Art is politics

A couple of days ago Meryl Streep used her speech opportunity when she won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes to make a plea for social justice. She didn’t identify new president-elect Donald Trump but it was pretty clear that she was condemning his public mocking of a reporter’s disability. Her punchline? “When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”

I don’t plan to spend a lot of time talking about this particular incident but the example is relevant to my concerns. In addition to the widespread positive feedback, there’s been a massive backlash spearheaded  by the Twitter tantrum President himself, He’s called her “over rated” (something he invariably directs at all of his critics) and denied what he did (another predicable go-to response from this guy who’s denied everything he ever said despite the overwhelming body evidence) – no surprises there. It’s classic Donald.

It’s what his supporters are saying that really irks me. Social media is exploding with the sentiment that celebrities and artists shouldn’t express political opinions. That’s the bit I’d like to call bullshit on.

Before discussing the general principle, though, I’ll just address Meryl’s critics in this particular example:

  1. You don’t need a political science degree to say “don’t be mean to people with disabilities”
  2. People shouldn’t have to say it at all, so why are you defending it?
  3. Donald Trump is the most illustrative example of a celebrity who stuck his nose into then political arena. How come a reality TV star is allowed to talk politics but an award-winning actor isn’t?
  4. America is rightly proud of it’s democratic position in which it allows all of it’s civilians and stakeholders to express civic opinion. Is that right being wound back now Trump is in power? Or is freedom of speech for Republics only?

OK, moving right along… let’s look at the arts and whether artists have any right to make political statements. The majority sentiment right now seems to be that they don’t. Being a contrary person, I’m going to argue that they do.

This might be because most of the music that’s ever been significant to me has been political in nature. I’m too young to have experienced the whole counter-cultural hippie movement of the sixties that my parents aligned with. I’m also a little too young to have been directly involved in anything from the punk movement at the time. But I grew up with the music of both and embraced them. Punk challenged the establishment and it’s more intelligent examples, pointed out the establishment’s incongruities and absurdities. Even “Smash it up” or “Anarchy” are implicitly political statements.

When it comes to music the significant movements are, indeed, movements. Even the Motown scene, from which releases are characterised by pop songs with lightweight lyrics about dating and dancing, was actually an important cultural revolution with significant racial and societal implications. And when the Temptations got political, they did it very well – check out Ball Of Confusion for some very politically charged lyrics.

Along folk and hippie music of the sixties, punk bands and the emergent rap scene in the eighties were all changing the world with their music – which is arguably what art is supposed to do. Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg, The Clash, The Jam and Sleaford Mods sing about stuff that matters. All power to the vapid “oh baby I’m gonna fuck ya” songs that abound today – they’re great – but you can’t tell me that music should never have substance.

You also can’t tell me that everyone in society is allowed to speak their mind except for people in the arts. That’s an unfair and bizarre condition of employment, and there’s no good reason why it should be the case. We can’t sit on our sofas making sweeping uninformed statements to the TV about the situation in Syria and then follow it up with a pronouncement that an actor (who might even have been over there at some point) isn’t allowed to do the same.

We can’t condemn a generation of celebrities for being vacuous while we forbid them to discuss anything of depth. Surely celebrities and musician and artists have the same right to express political opinions and even be wrong (as many are) that we enjoy? It’s hard enough trying to eke out a living in the arts already. Telling people that they’re not allowed to express ideas (which might arguably be in their job description) is a shitty condition of employment.

It’s also pretty obvious that the sources of the “You can’t talk about politics. Your job is to be entertaining and fuckable and nothing more” ideology is very much from the right side of the political spectrum. All the important movements in music and art all speak to social conscience, equality, revolution and subversion. There is music and art that Tories and right-wingers have put together but it’ll never take a place alongside the significant and respected musical movements in history. Clearly, the ones who want artists excluded from political discourse are conservatives.

This goes right back to Plato, who wanted to exile the poets and allow only music chosen by the government to preserve the slave-owning aristocratic status quo. If someone’s telling you that an artist should stay out of the debate, it’s because they recognize that that artist has credibility and relevance and the power to challenge the conservative regime. He took this stuff seriously because he implicitly knew that art (and music and poetry) is political. Separating the politics out of art is like trying to take the maths out of economics. The act of creating is a political statement in and of itself.

Politics isn’t just management of the state. That’s part of the job of a political entity but it’s not the totality of what politics is. Politics is concerned with what we deserve, what others deserve, what we owe other people and what they owe us. It’s how we treat each other. This is consistent with every definition of politics I’ve ever come across. So. while it’s not as explicit as when The Special AKA sang “Free Nelson Mandela”,   when someone sings that you shouldn’t cheat on them or break their heart, they’re making a political statement. And yes; an actor telling us we shouldn’t mock the disabled is also a political statement.

