Friday, February 28, 2014


Droid tells me about a new tweak in reggaestalgia:

"If you ever do an extended edition of  Retromania, you need to take a look at the
Euro digi-dancehall scene. Though it probably peaked a few years back, its no exaggeration to say that much of the best reggae these days is being made in (mainly) Northern Europe with JA vocals. The interesting thing is that much of it is/was based on the original 80's digital dancehall template with the likes of Tubby's 'Tempo' as the holy grail. People like Jahtari & Raggattack, who are using all the same gear - old Roland and Casio's to create a perfect copy of the original. This seems to me to be perfect retromania material as you have a genre that was obsessed with technology & computers and a particular vision of the future, now being fetishised by modern producers using ancient technology to recreate the same sound. General updates on the scene can be found here:

He adds:

"Its funny in that the 'digital era' in dancehall really only lasted maybe 4 years before samples took over and the overtly 8 bit sound disappeared and that video game style with loads of bleeps and overtly synthetic instruments dated incredibly quickly, despite many tunes referencing computers & technology. Peak years probably 85-88. Not to say that the vibes weren't there. What's interesting about euro digi dancehall (as opposed to UK digi-dub, which is more of a homegrown variant on UK steppers) is how completely convincingly the style and vibes are captured. These guys are picking from the point where the punanny redefined dancehall (again) and digital fell out of fashion, using the same gear, (Linn drum, Oberheim DX, Yamaha RX5, Casio MT-40, DMX etc...) and they make some serious tunes."

Duly noted, Droid! 

So, when it comes to the 10th Anniversary Commemorative Edition (Expanded / Updated) of Retromania, what else should I add, do you think? The last three years have seen rich pickings on the new-old, old-new, recreativity and hyperstatic fronts, much of it documented on this blog. (There's also been a few future-reactivated currents that gainsay the book's gloom-with-a-view that would warrant acknowledgement).  Obviously Daft Punk and Random Access Memories could take up a whole chapter. Haim, a few pages. But what else?  (Not limited to music, either).  

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Memorial-Industrial Complex, or, How the Internet Uses Nostalgia

Megan Garber at The Atlantic very interestingly explores how the internet uses the warm, endorphin-glowy feelings associated with nostalgia as bait for our restless digital twitch:

"Nostalgia, the copious literature on it suggests, comes in two basic forms. One is organic... [that comes over you] unexpectedly, as a kind of pleasant pang—the stuff of sudden songs and serendipitous scents and sour-sweet Madeleines. The other form is a media product. It's the re-introduction of Uncle Joey and/or Dawson’s Creek's Joey and/or Blossom's Joey, appropriated to arouse a vague sense that we have lost something as we’ve moved, inexorably, into our future. This form of nostalgia is usually invoked, in one way or another, to sell us stuff.

"... It’s also notable how ambient nostalgia has become. The memorial-industrial complex ensures that our past—our collective past—permeates our present. That complex markets directly to memories that are shared, across generations and across demographics and across the culture. And the complex is extending, now, to the Internet."

Examples include Spotify's recommendations, oriented not just to your listening choices but "according to a user’s birth date... Spotify uses those data points, in part, to read users’ pasts back to them, offering up a fairly faithful (re-)rendition of the popular musical landscape as it existed when they were younger....  surfacing the songs that were popular across the culture when you were in junior or high school. The service is making the fair assumption that there will indeed be some overlap between your own musical past and the collective."

 "The point of all this past-leveraging, from Spotify’s perspective, is to realize the vague-but-also-urgent goal shared by many social networks and services: user engagement....  And an experience of the past that is customized—if not to a person, individually, then to that person's generational demographic.... It’s a targeted ad, essentially—and the thing being advertised is a person’s own past."

"Social networks in general, you could argue, are implicitly—preemptively—nostalgic, combining our pasts and our presences into a unified experience. Networks, however, are also experimenting with more explicit forms of nostalgia-baiting. Earlier this month, Facebook rolled out “Look Back” compilations that collect users’ most-liked photos, statuses, and life events into an easily viewable video. ...

"An app called Timehop promises to show you “photos and updates from this exact day in history.”

"Even Pinterest, which is most commonly associated with future-oriented and aspirational image-collecting, makes use of customized nostalgia. Gabriel Trionfi, Pinterest's user experience researcher, is a psychologist by training, and he points out that the flip side of anticipation—one of the emotions Pinterest uses to generation its own version of user engagement—is, yep, nostalgia."

Nostalgia is a known way to boost people's mood,” Trionfi told me.... So people are using Pinterest’s future-oriented platform, Trionfi says, to re-collect images from their past. "

" Many media outlets ("content producers," you could call them) are selling nostalgia in one form or another: There’s Retronaut and @historyinpix and the many similar—and controversial—features dedicated to the resurfacing of the past."

