Lil Silva, and Cooly G, and L-Vis 1990, and Jam City, and Ikonika, and Mosca, and various Oneman and Ben UFO and Girl Unit mixes and radio sets. It's the completely and utterly true story of the day I cried blood (my nasolacrimal duct was fine, thanks for asking).

The Day Ikonika Made Me Cry Blood
(December 2009)

....what ties these producers together is a renewed focus on encapsulating the ecstasy, melancholy, euphoria and better-or-worse, intrinsic beauty of just existing, late-night in the city. There’s also a striving to be organic – using the synthetic to create the real. The synth-washes are like blood flowing.

Earlier today, I went for a walk in the afternoon sunshine; hoping to refresh my pixel-dizzy brain with clean air, powerful Atlantic coastal breezes, and Bok Bok’s ‘Youth Blood’ Remix on my headphones. It wasn’t hot, but warm – about 22 degrees centigrade. I’ve been suffering from a stuffy headcold for a few days, and once again I blew my nose hard to clear it, like really hard - discarded the tissue, and kept walking along the sun-kissed Spanish pavements. Then, as the synths welled up in my ears, something happened. My left nostril was engulfed, flooded; warmer than mucus, thicker than water, an entirely strange but bizarrely pleasant sensation, like it was bathing in warm coagulate.

Before I could work out what was going on there was a shocking, vibrant red on my tropical yellow parrot t-shirt, and dripping on the pavement. For the first time since I was – what, 7 years old?! – I was having a nose-bleed. Jesus.

The blood kept flowing, and the synths kept running through my ears: warm, woozy, all-consuming. I got back home, nose pinched, feeling pale and dizzy, and cleared it out, washed off the dried blood, changed t-shirt, and sat down. This was refreshing, but I was still light-headed. Then, ten minutes later, it started again – by this time my mp3 player had got around to Ikonika’s ‘Fish’. I dutifully began pinching my nose and stuffing tissues up my left nostril again. But it just kept on flowing... if the first rush was big, this second drop was IMMENSE, the intensifying synths of Ikonika’s punch-drunk track rising higher and higher, spinning me around every bit as much as the blood-loss.

Failing to staunch the flow, dripping red on every surface, down my arm, onto my shirt, my eyes suddenly started to well up with liquid too. But it felt too warm to be tears somehow, not thin or salty enough. I ran into the bathroom to see what the hell was going on: I was, to my utter shock, crying tears of blood. Rich scarlet gloop was literally pouring out from the tear duct of my left eye – filling my eye, clouding my vision, then climactically breaking its own surface tension and flowing out, tracing the line of my nose.

Blood like this is too thick to just fall to the floor, like tears would do: it doesn’t drop, it glides.

I stood in front of the mirror and let it elegantly, dramatically, flow out of my eye and down my cheek.

Visceral as fuck, this music.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lady Gaga's 'Telephone', the year 2010, Wikileaks, Bradley Manning, and the collision of literally everything that's ever happened into one postmodern pop cultural singularity


Wikileaks is too much. It's all too much. Since the world started leaking, it's become impossible to judge anything, to take it all in, to comprehend. Where do you start with this much information? The alleged Wikileaks source, a 23-year-old American soldier called Bradley Manning, leaked the info by burning it onto CDs marked 'Lady Gaga', listening and lip-synching along to her mega-hit 'Telephone' as he did so, in the way that a 1950s cartoon character might whistle tunelessly to give an impression of benign innocence. This is from the alleged transcript in which he explained how he leaked the data.
(1:54:42 pm) bradass87: i would come in with music on a CD-RW

(1:55:21 pm) bradass87: labelled with something like "Lady Gaga"… erase the music… then write a compressed split file

(1:55:46 pm) bradass87: no-one suspected a thing

(2:00:12 pm) bradass87: everyone just sat at their workstations… watching music videos / car chases / buildings exploding... and writing more stuff to CD/DVD... the culture fed opportunities

