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Musings and Shit: Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Mind wanderings on the “reality” of our modern cultural landscape…

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Been spending a lot of my time recently poring the numerous, dense posts from S.C.Hickman’s deliciously gothic blog Alien ecologies ~ the carnal edge of posthumanism, casting a light on the dark, manky pools of thought and conjecture that centre around the inhuman (technocapitalism, speculative realism, Lovecraftian horror, and much ,much more).

One series of posts really caught my attention, his thoughts on, and review of the latest work by Franco “Bifo” Berardi, Heroes; Mass Murder and Suicide. In the book Bifo casts his eye on modern US culture and states that murder and suicides, especially ones that garner a huge amount of media and internet attention, are developmental signs of a vast kingdom of nihilism powered by a virulent death drive, and that we should map this corporate waste land of imagery in order to replace “Art, politics and therapy with a process of re-activation of sensibility, might help humankind to recognize itself again.” It’s a book I actually saw on sale in Mál og Menning and one that I’m going to have to buy and put on the massive pile of books in my in-tray that I’m slogging my guts out to read this summer.

In his piece, Hickman notes that both Bifo (and Zizek for that matter) have rather warped ideas on America in that “any form of critique is based on a necessary fiction, an illusionary simulation of the facts rather than the facts themselves.” But it was the following sections from Hickman that really caught my eye

The point here is that we are all living in artificial worlds whether we think so are not. Even the supposed natural world is a fake. Nature no longer exists. It’s all controlled by specialize access, government funding, caretakers and regulatory systems. Even the most isolated places on the planet are under someone’s control. There is no wild nature left. And, know one even remembers what that meant? Reality is produced for us even against our will. We are all will-nilly thrown into simulated realms through the meditainment networks of parent, schools, government, music, art, society…. the whole cultural nexus is one giant psychosphere. I’ve written of another Italian, The Onlife Initiative: Luciano Floridi and ICT Philosophy for whom the complex of Information and Communcations Technology spanning the globe (ICTs) are not mere tools but rather social forces that are increasingly affecting our self-conception (who we are), our mutual interactions (how we socialise); our conception of reality (our metaphysics); and our interactions with reality (our agency). In each case, ICTs have a huge ethical, legal, and political significance, yet one with which we have begun to come to terms only recently.

Of course reading this, you’d say that we need to return to reality, to nature and to “get real” and step outside of this corrosive, oppressive cultural order, this web of simulation. But then Hickman notes…

But can we? No. The notion of stepping outside of the simulator is to suddenly enter the zone of pure madness. Who would you talk to about reality? Once you left the simulator who would you be able to communicate with? What language would you use? And, most of all, if there was an “outside” – would there be a return door? Or would such an exit from the simulated world of late modern capitalism be a one way exit with a sign posted: No Returns. I sometimes think about the thousands of new dystopian YA novels being published. So many of them just pure bunk, not worth the paper their written on, not even good stories. But here and there you discover one or two that actually expose the truth of dystopian critical visions: it’s not about how bad hell is, but rather how we can in this dark hellish landscape of our own making create or invent a space of freedom, a place within the false world to discover once again what it means to be real – not human… but real. Maybe we need those boundaries between Mind and World, thought and being, artificial and natural… maybe it was the very effort to cut the fences down between them, to force a merger between thought and being that has brought us to this world of simulated realities in which nothing of the real is left. What to do? In a world where the boundaries between mind and world, thought and being have already lost their force and merged who will be the one to discover a way to cut them in twain again? Are we doomed to a simulated universe of nihilistic noise where the only escape is as Berardi forecasts: mass murder and suicide? Or is there another way?

You see it’s at reading stuff like this when I think about the material “reality” of Iceland, my adopted homeland. It’s often been noted that in terms of politics and economics, Iceland has been like a test-tube, a petri dish where the most destructive form of neoliberal policy could be enacted on society and bean counters and academics could examine what happens. A controlled study so to speak.

At times I wonder if the same thing hasn’t happened with art, philosophy,and culture as well.

For example, a couple of weeks ago some regulars at the bar I work at asked in all seriousness if Icelandic rapper Gisli Palmi was a joke character, in the same vein as Silvia Nott or Leonice. Well taking into account that Leoncie is actually “real” (just really shit at what everything she does), this question/comment got me thinking. There is often huge amount of discourse about Iceland about how Icelandic culture is so important, how we need to protect it, how it provides money and jobs. Often people ahve said that so many people come to Iceland “For the culture.”

But often I just reply, are they coming to Iceland for the culture, or are they merely comping for a marketed image they been provided of what Icelandic culture is?* When most artistic acts in Iceland come with a jokey, ironic aside (with the artist often emphasising that “it’s all just a bit of a joke”); where postmodernism, masked in the historical actions of the KUKL/Smekkleysa gang has completely obliterated any concrete interpretations, low/high art boundaries, or referrents to reality and essence, meaning that styles and personas can be changed and traded on a whim, that history can rewritten or forgotten completely;When every artist now creates and disseminates a social media “brand,” mixing their artistic and real-life personas into a continuous flow of images and soundbites; when agents and institutions of the real (police, politicians, etc) become active participants in TV, film and media satire, being the subject of joke while also in on said joke at the same time; where sounds and images are pilfered from the internet with ease; when concepts such as “nature” and “purity” itself becomes raw corporate imagery to market everything around us; when the tools of Icelandic culture, even social movements from feminism to equal rights become mediated by a web of corporate, state and quango interests; when there is almost psychopathic dissonance being exhibited by ALL of us involved in the cultural industry that allows to state/believe that we are unadulterated, autonomous, artists and scholars, allowing us to look away/ignore our own positions in the machine as uber-capitalist entrepreneurs, so that The system is no longer visible qua the system, then you have to ask yourself, just what IS real? Do we even know where the boundaries are any more? When Icelandic culture tries to “get serious,” all too often it merely consists of angry but ultimately meaningless social media rants (Like this one!), or often performance art actions of pious inconsequentialism, easily brushed aside and ignored.

