a strange invitation

this is how we roll
April 9, 2008, 6:04 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

So, I bought a hipster bike and am enjoying London more than ever. With the money I save by not having to use public transport, I can buy more hipster shoes and order clothes from American Apparel on my Imac, while writing rambling screeds in my Moleskine.

But I’m definitely not a hipster. Nooo.

In other news, I wrote an article about skateboarding for Comment is Free, for which I was paid the princely sum of £75. If you like, you can read it here. Feel free to savage me in the comments if you like. The best part about the whole deal is that I now have a profile on the Guardian website, just like a real journalist.

I’m trying to start blogging again. I really am.


houston, we have a problem
February 21, 2008, 7:05 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized
I’m currently editing the layout of my weblog.
Normal service will resume shortly
Update: Nearly Finished…See you on the other side. 

you looked better on micepace
February 17, 2008, 10:30 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized
When it transpired that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were not planning to buy Africa (or at least the chunk of the Archipelago of World Islands shaped like it), I couldn’t help feeling slightly cheated. If the Hollywood star system insists on paying these people vast sums of money for doing absolutely nothing at all, then they could at least have the decency to allow us to mould them into the bloated mutants we expect them to be*.
The story seemed to a perfect addition to the mythology of the stars involved. Angelina Jolie for example, appears in the media as either a vampyric baby stealer, or a vicious harpy stalking the ruins of New Orleans, depending on who you read. From this perspective, the fact that the World Islands story broke at all was more a reflection of the needs and desires of the story’s audience than an insight into the lives of the Hollywood stars. Hollywood gossip tends to spin so far from it’s nucleus that the truth seldom gets in the way of a good story, largely because although interest in celebrity is widespread, it is generally superficial. Certainly, I’d much rather believe that Marylin Manson cut his teeth on the way to goth super-stardom by playing that geeky Jew from The Wonder Years and let’s face it, Beck Hanson was far more interesting once he’d made the transition from slacker icon to murdering Scientologist: it meant that all his talk about robots and giant dildos crushing the sun were not simply the ironic ramblings of a whimsical mind, but the product of a bizarre religious conviction .

Although OK! or Hello! Magazine exist primarily to comfort the reader by revealing the human traits of celebrities, the sight of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s bingo wings or Clooney’s beer belly only serve to maintain the conspiracy, allowing the reader to position these megastars within the realms of aspiration. Sure, you might not have the money, or the power, but just like them, you have the imperfect skin, or the minor alcohol problem. The fact that we are surprised that they possess these traits is the greatest conspiracy of all. If celebrities have must continue to dominate the media, I’d rather read that Britney Spears ate her own baby than wore the same dress as Halle Berry to a film premiere. That way, the next time I see Andy McDowell modeling incontinence pants on TV, I can at least entertain the idea that she’s spending the money on raising a cyborg army, rather than botox and liposuction.

*This is something that Tom Cruise’s PR Team have long understood, although it could be argued that Michael Jackson has been overly zealous in his efforts to maintain our interest, to the point where dangling an infant from the third floor of his hotel room was probably one of the least remarkable things he’s ever done.

memorandum from the sex change hospital.
January 25, 2008, 12:47 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

‘Writing and travel broaden your ass if not your mind and I like to write standing up.’ Ernest Hemingway.

Apparently Hemingway, the literary emobodiment of the red-blooded male insisted on writing while standing up. I’m no Hemingway, that’s for sure. In fact, I write like a girl according to gendergenie, and Hemingway would surely agree, despite that fact that his writing methods seem less motivated by his desire to produce forceful and efficient prose, than by the desire for ‘buns of steel. You’re not so tough Hemingway

Update: According to gender genie, Hemingway does in fact write like a girl. When he remarked that when passing another man on the street he often experienced ‘the conflict between their souls’ this was less an assertion of masculinity than the secret shame he must have felt being a woman trapped in a man’s body.

Bukowski, Charles
Exerpt: Ham on Rye
Male Score: 959
Female Score: 966
Clancy, Tom
Exerpt: Rainbow 6
Male Score: 639
Female Score: 443
Hemingway, Ernest
Exerpt: True at First Light
Male Score: 572
Female Score: 769
Atwood, Margaret
Exerpt: Oryx and Crake
Male Score: 455
Female Score: 130
Plath, Sylvia
Excerpt: The Bell Jar
Male Score: 1377
Female Score: 1844
Woolf, Virginia
Excerpt: The Voyage Out
Male Score: 681
Female Score: 931

D3553RT 135LAND D15K5
February 23, 2007, 10:33 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

“Whatever. I can see why you prefer Solomon [Burke] to Art [Garfunkel]. I understand, really I do. And if I was asked to say which of the two was better, I’d go for Solomon every time. He’s authentic, and black, and legendary, and all that sort of thing. But I like ‘Bright Eyes.’ I think it’s got a pretty tune, and beyond that, I don’t really care. There are so many other things to worry about. I know I sound like your mum, but they’re only pop records, and if one’s better than the other, well, who cares, really, apart from you and Barry and Dick? To me, it’s like arguing the difference between McDonald’s and Burger King. I’m sure there must be one, but who can be bothered to find out what it is?”

