Masonic Boom

"Crazy" "Oversensitive" "Feminazi" "Bitch" bloggin' bout pop music, linguistics and mental health issues

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Location: South London, United Kingdom

Saturday, September 26, 2009

When A Woman Is In Love With London...

...she's in love with life itself.

I have been sleepwalking through the past few months. Long, boring days filled with nothing but repetition and unhappiness. And as I sat down in the classroom, and opened my notebook and looked expectantly towards the lecturer, I suddenly felt myself waking up. A part of my brain that had lain unused for too long. That dormant curiosity, that relentless intellectual longing for more information, more discussion, more *discourse*.

By lunchtime, as I sat in cafe in Holborn with a Buddhist painter, discussing spiral symbolism and labyrinths in the archetypal symbolism of C.G. Jung, I suddenly thought "Hang on, there *is* a place for me. There is a place for people *like* me - and it's called a University."

I signed up for a course at City Lit, for no other reason than I was interested in the subject. Mythical and Legendary London - combining two of my great loves, esoteric lore and the Psychogeography of my hometown. Within ten minutes, the lecturer had mentioned Nigel Kneale's Stone Tape, T.C. Lethbridge, Geoffrey of Monmouth and Alfred Watkins. I was sitting forward in my seat, eyes wide open, scribbling away taking notes, mind racing - not with mania or illness, but with the sheer joy of learning.

The petty feuding of the past few weeks simply evaporated, utterly unimportant. Surrounded by people who don't think it's "weird" to learn, to question, to dream, to wonder... I experienced something I haven't felt in I don't know how long. The sense of being in the *right* place. Sod everything that turned me off University the first few times round - the barriers to entry, the test-taking, the ivory tower mentality - actually, sod it. Right now an Ivory Tower seems like a pretty dream. Learning just for the simple joy of finding stuff out.

I'm hooked, and I'm going back - I've found a reason to keep living.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Different Degrees Of Difficulty

If there's one thing I really hate... no, wait. There's LOTS of things I really hate, who am I kidding? I'm a veritable geyser of annoyance needing a tiny provocation to set me off. OK, here's a thing that I really hate:

People who needlessly complicate simple things, in order to not only big up their own egos, but at the same time raise the barriers of entry to others.

I made a joke, on That Forum about the fact that I started to DJ after dating a DJ/promoter and seeing how piss easy it really was. Of course this ruffled a few feathers of "grrr, it's not easy." Yes it bloody well is. Insert disc. Cue it up. Press play. Repeat. This is *not* exactly rocket science, or brain surgery or even the level of complication of, say, soft boiling an egg.

Yes, that's a vast oversimplification. The *art* of DJing is slightly more complicated than the basic level of skillset of putting on a record. You need at the very least, a fairly deep level of knowledge about (and just plain love of & curiosity about) music, a passing understanding of crowd dynamics, a sense of timing and mood - and - depending on the type of music you play - technical skills to transition smoothly between songs.

But saying such a thing really gets some people's knickers in a twist. I know the type. I met them for the first time, in late adolescence, when I was first learning to play guitar. "You're not a Proper Guitarist unless you can solo" was the type of thing they would say. Meaning shredding, show-off mastubatory Yngwie Malmsteen solos of the type that were fashionable in the late 80s. Now, I came from the Johnny Marr school of guitar playing - the only acceptable type of solo was a riff simple and direct enough that you could sing it.

Aged 16, this gave me pause. But I listened to my Jesus and Mary Chain and my Sonic Youth records and my hardcore punk records and decided that passion was more important than technique, that having something to say ultimately trumped the technical proficiency with which one said it.

By age 21, I had proved my point against the guitar fascists. I was playing regularly in the local indie nightclubs, and had a song on rotation at the local college radio station - all without soloing. (although, as @anna_anna has pointed out, I was eventually featured playing a guitar solo on UK Breakfast TV a couple of years ago.) They could solo, sure, but they did so in their bedrooms and the showrooms of guitar shops.

Which is kind of how I feel about idiots who tell me I'm not a Real DJ coz I don't beatmatch. Um, I'm a "real" DJ because I'm in the booth, I'm making music come through the PA and people on the floor are dancing/enjoying the music I'm playing. Beatmatch all you like in your bedroom, it doesn't make you are "real DJ". Oh yeah, and I play MP3s. What of it? I find it hilarious the way CDJs sneer at MP3 DJs the way vinyl DJs once sneered at CD. Um, what matters is the music that comes out, not how you get that music to the speakers. Of course, what they *really* despise is the declining level of technical skill required to step into the booth and play. Anyone - girls! - even Peaches bloody Geldorf, FFS!!! - can DJ with MP3s! Where's the Cultural Capital in that?

Thing is, as far as I'm concerned, lowering the Barrier To Entry of anything, although it may in the short run produce a glut of not-very-good people on a learning curve, in the long run, it will raise the quality of an art, because with a wider variety of people able to do something, a wider diversity of people attempting it, the chances are increased that one of them will do something of genuine interest or novelty or talent or whatever it is you appreciate in art.

DJ-ing is *easy* now, thanks to technology - and I consider that a *good* thing.

But of course that's hideously offensive to anyone who thinks that something easy means something not worth doing. "You might as well say playing a guitar or pushing keys on a piano or writing a novel is easy!" they sneer. "And if you call anyone with an MP3 player a DJ, you might as well call anyone with a blog a writer or anyone with a camcorder a filmmaker!"

Why not? The test is, really, if you can do it in an engaging enough fashion to get others to listen/read/watch. Are you gonna say a blogger that gets 10,000 hits a day is *not* a proper writer?

The other question is about difficulty, and not just levels of difficulty, but types of difficulty. There are different types of *hardness* - some things are totally skill-based. These are learned skills that take rote repetition and practice to master them. And sorry, but for all the fuss made about beatmatching, it is a rote skill that an animal could learn - I'm waiting for someone to train a woodpecker to tap a target when beats are at the same speed. Would you pay money to watch that? Actually, I bloody well would, that would be well cool, a beat-matching bird.

There's another level of difficulty that involves accumulating knowledge. It's about assembling and organising large amounts of data in a meaningful way. This is where you start to reach human levels of intelligence - a skill that schoolchildren struggle with as they learn to assemble names and dates into the patterns of History. This is what DJs call tune selection - that fingertip knowledge of genre and artist and song and how they all put together. A musician with their repetoire of common material that they have learned by heart. A mathematician with a headful of already proved theorems. (And there's yet another level of difficulty on top of that, which involves using that knowledge and that skill to turn pattern recognition into pattern prediction.)