All too often, I’m discussing the significance of a certain image, or song, or motivation behind a piece of art with someone, and all too often I’ve been told “But, does it have to mean anything?” And for many this means that you have artistic freedom to do whatever you want. But all too often what it means that it just becomes more fodder to feed the monster of Icelandic capital markets. 

Right now, the idea of total madness in stepping outside the cultural is preferable to the hall of mirrors that seems to constitute each new record release/gallery opening/facebook discussion thread. But i know that way is a fools errand. The quest for the inhuman real goes on….

* – apparently Paris Syndrome is a real psychological disorder. I wonder how long it is before we start seeing some cases of Iceland Syndrome?

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2015 in Iceland

 

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Musings & Shit: Krútt Of Ages. A Personal guide to the cute and innocent in modern music (Pt. 2)

It´s about time this story continued….

So where were we? In the previous episode of this mini series, we looked at how the idea behind the origins of “Krútt” music went a lot farther back that the ’90s. indeed in terms of modern pop music, we can see the ideas and aesthetic of innocence and cuteness in music going all the way back to the ’60s. We left this story as the Indiepop flourishings of the ’80s were about to tip toe gently into the ’90s.

TIGERMILK PISSES ALL OVER THE CHAMPAGNE SUPERNOVA

The ’90s have arrived and indiepop is getting crowded out of the picture a bit. Rave music and culture is now omnipresent with techno, house, and hardcore spawning Jungle, DnB and IDM. True there was a lot of peace and love on the menu but much of that was chemically assisted. And while the likes of Aphex Twin’s “Selected Ambient Works” was soothing and a balm for those heady excesses, it’s safe to say that much dance music during that period wasn’t that “innocent”

Meanwhile UK indie is beginning to discover a little bit of an Anglo Swagger. A response to the macho, rough-hewn sound of corporate Grunge and Gangsta Rap, Britpop was seen as the distillation of all that was good about British rock, namely music that was Witty, urbane and stylish, with the faintest whiff of Eno and glam. But alas by the mid to late ’90s it all when tits up (in some cases quite literally) as the scene devolved into the a mix of drugs, ego, and the neo-laddish culture fostered by the likes of Loaded, FHM and the cockernee gangster posing crystalised in Guy Ritchie’s ‘Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels,’ meant that much of indie music attempted to take on a thuggish, geezer aspect to it. Blur cavorting with glamour models on the video of “Country House,” or trying to look tough at the dog track. Oasis trying to look like cartoon villains scoring heroin on a street corner. And don’T get me started about shit like Ocean colour Scene! It was all so bad i pretty much didn’t buy any music for 3 years!

As with the ’80s, an atmosphere of overt bullishness and dominant aggression provided the likes of innocence and cuteness in music a position to offer a path of resistance. At the time though many of the bands who carried on from the ’80s such as BMX Bandits to the The Pastels, while hanging in there were drifting on the edges and were passing by unnoticed and unloved except for a hardcore following.

So when twee salvation came in the form of a bunch of students who were attending a course in music at Stow College in Glasgow, it did go unnoticed by most of mainstream indie, but it certain caused ripples in the firmament. The arrival of Belle & Sebastian in the collective minds of the indie consciousness has been pretty much assured thanks with a trio of *90s albums ‘Tigermilk,’ ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister,’ and ‘The Boy With The Arab Strap,’ pretty much spearheading a revival and reemergence of ’90s indiepop all by themselves.

I admit that their music at the time wasn’t for me. It wallowed too much in whimsy and were sweetness personified. But looking back there was definitely something there. Taking their cultural cues from the likes of The Smiths, they displayed a love and adoring fetishism for ’60s music and style. Their album covers displayed coloured monochrome photography that would ape the ennui of Nouveau Vague and British Kitchen sink drama. the music meanwhile was a mix of intricate arrangements that would take in shades of ’60s style pop, soul, and folk. Compared to the stuttery jangle of ’80s indiepop, the music of B&S was more confident, True there was a shared lo-fi scratchiness, but the music of B&S had much more warmth to it.

But the real kicker to B&S is the songwriting of lead vocalist Stuart Murdoch. True, his lilting wisp and wry whimsical stories of everyday relationships and daily messes may make many people click their tongue and roll their eyes into the back of their head, but when you compare the wit on display on songs such as “The State I Am In,” to the utter troglodyte reductionism of Oasis’ ‘Be Here Now.’ that stuff is definitely both funny and poignant! You can see the success of B&S caused a noticeable shift in the spectrum of indie music as people started to embrace niceness and a sunny disposition. Artists such as Badly Drawn Boy and Camera Obscura, to mainstream indie acts such as Travis achieved a fair amount of crossover success thanks to the groundwork made by B&S.

 

FREAKY FOLK YANKEES

Meanwhile, what was happening to US Indie at the time? To be honest at the time I didn’t have a Scooby. All that we saw coming from the land of the free was wall to wall grunge and it’s successor, the so-called “alt rock.” Lots of stuff like Bush, Foo Fighters, Nickleback and Live. Lots of pained hurrrrrs and durrrrrs all over over the shop. However there is a nice piece in Pitchfork that covers the US indiepop bands that were around at the time. I recommend that you read those those bands got up to.

What you did see was that around the beginning on the naughties there was a small but noticeable rumble in the US alternative music circles. Bands such as Neutral Milk Hotel were displaying an easygoing, ramshackle sensibility, a slightly serious earnestness that seemed to ache for something that was carefree and innocent. Then you had the rise of the “Freak Folk” acts such as Animal Collective and Sufjan Stevens all the way to Ed Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Acts who took their cues from the likes of The Incredible String Band, as they tried to mix freakish psychedelia, freestyle folk music, and communal dynamics with the innocence of childhood and coquettish eccentricity. Admittedly compared to the likes of B&S, the music made by these bands certainly didn’t sounds “twee.” In fact some artists such as early Animal Collective actually sounded more like electronic noise. But the overall sound was something that tried to link in with something that approximated to the inner wild child, free of constraints and adult rules.

Looking back you can understand that in a cultural world, where alt-rock was descending into Nu-Metal along with misogynistic flashpoints of  apocalypse-fest such as Woodstock ’99, then the desire by many of these acts to turn away and try to look for something nicer, for music that had a pure sense of romanticism and happiness to it. And as the decade continued, with publications such as Pitchfork championing their scene, more and more people started to come round to their way of thinking.

