Nightdriving

As I attempt to drift off to sleep tonight, I’m finding myself in another strange dream loop.

A few hours ago, I arrived back in London after three days spent in the north of England, time split between dual parental homes in Derbyshire and Yorkshire.

The drive home to London was long. Five hours in sweltering heat. Rhizomatic country roads turn into motorway Möbius strips before the free-for-all which is London seems to shatter all illusions that driving can be a relaxing experience.

The one hundred and twelve miles spent on the M1 were regularly glorious and I found myself entering a kind of meditative state on various occasions.

This is what I love about driving. It may be the only activity in which I can achieve such a state. Mind, body and car all feel as one. I’m alert and responsive to the road around me but nothing else exists outside of this scenario, this task. Nothing else is of any concern.

I found myself thinking about mindfulness, in between these moments.

Mindfulness often annoys me in this regard. It too often feels like teaching your granny to suck eggs (or, perhaps, a singular grape). Put me on the M1 and I’ll show you mindfulness.

I change gears and adjust my interior surroundings without thinking, without looking, totally in tune with the task at hand, feeling every vibration within the car, every shift in performance. I am a cautious driver and, having driven around an exploding jalopy for three years in Hull, I know when my car is under the weather.

I feel like I have melted into the car itself, inseparable from it, like some sort of benign T-1000 — a sensation only exacerbated by the summer sun in this year’s heatwave that is brazenly blazing through the driver’s side windows.

I spend at least an hour meditating on Simon Sellars’ elucidations on Mad Max and Crash in his new book, Applied Ballardianismpondering just how perversely similar my automobilised bliss is to the mindfulness fad that irritates me so much.

… when incomplete bodies, fractured by the demands of capitalism, are rebuilt, they’re bound together by the signs and symbols of banal technology.

I think that at least my “late capitalist” ecstasy is devoid of the watered-down signifiers of “late orientalism”.


In any other circumstance, the alignments of these conditions would threaten to lull me into a nap. But despite the relaxing monotony of the experience, I don’t once feel drowsy. Only when we have stopped and I have lost my sense of immanence to car and road do I start to yawn.

Now, as I try to fall asleep, past midnight, a puddle of heatwave sweat and movers-day adrenaline, I am finding myself falling seamlessly into a dream about driving.

My eyes slowly shut and I am immediately behind the wheel of the car, staring down the infinite expanse of the rolling M1.

Somehow aware that I am asleep, I jolt myself awake.

Again and again, I try to settle into the driving seat of my unconscious but the innate anxiety of falling asleep at the wheel prevents me from entering the dream in which I’m driving.

Instead, I stare at the ceiling for hours, tempted to take the car out for a late night spin.

Advertisements

Talking Shoplifting and Patchwork with Justin Murphy

A chat in which I doxx myself and ramble incoherently about patchwork. (I show up at 40:05.)


I made the mistake of listening back to this this morning, trying to gathered thoughts together better.

There are so many points here, from Justin and the live chat, that were sort of lost in the momentum of the conversation and left underdeveloped but I enjoyed doing this all the more for that reason.

There’s a lot of questions that we didn’t answer but I hope the fact they were raised says it all about the possibilities that patchwork can offer the left, politically but also ontologically.

For K-Punk: 50 Years // July ’68

tumblr_pb78pyVuRP1xrfep4o1_1280.png

After the success of our first two nights — ‘For K-Punk‘ and ‘Consciousness Razing‘ — we’re doing one more.

This one is to celebrate what would have been Mark Fisher’s 50th birthday, which falls this year on Wednesday 11th July 2018. A few days later, on Saturday 14th, we’re going to throw one final(?) party, raising money for the Mark Fisher Memorial Fund.

Full lineup and details below, also at 4kpunk.tumblr.com

Continue reading “For K-Punk: 50 Years // July ’68”

“Barren Utilitarianism”: Mental Health on Campus

It’s been hard to avoid the government’s latest promises regarding improvements to support for students with mental health issues on Twitter today. It’s laughable just how vague and pointless it is.

I’ve been reminded of activities that have been happening over the past few years at Goldsmiths, which I have kept an eye on by proxy, attending a few meetings whilst I was still a student there back in 2017.

