LIBBE MATZ GANG – L.M.G EP available now from LIBERTATIA OVERSEAS TRADING.
John Eden: BM Box 3641, London WC1N 3XX, England
Archive for the ‘punk’ Category.
As part of the post-hack clean up, I found a few drafts of things I’ve not been able to finish – here is the first… comment welcome!
Some musings on Sigue Sigue Sputnik and their hyper-glamorised capitalism.
A wilfully optimistic reading of Mclaren’s “Rock N Roll Swindle” was that punk aimed to make “cash from chaos” as a fall back position. If you fail to destroy society, you may as well be rich.
“a group has to represent what’s exciting around in the world today”
– Tony James, South of Watford TV documentary on Sigue Sigue Sputnik, 1986
Sigue Sigue Sputnik revelled in products, affluence and multinational corporations like Sony and EMI. Not because these things signified wealth and success, but because they were exciting in and of themselves. Tony James (the band’s defacto ideas man) had previously been a punk alongside Billy Idol in Generation X. Punk’s DIY “get off your arse” ethos translates well in to the business world – every “self made millionaire” has exactly the same attitude.
But before we get to Sputnik and their 80s “sado capitalism”, what are the precedents for bohemians adopting the aesthetics of commerce?
As Stewart Home has noted, the mail art movement had parodied and imitated bureaucracy from the early 70s onwards:
“Most of those participating used the new ‘hot medium’ of xerox alongside old fashioned rubber stamps. Certificates were produced in great number, which, like the rubber stamps, were used to parody officialdom.” (The Assault On Culture, Chapter 13)
Mail art was influenced by Fluxus. Genesis P-Orridge participated in both these movements and would continue to imitate and parody the structures and signs of corporate bureaucracy with Industrial Records, Throbbing Gristle’s “Annual Reports” and Psychic TV as band/TV Station/cult.
At the end of the seventies Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister and Johnny Rotten became John Lydon, director of Public Image Limited: “We’re a communications company, not a group”.
The transformation happened immediately after Rotten has spent three weeks in Jamaica with hip capitalist Richard Branson, scouting out talent for Virgin’s “Frontline” reggae sub-label: “Virgin offered me a job. It was the perfect break for me after the Sex Pistols split up.”
Early interviews with the band include reference to six Company Directors, including their accountant and Jeanette Lee (a non-musician who helped with mixing down tracks, video and interviews – Lee is now co-director of Rough Trade).
PiL’s business focus was a result of their frustrations with the music industry (being dictated to, being tied up in legal hassles) and a lack of autonomy. Adopting the guise of a businessman is punk’s DIY translated from the artistic to the economic. Like punk, it demystifies the role of “the artist” – as a special category for people with divine inspiration. But it also assumes that the corporate model is the correct/best one…
The PiL Corporation was followed by Heaven 17 and their “British Electric Foundation”
“The BEF are not just a group, they are a registered company with Marsh, Ware and Bob Last as the three shareholders – a business enterprise that is truly enterprising, and the essential tightness of The BEF is based around its organisation.
Ware: “What we’re doing is a much more realistic way of approaching things, you have just got to get out of the old cliched way of organising groups. I think that there are going to be more organisations like this in the future, with more of a business ambience about them.
I don’t think PiL have succeeded at all, they’re still just a group. Let’s face it, Public Image Limited are a moderately successful group. I can’t see any evidence of them being a business organisation at all.
I think that people may find it interesting, in as much as it’s an entirely different way of organising ones’ abilities and creative talents. It’s just getting away from the standard format of how groups are organised.”
So you’re trying to create an almost Tamla-like stable of artists?
Ware: “Yes, because obviously it gives you more flexibility, and it also enables you to close down an enterprise that is not paying off. Not just financially, but also artistically.”
From an interview in Sounds, 11 April 1981 online here.
