A recent discovery, stumbled upon via Sp*tify’s recommendation algo, which I’ve clearly trained pretty successfully by this point. This radge Dextro makes the sort of skittery-beats-and-droning-tones music I hear in my head when I’m just walking around… which means the poor chap probably needs help of some kind.
Harbingers of middle-agedness, #836: your journey around/along the dialectical Möbius strip of culture brings you to points when echoes of multiple previous moments thereupon reflect back at you at the same time. Point in case: Kieran Press-Reynolds on the phenomenon of the virtual rave [via Reynolds Senior].
I’m old enough to not only recall the earlier (though admittedly far clunkier) precedent of partying in Second Life, plus the rather lower bandwidth but nonetheless plausible possibilities of a PHPBBS party tied to a streaming radio station… but also the mid-Nineties commodification of rave, to which I arrived too late to realise just how tawdry an imitation it was of its seed culture. I suspect it’s my now-more-informed awareness of the latter that allows me to feel myself wanting to do the standard middle-aged Kids These Days routine, and to catch myself before doing it. What was once authentic and vital and NOW to me was always-already a copy of a copy of a copy. Virtual raving isn’t meant for me, and nor should it be; it’s for young folk in a world that lacks the space—cultural, economic, physical—for them to go wild in the Actual. More power to them.
But man, the echoes… and the indicators, perhaps, of the pendulum’s backswings yet to come.
… can computer-mediated events ever live up to real-life ones? One of the obvious downsides to virtual raving is the lack of secondary experiences. You can’t meet up with friends and journey to the venue. You can’t mosh, you don’t get that delicious after-feeling of dizzy bliss, and you can’t grab a post-show 2AM pink-frosted donut from Dunkin. It almost feels too easy: You plop in front of a screen and click on an app or type in a URL. Even though going to clubs requires effort and discomfort, there’s seemingly more payoff for that investment of energy.
I vaguely recall someone—I want to say Irvine Welsh, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t him?—observing that a significant percentage of the thrill of drug-based subcultural activity came not from the drugs themselves, but rather from the obstacles overcome in the adventure of acquiring them, distributing them, getting them into the venue, sharing them at the afterparty in the basement of a crumbling four-storey terrace… you get the picture. Point being, it was an embodied experience—collectively embodied. Your McKennas and your Shulgins (and, IIRC, commentators like Reynolds Senior) pointed out the long paleohistory of the party as a shared and (sha)manic letting-down-of-the-hair, and I suspect the urge for that meatspace shindiggery will be harder to kill off than many are assuming right now… just as I suspect that the much-discussed and purportedly permanent upending of sociality due to the pandemic will be a far more temporary thing than is commonly claimed.
Perhaps I am just letting my nostalgia cloud my judgement? More than possible. But how’s this for an echo of post-rave clubland:
The culture surrounding an event is practically as important as the event itself. Club Q, for example, is one of the largest queer clubs on Zoom. Creatively misusing the videoconferencing app, Club Q has devised its own set of freaky features. One of these is what co-founder Andres Sierra calls “the jumbotron,” a sort of virtual rave equivalent to a sports stadium screen. Zoom allows the host of the room to choose which webcam to stream in the middle of the screen, making it both the biggest visible image and literally the center of everyone’s attention. When a club participant’s webcam gets selected, they become a momentary celebrity and freak out — just like with the blown-up shots of surprised spectators at a baseball match.
“It’s less about the celebrity who’s playing, and more a whole entire experience. The hierarchy between performer and audience is gone, and now the audience is part of the show,” Sierra says. “You have to see it in a different way from a real-life club… people come in and say, ‘I didn’t think it was going to be like that!’ Or, ‘Oh, this is way better than reading about it.’”
It was already a hollow fiction by then, of course, but the clubland mags of the mid-Nineties still regularly recited the catechism that contrasted DJ culture to the hoary hero-worship of rockism: The audience was the star! The hierarchy had been defeated! All this even as Cream and others were spearheading a return to the hierarchy, just with a new pantheon installed, their sticker-strewn flightcases now cradling rare vinyl instead of vintage Fenders and Gibsons.