We shouldn’t be discouraging people from expressing sincere ideas about how to be better, and we definitely shouldn’t be telling our artists not to. Keeping artists out of political discourse doesn’t just weaken and rob politics – it also weakens and robs art.

Album Review – “The Hum” by Marc Heal

I’ve only been listening to this album for a week and it’s found it’s way into my heart well enough to know that it’s not only my favourite release for 2016 but that it’s destined to make it onto my Desert Island Albums list. “The Hum” by Marc Heal is very good indeed and I recommend it highly.

For the uninitiated, Marc Heal was the frontman for one of my favourite bands, Cubanate. They made industrial rock with a techno bent, like an electronic Killing Joke or a KMFDM cybernetically enhanced for the dancefloor. While I’ve moved on from most of the industrial music I used to listen to a lot of, Cubanate’s last two albums, Barbarossa and the D&B oriented Interferenceare still two of the most-played albums on my ipod (watch for future reviews of both in my Desert Island Albums series) . Then they broke up and we didn’t hear from Marc for a very long time (although he worked with Front 242‘s Jean-Luc De Meyer as C-Tec, with Julian Beeston from Nitzer Ebb, with Raymond Watts, appeared in other projects and did a bunch of music for films and video games).

And now Marc’s come out with a solo album called The Hum. If you were expecting the high energy shouty belters from his Cyberia or Antimatter days you might be disappointed, because nothing on The Hum is going to make rivetheads jump in the mosh pit like Hatesong or Oxyacetaline did – but everything on this album is going to seem more mature, more intelligent, more perceptive more emotionally nuanced and ultimately more satisfying. This is an album that withstands repeated plays and offers a lot more than a heavy beat.

Don’t get me wrong – a relentless pulse underpins the album and you’ll certainly hear the sampled metal guitars infusing most tracks. What’s also surprising are the Gary Numan style synths that contribute most of the lead lines: surprising, that is, until one remembers that Marc first got recognition supporting Gary Numan with his earlier band Westwon.The influence is strong – this album sounds like it could be a collaboration where Gary Numan wrote most of the music.

Thematically, though, The Hum is built from the ideas and concerns that characterize much of Marc’s work. What is civility? What is civilization? How resilient is the thin wall that separates Metropolis and Lord Of The Flies?  How do people connect in a world that isolates us? In the album’s first single, Adult Fiction, he sings about an affair with a woman who’s husband is “some sort of financier” who’s “never home to listen to her tales of desolation” and in this scenario the animalistic  acts they engage in “every other Thursday night” undermine and subvert her world – one in which the “wealthy live in tax havens out of reach” while maids and gardeners nod politely observing the disease beneath it all.

It’s political (Marc studied politics), but it’s personal too. The Hum‘s songs are all stories. In Interference the storytelling approach to songwriting was evident and successful. I’m glad he’s refined that and taken it further because his stories are poignant and telling. The Hum is a collection of powerful narratives, deep observations and subtle wit. And so far, I just cannot get enough of what feels to me like his most innovative, most mature and accomplished work yet. I can already tell I’ll be treasuring this one as I play it frequently.

The Hum by Marc Heal is released through Armalyte Industries via Bandcamp – which means that you can listen to it free of charge before deciding whether to purchase it or not. Give The Hum a listen over HERE.

Democracy Has Issues

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You probably know that Winston Churchill famously said “Democracy is the worst form of Government… except for all the others that have been tried.” It’s funny because it’s true. I don’t have a better alternative, but I do believe that we should be looking for one because Winston Churchill also gave us the less-known observation “The best argument against Democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

democracy-is-the-theory-that-the-common-people-know-what-they-waRight now it’s the morning after the 2016 US Presidential Election in which Donald Trump won, I’m watching a string of Facebook comments that support Churchill’s claim and I’m wondering how I can reflect on the outcome without being accused of bitching the way I was in 2013 when Tony Abbott was elected in my country.  I was openly displeased with the outcome, which I thought would be disastrous for refugees, women, racial minorities, the working class, the unemployed, the LGBT community, and the environment. People still chose to characterize me as a whiny loser and gave me condescending lectures about democracy and that’s how democracy works and if it’s democracy it must be the right answer. I wonder what those people, who’ve seen how disastrously it did end up and now agree that it was a truly horrible outcome, feel about democracy now?

Even though the word Democracy gets conflated with other concepts like ‘freedom’ and ‘rights’ and ‘equality’ it doesn’t necessarily mean or entail those things. It’s pure utilitarianism, the will of the mob. It favours bullies and conservatism. People assume that a democratic process is a way of finding and selecting “the best” even though a lot of the people who subscribe to that theory exclaim that the democratically-chosen candidates we get to vote for are very far from the best choices we could have.

