Saturday, 11 December 2021

Psychogeographic Autoeroticism II

In the book 'The System of Objects' Jean Baudrillard comments that 'The erotic significance of the object (a car) here plays the same role as the image (real or mental) in masturbation' (1).

In the book 'Imagined Communities' Benedict Anderson described the nation as an 'imagined community (2)', a socially constructed imagination.
Nationalism and masturbation seem to have similar characteristics as they both involve the subject exciting themselves over an image or imagination. In this piece the bottle is obviously phallic but overall it attempts to capture the similarity between nationalism and masturbation without being too overt.
The four bottles stand for the four nations of the UK, the fallen bottle representing England which, mesmerised by nationalism and xenophobia, in 2019 elected another Tory government despite 10 years of top down class war known, euphemistically as austerity. The coke bottles can also be taken to represent the historical and contemporary influence of USA in British culture and economics.

(1) Baudrillard, J. (1996) 'The System of Objects', Verso, London and Brooklyn. p.73 
(2) Anderson, B. (1991) 'Imagined Communities; Reflections on The Origins and Spread of Nationalism' Verso, London and New York.

Sunday, 7 March 2021

ElectrAcoustiC Volume One: Ruts DC.

The early history of The Ruts has been well documented, one of the outstanding bands of that period their first single ‘In a Rut’ came out in 1979 on People Unite followed by ‘Babylon’s Burning’, ‘Something That I Said’ and ‘Jah Wars’, the latter three appearing on their debut album The Crack. The album was an insightful look at urban Britain, the tracks ‘Babylon’s Burning’, ‘Jah Wars’ and ‘S.U.S.’ especially incisive in their use of social commentary as resistance. The Crack showed that, with an eclectic musical knowledge and exceptional musical ability, the original promising synergy of punk could still be a potent force with short sharp songs like ‘You’re Just A’… alongside ‘Jah War’ and ‘It Was Cold’, both coming in at over 6 minutes long. Running through the album is a sense of tension and social commentary that reflected urban Britain in the late 70s but (unfortunately) is also extremely relevant to 2021 as the UK continues to be plagued by racism, scapegoating and class war under a far right Tory government. In March 1980 the band released their fifth single ‘Staring At The Rude Boys’ but then in July, following a struggle with heroin addiction, lead singer Malcolm Owen was found dead. A sixth single ‘West One (Shine On Me)’ was released in August. In two years The Ruts had released six singles and an album that set a new standard in punk for musicianship and lyricism that has rarely been equalled since. Virgin put out another album Grin and Bear It, a mix of live tracks, B Sides and the last two singles.

The remaining three members of the band, Paul Fox, 'Segs' Jennings and Dave Ruffy felt they should continue and became Ruts DC releasing Animal Now in ‘81  and Rhythm Collision in ‘82 before calling it a day in 1983. And that appeared to be that until 2007 when the three members reconvened for a one off benefit gig for Paul Fox (who had been diagnosed with cancer) with Henry Rollins as lead vocalist.

However things evolved, Segs Jennings and Dave Ruffy worked on some tracks together which eventually became Rhythm Collision Vol. 2, in 2014 a live album followed. And then in 2016, with Leigh Heggarty on guitar, Ruts DC released Music Must Destroy, a rock album of such extraordinary quality that Viva Le Rock made it their Album of the Year.

In early 2014 Ruts DC started playing acoustic gigs, stress testing and evolving the concept at Rebellion Festival over the next few years. The gig grew in popularity and in 2019 it was moved to a bigger venue. 

And maybe that’s why the album, ElectrAcoustiC Volume One, works so well, it’s a documenting of something the band were already doing. It’s the sound of a band revisiting their past as more mature people, bringing the skills and wisdom accumulated in the intervening years to a fresh presentation of that material. It’s also a reminder that the power of the Ruts/Ruts DC songs has never relied on volume but on good songwriting/musicianship, incisive observation and laser sharp lyrics.

If anyone was worried that ElectrAcoustiC Volume One was going to be the sound of old punks settling down and mellowing out they can rest assured the songs on here are just as taut, tense and relevant as they have always been. This isn’t some laid back rehash for nostalgic old punks to listen to while they clean the car on a sunday morning, this album means it. No lazy escapism or nostalgia here. That’s the thing about the Ruts/Ruts DC, they don’t let you forget that punk, at its best, had always been about social commentary, about protest, about believing another world is possible before that was even a phrase. Punk has always been a multi voiced genre, a musical movement marked by contestation, and in the talking heads history of punk its antecedents are often cited as New York Dolls, MC5, The Stooges, however this album highlights the roots of one stream of punk as being in the tradition of (often) acoustic protest music like Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan, Segs commenting that the ‘(a)coustic Punk ethos goes back to Woody Guthrie and, of course, the blues men before him’.

The semi unplugged format of ElectrAcoustiC Volume One puts the lyrics at the front with nowhere to hide, a situation they cope with easily, the stripped back format really emphasising what good wordsmiths they’ve always been.

OK so what’s on the album? A collection of tracks taken from The Crack, Grin and Bear It, Animal Now and Music Must Destroy.