The Gold Paper has been a working document that began life as an institutionally-specific response to the government’s Green Paper which, when published, “left us in no doubt that [the] government is aggressively pursuing the privatization of higher education.”

The Green paper has become a perfect example of what Mark Fisher called “business ontology” — discussed on this blog a few times recently, albeit in other rough-shod contexts — for the way it wholly diminished conversations around student wellbeing by making finance and senior management the bottom line of every issue currently facing British universities. You hear things like: “Improvements in student wellbeing up attendance, saving millions in potentially lost student fees.” When universities approach every issue from a defensive position, assisting only so they can protect their wallets, communities continue to suffer.

The Goldsmiths UCU blog writes:

The 2010 Browne Review began the process of turning higher education into a consumer driven activity that students buy in exchange for skills for the job market. The Green Paper finishes this process by effectively removing entirely any reference to higher education in terms of non-economic value leading to what Collini (2016) refers to as ‘barren utilitarianism’.

I like this phrase, “barren utilitarianism”, if only because it describes perfectly the Tory mindset — a mindset that is blatantly on display again with this new “policy” (if you can seriously call it that).

Considering the three-point plan posted on Twitter today, we can see that the government’s plan of action is basically to improve their management infrastructure, rather than actually deal with any of the material circumstances and conditions that lie at the root of various institutional crises that have occurred across the country.

The most obvious flaw here is the focus on students. Spikes in staff and student suicides, as well as recent strikes at all levels of university infrastructure — from lecturing to cleaning staff — show that these issues are extensive and not limited to student bodies.

Student distress is symptomatic of countless wider issues and so, if the government wants to make substantial change, it must broaden its scope. Transitions from school to university and better links with parents seem like further attempts to outsource responsibility, distributing it to areas that are likewise already struggling.

It seems like a slippery slope towards a “care in the community”-lite which, as anyone who has dealt with the reality of this issue knows, has nothing to do with community, socially or ethically speaking, instead becoming a policy of handing over responsibility to people woefully unqualified, unable to cope and offer the necessary levels of support, protecting profits through a policy which should otherwise be called “state neglect”.

My view of this situation concerning universities is obviously blinkered and biased — I’m a Goldsmiths alumnus, minor member of staff and still live five minutes from campus — but I mention the situation at Goldsmiths if only because I have not heard of any similar staff/student-led initiatives occurring elsewhere, and these sorts of approaches deserve wider publicity and understanding.


The psychological affect of privatisation on students has long been violently public. The feelings of precarity and hopelessness amongst students has been pronounced since at least 2010. Around that same time, in the immediate aftermath of the protests around the tripling of student fees, everyone saw the incredibly distressing footage of police attacking Warwick University students conducting a peaceful sit-in.

I’ve written here previously — I think… I can’t find it now — about the distress this footage caused further afield. The possibility of being open to attack on campus — in what felt like, and was, for all intents and purposes, our homes — made so many people feel impotent, devoid of any say or control over their surroundings, at the mercy of the cold arm of the state that was reacting violently to what many saw ahead on the horizon: the very situation that the government is now saying they want to remedy.

Nothing has really changed since that time, however. Things have only stagnated.

The explosively violent crisis that engulfed universities in the early 2010s has continued and since been normalised, allowing weak non-interventions such as this to be heralded as somehow “progressive”, rather than being seen for what they really are: a bandaid on a wound that has long been septic.

I’m thinking of the Gold Paper again today because of the marked improvements on the government’s new policies that their (notably compromised) demands offer.

These demands have been circulating, within Goldsmiths at least, for at least three years. Last year, things were accelerated, as so many things were, by Mark Fisher’s death. A petition was released that was used to lobby senior management of the university.

Senior management, faced with an admittedly knotted and complex crisis, asked for demands to be whittled down to three bullet-points. With an eye-roll, students and staff nonetheless agreed. They recommended the following priorities:

1 Inquiry into College Mental Health Crisis: An urgent inquiry into the mental health crisis on campus; a commitment to increased funding for counselling and a re-structuring of services based on a consultation process with both staff and students.

