April 29, 2004

I'm definitely with e-crunk on the 411 single (supposedly featuring Ghostface, but there's no trace of him on the version they play on MTV Hits and the Box). The string arrangment is swoonsomely lovely, the talkover verses are reminiscent of All Saints' 'Never Ever'/ Shangri-La's 'Past, Present and Future' but the killer is the pitched up, sampled hook: 'I can't fall down on my knees/ and apologise to you/ cos that's not my style'. The way the girls lipsync to it in the video, moving with a mannequin stiffness, is positively uncanny. Crunk's right, it's a kinda UK-Kanye thing.

O God. Faithless are back. Listening to whatsisname's pathologically lugubrious preach-rap is like going to church. 'Insomnia' - fucking 'Soporifia' more like.

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The Abba 'tribute' on Five tonight was so bad it could almost have been C4. Couldn't they have done better than some no-mark who insisted upon referring to Agnetha as 'the blond one'. To every standard cliche wheeled out - they had crap clothes! The men were ugly! Elvis Costello trotting out his yawnsome anecdote about 'Oliver's Army' stealing the Rachmaninov-like piano from 'Dancing Queen' - they added their own perplexing idea that the words were incomprehensible. Abba lyrics have always struck me as models of clarity; lines like 'the judges will decide/ the likes of me abide' and 'the gods will throw the dice/ their minds as cold as ice' were Shakespearian in the epic grandeur of their fatalistic melancholy. At least the guy from Attitude had the courage to talk ingenuously and without irony about this aspect of the music; about its poignancy and pain. Andy Bell was slightly embarrassed about saying - of course rightly - that Abba songs were the equal of the Beatles'.

Thing is, Abba wrote real love songs. In most Pop, 'love' is a code for infatuation or sex or some combination of the two. With Abba, we were dealing with emotions that had simmered and accreted for years. Like Roxy Music, they were both confidently post-adolescent and thorougly modern. There was no question of their pretending to be teenagers or pursuing a teenage market, but unlike today's borocracy - Norah Jones, Amy Winehouse, you know - they didn't trade on a conservative, 'classic' notion of what 'adult' pop had to entail. Like Roxy, Abba were a band who could only have been formed by people in their late twenties/ early thirties. That's why the Pop Idol singers of a couple of years back struggled so ingloriously when asked to perform Abba songs. Not only because they were simply too young to have gone through the ringer, but also because their whole MO is based on a distinctly unerotic sexualised emoting. Abba never emoted, and if sex featured in their songs, it wasn't usually as their subject ('Gimme Gimme Gimme' apart natch), but as part of their emotional background; sex typically operated as a sign of betrayal, another weapon with which the estranged lovers could hurt one another.

Where boyband histrionics and emotional grandstanding leave us cold, the coldness of Abba's delivery was paradoxically intensely emotionally engaging. In many ways, a close parallel would be Krafwerk. It was the disjunction between the dispassionate, almost robotic vocals and the profound passion of the subject matter that made them so affecting.

btw, is it now a contractual requirement that Paul Ross appears on these shows? It must be some kind of industry in-joke surely.

Still, if you're looking for an Abba tribute,Marcello's remains unsurpassable. Nothing else is necessary, really.

Speaking of C4: will it soon be the case that the whole of that channel's output will be devoted to programmes that combine Althusserian interpellation - 'How clean is your house?' - with Foucauldian bio-politics? The task of disciplining the body has now passed from dysfunctional institutions to the leisure industry, which increasingly operates as a neurosis-inducing superego. C4's latest contribution to this phenomenon is the appalling '10 Years Younger', in which a hapless member of the public is subjected to a public humiliation - last night's victim was required to stand in a Manchester shopping centre while passers by were invited to guess her age - before being given a makeover worth seven and a half K. C4's renowned fixation upon the youth demographic has gone alongside an arch-conservatism - the spreading of work into every area of life. This woman looked older than her years because she wasn't working hard enough - wasn't sufficiently subjecting her body to the punitive regime of micro-hygiene and beautification demanded by the currently dominant bio-political configuration. Cf Simon's antedeluvian essay 'Against Health and Efficiency', more relevant now THAN EVER.

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April 24, 2004


Well, it's not Grime in the sense that Luka - or maybe even Alex P******s - understands it, but Rephlex's new Grime compilation is really rather excellent.

There's not a great deal of common ground between this sound (as popularized on the post-Roll Deep Rinse and at Forward) and the Wiley/ Dizzee end of Grime/ Eski. It's partly a question of geography - the 'Grime' on display here is a South, rather than an East, London t'ing'; partly about the role of the MC - whereas eski is MC-orientated (vocals are a virtual presence even on its instrumental tracks), the MC is nowhere to be heard here. In contrast with Dizzee or Wiley's graffiti-dense riot of slanguage, Grime is neutron bomb-depopulated, scoured clean of verbal hurly burly, more Canary Wharf than Billingsgate fish market.

OK, hands up. K-punk has previously sneered at what it called 'Croydon Techno'. Yet the three artists who contribute to this album - MarkOne, Plasticman and Slaughter Mob - succeed in making Croydon Techno a highly appetising proposition. The LP's cover - plain grey, emblazoned with the single word 'Grime' - threatens to bear out my previous worries about this sound being 'concrete-grey, asphalt-dull, subway anonymous.' In fact, Grime has the silver impersonality and sleekness of stainless steel.

The most obvious precursor is not techno, but techstep. It's as if the producers have rewound back past garage to the point at which jungle's last crucial phase shift fatally calcified. Techstep always flirted with stasis: it had devolved all of jungle's pulp effervescence into a viscous gloop of bass, attenuated beats and austere SF menace, which at its best had a delicious poise, a fascinatingly compulsive tension, but at its worst produced pure ennui. Grime has returned to the swamp of inertia into which techstep finally declined, dredging up the No-U-turn cyborg and relubricating its titanic joints.