And then there's that spark of something utterly ineffable that's usually called "talent". Sometimes it's physical (a congenital lengthening of bone that makes someone able to run faster) or genetic (there's a kind of "maths gene" that runs in my family like perfect pitch runs in another) or even just completely random (a person just born with a naturally "beautiful tone" to their voice - the fact that from a young age, I could be put in front of any instrument, and make a tune, while my brother, after a year of lessons, was found to be utterly tone deaf.) A "talent" something that you can - or rather must - *hone* if you have it, but no amount of coaching will create it where none exists.

In any activity, especially artistic ones, it's a combination of all 3 that comes into play. And a combination of all three that makes them difficult or easy.

TO ME (like I have to put this qualification on a blog? Hello, it says in the disclaimer at the bottom this is MY OPINION and nothing more)...

DJing is easy. It's "easier" than playing guitar, certainly, as I've done both. So many less movements to make, so much less to go wrong. You make a decision every 3 minutes and 20 seconds at the most, not 4 times a second (as you do if you're playing even rhythm guitar at 120bpm). And yet, playing a piano is "harder" than both. Why? Because the way that sharps and flats are arranged in separated black notes makes me have to stay constantly aware of what key I'm playing in - when, with fretted instruments, the box structure of playing and the existence of barre chords enables me to play well in an instinctual, purely physical way no matter what key I'm playing in.

Writing a novel? I've found that way easier than ANY of the activities above. But I am aware that this is probably due to the quality of my education, and how much time and effort was spent drilling the basics of grammar and plot structure and character development into my head (endless bloody book reports I hated so much in 5th grade) - though clearly spelling has alwaies ecsaped me. (Not to mention my run-on sentences!)

DJ-ing *IS* easy. (Much easier than I was ever lead to believe by over-protective lads who wanted to keep it for themselves.) That's not to diss DJing (or guitar playing or piano playing or novel-writing!) It's rewarding and fun and enjoyable, or people wouldn't want to do it so much. But the only reason I can think to SO overcomplicate something so easy and so rewarding is to exclude and place barriers in the way of others, in order to preserve some kind of artificially inflated ego-enhancement derided from excluding others. And that I can't stomach.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

10 Artists That Got You To The Music You Like Now

OK, it's a crap meme I got off the Erol forum (yes, it's SO freaking boring at work today I'm lurking, simply through a lack of anything else to do) but rather than post a list there, I thought I would post it with a bit of exposition here.

This isn't even a list of my Top 10 Favourite Bands (that changes daily) but more the artists who had the most far-ranging and long-lasting effect on my musical taste.

1. Duran Duran
Duran Duran made me the person I am today. They were the first band I was ever *obsessed* with, the first band whose entire universe I wanted to enter, whose every move I wanted to know. And they truly were the first time I realised the effect of "influence". Investigating the artists that they were interested in lead me on an educational journey. Through them, I discovered Andy Warhol, David Bowie, Roxy Music, Brian Eno, huge swathes of 80s synthpop. It was the first time that I realised music could be more than just a song on the radio, but a whole *lifestyle*.

2. Bauhaus
I could blame art school, I could mutter something about "you can take the girl out of goth but you can't take the goth out of the girl" but the truth is, although I did go through a massive goth phase (with its accompanying love of black clad, big-haired bands like Sioxsie and the Sisters of Mercy) - it was actually Bauhaus's penchant for art-damaged glam that captured my imagination. Oh, and left me with a lasting love for disco-inspired octave-hopping bass and hi-hat work. I followed them all the way through Tones On Tail to Love & Rockets (through whom I would discover the joys of wibbly wubbly 60s psychedelia during their ''Express'' incarnation.)

3. New Order
Oh come on, do I really have to explain this one? They were like a religion to me. (Especially during the lost years of dodgy pharmeceuticals when I quite literally believed that Bernard Sumner controlled my thoughts. On checking into rehab for the second time, I carried a picture of him in my wallet, that I would tell the nurses was "my higher power".) They were a window into the ways that rock music and dance music could coexist without either genre losing what made it special. Oh, and introduced me to all of Madchester, but that's another story.

4. The Jesus and Mary Chain
"Makes you proud to be Scottish, doesn't it?" A prepubescent, sheltered Catholic Schoolgirl saw Just Like Honey video and although she didn't know what lurked inside those leather trousers, she knew she wanted it. The first time I'd ever heard feedback, and I was instantly hooked. *THAT* Ronettes drumbeat on "Just Like Honey" introduced me to the entire world of 60s girl groups, which would become an obsession. Oh, and through their namedropping and their covers, I discovered Can, Syd Barrett, the Velvet Underground, and the whole world suddenly made sense.

5. Spacemen 3
Could really be combined with the above, though I fell in love with them about 5 years later, they were a continuation of the same exploration. Directly introduced me to Delia Derbyshire, Suicide, Nuggets, the entire genre of Spacerock (Hawkwind, so much to answer for), the rest of the genre of Krautrock that the JAMC hadn't covered (especially the motorik NEU! side, early Kraftwerk, that sort of thing) and the synthesis of 60s bubblegum and space gospel pioneered (and then abandonned) on the first Spiritualized album would provide the blueprint for my musical taste for the rest of the 90s.

6. Throwing Muses
OK, I lied, this is more a "favourite band" than "influenced my musical taste" - unless of course, I bring in the whole 4AD connection because this was, I think, the first album I bought on that label. It was only after 1986, that I discovered the lush (argh) ethereal (double argh) sonic textures (shoot me now) of Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance and His Name Is Alive and Pale Saints and Lush and even The Pixies - and if you think of it that way, they probably affected my actual life more than any other band on this list. There's just something so impelling about the twisted melodies and off-kilter harmonies of Hersch and Donnelly that sends shivers down my spine.

7. Andrew Weatherall
This is an odd one, because I didn't discover the man's own work (specifically Sabres of Paradise) until only a few years ago, but his production and remix work bestrode my misspent clubbing youth like a colossus. My obsession with Manchester (started by New Order) caught fire after hearing his remixes of Happy Monday's Hallelujah. Primal Scream's Screamadelica was the soundtrack to more of my life than I'd like to admit, really - and opened the door to understanding the invasion of dance music that a mid-90s boyfriend bombarded me with on mixtapes.

