Best of times, worst of times, all that.
Perhaps mercifully, I can’t remember much from the start of 04 – intermittent continuity gaps being one of the consequences of periodic mental debilitation – but I like to think that my recovery is more than a personal matter (and only partly because there is nothing personal).
When I started k-punk, things couldn’t have seemed more hopeless. The APE was running the show, no amount of encouragement from the likes of Luke and Matt could convince me that what I was typing wasn’t abject… And yet, the writing continued… I must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on… Proof that writing, far from being about self-expression, emerges in spite of the subject.
The role of the Net-based collective machine in getting me out of Hell cannot be underestimated.
It can’t only have had that effect on me.
What’s happening on the web is part of a wider cultural switch-over.
Effective analysis of Kapitalism was well nigh impossible during the Bubble 90s – ‘apparently victorious’ Kapital programmed both the irrational exuberance of its slaves and the depression of its enemies. But now, Kapital’s techniques are visible, and that’s half the battle. When you realize you’re dealing with a political pacification program that aims to emiserate you, when you see that there are no relative autonomies, that Anti-Capital is not only possible, it’s already happening – you know you’re in a war in which the highest imaginable stakes are up for grabs. The war is always here and now --- fought in, over and through the nervous systems of human beings.
For me at least, 2004 was the year in which PoMo finally died. And if that’s not a reason to celebrate, I don’t know what is.
No Inferno in PoMo, only a Purtagory in which we were condemned to shamble
, vaguely irritated, vaguely emolliated, through the striplit soft delirium of the End of History Supermarket. No way out of its seamless aisles, all will to escape debilitated in any case. A fake Forever, in which the future meant more of the same and the past was processed only as a precursor to this. It was always going to end up here, didn’t you know?.
When faced with questions of injustice or of the systemic inequity of Kaptial, the two things that students routinely say are, ‘There’s nothing you can do about it’ and ‘that’s just one interpretation, it’s all a matter of opinion’. Ventriloquists of Kapital, the stock phrases evidence that Postmodernism is a deeply entrenched (anti-) political program...
It’s telling, if predictable, that the two aspects of Nietzsche’s thought which meet least resistance are those which feed into postmodern quietism. Nietzsche’s aestheticism, or, rather his aestheticization, his claim that life, not truth, is the only criterion for making judgements, and, crucially, that life is a work of art, dovetails easily into his epistemology, his well-known dismissal of universality in the name of embodied perspectivity.
By contrast, Nietzsche’s genuinely radical critique of the subject, personality and resentment - i.e. those parts of his thought which point away from postmodern Romanticism and towards an austere structuralism - are accepted only in a gestural and academic way. Yes, it can be acknowledged that, philosophically, the notion of the subject cannot be sustained, but only so long as we think that really, in everyday life, that doesn’t matter and that, really, at the end of the day, the truth of what we are is subjectivity and biography.
Naturally, it is in this ‘really’, in this supposed turn away from theory, that we encounter the most important theory of all – the unspoken meta-political script that sustains the current scanning pattern we are invited to think of as reality. The hostility and the derision that the Cold Rationalist dismissal of (uninteresting) fictions such as biography and personality still meets is ample evidence that, though most ‘educated’ types will have felt the need to go through a window-dressing deference to structuralism and cybernetics at some point in their lives, structural and systemic thought remain radically unassimilable. All too often, such ideas are used as aesthetic ornamentation to dress up old ontologies, ways of ‘reading’ that bloat the academy’s voracious and vacuous interpretosis.
Against interpretation, against writing conceived of as an act of self-expression, against aestheticism…yes… but none of this entails an anti-music, anti-Pop stance. Far from it.
The question of what the relationship between sonic culture and politics can be is far from resolved, obviously. Was punk what Britain had instead of ’68? Does the centrality of sonics to punk mean set it up for aestheticist reterritorialization? Yes, sonics are immediately affective in a way that visual art and literature are not. But that doesn’t mean that they must be irrational intoxicants any more than they must be celebrity-consumer background muzak.
Singles: Top 9
Avril Lavigne – ‘Don’t Tell Me’. Avril takes a tough stand against Male Sex Virus. ‘Get outta my head/ get offa my bed…’ C’mon admit it, if it was by anyone else you’d love it. ‘Don’t tell me what to do/ don’t tell me what to say/ you’re better off that way.’ Had those lines in my head at work many times this year, I can tell you.
