Masonic Boom

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

Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Brief Post About Loneliness

This is a post about loneliness. Not romantic loneliness, but sheer human loneliness. The desire for companionship, for understanding. The loneliness of the wee hours of the night, the loneliness of Sunday morning.

Can an introvert get lonely? I find it takes about two days of not speaking to another human being. A sense of disconnection, a sense of not being understood - or even being mocked - makes it a thousand times worse. ("You don't make it easy on yourself" is the refrain there - erm, what am I supposed to do? Be someone other than who I am? Do you think I *choose* to be this way, the same way that people perversely "choose" to be born homosexual or black or female or just plain different?)

I can't even begin to explain the sense of isolation. No family - well, what little I have are far-flung across the globe, and negotiating a family meet-up requires more diplomacy than the cautious maneuvers of three empires. I want to be Switzerland, but neutrality must be defended with guns and knives and mining all the bridges on my mountain passes.

My friends, my lovely friends? Far flung, even further flung than my family. Even when they live in the same city (and never forget that getting from one side of London to the other can take an hour, or two, longer than it takes to get to another country sometimes.) lives drift apart.

It's the story of my life. Friends grow up, they meet partners, they get married, they have babies, and it's like they've gone off into another world, one where you can never follow. I didn't move with the rest of my age group, I got somehow stuck. I made different choices, I was a different person, I followed different dreams. And it never happened for me - or rather, it did, but not in a form that I ever found acceptable. One life-partner abused me, the other betrayed and abandoned me. And it still doesn't change the hard-learned fact that I was, actually, lonelier *in* these relationships than I had ever been out of them.

So my friends move on, and I stick. My new friends get younger and younger - or rather, they stay the same age, and I grow older. And of course the cycle happens all over again. This is what appeals in fictional characterisations of the immortal, be it Vampire novels or Doctor Who. Everyone you love will grow old and die, and you will simply carry on, lonely as you ever were. Except they don't die, they go on to have new lives, in a different place, without you, and you can only ever watch, with your nose pressed up against the glass that separates you.

From the outside I know that I look so bitter and so angry. How many times can one go through the same bitter and disappointing experience before you are *allowed* to be angry? Once? Twice? A dozen times? A hundred?

And Sunday mornings are so lonely, so still and so silent as to be almost unendurable. And yet, endure you must. What's the alternative?

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Saturday, May 30, 2009


Is there anything better than a record shop? I know that they're a dying breed, really, but I can still spend hours in them, pouring through the racks, browsing, digging, comparing, gratifying my hunter-gatherer instincts, though with Strawberry Alarm Clock compilations as the reward instead of mushrooms and berries. Even though it's frustrating when you cannot find one thing you came in for - god, it's pathetic when the flagship shop for the biggest and oldest record shop in Britain doesn't seem to carry a new release - it's still such an engaging passtime. So what if I've become the mythical £50 Woman, who goes into HMV every month on payday and drops £50 on buying random... stuff. I love it.

I had a shopping list - Electrik Red's How To Be A Lady Volume One, Brian Eno's Here Come The Warm Jets, Ellen Allien and Apparat's Orchestra Of Bubbles - but couldn't find any of it.

So instead, I bought Allien's Thrills instead, Orbital's Green Album (I'm slowly replacing all my former cassettes with CD), Steve Hillage's Green (another prog classic that is constantly namechecked by ambient electronic artists, so I thought it was worth investigating, considering how much I love Fish Rising) and, on impulse, mainly for DJing purposes, the Greatest Hits of Siouxsie and the Banshees.

I mean, seriously, you can never go wrong playing a bit of Siouxsie for women Of A Certain Age. We *all* had that haircut or did our eye makeup a little bit like that, at some point in the 80s, especially if you've ever been anywhere near an art school.

Now, lots of this stuff, I have not heard in 15, 20 years. I was wondering how it had aged. I mean, I became a bit of a snob when I was growing out of Goth, and I'm sad to admit that Siouxsie was one of those artists who got quite a bit of popularity among the wrong people, and I'm ashamed to admit, I may have thrown around the phrase "sell out" at one point or another.

