Thursday, November 30, 2006

well these people seem pretty confident they're in the business of "tomorrow's music today" -and look who've they got on the cover

more on the war of the pazzes

An aside in a Dissensus thread (I forget which) some weeks ago to the effect that “Nineties music sounds shit now, doesn’t it” made me wonder… well, does it? I don’t need too much prompting to go on a major back-to-da-90s kick, so I dug deep in the closet and had a bit of week back there…. Ultramarine, Wagon Christ (still think Throbbing Pouch is towering, magical, and mystified by the paucity of love out there in the community for this album), loadsaloadsa ambient jungle , even some Orb, never got around to DJ Shadow though… And I can confidently say that, as far as my ears can tell, "no, actually, it doesn’t sound shit. It sounds, in fact, glorious". Well, there was a moment several years back when I put on Omni Trio “Renegade Snares” for the first time in a long-ish while and thought “oo-er it does sound a bit cruddy ‘n’ muddy, the production, the drum sounds…". But it’s well past that now, that phase of cringing at the only-recently-cutting-edge-but-now-already-dated which so often afflicts dance music, that phase is some way behind us… and the best of that decade sounds, once more, unimpeachably great... And then a lot of the other stuff--and there was so much dance music, electronic music, in the 90s, things moved so fast, fragmented so multiply-- well I think that stuff too s going to be salvageable as kitsch actually quite soon…. who knows, even things like FSOL’s Lifeforms or Sven Vath may enjoy a second coming as the Esquivels of their day!

But relistening and inevitably rethinking this music, it also made me consider the recent discussions about the future (and nostalgia thereof), the issue of futurity/futuristic-ness in music, and what exactly do we mean when we describe a music as futuristic or a certain exponent as a Futurist? How much is rhetoric and how much is substance? Can sound itself be a kind of rhetoric?

Because so much of this Nineties music did talk itself up as future-music and see itself in those terms. You got in the interviews and you got it from all the science fiction, bit-kitschy-even-then packaging /artwork/typography… and not least you got it in the band names and track titles (Omni’s “Living For the Future”, Noise Factory’s “I bring you the future, the future, the future” riff used in “Futuroid”, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse a/k/a Foul Play’s “We Are The Future” ... not forgetting Phuture of “Acid Tracks” fame naturally, and that “ph” itself becoming the coding for FUTURISTIC as with Photek and and countless other examples eg 2steppers Phuturistix revealing their roots in drum'n'bass with their moniker as much as neurofunkazoid trax)… So much of this music as it happened was received and felt and written about as future music (which I’m sure philosophically presents some problems--if it’s happening-right now, how can it be from the future or of the future?)…

There’s various ways to take the idea of “future music”--the angle of futuristic as literally predictive of what tomorrow’s music will sound like ("tomorrow’s music today" was actually Melody Maker’s slogan at one point if I recall, but that meant more a tipsheet, you-read-about-it-here-first rather than a futurist credo, Front 242 Skinny Puppy and Young Gods covers withal)… or perhaps in another sense, "future" applies because if the underground is the vanguard it’s because it’s bringing right here right now what will eventually be the common everyday stuff of mainstream popular music… well you could say that did and didn’t happen with the technorave/drum’n’bass/et al …. some of the ideas seeped sideways into rap and R&B, or they popped up subliminally in adverts and movies and TV scores… but no, faceless techno bollocks did not, ultimately, vanquish and eclipse for all time songs/guitars etc.

And then (as discussed earlier, towards the end of this post) there’s “futuristic”, which involves playing with received ideas of the future as already established in science fiction and futurology and popular science programmes/books: the imagery of cyberpunk and space-age whatnot that pervaded techno, D&B, etc, and pretty shlocky-kitschy stuff it was too, a lot of the time, whether slanted to the utopian or the dystopian). So for instance, synthesizer tones per se were already established (from the late 60s onward, through movie soundtracks, then with Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, also in jazz-fusion, etc) as connoting the Future/Outer-Space.