Britney - ‘Toxic’. Britney resumes her throne as Queen of Pop, and raises the stakes, establishing that, for Pop not to be swaggeringly, swooningly 3-D hectic and John Barry lush in 04 is just plain slack. Given extra unlife by the turbo-charged Armand van Helden rmx --- sounds like Visage's 'Tar' (check it).
Usher - ‘Yeah’. 04’s ‘Billie Jean’. The morning after the night before, intoxication devolving into anxiety, cut-up memories resolving into an enigma: ‘what happened?’ Usher the Zeroes’ Jacko: a funk puppet slave to the r and b, subordinating Ego to groove in a way that our tawdry theatre-school prancers (Robbie, Geri) couldn’t even dream of. Not even Ludacris’ lewd carnality can foul up the high come down hyper-abstraktion of L’il Jon’s post-rave production. (Incredibly, on ‘My Boo’, Usher also managed to rescue Alicia Keys from the oblivion of coffee table tastefulness.)
Destiny’s Child – ‘Lose My Breath’. An imperious return, hyper-energetic in a way that Beyonce’s solo ballads were lugubrious treacle-slow lethargic. DC back with the experimental avant-Pop that was their trademark, raising expectations that the album couldn’t have disappointed more spectacularly. After ‘Soldier’, there is … nothing….
Kanye West – ‘Slow Jamz’. Could have chosen any of the singles, but plumped for ‘Slow Jamz’ because it was the breakthrough cut, reacquainting rap with a melted, courtly- deferential male desire that, via Blackstreet’s ‘No Diggity’, it made fleeting contact with a decade ago.
Girls Aloud – ‘The Show’. Sleek, modern, efficient, confident, and preposterously addictive. Pop as it should be: mass-produced, impersonal-machinic and fronted by super-synthetic gyndroids.
Rachel Stevens – ‘Some Girls’. Richard X continues to put the modernism back into postmodernism, shamelessly (re)vamping Goldfrapp, Frankenstein-reanimating Glam stomp and rewinding Pop to when it had a future.
Morrissey – ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’. No-one can have been more surprised than Morrissey to find himself suddenly relevant in the UK in 2004. Selected if only as a reminder of the once-vibrant k-punk comments boxes. In retrospect, the Morrissey discussion was the beginning of the end for high quality discussion here, as male antler-rubbers couldn’t resist the temptation to boy-bait, leaving blood in the water that would inevitably draw other Troll-sharks in.
Christinia Milian – ‘Dip it Low’. Shows that beat-hiccoughing, spastic-coloned slick R and B is not dead.
Special mentions to: Jamelia, ‘Thank You’ (Nietzschean single of the year, in every good way, but someone have a word with her stylist, she’s definitely the worst dressed in Pop); Natasha Bedingfield (all three singles), Kelis ‘Trick Me’, Anastacia (in a world of smaller than life blokish 'cool’ she dares to be ridiculous).
Albums: Top 6
Kanye West - College Drop Out, Junior Boys Last Exit
Two LPs that, otherworldly and pneuma-Light, couldn’t have less to do with the bloke ‘n’ bling hylic heaviness of the current Brit popcult climate. By etherealizing hip-hop’s rhythmic engine, they disabuse us of the oppressive delusion that there is any necessary connection between rhythmic invention and the dour, sour surliness of masculine acquisitive aggression with which hip-hop has habitually coupled it for so long now. ‘They made us hate ourselves and love their wealth…’ The drug of choice for both producers is abstract oestrogen, the antidote to the testosterone-heavy pop-cultural diet of bang for your buck spec(tac)ular overstimulation. Both are ‘High Come Down’ records, post-rave, late-night, tactile, hypersensual…
Dizzee Rascal – Showtime
Dizzee avoids the Goldie trap, by not allowing flatterers to deceive him. So, no, there won’t be guest slots from Justin Hawkins on gee-tar or that drip from Coldplay on vox, thanks very much. Showtime is the sound of a terrible isolation, but a willed isolation that is the consequence of steely resolution and calm confidence. The Roll Deep clamour of the first LP is gone, and with it, the exhilarating abstraction of its PlayStation-constructed cartoon constructivism. What’s left is a brooding bass ooze, a kind of viscous halfspeed Jungle, and Dizzee, alone, an interloper-observer in the restricted areas to which his success has given him access. Showtime is the post-Garage Exile on Mainstreet, and also, in its outsider’s insight into the English deer park world of cocaine prosperity, 04’s answer to 82’s Hex Enduction Hour.