Democracy is not a process of selecting the best, it’s a method of revealing the popular.

meme-definition-of-democracyBelieving that democracy is a process of choosing the best, we’d all have to agree that Coke is the best beverage and McDonalds make the best burgers. Gourmets will nearly always seek an alternative to Maccas. Nobody thinks Big Macs have the most nutritional value. People agree that tastier options are easy to find and that Maccas is neither the coolest or the best value, but they sure sell a lot. And Coke? It would be better for you if it were distilled from the tears of exploited lepers and it tastes like rusty capitalism blended with head lice and bitter regret , but it’s a wildly popular drink.

Democracy is at best a compromise – such as when 7 people in a living room people watch a TV show they can all agree on. Just because they settled on Celebrity Family Feud doesn’t mean it’s the most entertaining show, just that only 2 wanted Game Of Thrones and 4 of them refused to give Westworld a go.  Nobody is that into Celebrity Family Feud but it won’t challenge them or make them think. The outcome isn’t a result of the people’s hopes and dreams – it’s the result of satisficing and the result is a dumbed-down lukewarm acceptable alternative to what anyone actually wants.

frabz-youre-democracy-is-bad-and-you-should-feel-bad-5870e0At worst, Democracy (which purports that everyone in the room has the same value) completely ignores and removes the value of the people in the room who are the least common. Five Purple people and four Green people in the room? Democracy says that the Green people get equal input, but there’s zero chance their interests will be met at all. If the Purple people declare that their policy will be to enslave the Green people, the Green people are going to have a hard time accepting that their enslavement is right because it was arrived at democratically. This might be why coloured people in America will be feeling nervous today. This process was never about giving all the people having a say and determining the aggregate will of the people was. There was no process, just a revealing of who got a say and who didn’t.

bnepw0xiaaeqwmzAs far back as in Plato’s “The Republic” we were informed that the mob was going to win a Democratic process even though they were less informed, less moral and just plain wrong. Is the mob always right? The mob didn’t wanna hear the truth so they all voted to kill the guy who was telling it. Democracy, bitches!

Of course, Plato and Socrates kept slaves and the Oligarchic alternative that they promoted was both self serving (“Philosophers should be the ruling class”) and unfair. I’m not saying they’re always right – I disagree with most of their utterances. I’m just observing that Democracy has been getting it hideously wrong for a very long time. Democracy has precisely zero checks and balances to ensure everyone gets a fair deal. Worse, it thinks it is a system of checks and balances to ensure fairness. That’s dangerous – especially when the cruel people outnumber the kind ones.

14963400_10154274930488645_1908159882608897399_nLet’s talk Brexit, because Trump isn’t the only democratic fuckup this year. Democracy is supposed to be great because it gives people an informed choice. Except most people don’t make informed choices. They make choices, usually influenced by marketing campaigns. With Brexit, there was a landslide vote to “Leave” and then the morning after the election result, people started googling and trying to learn about what they’d already voted for. Then there was remorse from the “Leave” voters and judgement from everyone else when they finally realized what they’d done. With Trump, as there was with dickhead Tony Abbott, there’s a high chance that people are going to realize that what they thought they were buying and what they were really buying are two different things.

downloadI don’t have an alternative to promote but I do want people to stop referring to democracy as a perfect system that’s always right and always produces the best results. Democracy has flaws, so can we please stop referring to it as if it’s the last word and validation of all outcomes? The “The People have spoken, democracy chose the winner so the winner must be right because it’s democracy” claim is every bit as circular and fallacious as Hegel’s “history is always right because it’s what happened,” the self-congratulatory reverse-engineered praise of liberal democracy in Francis Fukuyama’s “The End Of History”, the naive “best of all possible worlds” claims made by Pangloss in Voltaire’s Candide, and Hitler’s “conflict is good because it produces winners” arguments.

I swear – if Democracy shit the bed I would have people telling me that the bed-shitting is good because it’s democratic. Fact is, Democracy’s been (metaphorically) shitting the bed for a very long time and with all of the sophisticated and massively funded resources that go into campaigns now, it’s not going to get better. There is a huge amount of inequality in the world and our existing processes have only served to increase it – which is the exact opposite of what democracy’s fans think it does.

“The worst form of Government… except for all the others that have been tried.” I don’t have an alternative to promote, just the suggestion that we maybe consider we need to look for one. People never discovered the earth isn’t flat or the center of the universe while everyone was saying we had the final word that should never be questioned. I have a suspicion that if we all stopped congratulating ourselves about how democracy is always right we might actually have a fairer system already.

“Jockin My Style”

images (1)So Die Antwoord have been accusing the Suicide Squad movie of “jockin my style.” The phrase is apparently a thing and unfortunately I have one of those brains that locks onto a phrase like that, replaying it in my mind and forcing me to think about it in the middle of the night when I need to sleep (I spent a sad 2 months with “Boris backs a Brexit” repeating inside my head). Apparently ‘Jockin’  means to copy, steal or follow closely and this group have decided that the visual aesthetics of the film have been appropriated from their act. Is it true? I don’t know – though I’m pretty sure the Joker and his hair came first – but I think I have some reasons why I don’t care.