And there is another category that I’m going to designate “futuroid”, in homage to the aforementioned Noise Factory track, and that would refer to genuinely unforeheard, cutting-edge, out-of-nowhere elements in music. So the actual futuroid elements in jungle were the beats and the bass-science (not so much the dubsway rumblizm but the more radically mutational and counter-intuitively pretzel-like motion-shapes of bass-goo), and in techno it would be those sounds and effects that weren’t part of the established 80s synthpop palette (e.g. mentasm, or acid when it first appeared). In all the rave styles, though, there tends to be a mixture of the genuinely futuroid and the merely futuristic.

Further complicating all this is that some of the mood of the music that made it feel tilted towards Tomorrow--that mood in, say, ambient jungle/artcore drum’n’bass of brimming optimism and anticipation--is actually created with backward-looking elements. So in the case of Omni’s “Living for the Future” it’s the John Barry influenced soundtrackisms that
create the eyes-on-the-horizon feeling. (A different set of soundtrackisms, I expect, contributed quite heavily to darkside and techstep’s dystopian futurism). Likewise with the Bukem end of things, there’s a lot of harking back to to 70s fusion, jazzfunk, O/S/T thematics…

These thoughts were brought into relief when rummaging through the closet for 90s stuff I stumbled on a CD I haven’t listened to since I got it, Breakbeat Science: two CDs of 1996 drum’n’bass plus a fat full colour booklet of interviews, as done by those Volume people who did the Trance Europe Express/Trance Atlantic series (I remember thinking how this development signified that d&b had crossed over into middlebrow). 10 years old, poised between Logical Progression and Techsteppin’, it’s a curious artifcact, and quite a kitschy relic in itself… and naturally every bloody interview is riddled with references to “the future”, uttered by interviewee and journalist alike… and yet d&b is already at that point where the rhetoric is slipping out of synch with the actual achievement… in part because the producers ideas of how to advance the music actual involve backward steps (musicality, soundtrackism etc) … in retrospect it becomes clearer than ever that hardcore was way more futuroid than jungle--it had the breakbeat science, the radically non-naturalistic, no-relation-to-the-acoustic-instrument bass-plasma element, but it had other elements too: radical vocal science, with the squeaky voices, the voice-as-riff played percussively on the sampler keyboard, the sampladelic voice-goo smearage… the unforeheard Beltramoid synth-timbres and stab patterns…. even those manic Morse Codey piano vamps were more what-the-fuck futuroid than the glancing minor-key jazzual keybs in drum’n’bass… Yet I suspect there was significantly less “we are the future of music” rhetoric during hardcore than later on, cos everyone was in the rush of the now. Did I even used the F-word at that time? (Actually in the end of 92 Wire ardkore piece, I said listening to the pirates “you know you’re living in the future”). But generally, rave in its pure form was about the now.

Perhaps there’s a three-way division here.

Artists who make an overt ideology out of their aspiration to make tomorrow’s music today (this would include quite a few techno people, but also a group like The Young Gods, or earlier, the Art of Noise--both of whom could also be seen as having a relationship to the actual early 20th Century movement Futurism, adding a tinge of retro-Futurism)

Artists who play with science fiction imagery, a set of signifiers and associations that refer back to a tradition of how the Future was envisaged or sonically imagined. For quite some time--even in the early 90s--this kind of thing already had a retro-futurist tinge to it. Again lots of techno artists went in for this kind of imagery but so did a lot of genres (synthpop, industrial, space music) outside the dance field.

The actually emergent or unforeheard elements in music.
(Why not call this ‘modernist”? Well, Modernism is itself a style, a period-bound thing to the point where there is such a thing as retro-modernism… Not all futuroid things are going to manifest as stark/lacking ornament/bleak/brutal/abstract/functional/minimalist, i.e. the clichés of modernism…. For instance breakbeat science as it evolved turned into a kind of rhythmic baroque, and wildstyle graffiti, while futuroid and futuristic, was not Modernist in that style-defined sense of stark etc).

