Wednesday, March 25, 2009

BRANDS: How Rebellion Works pt.1

------ Forwarded Message
From: Kevin O'Donnell
Date: Wed, 25 Mar 2009 11:57:16 -0000
To: Sam Smith , Stuart Green
Cc: TOTEMPOLE , Alex Knight , Tom
, Dave Howell , Dave Cawley
Conversation: This weeks 6 Music Rebel Playlist vote - Send it around
Subject: This weeks 6 Music Rebel Playlist vote - Send it around

Hiya all.

Brakes are in the 6Music Rebel playlist vote this week.
If we blitz this vote, win it by a substantial margin then we can push for a
playlist spot again next week

Can evereyone get all the bods they can to vote on this please? The vote is at the
bottom of Lammo's home page and I've
pasted the info below.

Tom and Tom can we get this info up asap on all the websites too?


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Two Deaths

Jade Goody.
Yep. I Went there.

Now to be clear, I don’t care about this. I don’t believe that Big Brother indicates anything particularly important about anything. At most it is a minor stepping stone along the path toward the new forms of narrative that will replace those that are currently in fashion. The commonly held assumption that a passable piece of light entertainment can only be properly regarded as an indicator of the direction and nature of the cultural hegemony is, I think, a distortion brought about by the prevalence of irritating humanities graduates in the print media and their tendency to clumsily apply half-remembered lessons about absurd French celebrity philosophers to everything. Big Brother is not Foucault’s panopticon. It is not the desert of the real.

And I don’t care about it. I didn’t care when Jade Goody was on it the first time – I wanted Kate to win. I cared a little bit when she was on it again, because it seemed thoroughly apparent that the blonde member of SS club 7 (kudos on the pun to Jimbob) and the pert model were much worse racists than Jade and were being treated better by the press because ‘doing nice singing’ and ‘having a pretty arse’ are regarded as ‘talent’ by morons who haven’t ever thought about it. I thought that Jade had demonstrated a likeable level of concern for her mother earlier in the programme. I wondered whether the reaction to the story was indicative of the transfer of base liberal middle class loathing from their former colonial inferiors to the white working class who had so disappointed them by preferring turkey twizzlers to owning the means of production. But still, I didn’t really care.

What I do care about, and care about increasingly at the moment, is the revolution in data transmission that we are currently living through. I define data as all information that can be digitally encoded and, consequently, where I have often in the past been unclear as to what it is precisely that I doing with my life, I now define myself as a creator of data. I have no interest in being a musician, designer, playwright, writer or poet - these titles feel loaded and dishonest. I’m a data creator, that’s my business, and it is important to me that the movement of data should be understood as much as possible.

Jade Goody, is significant for being among the last great failures of the old-fashioned, moribund print media. The filtration of data through a once necessary - now economically doomed - infrastructure of graduate recruitment, printing presses and hierarchies has perpetrated the sickness and unbearable fucked-upness of the Jade Goody story. Print has been defended as the maintainer of quality, the guarantor of truth, the upholder of standards, the roman centurion before the internet’s barbarian hordes and yet it has insulted, preened, peered, lied, raised, razed, gossiped and distorted. It has defined a young woman as a pig, as vile, as brave, as ugly, as courageous and, ultimately (on the cover of Richard Desmond’s OK! Magazine) as dead when she was none of them. Like a rough john who feels within his rights to kick the shit out of a hooker he’s paid for, it has made the spurious and revolting argument that the payment of money to a person legitimises any form of abuse. It has raised the odious, giftless charlatan Max Clifford to a position of power and riches. It has indefinably but unmistakeably lowered the level of our discourse. Jade is not the point. Her deadline-unfriendly death was just sad and horrible.

And look now at the internet. That great threat to truth, quality and decency. Yes, there was – sick, certainly, but tempered (as sickness must be to be forgiveable) with a degree of wit and, unlike OK!, at least accurate. Yes, there are people spreading scurrilous gossip and disparaging abuse on the digital spy forums – but they are tempered by an immediate and equally prominent faction who find their actions revolting and rebut them. Yes there is sickipedia – but there is no pressure from the medium to buy into its worldview, you can laugh or you can be offended: it’s up to you. At the same time wikipedia (that self-policed, establishment defying replacement for the Brittanica - once among print’s proudest achievements) gives an accurate uncontroversial account of Jade’s life without resorting to emboldened little adjectives; a google news search gives us unfiltered access to every different version of events; Stephen Fry twittered about it; And I, quite consciously and unsteered chose to notice.

The internet is not a piratical upstart spoiling business models for a vital fourth estate. It is an improvement on the press in every way. As Jade Goody - poor, dead, rich Jade Goody - is remembered, I feel a little bit sad. When print goes the same way, I cannot say that I shall feel anything very much at all.


The dead press has this week also been complaing about the EU changing guidelines on women’s titles. Apparently insisting on Ms instead of Mrs or Miss is ‘political correctness gone mad’. Just so we’re clear, the argument for Ms. Is this:

It is not acceptable for a woman’s public status to be contingent on her relationship to a man, if a man’s public status is not equally contingent on his relationship to a woman.

