Saturday, 25 February 2017
I was re-reading the classic Dick Hebdige’s Subculture: The Meaning Of Style. The book was one of the first to academically and intelligently examine, explore and research pop and rock music as a social movement. It’s right up my street.
The book is from 1979 but I’d like to draw some sections from part 6 (the unnatural break).
When a subculture first explodes into newsdesks, the mainstream often react with alarmist language with fluctuates between “dread and fascination, outrage and amusement”. As a subculture begins to “strike its own eminently marketable pose” it becomes more recognisably familiar. To this extent, it ceases to be the shocking and the mainstream will attempt to do two traps:
1. It will absorb and manage the art, fashion, ideas and conventions of the sub-culture for mass-marketable and mass-produced commodification. Bands will be offered lucrative, but restrictive, record deals. Fashion will be copied and cloned. Ideas will be watered down and liberally generalised.
2. It will be re-defined as deviant behaviour by power structures, e.g. the church, the law, the media, the politicians. Whatever the subculture stands for will be dismissed or reimaged to suit the narrative enforced by dominant groups.
Obviously Hebdige saw this happen within years of punk rock’s first explosion in 1976. The first trap has been used countless times to adapt punk, from The Clash’s signing to CBS to the commercialisation of raves in the 90s to the landfill emo and indie bands of the 00s.
The second one is more interesting in the status quo’s attempt to transform punk into an object, including the people involved in the subculture. Quoting Roland Barthes, Hebdige suggests that punk becomes a spectacle, a clown. The punks become “dangerous aliens and boisterous kids, wild animals and wayward pets.” Clearly some punk bands would flaunt this tag with pride, but others would be frustrated their message, ideas and art is treated as an othering oddity.
As much as many punks (perhaps Joy Division, The Adicts, PiL, The Slits, The Damned, Siouxise & The Banshees) would love to be seen as something inhuman, or a twisted glorious pastiche of humanity (being the “poison in the human machine”), others more connected with a solid political message or class identity would struggle with this lack of autonomy (The Clash, Stiff Little Fingers, The Redskins and the subsequent Oi! waves).
To this extent, Hebdige cites numerous articles in the media where punk becomes a silly pastime, a hobby related to fancy dress and being a silly phase. Punk has its teeth filed down. The Enemy has been tamed.
The punk scene at the moment holds no major threat to the mainstream, either cultural or musical. It’s content to sit inside its own scenes and venues. The music being made is superb and strong, the communities supportive and the fire no less hotter than ever before. However ambition is more about living a life of album-to-album and festival-to-festival. Rather than a gauntlet to the mainstream music world, it’s a solid alternative proving we don’t need Radio 1 or NME, we just need a PA and some mates. Political, bands are still dedicated to causes and activism, the two blurring into one another in both lyrics and direct action. Whilst the emo genre is still toyed around as a commercial plaything (see Trap 1) after 40 years, punk has been able to shrug off the redefinitions of silliness or clowning, or rather embrace them and reclaim them in many respects.
But I can’t help but think about my generation of Millennials, those born roughly between 1980-1995 and came of age around 2000, old enough to remember a pre-digital age (and therefore not necessarily a digital native) but young enough to embrace and direct the course of new technologies.
Millennials tend to be vilified by the older generations as a self-serving, expectant and over-privileged generation who presume to be handed the world on a silver plate. In addition, our fashion and music are dismissed as ‘hipster’ and entirely style over substance.
Let’s look at 2010, when mostly young people stormed Milbank, the headquarters of the Conservative party, and proudly kicked off a wave of resistance against Tory austerity measures which persists to this day. Before traditional Unions, it was a student-orientated core which opposed Con-Dem policies in marches, occupations and agitation. For this, the media tended to use Trap 2.
“Militants from far-Left groups whipped up a mix of middle-class students and younger college and school pupils into a frenzy.”- Daily Mail. The tag “trouble-makers” is used several times.
Protest from the younger generations was portrayed as savage, dangerous, immoral and barbaric. The Con-Dems were the face of reason and order, the younger generations a snarling mass.
And yet, this is a romantic vision that has been changed somewhat in recent years. Rathe than militant threats, the younger generations of Millennials have been made the clowns of the 21st century.
Google’s suggestions for ‘Millennials are…’ comes up with ‘the worst’ and ‘screwed’. Time called us the Me Me Me Generation, self-ish but also lonely. Unable to network, compromise or adapt we have expectations of success. Simon Sink’s video suggests that we Millennials feel owed, and for that we are stupid, pompous and the object of derision.
Google image search shows Millennials are selfie-obsessed narcissists, clutching to technology both literally and figuratively. Shallow, self-absorbed and dedicated to perfection.
Millennials are not a subculture, we are a broad range of ages, classes and geographical dynamics. But all the same, I see the same treatment of mods and punks used by the media to present us as infantile.