To map this onto the old Raymond Williams residual/emergent dichotomy, most musics that are any good or at all enjoyable or have any impact on the wider culture are going to involve a mixture of futuroid and traditional. A wholly Futuroid music would probably be as indigestible as Marinetti’s proposed Italo-Futurist replacement for pasta--a dish of perfumed sand.

Finally, “futuroid” is not solely a property of electronic music or computer-based music… To pick only the most consternating example, I would say that the style of guitar-playing developed by the Edge in the early days of U2 (“I Will Follow” to “With or Without You”) was as futuroid as anything done by most electropop artists at the time… furthermore that the futuroid in music can exist without any accompanying trappings of the futuristic either in sound or imagery

PS As I finish this I’m listening to the last track on 8-Bit Operators, an 8-bit tribute to the music of Kraftwerk… it's a version of “Man Machine” by gwEm and Counter Reset that is either live or simulated-live … the shaky-middle-class-English-voiced parody-MC calls out “alright Bagleys, how do you feel out there this evening… speak to me Bagleys [massive crowd cheer] …we want to say a big shout out to Kraftwerk and all the ravers in the world…” (Bagleys being this old British Rail depot turned dance venue near King's Cross which is
where in 93 I went to one of the first jungle-as-Jungle raves… and now I think about it, they had an old skool room even then…). But yeah, talk about retro-futurism! The music--sort of techo filtered through an indie-rock lo-fi amateurism and archness--is actually kinda like how I thought Nu Rave would sound. The track ends--“Easy my fellow junglist warriors, until the next time, gwEm and Counter Reset, out of here”--and I don’t know how to feel…

PPS and what do you know, in marvellous synchrony, Dorian Lynskey asks whatever happened to the future?

blimey, Battle of the Pazzes!

it's a bit like that period in the.... 14th Century was it?... when there were two Popes.

(because i gather the Voice is going to be doing P&J as per usual)

i know Matos wouldn't embark on this without the Dean's blessing; i wonder if he's going to ask him to do one of his epic surveys of the Year in Music*?

* a grim task indeed this year where everybody, but everybody i know--including matos himself, usually a poptimistic sort--seems to be agreed that twas verily the shitest, dullest, nothing-a-gwan year they can remember

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Flicking through the just-arrived new issue of the Wire, a "w000ooah, hold-up thurr a minute" moment: a massive Primer on "Texan hip hop", meaning DJ Screw and kin, from Mr David Stelfox. Lots of full-colour pix--the last time there were this many black faces in the Wire was when I did my guide to Grime a year ago. Congratulations Dave, quite a coup.

A pretty meaty issue all told. Great big cover story by Phil Freeman on the Melvins (one of those bands I always wanted to like, wanted to get into... They're quite an arty bunch right? it's all very conceptual isn't it -- indeed there was a dense piece on them in Artforum some years back as I recall that seemed to reckon they were bloody clever and playing all sorts of sharp games with rock iconography, deconstructing "heavy" and "dumb", exposing the device G04 style. Or something. From what I remember of their major label crossover LP though it sounded a bit like Mountain but without the erm melodic grace and majesty ... still i'll have to give them another go one of these years). Piece on John Surman who I remember from having been an ECM fan for some while but this is about his early days as fiery free jazzer. One on Funhouse sax-blaster Steve Mackay. And (chiming with the Cage-bashing theme of the previous Wire issue) a Cage-related book gets reviewed whence is plucked this from Stockhausen, slagging JC in 1988:

"He has no inner vision: he doesn't hear.... it is just a shock in the history of the European tradition that someone like him can be called a composer... until the middle of the 20th Century... one always expected musicianship, a very special kind of craftsmanship"
from theory to practice: a soon-come hauntological intervention from Acid Nouveaux
moving meditation on the Year in Techno and his year in life from Mr Sherburne

must hear that 35 minute villalabos balktan-tekkno track...
you gotta love this sharity blog Time Has Told Me