It’s not complicated. It is very simple, very clear and very difficult to dispute. So don’t. Stop being wankers and use Ms. already. Idiots.

S.I. March 22nd 2009

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Shades of Brown

As you probably know if you are reading this, I am the singer and guitar player in a pop band. Consequently, I find it hard to find a justification for writing about politics. I feel fine with economics as it is at the heart of pop music; fine with religion for similar reasons. I feel fine attacking the postmodern theories of the intellectual elite because plenty of half-baked pop musicians have ineptly deployed them and I feel entitled to reply. I feel fine, also, attacking shallow anti-americanism, programmeless anti-globalism and silly adolescent brands of socialism because these too are the playthings of dilletante pop musicians.

Where I stumble is attempting to write about real politics where people stand for elections and make changes in that thin band of policy that actually affects people. Why should my opinion on such things be worth knowing about? I don’t know. I suspect they aren’t. But, all the same, for one blog only, I shall tell you what I think about the Prime Minister and then we can all move on.

I fucking hate the Prime Minister.

I say this as a dyed-in-the-wool labour party supporter. I discovered that I was one of those while voting in 2005 and finding out that any notions of voting otherwise were simply inconcievable. My Dad is a union lawyer, I’ve been to parties with Neil Kinnock and funerals with John Prescott, My heart welled with glee when Stephen Twigg won Portillo’s seat in ‘97 and it shrank with dismay when he lost it to David Burrowes in 2005. I dislike Tories, even the ones I like, because they are Tories and that’s how it is.

More than that, I am (in the short term at least) New Labour. Eventually I should like to see the abolition of menial work, the abandoning of all borders and the universal application of mechanised of welfare divorcing a basic level of free living from economic participation maximising liberty while encouraging scientific innovation – but, for now, I believe in equality and protection for members of involuntary minorities; I believe that there are market solutions for many social problems but that society is obliged to maintain a basic living standard for all; I believe in a strong transatlantic alliance, I believe that human rights are universal and worth defending; I believe in coming to terms with the transformations that were the result of Thatcher’s cruelties and ploughing on with a tweaked mixed economy… In other words, until Bob ushers in the age of Slack, I am of the Blairite, third-way, centre-left.

I believe, also, that a Tory victory at the next election will hurt people. There is a pernicious myth that the two main parties are basically the same. This is not true, but - even if it were the case that the leaders of both believed and acted identically - there is no end of difference between a man who, when forced to compromise to please his base, makes concessions to Trade Unions, Peaceniks and Liberty and a man who would do the same for little-Englanders, Daily Mail readers and racists. There is a gap and the recession is widening it. You probably do not fall into that gap, but millions do and a Tory government will hurt them while you glibly pontificate on how the parties are identical.

Gordon Brown though. Ugh.

It was obvious all along. The nonsense about abolishing boom and bust. The ineptness of his spin. The sulkiness. The facial tics. The airless speeches. The smirking pretence at contentment. The self-satisfied promotion of a ludicrous ‘iron-chancellor’ image… He is the living embodiment of the Peter Principle which sees managers promoted to the level of their own incompetence.

It was never at all relevant that he was ‘competent’ anyway. There are a great many people who are competent waiting to be employed. The man does not understand the British people. He does not understand the we are a nation of skiving chancers who like to be told that we are hard working – not a nation of hard working people. He does not get that we are increasingly connected by the internet, media and its currencies and that we do not know anybody else who would call her ‘Jane’ Goody. He doesn’t understand that poorly delivered, badly written jokes about Peter Mandelson getting doused in custard are fine for Peter Mandelson but beneath an elected prime minister and head of government. The man cannot lead.

People used to criticise spin, but spin was not the problem. Good spin can inspire, can enable democracy, can broaden understanding. Good spin is Henry V at agincourt, Obama’s oratorical tours of wheatfields and aircraft carriers, Kennedy’s inaugural, men on the moon. Bad spin was always the problem – weasly and obvious, seeking to distort rather than present. Brown is horribly spun and hopelessly unspinnable. He appears contemptuous, dishonest and small. He is unlikeable and cannot be made to appear otherwise.

The job of Prime Minister is not to tinker and control but to communicate an agenda and steer its passage. Brown can’t do either and he will lose the next election because of it. The labour party must act now, as it should have months ago. Ditch him. Pick a successor. Call an election. Lose it. Let the Tories mismanage the recession for five years and then take the country back. There really is no other choice.

I shall go back to fiddling with effects pedals now.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Recession Song – An Explanatory Note

First Appeared on the Von Pip Musical Express

The Recession Song – An Explanatory Note

I was talking to a friend the other day. While this was an unusual enough occurrence that it deserves its own sentence, it should come as no surprise to anyone within the noughties indie clusterfuck that he’s a friend out of some band and that most of the conversation concerned some other bands and the narrow range of music that they make. The conversation turned, as they will when I’m steering them, to the Brighton Institute of Modern Music and the usual debate as to whether it falls squarely into the set of evil things.