DON’T WORRY, MÚM KNOWS BEST

By now you’re probably thinking, “So where does Iceland fit into all of this?” I mean, we’ve been badgering on for a while now and there’s barely been a hint of some of the true Icelandic krútt stuff. Well, that’s because there wasn’t that much of a krútt scene to speak of during the ’80s and ’90s. Of course there was punk, new wave, electronica, techno, grunge and indie rock, but there was nothing that really compared to what was happening in the UK or the US.

So when a group of like minded people decided to make nice beautiful music that seemed completely out of step with everything else, people were certainly going to take notice. True, Múm didn’t come straight out of nowhere (They released a split single and were performing with the Kitchen Motors music collective at the time, but when they released their 2000 debut album, ‘Yesterday Was Dramatic – Today Is OK,’ it was almost as if it dropped out of the sky, a musical artifact that came with no explanation of its origins, puzzling and enthralling the people who listened to it. The album is full of music that is difficult to get a pin on The glitchy electronica, broken rhythms, the sampling and reworking of children’s toys and vocals, the use of harmoniums, glockenspiels and sound sources that you couldn’t place, and ethereal adult vocals – there really was nothing like it around at the time. Something that sounded dense and rich textually, with so yet seemed unprocessed or affected. It´s that entirely alien abstractness that give it that atmosphere of completely lacking in worldly adult cynicism and pessimism. It was something that the words “Epoch Defining” was created for.  

As was pointed out in the recent GV interview with the band, in terms of influence it can’t be stressed enough how much of of a impression Múm have made on Iceland music over the last decade more so than even the likes of Björk or Sigur Rós. True, while their artistic fortunes have waxed and waned a bit over the past decade, the band has acted as an incubator for pretty much a whos who of Icelandic Indie music. Former member Kristín Valtýsdóttir went on to become known as Kría Brekka (Eventually marrying Animal Collective’s Avey Tare), while current live members include Ólöf Arnalds, Hildur Guðnadóttir, Sigurlaug Gisladottir, Róbert Sturla Reynisson. Meanwhile the list of bands and artists who have fallen into the influence of the great Múm universe include the likes of Mr. Silla,  Benni Hemm Hemm, Singapore Sling, Slowblow, Skakkamanage, FM Belfast, as well as the likes of Seaber, Snorri Helgason and Sin Fang. Without Múm, there really would be no “Krútt” scene that we would call it today.

Effectively It’s all their fault. The bastards!

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PEACE, LOVE AND FREE MARKET ECONOMICS

So what of Krútt music these days? Well when the kreppa hit us all with it’s full force back 5 years ago, I and many others honestly thought that Krútt music would fall a bit out of favour. I mean, who would want to listen to music that’s all coy and cutesy when everything is going to shit, when people are losing their jobs and their savings and the feeling of anger on the streets is palpable?

Oh how wrong we were! If anything the Krútt scene has emerged stronger than ever. Acts from Pascal Pinon, Of Monsters & Men, My Bubba and Mi, Grúska Babúska, Eliza Newmann, Jara, and Cheek Mountain Thief are making waves, while the grizzled vets Múm and Amiina are still releasing music and are as popular as ever. Meanwhile outside of Iceland, much of the UK and US indie music is overrun with earnest, folky types who are seeking to make musical displays of innocentese, ethical compassion, and natural unaffected goodness. Even the media talk of how twee music is emerging in other countries as if it was a product entering emerging new markets.  

And it’s not just music. As posts by Dorian Lynskey and Joe Kennedy show, the rise of the cult of the child and childhood innocence is permeating other parts of our everyday life. As well as films and the arts, innocentese can be seen on everything from smoothie drinks, to utility bills and supermarket bread. It’s also invading our social spaces. In Reykjavik for example, you  often come across knitting wrapped around trees as well as our local buses and the bus station.

In a throwback to ’60s counterculture, ideas of peace, love and innocence had taken a slightly political edge, to it. The leader of Iceland’s Björt Framtið party calls for people to end their political comments on Facebook with a smiley face, while Joe Kennedy’s piece, tells of Scottish conceptual artist Robert Montgomery’s use of naivety in a series of politically charged billboards, telling you that “THE CITY IS A HOUSE AND YOU ARE A CHILD IN IT.” The picture above is a of a knitted poster that appeared in Laugavegur over the summer that says, “Not my government. Not my President.” The invasion of our public space with such stuff smacks of situationalism, as it tries to subvert our perspective of the world around us, to break the spell of consumerism, and show a better, nicer way of life.

But as Joe points out, the problem with all of this is that the character of the image has changed. Since the ’60s, instead of money, sex and power/stability, the desire and wants of our ABC1’s have changed, as they now desire things that are “natural,” “wholesome,” and “organic.” As such most modern media and advertising that is “designed to help sell us things,” constantly use twee and Krútt music and imagery to sell us all sorts of shit. Music that was meant to be seen as an alternative to cultural Hegemony have now have become branding tools to help perpetuate the image of perfect lives of bliss and harmony (if only we buy the things first).

(That first ad is especially ironic in that it uses the song “Diamond Day,” by Vashti Bunyan, who had been mostly forgotten by people at the time. The add was responsible for spark a resurgence of interest in her and her music)

And this is a shame to be honest. But even the future of krútt music is that of so much content driven music, there is something to be admired from musician who are looking to make music that is yhe embodiment of beauty. Like my old mucker Thor Heyerdahl, I’ve now come to terms about how I feel about the Krútt aesthetic in music. A lot of what gets made doesn’t really rock my boat a lot, and I do often find that where a lot of the music comes from mixes naivete with navel gazing. But there are some real gems among the heaps of twee and they’re definitely worth you time and effort. Stuff that is definitely twee as fuck.

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2013 in Iceland, music

 

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Musings And Shit: Dey dun gun tuk ur culturrrrezz! Reykjavik’s hotel wars, pt. 2,354….