"prog and folk" is its avowed remit, but mostly its folk, and mostly its Britfolk – and you're thinking "oh yes how terribly fashionable, vashti/watersons/ISB-love for the freak-folk massive" but nah, this guy is a serious scholar, there's very little of the wilfully wyrd (some COB, bill fay, ISB solo stuff and rarities, etc) but overall it's much more the real-deal Britfolk--the world of chunky sweaters, wood-whittling, women with wenchy complexions but clad in knee length leather boots. The kind of thing that was still lingering around at the end of the 70s, early 80s, the kind of people us with our Penthouse and Pavement and ACR 12 inches liked to scoff at (but now who's laughing, eh)

So you get a lot of things like this lot, Silver Birch

how ghostboxy is that, that they were originally called The Forestry Commission!

Or this sturdy-looking fellow who rejoices in the name Cyril Tawney.

And the even more marvellously named Vin Garbutt

And then the ur-Britfolk (non-wyrd, non-acid folk) combo Hedgehog Pie

Like so many of the sharity blogs you can see how the logic of obsessive specialist collecting has taken this fiend on a strange, barrel-scraping, cranny-of-History-rummaging journey

the motor principle neatly condensed in this phrase--"one of the best, most obscure”--as if the two things were identical!

that collector logic has driven Mr Time Has Told Me (who appears to be Japanese--now that country is the empire of retro isn't it? did you know there was a bizarre fad in Japan for groups that did immaculate reproductions of Elizabaethan madrigals and the like? Ryuichi Sakomoto of all people was involved in one of them), driven him further and further afield: Irish folk, French folk, Dutch folk, what he calls "Canadian hippie folk", and even, and I love this, to outright Christian folk (like this record, Young Folk in Worship) . And even, apparently, Christian psych folk which seems like it ought to be wrong.

I don't download any of this stuff, I hasten to add, just visit for the album covers and titles and band names, like this dude , or this what-the-fuck sleeve, or gorblimey this one. and seriously you have to click on this one.

A couple of sharity-blogz on a similar tip, if not quite so hilarity-rich:

Fat Pam
(some Quebec Folk in there, and more “UK Xtian Folk”)

Grown So Ugly
is "owl" set to be the new "wolf"?

here's a much older example
IP hilariously bemused/amused by a bizarrely erudite protest placard seen on TV news

actually some good friends of ours named their son Soren...
if Marc Bolan had been frum he might have named his breakthrough album this

here's some even more kitschy specimens

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Watching Woodstock the other morning, for the umpteenth time (strangely, though, i don’t think I’ve ever seen it all the way through.. I always seem to come in somewhere in the middle), it struck me: was 1969 the absolute worst year for music ever? A similar thought flitted across my mind recently when PBS was doing its annual fund-raising drive and seemed to think a concert film of Blind Faith performing in Hyde Park that same year was what would prompt the punters to cough up a donation (and hell, maybe they know their demographic, which is Anglophile and babyboomer). But Blind Faith was just dull; Woodstock, that’s a whole other order of ordure. Is there anything more obscene in rock than Joe Cocker’s blackface bawling? (He and Janis are surely the most unsalvageable elements from the entire decade). Perhaps 10 Years After’s Alvin Lee’s having-a-fast-angry-wank grimacing during the interminable "Coming Home/Baby Please Don’t Go” jam-arathon comes close. Especially combined (or even juxtaposed--do they go split-screen during that sequence, i can't remember)with the look of idiot bliss on his bassist’s face, who silently pounds his instrument’s soundboard in time to the beat with eyes closed in rapture, like the jizz whizzing past his earholes and over the audience's collective face are the most sublime sounds he’s ever heard! Now I’m a big Sixties person as you know but practically everything in the movie makes me cringe and recoil. The inanities uttered! And everyone looks so ugly, so badly dressed! The hair probably looked cute in ’66 when they first started growing it out, but as the decade's end approaches it's looking really bad. And most of all the terrible music, from Santana to CSN to Sha bloody Na bloody Na…. Just about the only good bits*: Richie Havens, surprisingly… Country Joe, well yes we all like "fixin' to die" the anti-draft satire don't we … oh and Sly of course… But even Jimi torturing the Star Spangled Banner goes on a bit. Intriguingly, the music was at its most dire at the precise moment that Rock was at its most demonstrably Important as well as at its most self-Important.