As Crass sang in 1978, a year before the publication of Subculture: The Meaning Of Style:
♪ The living that is owed to me I'm never going to get,
They've buggered this old world up, up to their necks in dept.
They'd give you a lobotomy for something you ain't done,
They'll make you an epitomy of everything that's wrong.
They've buggered this old world up, up to their necks in dept.
They'd give you a lobotomy for something you ain't done,
They'll make you an epitomy of everything that's wrong.
Do they owe us a living? Of course they fucking do ♫
They built a world of housing, healthcare and education in a few short years they whipped it away. Gentrification smashed apart affordable housing, the NHS has been ransacked by Tory policy for its supporters in the vile private sector and when we made a challenge was made to the raising of Tuition Fees we were Vandals Without A Cause.
And yet, we are the “epitomy of everything that's wrong.” The rioter and the vandal and the looter. The trendy liberal corporate-ish hippie-ish hipster so removed from reality it’s sickening. Get a job. Get a proper job. Get a proper haircut. Get a grip on reality. Blah blah blah.
So what is the solution? Well stop sharing anti-Millennial memes and videos for a start.
The Milllennial they portray is a constructed myth.
Barthes says “myth can always, as a last resort, signify the resistance which is brought to bear against it.”
Wednesday, 22 February 2017
I promised myself whatever life threw my way, I wouldn’t write reviews on this blog.
WHY? I have all these opinions. Littering my life. Rubbishing it up. Begging to me scooped up. “Voice me!” they cry.
But no! For I used to review, back in the days of The Talk Magazine, back in the days of Leeds Student Newspaper (circa ye olde 2006-2010) and lo I decided I would much rather hang with the bands / theatre makers / poets than review them for I would become one of them, in time, with practise.
Tonight I wrnt to see Josie Long for the first time ever live. If you don't know her, she's a well-read funny comedian and shambles merchant.
I’m not gonna review. Nope nope nope. But I will say, from a Professional Performer Perspective I took away loads.
I took away smiles (yay!) and a Righteous Sense That The Left Will Persist Until We All Smile (yay…?). Josie’s show had a simple overarching concept of Can’t We All Get Along peppered with these anecdotes about the shit that means we struggle to do just that. But her buoyancy and overwhelmingly (at times unnervingly) optimistic like a child bedazzled by the bright lights.
The bright lights in this context are socialism.
The show can be taken at a Liberal Oooo -let’s-all-be-nice-to-one-another-ishness and several times Josie berates herself for having a go at Tories (among others) but this isn’t as simple as a Well-You-Have-Your-Opinion End Point, but more a tactic of proclaiming her broad welcoming hub of leftism as the place you want to be. It’s great, we have badges and the best music.
Josie happened to be very subtle, as much as her punchline (spoilers, yo) is that we’ve been slowly converted. But actually, we have, by her spirit and boundless bounding optimism, cynicism-free approach and joyous rapport.
The best compliment I ever got ever (I do better with compliments than criticisms) was someone saying they felt totally comfortable in my audience as a compere. No mean feat, compering is something I take pride in, and often get wrong, but like to celebrate when it goes right.
To me, a 60+ show is more than just a set. The comedian on before Josie, Tez Ilyas, did a set and a blinder it was too and no mistake. Poets at slams and open mics worry about their 3 minutes, they can make the audience laugh, cry, alienated or riled up. But the compere needs to host the event, and someone doing a show needs to host themselves.
Host themselves? What a nonsense phrase!
Well, no. Actually.
Josie’s constant jolting flip between celebrating her positively over loves and quirks and habits to berating herself for a life of artistic failure, lacklustre life choices and being a God Damn Leftie like some incompetent shambolic vandal.
And it’s that DoubleThink I try to keep in my audience’s heads when they see me. I try and make the audience feel welcome and home (I prefer to address them as “friends” or “folks”) and get them onside with cheers and quickfire responses. But then I also like to play things a bit random, go off script as it were, make asides, in-jokes, reference the atmosphere, stalk around like a Raptor, be casually, flippantly and also deadly seriously political both off-handily and in-face-edly. It’s a bite out of both, it can be both welcoming and have the harlequin aspect punk embraces and vomits over.
I guess what I’m try to say is….
COME SEE MY SHOW WHATEVER HAPPENED TO VANDAL RAPTOR? AT YORK THEATRE ROYAL 30TH AND 31ST MARCH!
AHA IT WAS ALL A SUBTLE TRICK.
Tuesday, 7 February 2017
I’ve been starting to perform (and thus practise) playing guitar in public more and more, going as far as to form a band and do a couple of open mics round York. I have kept this relatively quiet on my poetry pages because I see them as different beasts.
That is, until I start working on Whatever Happened To Vandal Raptor which will be glorious punk moshpit of styles.
But the first time I played guitar live, I was totally out of my comfort zone and failed miserably to do anything other than bash chords and forget all my words, other than thin rant.
Comfort zones are nice blankets we sometimes throw off, even without realising we’re the ones casting them aside. Sometimes, it’s cold outside and we freeze. So we stay in bed until 11am.