It's a massive improvement on dubstep, which, although it deployed similar components - sparse breakbeats, SFX, oozing acid bass, sampled vocal refrains - achieved the curious feat of sounding both empty and lacking in space. Whereas dubstep tended to loiter without much palpable intent, Grime has an implacable Terminator-focus, a stalker's unwavering sense of purpose.

MarkOne sets the tone with the ominous, insinuating 'Stargate 92', which could almost be Tango and Ratty on serotonin-uptake-inhibitors instead of E. Plasticman's 'Pump up the Jam' resuscitates the corpse of Technotronic's barely-remembered hip-house hit of the same name, resituating the cheery hook into a desolated anhedonic plateau, like the remains of a garish poster left on the walls of a post-apocalyptic city; his 'Camel Aide', meanwhile, sheathes a cyborg endoskeleton in a synthetic skin weaved in the 4th World, conjuring a mournful mirage reminiscent of Jon Hassell. Slaughter Mob augment the bleep, break and bass formula with dancehall chat and hokey sound FX (creaking doors, owl hoots).

The album is the soundtrack for a British film that will never be made but ought to be, a Uk-punk version of Blade Runner or Total Recall, a world of vizored menace, adrenal urgency and android passion.

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Gutterlectuals unite, down with middlebrow!

'Music makes the bourgeoisie and the rebels [come together].' - Zizek

'I am convinced of my proper grasp of some Lacanian concept only when I can translate it successfully into the inherent imbecility of popular culture.' - Madonna

Well, this is too amusing to get annoyed about, really, isn't it. Simon's right: what the piece reveals about Petridis'/ the Guardian's middlebrow orientation is very telling. I guess what excited us about Pop writing back in the day was precisely what Petridis finds laughably unthinkable now: the audacity, but the intrinsic rightness, of running theory through pop. It's another example of what I was talking about yesterday re:C4, though much more explicit in its unashamed assumption of a rigid demarcation between high and low culture, between middle class and proletariat. This is perhaps all the more surprising given Petridis' championing of art rock; although perhaps not. What was great about art rock in its original form was precisely the promiscuous intermixing of elite and popular culture, of white and black. In parallel with the music press in its pomp, art schools were the places in which the proletariat - from John Lennon through to Bryan Ferry and John Foxx - got access to the resources of high culture. The new art rock, however, is resolutely white, resolutely middle-class: a reassertion of old cultural hierarchies, not a celebration of their disentangling. It's laughable that Petridis attacks Britpop for its 'conservatism' by comparison with the 'radical' (hah!) Scissor Sisters and Franz Ferdinand. I'd be the last person to defend Britpop, but simply moving forward what you're reviving by a decade or so doesn't constitute radicalism in my book.

'Lolita and Guernica/ Did the Strand.'

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April 23, 2004


Stubbs on BBC2 . Couldn't agree more. As for Channel Four, well, when I stumbled across some of the Games last week (even I couldn't watch that, honest), I thought: jesus christ, has Channel Four come to THIS? Selecting The Games as an object of disgust or talismanic indicator of C4's decline is perhaps a little arbitrary. After all, most of its homegrown output, whether it be inconsequent interior decorating/ holiday/ lifestyle shows, exploitation/ humiliation TV (Wifeswap, How Clean is Your House?) or Graham - high queen of Pomo - Norton, is depressingly poor. But sometimes you're just taken aback, y'
know. The cynical forces behind BBC2 and C4 would smile indulgently at Potter's idea that television was the real national theatre. The ultimate result of dumbing down is not, as its champions would no doubt want to claim, the collapse of cultural hierarchy and privilege. Just the opposite in fact. The increasingly prevalent belief that television is 'just trash', that demanding some standards is somehow snobbish, is actually elitism in its crudest form. 'Real' culture is to be found elsewhere, in the places the controllers of C4 and BBC2 go in their spare time. It's not for the likes of us.

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April 21, 2004


Perhaps the most troubling/ fascinating opposition in Words and Music is that Morley poses between Simon Fuller's version of Pop and the version of Pop he attributes to Kylie. The opposition just doesn't convince. I enjoyed Morley's characterization of Fuller as Agent Smith/ Burroughs' Death Dwarf, obsessively metastatizing images of himself (and/or his own banal fantasies) across the body of the mediascape. But is Kylie really opposed to 19/ FullerPop? Or did, in fact, Kylie's passage from soapactress to pop temptress, from theatre school to popstar, pave the way for Fuller's hegemony? Didn't Kylie begin to make the Perfoming Arts Popstar acceptable?

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1. If you were writing the first sentence of a piece about Paul Morley's writing in the spirit of Paul Morley's writing, your first sentence would have to be about what it would be like to write a first sentence about Paul Morley in the spirit of his writing. Because that's what Morley's fascinated by; generating whole universes out of the most minuscule of differences between something and nothing. Reflexivity. Art generated out of a description of the process of its own construction. Words as music.

2. So it is that Morley's Words and Music begins with a disquisition on, a fantasmatic encounter with, a memory - or perhaps a false, certainly enhanced - memory of listening to Alvin Lucier's I am sitting in a Room. I am sitting in a Room finds Lucier reading an account of what he is doing - sitting in a room, recording onto tape - onto tape. He then records the recording, records the re-recording, until multiple new texts are generated. As if from nothing...

3. Words and Music is a history of Pop Music from P to M, from prehistory to mp3, from post to modern, from pleasure to memory.

4. It's a map of Pop in the shape of a man.

5. Morley P, (or MPthreeO as he will be called in the glittering city of Pop he projects as the telos towards which Words and Music) moves, is the missing link between Raymond Roussel and Tom Ewing.

6. Morley's key kase studies are often k's. Kraftwerk are pivotal: the point at which minimalism and experimentalism (Art!) bleed into Pop. In Morley's lab, Kraftwerk beget (by entirely artificial means of course) Kylie, Morley's Virgil, his guide-driver through the virtual Pop paradiso of Words and Music.

