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Thread: Simon Reynolds K-Punk Memorial Lecture

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    Default Simon Reynolds K-Punk Memorial Lecture

    Here's some notes I just wrote up for you lot.

    Simon began by saying that there are many Marks and they are always arguing with one another and contradicting one another and that many people in the audience may find his Mark unrecognisable. There is no consistent plane of Mark. There is a contention of Marks. Which was a way of saying that this talk will be quietly polemical and an argument in favour of his Mark over any other.

    He said that what Mark was was a music critic first and foremost in that music is the primary lens through which he viewed the world, music is what he used to think about society and the self and etc. And with this as an excuse Simon then played a series of songs from different decades as a way of demonstrating how music can be political without necessarily being explicitly political, without being agit prop, without lyrics that have any discernible political content.

    And what that did was to give that very strange and powerful sense of music as a kind of magic mirror to the collective consciousness and its mutations and progressions and reversals through time. Of what we dream of what we want of what we lack of what we feel and think and fear and aspire to and etc.

    He used the idea of Acid Communism, and that book was never written so to some extent we can all imagine it for ourselves, to hark back to the intial explosion of the sixties and the utopian pop impulse and all the social change and fervour that went alongside it. He said the sixties is where the sense of music as a force for social change or even revolution is at its strongest. And what he chose to talk about, primarily, was what he calls The Shout.

    The Shout is really just a shout, a liberatory expulsion of air and joyous noise. He mentioned Twist and Shout. He mentioned Help by the Beatles. This unrestrained exuberance of the voice. So the move towards freedom here is, I think, more along a Freudian axis than a Marxist one and a reminder that the struggle for freedom is not just economic but also is fought at the personal psychological level and at the social and cultural level.

    So what is won is, for instance, the freedom to move your hips. So what is won is the freedom to raise your voice. What is won is the freedom to puncture decorum at the social level and to overcome repression at the personal level. Later, in a slightly different context he mentioned Lennon's engagement with Primal Scream therapy and left us to join the dots.

    The song he played to illustrate The Shout was 'Dance to the Music' by Sly and the Family Stone. And I think what is introduced here is the central role of black music in the '60s and the way that black music comes to stand for a whole range of, sometimes contradictory, ideals for youth worldwide. I would say, most importantly, as liberatory on the one hand and on the other, as a form of resistance.

    As an example of black music as a form of symbolic resistance he played 'Splash Babylon' and talked about how Babylon is a much more potent term than neoliberalism for instance because you draw on this religious and mythical frame with all its accrued weight and significance. You place the battle on a higher plane. (This is a move that the Marxists are fiercely opposed to incidentally, this is completely verboten for them. And that in itself is an interesting debate.)

    So you have, dance, the shout, the permission or injunction to feel joy, the liberatory aspect and you have the resistance to Babylon and it's evil ways. And these things placed in a religious spiritual mythical context.

    Pointing this up is in itself a way to push back against the notion that anything short of total revolution is a failure, of no account whatsoever. A way of saying instead that the battle is ongoing and is played out in culture, in society and within the self and that victories have been won, very significant victories, and freedoms have been gained and change effected through the musical vanguard and that these are freedoms, for example, to feel (bodily, erotically, emotionally, spiritually) and freedoms to speak and act and so on.

    What can be represented at a cultural level can then be felt on an individual level and space made for that mode of feeling at a social level. Whether this is tenderness, or anger, or lust or etc.

    He used 'Friday on my Mind' by the Easybeats to state the other side of the case, 'I'll change that scene one day' the perpetually deferred revolution and the intensities of the weekend providing the pressure release which allows the entire system to remain functioning and the intolerable to be tolerated.

    There was some stuff about the Sex Pistols and some stuff about The Jam.

    And then he came back to Mark's (and by extension his own) dissatisfaction with Marxism and its inability to make a space for the imagination (and probably we could use the word desire here also, in the way Deleuze and Guattari use it, as positive and productive rather than keening over a lack) and its failure to encompass what Mark called 'dreamings'. It's failure to come to terms with and make useful alliances with the forces unleashed in the sixties which essentially condemned it to irrelevance and which, as it stands, will always make it an instrument of brutality and not of liberation.

