Towards the end of Actress’ fourth, and potentially final, album, there is a song – or a snatch of a song – called ‘Don’t’. Clocking in at a minute and quarter, it consists solely of a looped, time-stretched, slightly chopped vocal sample (from Rihanna? An acid rarity?) imploring “Don’t stop the music” over a three-note keyboard figure which is only vaguely complementary. If there is a single track which serves as a key to deciphering this confrontational, challenging, moving, exhausting, complex and, ultimately, important record, it’s probably this. Ghettoville, it seems, is an argument for doing exactly the opposite to what the orphaned voice on ‘Don’t’ asks: it speculates, in ways which are alternately subtle and obvious, as to what the case might be for downing tools.
After all, in the current context, what is “the music”? Is it (clue: it’s not) an umbrella term for a connected, but benevolently antagonistic, ecology of thriving subcultures, or is it merely an abstraction which offers a reference point to the unimaginative, an appropriable signifier deployed to denote a more vaguely-defined creativity? Does “loving music” in London, in 2014, now mean anything more than collecting an armful of festival wristbands – shitty feathers in a metaphorical headdress – and heading to the local O2 every second Friday to get some culture? Get to all the festivals you can. Never take your earphones out. Watch your playlist snake elegantly from The Lumineers to Emeli Sande, from Rudimental to some guy you saw at the local’s Acoustic Sessions and is definitely getting signed soon, from Nirvana Unplugged to Nouvelle Vague to Sigur Ros to some Northern Soul tune you heard on an advert and you “really, really like”. Get on the street teams. Go to ‘gigs’; in fact, spend all your money on them. Make sure everyone knows you spend all of your money on them. You love music, love everything about it. But what you forget in this performed fit of inextinguishable amour fou, what gets neglected as this passion is fed at every conceivable opportunity, is that the love-music-alisation of this city, of this country, is precisely coterminous with the gradual erosion of music’s capacity to serve as a vector of political representation. What’s also forgotten is that this process is only part, albeit a potentially fundamental part, of a story about a crisis of political representation in general.
Post-capitalism replaces the once valid and still glorified Lutheran imperative “Work!” with a new pair of verbs: Enjoy! (By no coincidence, the slogan of Iceland’s favourite beverage, Coca-cola.)– and its complimentary: Create! ( For the slogan, we have “Think different” and “Just do it!”). And where do they lead to, in a country of 300 thousand traditionally industrious people, doing their patriotic best to fulfill the promise of sovereignty and prosperity? Hysterical inflation of creative efforts hyped up by international attention and recognition? Economically systematized and encouraged bohem…ish lifestyles? If so, what becomes of the subversives, and the subversive role of arts – its intention and possibility of saying something new and potentially dangerous?
In the early nineties, Francis Fukuyama wrote about the end of history, a hypothesis much popularized among right-wing intellectuals. His proposal was that after centuries of bloody struggle and dispute, humanity has now found the most stable possible social system, Western market-democracy, and all that is left is for that system to spread to the other 90% of the planet’s population … then we will finally be “there”. According to the theory, of course, some of us already are “there”, inhabiting a world of hobbies, seeking enjoyment wherever we please.
His hypothesis seems an apt ideological interpretation of the state of arts and culture in Iceland. 12,000 music students, 3000 choir members, 400 new book titles published each year – 10% of the Icelandic population showed up for the film festival in April; grandmothers listen to experimental ambient, and half a generation seems to attend the local art academy while the other half attends conferences about the links between business and culture. And those links certainly prosper – over a hundred artists have their basis to work and mingle on the premises of gallery Klink og Bank – a huge building offered the artists by Björgólfur Guðmundsson, one of the recently-made Icelandic mega-capitalists. Add state funding – government expenditures on “cultural affairs” amounted to 20 billion ISK in 2001 – not to forget easily acquired overdrafts and student loans, and you will see why basic production and services are mostly left to immigrant workers.
The facts hint at the utopian. Art is more fun than fish factories. So what if the art scene is not all that monumental, so what if the number of books printed far exceeds the amount of fresh thought in the country, and so what if the performed concerts exceed the potential audience – what excess could be more exhilarating? It is a miniature country, the number of inhabitants approximately the same as the staff at Disneyworld, and it has its own worthy superhero, (BJÖRK, if you need to ask), plus a handful of quite notable artists. Is a healthier and more enjoyable response to the fast development from third world pre-modernity to first class private-jetdom imaginable?
I was in New York for about 28 hours and I went to the new Rough Trade shop and found in one space all that is wrong with “alternative culture”.
Let’s just say this for now: alternative culture is over. It’ll be hard to jettison. I don’t know if I could ever do it myself, and I’m sure it will be harder for those of you who have experienced the Velvet Underground or Joy Division or Sonic Youth or My Bloody Valentine as something more than a $30 180g repress prominently displayed in a heavily-curated section of a record store whose function seems to be a living museum of what was once deemed oppositional.
What we need to work towards, what I am failing at writing about, is a way to completely and coherently describe the actual ideology of “post-ideology”, to enumerate the characteristics of the bland tastefulness that makes a store like this possible, where all of the competing and formerly vital beliefs as to what music is and should be are all housed together, with no contradictions apparent, towards both delegitimizing this state of affairs and towards seeing this state of affairs as being intrinsically tied to the culture itself as opposed to being imposed upon it externally
“An analysis of “the actual ideology of “post-ideology”.” Hmmm…. Sometimes I wish I had the brains and intellectual power to undertake such a task. Would probably make me famous… or a pariah. I was talking about this stuff with my friend Kata the other day in my own poorly formed way, only for her to basically say “who cares? who gives a shit?” Really need to beef up my debating skills.
But it’s this idea though of accepting that “art” is everything, and everything is “art,” And the basis/motivation of where this “art” comes from shouldn’t be analysed, questioned, critiqued, or deconstructed is something that both intrigues and worries me a fair bit.
For me though, the majority of what is championed as proof of a vibrant artistic/cultural scene, actually displays an inherent conservatism of “subversive” stances, Add to this the “progressive” hedonism of tasteful consumption, the complacency and superficiality, and the overvaluing of beliefs in our mindset over beliefs that we exhibit and externalize in our actions, you have something for the braver art historians/philosophers/cultural theorists to mull over…