7. It's a very 2001 work. No-one would have (de)centred a Pop (anti-meta)narrative around the (bl)android Kylie in 1997, nor in 2004. It was only in 2001, in the slipstream of 'Can't Get You Out of My Head' that anyone (apart from maybe Angus) would have dreamt of elevating Kylie to quite so elevated a role. Kylie converges with another k, Kubrick, as reality converges with SF. She is the missing link between Barbarella and 2001: A Space Oddysey. You can imagine, Morley says, and as you read this, you will imagine it, HAL singing, as its mind starts to go, 'Can't Get You Out of My Head' instead of 'Daisy, Daisy'.

9. Can Kylie bear the weight of fantasy required to sustain such a role? She's too much the Popborg that Morley conjures; a glittering screen for all his fantasies, a blank canvas on which anything can be projected. There's very little remainder or surplus. She's the driven, not the driver.

10. k-punk beams with pleasure to note that John Foxx gets at least three mentions. (Both Metamatic and one of its tracks, 'He's a Liquid', feature in one of Morley's many best-of lists.)

11. Words and Music is much less than Nothing. Nothing was not-not an autobiography, not-not a novel, not-not a Pop book... Words and Music doesn't succeed in reinventing the possibilities of what a book can be in the way that Nothing did. Partly because it's more the sort of book you would expect Morley to write; there is none of the painful revelation, the insight into the relationship between embarrassment and pop dreams. Some of the prose seems, dare I say it, listless, almost bored. So much of it seems like Morley on autopilot, turning out his (albeit elegant) riffs in a somewhat offhand way.

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Taylor Parkes' review of the reissued Grotesque.

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April 16, 2004


Zizek: 'In some "radical" circles in the US, there came recently a proposal to "rethink" the rights of necrophiliacs (those who desire to have sex with dead bodies) — why should they be deprived of it? So the idea was formulated that, in the same way people sign permission for their organs to be used for medical purposes in the case of their sudden death, one should also allow them to sign the permission for their bodies to be given to necrophiliacs to play with them.'

The thing about Zizek is that you have to love his writing, even if you disagree with it, even if, in fact, you find very little to agree with in it. He might just be the model academic in that he elucidates the otherwise impenetrable idiolect of abstruse theory by using the vernacular of Pop cult allusion, and he makes it seems as if the two were made for one another. The one thought that never occurs when you read Zizek is: what's the point of Theory? Zizek shows that everything - from the smallest Popcult trifle to the gravest Geopolitical catastrophe - is saturated with Theory, can only be opened up by Theory.

Any way, you can read lots of Zizek at lacan dot com. I'd particularly recommend his two essays on Iraq (you can get to these straight off the front page) and some of his contributions to the online journal, Symptom, especially Passion in the Era of Decaffeinated Belief and Welcome to the Desert of the Real.

The best introduction to Zizek is Zizek's own writing. But if you want something by someone else, try this.

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Most played videos on MTV Hits and The Box:

D12 - this is on every ten minutes. Flick off one channel and you'll find it's just starting on another. I don't necessarily mind this.

Eamon - as someone was suggesting on Blissblog, it's the anti(dote to)'Slowjamz' (the weird absences where the obscenities have been cut out functioning like the ******s in the tabloid renderings of Becks' textsex) - a kind of exquisitely prolonged seduction-in-reverse.

Beyonce - intolerable, surely even the most diehard fan must agree. But does she have any, actually? Diehard fans I mean. Beyonce belongs in a cosmos of cool consumer choice, not fanaticism, you purchase the album on the way to Carpet World, you buy it in the same way that you buy pot pourri or air freshener, and for essentially the same reasons. She vampirically leeches the libido out of everything she comes into contact with, translating eroticism's sleaze and secretions into a paradoxically dull gloss.

Black Eyed Peas - the new Fugees. Spizzazzz's Lil Missy Mack hates the girl in BEP (who I think is called Ferdy?) Have you noticed the way her image has been progressively cleaned-up? In the video for 'Where is the Love' she looked trailer-trash grubby, all piercings, unwashed, pony-tail scrunched hair, streetwalker jogging pants and glowers to the camera; by the time of 'Shut Up', she was issued with a wardrobe advisers' simulation of hip hop sportswear; now, in the 'Hey Mamma' clip, she's decked out in short skirt and midriff-revealing crop top, hair and eyes shining with an inhuman lustre.

Basement Jaxx - has, sadly, seemingly disappeared from the play list. Looks like I'll have to go elsewhere for my fembot kicks.

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Status Quo playing Ska ---- that's what the new Streets single sounds like.

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April 15, 2004



On this abstraction thing, started by David Stubbs, and taken up by Woebot, amongst others: first of all, Angus is definitely right, music is INHERENTLY abstract and non-representational. (On fiction versus visual art: Burroughs famously remarked that writing is lagging one hundred years behind visual art.)

I do wonder though if the supposed appeal of experimental visual art as opposed to its sonic counterpart isn't partly to do with what people are prepared to SAY they like. I'd question whether people really like much experimental art; though for some reason, it's become fashionable to claim to, so there's some kudos to be had for mooching listlessly around galleries (like Ian Penman - c'mon IP time for another post! - I've never really got the hang of what one's supposed to do in galleries). Course this begs the question of WHY it's become fashionable - even compulsory - to pretend to a taste for avant-garde art.

On the other hand, it's almost certainly the case that people enjoy experimental music more than they think they do. Witness the use of experimental composers on television and in films. The BBC Radiophonic orchestra (which re-situated all manner of avant-garde trickery in the most banal settings) is one example; Kubrick (with his use of Penderecki and Ligeti) is another. When this music is given a context and a function, when it is not at the centre of people's attention, they can find a use for it.

Actually, this argument is underscored by Paul Morley's Words and Music(which I'm just hitching a lift through). A central drift of Morley's argument is that the most opulent superpopulist Pop (Kylie!) is indebted to the avant-garde at its most forbiddingly austere (LaMonte Young, Cage, Stockhausen). Course, as PM would be the first to admit, this is less a 'real' story than a reflection of Morley's long-cherished PostModernist dream, what he attempted to script and sculpt with Z.T.T.'s concept-Pop. The vindication of the avant-garde by Pop, and vice versa.