Ware, in the thrall of the business model calls for cutting of red tape, downsizing, flexibility. Heaven 17’s modus operandi here is very similar to the gradual breaking up of large workplaces in the into smaller units (with the consequent reduction in the influence of collective bargaining for workers). Or at least it would be if they had ended up being in any way distinguishable from any other group. As time passed there seemed to be less and less mention of BEF and more focussing on the core business of the Heaven 17 brand.
Sigue Sigue Sputnik might be the first band to admit that their branding was more important than the music. Indeed, Tony James never allowed record executives to hear SSS demo tracks, instead playing them a short video collage of futuristic and science-fiction movie clips.
The group signed to EMI, reportedly for 4 million quid. This arrangement was celebrated and presumably exagerated – in stark contrast to anarcho punks like Conflict who identified Thorn EMI’s links with arms trading and gave EMI groups like New Model Army a hard time:
Conflict’s ascetic vegan anti-capitalism is the polar opposite of Sputnik’s total embrace of hi tech corporate culture. The video for “21st Century Boy” includes a shot of Martin Degville licking a Sony Discman. Sigue Sigue Sputnik embraced commercial sponsorship at a time when this was still thought of as massively uncool by most “serious” music fans.
They also provided the press with enough ammunition for either pro (slogans, excitement, good quotes, video) or anti (they can’t play, they are immoral, it glorifies sex and violence) coverage. According to James they were accompanied on a UK tour by tabloid journalist Garry Bushell who proposed that they entered News International’s Wapping compound on top of a tank as a publicity stunt during the lengthy picket by sacked printworkers. James et al didn’t do it (and haven’t said why) but Sam Fox did.
Ultra futurism dates quickly, but alongside the brick like mobile phones, corporate logos (Sony/EMI/Atari), anime, video nasties, et al – the group scored some bonafide “crystal ball” moments:
“Flaunt It”, the debut album, included adverts between the tracks for products like hair gel, youth culture magazines, the never-to-appear Sputnik video game, pirate TV station Network 21 and of course The Sputnik Corporation itself. This prefigures “free listening” services like Spotify which squeeze in ads between tracks.
Less plausibly Tony James also claims that their “Live TV” multimedia gig at The Royal Albert Hall influenced U2’s “Zooropa” tour. And the timestretching and pitch bending of the beats on “Love Missile F1-11″ has resonances with Jungle…
Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s futurism looks old now, not just because it’s out of date but because futurism itself seems quaint.
Does anyone still sing about the future in utopian terms to escape from the harsh realities of the present? Maybe people realise that, whilst things are bad now, the future is going to be much worse.
Space travel has become mundane, computers have merely heralded new ways of shopping, new forms of alienation. And even shopping is less possible now.
Business, boardrooms and commerce look less sexy in 2012. Not because of the triumph of art or anti-capitalism, but because of the failures of business. Perhaps the re-emergence of the boardroom fetish will be the first signs of the recovery…
Jez: Look Mark, I’m a musician, in case you’d forgotten. Yeah? I answer to a higher law. The law of “if it feels good, do it”.
Mark: Oh, that’s a great law isn’t it? What’s that, Gaddafi’s law?
Jez: It’s the musician’s law. Colonel Gaddafi could not lay down a bass hook, Mark. That should be clear even to you!
[Peep Show Series 3 – with thanks to Bandshell on Dissensus for the quote and for inspiring this post]
Hopefully Gaddafi will be gone by the time this post goes live. I certainly won’t miss him, but I will grudgingly admit that he brought a certain erratic charm to international politics.
In the eigties and nineties fascist idiots like Nick Griffin and Blood Axis’ Michael Moynihan fell for this charm, distributing the Colonel’s Green Book - seemingly in the belief that he was a profound thinker.
Griffin actually went one step further and headed off to see Gaddafi in the hope that he’d be able to tap him up for some funding for the National Front. Apparently this didn’t come to anything (unsurprisingly!), but the episode is certainly worth remembering now that Griffin has gone pseudo respectable and rabidly anti-Islam.
More enjoyable by far were the punks who recognised that Gaddafi’s charm was more about his flamboyant mentalism than any insightful philosophy.