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So that’s it then. Another venue bites the dust as last weekend saw the final closing of Faktorý and the surrounding Heart Garden area. There’s been much wailing and gnashing of online teeth at the continued “onslaught” of hotels popping up all over downtown as it also meant the closure of Hemmi Og Valdi (A cafe that hosted grassroots music gigs).  It’s a crying shame it happened. I’ve had many good times there (Memories of going mental at a Reykjavik! concert during a fundraiser for Palestine a few years ago spring to mind). But the writing had been on the wall for that area for years now, so it was only a matter of time I guess.

There’s no real point in going over how I feel about this again as I would only end up repeating many of the things i said about the closing of NASA, but suffice to say that it’s pretty obvious now that Reykjavik, as with many other cities from New York, to London and Berlin, is suffering a fairly painful bout of gentrification. It’s not just that hotels are popping up everywhere. Thanks to the banks keeping hold of hundred of vacant properties, prices and rents in the downtown area are increasing big time, with students are getting squeezed out of accommodation that are now being used as B&Bs and guest houses for tourists, all the while the rough edges of 101 culture are continuously being brushed and sanded off as everything is made safe, trendy, and consumer friendly for the masses.

The issue of culture vs hotels has now been laid out in the main feature of the latest issue of the Grapevine. The piece itself is pretty even-handed, preferring to not so much go “GRRRAGH! Hotels bad! Cool bespoke hostels great!” Instead trying to get a bit more underneath the underlying tensions that increased tourism has wrought on the city.

A couple of things about the feature with regards to culture and tourism though really stuck out for me.

– The fact that Icelandair will be putting up the hotel where Faktorý/Heart Garden is situated. Now that’s interesting. Icelandair, eh?, The same Icelandair that pretty much has Icelandic culture by the balls? Whether it’s Airwaves or SONAR, If you want to do something major and international in this country, you have to go forelock tugging to the mighty chieftains of the Icelandic skies, what with them leveraging their monopoly over flights to Iceland. And they know this big time as they use Iceland’s culture as a mere tool to further their own ends. Take SONAR for instance. The fact is is that Icelandair (one of the main sponsors) put their weight behind getting SONAR, not because of its love for electronic music, blah, blah, but to create an event in February so they can put bums on seats to Iceland in the off-season after new year, Just like they did with Airwaves all those years ago. You’ve got to grudgingly admire the way that they can dictate and call the shots so well. I wonder if any of Iceland’s cultural wonks or tastemakers will speak out about Icelandair’s use of culture in this way. Probably not – they know which way their bread is buttered.

– The comments of Ghostigital frontman/city Councillor Einar Örn Benediktsson. This is the first time I’ve actually seen someone from the Best Party actually speak about this issue. It was always telling that throughout all of this, the silence from them on this issue was deafening. Not even a simple bland platitude along the lines of, “we’re all saddened by this, but hey, whatcha gonna do, right?” I remember when someone called Einar Örn out on FB a while ago as to why the city was not doing more to preserve grassroots music and he replied.

“The City of Reykjavik supplements Iðnó and Tjarnarbíó in the region of 40m kr a year. It supports Tonlistarþróunarmiðstöð (TÞM). It has a culture fund which all and everybody can send an application to. The city of Reykjavik supports Loftbrú, to name a few. It also runs via Hitt Husið, several programmes like Musiktilraunir. The problematic here, is that if the City decides to support a venue which is in the competitive market those in the market might sue. Having said this, then I am working on something for the grassroots which I hope will come to light in the next few weeks. BUT my main argument is that the grassroots have always had the ability to survive and be creative. And that will not change. We are not invalids. I will continue to play with ghostigital wherever I find possible.”

Now understandably there’s not much they could have done about Faktorý what with it being privately owned land, but it does seem odd that despite their lack of action on the issue, many of Iceland’s artists keep looking to the Best Party to do something about this. Well in the words of Einar Örn, the city already do enough, stop whining,and you are pretty much on your own on this.

– Paul Óskar stating that many tourists come to Iceland for the culture. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this being mentioned, as people were saying this around the time of the closing of NASA. And it looks as if I´m going to have to repeat myself here, but the reality is that over the last few years (Showing echoes of Cool Britannia in the ’90s), with the rise of Iceland’s cultural industries, much of the culture in Iceland has been used as branded content as a way of selling Iceland to tourists. From the music, to the design & fashion, to the “Legendary” party antics of downtown, culture and style magazines and newspaper lifestyle supplements the world over have been touting Iceland as one of the coolest places in the world to go. Of course I’m sure it warms the soul to see Reykjavik talked of in glowing terms, but alas one of the by-products of this is that everyone now wants to come to Iceland, ergo more tourists and hotels. Even professional bohemians such as Atli Bollason have noted the change it has brought onto their cool downtown party stage.

Man this is starting to all get really messy. And now we have the head of Central Hotels, (Who are right next to the Heart Garden), coming out saying that he’s hated the Heart Garden all along, even though he was happy to sell beers to the people who were partying there (We were dumb enough to buy them). We need to remember this – Money, culture, tourism, gentrification, politics. It’s all linked. Each affects and is affected by the other. And to say that you are not interesting with these issues is not an answer. We all need to start asking ourselves in what way are we feeding this beast and is there any way, if not to stop it (It´s too late for that), then to at least steer it to the least damaging route for Reykjavik, all the while showing that we’re not all merely puppets that can be used to shill shiny lifestyle tourist packages. And that’s easier said than done….

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Musings n’ shit: Hey Ladies, The Vintage Caravan Wants You to Make them A Sandwich And Fuck Off Afterwards (Allegedly)…

When is an offensive and derogatory comment not an offensive and derogatory comment?

When it’s IRONIC, you muppet! Ah, these days everyone seems to be running with some massive post-modernistic irony filter spamming up their brains. It’s great isn’t it? It apparently allows you to say and do whatever you want, and you don’t even have to get pulled up on it.

Say that women are bitches and hos, etc, that deserve to raped in the face with a rusty screwdriver? It’s humour! And we were in character when we said it as well. Lighten up killjoys!