“The terrible thing is, of course, that I already know the difference, that I have complicated and informed views on the subject. But if I start going on about BK Broilers versus Quarter Pounders with Cheese, we will both feel that I have somehow proved her point, so I don’t bother.” – High Fidelity

The tendency to make lists is often defined as a typically male characteristic. And if we allow ourselves to inhabit the world of stereotypes for a moment, I would have to agree. During a lunch hour latte, if you were to hand me a pen and a piece of paper, I would most likely begin to compose such a screed which, on completion, I would believe to be an infallible and definitive categorization which was brought into being, through the adherence to the finest principles of logic and cold reasoning. You would think that an ability such as this would be a great gift to humanity, one which would be beneficial to all.

You would be wrong.

Should you be momentarily distracted from the copy of Heat or Marie Claire that occupied your attention, you would soon discover the reason why. I am far more likely to be composing a list of my top 10 dinosaurs (with a detailed analysis on the fighting styles of each), than ushering in the next stage of enlightenment. Even an apparently sensible ‘aspirational’ list becomes preposterous when subjected to this feverish aspect of the male mind. For example:

My top 10 ‘dream jobs’ of all time include the following.

A Motorcycle Stuntman
(I can’t ride a motorcycle)

A Ninja (Something of a no-brainer: every boy wants to be a ninja. The sad fact is that secretly, we all believe that given the opportunity we could easily master the skills required. We also believe that it is also entirely possible that we have already completed the required training, only a clandestine government agency has erased our mind in order to cover a conspiracy which, if discovered, would topple the government)

Author of the Great American Novel (I am neither American, nor a novelist)

An Archeologist
(Obviously not the real kind who spend their lives digging through mountains of soil with a toothbrush: the kind that fights Nazis and carries a bullwhip)

A particularly well-trodden realm for this type of thinking is the ‘Desert island disc’. You know the scenario: You are stranded on a desert island with nothing but a limitless supply of tequila and a beautiful (wo)man and a record player (let’s not forget, that this is a fantasy -nobody wants to starve to death, yet alone do so while listening to Bob Marley’s ‘Legend’ forever, it ruins the fun). You are allowed to choose only one, five, 10 record/s with which to sustain you for the rest of your life. What do you choose?

Perhaps I am a product of 21st century listening habits, but when it comes to Desert Island Discs, I find it difficult to suggest any album that I would be happy to accept as a soundtrack to the many years of my sand-blown and sunburnt existence. Lets not forget the fact that, if we’re honest, the staple records that people usually suggest in this scenario are often ill-thought out to begin with: Radiohead’s ‘Ok Computer’ wasn’t really very good, and in the 21st Century, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers are used as an instrument of torture. I don’t even know who Marvin Gaye is. From this perspective, when the potential choices are essentially limitless, the choices made from such a vast selection are most often meaningless.

Yet, while the desert island disk scenario allows the fantasist to imagine the confines that can be produced from infinity. It’s real-world equivalent says something far more revealing about the human condition. I present the following anecdotes to illustrate my point.

1. While visiting Barcelona for the Sonar festival, my friend and I rented an apartment in Barcelonetta. We were pleasantly surprised to find an old stereo system in the apartment, yet mildly perturbed that we had neglected to bring any music to play on it. There was however a C90 mix tape of Dire Straits’ greatest hits practically welded into the cassette deck, which over the duration of our stay became the soundtrack to the consumption of numerous bottles of ‘Vat-69’ whisky, a flooded apartment and a bizarre confrontation with a Spanish drug dealer as well as many other adventures that are simply too strange, and too twisted to accurately recount here. What is remarkable however, that despite the fact that we listened to that same tape for at least four or five hours a day, not a complaint was uttered about an artist that neither of us had a particular affinity for.

2. I was once forced to make a shotgun dash from the South of France to the UK without a penny to my name. As I had somehow lost all of the music that I had brought with, my girlfriend at the time gave me a copy of Sheryl Crow’s ‘Eponymous’ album’ which I would listen to, on repeat for almost 52 starving hours. Now, I don’t think I’m exaggerating my belief that Sheryl Crow is the spawn of the devil himself. However, I am certain that Sheryl Crow saved my life, and without “Every day is a Winding Road” I would now be buried in a small church by Chorley wood.

Now don’t get me wrong: when the conversation turns to desert island discs, my mind still races to sift through the hundreds of records which have shaped and framed my existence. But essentially it doesn’t matter. And when I find myself standing in front of the delapidated jukebox of an old country pub, I am surprised to find that I am always able to find the song which brings a broad grin to my face, as I turn back to the pool table and continue the game.

Thanks to Matt for inspiration for this post.