13906749_1249197615120529_7439592988305933352_nImagine a school classroom where one student points at another and says “You can’t wear a hat! I wear the hats! Hat wearing is my thing!” you might deem that childish and unreasonable behaviour. You might think they’d command more respect if they stop acting like a spoiled butthurt brat with an unreasonable belief that he has a monopoly on hats. Now imagine adults doing this – High profile supposed adults – artists, no less –  doing it on the internet for the whole world to see.

download (1)Frankly, it’s fucking ridiculous. You can have wacky hair, but unless you can acquire a patent for it a patent, you don’t own wacky hair. To get that patent you’ll have to prove why you own wacky hair and prove nobody else should have it either. It’s not as easy as you think. And if what you think you own is tatts and bling and wanky wannabe gangsta posturing and just happens to shared by a big chunk of gen Y, then perhaps you should STFU and quit while you’re ahead before one of them accuses you of stealing from them.

images (4)Artists have to be protective of their work these days. It’s hard to get paid for your music. But in a world where musicians are fighting to protect their actual work – the ideas, the music, the writing, which are often appropriated by companies and other bigger artists. But that’s the actual work itself. U2‘s contribution to their field isn’t the sunglasses that Bono inexplicably wears indoors. Supposedly they have a music legacy of some merit. . The Cure might wear lipstick but it’s their music they don’t want you to steal.

download (2)Real artists don’t worry about anyone “Jockin their style” – Real artists worry about people “Jockin their substance.” If you’re an artist and if what you’re worried about is people stealing your fashion sense, then perhaps you might be seriously lacking in the substance department. Some people dress similarly. The movie industry looks to the music industry for inspiration all the time. And the reverse it true also – plenty of bands appropriate film aesthetics. And that’s generally OK because it rarely matters. If someone can steal your fashion sense, then you probably didn’t really own it. The Cure don’t worry about these things – they know that Hollywood can make a movie inspired by their aesthetic (like The Crow) and they still get to be The Cure without feeling like anything was stolen from them. I can’t help but feeling that in an age where musicians struggle to own what’s theirs, the ones who are bitching that other people like to dress in the same way are only diminishing the concerns that artists face

 

An Announcement

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This is a significant announcement in the world of Alternate Parallel Reality. Having just released the 10th APR album “Here Goes Nothing”  (of which I am very proud – get yours for free HERE) I am suspending the project indefinitely: I try never to say “never” and I’m not making any promises here, but I don’t plan to release any more albums of new music under the APR banner.

I never expected it to last this long. When you commence a musical project you might imagine reaching certain milestones and establishing a legacy or catalogue of work, but not too many musical artists imagine themselves older and nor do they think too much about still doing it a decade later and what that might be like.

It was 2003 or 2004 when I starting morphing my old project (the cringe-worthy ‘Sean X’) into APR and I wasn’t even sure that APR would be making music – I felt at the time that music wasn’t necessarily the best vehicle for my creative drive. Music didn’t seem to have the sense of cultural importance it held for me as a teenager; not the value or reverence or sense of social relevance or power for cultural change (though that might just be my subjective view…and it might just be a good thing. I’m losing the sense of urgency to treat music as a sacred cow.) At the time, I was more interested in philosophy, literature, stand-up comedy, and visual arts.

I was still writing music (I’m not sure whether “Insignificant” or “Four More Years” was the first APR track) but I didn’t intend for my focus to be on music and this site was always intended to reflect my thoughts instead.

And then I got inspired. 13 years later I have an APR legacy about which I feel very proud: 10 albums I like, some of which have reflected exactly what I wanted to communicate, some great (and some not-so-great) gigs and opportunities to share the sounds with people, being chronicled and honoured in 2014 not just for my contributions in the 1980’s but also for Alternate Parallel Reality to the Brisbane electronic music scene in a fantastic hardcover book and boxed set called BNE.

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I never “made it” in any commercial sense, and I sometimes feel as though I’ve been shouting into the void for over a decade. Creators of art of music or literature have very few metrics to measure whether their expressions are heard, enjoyed or understood or were worth doing. Sales, profits, awards, etc might be some of these but if I used them I’d be disappointed. When I morphed from Sean X I stopped selling CDs and vowed I was going to do this thing without advertising or selling my wares so, while many of my peers in music measure their success in terms of how much respect in the form of dollars are paid to their releases, I was never going to use that as a gauge. While some of my friends will site the number of Soundcloud plays they get or how high they are on the Indie post-angst folk metal psychedelic funk hamster spam charts  at wankmusic.com, I’ve never respected this as a measure of anything more than someone’s success at spamming and system-gaming, so I’ve never even tried to get this kind of “success”

There have been times where it seems nobody is listening, and there have been others where I’ve had delightful and meaningful feedback. At no point did I think I was going to be able to quit my day job for APR but that’s never been the intention. APR has been a platform to make a lot of friends, to express what I’ve needed to, and to build a catalogue of music I enjoy which is also available else to access if they like it too. APR has exceeded my humble expectations.