God Told Me To Do It were a Hackney-based band would be universally recognised as being rubbish, were it not for their genius sense for the controversial and a neat turn in slogans. Their artwork was liberally reproduced in Vague back in the day and they were notorious for winding up the po-faced.
Having used the Colonel’s image on a few flyers, the group noticed in 1986 that the Libyan Embassy in London was temporarily vacant, presumably in the aftermath of WPC Yvonne Fletcher being shot by one of its occupants whilst policing a demonstration outside…
[All GTMTDI images found via Kill Your Pet Puppy.]
Gaddafi also makes an appearance alongside some “loony left” tabloid bugbears in Stewart Home‘s black-humoured “Kill” which is available on the classic Stewart Home Comes In Your Face CD. The tune was later re-versioned as “Islam Uber Alles” by Blackpool psych-punk legends The Ceramic Hobs, but here is the original in all its dumb boot-stomping glory:
Here’s hoping that Libya will shortly become “the land of the free” and with that Gaddafi will become history.
Fanzine of the week #4
“We demand that the goth scene be more than a black-clad reflection of mainstream society”
I’ve written about goth on here before and it’s something that still appeals to me in many ways, although you’re unlikely to catch me wearing eyeliner or crimping my hair. Anarchism has also had an influence on my political (and other) thought and activity, although again I wouldn’t call myself an anarchist these days for a whole host of reasons which are probably best left for another time.
Graceless‘ radical/decadent/anarcho approach to goth interests me, recalling the early eigthies London of Alistair Livingstone’s “Subway surfing anarcho goths” and many of the reminiscences over at Kill Your Pet Puppy. I have a fascination with subcultures that are about more than fashion, and the attempt here to either highlight an ideological undercurrent in goth (or to inject one into it?) is intriguing. Certainly most of the books/mags etc on goth that I’ve ever seen have been largely about flogging music or clothes (or expaning the marketplace within in which that takes place by reinforcing the goth identity?).
Graceless is well written and looks great. At over a hundred pages this debut issue is going to take some time to digest properly. There are some interesting interviews with people like Jarboe and Attrition (as well as acts which were new to me) and some cool features as well. I haven’t read it all yet, and I focus below on articles that made me think, which of course will be the ones that I have disagreements with.
Decadent Politics covers the poetic, visionary and utopian I guess. It posits decadence as being anti-fascist, which is interesting (and certainly believable if you look at Wilhelm Reich’s The Mass Psychology of Fascism on sexual repression etc):
“Today there are those that say fascism is simply fashion, that to strut around in a SS uniform and festoon our lace with the Nazi death-head skulls is meaningless and should cause no concern. Saying this is to ignore what they represent on a symbolic level. We would never wear a McDonald’s golden arches to a goth club because it represents mass conformity. So does the iron cross. The zombies wear business suits, and they are not satiated only with the brains of the living; they also hunger for our hearts and souls.”
A radical’s guide to spooky music is an interesting overview of the bands and artists who the author feels represent “radical goth”, including Coil, KMFDM, Bauhaus and Joy Division. A lot of the lyrics and politics quoted aren’t about things I am especially interested in: animal rights, non-specific rebellion, anti-consumerism, anti-americanism. But it’s probably a bit much to expect the goth subculture (or one aspect of it) to develop identical politics to my own. As manifestos go this is an interesting drawing together of various tendencies in goth that certainly demonstrate that it is far from apolitical.
I am quite wary of political activists who over-identify with subcultures these days. I think “identity politics” is a trap which divides people and can lead to situations where cultural signifiers like music (or even ethnicity and sexuality) are seen as more important than people’s relationships with each other and their experience of capitalism where they work or live.
However, the flipside of this is that a purely political approach in which you only talk to people about, say, the conditions on their housing estate, or cutbacks at their workplace can come across as a bit robotic. So there’s a balance to be struck between the (sub)cultural and the political, which is increasingly difficult to achieve as culture fragments into more and more niches. As Steve Goodman and Kodwo Eshun pointed out, the “long tail” posits a society where there is less and less communal experience and more and more instant individualised consumer gratification.