Cities In Dust is the first single I can actually remember when it came out, remember spinning around on the dance floor on Diaper Night at the local Punque Rocke nightclub, the QE2. Hey, it's what they did with Monday nights, when they couldn't get any adults in - they opened it up to teenagers and let them in the back on handstamps. Some of my earliest and still fondest clubbing memories took place on that floor. And oh god, it still sounds good, still sounds weird and exotic, all those chiming tones and Oriental-sounding pentatonic scales. And Siouxsie's weird, voice floating above it like some kind of exotic bird of prey, that yodeling note-jump so unexpected it's almost atonal, and yet totally perfect.

And then Peek-A-Boo - I was a bit older, and a bit sneery of the new kids that started getting into them with this album. The Cure had definitely dropped off beyond the pale with Kick Me, Kick Me, Kick Me - my teenage snobbery thought the Banshees were next, and wrote this off as music for poseurs. Listening to it now, I'm struck by how *weird* it sounds, all those odd percussive textures - and the main riff of the song is actually backwards. Oh, my teenage self, you were so wrong. How could something so out there, so unexpected, so adventurous, possibly be a sell-out, no matter how popular it proved with the rich kids who sneered at your shoes? It's an odd, rollicking romp of a song, all strung together with this sort of rag-time pop melody strung over the top.

The album spirals into all the classic singles - Happy House, Christine, Israel, Spellbound - was there ever a more perfect string of singles? And Siouxsie, what a glamourous bitch! No matter how often her look was copied by the art school girls, she remained an utterly individual icon - an antidote to the identikit blonde frontgirls of the 80s. And her voice - that unique, expressive wail - as distinctive and iconic and instantly recognisable as Johnny Rotten or Iggy Pop, as much a defining Voice Of A Generation. (This is really why I could never get excited by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs - whatever, I've heard this before, done WAY better - Karen O simply isn't worthy to kiss Siouxsie's bondage boots.)

Ah, Kiss Them For Me. By this time, I was *over* The Banshees. I'd moved on to proper music, like My Bloody Valentine and Spacemen 3 and stuff. What a fucking fool I was. This song is flawless, a marriage of Bollywood strings and faded 1920s glamour. The slight trills in Sioux's voice at the end of every phrase echoed by the quavering sitar flourishes. Was Screamadelica really so much better than this? It bloody well was not.

It's a funny thing, nostalgia. I go back and listen to so many albums from my youth, and I'm shocked at how dated and silly they sound. (Bits of Love and Rockets, who I loved more than life itself at one point, don't always stand up.) And yet, I go back and listen to this, something my teenage indie snobbery had written off, and it sounds as fresh and intriguing and enticing as the day it was written.

Never trust memories, they're false, they lie, they twist and distort, the emotion, the experiences you went through when you first heard the music can totally colour your perception of it. But that changes with distance. This music is truly magnificent.

"Follow in the footsteps of a red dawn, dance, we are entranced... spellbound!"

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Certain Ambiguity

It started with a joke on the Erol forum - well, two jokes that somehow got interconnected. The first, about one of the winners of the AA24/7 remix comp needing a new name, the second, the usual "OMG, Dance Area is really... ::santa claus and the easter bunny::" joke.

I seem to have good luck getting band names from maths and science textbooks. I had read something on the bus to work that struck me as "that would make a good band name..." Axiomatics. I checked to see if there was already a band of that name, and there is not. Decided it was too good to give away, and grabbed it for myself - joking around that we should make up fake Dutch electro names and start another forum project a la the Trance Orchestra (I immediately named myself "Evren Van Der Blogge", Shadow Dancer called "Edam Oranjeboom" and away we went...)

I don't think it's gonna happen in the form I originally envisaged (a collaborative project where each person recorded a new piece, remixed what had gone before, and then passed on the stems to the next person) - well, because I didn't feel like herding cats, especially when the first person who said they wanted to join up threw a hissy fit and blocked me on twitter because apparently I didn't tweet back fast enough - oh grow up...

But whatever.

Anyway, reading the same book, on the bus home... it's called "A Certain Ambiguity: A Mathematical Novel" by Gaurav Suri and Hartosh Singh Bal. Ed gave it to me for my birthday last year, but, without a commute, I hadn't got round to reading it. Which is a shame, as it has turned out to be AMAZING. Every time I think I've got a bead on what it's about, it changes. At first I thought it was just a kind of mathematical equivalent to "Sophie's World" - the story of mathematics told through a kind of detective novel. But then it changed into something else, and I thought it was going to be a post-Dawkins lambast against religion. But then it changed again, and... not to give away the plot too much, but by exploring the twin mathematical alternate universes of Georg Cantor's infinity theory, and Non-Euclidean geometry (if you paid attention to Shimura Curves lyrics, you know I'm a big fan of that) it seems to be going off in completely another direction again.