    And it's a reminder that Mark's formative intellectual influences are, more often than not anti-Hegelian if not outright anti-Marxist. There's an interview with the CCRU in which he talks about the huge liberatory energy surge he found unleashed by ditching the oppositional leftist discourse of the time.

    And partly (largely) this was about Mark wanting to produce, to generate concepts, ideas, events, dreamings, work and finding all these forces arrayed against him from depression, lassitude, inertia, to the academy and it's rules, it's standards of academic rigour, it's norms and prejudices, to society and class and etc etc and this makes everything which works to frustrate individual productivity and creativity and functionality into an Enemy whether it's the bad conscience of liberals the Marxists need to subordinate everything to the worker's revolution or etc

    This central and non-negotiable need to create, to do the work he has to do.

    A student asked Simon what happened to turn that Mark into the Capitalist Realist Mark and Simon said, well he had to enter the real world. He had to get a job at a sixth form college and he was suddenly confronted with the fatalism and apolitical apathy of his fellow teachers, the depression and lassitude and nihilism of his students, the appalling working conditions and so on. And it woke it up to how terrible life is. I think that's true. I knew him at that time and remember talking with him about how the Nick Land image of Capitalism as gleaming machine of ruthless efficiency simply doesn't measure up to the reality of idiocy, squandered time, redundancy, misallocation and waste (of resources but most tragically of human potential). It's a fantasy and a destructive one.

    So this is an interesting tension within the life and the work and I think Simon wanted to posit Acid Communism as a way of resolving this at a higher plane. To reabsorb the acid dreams of the sixties into the left and thereby give it back its libidinal motor. To move it away from economic reductionism on the one hand and idpol factionalism on the other. And that music, as a source of dreamings, is central to that. Always asking for more without being limited by any notion of the realistic, a place where even the parameters and limits of the body can be redrawn and reimagined.

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    I've got some things to add later, partly about black capitalism and rap music and the weird white relationship to black music but that can wait.

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    If Simon tries to say I'm deliberately misconstruing his argument don't listen to him

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    great post. very interesting in conjunction with this thread. also in relation to "conceptronica".

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    Sounds like k-punk wanted a magic bullet from Marx. but that's never going to happen is it? the old british marxists were christian intellectuals first, not leRoi Jones.

    as for babylon vs neoliberalism, I'm not sure if I completely agree. I agree insofar as Anyone who pontificates over "neoliberalism" usually is signifying that there could be a capitalism without what neoliberalism, in its particular historical moment, unleashed. that what came before was better, or that what exists now is salvageable sans neoliberalism.

    The worst product of neoliberalism is anti-neoliberalism.

    So in that sense I agree that neoliberalism is a dry term, it lacks the messianism of babylon. but if most Marxists spoke about bourgeois dictatorship (something that k-punk couldn't either) they'd be laughed out of a university job. just because you're a marxist does not mean you are real, per se. In music this interestingly ties into the death of the real. it doesn't really exist in UK urban music anymore, for instance.
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    Thanks mvuent appreciate it

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    ‘It’s like this: some people are sharks, and some people are marks. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Play pussy, get fucked. Come prepared or run away scared … You can’t always count on E to shelter you from being vic’ed.’

    – Breakbeat Mailing List Correspondent’s riposte
    to other correspondents’ complaints about the
    loveless, intimidating vibe at jungle events

    If rave culture was a displaced form of working-class collectivity, with its ‘love, peace and unity’ running counter to Thatcherite social atomization, then jungle is rave music after the death of the rave ethos. Punning on the Labour history of cooperatives and friendly societies, I’d call jungle an ‘unfriendly society’. Since 1993 and hard-core’s slide into the twilight zone, debates about ‘where did our love go?’ have convulsed the UK breakbeat community, with grim tales being related of muggings outside clubs, of fights and ‘crack’ vibes inside. Disenchanted ravers sloped off to form the happy-hardcore scene. Others defended the demise of the euphoric vibe, arguing that jungle’s atmosphere wasn’t moody, it was ‘serious’.