Tracks 1 and 3 are the title track from Music Must Destroy which really should have us out on the streets, lyrically skewers late capitalism and ‘Kill the Pain’, every time I hear this it resonates; brilliant song. Sandwiched between the two is ‘Dangerous Minds’, still tense, fraught, relevant. After ‘Kill the Pain’ there is a string of great earlier songs ‘In a Rut’ ‘West One’ ‘Something That I Said’ and then fast forward to ‘Psychic Attack’ (MMD) and then ‘Walk or Run’ (Animal Now) and ‘Soft City Lights’ (MMD) before they finish with ‘H Eyes’ and ‘Babylon’s Burning’. Despite the personnel changes and 37 year gap between ‘In a Rut’ and MMD the album has a sense of coherence and continuity of belief and values, it feels like a coherent body of work rather than a collection of stand alone tracks. So, basically the headline is, ElectrAcoustiC Volume One, 11 amazing tracks that, while being re presented, retain all of their original energy, tension and urgency. Made me think again just how important The Ruts/Ruts DC are. 

It sometimes feels that early punk has been explored and analysed to exhaustion but with this album the band have shed a different light on the songs, giving us a slightly different angle, a new appreciation, the different format a reminder of what great songwriters the band have always been both musically and lyrically.

Saturday, 24 October 2020

A is for Activistas.

are a collection of Nottingham based musicians, activists and punk facilitators, I got to see them at the Sumac Centre at the end of ‘19 when there was a thing called ‘live music’. They were playing a benefit gig for an orphanage in Sierra Leone alongside spoken word artists and a few other bands, most notably the now sadly defunct Track Not Found. Reviewing the gig I seem to have writtenActivistas have continued to evolve and develop into a really interesting thing, from a four-piece into a six-piece and into a really tight band with looser dual vocals over the top. For some reason I can’t really explain or work out, I kept thinking of The Fall, even though there is very little in common musically. Political and bothered with songs like ‘Chip Shop Fascist’ and ‘Boris is a Twat’, they make a terrific “patchwork punk” racket! I saw them a while ago and they’ve moved on hugely. it will be interesting to see where they go next!’. 

Well, where they went next was to a couple of recording studios to emerge with an album, A is for Activistas, out 24/10/20.

‘Patchwork punk’ was an odd term which in retrospect, it doesn't really do them justice as it suggests a random discontinuity of styles when actually, although they’re all over the place musically, there is a coherence to the album. Listening to A is for Activistas I almost thought of about a thousand bands but couldn't quite remember any of them. Imagine Chas and Dave became anarcho-communists, got together with The Slits and recorded an album with Dave Greenfield guesting on keyboards! 

Ramshackle, music hall, East End knees up punk, is that a thing? 

The subject matter is similarly diverse although in some ways it isn’t that far off being a concept album in the sense that it expresses a compassionate, anarchist world view from below. And in some ways that sums it up; paradoxical. Whimsical and angry, humorous and serious. Eclectic yet with a sense of continuity. Scattergun and coherent.

Nine tracks covering mental health, animal rights, corporate malpractice, poverty, political frustration, the character of the current incumbent of No. 10. Rhythmically tight with looser vocals over the top its engaging, humorous, angry.  Track 5 is a bit of a surprise, like someone wandered into the knees up with a song they’d written at home the night before; part protest song, part whimsical melodic homage to Bowie, reality and hope. Next track is an excellent take on the environmental crisis, ‘Mother Earth is dying, dance upon her grave, lets lift a glass to the fuck we never gave’...take the piss out of Greta for speaking truth to power, will we still be laughing in the final hour?... Mother Earth is dying, dance upon her grave, lets lift a glass to the fuck we never gave’. Track 8, ‘Take My Hand’ has an ace keyboard thing going on. Track 9 is an alternative take on history, applying its lessons to the present.

If you’re missing live music, camaraderie, music that's bothered and a laugh and fancy an anarcho communist knees up, give it a listen!

It’s here:

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Now Here's An Echo From Your Future. Girls In Synthesis.

Photo by Bea Dewhurst.
"The most basic tenet of the Bauhaus was form follows function. ... Because of the Bauhaus belief in the oneness of the artist and the craftsman, their courses taught students to eliminate the ideas of the individual and instead focus on the productivity of design" (1).

Truly revolutionary music isn’t just about lyrical content it is also about form, structure, texture. Dada, Bauhaus, Russian Constructivism wrestled with the question of form as well as content, if forms and structures can reproduce bourgeois values as James claims (2) then they can also produce and communicate alternative narratives, contestation of the (neoliberal) status quo. It was an idea that was pursued by several of the post punk bands including The Raincoats; can you create music that is a transposition of counter cultural concepts and practice into both the creative process and musical form? Truly revolutionary music moves away from the (inspired) lone artistic genius towards collaboration, collectivity, an artisanal sensibility in the process of production as well as revolutionary form and content. 

Which brings us to Girls In Synthesis who, taking their cues from the early DIY punk and post-punk pioneers, keep everything in-house, their artwork, videos, performances and recordings created entirely by the band (art collective?) and their handful of trusted collaborators. So far GIS have operated as a DIY collective, part of a network of resistance. There have been antecedents; Test Dept, Henry Cow, Gnod, bands that have followed a similar path of both inter and independence.