* I of course still get a tingle when the two Suburban Base samples appear -- “that kid’s gonna be far out” (John Sebastian onstage talking about one of the births that took place during the festival, as used on Sonz of a Loop Da Loop Era’s “Far Out”)… and then “you’ve heard the heavy groups, now you will hear morning maniac music” (Grace Slick, introducing the Airplane at dawn, as used on Lick Back Organisation’s “Maniak Musik”)
in his latest Status Ain't Hood Tom Breihan notes:

"We Fly High" [by jim jones] is a truly awful song, and it's only managed to become a success because there aren't a whole lot of great rap singles out now"

aha! well i have not been paying a whole lot of attention to rap this year, but these last weeks I have found myself clicking onto BET a bit more than for a while, and watched those "viewers' choice rap videos of the moment" top 10 countdown things that MTV2 does, and just been stunned by how utterly bereft the genre seems. a palpable sense that nobody can be bothered to do anything exceptional or different, make the slightest attempt to raise the collective game; a real half-hearted, going-through-the-motions, same-old-same-old vibe, from the rhyme-content to the production to the video imagery. still a bit of lingering-way-past-its-freshness-point techno element in some tunes (e.g. that new single with eminem and lloyd banks and the rest), but it's like bad techno, the kind of stuff they used to play at the Tunnel...

snoop dogg is looking really haggard these days isn't he
interesting project
nick southall continues his one-man (anti-)loudness war by denouncing specific albums, a list of worst-offenders from the last decade when it comes to heinous compression, pain-inducing production, etc etc... a few surprises here (Kid A has shit sound?! coulda fooled me!)
kpunk on uk decay

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

a personal tribute to Ellen Willis by her friend and Village Voice colleague Karen Durbin

Monday, November 13, 2006

Had a bit of a postpunkoid weekend there... actually it was a postpunkoid 14 hour spurt. Saturday morning I participated in a panel on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts as part of this conference, good fun, spectrality came up a few times as you can imagine. And the night before I ran into Orange Juiceman Steven Daly at, where else, the New York live debut of Scritti Politti. Which was incredible. I expected it to be slightly shaky, and there were the odd fumble now and then between songs, a false start/"let's rewind that shall we", but wow--the force of the performance was a total ambush. Green actually sings live exactly like on the record, it just comes out like that, that beyond-human, angelic-falsetto perfection. And how often do you hear a band doing five part harmonies? Eevery member of the band, apart from the drummer, was singing at various points, perfectly replicating those uncanny self-dovetailed lattices of multitracked Green on the album. Amazing to hear songs I'd never thought would, or could, be played live--"Wood Beez", "The Word Girl" -not only come off but sound better live, retaining the slick gloss and crisp punch of Cupid & Psyche but adding a swing and feel and sheer might of sound that just wasn't there on that prissy-produced record. The zing of those slashing rhythm guitar bits on "Wood Beez"! Other highlights: "The Sweetest Girl" and "Skank Bloc Bologna", naturally; a cover of a Deru the Damaja/Premier tune ("Come Clean" i think it was?) that came off surprisingly well with Green in MC mode,; another tune with Green spitting in the stead of former MC collaborator Skills and showing he's come a long way since the "rap" bit in "Jacques Derrida", things off White Bread that hit especially hard live like "E 11th Nuts" and "Cooking" and of course "Boom Boom Bap," while the encore of "Petrococadollar" was mindblowing (don't think i've ever heard a lead voice mixed so prominently and dominantly at a live show) and the final song, some kind of "we are Scritti/introduce the band" band-theme tune was a hoot. At the start Green apologised for his lack of flair for between-song banter but of course this was just self-deprecation and the whole gig was badinage-tastic with lots of cute joshing between band members. Definitely not to be missed if this passes through your area.
little lick by me on Marc Joseph's photobook of record shop and book store interior and exteriors