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On the Kanye debate between Blissblog and Woebot:

Simon: 'With Kanye, I just think it's intriguing how he's praised for doing something that Puff Daddy was reviled for. '

Hmmmm, interesting, but I think there are differences:

1.I think we need to insist upon the point that Simon somewhat grudgingly makes (re: mixtapes and DJing) that SELECTION is as important as ORIGINATION. In hyperdub culture, editing is not some secondary or derivative process; it's what everything's about. The contrast of Kanye with Puffy proves this; although their methodologies are similar , the results are very different. (Kanye is brilliant; Puffy was wack).

2. 'Through the Wire' is perhaps atypical of The College Dropout in being, as Simon says, almost exclusively based on one sample. Even 'Slowjamz' has much more music in it than 'Wire' (the hook is sung rather than sampled). Luke's favourite 'Jesus Walks', meanwhile, is a widescreen, Ray Harryhausen-style sonic epic.

3. As I recall - and I've thankfully managed to expunge the memory of most of Puffy's records - Puffy tended not to sample vocals, whereas most of Kanye's samples are of voice. Not sure what implication this has!

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April 14, 2004


More substantial posts planned (been absorbing content, y'know how it is). but for now I'd like to draw your attention to the some new blogs on the blog roll (including some WOMEN....)

First up, three blogs by the same (unnamed) author: H.U.H.? , desire, rage, liberation and theses you should write. Robin's already drawn attention to this post on Nietzsche and blogging. Funnily enough, I've been teaching Beyond Good and Evil this year, and only the other week, the similarity between Nietzsche's aphoristic method and blogging occurred to me. But I was too slow off the mark, so H.U.H.? beat me to it. Can I also reccomend H.U.H's call for a Zizekian analysis of Sex and the City? Mr Big as the Void : like it. Or should I say, lack it? Theses You Should Write is also a lot of fun. It does exactly what it says on the tin: suggests thesis topics for popcult analysis, including, 'Dirrty Cyborg: Reading Christina Aguilera as a construction of post-human sexuality' and 'Britney Spears does not exist: Simulacra and stimulation in immaterial pop culture.'

Both of these blogs came courtesy of glueboot (which itself came via Undercurrent - ah, the joys of networking!).Glueboot is a nice mixture of philosophical musing and popcult rant (naturally I second the savaging of Love, Actually - on principle, of course, since I haven't deigned to see it).

Plus long-overdue links to Peking O and Body Parts. As Luke and Oliver have been saying for some time, these blogs refresh the parts that other blogs do not reach: they're idiosyncratic, off-kilter, totally non-journalistic/ journalese, and free of all references to music.

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Best spambot-generated title yet:

eat derriere episcopal derogate acuity dingo felsite cutworm bituminous attitude adequate thereunder vibrate byte vast influent censorious dote hester foster hammond dyer adherent daughter jewell squatter sleeve spokesmen

It could almost be heronbone!

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April 10, 2004

Here's one for Robin: Ghost Face killa versus random spam text. (Link courtesy of Flyboy.

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April 09, 2004

Whore Cull on England Expects. (Glad to see that they agree that pissing on the smugocrat trader was a gratifying moment.) While yr there, check out the 'Thames Valley Tossers' post below, hilarious stuff....

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April 08, 2004


k-punk's attempt to answer Polly Toynbee's article on Trevor Phillips and Scott's qualified defence of it in the comments to the England Expects post.

Scott: the first four paragraphs are pretty much just establishing the facts so that's OK.

Well, what worries me about what Toynbee says here is the import of her claims that it 'was never about objective facts' and that '[t]he hard political task is to calm the way people feel.' Granted, she's right that the anti-immigrant mania was never rational, was never based upon objective facts, but what troubles me is the implication that we should abandon facts rather than insist upon them more than ever. It's only by making hard economic arguments - about the need for immigrants, about the vibrancy immigrants produce in a culture - that we'll persuade many of the sceptics (if indeed they are persuadable; that's obviously questionable, to say the least).

para. 5: "but the most dangerous divide now is in culture - and that means Muslim: ask the BNP" from the POV of the BNP supporter, that is agreeable in itself. so i admit you can argue about that til the cows come home.

Well, the distinction between 'race' and 'culture' isn't a given. After all, as Gilroy argues, race isn't a biological category, it's a cultural enforcement. Besides, in effect, muslims have been racialized, castigated as a racial other, in the BNP imaginary.

'British Muslims arrested last week as terror suspects had families as British as Meera Syal's - yet culturally they inhabit another universe.' That's precisely the reason that immigration needs to be teased apart from the 'cultural'/ religious question. The relationship between the two is tangential, indirect. If 'we' stopped all immigration tomorrow, the Islamist terror threat would remain. Maybe that's what she's saying... but 'race', 'culture', 'religion', 'immigration', they're connected in complex ways; this is where the rational arguments, the objective facts, need to insisted upon.

para. 6 mebbe you think sounds a bit fogeyish but aw shucks.

Yeh, not much to contest there.

para. 7: "Embrace modern British values that include laws on equality for women....No, it doesn't mean tearing off schoolgirls' headscarves"; well, this is nice, surely.


para. 8 seems fair play. you can't pick who's going to pick up and run w' you, even if you believe that what someone is saying means - inevitably - only some ppl will run w' them, and not others (in Toynbee land, this means not minding Tebbit praising him whilst Vaz stamps his feet). there's nothing too bad about this is there?

No, but Tebbit's support does one give some pause ...

para. 9 makes me feel a bit queasy, granted. but "...the context has changed" sounds reasonable?

Yeh, but the idea that the union jack is 'our collective symbol' is not very convincing; partly for the reasons Toynbee enumerates.

the last two paras. admittedly leave a lot to be desired. confusing whatever bad points she sees in certain strains of multiculturalism with the Islamofascist project per se is a bit dodgy (well, more than a bit), i guess.