8. Stereolab
The first time I played Peng! for a then-bandmate, she glared at me and grumbled "I thought I told you to stop playing me your demos." One of the accidentally highest compliments I've ever received in my life. Of course, in them, everything that had been swhirling around in my head for the previous decade was brought into sharp focus - droning Velvets guitars, analogue synth wub, motorik rhythms, dancable basslines and the sweetest of girlgroup harmonies.

9. My Bloody Valentine
My name is Kate, and I am a shoegazer. I admit that I am powerless in the presence of massive chains of effects pedals, belching feedback, woozy boy-girl harmonies, dirty bowl-cutted hair dangling in pale faces, stripey shirts, floppy brown corduroy trousers and worn-out chelsea boots. I have succombed to the temptations of Ride, Chapterhouse, Slowdive, Medicine, Curve, early Boo Radleys, early Verve, the Dandy Warhols, and I accept Kevin Shields as my lord and personal savior, for ever and ever, amen.

10. Xenomania
Well, I mean, come on. Indie rock in the 00s (with a few straggling exceptions) was straight-up nasty. The Strokertine Stripes? Fuck right off. The bubblegum super-producers managed to keep the string of perfectly poptastic hits going in a run that rivalled Kasenatz-Katz, PWL and Micky Most for chart and earworm domination. Yeah, so they're a bit rub now, and their formula has failed, as evidenced mostly clearly by the gruesome ruin of the Sugababes, but when they were good, they were untouchable.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Crafty Beats 5

Well, I thought my DJing days were over, at the end of my residency at Crafternoons. But, according to my download stats, it seemed that even *more* people d/l the sets and listen to them at home than actually turned up to the gigs themselves! Several people started asking when I was doing another, so I decided to give bedroom DJ-ing a try.

For the most part, I found it was actually much *harder* than DJ-ing "live" in a club. Mainly because when you're in a club, you have what you've chucked in a CD wallet or ripped to your hard drive, and that's it. At home, with your entire record library, you can take 20 minutes to decide your next song as you pour through your collection. Oh, and that's the other thing - no time pressure. Live, there's no undo. You have 3 minutes and 20 seconds to find your next song, and then you're stuck with it. There's no CTRL-Z if it doesn't work, like there is with bedroom DJing.

But the upsides are 1) I don't have to worry about what the other DJs are playing/have played. So you'll see a heavy slant towards sugary girlpop in this set, as that's what mostly got played at these events, but I had to avoid playing certain artists because I *knew* that the other ladies would play them. Now I don't have to. 2) Edits - I'd never have attempted any clever sampling or editing in a live set. In a bedroom set, I can mix and match and throw things around and drop Electrik Red samples into Japanese NOIZE bands to my heart's content.

Anyway, enjoy.

Crafty Beats 5

Laurie Spiegel - Patchwork (edit)
Sugababes - Freak Like Me
Britney Spears - Freakshow
The Knife - Silent Shout
Roisin Murphy - Overpowered
Yazoo - Don't Go
Little Boots - Stuck On Repeat
Annie - Greatest Hit
Shimura Curves - Thoughtworm
Ruby - Tiny Meat
Harem - Zennube
Echo & The Bunnymen - The Cutter
Electrik Red - Bed Rest
Burhan Ocal & The Trakya All Stars - Karabiber
Goldfrapp - Little Bird
Siouxsie & The Banshees - Kiss Them For Me
The Future Sound of London - Elysian Feels
The Telescopes - High On Fire
Revolving Paint Dream - (Burn This House) Down To The Ground
Asobi Seksu - Goodbye
Ebony Bones! - The Muzik
Wildbirds & Peacedrums - My Heart (Weapon Family remix)
Boris - Buzz in (Optimo Remix (edit)
Mutyumu - (the title is in Japanese and didn't come through on the formatting)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

I hate having to be careful. I hate having to be diligent and mindful, but I've left the back door open, and depression snuck back in. It's not fair, most people don't seem to have to live their lives like this, in constant fear of the shadow, like the evil eye or something.

I could be purely biological about it, say that I've gone 4 days without exercising properly, and been eating badly, hyping myself up on sugar again. I could say that it's falling back into bad habits. I found myself at home on Saturday evening (I mean, honestly, where else am I going to be?) - I was actually having fun, playing bedroom DJ, putting together another Crafty Beats comp because several of my friends have been asking for one.

And then something in the back of my brain remembered - oh, it's Erol's 6mix tonight. I wrestled with my internet connection to even get it to load, and at the sound of his voice - so familiar, nervous, slightly stuttering, all that information in his brain coming out in fits and starts. It's like he starts a sentence, realises he's on the air and freezes up, then a moment later, the rest of his words tumble out in a great rush to finish the thought before the next song comes on. It's strangely endearing.

And I *ache*, remembering the last time, a gang of us listening together on the internet, the glow of computer screens like a digital age fireside, though we're thousands of miles apart. I want Alexa and Ida to be there, but Alexa is on the way to university and Ida is working late. In a fit of nostalgia, I log onto the board - big mistake. I can't just slip back into something I've left so flagrantly. No matter what thread I comment on, it's like, no one can just talk about the topic with me, they have to turn it around and make it all about me and how shit I am, and what the fuck I'm doing on the board again (usually in the most nasty, pointed, vicious internet bully way) and it's like I'm caught in the glare of a dozen headlamps.

I'm looking at his twitter, glancing through the fuzzy iPhone pics he's posted. There's a dark, grainy, blurry photo of what appears to be him with my internet crush. Oh fuck, I'm doubly glad I didn't go to the gig now. Like it wouldn't have been painful enough - by myself (because none of my friends like that kind of music), in an unfamiliar bar in a part of town I dislike - knowing no one in the venue except the two people on the stage - and then my tarnished idol turns up? My idea of hell. I shudder at the simultaneous lost opportunity and the narrow escape and turn back to the forum.