    In the absence of Ecstasy, jungle began to embrace an ideology of real-ness that paralleled the worldview of American hardcore rap. L. Double and Shy FX’s ‘The Shit’, a classic 1996 roller of a jump-up tune, kicked off with a gangsta monologue: ‘Yo man, there’s a gang of muthafuckers out there on the dick … Non-reality seeing, non-reality feeling, non-reality-living-ass muthafuckas, man. And I don’t know, man, reality, it’s important to me.’ In hip hop, ‘real’ has two meanings. First, it means authentic, uncompromised music that refuses to sell out to the music industry. ‘Real’ also signifies that the music reflects a ‘reality’ constituted by late-capitalist economic instability, institutionalized racism, and increased surveillance and harassment of youth by the police. Hence tracks like T. Power’s ‘Police State’ and Photek’s neurotic ‘The Hidden Camera’: lyric-free critiques of a country that conducts the most intense surveillance of its own citizenry in the world (most UK city centres now have spy cameras). ‘Real’ means the death of the social; it means corporations who respond to increased profits not by raising pay or improving benefits but downsizing (laying off the permanent workforce in order to create a floating employment pool of part-time and freelance workers without benefits or job security).

    ‘Real’ is a neo-medieval scenario; you could compare downsizing to enclosure, where the aristocracy threw the peasants off the land and reduced them to a vagabond underclass. Like gangsta rap, jungle reflects a medieval paranoiascape of robber barons, pirate corporations, secret societies and covert operations. Hence the popularity, as a source of samples and song titles, of martial-arts films and gangsta movies like The Godfather, Reservoir Dogs, Goodfellas and Carlito’s Way whose universe revolves around concepts of righteous violence and blood-honour.

    Where gangsta hardstep shares the Wu-Tang Clan’s neo-medieval vision of late capitalism, techstep is more influenced by dystopian sci-fi movies like Blade Runner, Robocop, Terminator, et al., which contain a subliminally anti-capitalist message, imagining the future as a return to the Dark Ages, complete with fortress cities and bandit clans. Hence No U Turn tracks like ‘The Droid’ and ‘Replicants’, or Adam F’s ‘Metropolis’. ‘Amtrak’, another late-1996 Trace/Nico meisterwerk, pivots around the sample ‘here is a group trying to accomplish one thing’ – that is, ‘to get into the future’. Given the scary millennial soundscape No U Turn paint, this begs the question: why the hurry to get there? The answer: in a new Dark Age, it’s the ‘dark’ that will come into their own. ‘Dark’ is where primordial energies meet digital technique, where id gets scientific. Identify with this marauding music, and you define yourself as predator, not prey.

    What you affiliate yourself to in techstep is the will-to-power of technology itself, the motor behind late capitalism as it rampages over human priorities and tears communities apart. The name No U Turn captures this sense that there’s no turning back. It also has a submerged political resonance: one of Margaret Thatcher’s famous boasts was ‘This lady’s not for turning’ – her refusal to bow to pressure from liberal Tories to make a U-turn on Conservative policies like privatization and the assault on welfare. These same policies led to the catastrophic realization of another infamous Thatcher pronouncement: ‘There is no such thing as society.’

    The pervasive sense of slippin’ into a new Dark Age, of an insidious breakdown of the social contract, generates anxieties that are repressed but resurface in unlikely ways and places. Resistance doesn’t necessarily take the ‘logical’ form of collective activism (unions, left-wing politics); it can be so distorted and imaginatively impoverished by the conditions of capitalism itself that it expresses itself as, say, the proto-fascist, anti-corporate nostalgia of America’s right-wing militias, or as a sort of hyper-individualistic survivalism.

    In jungle, the response is a ‘realism’ that accepts a socially constructed reality as ‘natural’. To ‘get real’ is to confront a state-of-nature where dog eats dog, where you’re either a winner or a loser, and where most will be losers. There’s a cold rage seething in jungle, but it’s expressed within the terms of an anti-capitalist yet non-socialist politics, and expressed defensively: as a determination that the underground will not be co-opted by the mainstream. ‘Underground’ can be understood sociologically as a metaphor for the underclass, or psychologically, as a metaphor for a fortress psyche: the survivalist self, primed and ready for combat.