Doll yourself up to look vaguely “Asian,” with a silly “Hong Ching Mong” accent for no discernible reason at all? Chill out guys – it’s just a joke! Isn’t life more fun when people have different opinions?

State that you’d like to run a woman you don’t like over with your car, then back up again and run over her twice while reversing? Have you not heard of satire? She was probably asking for it anyway.

These days, by merely stating that you find something crass, insulting and lazy, you are immediately outed for being too sensitive, for overreacting, for lacking a sense of humour, or even worse a FEMINIST!! On top of this, everyone seems to be implementing some kind of nonchalant meta philosophy of apathetic vacuousness that seemingly separates you from such trivialities, that you can simply be above it all. (Why are you even complaining about this when there´s REAL injustices going on out there? Do you just want to BAN everything?).

Frankly, I’m just getting tired of it all. But in a wonderful piece by Nadya Lev on the creeping sexism and misogyny today in goth, industrial, and other forms of music, she confronts this bullshit head on. When artists are confronted about their actions, she noted, many reply that it’s “Satire,” or a “Joke.” Sometimes the “artistic defence” or that the person responsible “was playing a character.” Much of this, she goes on, smacks of lazy cynicism and deflects and disengages any meaningful attempt to explain their actions and motivations, and it now happens so much that it’s risen to the form of cliché.

Now I was thinking about this when I recently listened to some songs from the latest album from THE VINTAGE CARAVAN, ‘Voyage.’ I reviewed their first album a while back, and felt  that while they seemed to have that classic ’70s dadrock sound down to an absolute tee, and that there was definitely a lot of virtuosity going on for a bunch of guys who were only 17,  it was going over the same road that had been travelled so many times before. They took just about every late ’60s/’70s hard and heavy rock cliché stereotype going in their quest to be the covers band for the most rockingist rocky rocker rock band that never existed. It’s like when the band Gomez tried to sound like a bunch of Tom Waits soundalikes when they were barely out of their teens.

I hadn’t given them too much thought after that until this year Airwaves, when one of our reviewers, Arit John, gave them a bit of a thumbs down in her assessment, saying that there was a fair bit of misogyny in their music, in particular one song, “Know Your Place”. She found it a bit insulting, but she truly had no idea if they were being “ironic,” or not (God that word again!).

Hmm…. surely this song couldn’t be that bad, I thought. So I listened to it on YouTube.

Just to help, here’s the lyrics:

Know your place woman, and scrub that kitchen floor

Know your place, and get out of my sight.

I got my eyes on you

Cook my meals woman, and get out of my sight,

Cook my meals woman, and get out of my sight

And get down, get down on your knees

Do what I say, or I’ll make you pay.

Know you place woman, and scrub that kitchen floor

I got my eyes on you

Do what I say, or I’ll make you pay. 

Um… yeah….

When you read this shit out loud, I’m surprised they didn’t add the line, “And while you’re there, make me a sandwich you whore!” There’s not much more you can say about that really.

So after pretty much having the first thoughts of, “What the hell did I just hear there??” I mentioned the song a few nights later to some mates in the pub. One of the group, who had recently directed a video to one of their songs immediately said, “Oh yeah, that one. It’s definitely a piss take.”

Really? Hmm…. Excuse me if I don’t get it, but that just brings up more questions than answers to me. I mean, despite being a total pastiche of every hoary rock trope going, the thing with TVC is that despite not being dour and sullen, they launch into all of this with a complete lack of irony or subtlety. That’s, their “Thing” – they really feel the rock with songs like “Cocaine Sally,” “Expand Your Mind,” and “Wild Child.” They’re living the hard rock life down the highway to the max!

And what is it they so need to feel the need to take the piss out of anyway? Those old rock songs with their of-their-time lyrics they look to ape so much (“Squeeze me baby/till the juice runs down my leg”)? Is it their fans who, let’s be honest, are more of the unwashed male variety who drone on about “Real” music and rock? Or is it just to get a rise out all those silly people who complain and get all angry about “Offensive” lyrics? You don’t really know just listening to the song, do you? If it’s a satire that doesn’t really sound or look that much different to what they normally do, how can you tell?

It is of course worth pointing out that these guys are still teenagers barely out of Grunnskoli and are likely to say and do dumb shit without thinking about it too much.Remember how many people were getting their nuts in a twist when the boys from Odd Future were rapping about raping and killing women and gays? or when Danish teen punks Iceage got into bother with people calling out their flirtations with fascist imagery? In both cases, it just seemed like your usual teen immaturity mixed with post-internet cynicism   and there was no true underlying malice. There’s every chance that TVC are doing it just to get a rise out of all of us, by doing something offensive and “Edgy,” especially since they introduced the song at Airwaves with, “This song is a bit of a controversial song.”

If that’s the case, then the saddest thing is that despite the song being obnoxious and seeking to be edgy, it’s so bloody lame. As a way to court attention and to come across as ironic satire  it’s just pure laziness and derivative cheap rabble rousing. It just makes them look like a bunch of gawping bozos to be honest.

Are TVC a bunch of nasty wimmen hating misogynists? Not really. Are they a bunch of dumb-asses that really need to get some new ideas about how they approach their music? Too bloody right.

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2012 in Iceland, music

 

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Musings And Shit: “What? Who? Never hear of him. Is he any good?” Iceland and Cultural Relativism…

Was having a derpy FB chat last night about classic Icelandic bands, when i realised that there is one massive problem I have as a non-Icelander reviewing the music scene here, even more so that the lyrics (which often take me over 2 days to translate, and even then i miss most of the nuances due to thinking in English sentence construction mode). It’s the differing way that i end up viewing many Icelandic artists and musicians from the past through my cultural prism, which is often very different to that of my Icelandic brethren.

Take for example the duo ÞU OG ÉG. They released a couple of disco themed albums in the late ’70s/early ’80s. Recently they reformed and played at this year’s Innipukinn festival, where despite playing four songs, the crowd apparently went absolutely nuts for them.

The guy from Þu Og Ég, Jóhann Helgason, is often known as the “Disco King” of Iceland and even took part in a recent collaboration with FM Belfast for the Hljómskállin TV show.