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So why stop? Well I’m still getting requests for remixes, etc and I should explain what’s going on and what I’ll be doing because I’ll still be here, present on this site but I won’t be working on APR music. I’m not giving up or going anywhere, but I’ll be channelling the creative drive into other areas. Every time I’ve worked on an album it’s felt like it could be the last, not sure whether I’ll have more to say. At this point in time, I feel like I have plenty to communicate, but I have reached a point where instrumental music isn’t sufficient to express it. My feelings about the role of music aren’t the same as they were in 2003 and that existential crisis is behind me, but I have a slightly different and more personal idea about the suitability to music as a channel to communicate with these days.  I’ll be working more with words in the future. Watch this space for future developments.

I still do have a couple of items to work on – a couple of remix projects that I’ll announce soon – but I’m happy to call album 10 the final one (some might even correctly deduce that the title “Here Goes Nothing” was actually a partial reference to that) and cap things off there.

There will be two more releases and they’ll be compilation albums – Distant Stars which will be a collection of the prettier and more accessible tunes like Sparkle Motion, and Dark Matters which will be some of the more energetic and esoteric work like Panopticon. This pairing will be curated as an introductory sampler or reflective review, depending on how you look at it. And as always, they’ll be completely free of charge, so I don’t want to hear any cynical “cash in” accusations that usually accompany compilations!

I’m happy with closing the APR chapter and excited about the next phase and the creative work that will entail. Thanks for your support so far and please stay in touch!

Here Goes Nothing

a2470365798_162016 is one of those wonderful rare years in which I’m able to offer two Alternate Parallel Reality releases. The new one is called “Here Goes Nothing.” I’m very proud of it but I’d like to know what you think. Details over on the Music Downloads page.

In the fuhrerbunker with Keith from Deadlights

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Keith Whitham is the evil genius behind §Wired§ which showcases exciting underground electronic music on alternate weeks (Friday nights in the UK, Saturday mornings here in Oz). The show (which you should totally check out – details on the Links page here) is Keith’s main platform to share his boundless passion for intelligent electronic music and while it often reveals deep music knowledge it also demonstrates his willingness to research and explore to find sonic gems to share. 

Given this, it should probably not be surprising to learn that this passion also translates into another platform where Keith makes music of his own. Deadlights is his project and though it feels lazy to describe it as intelligent dark ambient music (which has become such a cliche,) it kinda fits. It’s moody evocative music that isn’t written for dancefloors; But where so much music in the ambient genre aims to quiet the mind, Deadlights is interested in stimulating the brain instead. And while most “dark ambient” music I hear just refers to music that’s beatless, atonal and dreary, what Keith makes is often very pretty and melodic. Deadlights tracks are more engaging to me than most of the ambient stuff I come across, and a great deal of it’s because he has something to say and imbues it with a sense of structure.

12802734_1699479676957265_5664850861371841704_nIf I sound a bit judgmental here it’s not because I hate the genre – far from it – but that so much of it lets me down. Ambient to me is a bit like Horror films; I like the genre but I have to admit that 99% of it’s bloody awful.  I feel like the kid in The Emperor’s New Clothes when I hear a lot of indie ambient because I get impression that about 15 seconds of idea has been stretched out to 13 minutes, that the creator has cunningly chosen to create “ambient” so they won’t be called out for failing to work on melody, rhythm or structure or any kind of songwriting craft. If you’re not a musician and you want to bluff your way into calling yourself one, ambient is pretty easy to crank out.

Ahhhh… but the other 1%… the 1% of brilliant ambient makes it all worthwhile. Cousin Silas and Deadlights are both examples of what it looks like when a talented artist makes sincere art. These guys are the measure by which I am so critical of the pretenders. Yes, I’m a Deadlights fan ever since “11 Ghosts Of Chhogori” so I was pretty thrilled when I got an advance listen of the latest Deadlights release – “We Can Go Down, But We’ll Take A World With Us (Four Evenings In The Führerbunker)”

bunkercoverHunt through the Ambient listings in any music store and you’ll find lots of titles referring to nature, to desirable mental states like bliss and serenity, and with lots of words like ‘reflections.’ I’ve not personally come across a Nazi-themed ambient album before. But then you’re not going to hear any pan pipes, trickling water or whale farts here either. What we have is four lengthy meditations on a historical social phenomena, four sessions spent staring into the abyss. Four reflections on how it can happen and what we can learn from it, an urgent search for prescience to approach our own precarious situation with.