(2:12:23 pm) bradass87: so... it was a massive data spillage... facilitated by numerous factors... both physically, technically, and culturally

(2:14:21 pm) bradass87: listened and lip-synced to Lady Gaga's Telephone while exfiltratrating [sic] possibly the largest data spillage in american history

Manning's instant messager chats - if they are real - reveal a deeply troubled young man. Troubled by what he's done, but troubled by everything he's seen - by its quantity, by its breadth, by the fact it encompasses the whole world. With unimaginable data, comes unimaginable isolation. And now, not just emotionally, but literally: Manning is in solitary confinement, where, friends say, his physical and mental health are rapidly deteriorating. If he's responsible, he's guilty of 2010's phenomenal information overload, but he's its victim too...
(12:21:24 pm) bradass87: say... a database of half a million events during the iraq war... from 2004 to 2009... with reports, date time groups, lat-lon locations, casualty figures... ? or 260,000 state department cables from embassies and consulates all over the world, explaining how the first world exploits the third, in detail, from an internal perspective?

(1:00:57 pm) bradass87: theres so much... it affects everybody on earth...

(1:14:11 pm) bradass87: i've totally lost my mind... i make no sense... the CPU is not made for this motherboard...

(1:39:03 pm) bradass87: i cant believe what im confessing to you :'(

(1:40:20 pm) bradass87: ive been so isolated so long... i just wanted to be nice, and live a normal life... but events kept forcing me to figure out ways to survive... smart enough to know whats going on, but helpless to do anything... no-one took any notice of me

"It was a massive data spillage"

MTV News: What is Telephone about?

Lady Gaga
: Fear of suffocation... the phone's ringing, and my head's ringing. Whether it's the telephone, or the thoughts in my own head...
The video for 'Telephone', an exquisitely overblown exercise in pop cultural elephantiasis – a 3:41 second song stretched over NINE MINUTES – riffing on Tarantino, on Pulp Fiction and Thelma and Louise, riffing on arch-kitsch takes on 1950s Americana, that twist post-war pop culture into hedonism-through-amorality. Brightly coloured diners and brightly coloured costumes: America's long history of violence rendered through a mass media lens. Hacking off Marvin's ear in Reservoir Dogs while a pop song plays; taking pictures on digital cameras of torture victims at Abu Ghraib.

(2:26:01 pm) bradass87: i dont believe in good guys versus bad guys anymore... only a plethora of states acting in self interest... with varying ethics and moral standards of course, but self-interest nonetheless

Don't Ask Don’t Tell

I don't even know where to start with the 'Afghanistan remake' of the 'Telephone' video I posted above: its breathtaking campness, and its hectic, zealous, jaw-dropping DIY reconstruction of a multi-million dollar pop cultural product. The soldiers' remake has 6 million views itself (the Gaga video an astonishing 97 million). But for now, let's just say it is strikingly camp; meanwhile, Manning himself has become the subject of great attention in terms of his sexuality. Was there "a don't ask don't tell issue" for Bradley Manning, as BoingBoing put it - was he trans, even, as is mooted here?

I'm not sure I buy the trans stuff, it seems to be reaching a little, searching for deep meaning in surface conversation - much as we struggle to find deep meaning in a video like Gaga's 'Telephone'; when actually, for all the racket, here may be very little being said. Either way, there is a quite evident inner pain in those transcripts, a young man struggling to gain a sense of self.. whether it's being in the closet, or just the less specific existential insecurities of a young man in a very strange world.

The crazy, final, inevitable meme-collision here, of course, is that Don't Ask Don't Tell was historically, heroically, finally repealed by the US Senate four days ago. And who was the passionate, clear-voiced, uber-public public figure who has been repeatedly banging the drum to "end this most serious prejudice", and "be a voice for my generation"? Take a guess.

