Monday, 30 May 2016

The Bogquake Tapes: Bogquake.

Image courtesy of HUM.

According to their bandcamp page Harmonic Union Music was set up to 'hunt down and expose the lost sounds of Hookland’s musical pioneers'. I didn't know where Hookland is so checked it out on the internet, I came across a site 'Hookland; High Weirdness from the Lost County of England' (1) that commented that Hookland is a psychogeographic space 'that doesn’t exist built around the real myth circuits, Albionic shadows and actual places of a 1970s childhood. Stories told in the form of the sort of travel that used to be given away at petrol stations, a cultural artefact from when the TV news carried UFO sightings and ghosts on their nightly bulletins along with reports of IRA bombs'. I don't know if that is the Hookland referred to by HUM, a space constructed out of the residue of the 70s, or whether their Hookland is a real place but The Bogquake Tapes certainly fits into the former! According to HUM The Bogquake Tapes are the result of a young going no-where space rock band being hijacked by local musical maverick Gordon Stranger in 1973, the new band started recording almost immediately which was a wise move by Stranger as his overbearing behaviour led to the other musicians quitting after a couple of days blaming the smell in the building (2)! So what have we got here musically? I've listened to it several times and it is a strangely beguiling half an hour of mostly instrumental music that at times is very 70s and at other times transcends time periods. Think 11 mins of ambient Tangerine Dreamy type stuff, then 3 mins of an early 'Hawkwind' demo with vocals that are indecipherable (to me) but are the more interesting for that, then a dramatic foreboding piece that you can imagine being used as a soundtrack to a mysterious army's approach! At 19 mins it's psychy space rock that segues into ethereal flutes! OK I know it reads like a musical hotch potch but it works, hangs together and is a really intriguing 33 mins of music. I really like it and credit to HUM for releasing it.   

(2) and Press Release 

Sunday, 29 May 2016

The Pop Group; The Boys Whose Head Exploded.

OK so this first paragraph is somewhere between reassurance for me, and confession to you. The Pop Group were around from 1977 until  1981 (1) and completely passed me by!  What on earth was I listening to that obscured them from my ears? As far as I remember Psychedelic Furs, The Ruts, Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads, Magazine, Kate Bush, Hawkwind all good bands but that leaves plenty of space for more good music. Or was it that they were played on John Peel and I switched off after Kid Jensen not yet ready for the more challenging music that John Peel was playing at that time? This has happened before, my son introduced me to Gang of Four, a band I should have been telling him about, anyway look... I'm sorry. OK, now let’s move on.
The Boys Whose Head Exploded is made up of live recordings from around 1980 drawing mostly on their recently reissued second album For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder (1980) and includes a DVD of live footage from the same period. To a newcomer like me it sounds like a group made up of the tougher brothers of Gang of Four, Haircut 100 and The Clash! As you would assume from its description as an 'official bootleg' it is raw at times, the sound quality is a little patchy but what it lacks in aural nicety it makes up for in energy, righteous dynamic anger, funk driven punkiness, and (sadly still) social relevance.
This is a band that were/are bothered, if you are looking for escapism then look elsewhere because The Pop Group want to occupy your mind and your body. Apparently The Pop Group were influenced by the Situationist (1), a group of European political and social theorists and activists who came to prominence in 1968 and who were most famous for their concept of ‘the spectacle’ and their use of appropriation and detournement. This radical left politics underpins the whole album unfortunately the economic/political system they were decrying in 1980 has got worse. In 1980 Margaret Thatcher had just come to power and had only just begun the dismantling of social democracy and the imposition of Neoliberalism, an economics of class war (2) that has deliberately disempowered and impoverished the working class while empowering and enriching the elite, in 2016 that Neoliberal project is nearly complete.
On ‘Feed the Hungry’ The Pop Group turn their sights on global economics and the exploitation of the vulnerable reminding us that “a major cause of famine and poverty is organised human greed” and that ‘Western bankers decide who will live and who dies’
“...murderers control our world” are the final words of ‘How Much Longer’
But they don’t let the listener off lightly, they know, as V points out in ‘V for Vendetta’, that things are as they are because we have collaborated, are complicit, “We are all prostitutes, everyone has their price” (‘We are all Prostitutes’).
This is a excellent album of abrasive funk/punk/free jazz which points out economic injustice, militarism, exploitation and inequality without being preachy, recognising that we have all been infected in some way. There were times when it reminded me of Midnight Oil at their most searing lyrically but musically very different- if you want something to dance around to while feeling angry and challenged this is it!