The results of this model were compiled in the 2019 release Pre/Post: A Collection 2016-2018, a compilation of their previous EP releases, a jarring, exhilarating, intense expression of urban working class experience in 21st century Britain. Both musically and lyrically Pre/Post was a perfect representation of the stressful, anxious, precarious alienation so many of us cope with but at the same time they reminded us through their live shows of the cultural and social resources available; the importance of egalitarian community, trust, mutual respect, hope.

So where do you go when your creative model, musical form, lyrical content and live practice are all that could be reasonably hoped for in a band? How do you move from phase 1 to phase 2? How do you follow up Pre/Post?

You release Now Here’s An Echo From Your Future.

Ten tracks, 31 minutes that both reflect and interrogate the individual and social experience in contemporary Britain with searing, brutal insight, honesty and vulnerability. You will understand more about modern life in 31 minutes of NHAEFYF than you would from 31 years of tabloid newspapers and state/capitalist broadcasters.

On first listen NHAEFYF was like being bludgeoned with a very loud stick (?), a wall of ferocity with a disconcerting break in the middle. But on the second listen you start to experience the contours, shades, multiple textures, extra instrumentation as the songs take shape, emerge as defined, separate entities ( initially i was going to write ‘hear’ not ‘experience’ but it is more than aural).

First track up is ‘Arterial Movement’, released as part of a 3 track EP in October last year it’s a track that pulses intensity at you!! It’s like an adrenalised heartbeat of music, coming at you, dropping back, like being able to hear your own blood pulsing through your body,
“Walk along the roads that we create. Travelling the distance that we need. To take away the pain you feel inside. Hard when no progress can be seen…We progress, progress in arterial movements. We define, define in arterial movements… Opening the door to somewhere else. Managing the contents there within…”
An expression of empathy, of care, of solidarity, the song deals with the process of helping someone through their mental struggles, while simultaneously being wholly aware of your own issues.
“Victories don’t always look like other people think they should” said an old man in the film Good Vibrations (4).

‘Pressure’ The video for this when released in November was of the band live, black and white, hand held, interspersed with the band on a rooftop, boiler suits and boots, utilitarian clothing for cultural workers.  Watching it again made me re-realise how much I’m missing live music
“I won’t cooperate with anyone who doesn't play their part”.

‘The Images Agree’ is the most recent single and another storming track that comes at you in a barrage of sound and images, on first listen it seemed like several things going on at once that happened to be in sync, but only just! The press release put it better “The song features the trademark driving bass and drums, which now forms part of the signature GIS sound. But, on top of this, is unusually dissonant guitar that pulls the listeners focus away from the main melodic and rhythmic elements and towards what could pass as another song altogether”. John commented on the song’s subject matter “Media manipulation has become an art and a tool for people with the wrong intentions to control or mislead the public, as this becomes more and more acceptable (or undetectable...) it's important to question and not blindly accept. As we have seen with the government’s recent lack of clarity and transparency during the current pandemic, a headswim of confusion is created to stop people seeking the truth, no matter how despairing it may be.”

‘Human Frailty’ is a tender look at the process of aging and eventual death
“Wish I could halt time that lays waste to your body, Stop the clock on ageing that makes your bones brittle, the minutes speed through, the hours do too, Against any reasoning my time spent with you. Relent human frailty, relent human frailty.”
Towards the end the introduction of brass adds a different, poignant texture to the song.

'They’re Not Listening’ is an important reminder to working class people who have somehow ended up believing that Boris Johnson is their mate, that the right wing of the Tory party always have their own best interests at heart! To quote the press release again ‘They’re Not Listening’ reflects on the fact that “the time-old tradition of the right wing accosting desperate working class people has returned.” The lyrics seem to express the disempowering, reductive experience of being ignored, overlooked, of no consequence in an instrumentalist system where all that was wanted was your vote.

‘Cause For Concern’ “Constant cause for clash. Pointed, surging, crash. Can’t escape or learn. Constant cause for concern….We can’t go on this way, NO!

I think at the moment the next two tracks are my favourites on the album.‘Coming Up For Air’. “I’m coming up for air, suffocation, suffocation”. Dense and intense!

‘Set Up To Fail’ “Bored of what scores of people still adore, holding up the ceiling whilst falling through the floor, Scraping down the walls until my nail beds rub raw, Settling for less, screaming out for more more, more”. Describe it as Utopian if you want to but that knowledge, that sense, that things can be, will be, better persists despite capitalism’s attempts to convince us otherwise, We can still imagine the end of capitalism, we can still envisage a better world, we cannot reconcile ourselves to the dreary shit of recycled culture and ‘just about getting by’. Again they use discordant brass to give the prolonged driving outro a superb feel.

‘Tirades of Hate and Fear’ explores the rise of provincial, reactionary xenophobic politics and reminded me of How To Lose a Country by Ece Temelkuran, who writes that nationalist populism tends to emerge in the provincial towns away from the urban centres (5). Suburban Hell? “I hear too much noise, and not enough thought, insecure people are easily bought...Screaming from your lungs, looking for more fools, using fear and hate as your recruitment tools”.