Subcultures have a role to play in changing the status quo, and goth’s outright promotion of androgyny and gender equality is all for the good (although hardly universal, as the article here about “goth misogyny” and “pick up culture” at some goth nights makes clear). I guess what is missing is a fully developed critique of how capitalism operates as a set of relationships, of the system rather than some of its manifestations (war, hunger, etc). But it’s not like any other music/fashion based subcultures have that.
There’s a fair bit in Graceless about Goths and their place in the anarchist scene. As someone who has had gothic tendencies and has some sympathy with parts of anarchism this all seems a bit too confining. I find the worlds of info-shops, squats and goth clubs quite alienating these days, despite being interested in them as social phenomena (and in the ideas which circulate in them). I suppose hanging around in places like that helped me develop my ideas and a sense of who I am, but I think people are kidding themselves if they reckon that havens for alternative fashion are going to play a useful role in mass struggles. Indeed there are a few passages in Graceless which abhor mass culture, the mainstream and suit-wearing “zombies” (see quote above). Contributors have mixed feelings about Marilyn Manson, but Lady Gaga (arguably the most visible current example of the gothic aesthetic, albeit not sonically) is conspicuous by her absence.
I suppose this is really getting into similar territory to two articles about anarchopunk I’ve republished on my website:
That said, I can of course completely understand why retreating into / immersing yourself in subcultures is a good and necessary thing for some people. If you’re one of a handful of freaks in the bible belt then there must be an incredible feeling of solidarity and self-empowerment if you start your own DIY Goth Night (as one contributor did, smack bang in KKK country). The murder of Sophie Lancaster is chilling reminder of the sort of intolerance people who dress a bit different can face out there in small town England in the early 21st Century.
Your Goth Is Dead: The Rise And Fall of Goth In America is a nice overview of the developments of the subculture in the nineties, including goths being seduced by rave and ironic self-mockery which is I suppose the antithesis of the playful po-faced strategies of the eighties.
Some of the most rewarding pieces in this issue stretch the definition of Goth backwards in time – Dressed To Kill: Illegal Dandyism looks at youth cults like the Zazou and Edelweiss Pirates, whose fashion sense shocked the totalitarian regimes they lived under, and provided them with enough reason to take on fascists physically as well as culturally. There are also some intriguing investigations into the Darker Side of Victorian Children’s Tales and German expressionist cinema during the rise of Nazism.
As I said above, I’ve mainly concentrated here on my differences with Graceless. That strikes me as being more interesting thing to write about than saying “it’s great!”, which it most certainly is. It’s made me ruminate on a lot of good stuff and I’m very happy that they’ll be including a contribution from me in the second issue. If you’re interested then you’re probably already reading the magazine itself instead of ploughing though my waffle here.
I had to overhaul the uncarved shop.
Someone hacked my site through the old shop and installed a phishing scam on uncarved.org. Basically a load of faked bank webpages were on there.
I’m not quite sure what to think about that. I’m not keen on people preying on the naive and vulnerable, but it’s not clear to me if the banks end up suffering from these scams or their customers.
(If you ordered anything from the old shop don’t fret, none of your bank details or anything serious were stored on the site).
Basically I agree with Martin on this one – there should be more people robbing banks in the traditional way and less of this computer-based tom-foolery. Same goes for music – in the olden days people had to stuff LPs or CDs into their trenchcoats if they wanted to hear stuff for free. Or at the very least have some decent mates to tape things for them.
Which is a slightly unusual way of introducing a top ten showbiz bank robbers:
1. The Bonnot Gang, 1911-1912
French anarchists who were the first to use cars for their getaways. The book about them is full-on, I can recall a few accounts of bitter sectarian in-fighting, including a rival sect’s printing press being smashed up.