February 21, 2007, 9:36 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Kellogg’s Pop Tarts (oh! the irony)

I’ve been looking for these for the last couple of weeks and finally tracked them down in Waitrose near Barbican. I’m not sure why I bothered: What can only be described as molten lava sandwiched between two pieces of cardboard has been rendered even more mundane by a series of lawsuits brought against Kellogg’s in the US by people who have been BURNED TO DEATH by this delicious pastry snack. These people are also responsible for why McDonald’s coffee is always cold. It’s truly frightening that a nation that cannot be trusted with hot beverages or breakfast foods are permitted to purchase firearms.

British Telephone Customer Services

When you want something done, nothing beats having to having to listen to Vivaldi for one and a half hours and paying £1.50 a minute for the privilege. If you miraculously manage to get through to a human being, it will be someone who was just happened to wander into the call centre from the street, and was just holding the receiver for a friend. There is a special circle of hell reserved for those who work in call centers.

“If anyone here [works in a call center] kill yourself. Thank you. Just planting seeds, planting seeds is all I’m doing. No joke here, really. Seriously, kill yourself, you have no rationalization for what you do, you are Satan’s little helpers. Kill yourself, kill yourself, kill yourself now. Now, back to the show. Seriously, I know the [call center] people: ‘There’s gonna be a joke comin’ up.’ There’s no fuckin’ joke. Suck a tail pipe, hang yourself…borrow a pistol from an NRA buddy, do something…rid the world of your evil fuckin’ presence.”
-Bill Hicks

thank god it’s Marlboro Friday
February 20, 2007, 10:41 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized


It must have been around 1993 when Bill Hicks described those working in advertising as ‘Satan’s little helpers’ and I suppose that had I been concerned with rallying against advertisers as a form of activism, rather doing so as a form of brand identity in itself, I would have been inclined to agree with him.

There were however other forces that threatened to destabilize branded products around this period, which stemmed not from the emerging small pockets of premeditated resistance (which would eventually be absorbed, repackaged and sold back to us with such success that for a moment, we forgot that the ideas were our own and wished that we had thought of them) but as some freakishly twisted inverted yield curve that saw some of the major players in advertising at the time declare the age of brand identity dead, or at least sunning himself somewhere in some long-forgotten tax haven.

The early 1990’s saw a particularly virulent case of ‘brand blindness’ which hit the consumable goods market with some force. Scores of baby boomers who were still recovering from the recession which hit the US in the late 1990’s had began to turn away from the ‘prestige’ brands backed by high-profile advertising campaigns, towards the private label brands which lined the super market aisles. . The culmination of this trend was arguably seen in what has become known as Marlboro Friday, when on the 23rd of April 1993, Phillip Morris announced that it would cut the price of its ‘premium brand cigarettes in order to compete with the generic bargain brand competitors. Naomi Klein writes:

‘The reasoning was that if a “prestige” brand like Marlboro, whose image had been carefully groomed, preened and enhanced with more than a billion advertising dollars, was desperate enough to compete with no-names, then clearly the whole concept of branding had lost its currency.’ (Klein: 2000, 83)

Yet as I sit before the exquisite clean lines of my Macintosh computer sipping a cool, crisp, San Miguel premium beer, I am forced to consider the fact that Bill Hicks -who I unfortunately wasn’t really aware of when he was alive, might have been wrong on this one. We should be thankful to the advertising agencies, who strive and toil in order to enrich our vapid, unremarkable little lives. For without them, we would at best be forced to decide for ourselves which brand of toothpaste or sugared and carbonated water best describes our personalities. At worst we would be forced to navigate our own lives and doomed to drift for eternity with neither the guidance of the (Converse All) stars nor the rise and fall of the (pentopep)tides.

It was with some bemusement that I read of the planned introduction of Postmodern Pete as a possible brand mascot for Kellogg’s breakfast cereal. While it used to be enough to simply throw a pair of sunglasses and a snowboard on a brand character to ensure that millions would flock towards the flavourless and nutritionally valueless crap that passes as a breakfast food, today’s target demographic demands a morning-time icon that embodies…’rootlessness, alienation and psychological distance’ (Appadurai: 2000, 323).

Yet looking a little deeper, Postmodern Pete doesn’t seem so crazy at all. I can only imagine what Bill Hicks and John Harvey Kellogg would have to say each other should they cross paths in the after-life. All things being equal, you have to wonder about the brand logic of of Kellogg’s – purveyor of the ‘Sunshine Breakfast: John Harvey Kellogg was a man who was both a staunch anti-masturbation campaigner and yoghurt enema fetishist. However, if the fact that Mr. Kellogg comes across as a twisted pervert isn’t enough to make you choke on your breakfast cereal, Mr. Kellogg was also the founder of the Race Betterment Foundation, a major centre of the Eugenics movement in the US.