And in a flash, it came to me.

I've been experiencing musical writers' block for months now, maybe even a year at this point. HATO was initially a spur to motion, but now I can't even seem to find the time to finish the mixes. And finally getting a release for the long-lost Shimura Curves album ended up being a double edged sword, and I'm still so conflicted about it I haven't even shipped my hard drive off for data recovery, let alone got to work on it. (I know, I just know, that I will end up doing all the work on it, yet again. In the two months since it was first mooted, not one of my bandmates has even mentioned it, so that just goes to show the kind of back-up I can expect.)

I mean, I had my theories on where the block was coming from. It's totally tied up with the death of my libido - or, well, not so much my libido as my decision to become celibate. I was talking about it on the forum yesterday - about how music and sex are so intimately tied together for me - especially dance music. It's one and the same, music is the theory, emotion is the practice (or maybe the other way around.) Well, no wonder. The person I was talking to said that they were able to totally compartmentalise - that music and sex weren't connected. But how can you separate music and emotion? It's impossible. Music isn't an intellectual exercise, it's a visceral, physical, messy, emotional one.

But love/sex is not the only emotion.

Another big, positive one for me is my sense of wonder - and it's my sense of wonder, of awe, of amazement, that fuels both my love of mathematics and my spiritual sentiments. (I hope that this is where the book is going, and will be disappointed if it doesn't - that spirituality - note, not religion - is as much a valid worldview as non-euclidean geometry is logically consistent, even though it makes no sense to a literal mind.)

I don't know. Perhaps I shall write a "concept album" about Euclid's elements, a piece of music for each postulate or proposition? I have no idea. But I hope that this direction of thinking is the stream that restores the dry well.

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I've Got The Perfect Needle.

So I got to the Queen of Hoxton (just Industry with a shite paint job) quite early, in order to nab a booth, so I could sit down and draw if the support bands turned out to be shite. Although I did get quite a bit of sketching done, this turned out not to be necessary.

I wanted to hate Maribel when they first came on, all indie haircuts and headbands. Indeed, the first song was dutifully boring, a hypnotic thud and feedback like a kindergarten JAMC - and then suddenly the drums kicked in, and the bass kicked off and the band... took off. Pretty melodies under plumes of feedback, 2 and even 3-part boy/girl harmonies, a stand-up drummer pounding shit out of a minimal kit - yes, this has my name all over it. And then they speak - ah, they're from Oslo. What is it in that Norwegian water that makes their dronerock so good? Serena Maneesh, Je Suis Animal, The Lionheart Brothers, they just seem to be incredibly *good* at this stuff, the mixture of noise and beauty, of heavy darkness and spinning light. Sure, it was a bit derivative, but what's wrong with doing something old incredibly *well*? At times they even reminded me of a lo-fi Medicine, which is the highest compliment I can pay.

The next band, 93MillionMilesFromTheSun, well, they were a bit of a case of style over substance. They started out belching smoke, with the lights behind them like a bargain basement BRMC - until the fire alarm (ah, so that's what that really interesting drone noise was. A shame. I like bands that duet with fire alarms - see also FreeLoveBabies) forced them to play without the atmospherics. Thing is, they had all the right sounds - the huge Marshall and Ampeg stacks, the boards full of pedals, the little boy lost vocals - but did utterly nothing with them. I mean, obviously, they had a decent band in there somewhere...

...however, that band was, actually, The Telescopes. For that was the point of the night - to get Stephen Lawrie up onstage and fronting a band and singing actual *songs* again instead of just rolling about a stage interrogating amplified violins with electrical powertools, and the other sorts of noize he's been pedalling lately.

And god... FUCK YES. Stephen is skinnier than ever, hollow cheeked and dead-eyed, clinging to the mic stand for dear life, but the noise seems to rouse him. When his eyes open to slits, they *twinkle*.