    Jungle’s soundworld constitutes a sort of abstract social realism; when I listen to techstep, the beats sound like collapsing (new) buildings and the bass feels like the social fabric shredding. Jungle’s treacherous rhythms offer its audience an education in anxiety (and anxiety, according to Freud, is an essential defence mechanism, without which you’d be vulnerable to trauma). ‘It is defeat that you must learn to prepare for,’ runs the martial-arts-movie sample in Source Direct’s ‘The Cult’, a track that pioneered the post-techstep style I call ‘neurofunk’ (clinical and obsessively nuanced production, foreboding ambient drones, blips ’n’ blurts of electronic noise, and chugging, curiously inhibited two-step beats that don’t even sound like breakbeats any more). Neurofunk is the fun-free culmination of jungle’s strategy of ‘cultural resistance’: the eroticization of anxiety. Immerse yourself in the phobic, and you make dread your element.
    I don't see how acid communism as conceptualised by reference to the 60s could ever take account of this. best thing our boy wrote, btw. eroticisation of anxiety, genius.
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    Good post, cheers for that. I just started reading the last grapejuice blog last night and havent finished but theres something hes saying in there about how the state is always bad, thats its purpose, and the hermetic tradition is a resistance to that, so ive taken it to mean (he doesnt say this) that you can’t really overcome it, you have to build your own world. So i dunno if this is the same idea or not to what simon has said about mark. Ive taken it to mean that the ‘right’ way of doing things is the sort of 5%er way, where you bricolage bits and bats of whats there and remake things, like take the signs and signifiers of oppression and make tour own vibes out of that.

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    What Luke wrote at the top is actually better - more articulated - than what I actually said on the night!

    And that in itself is sort of nice echo of how things would work on the old blog scene.

    so in this case, the process of refinement starts with some actual K-punk blogposts like the surprising 2014 one he did on the Jam and blog comments (plus the intro to an unfinished book, Acid Communism), which i then do this somewhat disjointed series of riffs on (what with the youtube clips element, it was like a sort of blog mega-post delivered live) and then Luke extracts something more coherent and focused out of that

    but then it's also like how this forum can work when it's really humming

    luke's conclusion is also more uplifting than mine was. if i had managed to deliver all of it, it would have wound its way to a rather glum standstill with the 2010s and trap etc (in the event the organiser, sensibly, looking to get to the question and answer part of the night, asked me me to speed up so i improvised / crunched a semi-uplifting ending. but Luke's development of that to talk about how music can generate micro-revolutions and significant local changes in our real lives is at once optimistic and grounded.

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    where would something like joe mcphee's nation time fit into this concept of 'the shout?' or even james brown?
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    the shout is a huge part of gnaoua music and that single musical element alone, inside of morocco's incredibly rich musical world was one of the key parts of what made me fall in love with morocco. it says so much about strength, the soul and persevering. hits me in the chest every time. and it sounds like they're saying
    "yeeeah"

    cheep cheep

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    Mark was fairly emphatically not a hippie. Or, to be more precise, he was emphatically not what a hippie was to the punks - a loosened-up human being within whom the springs of action had been unwound. Self-indulgent, self-exculpating, a slouched figure in a wreath of weed smoke.

    There is something enticing, tantalising, about the thought that Mark was beginning to explore the radical dimensions of 60s counter-culture, to move past that despised stereotype and draw the link between, for example, my dad's embrace of Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf in the 60s, and his embrace of Jungle. Sonics from outside the sound-world of conformism piercing into the body like information beamed from outer space. Mark's personal mythology was gnosticism, via PKD: always turning the dial trying to tune into Radio Free Albemuth.

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    Quote Originally Posted by thirdform View Post
    where would something like joe mcphee's nation time fit into this concept of 'the shout?' or even james brown?
    I’m not familiar with the ‘nation time’ idea really (is it to do with free jazz and fire jazz etc ? Black power, civil rights etc?)

    But James brown definitely. And a lot of shouty soul and black pop. Motown stuff like Supremes, ‘dancing in the street’, ‘reach out I’ll be there’

    And a general quality of ‘unbridled’ in most pop

    Some of the effect comes from production paradigm of the time - compression, spector’s Wall. The mono thing which your sixties audiophile fiends say makes records sound more forceful (complaints about Spector reissues on CD and in stereo that are fatally lacking, insistence that you have hear the Beatles etc records up To a certain point in mono). But also sense of all this joy and fervour being funneled through this narrow bandwidth medium of transistor radios and dansette record players with titchy speakers, into people’s lives. Pirate radio transmissions from boats in the English Channel.

    But mostly just the voices singing full tilt, nothing held back.

    There is obviously loudness and noise in pop in later decades but it never quite sounds as free and unconstrained - and confident in its own power as a new force in the world - as in that first moment. What they called the youthquake.