The outdated idea of continual social progress is gone, after 40 years of neoliberal governance, 10 years of top down class war masquerading as austerity, with a far right government and print media well versed in the strategies of propaganda and bullshit any one who has been paying attention knows that culture can go either way; a more egalitarian future or a slide into increasing dystopia; ‘transition to socialism or regression into barbarism’ to steal Engels/Rosa Luxemburg’s phrase (3). Now could be an echo from our future...of increasingly authoritarian capitalism and environmental melt down but there is still hope, the chance of an egalitarian, progressive society. With NHAEFYF Girls In Synthesis present us with these two options and implicitly ask us to decide whose side we’re on.

GIS: this generation's Clash?


(1) Lekach, M. (2016) ‘Know your design history:the Bauhaus movement’,an%20institution%20taught%20by%20masters.

(2) James, R. (2014) ‘Resilience and Melancholy: Pop Music, Feminism, Neoliberalism’, Zero Books, Winchester UK and Washington, USA

(3) Socialism or Barbarism (disambiguation)

(4) Good Vibrations (2013), Revolution Films/Canderblinks Film and Music Ltd.

(5)Temelkuran, E. (2019) How To Lose a Country; The Seven Steps From Democracy To Dictatorship, 4th Estate, London.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Las Ratapunks!

Already involved in various ways in the Peruvian punk scene Irma (drums), Kiara (guitar), YK (vocals) and Wendi (bass) got together as Las Ratapunks in 2014. They released the 6 track Ratas de Ciudad in 2017 and earlier this year put out the excellent Fracaso, Ano de la Rata 2020, 6 tracks of exciting, energised, rip roaring, modern punk! Dealing with social issues including corruption, femicide and sexual harassment the 6 tracks are an important reminder of the potency of punk to challenge political and cultural injustice and militate for change. Although only released in March Fracaso, Ano de la Rata 2020 has already caught the attention of those with their ears to the ground with tracks being played by Just Some Punk Songs and The Noise Merchant in the UK.

The band had a short tour of Europe, playing France, Germany and Spain, planned for this summer but like many things it has had to be rescheduled to 2021 due to the global Covid 19 pandemic. However,  putting their money where their lyrics are, the band will give all money made through album sales on Bandcamp to organisations helping to mitigate the effects of Covid 19 in Peru.

Having been blown away by their new album and their concern for social justice it seemed like a good move to find out a bit more about Las Ratapunks       

Could you tell us about Las Ratapunks? Where in Peru are you based?  When did you get together? 
We’re a punk band from Cajamarca, northern Peru, we got together in 2014 with the intention of making noise and express ourselves, tell our experiences and what we think about certain situations.

How did you get together, were you friends who became a band or a band that became friends?!
Both; Irma, Kiara and YK met through concerts and mosh pits, one day we decided to rent a rehearsal space just to see what came out of it, by the time we were out we had a band. Wendi  came in as bass player a week after our first show and that’s the line up that we’ve kept to this day

Why did you get together? What were the main reasons that made you decide to form a band?
We got together because we wanted to have a band, sing about some experiences, let our voices be heard in regards to certain issues that we don’t agree with, and to give visibility to other issues that are still taboo. 

Did you have a clear idea of how you wanted to sound when you started?
We found our sound as we learned how to play, at some point we hoped we’d sound like the Distillers, then like 90’s Peruvian skatepunk , then we ended up sounding the way we do today: like the Ratapunks

How did you decide on the name, Las Ratapunks!?
Because our sound was really raw, pretty ratty at the beginning and also cause we’re the size of rats.

The video to 'Los Ladrones' off your 2017 album, Ratas de Ciudad, is really interesting, what issues are you singing about in that song?
Los Ladrones is about the political corruption in the country, we decided to use archived images in the video because to us it's important to put the current state of Peruvian Political corruption and injustice on display; also, near the date premiere of the video a politician who is connected to corruption scandals had a traffic cone thrown at his head, and we saw it as  representation of all the impotence that the people feel, that’s why we include the cones in the video, as a representation of the peoples revenge (it's part of the lyrics).

Watch here!

Earlier this year you released the 6 track Fracaso, Ano de la Rata 2020 (Failure,Year of the Rat 2020). Could you tell us what the different tracks are about?
We touch on subjects that we think are important to visualize such as corruption, exploitation, dehumanization, injustice, impunity, sexual harassment, feminicides, child pregnancy and resisting a corrupt system, and also the contradictions we face on a day to day as human beings.

Listen here!

You have a really exciting style, do you feel it has changed at all between the first and second album?
There is a better technique, but the same drive to say what we think and what we believe. The first EP was recorded live in a Cajamamarca Skatepark thanks to Sawá Sesiones, from which we got a reduced number of recordings on Princo CD’s, which we hand decorated. For the second EP we worked with friends who did the recording (Granizo Estudio), mixing(Nicolas Vair), mastering(Robin Rieuvernet) and artwork (Bto Prieto), and we’re planning on a limited a 7 inch vinyl release, and some cassettes through Entes Anomicos, a german-peruvian indie record label, though we’ve had to put everything on hold due to the pandemic.