The Telescopes were originally part of that first wave of drone bands, after the Mary Chain and Spacemen 3 and Loop and My Bloody Valentine. And this is what they're doing tonight, songs from Taste, not that lovely filigree baggy-shoegaze hybrid of the self titled album that everybody loves. Songs reduced to the simplest of riffs, riffs reduced to drones, repeated over and again until transcendance is achieved. "It hurts too much to be where you are, it hurts too much to be where you are," Stephen repeats over and over before slamming into the decisive putdown "I've got the perfect needle for you..."

The songs are about boredom, suffocation, frustration that leads to rage. Stephen is crumpled to his knees, down on the floor, banging at the guitarist's pedalboard to make it go louder, before finally making his way back to the Marshall stack to turn the volume all the way up, thrusting his vocal mic into the onslaught to make it louder, almost louder, the sheer volume of sound like a physical presence - this is the point of all those eardrum-wrecking live shows. The strangely soothing effects of overwhelming noize on the human nervous system. They last about 3 songs before degenerating into an all-out noise-fest, but, stretched over the relentless pummelling drumbeat, it makes sense. The girls down the front even dance, that wild kind of freeform hippie dancing of the truly fucked.

And then it's over. Stephen, bored, lunges off the stage, and makes a beeline for the door - the loo, the smoking area upstairs, who knows? There is no encore, despite the girls howling for "High On Fire". How could there be?

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

If My Body's A Club, You're My Disco Ball

So I'm currently hanging out in the office waiting to go and see the Telescopes who are, apparently, promising to play an actual SET of actual SONGS, especially Taste era stuff and the like. I'll believe it when I see it, as the past few times I've seen (even supported) the band, it's been total NOIZE onslaught of sonic terrorism, etc. Which is fun in its own way - more for watching the audience reaction, when they're expecting cute psych stuff.

Today I have mostly been caning Electrik Red - an absolutely fabulous R&B updated take on a girl group. The Lex described them as "britney circa blackout meets prince circa controversy, + extra swearing and actual pro-female sexuality" - imagine the kind of bad girl counterpoint to the Christian feistyness of Destiny's Child.

It's everything I want from my bubblegum pop - beautiful shiny production, quality songwriting, amazonian harmony singing. And what I love best about it, is how it manages to be sexy and sexual - and yet in a totally PRO-WOMAN empowerment sort of way, so refreshing after the recent rush of pneumatic pr0no-stars dolled up as male sex fantasies.

(Not to mention how apt I find whole "skilled lover as DJ of sex" metaphor of "Freaky Freaky" in the light of recent obsessions.)

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Male Programmer Privilege Checklist

Hi. My name is Kate and yes, I am a female IT professional.

The Male Programmer Privilege Checklist

This made me laugh like a drain until I realised how OUCH it really was.

Goodbye, Plan B

So I was going to write a song today. I woke up (after dreaming of Holloway Road) with a bassline I didn't recognise stuck in my head. But then a car passed by outside, blasting Dizzee Rascal's Bonkers - and suddenly it was gone, replaced by that bassline. So instead, I thought - wow, I think I'm going to blog, instead. Because I've been trying to digest my feelings about the demise of my long-term employer, Plan B.

Right. Plan B. Where do I start? Careless Talk Costs Lives, obviously. It's weird how, although I never made any great splash as a writer, people never namecheck me as one of their faves (possibly because I wrote under so many pseudonyms), and I never really had much of an influence on the direction of either magazine (except negative, via endless crotchety email exchanges with various editors) - that magazine had such a profound influence on *my* life.

My life would have been very, very different without that magazine. Friends, bandmates, sexual partners, the bulk of my DJing experience, the most successful band I was ever in... Nothing, except perhaps ILX (from which a great deal of the writers were drawn) had such a great influence on the daily fabric of my life. Even though my actual involvement had slipped to minimal - 500 to 1000 words every other month - its passing still leaves a hole in my life. Not least because I now lack that final SHUT UP phrase that's so good for dealing with idiot teenage boys on the internet - "Yes, I am entitled to my opinion - why? Because I'm a professional music journalist and you're not."

I missed the beginning of Plan B, because I'd left CTCL in a cloud after the backlash over THAT article. (The only piece of writing I've ever done that people still talk about - for al the wrong reasons.) I went through a long period of being nothing but a Bloomsbury Wife, when everything I did - writing, music, art - just went by the roadside, in subservience to my partner's needs as an artist. It's no accident that when that marriage ended, the first people I called were the Plan B girls - Frances and Miss AMP and Anna. (Though it's funny to think that Anna didn't become a Plan B girl until I introduced them - one of those weird cases when your friends end up liking each other even more than they like you.)