That said, scenes such as Gatecrasher sustained a sense that the audience were a big part of the show. But you could say exactly the same of rockist culture at various points in its history. To pick just a few obvious examples: UK punk, 1976-77 (and arguably beyond); the Blitz Kids and New Romo; even 1990s Britpop and Britrock, to some extent (which I recall as being very dressy and performative things, at both gigs and clubs alike). That tension between the hero on the stage and the hero on the dancefloor will likely oscillate for as long as there’s a music culture to pluck at it… and each new generation will believe that it’s invented the latest inversion, just as it should.
But it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t go all infrastructural on it, right? Right—and here’s the crux:
… but virtual fashion has one big thing going for it: sustainability. It proposes a pixel-sized alternative to the over 32 billion pounds of textiles generated every year, 22 billion of which end up in landfills, according to the EPA in 2017. “Virtual clothing is a product of information technology, which means it’s made out of data and uses no resources except the electricity to keep the machines running,” explains Florian Mecklenburg, co-founder of the design studio Goys & Birls. He recently formed NEW FORMAT, a digital group dedicated to exploring virtual fashion. “Once a piece is created, it can be multiplied—limitless. You can copy and paste the data, and everyone has access to it. If people accept digital clothing, they will rethink their consumer behavior.” Obviously, virtual clothing could never outright eliminate the need to wear fabric in real life, but it could help reduce the mammoth waste caused by empty, vacuous practices like fast fashion.
“[U]ses no resources except the electricity to keep the machines running”… that “except” is doing a whole lot of work, there, just like the server farms and power stations keeping the networks alive.
To be clear, this is not me making an old-man argument against virtual raving, but rather an argument against this shrugging away of the materiality of the virtual. Stuff happening on the internet is not inherently more sustainable than stuff happening elsewhere; in many cases, it’s quite the opposite. Likewise, I’m all for the end of fast fashion—but the connection between rapid and consequence-free swapping of digital outfits and the seductiveness of brands and image on the one hand, and the disposability and effaced consequences of fast fashion on the other, is being rather conveniently waved away here, in much the same way that the materiality of the virtual is waved away with the comment about electricity. All that is solid melts into hot air blown away from a processor chip, as someone didn’t quite say.
As long as humans fetishize commodities and care about appearances, a sizable portion of hypebeasts and shoe fiends won’t care if the items they buy exist in solid form. If a brand like Supreme or Saint Laurent creates enough mystique around an item, consumers will lap it up. The hallucination of cool that comes with owning a rare item from a chic brand has always been what these people were really purchasing — virtual fashion simply keeps the image and jettisons the solid product.
And I just don’t buy this argument at all. I’m reminded of the Gibson riff in (I think) Mona Lisa Overdrive, where a character observes that, in a world where idealised telegenic beauty via elective surgery is a commonplace, the uniqueness and cachet of an individual’s unaltered features ends up being amplified rather than muted, at least for those who can afford not to perform the signifiers of the center of the bellcurve.
Point being: if everyone can get that virtual Kanye-designed Supreme plaid bucket-hat (or whatever it is), the kudos in having the thing is erased immediately. Style (as opposed to fashion) is about scarcity, the search, the time and effort and money expended on the self-curation of the image—it’s about uniqueness, and the aspiration to such. Endlessly duplicable virtual threads, rather than killing off the desire for material threads, will serve only to increase demand for them—and where there is demand, there will be production, because capitalism. The virtual rave is thus not an alternative to fast fashion, but a new captive-market platform for marketing it. (I could probably do a side-bit on the low barriers to duplication and IP piracy here, but I’m supposed to be working…)
The virtual rave isn’t a fad — it’s a point on a much larger, longer timeline, a timeline tracking humanity’s slow, hazy descent into becoming totally techno-human, where everything we do in real-life can be done online with equal efficiency and enjoyment level, and we never have to move or leave our bedrooms at all.
Well, we were always-already totally techno-human… but that’s a theoretical quibble (and personal hobby-horse) that this piece doesn’t really merit. The bit that matters here, and the bit that makes me feel old (and more than a bit sad), is the second half, which describes the retreat into a Matrix-esque existence of virtual thrills experienced from isolated pods in terms which, while not exactly utopian (notwithstanding the word “efficiency”), nonetheless suggest something more enthusiastic than mere acceptance.
Maybe it’s too much to expect a sense of dispossession from a generation who’ve never really known the access to public space and shared experience that mine was privileged enough to get? I dunno. But my hope, nonetheless, is that the virtual rave marks the peak of the pendulum’s swing in that direction, and that in a handful more years, the kids will come raging out of those bedrooms and find a way (and a space) to make noisy, colourful chaos in the Actual. Speaking only for myself, growing old in a world where that isn’t happening is perhaps the most depressing version of late adulthood I can imagine—a world where the forces of order have triumphed totally.