(2) Harvey, D. (2005 ) A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Cultural Resources and the Construction of Self.

Image by Yvonne Forster.
One of the aspects of colonialism that psychiatrist Frantz Fallon pointed out was that the colonizing was not just the occupation of a territory and the reordering of that society/economy to the interests of the colonizer but also involved the colonizing of the oppressed subjects minds. The colonized adopted the cultural views, values and attitudes of the dominant colonial power including it's view of the colonized. This effect reoccurred in apartheid RSA with the black population internalising the categorisation of the white State (1).
Similarly the working class has been colonized. Since the Industrial Revolution society has been organised  by capitalism to suit the interests of capitalists-external control- but in late capitalism there has been a change. Industrial capitalism demanded the worker's body but was often uninterested in their mind or ‘soul’, their thoughts, relational skills, communication abilities, however late capitalism wants those aspects as well (2). In 1950s/60s The Situationists wrote about ‘the spectacle’ (3) — representation in an advanced capitalist society; society and culture dominated by a seamless representation of a capitalist version of the world via the media, state and corporations (3), where any dissent is marginalised or co-opted, representation so effective that the oppressed internalise those values, those views. Gramsci referred to something similar as 'cultural hegemony' (4).

The effects of this full spectrum dominance is that the minds of the working class have also been colonized-by the internalising of neoliberal capitalist values.

Social Constructionists (5) believe that we construct our sense of self, of self identity, from the cultural resources available to us. That is in order to construct a version of ourselves that is understandable and intelligible to ourselves and others we draw on the representations, roles and social signifiers around us, configuring and modifying them to construct a sense of who we are both for ourselves and those around us. The individual and society are mutually constitutive, this is a problem when society has become conformed to the values of right wing hyper capitalism.  Many, possibly most, people in the UK imbibe a daily dose of right- wing press including the abjectification of 'othered' groups and a few hours of 'entertainment'-game shows, food contests, programmes about the well off choosing new houses, dramas, soap operas etc. Often these programmes represent the working class as poorly educated, divided, bogged down in domestic problems. When did you last see a working class character in a contemporary drama who was 'sorted', self educated and politicised? Most TV appears to be written by the privileged reflecting their view of the working class-unfortunately many have internalised these offensive, belittling representations.

If individuals do draw on cultural resources to construct themselves and the 'cultural hegemony' of neoliberalism has created a society and media where the cultural resources readily available are an expression of a neoliberal worldview-including a disempowering view of the working class- then how is it possible for the working class to wake up and break free of both being constituted by neoliberalism and helping constitute neoliberalism? They are not going to hear an alternative narrative or come into contact with a creative progressive vision from the top down, the elite like things as they are. The Labour Party, despite Jeremy Corbyn's best efforts, seems determined to remain Tory-Lite, berating itself for not coming across as more business friendly in the last election.

The appearance of radical resources within the mainstream exposes the depth and breadth of the means of control, the publication of 'Revolution' by Russell Brand in 2014 was accompanied by a sustained attack on him in and by the media. Jeremy Corbyn's rise has threatened to remind people of social democracy and to introduce an alternative narrative into the political mainstream, the corporate media/political elite has maintained a sustained attempt to distract people from his message by concentrating on the messenger and drowning out anything he has to say. However, over the last few years you could go and see The Hunger Games, and Elysium in your local cinema, films blatantly questioning and attacking the oppression, exploitation and inequality of the modern capitalist state.  