I was casting about wildly, for something to do, someone to BE, now that the whole Being Married thing that I thought would be the be-all and end-all of my life had failed to dramatically, trying to remember who I actually was. Went through a bit of a wild phase again, clubbing, drinking, taking drugs - but it no longer fit. Instead, we started a band - as you do. Shimura Curves were supposed to be the female Gay Dad in a way, failed miserably at that, but become something else entirely. Band and magazine are inseparable in my mind. (Which ironically hurt us, in terms of getting coverage - we could never find a music journo to review us who liked the music who *hadn't* been in the band at one point - Alex Macpherson, Sophie Heawood - they'd all done guest spots with us.)

It's funny to compare the two magazines, and my experiences of them. For me, CTCL was much more about The Music, while Plan B was much more of a social thing. (Though reading the actual magazines gives the completely opposite impression.) Because of Everett True's editorial style, reading CTCL felt like a mad night out with a gang of mentalists who all knew and hung out with each other at sweaty clubs. I suppose it was quite off-putting if you weren't *part* of that mad gang, though it was, I admit, a mad fun gang to be in. Under Frances, Plan B felt and read much more like A Proper Magazine. We wrote about the music, not the nights out, which had paradoxically become much more incestuous.

But that was what did it in, for me. Not the writing - it was good discipline for me to actually write to deadlines and wordcounts, and put together cogent criticism, instead of the mad theorising I used to do for CTCL. But the incestuousness did it for me. Shimura Curves, let's face it, imploded in a bizarre love triangle - not even a triangle, a quadrilateral or pentangle, due to all the threads and connections. But my involvement with the Plan B social scene ended due to another bizarre quadrangle. I'll be honest, though she may hate me for it. My friendship with Frances was going through a bad patch - both our lives hit weird bumps at the same time, that threw us in conflicting directions. I made the mistake of blogging about it - with the fake anonymity at which the interweb so excels. Another person involved in the quadrangle decided that that specific blog entry was about *them* - and absolutely freaked out over it. I excused myself from the whole social scene as self protection.

It's not like I stopped writing for them. I just stopped going to the parties, the gigs, stopped dropping by the office after work with a bag full of beer. But that's it, isn't it? Magazines, bands, clubs - all these things are about so much *more* than the music, they're about the threads and filaments that tie the people involved together.

Let's talk about the writing. I never really took writing that seriously, because I never thought of myself as a music journalist. I did it out of peer pressure; I never thought I was any good at it. ET used to email me every month begging "please write more for us, you're one of my favourite writers!" and I was flattered into complying. We had a game, to see what, exactly I could get away with. (I'd put in stuff deliberately, knowing it would get taken out - to distract the subeditors from what I *actually* didn't want them to cut.) The piece I started writing for Plan B with was almost a dare - I wrote about a bubblegum band - Busted - in an emotional style that I knew ET would find irresistible, even though he found the music intolerable. My last piece will be an interview with Beyond The Wizards Sleeve - kind of a final HA HA FUCK YOU, I WIN!!! to Miss AMP*. I really wish I'd had the guts to do the interview, AMP-stylee, and asked him about his cock and stuff - but really, Amp is inimitable.

* (Sorry, that requires some explanation - if you missed the Miss AMP vs. Fiona Fletcher electro vs. prog wars of the early Noughties. Despite being best of mates IRL, we used our columns to slag off each other's musical tastes in a very playful way, that mirrored our arguments in her flat in Stoke Newington - Ampy declaring that she was going to neck pills and go to Bodyrockers and me saying "NO! I'm going to listen to PROPER MUSIC, I'm going to a CAVE in Dalston to listen to Turkish prog..." and we'd FITE! about who had the most fun. So when I saw Amp, for the first in ages, the other week - the first thing she said to me was "Ha ha, you love Erol Alkan, do you admit you like Electro now?" and I replied "Ha ha! He plays, like, psych and TURKISH PROG now, ha ha I WIN I WIN I WIN!~!!!!! PWND!!!!11")

Reading this blog back, I realise it's not about the music at all. But that's kind of the point, isn't it? It's the music that brings us all together in a community, but in the end, it's all the other stuff that you remember about that community.

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