Is there a big punk scene in Peru? Do you get a chance to play live often?
Peru has bands from the 90s/00s and even current date that are still playing and releasing DIY material; they organize gatherings and punk festivals annually and there is a chain of distribution and material though independent stores.
We usually play, up until now we’ve had the chance to play in Trujillo, Lima and Arequipa, we’ve organized some shows in Cajamarca where we live. But we’ve mainly had a steady amount of shows.

Do you think local cultural influences and histories mean there is a difference between European/N. American punk and South American/Peruvian punk in terms of musical styles or do you think punk is a global culture?
Punk is a world culture, although there are similarities between the subjects it tackles, we find differences in regards to specific characteristics about how these develop according to geographic location, for example, we can all talk about corruption but the political reality of a place that’s different to others in some regards, and every place place has its own sound, which is also fed by its history.

Were there any bands that inspired you musically, that you were influenced by?
Narcosis, Asmereir, Maria T-Ta, Metadona, G3, Diazepunk, Eutanasia, Unidad 4, Eterno, Shukakes, 70s punk from Spain, The Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Adolescents, Fugazi, etc.

How can people hear your music and buy any merchandise?
You can hear us on Bandcamp, Spotify, Youtube and you can contact us by sending a DM to Las Ratapunks on Facebook or Instagram.

What are your plans for 2020 and 2021? Any thoughts of playing Europe at all when the Covid 19/Coronavirus crisis has died down?
We were planning on going to Europe in august this year but now we’re just hoping to survive, we are going to reschedule the dates for when the current crisis is over seeing as how critical the situation has been here in Perú, the rain forest has been hit pretty hard due to the global pandemic, and it's not just the cities, the indigenous population is also suffering. We are going to donate the money we gain from album sales through Bandcamp during the entire month of June to some organizations that are collecting funds to help (the people of) the Peruvian rain forest.

Check out and buy Fracaso, Ano de la Rata 2020 here!

Big thanks to Alonso Saer for his translation work and assistance in this interview!!

Bibliography. referenced in Intro

Friday, 7 February 2020

Hawkwind: Days Of The Underground. Radical Escapism in the Age Of Paranoia. An interview with Joe Banks.

The early history of Hawkwind has been well documented. From their inception in 1969 until Robert Calvert’s departure in 1979 Hawkwind released a string of astounding albums including Space Ritual, widely regarded as one of the greatest live albums of any time and any genre! Responsible for the establishment of a new musical genre, space rock, the departure of Lemmy after 1975’s Warrior On the Edge Of Time saw an evolution in Hawkwind’s sound with the next four albums, released on Charisma, very much showcasing the remarkable wit, prescience and intelligence of Calvert. Post Calvert Hawkwind have continued to release albums on a variety of labels, their most recent being All Aboard The Skylark released in 2019. The constant throughout this 50 year (and counting) history of the band has been founder member, guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Dave Brock. 
One of the few bands that early punk esteemed, and John Lydon enthused about, Hawkwind prefigured punk’s DIY attitude, its deconstruction of the performer/spectator divide and its aversion to unnecessary technical virtuosity.  

In his new book Hawkwind: Days Of The Underground. Radical Escapism in the Age Of Paranoia Joe Banks explores the cultural significance of 1970s Hawkwind focusing on the band as communicators and exemplars of 'radical escapism' from a world that was often portrayed and (therefore?) experienced as both on the edge of political, economic and social collapse (due to the overt political, social and class struggles going on) and in imminent danger of nuclear annihilation. Joe re-presents ‘Hawkwind as one of the most innovative and culturally significant bands of the 1970s’, reminding the reader of ‘just how revolutionary' they were (1).

Since hearing ‘Silver Machine’ and Doremi Fasol Latido as a teenager and having the good fortune to see them on the Hawklords tour I’ve had an enduring affection for early Hawkwind. The recuperation of them as an important cultural entity sounds an exciting premise for a book and so, with the book coming out on 25th August, I asked Joe if he would be kind enough to consider an interview. He did.      

I suppose the obvious first question is how and when did you first hear Hawkwind and what were your first impressions of them?
I first heard them through my older brother, who had a copy of Warrior On The Edge Of Time. He used to play a lot of classic rock – Deep Purple, Floyd, Queen etc – but Warrior was something else: the sound itself was so overwhelming, and in combination with the spoken word pieces and fold-out fantasy cover, it really did feel to my 9-year old self like a mysterious transmission from somewhere else, both thrilling and not a little scary.
When I seriously started getting into music as a young teen, one of the first things I got out of the local record library was Space Ritual, which contains all of the above elements, only more so! Fair to say I was hooked soon after that.