Garber also points to Buzzfeed's microgeneration-oriented quizzes like “25 Ways to Tell You’re a Kid of the ‘90s,” “50 Things Only 80s Kids Can Understand,” “53 Things Only ’80s Girls Can Understand.”)

Her conclusion: 

"Nostalgia, under the stewardship of the Internet, has been made nimble."

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Adam Curtis on "static culture" / Adam Curtis on the death of "utopian thinking" (this was tomorrow text only supplement #3)

Adam Curtis, in the New Statesman a fortnight ago, talking about "static culture" and the zombie-fication of rock:

"All culture always goes back and feeds off the past... but there are two ways of doing it. Either you can go back and get inspiration from the past and create something genuinely new... What bothers me at the moment is that you get a very different sense out of pop culture, which is that it is literally like a form of archaeology. It's going back and rebuilding it almost as a sort of work of art in itself. .. It’s not just in pop music, you get it in a lot of avant-garde art at the moment. There are people going back and making plays based on Fassbinder films of the 1970s, and they're just literally replicating it, and it's very odd. And that's why I was being a bit rude about Savages because, whilst Savages are technically extremely good, and live are extremely powerful, they are a bit like archaeologists from the 1920s, going back and digging up the tomb of Tutankhamen, and laying it all out for you to see, but they’re digging up The Slits, or New Order, or Siouxsie Sioux, and presenting it to us, and that's it.... What I'm really complaining about is a lack of progressive ideas in music. Everything seems to be about just going back and reworking it and it becomes static – sort of like a zombie culture. As I listen to Savages, I have a terrible vision of Siouxsie Sioux coming towards me like a zombie. And nothing will kill that kind of music, because, and this is rude, but what is now called post-punk – that slightly angular stuff that borrowed off punk but took stuff from funk and all sorts of other devices – had its time and had its place. At the moment it’s just being reworked and it doesn't have any meaning to it."

Seem to remember him going on about this in an interview last year, and again mentioning Savages as culpable. He seems to have a bit of a fixation about them!

(Have to say also that, while I'm sure he's worked all this stuff out for himself, it is a little surprising nobody appears to have pointed out to him that there's this chap what wrote a whole book about this very topic).

(Interesting also, that like some of us, Curtis takes a little heart from the now-pop, the NOW!-ism of radio dance divas - in his case, Rihanna). 

And here he is again,  Mr Curtis - in the latest issue of  The New Humanist, approaching the same subject from a different angle.

It's a a cover story interview by New Humanist editor Daniel Trilling (formerly of New Statesman, funnily enough) and this time the mise en scene is not neo-postpunk music but Brutalist architecture - the Thamesmead Estate, "a vast modernist housing development built from the late 1960s by the now defunct GLC" as Trilling puts it  - born out of technocratic optimism, for a long while thereafter seen as the acme of urban decay and social engineering hubris, but now increasingly gazed wistfully at as "the last outpost of a wave of 20th-century progressivism".

Prompting Curtis to muse thusly:

"They wanted to take rational ideas and use them as an inspiration to cut through the mist and the fog of conservatism to make the world a better place. utopian thinking was a kind of kick-start for that."

Ah, so in this case, echoing, unwittingly, Owen Hatherley ;)

But it's all good acerbic stuff. More from the New Statesman piece: 

"Why do you think we’ve got so many zombie movies? It's quite obvious – it's so obvious when you know it – it's because the dead won't go away. We are surrounded by the dead. Okay, The Stone Roses are touring live, but it’s a dead album. There’s a lot of music – like Kurt Cobain and all these people – they’re dead. The Rolling Stones; the music is dead, but it won’t go away. It's constantly replayed to us, and it is like zombie culture. So many things just go back and dig up the bloody grave. I'm sorry, but that's what Savages do."

"All the so-called radical art that was around in the last two Manchester festivals I've been at could have been done in 1919 by Marcel Duchamp. That’s not to say it’s bad, but to pretend that it is somehow a new radical vision of the world is wrong and it's reinforcing what's been around since the early days of modernism.... This idea that somehow art can point the way to the future is not what seems to be happening to me at the moment. Art is stuck in the past, just like music is stuck in the past, and journalism is stuck in the past."