If a talking tiger coaching asthmatic children in American sports was slightly ridiculous (and let’s face it, those kids were more likely to suffering from chronic malnutrition, if they had followed Kellogg’s preposterous ‘Drop a Jean Size’ diet plan) , I can only imagine the bastard offspring of Kellogg’s next coke-fuelled creative meeting. Loyalty tokens to claim a free set of Roy Demeo steak knives, perhaps?

…if you lived here, you’d be home by now
February 10, 2007, 12:24 am
Filed under: Uncategorized


‘Today a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, that we are all one consciousness, experiencing itself subjectively. There’s no such thing as death – life is only a dream – and we’re the imagination of ourselves.’ – Bill Hicks

It is some four months now since I traded seaside for cityscape. Yet, as i sit, illuminated by lamplight, situated just far enough away from Bethnal Green Road to feel insulated from the constant buzz of the city below, I feel unable to recount my experiences with any degree of either accuracy or poetry.

(I’m not here to tell you about my writer’s block)

I would attempt to console myself with the fact that I had no problems writing about Paris. I sip tepid coffee and watch the cursor on my screen synchronise, every third bar with the music emanating from the stereo. I’m not qualified to write about this place, I conclude. I know little of it’s art or architecture; history is too linear for my mind; politics too dry. In short, I don’t understand London well enough to frame my own perspective within this city, let alone enough to claim authority over it.

I suppose that if writing is both heuristic and didactic, then the act of committing metaphorical pen to paper serves to cement and frame the author’s perspective. Certainly, when I raised the ghosts of the Grand Guignol and witnessed the Eiffel Tower dash itself into the Seine, I was not describing the Paris which appears in encyclopedias (Metropolitan Population 2,153,600, Urban Area 2,723km2) or within which it’s inhabitants live out their daily lives. If Paris laid hidden behind the smoke and mirrors of the written word, then producing London from the wispy remnants of such subterfuge is perhaps an even more difficult task.

When I found myself talking about London with friends, I had often claimed that London was better understood as a series of villages and communities than through an attempt to produce the urban environment in it’s entirety. However, one evening after work when I decided to walk left along Old Street rather than right towards home, I realised that however I tired to recount this place, I would always be bound by the very fiction which all of us create to produce a degree of understanding in the absence of truth.

Sooner or later I supposed, I would grow tired of weighty (s)words and semantricks. I just hope that should I eventually claim a position of authority over this city, and claim an understanding of it gels in my mind, that I don’t lose the wonder which I have found through the vague sense of incomprehension, I feel as wander, bemused, through the city streets.

And I watched the city unfold before me. The Thames merged seamlessly into St. Paul’s Cathedral, and as I ambled past the Tower of London, I couldn’t help smiling as I turned the corner and headed towards the place which I now call home.

In the meantime, you can have my seat on the tube, I don’t mind standing. I’m getting off at the next station anyway.

…life rules
January 21, 2007, 10:59 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’ve always struggled to develop a coherent philosophy on life. ‘Rules’ tend to appear as vague guidelines at best, and as a result, the closest I’ve come to consistency in this area is by reducing philosophical and moral concerns into easily recited soundbites. Don’t go to go to prison is one; I’m claustrophobic for a start, and possessing blond hair, a boyish frame, and being sensitive enough to branded effeminate in some quarters, I’d surely get all kinds of unwanted attention from hairy tattooed killers desperate to relieve the loneliness of a life sentence. Unfortunately, legislation preventing travellers from smiling on their passport photographs has serious connotations on another of my favourite, and more trivial ‘life rules’. When asked to pose for a photograph for official purposes (such as an employee identification badge, or an arrest record), always present the camera with a big beaming smile. I suppose that the mugshots of rockstars and movie icons has something to do with it. The soft focus and carefully manipulated images of stardom dissolve, to reveal dishevelled and unrepentant actresses and musicians grinning lopsidedly for the camera in the face of a minor speeding charge, or a barroom brawl. Where society expects a reaction ranging from stoic efficiency to admission of guilt:

Surprise them.

Give them an expression that lets them know that you’re not taking them entirely seriously.

The Guardian reports that the legislation, supposedly passed to counter the fact that the new biometric scanners employed at border controls are only able to recognise straight faces, are actually part of a ‘New Labour drive towards public gravity’. Something that will surely have me dressed in a chicken suit the day my passport expires.

Or would it?

After giving a particularly pleasing performance at The United States border when I lived in Vancouver, I confidently lit a reckless cigarette while I waited by our rented car for my friends to further explain what a carload of Europeans would want to do in The United States that wasn’t a threat to National Security. I barely had time to congratulate myself for so subtly subverting the system before an angry official brandishing an automatic weapon started screaming at me for loitering on government property. It was one of those moments that you could spend days afterwards considering which ice-cool reply would leave you looking like a hero. The situation was made all the more painful by my clumsy reaction, which was a result of me trying to extinguish a cigarette, put my hands in the air, and dash backwards into the building all at the same time.