“There’s dangerous times ahead for sure” Keith tells me when I observe that he might really be making a comment on our post-911 times.  “I think that’s part of Deadlights’ writing process – looking at subjects that are not exactly taboo, but are generally put to one side of the regular persons brain as they’re a bit hard to think about seriously…the subjects have been 9/11, nuclear war, Nazism…” He agrees that this sort of thing is not what people often turn to music for, and he says his greatest struggle with Deadlights is to present the material that needs to be addressed in a way that’s palatable.

wired23This is his challenge when using the sonic medium. A visual artist could create a piece that makes a powerful statement and is aesthetically ugly but still sit in a gallery without losing any points for it’s lack of appeal. A musical artist still seeks aesthetic appeal. There are strains of music that pride themselves as being unlistenable but Keith has no interest in creating that sort of thing. We both have a laugh when I mention that the unlistenable music rarely  comes with a redeeming message or statement to justify the cacophony,

We also discuss some of the other musical acts who’ve referenced Nazism. Industrial acts who implement the insignia and aesthetic of the movement seem to glorify fascism. I mention Prodigy’s “Fat Of The Land” album titled from a Goering quote that proudly adorns the CD booklet (“Steel? We have no butter, but I ask you- Would you rather have butter or guns? … Preparedness makes us powerful. …Butter merely makes us fat” to which Prodigy’s Liam responded that he’d repurposed the quote like a sample. Prodigy aren’t Nazis – 2/5 of the band is black – but it was still borrowing the “tough guy” posturing of a fascist movement.)  Deadlights‘ approach to the subject matter is more akin to the way in which Joy Division and New Order referenced aspects of the phenomenon… a grotesque fascination and desire to understand the atrocity exhibition (to borrow a Ballardian phrase), to dwell on the signposts and markers of civilisation going awry. “How the fuck did those loonies end up with so much power?” Keith asks “(it)still boggles the brain.”

a0724486959_16Keith’s pulled off quite and achievement with “Führerbunker”; something that’s dark and ambient but still has melody and evolution and structure, a work which references an evil movement without glorifying, appropriating or preaching. The EP works on a visceral level.

Finally I have to ask why Keith doesn’t promote his work more enthusiastically – he is very reluctant to plug or play his material on his §Wired§ shows, despite the temptation it would present to many. His answer (with which I can only concur) is that while champions the self-published indie scene,  he also finds the necessary promotion to be the most distasteful aspect aspect of it. He says that while he’s proud of his releases, he’s “not a shouter” and disinclined to cheapen his brand, his relationships or his standing with shameless self-promotion. He laughs and adds that it also “might be a Brit thing.”

We Can Go Down, But We’ll Take A World With Us (Four Evenings In The Führerbunker) is uniquely engaging and enjoyable listen. It’s simultaneously pleasant and unsettling, and I’ve found more depth and complexity in it with every listen. At a mere AUD$3 I would recommend you get a copy and check out one of the more interesting sonic artists in the indie scene today. Visit This Page to download or listen for free. 

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You get what you vote for

braceBrace Yourself. Election Time Is Coming! This is a time of trepidation, or excitement, of optimism and cynicism. And I sincerely hope for everyone out there, it’s a time for reflection. A time to consider what the last few years have brought us, who we currently are as a nation and who we want to be in the future. History is something that can be learned from, and my most optimistic self hopes that we all review and consider every time we vote in a process of continuous improvement, ensuring that the trajectory of this country, through corrections, is toward a brighter future.

In the spirit of reflection, though, I recall an unpleasant exchange with a good friend right after the last election, right before the Tony party romped to power on a platform that outlined an even harsher and more conservative than we’re used to seeing from the LNP. It was a regrettable interaction that seriously damaged the friendship and went a little like this:

  • They: “My friends are all judging me. They’re saying I’m against LGBT rights and the environment and refugees and immigrants and stuff”
  • Me: “That might be because you voted against LGBT rights and the environment and refugees and immigrants and stuff”

I can’t do justice to my friend or his case by paraphrasing soundbites – he’s a very smart guy who actually thinks about policies and their implications rather than simply inheriting a bias like so many people I know. But the conversation went south and he ended up telling me that my comment wasn’t exactly dripping with class, to which I responded that the choice of wording was telling and that my manners weren’t at issue here…  and things got tense and stayed that way for an extremely long time.