if the missus had given me more space i would have included this interesting if tangentially connected book on Trash and another art book, Rosamond Purcell's Bookworm, which among many other kinds of work has all these gorgeous photographs of books in advanced states of disintegration and decay after being exposed to the elements, the pages blending with leaf mold and weeds, or flaring in autumnal hues of rot and speckle. If you go here and use the "book tease" function you can see some of the images.
massive piece on dubstep in Artforum (november issue) quotes alla da blogger man dem
-- K-punk, Philip Sherburne, myself (three times) and don dada Martin Clark (four times!!)
the ever surprising K-punk on Gladys Knight and the Pips

oh okay, and some other things too
we were talking about John Cage not so long ago weren't we (on the unlistenability of HPSCHD) and i was on the edge of venturing the opinion that he was a much better music-thinker than music-maker then thought better of it seeing as I ought to check out the touted prepared piano stuff first, but in the current (joanna newsom/ghost boys) issue of the Wire, in the Epiphanies column at the back of the mag, Philip Brophy goes one better, arguing that not only was Cage's music a tough listen but his theories were a load of pernicious bunk too! Splendid to read something so abrasively dissident...
DB and Clever have the third of their Secret Night of Science artcore nights this coming Friday November 17th

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

hooray for the American people!!!

Monday, November 06, 2006

friend-of-the-family David Sandlin has a terrific book out of his artwork called Wonderful World , you can get it here and check out his other works as stocked by Printed Matter

incidentally David's mate Richard McGuire of Liquid Liquid fame did the oct 16 cover of new yorker (i only just notice)
jane dark/joshua clover with a lovely little riff on scritti white bread black beer

which I see is #2 in uncut’s albums of the year, just behind bob dylan!

success d’estime innit

he is playing new york--american live debut i believe, nearly 30 years into the career!--this friday, at bowery ballroom i think it is, and i will be there, feeling strange sensations
nice, slightly old now, piece on breakbeat continuum from Sonic Truth
silly boys

stupid boys
nostalgia for the future (slight return) #3

Aaron Philip Tate writes:
"The word "nostos" in ancient Greek does not mean, and has never at any time meant, "homeland." The standard definition is "return." It is a ubiquitous concept in early Greek literature, and occurs throughout the Odyssey to describe Odysseus' "return" to his wife, child, and home in Ithaka... the stories of the other heroes returning from Troy to their homes are called the "Nostoi," or "Returns,"and there may have been a whole cycle of oral epics depicting different heroes' returns from Troy. As it stands today, we have only two full stories of "return," one preserved in Homer's Odyssey (the return of Odysseus), the other in Aeschylus' Oresteia (the return of Agamemnon). "

Fascinating--and good to know (I got the nostos = homeland from something on the web, apparently itself sourced in the OED, which is quite alarming). Still I think the essential point remains: which is that nostalgia, when the term was invented a couple of centuries ago, originally referred to a longing to return through space, as opposed to across time; it was the yearning to get back to where you belonged... homesickness with a hint of
dislocation and culture-shock (similar perhaps to the “people are strange” feeling captured in the Doors song; indeed Morrison once described their music as being about "not feeling at home”). At any rate, this original nostalgia was a plausible emotion in the sense that there was a cure for what ailed you: catching the first warship or merchant vessel back home and returning to the warm hearth of kith and kin, to a world that was familiar... Whereas nostalgia as we now use the term is an impossible yearning, since the only true remedy would involve time travel.
But again, this kind of personal nostalgia is totally different from the nostalgia-for-something-you-never-actually-lived-through of retro culture, the "nostalgia mode" as Jameson defined it.
nostalgia for the future (slight return) #2