Why did you decide to write a book on the cultural significance of 70s Hawkwind? Was it difficult to disentangle reality from myth? Has it taken a lot of research to get back to primary sources?
When I started to write for The Quietus, one of the first things I did was a sprawling anniversary feature on Space Ritual - - which tried to not only describe the unique listening experience of the album, but also put it into some kind of context with the apocalyptic vibe that pervaded culture and politics during the early 70s. This got a good response, and to my amazement, the venerable French music magazine Rock & Folk asked to reprint it – all of which led me to think I was onto something worth pursuing.
Disentangling myth from reality? Good question. From the off, you’re dealing with the perception that people have today – both of Hawkwind and the 1970s – compared to what actually happened. For instance, it tends to be under acknowledged just how big Hawkwind were for a few years in the 70s, particularly for a band that did its utmost to remain outside of the traditional music business. For tens of thousands of fans all around the country (not just London), they were the underground, the alternative to everything else that was happening in rock at the time. Even contemporary primary sources ie. the music press, often failed to grasp this, though there were a few writers that did.
On saying that, Hawkwind created a mythology around themselves as well – they were all about messing with reality. As their old manager Doug Smith said to me, there were many times when they would “let the myth do the work” when the truth was more prosaic.

What were the main cultural influences at play in early Hawkwind? Art, left politics, preceding/contemporary counterculture, working class experience, a mix of all the above!?
Ha, the main cultural influence on early Hawkwind was probably LSD! At a time when just about every other band was stepping back from the perceived excesses of psychedelia and calling themselves ‘progressive’, Hawkwind just dug in deeper, combining the acid experience with loud, metronomic music that eschewed both whimsy and virtuosity.
Being based out of Ladbroke Grove, epicentre of the London counterculture, they inevitably became involved with all the left-leaning causes espoused by the alternative society, and played numerous benefit gigs for everybody from CND to Gay Lib – but they weren’t ideologically political. Quickly tagged a ‘people’s band’ by the press, they were certainly associated with a more working class crowd than, for instance, the progressive groups, but Hawkwind had a knack of bringing all kinds of people together whatever their background, from sci-fi heads to Hells Angels, posh hippies to estate kids.

Your book focuses, I think, on Hawkwind of the 70s. What was the balance between continuity and change in that period? Were there any moments of dramatic shifts or disjuncture?
For a band that are routinely (and unfairly) criticised as always sounding the same, the way that Hawkwind’s sound changes throughout the 70s, often from album to album, is pretty head-spinning. There are always common elements – for instance, Dave Brock’s style of stun guitar – but they move from barbarian psych through propulsive space rock and Kraut/prog to new wave dystopian pop during that period, while always being identifiably ‘Hawkwind’. Brock maintained that the band was always about constant change.

Often Genesis are discussed in terms of Gabriel/Collins eras when a good argument could be made for Steve Hackett’s departure as the defining change. Is there any figure you would see as central to Hawkwind’s evolution through the 70s?
For a lot of fans, ‘classic’ Hawkwind ends when Lemmy gets sacked in 1975 – and certainly the difference between 75’s Warrior and 76’s Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music is pretty huge. Dave Brock was the captain of the ship who held it all together (and still does to this day), but for me, the key figure for Hawkwind in the 70s is singer, poet and conceptualist Robert Calvert – he’s the guy that really turns them into the definitive science fiction rock band, from writing ‘The Hawkwind Log’ that came with 1971’s In Search Of Space album, to performing with them during the Space Ritual period and on their Charisma albums (76-79). He was absolutely one of a kind – clever, funny, exciting, and a brilliant role-player. It’s not a stretch to say that, in many ways, he was comparable to Bowie.

Recently I was wondering how to explain to someone why Oasis seemed dull to me. The best explanation I could think of was to show him the TOTP video of ‘Silver Machine’ as something I’d seen as a young person!
It’s interesting that, one week, you had Bowie’s appearance on TOTP performing ‘Starman’, which everybody cites as a defining moment in pop/LGBTQ culture, then the next, you have the ‘Silver Machine’ promo, which probably turned just as many (literal) heads at the time – suddenly, this portal to the underground opening up in front rooms across the nation!

The preview of your book alludes to Hawkwind as creating an alternative social space, a reimagining of community, of possibilities. Could you elaborate on that at all?
More than anything, I think Hawkwind acted as a rallying point for heads and freaks everywhere, not just in London. They toured relentlessly throughout the 70s, and took their show everywhere. Attending a Hawkwind gig was a special event, because the combination of deep space riffage, raw electronics, spoken word, lights, imagery and performance absolutely wasn’t like your standard rock show – it was a trip that aimed to involve the audience. While Hawkwind inevitably became more like a rock band as the decade progressed, their entire ethos was against the ‘us and them’ spectator vibe of traditional concerts. They wanted to bring people together and be accessible to their audience.

The subtitle of your book is ‘Radical Escapism in the Age of Paranoia’, was that a utopian v dystopian response to technology? The utopian possibilities of science that was simultaneously complicit in the Cold War and MAD?
‘Radical escapism’ refers to a specific idea, both an acknowledgement of what you’re getting away from and an imagining of a new reality. Hawkwind is protest music plus liberation mythology, something that’s expressed both sonically and lyrically. In other words, the music is heavy with the fears and paranoias of the time, even as the concept is about an escape to the stars, or more metaphorically, embracing the void, opening yourself up to a way of life/thinking outside of straight society. I’m trying to extrapolate in words what I think is implicit in the music itself.
I think it’s fair to say that Hawkwind had an ambivalent relationship with technology. They were very much future-facing, and as you say, interested in the utopian possibilities of science, but in particular, Robert Calvert was concerned with the potential misuse of technologies such as cloning and the technocratic way of thinking that saw us all as merely ‘clones’ to be moulded by dogma. He was also cynical of the ‘space race’ during the early 70s as ultimately a colonial/military exercise.