"All these radicals – including myself – we think we are somewhere radical but actually we are deeply, deeply, deeply conservative at the moment. And what has a veneer of radicalism is actually possibly the most conservative force at the moment. By that I mean radical culture, art, music and a lot of radical journalism and radical politics – whilst none of it is bad – its mechanisms, and ways of seeing the world are borrowed from the past and its stuck in the past. It’s stuck with a nostalgia for a radicalism of the past and that’s not the radicalism that’s necessary"
 "It’s quite exciting because you know it can't go on like this. Something is going to come along"

this wasn't tomorrow #2

(via DJ Food)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Momus, "thinking about Scarfolk", along with a bunch of other things and themes, including archival culture and fictitious books

I persist in seeing Scarfolk as the Ride to Ghost Box's My Bloody Valentine

Which must make this chap, Chris Sharp, who records as Concretism, something like the Slowdive or even Chapterhouse of hauntgaze...

from his blurb:

Welcome to my grey world of sinister public information films, dusty archival sounds, Cold War Britain and weeping analogue synths. Not necessarily in that order.

All music, stings and sounds created entirely from scratch, using vintage analogue synths, varispeed tape bouncing, reversing, field recording and self-sampling. I do not use pre-made samples, sounds or loops.

among his output:

 Lost Transmissions: Broadcasts that could have been

 The Science Programme (BBC, early/mid '70s?)
    400kV Thames Crossing (from BBC 'The Nation Tonight' package, c. 1970)
    Fog (COI public information film, 1982)
    History for Schools (BBC, 1978)
    A Tour of the Factory
    'The Switch' (M&E clip) (ITV 'Drama for Tonight', 1973)
    The Mediaeval World (BBC, 1975 - *never made*)
    'The Star Children' opening theme (BBC, 1980)

among his endorsements:

'Brilliant! Concretism is the perfect accompaniment to ‪Scarfolk‬'  -Richard Littler, Mayor of Scarfolk.

'This guy out-Ghost Boxes Ghost Box. Hauntological heaven.' - -Mike Innes, They Go Boom!!

'Bloody fantastic! On a par with the Ghost Box output at the very least, full of great ideas behind the tracks. I don't know whether to cry, smile, be afraid, or just take note.' -Betacord

Actually enjoyable well-executed stuff, listening to it.... it's just that there's an element of, well, redundancy there.

Still, I suppose at the least it is gratifying that he quite happily tags his output as "Hauntology" c.f churlishness of certain other operators

this was tomorrow #18

(via Toys and Techniques)

Monday, February 17, 2014

getting the future wrong, #4


Instalment number four in this sporadic series on television dramas whose prophecies of tomorrow's Britain were wildly off-base concerns The Guardians, a 1971 series I had never ever heard until very recently, and that appears to be based around the "UK as Weimar Germany" notion that circulated during the era of power cuts, sympathy strikes, permissive society, multiculturalism etc - the scenario, equally feared and desired, of decadence, followed by economic collapse, followed by authoritarian take-over and the restoration of order, values and national strength.   There were thirteen hour-long episodes and it's now available again on DVD.

from Network on Air: "Following a period of mass unemployment, hyperinflation, social disorder and industrial unrest, democracy has been swept away amid a raft of security measures; law and order have been restored under a new regime, whose totalitarian rule is enforced by uniformed paramilitaries known as the Guardians. Behind the slogan ‘Make Britain Great’, the outwardly benign regime suppresses all opposition, while the Guardians, taking orders from their shadowy leader, the General, have become the true holders of power. There are voices of dissent, however; a loose affiliation of resistance groups, collectively known as Quarmby, has begun a clandestine struggle against the regime. But opposing factions quickly emerge within the movement – and with them, the inescapable moral dilemmas faced by all those who must use force to achieve their ends.

"The Guardians’ chilling vision of an Orwellian near-future has remained unseen since its original airing in 1971. Created by Rex Firkin and Vincent Tilsley, whose combined credits include The Prisoner, Manhunt, The Death of Adolf Hitler and The Forsyte Saga, the series anticipated many more recent dramatisations featuring similarly dystopian landscapes, and has been praised for its insightful, intelligent handling of its subject; the grey area in which resistance tactics may disturbingly mirror those of the oppressor is acknowledged, and ambivalent, doubt-ridden characters exist on both sides."

Also via Network On Air, fan Ian McLachan looks back at the series:

"The Guardians – first shown in 1971 – is a programme that I have always wanted to revisit, as it was one that had a profound effect on me when I first saw it. A political thriller that did what all good dramas do; make you think!

"The Guardians is set in the not too distant future and in the previous few years there have been a number of problems in Britain. A coalition government has sadly not been successful and it has fallen. A new Government has taken over – but it is an unelected one meaning there is a token Prime Minister who has very little real power. That is in the hands of the Guardians who are a ruthless paramilitary force which are overseen by The General – someone whom, at the beginning of the series, is very much in the background. Those people who have taken over want the general population to believe that this new unelected Government is in place for the people’s own good. However, not everyone is happy about this state of affairs. There are various resistance groups known as Quarmby who want to overturn the government and put something different in its place.