Was I a jerk? Probably – I often am. Was I being a sore loser? Sure (though I was more concerned with the fate of Australia than whether I had voted for the winning team or not).  Was I wrong? I don’t believe so, even now I look back on the consequences of that election.

abbott-on-housewivesThe Tony party lied about a lot of things; “No cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS” and then did exactly the opposite. A mere ten months into his “leadership” he broke his 50th election promise, which is an impressive record. He did all sorts of things that he never indicated he’d do, from using public money to fund his vanity published book, to scamming a scholarship for his daughter and bullying the girl who blew the whistle on it, replacing school councillors with Chaplains to put his personal religious agenda into the government, and giving Prince Phillip and knighthood on Australia day. His talk about reducing the nation’s debt didn’t make us think he’s actually double it.  We knew he was sexist and creepy but it was still shocking just how much so we never guessed he’d appoint himself “Minister For Women” before  (anticipating Trump), objectifying his own daughters, his own female staffers and women he was photographed with. Nobody ever could have imagined he’d advocate paying off people smugglers. The stupid and dishonest things he did that we didn’t expect could fill volumes.

abbott-on-housewivesBut Tony was incredibly honest about some things – He openly stated that he’d resist any progressive moves to giving the LGBT community  marriage equality or any other kind of equality. He was very clear about his position on global warming and the environment, stating that climate change is “absolute crap”. He absolutely told the truth about what his position on immigrants and asylum seekers were and made it clear he was going to treat refugees really inhumanely . He made his positions on these things really clear. He was pro-Christianity, anti-gay, anti-refugee and anti-environment. He delivered completely on those promises.

abbott-on-housewivesWhich is why I said what I did. You can’t say you’re a friend to Mexicans if you vote for Trump. And you can’t say you’re a friend to the environment, the LGBT community or asylum seekers if you select the guy that says he’s going to crush them and then give them the power to do so. If you voted for the Tony party, you knowingly elected certain things – three more years without a hope of marriage equality, a massive setback to any progress that could be made on the climate front, increasing intolerance and worsening conditions for asylum seekers. Those are direct consequences of voting that way and I still can’t understand why anyone would claim to be sympathetic to these causes and elect a government so committed to crushing them.

abbott-on-housewivesIt was suggested to me at the time that these causes weren’t the reason why people voted that way, though the reasons weren’t disclosed so I can only speculate (though if it had anything to do with improving the economy, a cheaper NBN, education reform, worker’s rights or healthcare, then I’m guessing we’re all disappointed). But here’s the thing – it’s a package deal. Shitting on gays, refugees and the environment comes with the vote and though there might have been other promises that were more important to you, saying you didn’t vote against these things sounds to me like “Oh I don’t smoke because it’s cancerous, I only smoke for the flavour”

I’ve worried a lot about publishing this because I don’t want to re-ignite any ill will from a good friend, and I do apologise if I’ve misrepresented or pissed him off. but as I look back on what has happened to Australia since 2013 I don’t think there’s any doubt that we took giant strides backwards for gay rights and climate change, and that we basically became internationally known human rights offenders for how badly we treated asylum seekers. There were hundreds of other fuckups too, and even the rest of the LNP ousted Tony for being both bad and bad at it – and those three little things he promised which might have seemed small to the people who voted for him have turned out to be a pretty big deal, things that have seen us devolve into a nasty and depressing nation.

abbott-on-housewivesI’m not going to tell anyone here how to vote in the upcoming election – there will be enough people doing that – but I will urge voters to actually look at policies. Because even though it’s suddenly cool for everyone on social media to claim that “all parties are the same” it’s just not the truth. It reminds me of when guys in high school used try and sound jaded and experienced by saying “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” about naked women’s bodies which you would only think if you have not even seen one. They really are different from each other – there’s only one party you can count on to challenge the rights and wages of the working class. There’s only one party with a policy against campaign donations. Some of the parties might overlap in places but they are most definitely not all the same, so your vote really does matter. And if a politician tells you that your energy bills might be cheaper and he’s going to unleash Cthulhu onto an unsuspecting world, think before you vote for the first bit because the second bit might be the promise he actually keeps.

Recommended: The Sweetest Condition

3d0dece8d2075a94b1fd9433bf6fc823_legacy_largeMention Nashville, Tennessee and you might imagine that the music coming out of it will have a distinctive Country or Bluegrass flavour. This is very far from the whole story, though: Nashville calls itself “The Music City” and is as rightfully proud of it’s melting pot of genres and sonic styles as of it’s 100+ live music venues. It’s a city passionate about it’s music and thriving modern music scene and the home of my current favourite pop band, The Sweetest Condition.