…so long, it’s been good to know you
January 20, 2007, 1:56 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

“I was sitting on a couch somewhere, watching VH1,
When I learned that Bruce Springsteen is his mother’s only son,
I’m my mother’s only daughter; we were both Born to Run,
But even he says it’s amazing raising babies in the place where you come from”Kimya Dawson

I’ve always tried to avoid being confrontational when entering discussions with those who define themselves by the places they’ve visited, largely due to the fact that I tend to leave people to their own devices, unless they are being overly offensive or blocking my way. Yet it’s always seemed a little illogical to me that someone would travel halfway across the world to ‘find themselves’, and for a group that defines itself through a sense of adventure through ‘living on the edge’, it seemed somewhat contradictory that the majority of these people had affluent and stable middle-class families to go home to after their ‘triumph’ over adverse conditions faced in encountering ‘alien’ cultures. To an extent, travel is often undertaken so that we can return home and tell ohers about it, thus elevating our own status in a society in which, in modernity, status is increasingly dictactated, not by the position we hold in our employment, but by how we spend our leisure time. Despite these factors, I was never really able to claim a clear-cut distinction between their approach and my own, and it would rather hypocritical to claim any kind of superiority on my part: the journeys I’ve taken have become a significant influence in my own personality. Yet, these encounters were always interesting to me, and recent events have led me to question my transitory nature.

I spent a lot of my time travelling in my youth, partially due to the fact that I lacked either the ability or the inclination to support myself in the traditional ways. It wasn’t that I didn’t do well in school: the sense of rebellion that I possessed wasn’t aimed at anything as concrete as the education system, I just didn’t find that the things I learned at secondary school had any practical application in my life at the time. As a result I spent my time working menial jobs to save enough to travel, and playing guitar for beer and loose change while on the road. It was when the cheap Japanese guitar I had been carrying around with me finally disintegrated, that I was forced to take a job at a chicken factory in order to raise the funds for another.

My job, as best as I could understand it, was to make sure the hundreds of chicken carcasses that periodically tumbled through the ceiling fell onto the correct conveyor belt, to be hacked into pieces and packed into Styrofoam trays by the team waiting below. Understandably, I absolutely detested going into work in the morning. Before you got within half a mile of the factory, you were suffocated by an animal stench that was so foul, that it made me nauseous. My fellow workers assured me that after a while I would cease to notice it, a fact that offered me no solace at all, given that it came from the mouths of people that seemed the fact that their lives were resigned to being a miserable drudge, dictated by the wail of the alarm bell that signified that the conveyor belts were about to start rolling. I would see them in the cafeteria during the strict 15 minutes breaks eating discounted chicken nuggets. Grey faced and dull eyed, they sat in silence staring catatonic into the middle distance, while I sat outside and watched the crows that had taken up residence around the building. Every day that I finished was a major triumph in that place, despite the fact that seeing as I was loathe to extend my sentence by paying for luxuries…like rent, I had elected to sleep in a tent a couple of mile away from the site. Simply staying clean took up a great deal of my time.

I found myself at my usual position in the factory after an all night party in a field, and was feeling more than a little fragile, after listening to trance all night after taking acid. I figured I could hold it together: the work was repetitive, but simple, and given that the noise of the machinery made it difficult to speak to anyone while on the factory floor, I assumed that my state would go unnoticed. It was going well until the moment where there appeared to be, not chicken, but hundreds of decapitated human heads tumbling down the chute (1). After the initial shock on discovering that reality had finally decided to tear itself apart, I simply turned and walked towards the exit, hardly pausing to register the chaos that leaving my post had caused.

Thankfully, I had managed to save enough to buy a new guitar, and after a couple of days of franticly arranging my departure, I decided to spend my last night at a pub that had an open mic night, which I knew was easy enough to drink for free if you were prepared to get up and play a couple of songs. Towards the end of the night, I had stepped outside to get some air, and was half-heartedly trying to clamber into the WWII planes that stood in the car park (2) when man I’d been talking to earlier joined me for a cigarette. He started spouting the usual spiel I had heard a thousand times before by frustrated executives that would pick me up in their Mondeo’s while hitchhiking: The joy of the open road, the freedom of youth. I listened politely for a while, until at one point I felt compelled to ask something like:

‘When do you stop? What it is it that makes you decide that
this is the place that you want to spend the rest of my life in?’

He thought about it for a moment and then claimed, that it was when you found something or someone, that you love so much, that you couldn’t bear to leave it behind.

I hit the road the next day.

(1) I was shocked to discover later that this happened in an episode of the X-files. Damn you FBI Agents!

(1) I’m not kidding

re:re:re: FWD
January 20, 2007, 12:46 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

‘First we thought the PC was a calculator, then we found out how to turn letters into ASCII- and we thought it was a typewriter. Then we discovered graphics, and we thought it was a television. With the World Wide Web, we realised it’s a brochure’: Lev Manovich

It is true that the Internet is perhaps the greatest advance in communication since the invention of the printing press. This is obvious, and certainly doesn’t require a media degree to figure out. Across vast distances, action and reaction potentially occur almost at the speed of light; traditional hierarchies concerning linear consumption of a text have dissolved almost as quickly as notions of authority over distribution of the written word.