Then he does a shout-out to all the forum members, mentioning several of us by name - and I realise he's reading them off twitter. Of course my name isn't on the list, though a quick trending search of twitter reveals my stupid, nostalgic tweet is one of the first that comes up. A stab of paranoia shoots through my brain like a bolt of blue lightening. He's blocked me. Proof, finally, in the absence of other information, that he does, truly, dislike me. He only ever spoke to me when I was being negative. I writhe with jealousy over everyone else on the forum he's *nice* to. What the fuck is it about me, that I'm so hateful and repulsive that even someone who is *known* for being so gentle and gentlemanly - even he dislikes me.

I *am* a bad person. I am a negative and bitter and twisted and generally angry and misshapen person that clearly deserves all of the negativity and bile that is thrown at me on the internet.

NO! Why do I give these people such power over me? Why do I *let* them bother me? Is it like I have some kind of deathwish, that I go somewhere I know I don't belong, in order to justify mine own self loathing?

I am who I am. There will always be people who loathe you because of difference, perceived or real. There will always be those who sneer at you and try to cut you down, saying "You think you're better than us, don't you?" No, I think I'm *different* and I am *allowed* to be different. I am no better or worse, I simply am.

I switched off the internet and went back to my mix, playing with the transitions, mixing together girly electropop and arabic percussion, rushing back and forth between 80s goth and 00s R&B on the basis of textures and feelings, plotting a mixtape like a journey, a slow dance in the middle, a mad psychedelic sprawl to toss yourself about to, a quiet interlude to go to the bar or have a cigarette or just sit back and catch your breath. Bedroom DJing offers you new opportunities to muck about with new techniques, capturing and sampling bits of songs to juxtapose, backflashes to songs that have gone before, flashforward teases of what's coming up next. No, the edits aren't always perfect, and I cannot be bothered with beatmatching, but it's not the grammar, it's the feeling. I don't care who listens to it - these sets are to make *me* happy. I have enough respect for my "audience" (read: the dozen or so friends that download my mixes every month) to trust them to be able to follow the journey if they so choose.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Shyness Is Nice

Life without alcohol is a funny thing, especially when boozing is so utterly engrained into British culture. It's been a while since I last went to Pure Groove - and got there last night to discover that the place has essentially been turned into a bar that just happens to sell records. In the internet economy, I guess it's the mail order side of the business that actually pays the bills, and the shop has become a kind of cool hangout, a place to socialise and see bands.

Going to clubs and bar gigs has been the biggest difficulty, in terms of giving up drinking, it's just so built into the fabric of these events to the point where I skip them if I think it's going to be a temptation. Clubs really are, at the bottom of it, just exercises in getting people into a building to buy and consume alcohol.

But I'm sick of how much of my life I can't remember. It was a surprise yesterday, digging through the Sonic Cathedral website (I was trying to find the playlist for the video loop they used to play in the back of gigs, for CharlieNo.4's #shoegazefriday) and stumbling into the flyer section. I was a regular, back in the day, so I started ticking off the ones I'd been at (pretty much all of them for a 2-year period) and started to have trouble actually remembering *any* of them. Christ - there was the kicker. There was a flyer advertising Erol Alkan DJing at Sonic Cathedral. True, I would not have shown the interest in this, then, as I would now - but it still scares me that I have *utterly* no memory of the fact that it even happened, let alone the messy wine-bottle dregs of after hours at the Legion, deflating balloons and the smell of sweaty leather jackets on the dancefloor. All the nights smear into one.

But the thing is, the alcohol made me fearless - and though I cannot remember those conversations with my teenage idols - Mark Gardener and Sonic Boom - I know that they happened, and marvel at my courage in walking up and talking to a complete stranger, albeit one wearing a face achingly familiar from my teenage dreams.

I walk into Pure Groove, and I'm timid, even scared. I feel totally out of place - old, unhip, out of fashion. I may recognise the album covers on the walls and the songs played over the sound system, but it's painfully obvious I don't belong here. I'm 15 years older and 3 stone heavier than anyone else in the shop. Immediately, I stride into a decently lit corner and propel myself into a leather armchair. In the olden days, I'd drink myself into sociability, or proceed to draw everyone in the place, but I've forgotten my sketchbook, so I pull out a book and read.

Introversion settles over me like a blanket. I'm not even watching Derren Brown, but I'm glued to my seat. A gang of boys assemble on the sofa beside me, all friendly horseplay, but I'm too shy to do anything but smile without making eye contact. Christ, it turns out they're the band. I ache to try out my French on them, tell them how much I like their record, ask if they're playing my favourite song, but I can't quite seem to break through my shell.

A hip-looking couple wander in and settle at the table next to me - the boy looks incredibly like Rory Phillips. Oh wait, it is Roray. I have the urge to go over and introduce me, say "Yeah, I'm that mad person you've bantered with on the internets" or even just compliment him on the last remix that makes me bounce in my seat as I work. But the badness of the Erol forum hangs over me like a black cloud, and I can't work up the courage to do it. I am hopelessly tainted with creepiness and madness and more than a hint of stalkerdom.

Finally, the band goes on, and I am relieved of my thoughts. The drummer winks at me as he goes by "are you ready to rock'n'roll?" I grin at him and give him the thumbs up, wishing I'd spoken to them, they're pumped up for the show and super friendly. Their bassist makes funny faces at me from the stage, trying to make me laugh. I smile back, but I can't quite meet his eyes.

Joakim appears, unfolding himself from his laptop. He's so impossibly tall and thin that he makes his bandmates look like toys beside him. They start with Ad Me, rhythmic thumps on the analogue synth (I think it's an MS series Korg, but can't see properly) and bass, and then swing into their easy, playful prog-disco stomp.

The spell is broken, I am released, I move, I give myself to the music, my sense of being displaced has evaporated for the moment, banished by the insistent bouncy joy of the music. Come on in and party, it tells me. Everyone is welcome here. There's laptop squiggles of texture, chewy progtastic synths and the occasional yelp of indie-boy singing, all underpinned by this swaggering, hip-swinging, octave-hopping disco beat.

Mentally, my inner music geek is re-tagging my MP3 collection, moving them from "scando-balearic" to "microprog" - but externally, I'm twitching, dancing in my chair, squeaking the rotating seat back and forth in time with the filter sweeps of the synth, my toes tracing elaborate figure eights to the hi-hat work. Is it Prog you can dance to? Or is it Cosmic Disco with Prog affectations? Who cares, I love it, this bastard hybrid of things that shouldn't fit together, but *do*. It's the kind of thing I fell in love with Capitol K for - "electronica, but not as we know it - dance music as made by long-haired gods from Planet Prog" - except these aren't long haired god-men, they dress like sweetly awkward geekboys who love to rock out. Or is that projection?