Britney - My Prerogative: Greatest Hits
Easy to forget how many perfectly produced cyberpop-confections Britney has been the flesh-voice component in. My Prerogative is a delicious reminder, an ecstasy rush through all the hits. Hits indeed. Because Britney’s Femasochistic Pop may all turn out to be about different meanings of the word ‘hit’. If it all started with a schoolgirl-submissive invitation to do her emotional violence, Britney’s seemingly fatally stalled career was revived last year with a less than subtle entreaty, “I need a hit… baby, give me it…’ And if, as Angus says, a world without ‘Toxic’ in it is scarcely imaginable any more, it’s easy to forget how plaintive and pathetic that line was in danger of sounding when the single was released.
Last year, it was Britney who looked past it, the appalled Justin looking on as his Ex was apparently reduced to kissing Madonna on MTV in what for all the world looked like a desparate bid for attention, any attention. Britney’s inspiration, Madonna, had so eclipsed her that the invitation to appear in the MTV Awards show number looked like a humiliating act of pity; her chief rival, Christina, was striding forward in an Amazonian march of auto-exploitative, big-lunged success; and critics were falling over themselves to heap praise upon Justin’s Neptunes and Timbaland-produced LP.
‘Toxic’ reversed all this, and the greatest hits comp reveals a wealth of Pop treasures that expose Xtina’s back catalogue for the litany of yowling banality that it is. N*E*R*D are a laughing stock, and, with a year’s perspective, it’s easy to see that the singles they produced for Justin, while presentable enough, aren’t a patch on ‘Slave 4 U’, Chad and Farrell’s best production, bar none. SFJ was wrong: far from being a victim of rockism, Justin (still male, still tasteful, with impeccable influences - Off the Wall-era Jacko, Soul – to which rockists readily defer) actually benefited from a crypto- or rearguard rockism But Britney – vulgar and tasteless, machine-manufactured in the Trailer park-MTV-military-industrial-entertainment complex and with ABSOLUTELY NO SOUL any of us consumers care about – is still the litmus test of anti-rockism. Go on, admit you love her.
MarkOne and Virus Syndicate - One Way/ VA - Grime
It needed someone outside the capital to synthesize the East and South London Grime sounds. The Billingsgate verbal frenzy of the East and the depopulated post-nuclear Croydon ring road of the South have been met in Manchester, on a ‘Dance’ music LP that, gratifyingly, is compulsive over its full length, The album actually outstrips the potential displayed on the MarkOne tracks from Rephlex’s brilliant Grime comp. It leers and lurches with a controlled synthetic menace, as much a continuation of the curtailed anti-tradition of North English electronica as it is a phase in the devolution of Garage.
Moloko. Roisin effortlessly dominates the stage, the musician-men rightly reduced to bit-part servomechanical supports for her Ladytronic performance art. She is a Pop Star in a way that has become old-fashioned; all her glamour is conceptual and arty, which in no way subtracts from its sensuality (and so couldn’t form more of a contrast with Brit so-called conceptual so-called art). She knows how to use words, she knows how to use her voice, she knows how to use her face, she knows how to use her body. Because Pop without Glam is just music….
Most ludicrously overrated (is anyone still listening)? really?): The Streets
Surely even Skinner’s most loyal supporters must be given pause by the readiness with which he is championed by the post-Loaded beery, leery LLAD lobby. That co-option is no surprise, since the Streets specialize in that warmhearted fuzzy sentimentality beloved of wifebeaters , thug-drunks and other hot irrationalists everywhere, coz underneath y’know they are really sensitive (ask Gazza). Skinner is like the worst kind of pub bore, the amateur psychologist who imagines that his pitifully limited observations of ‘birds’ qualifies him to sidle up to you and proffer his facile homilies. Been dumped? ‘Plenty more fish in the sea, mate, get em in.’