UtopianTurtleTop chips in not once not twice but thrice

Make that four times actually, if you count the latest mini-post on hauntology complete with proto-hauntological MP3s by the man himself

And Peanut Butter man has some thoughts
nostalgia for the future (slight return)

make that five...

(check out also his new Measures Taken piece...
when i saw the word ‘brazilification’ I thought it was about mesticagem or something like that, i.e. one of the good things about Brazil... but sadly not)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

nostalgia for the future #2

No less than four-- Stanley Whyte, Ian Penman, Stephen Trousse, Kevin Pearce--email to point out the glaring ommission from the nostalgia 4 da phuture list: “Nostalgia” by the Buzzcocks, on 1978's Love Bites.

The lyric:

I bet that you love me like I love you
But I should know that gambling just don't pay
So I look up to the sky
And I wonder what it'll be like in days gone by
As I sit and bathe in the wave of nostalgia for an age yet to come
I always used to dream of the past
But like they say yesterday never comes
Sometimes there's a song in my brain
And I feel that my heart knows the refrain
I guess it's just the music that brings on nostalgia for an age yet to come

About the future I only can reminisce
For what I'e had is what I'll never get
And although this may sound strange
My future and my past are presently disarranged
And I'm surfing on a wave of nostalgia for an age yet to come

I look I only see what I don't know
All that was strong invincible is slain
Takes more than sunshine to make everything fine
And I feel like I'm trapped in the middle of time
With this constant feeling of nostalgia for an age yet to come


I guess it is one of those meme-phrases that spontaneously emerges from different lips at different times because what it describes is very real

For instance I’d be surprised if Ballard hadn’t somewhere in his writings come up with a similar formulation of words, independently of Rorem.


Michael Jason Dieter chips in by mentioning Walter Benjamin as a pre-emiment theorist of all this, “especially in 'the Arcades Project', where a kind of materialist history is mapped out. The notion that the past commodities, for instance, still hold a kindof utopia waiting…" And “Walter Benjamin wrote on the complex fore-history carried through material objects as resembling a ‘dreamscape’. Indeed, his spectral analysis of theParisian arcades was premised on a retrieval of the latent potentialities embedded in the concrete form of past commodities, or the garbage cast-offby modernity. By implementing various relational and montage-basedtechniques, the futurity or utopian promise originally associated withthese items might be drawn out by an individual and fully realised in thepresent. In doing so, Benjamin theorised the linear continuum ofhistorical progress could be brought to a standstill, stretched outlaterally across a network of time, to reveal the actual experience ofmodernity in a ‘flash of lightning.’ Somehow, teleology would becircumvented, and the assignation of events exploded within the practiceof history itself. The result would be a pure dialectical image, a variedconstellation that finally made legible the geography of contemporary lifeas a communicable form.”