"It's funny that in this day and age, a soldier singing aloud to Lady Gaga while fiddling around on an army computer chock full classified government data is not considered to be suspicious at all"
No it's not, Mediaite. It really isn't. It makes absolute blindingly perfect sense. It's the story of our age. It's all too much.



(out to Jen Paton for the constant conversation on this - and spotting the link in the first place)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Upon Westminster Bridge

Upon Westminster Bridge - William Wordsworth

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear

The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky,
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

From Hansard
Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): Is not the point of a kettle that it brings things to the boil? Is the Home Secretary comfortable that largely because of her Government's decisions on the education maintenance allowance, minors and other young people were caught up in the kettle? She says that those who remained peaceful and wished to leave Whitehall were able to do so, but can she confirm that the IPCC is investigating a number of complaints about young people not being able to leave?

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): The police did ensure that it was possible for peaceful protesters to leave Parliament square on Thursday. They put those arrangements in place, and a significant number of protesters took advantage of that and were allowed to leave by the police.

Kettle tactics risk Hillsborough-style tragedy – doctor
Crush of student protesters on Westminster Bridge compared to 1980s stadium disaster
The Observer, Sunday 19 December 2010

A senior doctor has warned that police risk repeating a Hillsborough-type tragedy if they continue with tactics deployed during the recent tuition fee protests.

The anaesthetist from Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, who gave medical assistance to the protesters, said that officers forced demonstrators into such a tight "kettle" on Westminster Bridge that they were in danger of being seriously crushed or pushed into the freezing River Thames.

The 34-year-old doctor, who set up a field hospital in Parliament Square, said that people on the bridge suffered respiratory problems, chest pains and the symptoms of severe crushing.

"Police had us so closely packed, I couldn't move my feet or hands an inch. We were in that situation like that for hours. People in the middle were having real difficulty breathing.

"It was the most disturbing thing I've ever seen – it must have been what Hillsborough was like. The crush was just so great. Repeatedly I tried to speak to officers, telling them that I was a doctor and that this was a serious health and safety risk," said the doctor, who did not want to be named.

Student Danielle Smith, 21, from Dagenham, studying creative and professional writing at the University of East London, said she was squeezed so tightly during the kettle that the day after it felt "like I'd been in a car accident".

"I couldn't move, and it hurt to laugh, breathe, sleep, sit down and eat. To do anything just really hurt. For days after I took as many painkillers as I could a day. I had real trouble standing in such a tight space. Again people were getting crushed. I had a shield in my face a few times. The police just hit those closest to them, they weren't really thinking about who was in the wrong or right."

She said it was incredible that none of the hundreds of protesters sandwiched between two lines of riot police fell off the bridge: "The people around the edge, they were screaming, saying they thought they were going to fall off."

Friday, December 10, 2010

This is our riot: POW!

(sorry about my crap phone pics - this is the 'dancefloor' in parl sq)

Newsnight is very lucky to have Paul Mason: he’s consistently departed from what seems to be the news media's modus operandi, by actually bothering to find out what’s going on; rather than making smug, reactionary assumptions grounded in total ignorance (hi/byebye James MacIntyre), or being entirely fixated on fripperies like some posh nob's car being scuffed – when across central London young people trying to defend their rights to an affordable education are being bludgeoned by truncheon-wielding riot police. I saw a lot of blood yesterday, and a lot of defiance. I also spent seven hours in a police kettle, 90 minutes of which was on Westminster Bridge, after cops repeatedly lied to us that we were finally about to be let go (Alex Macpherson, who I was with, did a write-up here.) Here's what Paul Mason wrote about yesterday's Parliament Square rebellion:
The man in charge of the sound system was from an eco-farm, he told me, and had been trying to play "politically right on reggae"; however a crowd in which the oldest person was maybe seventeen took over the crucial jack plug, inserted it into a Blackberry, (iPhones are out for this demographic) and pumped out the dubstep.
Young men, mainly black, grabbed each other around the head and formed a surging dance to the digital beat lit, as the light failed, by the distinctly analog light of a bench they had set on fire. Any idea that you are dealing with Lacan-reading hipsters from Spitalfields on this demo is mistaken
While a good half of the march was undergraduates from the most militant college occupations - UCL, SOAS, Leeds, Sussex - the really stunning phenomenon, politically, was the presence of youth: bainlieue-style youth from Croydon, Peckam, the council estates of Islington.