On Saturday I performed what could be the best poetry set ever to a very warm and welcoming leftie crowd at the Maze in Nottingham, my first ever gig in the city. This may sound arrogant, but I hit all the right notes (even in the right order). The necessary amount of banter and aside jokes, the right dollop politics and the right energy for the space. This was part of a mate’s birthday who has been hugely involved in We Shall Overcome, and it was a much needed (albeit privileged bubble) boost to confidence in darkening times.
On Sunday, I went down to the open mic night and snapped a string after my second song, which isn’t usual and not an alarming problem. Except I was leaving my new song last, and was annoyed I didn’t get chance to perform. I took off my guitar, and said I’d do it a’capella. But my head said: “What’s the point? You wanted to practise it as a song. Plus, you can’t sing so without guitar it will sound awful.” My mate suggested “Do a poem” but my head said: “What’s the point? You wanted to perform the new song.” So, I dashed off stage. Some people get nervous and exit the stage, and I do not mean to demean anybody else. But in my eyes, for me to say I’d do something on stage, and then awkwardly leave a haunting silence, was true cowardice. I’ve ducked out of lots of things in my life. As I write this, I didn’t have the courage to go into a pub to find a rehearsal room to jam with some mates, so walked home alone. But the stage has always been a comfort zone, bizarre as that is, a space I can control. But I left it hollow.
And of course, as soon as I stepped offstage my head went: “Actually, the song could have worked as a poem. You idiot.”
Because my now ancient poem True Friends (which I shared recently because it was Friend Day) started out as a song, some 7 years ago.
As it happens, my friends are great and I love them. Thanks folks! I ended up at Dusk anyway and did my song. So everything worked out alright. The End.
Comfort zones are, like limitations, something we each create from the conditions presented to us. Some of the most anxious and nervous people I know are incredible performers. I step outside my comfort zone to make music, and I hope that shows in the immediacy of the performance. For me, compereing and poetrying is very much a second nature, a Henry I can be comfortable with and enjoy. Clearly these two things moshing together is still untapped territory. A territorial zone I will thoroughly enjoy skanking all over when I begin work on Whatever Happened To Vandal Raptor?
Sunday, 29 January 2017
“Man throws brick in Liverpool, narrowly misses Trump by 4500 miles.”
I must say this daft Facebook comment I noticed made me chuckle, because it reveals a cynical truth. So far the anti-Trump demonstrations in the UK have been a gesture in solidarity with the people of America, and the upcoming ones will be a gesture for those originating in the 7 banned countries and their families. No doubt as Trumps policies begin to elongate, slither and entangle like snakes across the globe, these protests will be a different shoe, crushing their writing hissing venomer.
The cynical activist inside me will rear its snotty head and screech internally how a demonstration of even a few hundred will ever affect anything so catastrophically huge as this worldwide crackdown on movement?
The answer, I think, it challenging normalisation. For years, the paranoia about immigration, and this centralised fear around Muslims in their entirely as a threat, has dominated the conversation. The newspapers vomiting lies and lies about Muslims coming to sow terror and destruction, when really our own attitudes, laws and bombs have reaped terror and destruction. We now exist in a place where extremist ideas about deportation, border lock-down and even ethnic purging are now considered such voidable political positions the world gasps in horror when an out-and-out Nazi is punched in the face.
So the point of these demos is, for me, a case of saying to the people walking past, then people shopping, dipping into pubs, reading the papers or listening to the radio: The way the world is at the moment is not normal.
The policies of May and Trump are not normal. It is not normal to think of immigrants as cockroaches or targets or threats or statistics or even cheap labour. It is not normal to ban someone from entering a country entirely based on their religion. It is not normal for our elected representatives to leave this unchallenged in the name of some kind of absorb polite discourse.
So what’s next? OK, from an activist perspective I leave that discussion for more dedicated and tactic discussions, probably not online where ‘security’ can read my online blog.
On an individual level, we must constantly remind our family, friends and colleagues this hatred and policies are not normal.
From an artist perspective, we must constantly remind our audiences that this hatred and these policies are not normal. Open mics, poetry readings, workshops, gigs, events, slams. Even if you can’t write about the issue, if you have anything that’s about love, or unity, then introduce it proudly as about hope and unity.
And that way, whenever someone agrees with a Trump/May policy, whenever some spouts this hatred, discrimination, fear tinged with the venom of the Great American Snake, it can be challenged as not normal.
In inches, they try and shift the world in what is normal. Capitalism is normal, racism is normal. One day, Trump might be normal. I know it sounds difficult to believe, with his cartoonish persona like the villain of a show who uses his money to zap the heroes with laser beams. But it’s true, already the argument is shifting to how his attitude is ‘reasonable’.
The world is not normal, and the more we shrug it off and go about our lives the more we slip into another world. A world not unlike 1984 or Brave New World. Which are, and will remain, non-fiction.