 

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Jason & Leslie – The Sweetest Condition

I’m not sure that Jason or Leslie who together are The Sweetest Condition would necessarily agree with my description of them as a ‘pop band’ – they define their sound on their official website as a blend of “iconic sounds of the ’80s, industrial muscle of the ’90s, and cinematic soundscapes.” I agree but the term ‘pop’ as I’m using it here is the accessible melodic likeable music that uses hooks to sneak into your psyche and get you right in the feels before making it’s home in your head and your heart so when you hear it years later you’ll like it even more, want to sing along even if you’re no singer, and surprise yourself at how well you remember the words.

me as aspiring pop star, 1989

me as aspiring pop star, 1989

I resent the ‘throwaway’ tag that people assign to pop music; Good pop is often treasured for decades after the hipster alt music press politbureau’s current flavour of the week is replaced by another. Pop can totally communicate social meaning – think of Nena’s 99 Luftballoons, Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, Ed Sheeran’s A Team – and you’ll find plenty of depth in the better examples.  I absolutely and unreservedly love great pop. Exhibit A: one of my all-time favourite albums is titled “Pop” with absolutely no irony. Exhibit B: my own song-writing contributions in my old band would also be considered examples of pop. I consider pop music to be one of the most culturally significant and powerful forms of music –  and I assign it as a compliment.

a0255352598_16I can hear the industrial influences in The Sweetest Condition’s music, I can definitely feel the cinematic drama, and I can see that acts like Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails are definitely in their DNA, but to me this is great pop and does all the things that it should. Every track on their new album Edge Of The World is immediately engaging and catchy, a potential hit single in it’s own right. Yes, there are darker edges to some of the material and it definitely has substance – Fall In Line‘s challenge to throw off the chains of corporate slavery and the anti-love position adopted in Watch You Fall both spring to mind here – but we have fantastic eighties-style melodies given muscle with 21st century production and perspective. This is pop at it’s best; simultaneously sweetly seductive and seriously sinister (and the award for most astute application of alliteration goes to me!). It’s an iron fist in a velvet glove and I’m fully convinced that both Edge Of The World and The Sweetest Condition themselves would be massive if exposed to mainstream audiences

thumbI’ve had Edge Of The World on heavy rotation on my ipod this week (alternating between it and Satyricon by Meat Beat Manifesto) and while it’s one of those rare albums that I enjoy beginning to end (I’m tempted to skip at least one track from most albums in my music library) it’s the opening track Beyond The Blue that’s stuck in my head and the most likely candidate if I ever sang in the shower. They describe as “our tribute to a grand love that can only evolve between lifelong friends. The girl who waited. The raggedy man. One lost forever in the blue beyond. One left behind. One day, they’ll be reunited.”

Check out The Sweetest Condition at their official web site and check out Edge Of The World at it’s bandcamp page where you can listen to the whole lot for free or purchase it for a mere $10.

Two excellent releases this weekend that you can download for free

Music lovers are living in wonderful times. In my youth I had to move heaven and earth to access a shop that would stock cool alternative music and sell it to me for a costly “Import” price. Worse, I didn’t even get to find out about most of the cool sounds that were being made all over the planet. Now in the 21st century you don’t have to leave your living room to find the most exciting music being produced all over the globe and you can get it instantly, often for little or no cost.

This weekend a couple of great EPs got released by friends of mine and they’ve both made their works available to you free of charge. Let me tell you about them. I would describe both releases as minimalist, sexy, subtle, sinister and cool, though they’re very different from each other.

a0611464665_16Sky High Diamonds – “Ghosting The Edge”

Sky High Diamonds is my friend Sarah in Bristol, UK. This self-produced three-track UP is an amazing balance of strength and sensitivity that pulses tribal rhythms and is beautifully broken. Comparisons that spring to mind are PJ Harvey, Fiona Apple‘s song Container, some of the rhythmic aspects of The Creatures and Miranda Sex Garden, though Sky High Diamonds doesn’t sound like any of these – she’s definitely got her own thing going on. Ghosting The Edge has gotten a few plays here in the last 24 hours and it only gets better, so I suspect it might find a place in your heart and home too. Sarah’s offering it completely free of charge at Bandcamp HERE 

a4246708751_16The Black Hundred – “Freedom Is A Lonely State”

The Black Hundred is my friend James, formerly from Melbourne but now residing in Sweden.  James’ work all has a cinematic quality though this release is more ambient than his previous release Orwell which evoked images of a big automobile gliding down the freeway at night on the way to a sinister meeting. Freedom Is A Lonely State feels more like feeling one’s way around an empty building looking for clues about what happened here. My closest sonic comparison might be Dead Man Ray (thinking especially of the Trap album) but probably a better indicator are the literary references James often makes, Track 1 here is titled Thomas Pynchon though he has also referenced George Orwell, Shakespeare, Frank Herbert’s Dune novels. Even though there is a chilled ambience to Freedom Is A Lonely State it’s got lyrics, structure and a sincerity that makes it a bit more than background easy listening. This album is a mature slow burner that will endear itself with repeated listens. I recommend it highly and James is offering it on a free (or name your own price) basis over at Bandcamp.

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Sky High Diamonds

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The Black Hundred

I don’t often say that the best things in life are free, but when I do it’s usually about the amazing music being produced by my extremely creative and passionate friends. Check them out – they’ll be grateful for the interest and you’ll become the coolest person on your block for supporting vibrant and interesting modern alternative music.