Despite the forecasting of changes so prolific, that New Media authors inferred metaphors so grand as to imagine the extension of the central nervous system through electronic means (1), it is of some concern to me that the ‘information superhighway’ (2) has fallen into the general use, not as a tool for increased individual production enabled by comparative freedom from both state and corporate control, but through modes of consumption set in place during the era of ‘disorganised capitalism’. While at one time, advertising executives scratched their heads as they sifted through the wreckage of the dot-com crash in the mid-nineties, they must now wonder what all the fuss was about. It’s business as usual: the general fears of the advertisers’ evaporated in much the same way as the threat to traditional adverting presented by the establishment of the video recorder. In fact, those that anticipate increased autonomy from ‘passive consumption’ outlined in previously accepted sender/receiver models as hard-drive television recorders enter the home, should take heed, the threat of increased user control over advertising for example, necessarily dictates that, in order to survive, advertising (once explicitly demarcated from program content), must retreat further from view. Convergence, it appears, is a primary characteristic of any advance of any ‘advance’ in mass of media technology, of which the blurring of programme content with the interests of advertisers’ is but one example.

The merging of apparently disparate elements is of significant importance in common uses of the Internet. If the Internet expands the author’s role to that writer, editor, and publisher at the site of production, the ‘consumer’ has similarly extended her reach, reappearing through the World Wide Web as marketing agent, advertiser, and distributor. The popularity of the FWD: is a case in point. While the World Wide Web is commonly lauded as enabling greater participation of the user, the persistent sender of the FWD, lies flaccidly between consumption and reproduction (3), in such a way that the user’s role in the exchange of information is reduced to that of intermediary, blindly recycling the ideas of others, unconsciously doing the work that was previously undertaken by boards of executives. Lynne Truss (4) notes that while productivity of businesses has dramatically increased through the ability to communicate via the World Wide Web, its overall effect is a loss in output, as bored administrators diligently pass around personality tests, questionnaires and amusing asides like worker ants, desperately trying to make it through the tedium of the 9-5.

The persistent offender in the case of FWD’s is neither writer, nor even typist, and the bulk of them that lie in my inbox go unread and unloved, and they certainly die in my hands. So I may miss out on popular cultural icons such as the hamster dance, and the StarWars kid, yet it’s a small price to pay to avoid the sinking feeling I get when I open a message from a good friend to discover some thoughtless nonsense from somebody with nothing to say (5).

1. Marshall Mcluhan
2. A highly emotive term in itself coined by Vice President Al Gore in a speech given in 1999, giving rise to the commonly held belief that Al Gore invented the Internet.
3. According to Stuart Hall’s revision of the sender/receiver model of mass communication
4. Eats, Shoots and Leaves
5. Although I have to admit, I’d like to see the swirling patterns again that make the hand you’re holding the mouse with go weird

…songs about songwriting
January 18, 2007, 6:24 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Now I’m a little loathe to get into any serious Pitchfork baiting, which seems to be de rigueur amongst web loggers with even a passing interest in music. Yet I can’t help noting, with some amusement, that I am able to predict both their tone and rating for new music, often without even hearing the material in question.

If it wasn’t for the fact that my mind recoils in horror whenever I attempt to do anything vaguely mathematical with it, I’m sure I could produce a formula which the recording industry could use to predict critical reception. Given that Pitchfork has reached such an elevated status in the realms of ‘Alternative Music’, it might save many albums being released at all. Of course, given that many users tend to base their musical choices solely on Pitchfork’s ‘Best New Music’ without having to take the trouble to listen to it and make up their own minds, there would be a rapid increase in those albums in your record collection that you find technically brilliant, yet don’t actually enjoy listening to.

An artist critically acclaimed by the a large section of the music press, will score an average score in a Pitchfork review with a one or two point reduction on subsequent releases, if Pitchfork see themselves as initially responsible for breaking an artist on their debut release

A massive reduction in scores will occur, should the album be available in Woolworth’s, or Wal-Mart. Indeed, while this will only apply to artists that have achieved popularity after years of relative obscurity, the fact that a large percentage of the population will actually be able to buy a particular record in the high street, is enough to encourage a particularly scathing and venomous review

Strangely, a mainstream artist that produces a record which, after a consistent and successful career, sinks like a lead balloon as far as both the general public, and the music press are concerned, will be seen favourably by the Pitchfork crew, narrowly missing out on the ‘Best New Music’ listings.