Yeh, it's a disastrous equivocation. Plus both Toynbee and Phillips are begging the question of what multi-culturalism means, or could mean. Toynbee seems to follow Phillips in thinking that multi-culturalism has to mean separatism (or multi-monoculturalism). What is a better example of multi-culturalism: a muslim-only school in Bradford or grime?

final analysis though, i'm just quite grateful that Toynbee (who i don't normally feel, i admit), writes "There will be no surprise, either, if the Tories use any minor immigration scam to stir ill-founded fear of chaos on the borders, especially as May 1 EU expansion day approaches" at the end. frankly, i'm liable to let lots of really dodgy things sweep past my radar in my haste to embrace ppl that are just generally ready to shout at certain tabloids in the whole economic migrants/asylum seeker debate.

See where your coming from, absolutely. But this is not the time to be conceding any ground to the far right. I know Toynbee doesn't intend to do that, but the rhetoric of 'the end of multi-culturalism' plays into their hands, I think.

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Just watched all six episodes of the BBC's 1982 production of Le Carre's Smiley's People.

Smiley's People needs to be sipped, savoured, swilled around the palate like the fine vintage it is; to be enjoyed as a cure for the attention-atrophying aphasia of Now TV's kwick-kutting migraine. It takes its langurous but assured pace from Guinness, for whom the word 'lugubrious' might have been invented. After the set-up preamble in the first episode, there's barely a frame of the drama which Guinness doesn't dominate. But his dominance, like Smiley's, arises from a quiet natural authority that disdains the tasteless excesses of ostentation and histrionics. Unlike Olivier, Guinness is a natural film and television actor. His understatedness, his mastery of the micro-gesture, make his performances ideally suited to the close-up; he knows he doesn't need to bark and mug in order to project to the back row. Comparisons with the likes of shouting prancers such as Gary Oldman are so invidious that I won't pursue them. Guinness' well-heeled subtelty is infectious; everyone in the cast plays their part to minor-key perfection.

Narratively, Smiley's People makes little if no sense without the background provided by Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, but, much to its credit, the adaptation doesn't pander to audience expectations by shoehorning embarrassingly contrived recapitulations into the plot; the references to the previous serial are elliptical and oblique. The back story - Smiley's lifelong struggle with his monkish and enigmatic double, Karla of 'Moscow centre'; Karla's penetration into the heart of the Secret Service/ 'Circus', whose total destruction is only narrowly averted by Smiley's uncovering of Karla's mole, Bill Haden, a partial victory which does little to assuage the professional and personal defeat effected by Haden's affair with Smiley's wife, Ann - emerges via offhand allusions, questions, loose threads. In any case, affectively, it's clear what is at stake; Guinness can convey the weight of a lifetime of accreted pain, disappointment and stifled expectation in his movement across a room, in the way he wipes his spectacles . Guiness's deflections of the constant inquiries about Ann's wellbeing - themselves multi-levelled interrogations, combining superficial politeness with genuine concern and a salt-in-the-wound crowing at Smiley's fatally compromised masculinity - are a masterclass in nuance.

Smiley is famously the anti-Bond; not the roue but the wronged husband, not a man of action but an expert manipulator and methodical researcher. He is the rotund, white-templed real to Bond's eternally virile fantasy. Yet Smiley is now as much a part of the British mythscape as Bond, or Sherlock Holmes. Eternally dutiful and imperturbably patient, he is the cuckolded Arthur to Ann's Quinevere and Bill Haden's Launcelot, a prince in a Lacanian tragedy.

Both Tinker, Tailor and Smiley's People are dominated by two virtual absences: Ann (Sian Phillips) and Karla (Patrick Stewart). Over the twelve hours of both serials, Karla and Ann cannot occupy more than ten minutes of screen-time between them. Karla's role in the first serial is confined to flashback scenes of his legendary encounter with Smiley in Delhi when the British agent let the Soviet spymaster 'slip through his fingers.' Both serials' le petit objet a is the cigarette lighter - a gift from Anne - Karla took from Smiley during this meeting. 'It's only a Ronson,' Smiley observes, well aware of the symbolic freight that this slightest of material objects - tossed aside by Karla at the serial's conclusion in an ilegible gesture: an acknowledgement of defeat? a sign of continuing defiance? - carries. Incredible to reflect, given his luvvy hamming as Capt. Picard, that Stewart does not say a word in either serial. But his reticence lends Karla's rare appearances an electricity, a glowering, inscrutable intensity for which no amount of overblown speechifying could substititute.

Ironic about the possibility of restoring lost unity, of placating life's perpetual aches, Smiley is the successful Lacanian analysand par excellence. When Karla is finally captured in Berlin, when the cigarette lighter is returned (the fort-da game temporarily at an end, the lost object back in Smiley's grasp), Smiley's loyal lieutenant, Peter Guillam, turns to him. 'You've won, George.'

There's more than British restraint, phlegmatic containment, behind Smiley's reply. He's attained a Spinozistic wisdom, an awareness 'that there can be no hope without fear, and no fear without hope'. Far from embittering him, pain and reversal have bequeathed to Smiley an indifference to the fickle viscissitudes of outrageous fortune that is 'philosophical' in both the colloquial, and the rigorously Spinozistic, sense. His unflappable dispassionate calm is an end in itself.

'Yes,' Smiley says, 'I suppose I have.'

Posted by mark at 03:40 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Album of the year


Matt's sooooo right.

The Kanye West LP is a masterpiece. Only the Junior Boys LP is remotely in its class this year.

I'm hooked. It's as sweetly addictive as Al Green or Julee Cruise or Scritti circa Cupid and Psyche.


- With its juxtaposition of celestial longing and hypernaturalist kynicism, 'Spaceship' is in many ways the album's signature track. Kanye's working a two-bit job ('this grave shift... like the slave ship'), idly fantasising about fleeing the planet. You could hear it as an earthbound elegy for the cosmic escapism of Funkadelic and Parliament, their dreams of interplanetary lines of flight as exploded as the Challenger space shuttle in the face of 00's drearealism.