And here is a track from their 1979 album ‘Ljúfa Líf’

The thing is that music of Þu Og Ég leaves me a little cold to say the least. The disco is very string heavy, lays on the melodramatic emotion with a trowel, and has a decidedly strong whiff of Eurovision cheese to it. Jóhann went on to produce several solo albums, often veering between electro nu-pop and tacky ballads. To someone like myself growing up in the 1980s, this would have been VERY uncool to listen too. But to many Icelanders both young and old, he is pretty much a stone cold legend.

Then you have the likes of Sálin Hans Jons Míns. Fellow writer Dr Gunni did a great potted history of them for the Grapevine a while back. But to many people In Iceland, these guys were the live band of their youth, as the constantly toured Iceland on the Sveitaballin circuit (think the pub rock circuit in the UK at the time).

Here is one of their biggest hits, “Hvar Er Dramurinn?”

And to see them in action here is a live clip from 1992.

It’s fun watching these guys perform. Technically very proficient, but it’s the whitest of white soul mixed with a little standardised ’80 new wave rock (Think Huey Lewis), with some decidedly dodgy dress sense.

At this time, I was 16 and would have been getting into the likes of Ride, PJ Harvey, Sonic Youth, Sugar, all the while being swept up like everyone else with techno and rave music. Looking back then, as now, these guys seem way of the pulse of anything that was going on in the western world at the time. I would´t be seen dead at this gig.

But this is relativism at work. Growing in the UK in 1992, I would have had access to a lot more cultural input from TV, Radio and the press, as well as being able to buy the latest music. It’s very easy for someone like me to forget the cultural landscape in a place like Iceland at the time, where not everyone was a 101 cool hipster artist who was getting their stuff released by Smekkleysa. Comparing the cultural access with that of my wife, the difference is VERY stark, where she had no knowledge of the stuff i was into. In 1992 If you were in the Icelandic country, all you had was a single TV station, 2 state radio stations, no music press and a life that often consisted of school and work. And lots of farmyard animals.

If you lived in that type of barren environment, you’d jump at any chance of entertainment you could get, even if it was an act like Sálin. If you look at their live video, the crowd are going mental for these guys, singing along to the songs and everything. And that is the biggest challenge for a non-Icelandic cultural critic – trying to get into the mindset where Jóhann and Sálin (along with the likes of Ný Dönsk, Stuðmenn, Todmobile, et al) were seen as musicians worthy of the title “Legend”.

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2012 in Iceland, music, Uncategorized

 

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Musings n’ Shit: Eistnaflug 2012

So the annual metal bash that was EISTNAFLUG 2012, has been done and dusted for a few weeks now, yet it’s only now I’m managing to get around to filling in a few gaps in the proceedings. That was mostly due to 2 things – one was that i had to write a load of other things as well as the review on the festival for the Grapevine. Two – I was on holiday and i couldn’t be arsed.

But now I’m back at work, so here we go. The full review for Thursday, Friday and Saturday are now online, and i fully recommend that you go and have a look at them.

After the flak we received last year for our sub-par performance in covering the festival (which included yours truly getting flamed by the Monolith Deathcult a month after the event for having the temerity to suggest that they didn’t sound that good), we decided that we needed to do it properly this year. Everyone covering the festival was told that they had to review every band at the venue on the day they were covering. I also would be making a change from the past couple of years by doing Saturday instead of Thursday (which i did so i could get hammered for the rest of the weekend). All of this meant that i received for the first time this year, a press pass. We would have to be real legit in our reviewing, even (shock horror) be sober on our reviewing days.

And overall, i think we acquitted ourselves rather well. In some ways it was easy for us, because the word from many of those who attended (myself included) was that this year’s Eistnaflug ranked as one of the best yet. This was despite the continuing actions of the police searches (more on that later) or the fact that the beer was 1000ISK per pint. This year saw record numbers attending, to see some stellar performances from most of the bands on the bill, and the atmosphere generated by them and the crowd meant that just about everyone had a really fucking great time.

THE BANDS

Now i wont go into the bands that i covered (you should just go and read the reviews instead), but there were several other bands i saw that left a considerable impression on me. They included –

ANGIST:  The last time i reviewed the guys was about a couple of years ago. Back then I wasn’t impressed with the sound that they made, and it just wasn’t tight enough overall. But the story goes that they got in a new drummer and really worked on their sound. So when they played on Thursday, it was a completely different band to what i saw all that time ago. The riffing was harsh, the rhythms were extremely tight, and there was much more of a presence on stage. I think i got a semi from the soundwaves that hit me! Also i got to meet guitarist Gyða for the first time, and she is a fine woman and all round righteous rock lady. Expect more good things from them.

MOMENTUM: Of course these guys are consistently awesome and bass player Hörður is really channeling Mastodon levels of front man stage presence at the moment. Their whole set was just so heavy. I was a little drunk at the time, most of which was spent cheering on their new member Siggi, as i got it into my head that he should be made to feel welcome. Whatever the outcome i think i may have freaked him out just a little with my screams of “Whoo yeah Siggi! you’re so great!”. After their set, i ended up calling Mrs Sex Farm and getting all misty eyed about how much i missed her. That’s what Momentum can do to a man – they let you get in touch with your feminine side.

CELESTINE:such was the power in their set that i actually have few memories of the song being played. all i know is that i spent a lot of time thrashing about like a deranged albatross to their music. Music to feel, instead of listening to.

NYIÞ: If you haven’t heard of these guys, then that is your problem. If you have, then you know that there is something deeply disturbing at play going on here. Still marked in a shroud of mystery as to their identities and their intent, they played an imposing set of doomed folk and post-punk at the mayhemishere that was full o  highly charged with occultic energy. In the thick of all the dry ice, their front man/singer/chanter defended the area with numerous sigils draw at the entrance of the venue during their set. This entranced the crowd to the extent that on their final song, they each gathered a drum and led a large portion of the audience on a procession towards the local church, whereupon they performed a desecration rite on its grounds. Shades of the Wicker Man and Ride With The Devil abound. I hope they don’t start burning churches though….