From this standpoint, it would be all to easy to level charges of elitism against Pitchfork Media and music consumption in general, whilst simultaneously deriding the way that most people now listen music in the digital age. As I think about it further, I realise that it would be both naive and unrealistic on my part to call for a separation of musical form and content on the one hand, and the wider ‘narrative’ that gives a deeper significance to listeners on the other. In short, it is impossible to separate the form (i.e. structure, melody etc) from the society which both surrounds, and produces it. I know that this ‘narrative’ gives a certain weight to some of my own most respected artists, both past and present. This narrative history, like all art, is what gives a text both it’s merit, and it’s value. Yet, even from this realisation, it is still the unnamed track hidden at the bottom of my playlist that shocks me to attention as I go about my day. The song that wakes me from a drunken stupor at an after party is usually one that is new to me, that simple melody or unique phrasing that stirs my limbs from atrophy and leads me to ask, in almost breathless disbelief:

‘Jesus, what IS that track?’

…and the response I get in these situations is less the response of the jaded musical aficionado eager to give the entire history of the band in question, but one given with a lop-sided grin, from someone who is genuinely pleased that I am perhaps appreciating in a similar way that they do.

…a supermarket in california
January 17, 2007, 6:03 pm
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After walking along Western road to the beat of a strict and relentless 4/4 rhythm, I found myself in the flourescent aisles of the supermarket.supermarket1.jpg

I navigate my way through crowds of office workers masquerading as rock musicians, seemingly panicked by a truckers blockade, a fuel crisis, or a BSE scare and stumble upon Allen Ginsberg: Childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the Wild Blueberry flavoured washing up liquid and eyeing scented candles.Where are we going Allen Ginsberg? Where a movement described by J. Edgar Hoover as the ‘third greatest threat to America’ now defines itself through elitism and aloof detachment? The beatniks and the hipsters lie hollow and crestfallen at the feet of Kerouac’s ‘beatitude’; reduced to defining individuality and creativity through notions of exclusion.

The ‘Dharma bums’ who waged war, when it appeared that there was a war that could be won, who fought tooth and nail for the advancement of society as a whole (rather than for an acknowledgment of their part in the battle) have been reduced through the passage of of history to little more than ineffectual dreamers. We on the other hand, as inheritors, strive to make our mark on a society that has stretched to a point in which its own curvature is as visible to the eye as it is to the mind.

Where are we going, Allen Ginsberg? The doors close in an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight? (I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel absurd). Will we walk all night through solitary streets?

The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses. We’ll both be lonely.

so you want to be a rock star?
January 16, 2007, 6:12 pm
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so you want to be a rock star?…

It’s a twisted race to the bottom, and if you’re not dead by your 28th birthday, you’ve failed…

1. Release debut album with minor label, with small initial pressing funded either by a) your part-time job in a video store, or b) your daddy’s gold card. Release your record at the right time of year (preferably at the same time as the latest Stereophonics album), and if you’re lucky, NME will hail you as the new Nirvana/Whitestripes/Strokes. (Daddy’s gold card may also be helpful again here. Commence heavy tour schedule at packed tiny clubs that you will never again visit upon reaching stage 2. Stories of riots outside these venues permeate the music press.

2. Sign multi-million pound contract for a 5-album deal with Geffen at the first possible opportunity while both claiming solidarity with the independents. Rumours escalate concerning second album, with a number of superstar producers linked to the project, everyone from Jack White to Tina Turner are rumoured to feature as guest artists. Regularly featured in Hello! magazine, blind drunk and wearing a dress leaving the Met bar with a string of A list celebrities. Frequently deny any links with a number of super models and Hollywood actresses. “Mars bar” rumours (a la Marianne Faithful) prove unfounded.

3. Second album released to critical acclaim, and reported to outsell Michael Jackson’s “thriller”. Perform at a number of large, international festivals, which are fraught with scandal and missed performances. Lollapalooza sees you perform drunk for a total of 5 minutes before climbing on top of the speaker stacks and threatening to kill yourself unless someone actually brings you the moon on a stick. At this point it would be wise to pick another group within a similar (but slightly inferior) standing in the music press, and begin a well-publicised hate campaign. The most antagonistic party in this exchange is more likely to secure their position in rock history, so play dirty…

4. 3rd studio album plagued with difficulties concerning “artistic differences”. It is rumoured that you have been through 30 drummers during the first week’s sessions. Insist that album is completed in the Bahamas over the next 6 months while you develop a healthy cocaine addiction and spend your time messing about, fat & naked on the beach for the tabloids. Frequent comments rallying against the British music press are voiced, and frequent reports in interviews about how you don’t do interviews anymore, because nobody understands you. The working title of third album is changed from something extremely offensive and indicative of your ragged and depressed state of mind at this point, to something which will have fans marvelling at how fitting a eulogy the title appears on reaching stage

5. Violent public feuds with supermodel girlfriend rumoured to be fuelled by escalating alcohol and heroin addiction. At this stage, you’re an international, star, and amidst numerous failed treatments at the Betty Ford clinic as you drop in and out of the spot-light and/or reality, you should have some time to contemplate your own suicide. Be sure to choose a method that echoes your career philosophy, as it’s no accident that James Dean didn’t choose to take an overdose of anti-depressants, nor Elliott Smith to die in a drag race. If all published pictures in the press after your demise seem to show you gazing up to heaven like an angel, you’ve made it, welcome to the rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame. Then again, you’ll never see it…..because you’ll be dead.