BIMM is, like the Brit school, a place where young people go to learn how to be popstars. It has likely produced more popstars than your school. I can’t speak with authority about the syllabus but I imagine they are taught to grow out the curly hair they were always bullied for in order to brand their silhouettes effectively; that they are instructed to affect adenoidally half-australian/half-mockney vocal styles in order to generate an easily identifiable sonic profile for radio; that they are encouraged to fuck each other and talk about it; that they are encouraged to pick bandnames that are easy on graphic designers, vaguely reference David Bowie and stand in direct contradiction to what their bands are actually like. The ‘Kooks’, say, for example.

So anyway, I’m halfway through my usual tirade about BIMM, building up to my sexy rhetorical flourish where I slag off the Kooks, when this friend does something unexpected: he defends the fuckers (BIMM, not the Kooks – he is my friend after all).

It turns out that among his many sacked drummers was a BIMM alumnus who set him straight about a few things. It turns out that a BIMM education is jolly hard work. That the stars it produces are among the lesser of its talents. That it offers a route into the industry for the underpivileged. That it is, on balance less evil than one might assume. And, like a member of the liberal Intelligentsia confronted with the fact that Saddam Hussein used to make naked political prisoners sit on sharpened metal spikes, I am sent at once into a conversational tailspin, scrabbling around for a reason why I’m still right.

I am right though, and here’s why:

Systems, by their nature, exclude. No matter how broad a system of education seeks to be, no matter what it encompasses, it will keep at its heart a notion of the best way to go about something. By definition, this will exclude other options. An educational system involves a power imablance between the teacher and taught. This power imbalance interrupts the flow of communication. To communicate the fact that they have learned, pupils must, in some sense, achieve goals set by teachers. If the process of learning is goal orientated, then those who accept that hard work within the definitions of a system is their best route to success will succeed. If such people succeed, they will further promote the assumptions that were the basis for their success and more such people will prosper. Thus, the hegemony is established.

The system, ultimately operates on a self-perpetuating bell-curve, each generation adding ever-more skewed data to the definitions of normal, good, best. A graph plotting success against conformity to expected norms will take the shape of an ever steeper parabolic hill with the mediocre teaparty of the average perched atop it. Perhaps it excludes the very bad. Perhaps, the very good. It certainly excludes the odd, the unexpected and the outlier.

And you know what? that would all be fine if the system was designed to identify and promote suitable cabinet ministers or plumbers. In these (as most) fields, the benefits of odd brilliance are outweighed by the dangers of odd dreadfulness. An odd plumber might increase the efficiency of your pipes and save you £20 a year in heating bills, but he might also plumb your CD player into your bath and kill you. An odd cabinet minister might usher in a golden age of liberty and enquiry, but he might as soon gas you for failing to live up to the standards of his utopia. Mediocrity has benefits.

But when it comes to art – music – the downsides are irrelevant to anything while the upsides are vast and bounteous. An odd musician might well make a very very bad album; but he might make an inspirational heavy metal masterpiece that forms the basis for a future society based on being excellent to each other. Consequently, the mediocrity-benefiting bellcurve that can’t help but be created by BIMM’s success is just damaging, there is no upside for anyone except the Kooks.

Because music is built on freaks and poor people. The old established sectarian lines between ‘artschool’ and working class musicians disguise this broader truth: that good music is made by outcasts. People who don’t fit on the bellcurve. Maybe because they are poor and socially immobile and hate it. Maybe because they are too weird to do anything else. Maybe for reasons I can’t yet imagine. People who say fuck it, what else are we going to do? It cannot be a profession. It cannot be professional. It cannot be a career – it’s for people who don’t want a career, for whom fun is secondary, who have lost hope, who obey no fashion.

In a time of plenty, when struggle seems quaint and life is a series of consolidating gestures BIMM and it’s ilk do nothing but harm as they leave handprints and signatures along the good intentioned pathway to entropic, featureless hell. They serve and regenerate the established. The money keeps them strong. Like the traders who see their share prices rising higher and higher and know that it can only cause harm to point out that they have come adrift from reality, the fact of financial success ensures that no questioning of the system’s assumptions can be taken seriously. It is boomtown thinking.

Now, however, we are in a recession and the gold is running thin. It has yet to bite. Even today, parents buy their children guitars and open BIMM prospectuses and see that yes, this music thing is a viable career choice for their moptopped little dullard. Still the bellcurve steepens as the career paths of the boomtown economy remain trodden. Still Icarus ascends.

But the fact looms that there is now no money in it. The Music industry was on its knees already and now they can pretend no hope. The y axis of our graph is starting to look shaky as the definitions used to measure ‘success’ start to crumble. When it breaks, there will be no future for mediocrity hill and those on higher ground will have nowhere to fall but an x axis populated by very irritated freaks.

The really important thing here is that I was right. BIMM is definitely evil. But, that said, it is not unconquerably so. Everything is changing, print is dying, the idea of selling generic round objects with data on looks increasingly absurd, the idea of companies standing between musician and audience taking half the money more so. The recession will see a slashing and burning of the suffocating foliage to make way for new shoots. I feel guilty for saying it, because outside in reality there will be suffering and misery and panic – but here, in music, in art - thank fuck for the fucking recession indeed.