While mainstream culture has generally become the tarted up result of market forces and the commodification of all things, it is still possible to come across resources that militate for change, occasionally in the mainstream but more often in the arts and literary spheres. It is here that the status quo is questioned and challenged, where more promising cultural resources are to be found. In the early 20th century the Dadaists wanted to create art that drew on non-capitalist values and that pointed to non-capitalist possibilities. Drawing on Dada and the Situationists punk was constructed in 1976/77 opening up new possibilities. At its best it was a resource that young people could utilise enabling them to transform their self identity and consequently their relationship to society around them. In 2007 Mark Wallinger's reconstruction of Brian Haw's protest camp against the Iraq invasion was displayed at the Tate (6), and in 2014  there was an exhibition of William Morris' art at The National Portrait Gallery entitled 'Anarchy and Beauty' (7). On the way in there was this quote from Ken Loach 'For William Morris, art and politics were indissoluble. One of the great voices of revolutionary socialism in England, he saw capitalism as the great destroyer-of our creativity, of social justice and of the natural world. Change would come, he believed, through the organised working class. inspirational ideas-and never more relevant.'

Of course left anti capitalist and anarchist politics can be found overtly expressed by many punk(ish) bands, for instance In Evil Hour, Atari Teenage Riot and The Levellers, but the challenging of capitalism is also present in other genres. Psych band The Oscillation's last two albums have explored the alienation of modern urban life, the lived experience of many in this capitalist age. In an interview from September 2014 Demian Castellanos talks of the homogenization and gentrification going on in London and other cities and the accompanying increase in anesthetising entertainment (8). In a recent interview he commented that the same issues had been present while making the new album 'Monographic' but that he was working on his response to those issues and felt more hopeful of not being 'over run by it' (9). Here is a songwriter conscious of capitalism's corrupting effects on social space, culture and the individual-and allowing those concerns to inform his work.

Mirror, the latest album by Manchester collective Gnod is the aural equivalent of 'The Scream', it is an album that confronts the listener with the truth that life includes suffering and pain but the band also investigate the causes of that pain. According to Gnod's Bandcamp page the album came out of, and was informed by, a period that included individual illness, anger at the 2015 election result-and the realisation that as individuals we live in relationships of asymmetry to structures of power that are often hard to perceive but have a very real effect on our lives (10). Mirror is a response to individual struggle and societal dysfunction but their response isn't self anesthetisation, losing themselves in distraction or looking away from the sources of pain and anguish instead it is to confront those problems, to empathise with the victims and transpose the pain and anger experienced into this (hopefully) cathartic album. Gnod's album Mirror is a daunting, uncomfortable listen, a superbly realised unflinching expression of how we do, and should, respond to each other and societal dysfunction, it's also a reminder that really good music often forces us to engage with reality not flee it.  At a recent concert Gnod's set was made up of tracks from Mirror and new material, among the new songs was one critiquing and questioning hegemonic masculinity, and another included the line 'I want to be a stick in the wheel not a cog in the machine', echoing Dietrich Bonhoeffer's comment 'We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself' (11). 

We construct our sense of self using the cultural resources available to us- if we limit ourselves to those resources that are readily to hand we will end up as embodiments of capitalist norms and values but even in a society that has been colonized by neoliberal capitalism for 35 years there are resources that can be used to construct a more radical, humane, egalitarian self- a few of these resources are easily available, found in the cultural mainstream in films and books and some are on the edges found in various sub-cultures but they both offer people a chance for personal and societal reconstruction.


(1) Mesch, C. (2014) 'Post Colonial Identity and the Civil-Rights Movement' Art and Politics; a small history of art for social change since 1945', I. B. Tauris, London & New York. p.53.

(2) Berardi, F. (2009) The Soul at Work, Semiotext(e), Los Angeles.

(3) Debord, G. (1968) 'The Society of the Spectacle'. Black and Red, USA.

(4) Thomas, M. (ed)(2012) ‘Antonio Gramsci: Working-Class Revolutionary’, Workers’ Liberty, London

(5) Redman, P. (2008), 'Introduction' in Redman, P. (ed), (2008), 'Attachment. Sociology and Social Worlds', Manchester University Press, Manchester.

(6) Mark Wallinger, 

(7) Khan, T. (2014) 'Anarchy and Beauty; A dull Exhibition on William Morris's Legacy'.



(10) Gnod; Mirror.