Oh, but what a beautiful, odd, challenging yet strangely familiar sprawl of magpie musical finds to project onto.

One last long, epic, synthtastic cosmic jam, all synth arpeggios and building guitar textures (is this a live rework of Nebula Laughter? Hard to tell) and it's all over. I shout and clap my hands, but I'm back in my awful, hated, lumpish body again. I'm the fly in the ointment, the fat, ugly middle aged woman in the painfully hip and unbearably cool record shop, and I need to leave before I'm outed.

I stop at the bar on the way out - resisting every urge to order a double vodka and coke, knock it back, and engage the sweaty, euphoric boysintheband standing next to me with chat about how much fun their show was - and ask to buy the record. He tells me it's really good, and I keep my mouth shut and nod, smothering that one-bettering urge to tell him "I know, I'm a journo, I've had the promo for months on MP3" - because I know what I look like. My magazine has folded, my DJ residency has been cancelled. I'm just a sad old woman who can't quite find her place.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Death Of The Hoodie

I am paying for my massive "spring clean" yesterday with a massive sinus headache today, caused by all that bloody stirred up dust. Dust is always the enemy in an old London house - I look at the bookshelf I bought only last week, and already it has a thin film.

I was a lazy slob last night. I couldn't face going to NOTLS on so many levels (Hoxton, clubbing, drinking, noise, people, crowds, Northern Star and their reactionary "revolution" in sound.) so I stayed at home and watched the ridiculous John Boorman version of Excalibur, the Dark Ages as a shimmering 80s sci fi disco dream. I told myself I'd work on the SC album art - I didn't. I just sewed sequins onto a new cardigan.

Why? Oh, of course there's a story behind it. I rose early yesterday and walked down to the Big Sainsburys to do my monthly stockup. I hadn't bothered to change, just threw on my long black linen skirt and a black hoodie over what I'd slept in (leggings and a Tshirt.) As I caught sight of myself in the shiny glass windows, I suddenly thought I looked ridiculous. Caught between cultures, caught between ages.

A hoodie is such an ugly, shapeless garment. The uniform of disaffected youth, a kind of cloak of anonymity. I bought it almost as a joke 2 years ago, when I was asked by a friend to start writing for Terrorizer Magazine. It was such a ridiculous thing - the idea of me, a woman in my late 30, writing for a metal magazine, that stalwart genre of disaffected boys. So I took on the uniform, and turned in a series of somewhat disappointing articles about Hawkwind, Silver Apples, Diamanda Galas. (Not metal, I know, but I was supposed to be their Special Dronerock Correspondent.)

I stopped when some other friends started taking it all too seriously - and realised that metal wasn't a joke, it had a meaning and culture all its own that meant a great deal to the people that loved it. How would I feel if some ironic club kid started writing about music that I genuinely loved and identified with? I decided it was wrong - this double pose, both me as a music journalist and me as a metal fan, when I am neither - and quit.

The garment, however, stayed with me, this ugly, black, shapeless, incongruous thing. Standing in Sainsburys early on a Saturday morning, next to another middle aged woman in pink pyjamas and a grey hoodie, I decided it had to go.

Maybe it was that Affluenza book - which, most of the time, I want to throw across the room and shout "people do NOT actually think like this, you exaggerate!" - talking about beauty as an expression of one's own personality (rather than the iron maiden ideal of the Beauty Myth.) Maybe it was the William Morris philosophy I was raised with - "have nothing in your house that you do not believe to be beautiful or know to be useful" - this horrible garment was neither beautiful nor an adequate expression of who I, now, am. Perhaps it was disillusionment with the Erol forum, and realising that it, and the world of clubbing is set up for 18 year old boys, not for 30-something women. I can never be a 18 year old boy, even if I wear their clothes. (Nor would I, in fact, ever *want* to be, despite this youth-worshiping culture that Erol inhabits.)

I bought a cardigan. A nice, soft, loosely structured proper Guardian Reader Cardigan. Charcoal black with flecks of grey and copper. A witchy cardigan. A folky backwoods sensible cardigan. (Well, perhaps too sensible really, which is why I sewed little copper sequins into the fabric, a glimmer of my old glittery self peeking through.)

I left the hoodie at Sainsburys. I can never quite bring myself to throw perfectly good clothes away, even if they're too full of holes for even a charity shop. My mother laughed aloud when I told her - she reckoned I should have left it on a hanger and hung it back up, imagining the amusement of chaos should someone try to buy it. But no, I folded it neatly and left it on a bench by the door. A part of my personality I no longer need, wrapped discarded like a piece of old clothing.

"Put off or put on, youth hurts, and then it's gone."

Guardian Reader Cardigan

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Rooms With Many Doors

So it looks like the depression has finally cleared - for another day, another week, another month, I try not to think how long. It's like weather, when it's sunny, you cannot even conceive of the concept of rain, just like when it's raining you cannot believe it will ever be sunny again.

I've been overdosing on music, which is always the clearest way for me to take me out of myself, "release me from the tyranny of conscious thought" and all that. Except, well, no, because the process of listening to music is a steady stream of mental and emotional imagery - both swooning subjective identification and sharp objective analysis.

I've been on a spree of listening to older stuff - both digging out CDs I bought ages ago and revisited them, and downloading new things. (one-click iTunes account + superfast connection = RUIN)

I wandered through the ruined elegance of the Fever Ray album, a weird, magical creature that seems to be slightly different every time I listen to it. "A room with many doors," I described it as, on Twitter. The Lex shot back "i still don't feel that i've found all the doors yet and others, i've felt like i haven't been able to open - but their presence makes it special" - but I insisted that part of the appeal of this album was those closed doors, that refusal to open up and reveal their mysteries immediately, or maybe even ever.

I listened to School of Seven Bells and Telepathe, and wondered to myself, why the hell doesn't music this magical come from mine own country?



Oh, but it does. I dragged out the Goldfrapp back catalogue - or at least I dragged out Seventh Tree, that last, weird, slightly "folk" album which I always thought I didn't like because I'd been so enamoured of the robo-glam disco stomp of the previous two albums. And this time I got it - it's a headphones album, not a dancefloor album. I thought the textures were gone amidst all that acoustic guitar wibbling that passes for "folk" to most ears - but no, they were there, submerged, subtle, a much more complex album than I'd given it credit for being.

