Roughly a decade ago the seminal breakcore and experimental label Praxis produced some t-shirts. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary there, you might think. Except Praxis were committed to creating a counter-culture (or “sub-net” network) of people who didn’t wish to become celebrity DJs or producers.
Instead people were encouraged to adopt pseudonyms and to find new ways or working collectively. To not play the “business” game. The use of the “DJ Jackal” multiple name was one example of this. Inspired by the Luther Blissett and Karen Eliot phenomena, DJs were invited to adopt the same name for flyers, records, projects.
The t-shirts themselves were not designed to promote the Praxis label. They had the label logo printed on them, for sure. But printed on the inside of the t-shirt where nobody would see it. Printed on the outside of the black t-shirt, in black ink, was the slogan “Visibility Is A Trap”:
“It’s actually a quote from Foucault, from ‘Discipline and Punish’. It refers to surveillance, ie. being controlled through being visible to the authorities. So it has that meaning from the original quote but it also has what I think is important, that what I do is part of a collective and there is a certain degree of anonymity, so that it’s an invisible situation.”
Interview from Deadly Type zine
I was thinking about this earlier today when ruminating on last week’s chicanery regarding Burial’s identity. Burial (for those who don’t know) is a producer operating at the more atmospheric, less “dancey” end of dubstep. He’s released two albums on Kode9’s Hyperdub label to much acclaim.
Burial has gone some way to refuse the role of being a “star” by not revealing his name or being photographed. He is interviewed rarely, and then only by trusted journalists. This has lead to some speculation about his identity, with most agreeing that the lack of a face or name to pin the sounds on makes a refreshing change in the days of flickr, facebook, Hello, DJ Magazine, myspace, and all the other DIY-surveillance which is now all-pervasive.
But then Hyperdub put Burial’s “Untrue” album forward for the 2008 Mercury Music Prize. Whilst this was a courageous move, potentially catapulting the music to a vast audience (and creating some interesting opportunities for collaborations…) it was obvious to everyone that this drift towards mainstream conventions would necessitate a compromise about Burial’s anonymity.
Sure enough The Sun, in the form of tedious knob-end Gordon Smart and his “Bizarre” column began sniffing around:
“Help me dig up the real Burial
A MYSTERY is rumbling through the music world which could threaten one of the biggest nights in the showbiz calendar. Mercury Music Prize nominee BURIAL is the chart equivalent of graffitti artist BANKSY.
Hardly anyone knows the true identity of the producer, widely tipped for the gong in September. […]
Conspiracy theories are rife as to who is behind the tunes, with producers NORMAN COOK and APHEX TWIN in the frame. […]
Know who he is? Get in touch by calling…. email …. or text BIZ (space then message) to …”
Burial responded to this by posting a photo of himself and stating his real name on his myspace.
This, you would think, would be the end of the matter. But it’s easy to forget the frenzy the media gets into over identity. Smart managed to pad out the Burial non-story into a further four episodes.
William Burroughs pointed out that in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the only way you can progress through the afterlife is by knowing the names of the correct spirits. Smart’s obsession with uncovering Burial’s name (and promoting his own by association) shows us that the world of tabloid journalism stinks of death. It is a very real form of Zombie Culture. Subsequent writing by Smart has even latched onto the names of people who emailed him to criticise his first piece, such is his mania to traverse the underworld.
Whilst we should pity Smart for being trapped in such a barren landscape, a more pressing issue is the need to build an arsenal of techniques to resist Zombie Culture. My colleague Boris Karloff has made some suggestions here, but in these days of instensified speculation about our private lives, there is a great need for more.
Footnote 1: Comrade Joe Muggs has written a fuller account of the debacle here. It includes details of Smart’s advanced state of zombified degradation – with the full symptoms of pissyness, plagiarism and pique. By now he will have latched onto some other “story”, but be careful not to reveal your name should you have any dealings with him.
Footnote 2: In the late 80s I had cause to visit the legendary London body-piercer and tattooist Mr Sebastian on a few occasions. He was a lovely man, entirely unaffected by his towering status in that world as far as I could tell. Seb unfortunately (and through no fault of his own) became embroiled in the Spanner Trial, in which various consenting adult S&M practitioners were had up for assaulting each other. Essentially he was charged with assault for conducting a piercing on a paying customer who was entirely happy with the results (more info on this at the wiki link above).
The case came to trial at the Old Bailey in December 1990 and I got a call from someone I didn’t know asking if I could help. I was delighted to be able to do so and managed to rally a few friends to turn out. Watching the trial was a completely bizarre experience, but that is for another time. Our most important contribution came at the end of each day when the judge (Judge Rant, he was called!) had retired.
Our aim, through a variety of tactics, was to get Mr Sebastian home safely and without being photographed by the paparazzi who were lieing in wait. I use the word “safely” advisedly. One of the other defendants in the trial was knocked to the ground by a mob of photographers and suffered a broken arm. It became a bit “cat and mouse”, but we succeded in our objective and no recognisable contemporary photo of Mr Sebastian appeared in any of the newspaper coverage of the trial.
Whilst Mr Sebastian ended up with a suspended sentence on those bullshit charges, he was really happy with the support and solidarity he’d been shown.
I think the main lesson I have learned from this is that you need to surround yourself with people you can trust – you can’t battle Zombie Culture on your own.