2. Housing Justice: In line with the ongoing student rent strike, we demand that rent in Student Halls of Residence be cut to 50% of the average student maintenance loan and that the Halls of Residence are brought up to the minimum housing standard stipulated by the housing charity Shelter.

3. Democratisation of College Governance: At least 50% of Council should be elected by staff and students at Goldsmiths. Alongside this, the Warden’s open meetings should be turned into a genuinely democratic forum to which all staff and students can bring motions and debates that, if passed, have to be acted on. Timetables should be organised so that all can attend and Assembly attendance should be reflected in AL and fractional contracts.

These demands, reduced to three, remain the most concise suggestion of what senior management at Goldsmiths, and at universities elsewhere, could do to improve staff and student lives. The government’s new proposal, of course, only deals with point #1 but even this alone shows how out of tune with life at a modern university the Conservative party is.

Housing and governance are two further points, perhaps superfluous to some, but they are intrinsically entwined with mental health issues on campus. They are notably institutional-specific but can easily be scaled up to address issues which violently affect young people around the country.

Housing is endemically subpar and overpriced, and feelings of communal impotence related to influencing governance are a mainstay of the student mindset. This is evident not only at the level of the university but at the level of the state more generally.

There is nothing more disenfranchising than this feeling of having no control over your own circumstances, being placed on a Higher Education conveyor belt, living in damp, mould-ridden, dilapidated but nonetheless extortionate student housing. Better funded counselling and support services would go a long way as to making students feel less alone but this does nothing to alleviate the material conditions that are contributing to this distress more generally.

Mental health is not a one-stop issue that can be solved with six weeks of government-funded CBT.


The university, despite appearances, needn’t be a bubble. Communities within and without universities, overlapping but kept distinct, are handled with a sort of divide and conquer approach and this newly articulated government policy is no different.

What these new policies seem to suggest is that the government is looking at handling supposedly new developments, limited to student experiences, which they themselves have created. They are not only tackling issues half-heartedly, seemingly without any input from the people the policies are intended to benefit, but they are skirting around the fact that these issues that are the direct result of previous Conservative policies, implement over the last decade.

The full extent of these issues, whilst complex, is not unmanageable. In fact, the People’s Tribunal at Goldsmiths in 2015 laid out the specific circumstances of that institution’s problems rigorously and damningly.

I’ll end this post here, recommending anyone from any institution to watch the video above. It highlights the vagueness of the new government policy in striking contrast. Showing the full scope of the situation and showing just how inadequate this three-point plan is to what students and staff have long been facing.

You can also skip to 15.20 for the infrequently publicised speech that Mark Fisher gave at the tribunal, particularly haunting after his death, but the entire video could not be better for outlining the complex issues that universities are actively trying to deal with, which they talk about very openly, and which senior management and the government continue to ignore almost entirely.


See also: The #MedsWorkedForMe (But Nothing Else Did)

Points of View: New Essay on ŠUM

By embracing the vagaries of human life and the self-objectifying production of the sign of the subject, we can succeed in dissolving ourselves into something altogether new.

I have a new essay on ŠUM entitled “Points of View: On Photography & Our Fragmentary, Transcendental Selves”. You can read it here.

I first started writing this essay back in 2015. Very little remains of the first version but it feels very surreal to finally have this out in some form after so many attempts at it. I’m happy to have persevered.

Shout out to everyone in Ljubljana. I want to say a huge thank you to Marko Bauer and Andrej Škufca for reaching out, and Miha Šuštar for taking the time to proofread and edit it. I had a lot of fun doing this.

 

“Somewhere between Mark’s mural and the Amazon lockers.”

Somewhere between Mark’s mural and the Amazon lockers. Over the road from the picket line, past the bins at the back end of the field, and the lights left on in Studio B.

Where reputation meets ambition and we eat well to do well.

Finding we still have a bit of time and a bit of space.

Digging in against the commuter traffic and the biting east coast wing that ushers out these long evenings.

We line up to stamp our time sheets.

Clocking in, clocking off, pushing on, pushing on.

Shout out to Archie Smith, this year’s Junior Fellow for the BA Fine Art and History of Art course at Goldsmiths. I think the above text, written for the degree show this year, might be the most beautifully concise degree show text I’ve ever read.