But at least most other bar bores don’t back up their words of wisdom with cack-handed, Quo-tidian, quasi-Casio, sub-ska, pub-‘Garage’ that allows indie-windies to whine, “I do like SOME dance music…’ I know it might have been a novelty a few years ago to hear about chip shops on a ‘Dance’ track but, after Dizzee and Grime, there is no possible case to be made for Skinner’s pious and pompous know all-isms . It’s bad enough having to walk past boozombies lurching out of a KFC, I don’t want to listen to one in my own home, thanks.
See forthcoming piece on Hyperstition, but, without doubt, the best cyberpunk film ever. And yes, that includes Blade Runner.
Don’t know what happened to the review I sent to Mute, but this comfortably outstripped the already brilliant original. Molina’s Doc Ock, the best cybernetic criminal genius ever to hit celluloid.
Bruce Nauman @ Tate Modern.
Paula Rego @ Tate Britain. Even a handful of paintings enough to reduce the surrounding Shit Art context to embarrassing Maya. Contrast of the year: walking past that pitiful reconstructed house (‘negotiating with idea of domesticitiy….exploring notions of memory…’, go on, you can make it up yourself) to get to Rego’s sublimely impassive disturbing-exhilarating canvasses. For all that PoMo Sophists and Saatchi collaborators like to pretend the opposite (they would, it keeps them in work), the distinction between genuine art and utter tosh is actually not that hard to draw. Rego establishes that painting couldn’t be less dead. Brit Art couldn’t be more undead, a grey vampire sucking energy from all unfortunate enough to come into contact with it.
Most stupid comment
Many candidates here, but. first prize goes to the Art Snob Saatchi Lapdog whose name I can’t be bothered to look up. In response to my description of Emin’s burnt tat, she (out)raged: ‘A tent with embroidery on it? You should be ashamed of yourself.’ Defending Emin now is like defending Pink Floyd in late 1975. Surely even the Saatchi apologists must be beginning to sense it’s embarrassing and that they are on the wrong side.
Most Valued k-punk correspondent
Karl Kraft – makes it all worthwhile
Carter McBeath – where is he?
Most indefatigable MSN contacts
Philip Mind – also hands-down winner of ‘best unpublished novelist’ prize
Glueboot – also hands-down winner of ‘most charming carnalist’ prize
Bacteria grrll – who needs to come back to the UK
JD – keeps me supplied with a steady diet of r and b and electropop
Favourite Female Speaking Animals
They’re never warm enough, but their being around is the best guarantee that I stay out of Hell
Ray, Nina, Alberto – providers of indispensable Anti-Kapital, Anti-Personal, Anti-Karnal kit
Simon R, John Effay – in addition to everything else, proof that there's no need for dissent not to be elegant and intelligent
Luke – for being a Spinozist in spite of himself, and for contributing to my unplugging from Videodrome
Woebot – for obvious reasons
&Catherine – because worthwhile comment from one intelligent woman negates any amount of stupidity from hot-blooded males
Erase the World – so consistent
Nick Gutterbreakz – fellow explorer of the electrocontinuum
Students: Joe B, Sam A, Asuman B, Zoe D, Anna M, Michael O, Katerina, Aliya (if my students are anything to go by, women are SO much better than men at Philosophy – believe it…)
Hopes for 2005
Total collapse of liberal Kapitalist Parliamentarism. Only the rich notice the difference when their services and servants don’t arrive on time; the rest of us form a globalized network of autonomous collectivities.
Robbie Williams to expire in cocaine auto-erotic asphyxiation incident. ‘At least he died having sex with the only one he ever loved… himself…’ Back catalogue cancelled and all videos taken off rotation as a mark of respect.
Working class males to recover their birthright, wake up from the twenty year sportswear nightmare and start wearing handstitched Italian suits again. Blinking into consciousness, bemused and disgusted ‘What were we thinking?’ ‘Sportswear Sucks’ campaign culminates in rallies in which baseball caps, trainers and tracksuits are burned.
Bono to confess that, yes, he is a flabby egotist and irrelevant old man whose continued success is indicative not of any talent or importance, but a period of total popcultural conservatism.
(OK, the last one is pretty unlikely… but we can but dream.)
Posted by mark at December 29, 2004 12:03 PM