…so long, i’m gonna go draw all alone in my shack
January 9, 2007, 10:59 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Despite all of the column inches given to the “Anti-folk” scene a few years ago, many critics have dismissed the movement as both failing to achieve any significant impact or widespread recognition, and to have exhibited little development as a musical form. The funny thing is, those generally accredited as key-players don’t seem to mind (or indeed to have even noticed) at all.

As I was standing in line at the Freebutt waiting for Kimya Dawson, the fact that a “movement” with no strongly identifiable ideology or form of dress, had proven difficult to market or typecast became laughably apparent, with the advertisement for Matt Mason’s band “Schwervon” claiming the band to be a novelty version of “The White Stripes” (a statement which as far as I can gather seemed to have been based on the notion that they are a girl/boy duo, playing drums/ vocals-guitar respectively). The gathering crowd was certainly more diverse than you normally find at gigs in Brighton: of course there was the usual smattering of scensters, yet much less so than the places I frequently find myself. There were none of the furtive glances or displays of forced nonchalance that people project here in an effort to establish an imagined hierarchy, instead, simply a bunch of regular people chatting amiably in the February cold.

If subcultural forms could be said to be based around a sense of place, whether geographical or “imagined”(1), the most identifiable hub for “Anti-folk” is the Sidewalk café situated in the East Village of New York. The Sidewalk Café had attained an almost mythical status through the coverage that bands such as “The Moldy Peaches” received a few years back, fuelled in part by a romanticised re-imagining of the folk scene of the coffee houses in the 1960’s, Yet, as far as I can gather through various reports found on the internet, the place simply evolved from founder “Lach”’s apartment and is a small, informal venue where performers frequently play for tips rather than the normal cover-charge. It is not unreasonable to assume that such surroundings would produce a consistent and easily identifiable style. It’s not unreasonable at all; it’s just not particularly accurate, particularly with reference to “Anti-folk” as a broader theme. The first band (and I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten their name, feel free to inform me) to perform at the Freebutt could arguably be considered more “Emo” than anything resembling any kind of “Folk”. I forgot to ask if they had ever played the Sidewalk café, as I was busy talking to John from Liverpool (2). I doubt however, that they would have been excluded, at least, not on the basis that they didn’t.

If there are any defining characteristics of acts that fall under the “Anti-folk” umbrella, it is less stringently through the melodic structure and instrumentation of the music (3), than through the common utilisation of a storytelling narrative, combined with an almost whimsical fluctuation between political, social and personal concerns, often in the same breath. Far less direct and overtly aggressive than the motivations of Punk (as the prefix “anti” suggests), the work of these performers navigates these fields in such a way, that on reading this paragraph, I could easily be talking about the folk music created by performers such as from Woody Guthrie, “Mississippi” John Hurt, Johnny Cash, or Bob Dylan to name but a few. The main point of departure it seems lies in the choice of subject matter. Where folk songs tend to commonly focus of the plight of the rural worker, “Anti-folk” is largely centred around observations on modern urban society that range from the mundane to the prolific.

Kimya Dawson’s performance at the Freebutt was the perfect example: narrative lines skitter through a junk-yard of obscure cultural references from Corey Haim to Sunny D in such a way that oblique political observations prove disarming, yet strangely astute. Having seen her performance at the Komedia with Jeffrey Lewis a year or so ago, I had commented to a friend that Kimya’s delivery was at times so personal, that it was almost embarrassingly voyeuristic to be in the room. On this occasion the atmosphere was no less intimate, yet strangely comfortable. A number of people were invited onto the stage (I was the one sitting on the drum riser), and throughout the entire gig people sang along, joked, and shouted requests. Kimya herself was equally endearing, friendly and open, and spent a large amount of the night talking to people. She offered free hugs at the end of her set, which were gratefully received by all (Cris has some pictures but hasn’t sent them to me yet.)
Even in such comfortable and close-knit surroundings, I found it difficult to produce an “Anti-folk” movement in my mind, beyond the fact that the term makes good copy for music journalists. The “scene” often suggested by this rationale, is effectively meaningless, considering that in reality, it best consists of a handful of disparate artists, poets and musicians, whose vast cultural inclusion lies in direct contradiction with the low-production values of it’s execution.

(1) See Imagined Communities: Benedict Anderson

(2)No, not that John, silly

(3) although it has been suggested that the choice of instrumentation often bears resemblance to those of folk musicians, this, arguably, is as likely to be a result of the lo-fi and/or D.I.Y ethic combined with low production values and/or budget as it is consciously influenced by folk performers)