Texts in degree show publications often try to fill in all the inevitable blanks. Archie instead just hints at a range of topics, a drive-by hinting at internal gossip and false representations — everything degree shows aren’t supposed to be about but inevitably require those on their way out of the institution to painfully come to terms with.

I love degree shows for this. They’re so weird and pointless. They mean everything to the people that are in them but likely remain opaque to all their polite visitors. They’re meant to be the culmination of three years of study but such an experience is surely impossible to distil into a piece of work, tucked in the corner of an outbuilding given a temporary makeover.

Degree shows are futile exercises and all the more fun for that reason. They’re absurd and the best ones embrace that fact. Goldsmiths knows this best, I think. Better than any other university I’ve been to. They futureproof the feelings of anticlimax by making sure each degree show after party is so insane and excessive that no one could possibly feel like they have missed out on some necessary release.

The high fashion strutting that is always a feature of the opening night is just performative foreplay for the low brow mayhem to follow.

What Archie captures in his text, tellingly elusive and concise, is everything bubbling under the surface of the process of letting-go, hinting at just some of what this year’s graduates have been through, the contradictions inherent to a modern neoliberal university, and particularly one which likes to think of itself as somewhat “radical”.

A further shout out must go to Kitty McKay, whose work in the show was perhaps my favourite, for similar reasons. It also did well to summarise these contradictions and tensions, framing them within the tensions of the country at large, making them even more implicit and far-reaching, but smuggled into a version of the mayhem to follow, taking form as a series of phrases and statements, critical and scathing, an abstract karaoke, prompts crawling along the bottom of a screen showing a montage of newsreel footage and her own videos.

Until next year.

American Ear, Omni Ear

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the recent line-up for Light in the Attic‘s 16th birthday doo at the Barbican was eclectic. In the end, to its credit, it didn’t really feel that way.

Willie Thrasher & Linda Saddleback, Haruomi Hosono and a reunited Acetone functioned as an evening of ears for America rather than the disparate mix you might otherwise expect.

Each were representative of new releases from the enormous reissue label which has made its name over the years shooting niche collector’s favourites to hipster stardom.

They first came on my radar with their much-appreciated Karen Dalton reissues a few years back. Since then, they’ve balanced big blockbuster reissues with more nuanced re-releases, bringing many a forgotten oddity and out-of-print modern classic back to popular attention.

It’s easy to be cynical about some of their releases. Searching for Sugar Man or Lewis were hugely overhyped records, setting an industry precedent for irritating levels of overt romanticising and mythologising, each story given the corporate hard sell via a template that will now be familiar to anyone keeping an eye on reissue cultures.

And yet, at the same time, they are perhaps one of the best curators of compilations in the business. I Am The Center is the first to come to mind: one of my favourite compilations of all time.

Last night at the Barbican felt like a showcase for a new spate of releases for the label. Thrasher and Saddleback were first on the stage, having flown over from Vancouver, Canada, and they could not have been happier to be there. Representing the label’s recent compilation Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966–1985, the pair played a short but excitable and endearing set, with Thrasher repeatedly thanking the label for the invitation and for hosting him in London.

As easy as it might be to be cynical about the reissue record business, it was lovely to hear an unknown artist be so vocal in his indebtedness to their efforts to shine a light on his culture.


Next, Haruomi Hosono: the blockbuster of the night (and a surprising choice for the second slot). The forthcoming set of reissues that Light in the Attic are putting out is mixed, encompassing his incredibly diverse career.

I’m personally very excited to finally get my hands on a vinyl copy of Omni Sight Seeing, its closing number being perhaps my favourite Hosono song. It’s a masterpiece of mastering and mixing. I’d argue it’s one of the best sounding records I’ve ever heard.

How necessary these reissues are is another story, however. I bought a copy of Hosono’s first album, with its imbecile grooves, just a few years ago. Making such a fanfare about bringing some of these albums to vinyl for the first time is too typical of this industry.

What can be applauded is their success in bringing Hosono to the UK for the first time in his career, but if the audience was expecting some sort of career-spanning “best of”, they would be wrong but surely not disappointed.