The one bit of Spectres of Marx that never seems to come up in discussions of hauntology is the (admittedly glancing) allusions to Benjamin’s “weak messianic power”. Which (excuse me if this is poorly grasped; I’m only just struggling through Spectres now, so this is largely derived from the mostly hostile Marxists’ responses to Spectres in that Ghostly Demarcations collection, plus Derrida's hilariously petulant and wounded response in the long afterword) I take to refer an idea of keeping alive a sense of utopian possibility and change-will-come during periods of contraction/reaction/stagnation/reversal, when all hope of revolution or change seems to have gone. In political terms I imagine this involves preserving the knowledge of historical breaks that happened in the past ... the Bolsheviks, the anarchists in the Spanish Civil War, 1968... or more vaguely, just the notion of building a better society/social engineering/grand collective projects of amelioration and emancipations... The “weak” presumably connoting a sense of fadedness and faintness (as well as ineffectualness--vague hopes rather than a political program, the party with its science of history pointing the path to tomorrow). The “messianic”, because it relates to the Judaeo-Christian tradition, also to the millienial/prophetic mystico-political line running back through the ages (all that stuff Norman Cohn wrote about; also Marcus in Lipstick Traces)… “gnostalgia for the future” to borrow a Penman pun… and again a point of convergence with dub & roots, Rasta’s apocalyptic confidence that Babylon-shall-fall… … With the Ghost Box lot, this politically dissident dimension isn’t there so strongly, it’s really more the cultural aspect--keeping alive the idea of the futuristic and unforeheard as a possibility: not so much “change” as “strange will come (again)”… Mind you, Ghost Box’s formative predecessor Stereolab had both aspects going on: the nostalgia-for-the-future of analog synth worship/Neu!-fetishism, but also the Marxist don't-stop-thinking-about-tomorrow element, e.g. Laetitia singing re. capitalism “it's not eternal, it's not imperishable/oh yes, it will fall”…


When we talk about “nostalgia for the future” there’s really two different if related syndromes. The first is the classic ache for tomorrow, the utopian impulse expressed not (as it was for most of human history) through the idea of a lost golden age but as an orientation towards a future state of perfection. The second impulse, more common today, is really retro-futurist: that sensation of wistfulness induced by looking at old science fiction movies, images from 1950s science fairs and technology exhibitions, modernist cooking-ware and furniture from between the wars, etc etc. Or listening to early analog synth music, avant-classical, moogy wonderland bizniz. It’s a postmodern emotion, mingling poignancy and camp, pathos and affectionate amusement, the virgin sense of wonderment partially recovered but checked by a hindsight awareness that none of this actually transpired.


I wonder what’s going on when we use the word “futuristic” to describe a piece of music. Rather often, I think what we’re talking about falls into the second version of “nostalgia for the future”, ie. the music is playing with received ideas of the futurist/futuristic. That was clearly going on with a lot of the early Eighties synthpop, and maybe even with Kraftwerk. Human League is a good example of this. Or at least you could say there was a mish-mash of genuine modernism and retro-futurism, with Ian Craig Marsh and then Martin Rushent supplying the former and the second aspect coming from science fiction buff Oakey and Thunderbirds-fan Adrian Wright.

I wonder also if describing something as “the future/futuristic” is more often than not a retrospective designation. For instance, flicking through a Roxy Music book (David Buckley’s fine The Thrill of It All) I stumbled on Martyn Ware’s reminiscence of seeing Roxy for the second time in Sheffield:

In the wildest excesses of rock iconography , I’d never read about, let alone seen, anything as excessive…. If you had taken a photograph of them and showed it to someone in America at that time, they’d probably have gone “faggots”! But that’s not the message it was saying to us: it was saying “the future”. It’s an exciting thing when you’re 16 years of age”.

I wonder if that’s how he really felt at the time. It feels like a hindsight comment, something processed by memory. Most likely as a teenager he just boggled, it felt utterly NOW/NEW.

(You can have that sensation--being ambushed by the unforeseen/unforehead--with music that doesn’t involve any of the conventional signifiers of “the futuristic”.
The arrival of Morrissey in 1983 felt like that. Here was a complete original (persona-wise) and a fresh sound; something completely unexpected, and all the more of a break with pop normality, how we thought the Eighties was set to proceed, through its rejection of synths, sequencers etc. )

Roxy Music are a classic example of a group playing with received ideas of the future, they were the original retro-futurists, the first postmodern popsters, probably. But to go back to the idea of not knowing what in our current cultural moment is actually future-portending, you could argue that the production of Avalon in 1982 was far more future-istic than the first two Roxy albums in the literal sense of pointing ahead to how a lot of rock music would sound in the CD age.