"The series is rather unusual in that, while there is a developing narrative running throughout the series, each of the episodes deals with a particular aspect of that ongoing storyline. There is a definite ending to the series in its thirteenth episode – End in Dust – which is particularly powerful.

"Like Orwell’s 1984, the future here is rather bleak. While it paints a vision of what an extreme right wing government might look like, I would have to say that I feel governments of other persuasions could also have adopted some of the ideas contained within the narrative. There were times revisiting it when I was amazed at just how prophetic the series actually was.

"While the series has a number of leading players, they do not appear in every episode. While some of them are perhaps more three dimensional than others, none of them could be described as an outright ‘goodie’ or ‘baddie.’ In fact the resistance members seem as bad – if not worse – than the government that they are opposed to.

"The actors including Cyril Luckham, Edward Petherbridge, John Collin, Lynn Farleigh, Derek Smith and Gwyneth Powell are uniformly excellent and particularly shine in the interesting ‘conversations in studio sets’ that make up the bulk of the series.

"There are some rather surprising moments and after having watched it you will never look at an umbrella in quite the same way again (really…)!

"The theme music and opening titles are very impressive and they get the thirteen episodes off to an excellent start. There is much that is implied rather than shown and to get the most out of the programme you really have to concentrate and reflect on many of the important issues raised – issues that are still relevant to us today."

Geist Kiste

Andrew Pekler coming cross a bit like a Germanic The Focus Group on this tune from several years ago

(via Found Objects)

alternative translations (Germans please advise which is closest) - Geist Urne, Geist Kasten, Geist Karton, Geist Schachtel, Geist Dose, Geist Kassette, Geist Packung, Geist Glozte

my goodness you do have a lot of words for box... including, apparently, Box

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

this was tomorrow #17 (text-only instalment)

"I was just trying to make something that I would enjoy. Something that wasn’t there. And there was so much new stuff around, it was exciting, there were new things that you could do that no-one had ever had the chance to do before, sounds that no-one in history had been able to make before. And the moment you know that’s the case, that’s quite exciting. There was a lot of that at the beginning of the eighties. If you think that when we made ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ in 1979, there wasn’t a sequencer on it, there were no computers within a mile of it – it’s all played. It sounds like it’s sequenced because we played it to sound like it was sequenced. But by 1983 it had all exploded. What was possible was incredible. Everything was possible suddenly, when it hadn’t been previously" - Trevor Horn, interviewed by Alex Niven, for The Quietus, on the occasion of ZTT's 30th Birthday

Alex goes on to ask: .

Some people would say that the pace of technological change has slowed somewhat since then. Do you think that that sense of possibility was confined to the historical moment of the early eighties?

to which Horn replies:

"No, but what has happened is that it’s not so visible now. Back at the start of the eighties you were able to sample a sound and make it musical, but now everything’s a sample. Whereas, back then we were sampling things and making a record out of it, now a record’s just a sample. There’s nothing that isn’t a sample, if you get my drift. There was this amazing thing about early sampling, whereby because the technology was primitive, it had a way of romanticising the sound and giving it an otherworldliness that made it seem even more different. Now that all the recording quality is perfect, you have to fake that. But technology’s changed – now all of the gear that we had fits into a computer, and that to me is an even more incredible environment. But you don’t hear that in the records. Back in the early eighties you could hear some shit was going on but you didn’t know what it was. Producers used to come up to me in ’82-’83 and say, ‘How the hell did you do that thing? What was that?’ And of course within a year they all knew. By the time we got to 1986 the little S900 samplers had come out and everyone had access to the same technology."

C.f. Mark Fisher's idea that we can no longer hear technology:

"It is not that technology has ceased developing. What has happened, however, is that technology has been decalibrated from cultural form. The present moment might in fact be best characterised by a discrepancy between the onward march of technology and the stalling, stagnation and retardation of culture. We can’t hear technology any more. There has been a gradual disappearance of the sound of technological rupture – such as the irruption of Brian Eno’s analogue synth in the middle of Roxy Music’s “Virginia Plain”, or the cut-and-paste angular alienness of early rave – that pop music once taught us to expect. We still see technology, perhaps, in cinema CGI, but CGI’s role is somewhat paradoxical: its aim is precisely to make itself invisible, and it has been used to finesse an already established model of reality. High-definition television is another example of the same syndrome: we see the same old things, but brighter and glossier"

this was tomorrow #16