This tradition is allegedly being kept alive by Italian insurrectionist anarchist Alfredo Bonanno who was arrested at the age of 70 in 2009 for robbing a bank in Greece. My recollection is that there was some doubt about whether he actually did the deed.
2. John Dillinger, 1933-1934
Didn’t he rob 23 banks or something? William Burroughs was keen on him: “To John Dilinger in the hope that he is still alive“.
3. Bonnie and Clyde, 1931-1934
Exerted an almost tectonic pull on everyone from Serge Gainsbourg & Brigitte Bardot to Papa Levi. Inspired that whole Thelma and Louise live fast die young, roadtrip kind of vibe.
4. Ronnie Biggs, 1963
5. Red Army Faction / Andres Baader & Ulrike Meinhoff, 1970-1972
Sports cars, flashing their tits to the PLO, bombs aplenty. Punk, and yet so very serious and so very very wrong.
6.The Covenant Sword And The Arm of the Lord, 1980s
Extreme right wing “Christian Identity” cult which robbed 19 banks in 8 US states in one month. They apparently spent all the money on guns, displaying a typically fascist lack of imagination. Included here because Cabaret Voltaire named their 1985 album after them.
7. Patty Hearst, 1974
“Death to the fascist insect that preys on the life of the people!”
Sixties pin up! Rich girl turns insane maoist terrorist! Locked up and then pardoned by philanderer Bill Clinton! Acts in John Waters movies!
8. Chelembra Bank Robbery, 2007
80 million rupees in the back of the van. Our anti-heroes took over the restaurant under the bank. Then drilled a massive hole through to the vault under the guise of renovating it.
If that isn’t mad enough, the whole scheme was inspired by a Bollywood movie. Respect.
9. The Geezer Bandit, NOW
For the name alone, really. This guy is apparently in his SEVENTIES and has been expropriating the expropriators in Southern California. He’s done 13 banks, including one on the 28th of January this year. Apparently has inspired facebook fan pages and also at least one copy cat robber. Also rumoured that he’s a young man in a rubberised Scooby Doo villain mask?!
10. Unknown: Central Bank of Iraq, 2003
The day before the United States began bombing Baghdad, nearly US$1 billion was stolen from the Central Bank of Iraq. This is considered the largest bank heist in history. Opportunism or what?
ANGRY BIRDS GOLDEN EGG BRIGADE BONUS LEVELS:
Rubbish bank robbers:
Not actual bank robbers:
Rob Da Bank – festival organiser
The Blaggers – anti-fascist Oi band, who became “ITA”.
Fanzine of the week #2
Over 50 pages of leftfield guitar-based music, good attitude with tasty DIY layout and graphics.
The Ramleh interview is especially good, focussing just as much on their underrated guitar work as much as power electronics. They also ask Ramleh mainstay Gary Mundy about Croydon and dubstep artist Burial – a nice fresh approach.
The interview with Bruno Wizard of proto- UK punks The Homosexuals is a bit “all over the place” largely due to Bruno’s exuberant personality, but that makes for a much better read than the usual band interview.
“Suggested listening circumstances for the unemployed single male” is a nice feature and I also enjoyed the articles on “Geocaching” (GPS enabled treasure hunt / derive) in Hackney, “Mixtape Wars” (in which three people do compilation tapes and comment/disrespect on each other’s) and the rant on punk/hardcore record collecting.
I was less bothered about the other band interviews because I’d never heard of them… maybe I should investigate…
But a lot of those featured aren’t actually all that improbable, I guess.
Maybe Ashlee Simpson is such a tortured soul that she regularly plays the first three Sabbath albums on rotation?
For all I know David Beckham, Miley Cyrus and Charlotte Church really do all share a deep and profound love for The Maiden?
Metal is funny like that – despite all the moral panics about Satan and head-banging health hazards, I don’t really think it has any kind of criticism of society at its core. I mean you can argue the toss about punk, but surely metal can simply be reduced to the youthful hedonism of rocking out and/or getting wasted, with some stuff about dragons thrown in for good measure?