The set consisted for a mix of Hosono songs and American classics, all played in a “boogie woogie” style.

The most striking part of the show was surely Hosono’s brief but sombre reflection on the earthquake and tsunami that led to the Fukashima disaster in 2011. After playing a sample from Japan’s smart phone earthquake warning system, his band slid into a fascinating cover of Kraftwerk’s Radioactivity.

He then played a cover of the Dale Hawkins’ rockabilly classic “Susie-Q”: “I used to like techno, now I just play boogie.” Hosono continued, explaining that he was born just two years following America’s bombing of the Japan at the end of the Second World War. When Japan became increasingly Americanised following the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, boogie woogie was the first music he remembered hearing and now, aged 70, it was the music he had adoringly come back to.

The set did not consist of boogie covers entirely. Another highlight was a boogie version of Hosono classic “Sportsmen” from the album Philharmony.

His set came to an end when Hosono asked for the house lights to be raised, then asking if his “friend” was in the audience tonight. Craning necks and crowd muttering meant I could not hear who exactly Hosono was looking for. As the unmistakable trilby of Yukihiro Takahashi emerged from his seat and walked towards the stage, the crowd went wild.

IMG_1734

Taking his place behind the drum kit, he was closely followed by the likewise unmistakable lightning white curtains of Ryuichi Sakamoto, his arms wrapped around Hosono’s keyboardist, the expanded group ending the set with a tremendous jam session.


The crowd was noticeably thinner following a short interval when Acetone took to the stage.

Representing the “necessarily rescued classic” of the evening, Acetone were a band I had never heard of before buying my ticket for the night but over the last two months I have listened to the label’s beautiful “best of” constantly, becoming the centrepiece of the records on rotation in our kitchen at present.

Following the suicide of band member Richie Lee in 2001, the band came to an end, and this reunion show with patched-up lineup was mournful and sedated, their songs feeling far too fragile for the cavernous space on the Barbican’s main hall.

This is a band made to be heard in a garage, blissfully casual, tones warbling in concrete heat. Here, at times, the band would swell and fill the space, with Moog organ giving the band an ambient canvas, more appropriate to the location, on which to build.

IMG_1737

They couldn’t compete with the disjointed momentum of the night, however, which is down to strange programming rather than their performance.

As my mind wandered over Acetone’s slack grooves, I couldn’t help but try to fit together these different ears on America. From the indigenous folk of Canada’s aptly-named Thrasher, his mantras barely contained by his vigorously strummed chords, native expression aggressively stunted by the primitivism of frontier form.

Acetone are instead the perfect distillation of various free-roaming, late-century forms: slowcore garage band surfer rock.

Light in the Attic‘s website notes how the band got their big break in the aftermath of Nirvana’s unprecedented success as many labels looked for a similar goldmine.

I remember something being said of Low, the anti-Nirvana, playing as slow as possible, rejecting the energy that the grunge hype was making ubiquitous. Whilst no Nirvana, their innovations are rightly lauded when it counts.

Acetone seem to exist somewhere in between the two, opting for heat-fucked bliss rather than glacial dread.

Hosono, literally placed between the two, as far as the night’s lineup was concerned, makes for an unusual and alien experience here. Thinking again about Omni Sight Seeing, an album which takes in musical forms from around the world, which he bends effortlessly to his will, here instead we have Hosono’s omni ear embracing its inherent and underacknowledged Americanisation.

On paper, this was a night of “world music”. In reality, the audience were presented with an expanded Panamericanism: the disparate fruits of a fragmented ear that nonetheless share a core DNA which takes in the world and which the world itself takes in in turn. It is an ethnographic feedback loop of maligned insiders, celebrated outsiders and something in between.

Too often, perhaps, on this label, we are presented with the oddest forms of American cultural appropriation to be committed to wax: the strange and forgotten mutant offspring birthed by a culture that so often fetishes that which is beyond itself, bringing the outside in and monetising it cynically.

Tonight, the tables felt somewhat turned. Here the artists looked back, presenting London with an unfamiliar America as seen through a succession of unusual lenses.


Recent posts on the weird American psyche:

New West 1; New West 2; Herzog; New West 3