From there, it was a hop and a skip to Roisin Murphy's Overpowered. Someone on ILX linked the video, which I'd never seen.



The boys of ILX complained that the video was bad, but the moment I saw it, I identified. That feeling of coming offstage on a high, in your glittering stage clothes - and then the comedown. Lord knows I've taken enough busses home from gigs, go home late at night, alone, make a cup of tea, put the laundry on, and climb into bed alone - still wrapped in your shimmering shiny personna that you can't ever really seem to take off.

I don't know; I like Murphy, I love that song, (despite nicking the synth line off Yazoo) but although they are often mentioned in the same breath, she's not quite in the same league to me as Goldfrapp. There's something so *ordinary* about Murphy that the video really picks up on - but I suppose that's the point. This ordinary Norf London Irish girl wrapped up in these weird clothes, this high fashion pose. Goldfrapp is theatrical as hell, poses are put on and discarded - but still, somehow, doors remain closed.

This is the complaint, again and again, about the current crop of "quirky" indie girls. Someone on ILX (I forget who, or even in refernce to what, I'm sorry) talked about how women like Florence and the Machine (or worse, the dreaded La Roux) though in massive debt to the sainted Kate Bush still manage to come off like giggling drama students who give a little bow at the end and reveal themselves to be totally unthreatening nice little girls under the facepaint and glitter. The overall effect is just a bit too Elfine Starkadder

But that's it, isn't it? They're *girls*. They're too YOUNG to have closed doors, to have secrets, to have mystery and GLAMOUR (original meaning of magic, sorcery and spells, concealment and disguise).

And that's when I realised what I was doing in this musical quest. I was searching for a place for mine *own* music, for what I consider its references, its contemporaries, its influences - and the pidgeonhole where I suspect I will end up filed. And more than this, I was searching for mine own place in society.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Thoughtworms: From Belief To Delusion

Back at work today. The depression got so bad yesterday I had to take the day off. I knew, as I sat on the side of the bed, staring down at my feet, unable to even put my slippers on, that I could not face work. Fired off an email to my boss, as I couldn't even face the phone and lay staring at the ceiling for a while.

This depression wasn't lifting. I was going to have to do something. A friend posted a link to a site which listed things to do in the event of depression. It's funny how, even though you *know* that these things work, when you're that depressed, you don't even think to do them.

5. Eat healthy food. Sugar is the devil - I love it, I love its heightening and drugging effects on me and my mood, but the crashes, the up and down cycle, it's poison for a bipolar. No chocolate, no sodapop, no profilterols.

2. and 3. Exercise, and get some sunlight. It took me a couple of hours to force myself, but I climbed out of bed and up to the park, sat in full sunlight for nearly an hour. Everything screamed RED at me. Japanese maples. Berries on trees. A pack of Irish Setters that accosted me, drawn by the smell of menstral blood, and forced me to throw a ball for them.

11. avoid negative people who make you feel bad or irritated.

Oh god, this is the hardest. I'd been asking for days to be removed or blocked from the Erol forum. Blank refusal, and then a terse note saying that it wasn't technically possible. I didn't handle this well, I confess. I was an utter brat. A childish fantasy of some dinner party, where you and the host get into an argument - and the other guests stand around and cluck their tongues or hiss at you like outraged monkeys. So what do I fantasise of doing? Sneak back into the house while everyone is asleep and leave a perfect pile of human faeces fresh on the dinner table for their breakfast.

Well, not really. I took all of my bile and read every single one of those insults again and thought "you want condescension, you want 'issues' - OK, you can have it" and wrote a horrible mean nasty, condescending satire of a parody of a post and left it, a deliberate troll in a blatant attempt to commit suicide by mod.

Did it work, was I banned? Of course not. I can seemingly only ever troll by accident. I'm getting to the point where I think I could post links to nazi sites advocating the castration of Turkish Cypriot males and not get banned. But it was a kind of Rubicon, a burning of bridges to keep *myself* from going back.

That place is not for me. There's only so long you can try and squish yourself as a round peg into a square hole. The world has changed. It's not 2002 any more. You're nearly 40, you're well beyond the world of clubbing, leave it to 18 year olds and move on. You're only upsetting yourself, staying somewhere you stick out like such a sore thumb. But I found the quote in a Carol Shields novel, that perfectly describes the situation: "I know nobody likes me. People can't stand me, and that's a fact. So I make sure they really and truly can't stand me."

It's not good to wind myself into such a frenzy. It's a terrifying thing to admit, but the thoughtworms have managed to get inside the things I believe most fervently. I used to recognise it in my brother, when he was at his worst, going really mad, that his bipolar disorder would latch onto a certain kind of politics that would infect his brain like a virus. Sure, he was always big-C Conservative, and these views were deeply held and carefully rationed beliefs - but there was a line it would cross, that it would become not a philosophy, but a symptom of his madness. An obsession, a delusion that held him in a vice-like grip.

There's a line, somewhere, that I cross, and I don't know where, that goes from mine own deeply held beliefs on Feminism and the role of Misogyny, in culture and especially in music - and crosses over, clicks into thoughtworm mode. Where it goes round and round, and repeats itself on this little track, eating away at my brain like soul cancer, destroying my belief in myself and my faith in other people. It stops being a thought, and starts being an obsession.

I'm not saying that my belief in Feminism is a delusion - FAR FROM IT. But the depression, the thoughtworms have learned to take advantage of these beliefs and turn them into a stick to beat myself with, and a rant to exclude myself from the world and distance myself from other people.

In this instance, I have to preserve my sanity first, and idealism second.

Anyway. Number 6. Divert yourself from negative thoughts by doing something you really enjoy.

I finished Larry's Party by Carol Shields, and I'm quite sad that I have run out of Shields books at my local library. She has that sense of Austen, of painting on a tiny piece of ivory, and yet somehow capturing the whole world. Her work leaves me thrilled and inspired.