THE PARTYING

OK, there are several sketchy moments in this coverage of the festival hi-jinks. This is mainly due to the large amount of Landi moonshine i brought this year, of which i consumed a large amount of it. This meant that things got very squiffy very quickly.

But here were some of the things i DO recall.

– Informing I Adapt singer Birkir Fjalar that i was incredibly drunk and that in order to sober me up, i ordered him to “Hit me in the face as hard as you can!” This led him to hit me with an open hand with such force that it may have left me with some kind of brain damage. But it certainly sobered me up. Later he would go on to say that it was “the fucking strangest request he had ever received in his life”

– Apparently adopting a very British horizontal pose on the grass outside the venue on Friday night, informing the people around me that “all i wanted was 40 minutes of bloody peace and quiet, Was that too much to ask??”

– Moshing to Beneath with Plastic Gods singer Ingó, who was in his underpants.

– Being involved in one of the most bizarre drug deals I’ve ever partaken. On a campsite with the dealer sporting a lycra head mask that made him look like The Question. whereupon i fell down a hill.

– Getting attacked by the heathen banshees in charge of the ticket booth/merch stand/cloakroom who proceeded to paint my nails a very feminine shade of shocking pink. The amount fo catcalls i received from those manly metalheads… damn. I should do it more often, but i don’t think Mrs Sex Farm would approve.

– Drinking with the guys from Muck (which i remember), whereupon they decided to interview me (which i don´t remember). I reciprocated with a full on rant that lasted at least several minutes, the subject matter of which god only knows. although I’ve been told that nothing truly awful was uttered by yours truly, i still refuse to listen to it, mostly because i hate the sound of my voice, and also because the embarrassment value of my drunken rants is immense. apparently it was used as a material for a noise track that was played at the arts festival LungA a week later.

– Seeing people do their utmost to completely fuck themselves up, the best example being a guy who required stitches after headbutting a lighting bollard while trying to attempt a drunken forward somersault.

FUCK DA POLICE (again…)

Once again, the local constabulary were out in full force with Fido, the friendly sniffer dog to “weed” out all those nasty disgusting takers of narcotics who were obviously trying to ruin it for the straight edge, god fearing festival goers, all 3 of them.

Look, we know they have to enforce a (frankly stupid) law, but at times it was getting a little like overkill. Many people i knew got searched, including the son of a close friend, who was searched three times in a single day. When asked, most of them simply said they were walking down the road when the police would stop next to them and announce they were going to be searched. did they look suspicious? Not if you count being hungover as suspicious behaviour.

And all of this effort…. for 11 minor possession of hash. Well done lads, good to see you’re keeping the moral fibre of this nation as robust as ever.

THE AFTERMATH

What was interesting to see was the commentary in the press about the festival in the days afterwards. After a columnist for a frothy press site decided to get rather sniffy about the festival itself (They get drunk! Some take drugs! They fall over! Think of the children!!), many journalists and musicians responded with full force, noting that the festival is brilliantly run, the performances were top-notch, many people brought their kids during the day, it generated a lot of money for the local area, and the amount of atmosphere and community on display put other much more vaunted festivals that were held at the same time to shame (I’m looking at you Besti Útíhátið). Bravo! I’ll drink to that!

And they’re right. Even now while typing this post, I’m still getting a little buzz just thinking about the good times had all the way out n the east. I actually can’t wait until next year.

Stebbi, i want Black Breath and Wolves In the Throne room for next year, got that? Failing that, maybe Slayer….

(all these pics are by the lovely photographher Þórsteinn Cameron. check his shit out)

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2012 in Iceland, live music, music

 

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Musings n’ Shit: Nu-Dance Music – I´M OLD! KILL IT WITH FUCKING FIRE! THEN KILL IT AGAIN!

On a Sunday most people sit down with a pot of tea and read the Sunday papers as a way of killing a few hours of their precious time. And in a way I’m not that different, except i use Sunday to wade through my RSS feeder, parsing and analysing blog posts, mixes, observations etc.

On occasion i come across a piece that NAILS what many people like myself have been pondering and skirted around for a while now, but haven’t really gone at with all guns blazing.

Such a piece was on the excellent MNML SSGS blog today where resident poster Chris posted about the rise of the nu-trance-pop-rave phenomenon (or EDM as he calls it).

For a while now many people (including myself) have noted the inexorable rise of nu-dance music over the last couple of years. A style of music that has taken a vice-like grip on the balls of the music landscape in the US and to a lesser extent, in Europe, where it originated. Writers like Simon Reynold has written about both the Ibiza-fication of modern US pop and R&B music, as well as appropriation of Rock N’ Roll excess in their videos and songs. Heck, even i wrote a (unpublished) piece last year about how the rise of cocaine as the main party drug of the last decade has helped to fuel the rise of ego bullshit and both in dance music and the club scene, both in Iceland and abroad (I´ll post it at the end of this rant).

But the MMNM SSGS post goes much better to explain why we should be paying to attention to this new form of music, and why it’s potentially damaging to how electronic music is perceived by people. The piece really picks up on how warped the idea of a rave is in the US. In the US and the UK, while its getitng harder to go clubbing as it becomes harder for clubs to open and stay open with increasingly stricter licencing and environmental laws, the “new rave” has assimilated certain superficial facets of dance culture (especially glow sticks and paint), yet is more akin to a rock gig or festival like Lollapalooza. And this ties in with the rise of the Supergod DJ and dance acts who behave more, on stage and off, like strutting rock stars than the slightly anonymous acts of the past.

Take Skrillex for example. He used to be in a screamo band before discovering electronic music. But his take on dubstep has the dynamics found rock/hardcore/metal. When they linked him with old rockers The Doors in the following documentary, despite the oscillating blasts  of noise, it really wasn’t that much of a leap into the unknown for him.

What seems to be concerning is also the fact that a lot of the acts that are currently riding high on this new wave really are not that much cop technically speaking. The MMNL SSGS post has two videos where “world’s greatest DJ” David Guetta commit a truly shocking piece of mixing, while the second piece has Steve Aoki effectively turn a DJ’s equipment into mere props.

