Friday, June 08, 2018

s.f and rock

Here's my review for 4Columns of Jason Heller's book about the interface between pop music and science fiction in the 1970s - Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded.

Along with the many cross-contaminations between rock-etc and s.f., one thing that Heller's book reminded me of was that many of the very earliest rock criticism publications were started by people who had previously done science fiction fanzines. Crawdaddy’s Paul Williams had earlier published Within; Greg Shaw, founder of Who Put the Bomp, attended s.f. conventions and made mimeographed zines; Lenny Kaye self-published periodicals like Sadistic Sphinx long before he became a rock critic and Patti Smith guitarist. 

Intensely self-reflexive fields, rock criticism and science fiction share a strange mix of inferiority and superiority complexes.  Painfully aware of their marginal position vis-à-vis “proper” journalism and “respectable” literature, they nonetheless  believe that they are doing the  Most Crucial Writing of Our Time. I can remember from my own days as an adolescent s.f. fanatic being struck by the s.f. writer's culture of workshops and conventions  - by how the writers loved to write essays defining s.f. as a genre, proclaiming its unique contribution to literature. There were even a few volumes of essays by s.f. writers debating s.f. that I remember reading. 

S.f. was what I was into immediately before getting into music; writing s.f. and in particular alternative history, a special passion of mine, was what I imagined I might do in life, until I discovered the music press. During this mid-teens enthusiasm for s.f., I thought that I would never ever be one of those who grew out of the genre. But sure enough, the zeal for s.f. got displaced abruptly and entirely by a different fanatical focus, once I heard Sex Pistols and Ian Dury. Aged sixteen, I swapped one New Wave (the Sixties-onward school of experimental and inner-spacey s.f.) for another New Wave.  

But then I came back to the genre in middle age - did some catch-up with cyberpunk, which I'd missed as it was happening in the Eighties... reread old favorites...  caught up with a few that I'd somehow missed (like Lem) even during the days of taking four paperbacks a week out of Berkhamsted Library as well as buying as many as I could on my slender means...  But I never got round to any of the post-1990 giants (if giants there be). To me, it's still Pohl and Bester and Brunner who loom largest in my mind. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

visual music + colour in rhythm

Boiler Room has launched a new platform -  4:3 - dedicated to a wide range of underground film, video art, documentary, and found footage, connected by themes of "performance, identity, youth culture and anti-establishment."

For the launch, I've contributed a playlist of Experimental Animation - ten clips that provide a swift survey of the art from its dawn shortly after World War I through to the waning of the analogue era in the late Nineties. Digital, for various reasons later to be explored, is a whole other zeit I feel, and possibly a geist-less one.

The playlist is the fruit of the unexpected eruption of a long dormant obsession, one that dates back to adolescence, when for a while I fancied the career of cartoonist as a life path. The slant of my selection is less on laughs, though, and more about abstract beauty, geometries-in-motion, macabre whimsy, zany mania, psychotic Pop Art,  and a uniquely East European absurdism.

Do check out the other cool stuff in this debut edition of 4:3,  which includes curation from Ryuichi Sakomoto, Peaches, and Elijah Wood, and playlists devoted to archival rave footage,  legendary concert films, vintage grime, the early days of house club culture. queer video art, UK garage, and more, including original content.  Access is free with registration.

Here's a handful of the scores and scores of animations that easily could have made the cut..