‘Radical Escapism’ or prefigurative practice? Contrasted to the surrounding society Hawkwind seemed a glimpse of something ‘other’. Was that the case internally? Would you identify Hawkwind’s internal practice as offering glimpses of a radical, alternative model or was it more conventionally hierarchical than that?
Ultimately, I don’t think Hawkwind were offering a particular design for life, above and beyond the fact that more free-thinking, non-consumerist alternatives were available. The fact that they were so closely associated with the counterculture meant that they continually got it in the neck as ‘aging hippies’, but they were hugely influential on the early punks. Members of the Sex Pistols, Clash, Damned etc were all fans, but it was their anti-establishment, anyone-can-do-it attitude that had just as much of an impact as their music.

Robert Calvert lyrics particularly seemed to have an incisive intelligence and prescience, I’m thinking about ‘Uncle Sam’s on Mars’ and the hints at climate change, ‘Robot’ and AI, the division of labour and corporate power in ‘The Age of the Micro Man’. Social commentary and sci fi as protest?
Calvert is quite simply one of the greatest lyricists to have ever worked in rock, and yes, incredibly prescient in many of the things he was writing about. He absolutely saw science fiction as a vehicle for satire and social comment rather than just an escapist/heroic medium, though of course he was also interested in that as well. It’s one of the things that frustrates me about how Hawkwind are perceived, because a lot of their songs are exceptionally sharp and literate without ever being pompous or overbearing.

Like many great bands they seemed like a portal, a nexus, alerting the listener to thinkers and writers beyond the band?!
Absolutely, perhaps more so than any other band in the 70s. Who else was declaiming Günter Grass poems from the stage at Wembley, or writing songs inspired by Herman Hesse, or co-opting SF works by the likes of J.G. Ballard, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury etc? Not to mention having New Wave SF author/prophet Michael Moorcock writing lyrics, occasionally performing, and generally being a guiding inspiration.

Both Robert Calvert and Stacia went on to have art practices after Hawkwind in literature and the fine arts respectively. Hawkwind, art collective or band?
I think Hawkwind were certainly regarded as being much more than just a band, particularly in the 70s. Their shows were multimedia spectacles and immersive experiences before such terms became commonplace. There were dancers and poetry was read. They took the 60s’ concept of a ‘happening’ and ran with it, attempting to turn Britain’s parochial concert halls into places where spontaneous theatre (as Calvert termed it) could happen.

In ‘Resilience and Melancholy’ Robin James seems to be saying, if I understand her correctly, that certain pop music structures parallel values within neoliberalism (2). Would that go some way to explaining ‘space rock’ as somehow giving expression, via musical form, to Hawkwind’s internalised, alternative narrative and vision?
The early 70s sound of Hawkwind in particular was definitely viewed as disruptive to standard procedure as defined by the music business and press of the time. You often come across journalists who literally can’t understand why the band’s music is so popular, because it’s so outside their experience of what rock should sound like, which at the time tended towards either the virtuosic or blues-derived. It can’t be stressed enough how different Hawkwind sounded to just about every other band in Britain. I don’t think that transgressive is too strong a word, and of course, this sound reinforced their status as flag bearers for the alternative society.

In ‘Lipstick Traces’ Marcus connects Dadaism, the Situationists and early Punk as movements that creatively disrupted and exposed society as construct (3). Would you have included Hawkwind in that lineage?
Yes, I think that Hawkwind also connect these movements, particularly as embodied by Calvert and his ideas/performance persona. As I say, Hawkwind were a disruptive force in the music scene of the 70s, and a challenge to the staid and narrow focus of both highbrow and lowbrow culture in this country at the time.

Hawkwind’s cultural legacy can be seen in the continual re-emergence of similarly independent, collectivist, politicised bands like Crass, Test Dept, Gnod, Girls In Synthesis. Are there other artists you would add to that list?
Not so much politicised, but I’d certainly add the music and bands that emerged from the mid-late 80s Club Dog/crustie/traveller scene as being an important part of Hawkwind’s legacy, as this then fed into the early 90s rave scene and the re-emergence of the free festival concept.

Cited as prefiguring punk and rave, can 70s Hawkwind be a resource in contemporary political and cultural struggles? What specific aspects of Hawkwind do you think we should be re-examining and learning from?
In some ways, we’re living in very different times from the 70s, while in other ways, the sense of paranoia and division that first took root in the 70s has now burst wide open. At its simplest, Hawkwind represented another way to the mainstream, or at the very least offered solace to those who didn’t fit in. They were underground, but they also managed to cross over, to engage with a significant number of the disenfranchised, or the simply bored, throughout society.
I’m not sure it’s possible for a band to inspire or mobilise people in the same way that Hawkwind did in the 70s, but one thing to take away is their ability to create a space for people to exist inside, a world where standard reality is paused – fandom that’s not just driven by rock star adulation, but by ideas and a different way of being. In other words, radical escapism – a retreat, but also an outlook, and maybe a chance to gather breath and become re-engaged again.