Also what’s interesting is the way that much of this scene is incredibly objectified, the way that the party scenes seem to be a form of aesthetic hedonism. Many of these videos show women as mere eye candy that you would have expected in a Rap or R&B video. This has changed the way that a lot of the party scene is more concerned about looking good and being seen partying, instead of actually letting go of your ego and getting on with it. People look buffed, teased and coiffed so that they are more ready to take part in a photo shoot than something that actually appropriates itself as really fun. There is a major emphasis on coolness, on having a model’s look and body (for the women), or looking pumped, ripped and tanned (for the boys). Anyone who has spent more than a weekend partying in downtown Reykjavik will immediately recognise and understand this.

Of course there is a massive undeniable energy to a lot of this music. Stuff like LMFAO might be easily to ridicule, but in terms of music it’s almost breathtaking in the near cynical away it packs more bangs and hooks for you buck in under 4,minutes, honing the obligatory rave “rush” to near bludgeoning levels. It’s the quintessential music for Euroshopper energy drinks!

Am i showing my age? Probably. Maybe it’s just how things are evolving for a certain type of music to be accepted by a mainstream audience. But when it comes to partying? Well, i still have a few good years left in me yet, and since my looks were knackered at birth, i have no need to look good, just feel good instead.

(my unpublished piece for the Grapevine from 2011)

Bloody Hell, It’s All Gone Pete Tong!

Today’s dance music is a watered down pastiche of past hedonisms

Have you listened to FLASS FM recently? No, I’m serious about this. I started listening to it again a few weeks ago after a friend of mine posted a rant online about how most mainstream dance music had become this awful chimera of ‘boyband/diva singing, Eurotrance beats and frankly awful rap.’ I sat looking at the words thinking ‘surely things can’t be that bad!’ So I decided to change the dial to hear it for myself.

And I’m sad to report he’s completely right. Listening to the station’s playlist was being witness to a car crash of brutalist synths, pedestrian techno beats and big time chorus singing that’s completely autotuned up the wazoo. What started harmlessly enough with the Black Eyed Peas, over the last the last 18 months has spread like a virulent form of foot and mouth. Rap and R&B stars such as Chris brown, Kelly Rowland Nicky Minaj, Pitbull, and even Snoop Dogg are queuing to have their music transformed by the likes of Benny Benassi and the Gallic Voldermort of Euro dance, David Guetta. Meanwhile Techno warhorses like Pete Tong and DJ Tiesto are taking up residencies in Las Vegas, where, according to the Swedish House Mafia, ‘they come to rave for two to eight hours. It’s not unusual for the best table at top clubs to have a minimum spend of $50,000 (5.75 million ISK).’ Just what the hell is going on??

It seems that techno music is finally making it big in mainstream USA several years after everyone else. Americans are now wanting to feel the rave experience for themselves, and the mainstream rap and R&B acts are getting in on the act in manufacturing the party feel and ‘rush’ of 90’s dance culture. It’s a shame though that all their efforts to target our musical pleasure centres are completely removed from the original context and atmosphere of what rave culture at that time was all about.

One of the main factors in all of this is down to drugs. Now before I continue any further, I’m required by law when talking about drugs to consult the Kastljós handbook on discussing drugs in a serious manner. Let’s see… (Puts Portishead’s ‘Mysterons’ on the stereo, lowers lighting and voice, pixelates face). That’s better. Right, now if you were around during the ‘90s, then there was one major catalyst in generating the atmosphere associated with rave culture. And that catalyst was ecstasy. Whatever your feeling about drugs in general, the use of ecstasy contributed to a communal, inclusive effect as hundreds of thousands of people from different backgrounds and social strata turned away from the mainstream culture of the day and experienced a form of ‘hivemind hedonism’. Everyone dancing and experiencing the same rush of the techno music’s ‘soar’. And while the hedonism wasn’t political or focused, it certainly was radical, radical enough for the government of the time to pass numerous laws to ban it all. Even when illegal raving gave way to legal clubbing and the superclubs, ecstasy was still prevalent in its use.

But at the beginning of the last decade, the UK (and to a lesser extent the US, which had the likes of crystal meth) became awash with cocaine. So awash in fact that in the UK alone, its use quadrupled from 0.6% to 2.4% of all 16- to 59-year-olds in 2009-10. Despite a marked decrease in use last year, it’s still the most common illegal drug after cannabis and is now the dominant drug (allied with copious amounts of alcohol) when having a night out.

As a result of the change in drug use, the game changed in clubbing. Despite the price drop and varying purity, cocaine is still seen as a ‘players’ drug, a drug of exclusivity that invites self-aggrandisement and bullshit instead of inclusiveness and sweaty hugs. As time passed, group hedonism made way for a pseudo ‘chic’ hedonism that was, along with celebrity culture, commodified and packaged to the masses as the pinnacle of an ‘edgy’ good time. Most clubs and bars became have become tawdry affairs as people seemed more prepared to hang around the toilets and go through the motions of being ‘on it’, but with extra aggro and nobody connecting with each other.

And the change in clubbing created an echo chamber effect on the music. The dance pop of now may sound similar to late ‘90s techno, but it has a more aggressive, braggart feel that reeks of ego and roid rage. Instead of lyrics about losing yourself to the experience and ‘taking yourself higher’, nowadays it’s all about drawing attention to yourself, while finding ‘where dem girls at’. Looking at their videos, it seems they’re trying to tell you that they’re having THE BEST PARTY EVER IN THE WORLD. Yet these party shots look empty, with a lack of real togetherness and soul. It looks for all as though they’re doing it through gritted teeth, trying to convince themselves that they aren´t leaving lives of quiet desperation.

And this new trance-ified pop and the associated lifestyle is acting as the perfect blueprint for Iceland’s VIP chode party scene. With its emphasis on the fashion, the makeup, the blank faces and pinprick eyes, the self-importance and stiff poses, the puffed up barely concealed acres of orange flesh and the whole ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ dance of banality, you can definitely say that the sounds of David Guetta and Flo Rida have found their spiritual home on Laugavegur and Austurstræti.

The soundtrack of summer 2011 is not powered by water, E and a feeling of togetherness, but coke, steroids, expensive champagne and separation.

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2012 in literature, music

 

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