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    Shout in black pop music can certainly be linked to free jazz (think Abbey Lincoln on Freedom Now Suite + Coltrane's saxophone runs + James Brown even calls on Robert McCullogh to "give me some Trane brother!" in the middle of Superbad). But don't think its a borrowing, more part of a continuum, a set of borrowings/adaptations/resonances. Also the shout in black pop (and therefore its transfer into 60s pop music more broadly) is more complicated than "cry of freedom". It's also a register of something like pain or at least a history of negation.

    Which is why I think Acid Communism needs some work, or I'm not all that comfortable with it. If Sly and The Family Stone are seen as key figures in making of AC, then also need to recognise how much that sound (and those that precede/follow it - Hendrix/P-Funk) also grappling with/modulating a set of almost totalising social restrictions (ie being black - historical experiences of racism as debilitation). The weirdness/looseness/joy/funkiness of Sly Stone is all bound up with that, and therefore the account of freedom is also much more complicated than something like a default sense of liberation.

    Could kinda sum it up as between the following positions/statements: Bob Marley's "when music hits you you feel no pain" + Wadada Leo Smith's "It hurts to play this music".

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    Quote Originally Posted by whisperingdave View Post
    Shout in black pop music can certainly be linked to free jazz (think Abbey Lincoln on Freedom Now Suite + Coltrane's saxophone runs + James Brown even calls on Robert McCullogh to "give me some Trane brother!" in the middle of Superbad). But don't think its a borrowing, more part of a continuum, a set of borrowings/adaptations/resonances. Also the shout in black pop (and therefore its transfer into 60s pop music more broadly) is more complicated than "cry of freedom". It's also a register of something like pain or at least a history of negation.

    Which is why I think Acid Communism needs some work, or I'm not all that comfortable with it. If Sly and The Family Stone are seen as key figures in making of AC, then also need to recognise how much that sound (and those that precede/follow it - Hendrix/P-Funk) also grappling with/modulating a set of almost totalising social restrictions (ie being black - historical experiences of racism as debilitation). The weirdness/looseness/joy/funkiness of Sly Stone is all bound up with that, and therefore the account of freedom is also much more complicated than something like a default sense of liberation.

    Could kinda sum it up as between the following positions/statements: Bob Marley's "when music hits you you feel no pain" + Wadada Leo Smith's "It hurts to play this music".

    excellent post, kind of what i was trying to get at with my unease with the conception of acid communism, tho much better articulated.

    I'm not sure if the punk conception of hipppy holds up. here I tend to side with the big Woe, most hippies were enterprising libertarians to a t, far dwarfing say, the micro-capitalism of jungle/garage/grime producers etc. and then when you look at the weed industry it's fairly conducive to producing humans well adapted to the hyper-information overload of 21st century capitalism. It's big business now! so the old idea of speed being the drug to excel your boss doesn't seem to hold up today. it might have done in the late 60s but now it just seems pretty matter of fact. I like to think of my listening as a kind of kill-your-speed realism, though the fastest punk/post-punk never hits the intensity levels of the darkest jungle or even speedcore.

    Obviously as I've said before music has to open up the doors to the imaginary otherwise it wouldn't work as music. but at the same time art is a kind of technological discourse determined by the social form (what the greeks called tekne) situated between politics and science, or their condensation, as it were. in this sense I find capitalist realism to be a non-starter of a premise to begin with, by nature capitalism naturalises all commodity relations as being *the real* and this includes the social democracy that Mark was far more sympathetic towards the end of his life. and we all see how Corbynism ate itself from the inside long before the reactionaries could get to it. so the real question is, why has capitalism been fairly realist in the western world since May 68? But then you have to depart the realms of cultural crit and philosophy and deal with the messy turbulent contradictions of working class radicalism and revolutionary history.

    I also find it a bit troubling that Mark spent so much time obsessing over the irrelevant dregs of 20th century leftism. that's certainly the path that the first wave of American neocons ended up taking, translating their disenchantment into being war hawks. I'm not accusing Mark of being a neocon though it certainly seems at times that it was the liberal coocooning of the artworld protected him from such a slide. Call me uncharitable if you like.
    Last edited by thirdform; 19-01-2020 at 11:02 AM.
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