This is turning out to be a pretty good month for music. Behold, the new album from Maserati:
From the same town as R.E.M., believe it or not. If your reaction to krautrock has been “well, that’s OK, but I wish it was thicker and heavier”, give this a spin: arpeggiated synth-bass, vocoder vox, big Eighties-gated drums, fat crunchy guitars and juggernaut motorik grooves. Bloody marvellous.
Actually an old obsession, revived. Pure Reason Revolution are back:
That’s my Friday evening’s writing tunes sorted, then. Gloriously sui generis—and while I adore categorisation, I nonetheless love things that I can’t easily categorise. I remember being sent PRR’s Hammer & Anvil back in my music reviewing days and being blown away by it, and then being gutted when they folded around the same time as the much-missed Oceansize. (Both bands were on the Superball label, which is also home to the mighty mighty 65daysofstatic—another sui generis delight, and lovely chaps to boot.)
Because, as some observant wags have already pointed out by email, I can’t see Warren Ellis do a thing without having to copy it. But also because I used to write about music all the time, until I didn’t, because my PhD ate my life and a drive failure ate my all-digital music collection (and reminded me, not for the first time, that data which doesn’t exist on multiple pieces of hardware might as well not exist at all)… and because now I’ve finally got to a point where Spotify fits into my patterns of living and working, and where the algorithm has been sufficiently well-trained that it spits up new stuff that I enjoy listening to.
To be clear, I don’t like having to rely on Spotify, which has a very shitty business model as far as paying the artists is concerned… but the prospect of even starting to reconstruct a music collection that once ran to thousands of albums is as emotionally ugly as it is financially untenable, at least at present. And there’s no denying that the ability try out music of all types and genres from almost any era has broadened my listening very quickly, too. It’s been fun for me to go back to the early strata of Western popular music, to which most folk my age were introduced by their parents. My parents were not very culturally engaged; the example I always use is that, with the exception of the safer singles which might have been played on Radio 2 or terrestrial telly in the late 80s, I’d hardly heard the Beatles or the Stones before I left home in 1993, let alone Zeppelin or Fleetwood Mac or the Kinks. So I like that I can go on a bebob binge or a deep dive into the Delta blues, as well as listening to the stuff I loved in my adolescence.
Uncle Warren’s influence manifests in my increased consumption of weird, dark ambient stuff. I’d realised some time ago that postrock—the only genre where I can legitimately think of myself as a player as well as a listener—is good work music because of its lack of distracting vocals. But sometimes even melody is too much for certain sorts of writing and thinking; then you just want soundscapes, kosmiche hypnosis, post-Eno tone-paintings, droning tonal daubings. Of course, a lot of the stuff Ellis listens to is Bandcamp only, but the Cryochamber label is well represented on Spotify, and I’ve been binging on that a fair bit. (Though I note that the unified aesthetic of the label, both sonically and graphically, makes me wonder if it’s not just one or a couple of musicians in a box-room, cranking out album after almost-exactly-one-hour-long album under a dozen different monikers… but hey, if it is, who cares? It’s quality stuff. More power to them.)
This one, though, is a Venn diagram smooshing of [musician whose work I’ve loved for almost as long as I’ve been paying attention to music] with [suitable for getting your head down and working with your thinkmeat]. I actually met Clint Mansell during my period of incarceration in the British public school system, not long after I’d discovered the chaotic collage-work of Pop Will Eat Itself*; we had a brief conversation on Stourbridge high street regarding the merits of different cash machines in the area. (The Midland Bank one was the only one that dispensed fivers.) His first soundtrack, for Requiem for a Dream, is almost as harrowing as the movie itself. The one for Moon, however, occupies a nice spot somewhere between the quieter and more thoughtful bits of late-period Nine Inch Nails, and more typical moods-for-movies material.
I’ve still never seen the film itself, mind.
[ * There’s a very viable argument to be made that this encounter with Mansell made an aesthetic impression upon me that has never faded. Between him, promo photos of Daisy Chainsaw and Fields of the Nephilim clipped from Melody Maker circa 1991, and Craig Charles’s long stint performing the role of Dave Lister in Red Dwarf, the mood board for my enduring look is pretty much complete. ]