And I discovered a musician I'd never heard of before, but fell instantly in love with: a pioneer of electronic music (and also visual artist and computer theorist) named Laurie Spiegel. Go and dig out the album The Expanding Universe, a landmark of ambient electronica that makes the Aphex Twin sound like a wibbling schoolboy.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Arbiter Of Cool

The year is 1988. The place, a college town in Upstate NY. I'm a freshman, and an atypically young freshman at that, as I burned out on high school in my Junior year, wiped out with a nervous breakdown followed by a bout of mono, and got my GED as quickly as was legally permissible, and headed straight for the nearest state University to commence Real Life.

There were two tribes in our campus centre (youth culture always splits itself in two, as them vs. us is the easiest way of defining a newly hatched adult identity.) My tribe, the Hipsters (this word had not been tainted with its 00s association - it still harked back to Beatniks and The City - New York, of course, not our pathetic local town) and our arch enemies, the Art Fags.

The Hipsters gathered around the campus food coop and its accompanying record shop - we were marked by our politics (radical) and our music (hardcore and punk, SST and Alternative Tentacles.) Art fags, wearied by nearly a decade of Reagan-Thatcherism, were not thought to have politics, and their music was effete European synthpop - all sneeringly dismissed as "Depeche Mode." Hipsters majored in *real* subjects, like politics and and philosophy and journalism (or even hard sciences like physics and maths.) Art Fags, of course, studied art and design and fashion - or even worse yet, English. Hipsters dressed in lots of leather (or black denim if they were vegan) and flannel and spiked their part-long part-shaved hair up into elaborate crests. Art Fags wore clothes from Boy and Contempo and dressed like, well, art fags.

I was told, by one of the arbiters of who was "scene" and who was not, that I was always sightly suspect. After all, my favourite band was not Crass, but Bauhaus, and I was suspected of preferring the sell-outs New Order to the sainted Joy Division, and what's more, my major was "Public Communications" (a weird catch-all division that would in a few years evolve into "New Media") which was decidedly more art school than journalism. Still, my politics were unimpeachable. As part of a radical feminist student group, *we* had occupied a university office while they had stayed in the coop and debated. What's more, my father had actually *held political office* for a socialist (OK, the Labour) party. So I was grudgingly accepted as Hipster, rather than Art Fag.

I tried to be as tribal as I could, because this was the first genuine Scene I'd been accepted into in my life, but I had my doubts.

The thing was, the most *interesting* people I knew, the ones whose thoughts were beautiful and original and challenging, the ones whose musical tastes were most expansive - they didn't dress like punks at all. In fact, when I met up with a penpal at an all-ages VFW gig, the Arbiter of Cool was suspicious of him for dressing like a "hippie" (more proto-grunge, really, with the benefit of hindsight, but still.)

I suppose it was a kind of shorthand more than anything else. If you saw someone with a mohawk sitting on the steps of the campus centre, you could go over and ask them how much they hated Reagan, and have a friend for the next semester. But a friend I met this way confessed to me that the AoC would only greet her when she spiked her hair up, but would blank her when it was down. Did her personality change with her hair? I didn't think so.

I remember the moment it all changed. We were sprawled over a picnic table outside the campus centre, eating hummus and taboule from the food coop, when AoC turned to me, and asked me, pointedly, about my friend V. "There's such a dearth of *real* punk rock girls around here," he mused. "It's so refreshing to see a real punk rock girl again."

I gaped at him, not quite knowing how to answer. V was my best friend from high school, who'd been home for the weekend. I'd proudly taken her to one of the Scene parties, desperate to show off my new, cool friends. But V, as much as I loved her, had the musical tastes of the redneck community where she'd grown up. She owned Grateful Dead records, FFS, she had Rush posters on her walls when I met her. She'd been forced to keep her precious collection of books (sci fi and fantasy mostly) in a locked chest because her mother thought they were "untidy." We started to expand each others' horizons. I began a campaign to educate her about music, about literature, about art - and she educated me about life outside of books - sex, drugs, shopping. I lost my innocence, gratefully - she lost her ignorance, not always so gratefully.

But punk rock, punk rock she was not. The clothes she'd worn to the party had been borrowed or adapted. My old Sex Pistols t-shirt. Heavy metal slut boots were easily enough adapted to look punk - and a black leather miniskirt. A motorcycle jacket customised with a few studs and a lick of paint. Her hair, her heavy metal mop - we crimped it and teased it out to the size of a small bush and we painted her face with black lipstick like Siouxsie Sioux.

And this boy, that I'd taken to be the arbiter of our Scene, he looked at her and he didn't see that her favourite band was Led Zeppelin and that she had voted Republican, like her parents and her grandparents. Our Arbiter of Cool looked at her, and saw her leather jacket and her spiked hair and said "This, this is a *real* punk rock girl."

Yes, we were teenagers - of course it's as shallow to judge people by their favourite band as by their punk rock costume. It's the quality of a person's soul that counts, not the quality of their record collection *or* the spikiness of their hair. But I learned a lot about image and about Arbiters of Cool on that day.

Flash forward ten years, my brother and I sitting in a posh bar in NYC, and he laughingly quotes Oscar Wilde "I have never met anyone who did not turn out to be exactly what I thought them to be within 5 minutes of meeting them." I looked at him carefully and shook my head, thinking how deceiving his own Young Republican costume was. I knew then, as I know now. My favourite people are those who do *not* turn out to be exactly who you thought they were within 5 minutes of meeting them.

So the violent revulsion in my previous post, to Arbiters of Cool who would make you pay to stand in a queue to be judged worthy of entry by bouncers - this is where it comes from. Not from arrogance, or from insecurity, but from this.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Shower Of Shit

Depression is back with a whallop today, after a brief remission yesterday. Remission - I mean, that's what it's like, isn't it? It will recede for a while, but it never really goes away, this terrible shadow that hangs over everything like an ominous grey cloud forever on the horizon of even the sunniest day.

You know it's bad, when trying to keep the sort of "gratitude journal" that happiness scientists reccomend to ward off depression, you can't think of a thing to be grateful for. Negativity seeps into every pore, sucks the colour out of the sky.

The cognitive dissonance of my job grows worse every day. How do I recconcile my idea of myself as an idealistic person, as a Feminist, with the fact of working in an industry I believe to be morally wrong. It makes me feel physically ill to think about it, so I try not to think about it - until those times when I find myself having to fix coding and find myself confronted with a list of labiaplasty, mastoplexy and other such torture applied to womens perfectly healthy bodies in the name of pure aesthetics.