We were with this crowd for hours yesterday, just as we had been the week before. Paul Mason is sadly one of the few journalists to have noticed that this isn't a movement exclusively spearheaded by undergraduate students, but by 'the EMA kids' from the poorer parts of London. And as a pedantic music hack who cares about these things, I've got to correct the one area where he is (forgivably) wrong. Specifically: this ain't dubstep. As fellow Parliament Sqaure kettle-ee @rougesfoam points out, the word ‘dubstep’ has become the musical equivalent of British politicians' notion of ‘fairness’ – in that it’s become utterly denuded of meaning by repeated misuse. Unlike fairness, I am quite sure I know dubstep when I see it – and it is not the definitive sound of this movement. With the caveat that various other things were playing yesterday in parts of Parliament Square (lover's rock, trance, samba, even ambient techno apparently) - this was the protest's main soundsytem, and it only played one dubstep tune. This is what we can recall between me and @lexpretend (cheers Alex!), a 2010 Riot Playlist, if you like:

Giggs - ??? (all Giggs tunes sound the same to me)
A.N.Other UK road rap MC... - Hold Yuh riddim
Gyptian ft Nicki Minaj - Hold Yuh
Benga and Coki - Night
JME - Serious
Tinie Tempah - Pass Out
Rihanna - Rude Boy
Elephant Man - Bun Bad Mind
Vybz Kartel ft Spice - Ramping Shop
Major Lazer - Pon Di Floor (twice)
Nicki Minaj ft. Eminem - Roman's Revenge (they only played Nicki's bit though)
50 Cent - Just A Lil Bit
Princess Nyah - Frontline
Donae'o - Party Hard
Sean Paul - Like Glue/Get Busy
Rihanna ft. Drake - What's My Name?
Lethal B - POW (Forward) (x3 reloads)

After I tweeted something admittedly flippant about dubstep being too middle-class and undergraduate (key age and class gap here, again) to be the sound of this moment, Dan Trilling wrote to me:
a plea: don't write anything saying dubstep is "middle class"! it's not that simple, no music genre is ever that easily linked to class. and even more so, London class/taste relationships do not map onto the rest of the country... i guarantee you that working-class kids in places like derby who are into dance music will be listening to dubstep. in smaller towns and cities music scenes are often too small to have such fine distinctions between genres (which, as it happens is why they have traditionally been musically very creative places).
And Dan knows Derby - and nuance. I wrote back, agreeing with his caution, but saying:
the london ema kids who were brucking out at the soundsystems yesterday are not on dubstep, trust me - they know what it is, they will and indeed did dance to benga and coki's night, but that was literally the only dubstep tune i heard all day - it was rnb, bashment, road rap, american hiphop and - albeit only once or twice - grime they were going off to... if you're 14, you're not going to clubs anyway - and tbh you're as likely to be into US stuff as UK stuff - pon di floor, sean paul 'like glue' and tinie tempah got the biggest responses.
Well, not quite the biggest responses. Because then there was 'POW'. This tune deserves an essay to itself, but suffice it to say that a track that was BANNED from clubs in London and Essex earlier this decade for being too rowdy, which is the perfect exemplar of grime's incendiary energy - an energy snuffed out by racist, youth- and class- phobic authorities via Form 696 - well.. to see several hundred young people gleefully raving to this in the dark, in an occupied Parliament Square, outside the Treasury, was pretty damn special. Here's my so-crap-as-to-be-almost-pointless phone-video-clip of the event, followed by the original.

Pow. See you at the next one.