- The samples. Like rave's spEded-up samples of yore, Kanye's trademark technique of pitching up vox (which are typically taken from 70s soul) has the effect of both dehumanizing and ultra-feminizing his vocal sources. The result is literally divine: West restores ecstasy to its sense of religious rapture. The Marvin Gaye sample in 'Spaceship' ---- the trembling 'heaven knows' ---- is a shiver/ sliver of pure yearning, both a reproach to human limitations and a breaching of them. The gorgeous Luther Vandross steal in 'Slowjamz' ('it's gonna be, it's gonna be, well, well...') and the Chaka Khan sample in 'Through the Wire' you already know about, the lovely Michael Bolton reconstruction on 'Never Let Me Down' you've probably already heard about.

- its diffuse eroticism. As Jamie Foxx establishes in his introduction, 'Slowjamz' is a song attuned to women's desire. In place of crunk's scopo/necrophiliac nihilibido, synergetically fused with porn's testicular thermodynamics, Kanye slow-cooks his grooves to simulate/ stimulate the simmering anti-climactic waves of female desire.

- its words. If you think 'Slowjamz' and 'Through the Wire' are mellifluously poignant, wait till you hear Syleena Johnson's throaty plaint on 'All Falls Down'. This has all the 'What's Going On'-acuity claimed for the Black Eyed Peas' 'Where is the Love', minus the preachy piety. The College Drop Out never has a simple message, an easy moral (indeed, its attacks on education are frankly puzzling).

- Miri Ben-Ari's vertiginous, cakewalk-crazy string arrangements, heard to best effect on 'Workout', an alternative universe's version of DJ Caspar's 'Cha Cha Slide'; just when you think it's reached its peak of funhouse frenzy, Kanye throws in a lascivious Zapp-style vododer.

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April 07, 2004


The thing is, Knight's problem is, there isn't the fit between nationality, culture and - most nebulous of all - race that he wants and needs there to be. As Knight ruefully remarks a propos East European immigrants, being 'white' is no longer a guarantee that 'they' are 'one of us'.

The globalization Knight fears and detests actually has at least two, wholly different - even opposed - senses.

There's a telling moment when Knight learns that his job might be under threat because of a reorganization initiated by his employers' American parent company. Why doesn't Knight's lament for 'lost' Englishness become transposed into a rage against the homogenizing effects of American culture? On the face of it, Knight's anger could just as easily go in the direction of a certain version of anti-capitalism. Or: the Far Right are already anti-capitalist, since capitalism presupposes a level of multi-national miscegenation it finds intolerable. Yet Knight's reflexes are always to racialize; to blame the Jews not the Americans.

The other type of globalization Knight loathes is religious supra-nationality, the Islamic 'umma', the religious community that has no respect for national borders. This is what he fears; the Muslims owe their first affinity to their religion, not to this nation. They are Enemies within, traitors.

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I'm not sure what to make of the BBC's drama of a couple of nights back, England Expects.

In the current climate of toothless police dramas, pointless star vehicles and anodyne political correctness, I suppose the BBC could be considered brave for tackling the raw topic of racism and its relationship to politics . TV 'drama's' tendency is to reduce racial/ racist politics to a flip manicheanism, but England Expects, at least in its first hour, made an attempt to explore the complexities of the motivations of its lead character Ray Knight (well played by Stephen Mackintosh) .

In some respects, England Expects' analysis of racist psychology shared something with Potter's in Brimstone and Treacle. Speaking in The Times, writer Frank Deasy said that, 'For the people I spoke to (Deasy conducted extensive interviews with far-right activists) there’s a great deal of nostalgia for the way things used to be.' Like Potter's Bates, Knight's deepest yearning was to turn the clock back.

Twenty years ago, the issue would have been white-black. Not in England Expects. Knight's best friend at work was black, and while he would have 'preferred a few less' blacks, it was clear that his main problem was with Muslims/Asians and, less obviously but equally significantly, with Jews. Knight saw Jews as the agents of a cosmopolitan modernity, the secret rulers of the New World Order. Interestingly, Knight's racism was strongly correlated with a hostility to globalization. Both his superiors at the Canary Wharf firm at which he worked as a security guard and his neighbours at home (on the drug-riddled estate on which he lived) were representatives of the new globalized world which had stripped him of all place, all identity. (Although, in some ways, as Deasy suggested in The Times, in the white racist imaginary, Muslims feature as a counter-modern tendency: 'one of the reasons Muslim communities are coming under attack from far-right groups is an element of envy — having extended families that work, having faith that works. They have values, a cultural identity.')

England Expects also highlighted the way in which the BNP has appropriated working class grievances which would previously have been the province of socialism. If the NF of the seventies were ultimately undermined by the incorporation of their agenda into the political mainstream by the Tories, then the opposite may be happening now. Labour's capitulation to the Right agenda, its risible attempts to appear tougher than the Tories (can anyone remember that memorable Friday Night Armistice Sketch in which N. Labour were seen threatening to kill a pet cat to demonstrate their 'strength'?), its refusal to vigorously defend the benefits of immigration, has led to a creeping legitimation of the BNP's views. The BNP are also almost certainly profiting from the deproletranization of parliamentary politics. Blair's desperate pursuit of the middle ground, his courting of the likes of Potter's Bates, his purging of the Labour Party of all associations with the working class, has left white proletarian rage nowhere to go but the Far Right, so that Knight's first instinct when things were going badly in his life was to look to racial, not class, causes. It perhaps says something for my own class pathologies that I shared Knight's anger towards the smug David Watts-type trader who got the woman he was pursuing; but Knight articulated his hostility towards him, not in terms of his wealth or success, but his jewishness.