I’ve written about my thankfully very brief brushes with metal and rawk before, but it’s not really my thing. So I can’t really work up much defensiveness or laughter when its imagery is used by celebs.
So y’know – if Britney wants to be into Led Zeppelin, fair enough!
But there is still part of me that has a weirdly protective attitude about punk. I actually find this troubling and hilarious in equal measures. Disentangling my own bizarre personality traits is the reason for this series about t-shirts I guess. (That, and posting photographs of attractive bare-armed young ladies seems to have a positive effect on my blog views, for some reason…)
Getting back on track, here is Lindsay Lohan wearing some garms from eighties California hardcore punk groups:
And “It Girl” Alexa Chung in a “Am I more skeletal than my t-shirt?” pose.
(with thanks to Sharon)
This is Sir Philip Green, the billionaire boss of Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and Miss Selfridge among others.
These UK companies are part of Green’s Arcadia Group which is in turn owned by Taveta Investments Limited, which is registered to an office on the tax-haven island of Jersey. Taveta Investments is owned by Green’s family members living in Monaco, where income tax is 0%. It has been estimated that this set up enabled Green to avoid paying £300million in tax in 2005 alone.
Sir Philip was a vocal supporter of David Cameron, George Osbourne and the Conservatives before last year’s election.
Incredibly, he was asked to assist the coalition government with its spending review after it had been elected – a tax evader deciding on how tax revenue should be spent on services he doesn’t need to use.
The UK government has said with sinister monotony that tough choices have to be made in the current economic climate and that “we’re all in it together”. The tough choices have resulted in misery for ordinary people as wages have been frozen or reduced whilst Value Added Tax has been increased. Not to mention savage cuts to the welfare state and high levels of job insecurity.
(image above from Harpymarx blog)
So it’s hardly surprising that people got pissed off about this and protested at Arcadia shops in the run up to Christmas. What is more surprising is that these protests received reasonably positive coverage in right wing rags like the Daily Mail.
But what’s this got to do with the Sex Pistols, you might ask?
Well, after the protests Sir Philip spent the Christmas period at a £17,000-a-night Barbados resort with his family. Oh and his super rich chums Simon Cowell, Michael Winner and Sylvester Stallone. In fact Green likes his friends so much that he’s immortalised them on a special t-shirt:
Comparing himself to the Sex Pistols is clearly Green’s great new wheeze, because here he is again, this time with himself and his wife as Sid ‘n’ Nancy:
Punk was always a mixed bag of left and right influences, but surely a Billionaire Tory appointee like Green using Jamie Reid’s logo to bolster his own bogus “rebel” status is the ultimate in recuperation?
Or perhaps not – a number of people have pointed out that Green bears a striking resemblance to Sex Pistols guest vocalist and train robber Ronnie Biggs. But whilst Biggs and his accomplices in the great train robbery were convicted of stealing £2.6 million in 1963, Sir Philip’s ambitions are far greater – and completely untroubled by judicial complications.
It’s been a while since I did one of these so here goes:
First up Audrina Patridge wearing an Exploited t-shirt.
And OK, I’d never heard of her either, but apparently she’s a US reality TV show star who features in the lyrics of Tinie Tempah’s “Pass Out”:
Heidi and Audrina eat your heart out,
I used to listen to you dont wanna bring arms house
I got so many clothes I keeps em in ma aunts house,
Disturbing London baby we about to branch out
So that adds some early grime to the mix as well (Demon’s “you don’t wanna bring arms house / I’ll bring arms house to your Mum’s house / you don’t wanna bring no beef / bring some beef you’ll lose some teeth”).
I wonder what Audrina’s favourite Exploited song is?
Mild disquiet was expressed last year when Beyonce wore a t-shirt onstage with the words “punk ass motherfucker” and “Never Mind The Bollocks” on it “amongst other obscenities”
Finally, here is model Georgia Frost wearing a Sex Pistols t-shirt and a Prada skirt.
But if these attractive young ladies and their context-free fashion makes you seethe, just wait until the next installment…