And once I grit my teeth and get past that, there's the sheer frustration of my job. I was hired as a Crystal Programmer, I've been here for 6 months and they still haven't even bought a copy of the software. I spend my days fixing Excel queries like a glorified secretary. I should just shut up and take my paycheque - the pay of an MI Analyst for the skills of a secretary - but the truth is I am BORED out of my fucking mind.

So I spend my day bored, distracted, frustrated, surfing aimlessly about the internet and feeling more and more alienated.

The other minor complaints, the tiny things that eat away at the joy of life...

Lost my DJ residency. The venue moved Crafternoons from the upstairs room to the downstairs. No decks downstairs. Lisa says that they'll book a proper night up in Walthamstow soon, but I can't go all the way to Walthamstow and back on a school night. I just can't do it. Didn't realise how much work I put into it, and how rewarding that work was, until it's suddenly gone. Didn't realise how much of my music critic identity had been reshaped (since the death of Plan B) as DJ. Several times in the past week, I've found myself about to d/l some great remix or some rare track, thinking "Ooh, I'll play this in my set..." only to realise I don't have a set to play.

And I haven't talked about the mess with EA, have I? It's just... I don't even know where to start there. I'm sure he's completely forgotten the argument by now, but of course, I haven't. Suddenly looking into the eyes of your idol and seeing a plain, fallible human being. Your Nebuchadnezzar has feet of clay.

Again, the cognitive dissonance, having an argument with your addmitted idol over the single issue most important in your life. I walked away, I didn't even finish the argument - not least because I didn't want to carry on disagreeing with Him, but also because I just didn't want to have this whole process of disillusionment unfold in front of your typical internet rubberneckers.

I can't even say what it was that suddenly snapped. The straw that broke the camel's back was his patronising use of the diminishing "dear" - to use this kind of term while arguing with a feminist is a lesser akin to using the term "boy" when arguing about racism with a Black Panther. The level of disrespect and patronisation is just amplified a hundred fold.

I keep trying to explain what I was trying to say, and then realise that it doesn't matter, and delete the whole thing. Here's this man who went from playing Riot Grrrl anthems to operating in this world of electronic dance music that seems to become *more* gender imbalanced, rather than less, as time goes on. How do you go from championing Peaches and Chicks On Speed to championing Boys Noize (I mean, that name just says it all - music of boys, by boys, for boys - how many females does he have on his record label? Please prove me wrong by showing that number is above 0?). And rather than challenge this hyper-masculine world, just reinforce it with all-male charts on Beatport, all male sets, all males in the DJ booth at his gigs.

"I don't listen to gender," he protests. "I listen to music."

We've had this argument before. If you don't listen to gender, if it "doesn't matter" if it's male or female, then why is it ALWAYS male? How can you come up with an all male ANYTHING (except maybe sperm donating list) and tell me you have no bias - when the world is 50% female?

Clearly he didn't listen to the message and meaning of riot grrrl. Maybe he was just playing that music because it was fashionable at the time. And that's what really infuriated him. Started going on about the Trash "brand" and how it was fenced off from what he did now, and how this man who I thought spent half his life dismantling boundaries between "dance" and "rock" and "pop" is now bricking them back up- but that's when his patronising "dear" slips out.

And that's when I remember. Why I didn't *go* to Trash. (This is the irony, my saying that a Trash set was more diverse, more fun, more... BETTER than his recent sets.) Because of that fenced off attitude of exclusivity. The queue and the clipboard at the door and the "do you know what kind of music we play?" sneering and the refusing to let people in on account of wearing the wrong *fashion*.

I'm from New York, I know why people will pay money to stand in a queue and have their fashion sense insulted. They pay for the privilege of being judged worthy to enter.

But this is the problem with this attitude of exclusivity. That being exclusive automatically involves EXCLUDING someone. And I've been that person, excluded for things I couldn't help (my gender, my mental illness, my nationality, my sexuality) far too many time to ever condone that attitude. It goes contrary to everything I've ever believed in.

So where does this leave us? I'm looking at this man and thinking that I've idolised him for all the wrong reasons. And wishing I could just delete the past 6 months of adulation, write it off as a mistake, an illusion, a willing suspension of disbelief. I mean, that's what is so stupid about all this - it's not a case of "I didn't realise..." as "I knew, but chose to ignore." Build 'em up and knock 'em down? Put a man on a pedastal to knock him off?

Doesn't matter. That protecting coccoon of worshipping a god, of being in love with an idea - of holding an ideal - it's just another good thing that's gone.

Of course he dislikes me. Most people dislike me. I'm spikey and abrasive and this endless bad weather moods and depression is so fucking boring and tedious. I wouldn't want to spend time around me if I had a choice. But I don't have a choice, I'm trapped in this awful head. And there's only one way to get out of it.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Mad Woman

So it's finally happened. I've turned into the kind of mad old lady who shouts at newspapers in the tube. (So much hinges off the double meaning of that word, "mad" - if a woman is angry, it's clearly because she's insane, not because she's frustrated and beaten back and beaten down and has just had enough. Mad.)

Picked up a copy of the Metro off my seat, flipped through it to read the comics (I wanted to dive back into my Carol Shields novel) and saw a picture of a naked woman. Oh, don't get me wrong, it wasn't a Page 3 girl or pornography or anything, it was definitely an art print, a Man Ray or something, a woman bent over double with her arse in the air, headless, limbless, so that the curves of her torso formed a geometrical shape.

And then the tagline - blah blah blah, some artist has put together a lovely coffee table book of the female nude celebrating the female nude as "sign, symbol and as designed object."

I was so angry I tossed the whole newspaper over my head with a snort. But no, that wasn't enought. Couldn't concentrate on the novel, with those words banging around in my head. SIGN. SYMBOL. DESIGN OBJECT. Woman? No. Person? No. Human being with desires and wants and needs and aspirations and talents and a personality all her own? No.

SIGN. SYMBOL. DESIGN OBJECT. NUDE.

I took out a biro and grabbed the newspaper back. Scrawled across her naked and reduced-to-object back.

HUMAN BEING
NOT A SIGN
NOT A SYMBOL
NOT A "DESIGN OBJECT"
I AM A HUMAN BEING
I AM A PERSON

Left it open and face up as I got off at Oxford Circus. Will anyone see? Will anyone care? Probably not, but I feel better for doing it.