England Expects was broadcast two days after Trevor Phillips, head of the Commission for Racial Equality, called in The Times for an end to 'multi-culturalism.' Phillips' argument seemed to equate 'multiculturalism' with 'separatism', and, the juxtaposition of a headline decrying multiculturalism with an Islamist cleric burning a union jack was uh a little inflammatory, to say the least. The Times wheeled out a self-satisfied Norman Tebbit to express his pleasure that the left were finally beginning to see the light. Jeez.

So Morrissey's new single, 'Irish Blood, English Heart,' couldn't be more topical. Who is he speaking for - Knight, Bates, Tebbit, Phillips? - when he sings the following: 'I've been dreaming of a time when/ to be English is not to be baneful/ to be standing by the flag, not feeling shameful / racist or racial.' The problem is that Morrissey's very dream is itself racist, since what would such a time be if not a time when there were far fewer black or brown faces in England, when the Empire was feverishly exploiting Africa and Asia? There's something to Phillips' claim that we require an inclusive Britishness but that will have to be articulated in terms of a future cultural identity. All appeals to a lost British past can only play to the psychopathology of our Ray Knights.

Posted by mark at 01:41 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

April 06, 2004


Troubled Diva with a broadside against pop in the 2000s. Is it too late to restart the poptimism wars?

(But with Basement Jaxx, Kanye West, Usher and hell [Simon's right] even Maroon 5, I'm feeling pretty poptimistic myself at the moment.)

But don't quote me on that.

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I was somewhat distressed to learn from Popjustice that up-and-coming cutting edge experimental NY popsters the Scissor Sisters were greeted with indifference bordering on contempt at London's G.A.Y. recently.

Seriously, though, it's good to see that k-punk's grassroots campaign is paying off. :-)

Posted by mark at 10:41 AM | TrackBack


k-punk and undercurrent make it into Classic Cafes' Britannia Moribundia section.

Thanks, Mr Maddox.

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You may have heard of tulipmania, a seventeenth century craze in the grip of which people potlached their fortunes on new strains of the flower, speculating wildly on their future value. Lurid tales of noble families whose whole accumulated wealth was squandered on a single bulb tempted many an analyst to make a parallel between tulipmania and the dot com boom .

Well, I'm very sorry to tell you that, according to Saturday's Times, tulipmania was a myth, invented in the nineteenth century by the Scottish journalist Charles Mackay in his book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. Apparently Peter Garber, head of Global Strategy at Deutsche Bank, has done all the number-cruching, establishing that “little economic distress was associated with the end of the tulipmania.”

I guess there's an interesting hyperstitional take on how Mackay's 'confabulation' - and its later fictionalization by Alexander Dumas - came to influence economists like Galbraith, but I'm too deflated to come up with it at the moment.

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April 05, 2004


Matt wins best joke of the week for his Craner vs Craner hyperlink. LOL, or should that be ha ha?

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Mary Poppins Satanist shock.

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The worst aspect of Dennis Potter's final two indulgent and indulged works (Cold Lazarus and Karaoke) was that they had the effect of retrospectively introducing doubts over everything else he'd done. Could he possibly be anything like as good as we'd always believed?

Actually, there's a case for saying that, if 1986's The Singing Detective marked the peak of Potter's career, it also preceded a slow and painful decline. It would only be slightly harsh to say that everything after 1986 was either formulaic reiteration (Lipstick On Your Collar) or tortuously introspective, failed experimentalism (Blackeyes, the film Secret Friends). By the time of his death in 1994, Potter had been lionized by the great and good everywhere, his reputation for controversy forgotten (or forgiven?). Melvyn Bragg's famous interview-cum-hagiography elevated Potter to the state of an unimpeachable morphine saint. All of this solemnity had the effect of devitalizing Potter's work, prematurely shrouding it with all the cobwebs of respectability and reverence.

Well, thanks to Sphaleotas I had the opportunity to see Potter's 1976 masterpiece Brimstone and Treacle again very recently. (The play is shortly to be reissued as part of a must-have Potter DVD boxset, which also includes The Singing Detective, Pennies From Heaven and Casanova). In 2004, when TV drama is corporate, committee-driven, blandly homogenous, Potter looks even more of an anomaly than ever. Today, there's almost no way of identifying TV dramas by who has written them; they are routinely conceived of as vehicles for actors, not authors. By contrast, even at its worst, Potter's work was marked by an indelible signature, characterised by a singular VISION. (The tendency to fall back on these trademark elements without remixing them was one of the weaknesses of his last pieces). It's hard to imagine that Potter's peculiar portfolio of obsessions and techniques (his playful anti-naturalism, his disturbed disquisitions on sexuality, politics and religion, his loving interrogation of the appeal of pop music and pulp genres, his exemplification/ analysis of misogyny) would get past our 00's culture's gatekeepers (which might be tolerant of representations of sex, but which are, in every other way, more censorious than those of the 70s). As The Independent pointed out when it reappraised Potter in the light of the US film version of The Singing Detective, his influence is more likely to be felt on American than on British TV, in an expressionist drama such as Six Feet Under or even in the delirial departures from naturalism of something like Ally McBeal.

In any case, Potter did fall foul of 70s sensibilities with Brimstone and Treacle. Filmed in March 1976, it was due for broadcast as a Play For Today in April, but was pulled at the last minute when the BBC authorities quailed at its 'nauseating' qualities. It didn't surface until over a decade later, when, in the wake of the success of The Singing Detective, the play was eventually shown in 1987. An inferior film version, starring Sting, was released in 1982.

Brimstone and Treacle features a young Michael Kitchen as the devil. In an echo of Potter's earlier 'visitation' plays, Kitchen's character, Martin, inveigles himself into people's lives and homes by cold reading them like a stage hypnotist.

Potter's vision of evil is a million miles away from the white-catting portentousness or Pacino-like histrionics to which countless cliched cinema renderings have accustomed us. Kitchen's devil is impeccably polite, insufferably, cloyingly nice, sanctimoniously religiose. 'Religiose' is a word Potter used with a particular contempt, carefully contrasting its pious pomposity with what he saw as the genuine religious sensibility.