Hawkwind: Days Of The Underground. Radical Escapism in the Age Of Paranoia is available from

(1) Hawkwind: Days Of The Underground. Radical Escapism in the Age Of Paranoia Joe Banks

(2)James, R. (2014) Resilience and Melancholy: Pop Music, Feminism, Neoliberalism, Zero Books, Winchester UK and Washington, USA.

(3)Marcus, G. (2011) Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, Faber and Faber, London.

Also referenced for Intro:  


Hawkwind Discography.

Warrior On The Edge of Time.

Saturday, 30 November 2019

GIS: Unmaking 'The Spectacle'

Photo by Bea Dewhurst.
One of the key ideas of the Situationists was of ‘the spectacle’(1), which included the concept that subjects within an industrialised capitalist society are immersed, via the state, corporations and media, in a seamless representation of reality that serves the interests of those in power. This representation is so all pervasive that the economics, politics and social organisation of late capitalism are experienced as natural rather than construct. The Situationist’s ‘spectacle’ tied in with Gramsci’s theory of ‘cultural hegemony’(2) and with Althusser’s idea of Ideological State Apparatus (3).

Recently this train of thought was explored by Mark Fisher in his excellent 2009 book Capitalist Realism: Is There Really No Alternative (4) where he explores the comment by either Jameson or Zizek that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is the end of capitalism. Psychiatrist Frantz Fanon pointed out that colonisation was not just the occupation of a territory and the reordering of that society/economy to the interests of the coloniser but also involved the colonisation of the oppressed subject’s minds (5). The colonised adopted the cultural views, values and attitudes of the dominant colonial power including it’s view of the colonised. According to the concept of ‘the spectacle’ the working class has been colonised by neoliberal capitalism’s view of the world, it has internalised a world view that serves the interests of a hostile class.

The Situationists suggested that one of the ways to free ourselves of the mesmeric effect of the  ‘the spectacle’ is through direct participation in situations, to break free from passively consumed mediated experience and to become co participants in situations experienced directly, situations that disrupt and challenge the top down narrative. That internalised narrative is of an individualised, disempowered, fractured working class struggling because of its own poor choices. Its a narrative that pits the working class against each other through scapegoating and by convincing us that our problems of financial insecurity, anxiety, precarity, poor mental health are individual not structural. It tells you the problems lie within the working class and are not the result of policies and governance by the powerful for the powerful.   

Wonderfully described by Ged Babey as looking ‘more like a terror cell than a rock group’(6) Girls In Synthesis’ music and practice is an effective and positive site of resistance to this top down narrative.By dealing lyrically with working class experience of fragile mental health, social immobility, a sense of powerlessness, precarity, anxiety and the corrosive effects of a hostile society GIS enable us to join the dots and realise that the framing of these experiences as individualised dysfuctionality is false and that these are shared experiences that are often far more to do with politically constructed conditions and structures of oppression. There is a relief in that; to hear someone singing  ‘Living in a world that wants to destroy you’ (Internal Politics) is strangely heartening, encouraging, empowering. ‘So it's not just me then? Well fuck ‘em. I won’t give them the satisfaction!’

Musically GIS have found a sound that simultaneously conveys both a sense of nervous anxiety, of tension and of adrenaline fuelled exhilaration. If you were looking for an antecedent maybe The Ruts would be the obvious one, another band who were (and are) able to transpose social tension and the intensity of urban life into music.

Relational aesthetics is a term used to describe art that enables collaboration and is completed by the participation of both the initiating artist and those who would often be seen as the ‘audience’. It is an art form that extends the opportunity for direct participation and the construction of, at least temporary, community. In other words it’s an art form that ticks all the Situationist boxes for breaking out of passive consumption of spectacle and moving into direct involvement and contribution to the moment. GIS live is relational aesthetics, an ongoing art experiment that draws the would be viewer into the creative act. They relinquish a degree of control in the belief that those present have something worth contributing, that the net effect will be a plus and it’s something that GIS have become expert at, their live shows are a celebration of solidarity, community and, interestingly, responsibility. 

Girls In Synthesis are of course, primarily, a rock band but by fulfilling the Situationist’s ideal of disrupting the top down discourse of individualised dysfunctionality, breaking the spell of ‘the spectacle’ and deliberately creating environments of participation they may be one of the few bands that have come close to fulfilling punk’s potential.

(1) Debord, G. (1968) ‘The Society of the Spectacle’. Black and Red, USA.
(2) Thomas, M. (ed)(2012) ‘Antonio Gramsci: Working-Class Revolutionary’, Workers’ Liberty, London.
(3)D’Alleva, A. (2012) ‘Methods and Theories of Art History’, Laurence King Publishing, London.
(4) Fisher, M. (2009) ‘Capitalist Realism: Is There Really No Alternative?’, O Books, Winchester UK and Washington USA.
(5) 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.
(6) Babey, G. (2018) Girls In Synthesis: Fan the Flames EP review, Louder Than War,