The play opens with two epigraphs: the first from Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling:'there dwells infinitely more good in a demoniac than in a trivial person', the second from Mary Poppins ('A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down'). For Kierkegaard, the most pressing danger for Christianity was not doubt, but the kind of bluff certainty peddled by pompous philosophers like Hegel. Kierkegaard's Faith was indistinguishable from terrible anxiety. The paradox of Faith for Kierkegaard was that, if God completely revealed himself, Faith would be unnecessary. Faith is not a form of knowing; on the contrary. Kierkegaard's models were Abraham on the day he was asked to sacrifice Isaac and Jesus' disciples: tormented by uncertainty, unmoored from any of society's ethical anchors, staking their life on fabulous improbabilities.

Martin is a perverse double of 76's most iconic of icons, Johnny Rotten, that demonic purge of trivia and mediocrity. If Rotten's Nietzscheanism ('I yam an antichrist') concealed a burning core of righteousness, Martin's surface charm belies malevolence. At the limit though, what both Rotten and Martin show is the deep complicity of ‘good’ and ‘evil’, their mutual interdependence. Both Martin and Rotten are ultimately deliverers, destroyers of fragile status quos, bringers of disequlibrium and agents of chaos. Punk's greatest disgust was with the trivial and the mediocre, with the existential death of boredom. The decadence would be cleansed by rage (cf the apopleptic Colin Blakeley in Potter's 69 version of Christ's life, Son of Man.)

Brimstone and Treacle begins with Martin accosting Denholm Elliott's Mr Bates in the street. Martin's questioning quickly establishes that Bates has a daughter, suffering from apparently incurable neurological damage after being hit by a car two years previously. Posing as an unrequited admirer of the daughter, Pattie, Martin insinuates his way into the Bates' home.

The house is a suburban fortress incubating quiet desperation, nagging frustration and unspoken betrayals. You can almost smell the house, thick with the stench of unaired rooms, the pulped food with which Pattie is spoonfed --- and despair. Martin's incursion is greeted with initial suspicion and circumspection by Mr Bates, but welcomed by the easily beguiled Mrs Bates (Patricia Lawrence), eager to clutch at any potential escape route from the treadmill of drudgery in which she is confined. While Bates has given up any hope of Pattie recovering, his wife cherishes the seemingly impossible dream of a miraculous return to health.

Kitchen's performance is magnificent, but it is Elliott who steals the show. He manages, incredibly, to make the obnoxious and unpleasant Bates, a neophyte National Front supporter, painfully sympathetic. The scene in which Bates regales his wife and Martin with a desperately unfunny Irish 'joke' is excruciating. Elliot renders Bates’ typical expression as a grimace - of irritation, suppressed rage, bewilderment. It is the expression of a whole class’s, a whole generation’s, incredulity that the world no longer belongs to them, if it ever did. Bates’ political pathology is rooted in a bewildered and misconceived nostalgia, a bleary and inarticulate longing for the world to be like it used to be. He’s a bit like the average Britpop fan would be twenty years later.

Potter is at his most politically acute here, in his exposing of the proximity of a respectable, 'common-sense', Daily Mail agenda to that of the Far Right. Potter locates Anglo-fascism's 70s heartland behind the politely manicured lawns and privet hedges of suburbia. Martin wins Bates over by agreeing with him that ‘we need to get rid of the blacks’. ‘It’s so good to have an intelligent conversation like this,’ Bates enthuses, cracking open the scotch. However, Martin’s gleeful description of what will happen when ‘they won’t go’ – ‘we’ll round them up, put them in camps’ – makes Bates blanche. Mrs Bates is not so convinced. ‘You can be too nice you know.

Brimstone and Treacle is disturbing, ethically opaque. It is a troubling for reasons other than those of cultural or political conservatism. The denouement sees Martin's raping of Pattie shocking her into an unexpected recovery (which itself prompts the play’s final shocking revelation, which I won’t give away for the sake of those who haven’t seen it yet). There is no easily digestible ‘message.’ It’s a bitter pill rather than a spoonful of sugar.

Thanks to Sphaleotas for the tape, the conversations and the research.

Posted by mark at 06:11 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack


I've just thought who that twat from Scissor Sisters reminds me of. OK, we've established that he sounds like Leo Sayer --- but he looks like no-one so much as Rik from the Young Ones. Check it!

More serious posts later on today, I promise.

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April 04, 2004


What's the funniest thing on the Mr Agreeable page?

For sheer cruel accuracy, the description of Bobby Gillespie's dancing is hard to beat:

'Gillespie when dancing, looks like a baby giraffe maliciously dressed up in Keith-Richard-style leathers, trying to keep its balance on a freshly polished floor strewn with marbles.'


But for belly laughs (in every sense) the pay-off line in his Raging Bull is priceless:

'Still, how often, when De Niro’s Academy Award-winning performance is cited, do they bring up in awestruck tones how he bulked up 40 pounds for the final scenes? An Oscar for getting fat! They should give me one.'

However, the page which reduced me to uncontrolled hysterics when I read it at work the other day, was Mrs Agreeable's reply to a correspondent enquiring about the health of Princess Margaret:

'You souffle-brained, lachrymose f***ing shower of shit! It's bad enough that you gave a toss about that big-nosed, self-obsessed, shag-happy dinner-vomiting, holiday-taking f***ing hoorah but that other useless f***ing carcinogenic sack of gin? F*** right off! The sooner the f***ing monarchy are dragged out along the f***ing Mall by their f***ing heels and f***ing beheaded in Trafalgar c***ing Square, their dogs skewered, their horses eaten and Buckingham Palace converted into a f***ing brewery, the f***ing better! Prune-faced pack of c***s!'

Y'see, you can't read it without shuddering with laughter. Pure invective, unmitigated by any sophistication, subtelty or decorum.

Soooo therapeutic. More Mrs Agreeable, please, DS.

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April 03, 2004

April 01, 2004


What a horrible thought.

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