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A Paratextual Art: Music Criticism in the Age of Free Labour

Simon Price A Parasitic But Necessary Art

As an amateur music critic, I read Simon Price’s reaction to both Will Self’s review of Mark Kermode’s book Hatchet Job, and to the related concern of the recent laying off of all of The Independent’s arts critics, “A Parasitic But Necessary Art,” with interest. The gist of Self’s argument is that arts critics have outworn their use in the digital age and that the average person doesn’t need them anyway because s/he doesn’t have the time to engage with their criticism and would rather consult crowdsourced recommendations to help her/him choose the art s/he will consume. Price argues against Self’s conception of the unnecessary critic and presents his profession as an important one of “informed subjectivity,” and I would agree with the value of a good critic who works within Price’s terms. However, the market doesn’t necessarily value, nor reward critics in the same way. And in these neoliberal times, the market rules in every realm, in places it has no business being the gatekeeper, and the so-called “democratizing” Internet has been used as the utopian sop for those unhappy with the state of sanctioned media, often overlooking the fact that most of the contents of the Internet are either just as market-driven, or operating on affective labour of volunteers. Self’s cynical perspective makes more sense in such a context.

What has happened to music criticism in the last couple of decades? I can only answer as a music fan who has been actively reading music criticism for just over a decade. Clearly the music press itself has declined and in many cases shut down, leaving a handful of British publications hanging on by a thread and even fewer in North America. In their place, music websites like Pitchfork, Stereogum, Drowned in Sound, and The Quietus have assembled massive teams of writers to keep the content coming 24/7 rather than weekly or monthly. I assume that remuneration for the writers on these sites is modest if available at all, and so the actual living of music journalists and critics has become a scarcity. In the process, the music critic “stars” have passed into history; I certainly can’t name any music critics who have come along in the last decade that would be as recognizable as Paul Morley, Simon Reynolds, Julie Burchill, or Simon Price himself. Not that I want to romanticize the old guard too much (I have no warm and fuzzy ideas about Nick Kent slinking around commando in his tatty leather trousers), but as Price says, one of the major problems is the lack of personality, style, and voice in most published music criticism these days. Music criticism has fragmented along with the rest of the post-post-modern world, so we all just cling to the names we already know, or to the few anonymous bloggers we manage to trust, who may abandon their blogs within a year or two due to other life pressures.

Though Price generously states that “the amateurs’ freedom from industry pressure means that they’re immune, at least in theory, to the catastrophic loss of nerve which has afflicted the professional music press,” I don’t believe that most amateurs writing about music in blogs and e-zines are serving a terribly critical purpose. On the whole, music blogs read, at best, like fanzines, at worst, like press releases. Many blogs consist of posts that are blurbs taken straight from the news release bumf that floods their inboxes. It’s lazy, but perhaps no less so than many newspapers have traditionally done to fill space. Quantity over quality often wins the day, as the Internet medium itself imposes immediacy and currency as the measure of reputability and significance. The room for thoughtfulness and thoroughness is shrinking beneath the pressures of 24/7 streaming content, and your website ostensibly loses credibility via infrequent updates with new content (at this rate, our blog is at rock bottom of the credibility scale). The webpage format, let alone the blog post, is not conducive to lengthy in-depth discussion (our blog fails on this account, too; we may as well have called it tl;dr).

Speaking from my own experience, which is admittedly limited to the last four years of blogging, bloggers often just don’t have the time to spend on music they don’t like. For many of us, music blogging is not so much affective labour, as it is disaffected labour, or work we do because our “real” work isn’t what we would have chosen for an ideal career. Call it the Kafka life of after-work, unrecognized toil. Even though I consider James Murphy to be my spirit animal, I have a hard time believing that I will kickstart my new dazzling writing career in my thirties. I could very well savage numerous albums on a daily basis (perhaps not as elegantly as someone like Neil Kulkarni), but I feel as though the exercise would eventually bore readers and myself, and the sheer time wasted on mediocrity would outweigh the potential catharsis. Whilst the big music publications may not be able to afford to take risks, the amateur critics cannot afford the time. We must also consider the idealistic, altruistic stance that bloggers and independent music websites take, standing up to challenge the mainstream whilst championing little-known artists, often preaching to the converted. It’s an insular world of happy promotion and obscure discoveries, but it hardly seems substantial or influential, at least not in the way music criticism and journalism often used to operate. It also doesn’t quite seem like a way forward.

It’s not just arts criticism that’s lost its currency, but critical thinking itself. The same arguments levelled against arts criticism are being used in academia. In much the same way as the “death of music criticism” has been circulating in the past decade, so has the “death of the humanities.” Price says the job of good critics is to provide effective analysis and contextualization for the art they’re writing about, and the same could be said about academic scholars, especially those who work in areas outside of the STEM (science/technology/engineering/medicine) disciplines. Sadly, often the defence for the humanities is framed by the very neoliberal terms that are strangling them: they are said to be helpful for those interested in globalized business and politics, or for interpreting the reams of data being generated every second (the connection between the humanities and technology has become further substantiated with the trendy new discipline of digital humanities, of which I’m still quite sceptical). This quantification of the study of what it means to be a human is missing the point. Not everything about the human experience should be justified by how it fares in the marketplace, or how it advances “practical” infrastructure, or how it manages Big Data. Perhaps there’s an issue of semantics here. What would happen if we used “creators” and “experiencers” instead of “producers” and “consumers” in relation to culture? Words matter.

Of course this is not to say that music criticism and academia are often regarded as the best-suited bedfellows. As the NME reader backlash against the esoterica of Paul Morley and Ian Penman shows, there’s always been some trepidation where music criticism and intellectualism meet, and unfortunately, the reaction to challenging, potentially alienating, work can be accusations of “pretension.” Though I can see how semiotic and post-structuralist theory and popular music may sit more easily together in an academic journal, I’d much rather see this kind of challenge in the music press than the underwhelming, soulless detritus found in much of the music criticism today. For all their flaws, Morley and Penman provoked a reaction, which is more exciting than anemic disinterest and acceptance. Music and the music press should ideally be reflective of each other and in dialogue, and I think the post-punk of the late 70s and early 80s did speak intelligently (or argued – see The Cure’s “Desperate Journalist”) in conversation with the likes of Morley and Penman. Sadly, the music being championed by the music press now is equally reflective of the articles and reviews written about them. The lowest common denominator propping up the bottom line.

I suppose it’s needless to say that I’m on the side of the humanities and arts criticism; I just don’t see any effective way to shift the current prevailing attitude towards them. My hope is that as long as there are humans, there are bound to be humans interested in their own meaning and who can’t help but express their ideas in interesting ways. To me, all good arts criticism allows for a second level of engagement and enjoyment of the art itself. Criticism becomes one of the many paratexts, just as important as music videos, album covers, and memorabilia, and often serves as an important piece of the artists’ archives and mythos. Since eighty percent of musicians and songwriters often can’t articulately explain their art or their intentions, critics become very important interpreters and interlocutors, making connections between the seemingly disparate and inspiring you to investigate further art and ideas. Music critics’ subjectivity is their most important quality; it is that personal response that interacts with your own personal response, making criticism a key component of the music fan experience. Admittedly, I appreciate this subjectivity more than a critic’s technical knowledge of music. Often you become a fan of particular critics just as much as a fan of the music being discussed. Is there hope for professional arts criticism, or the humanities in general? Simon Price concludes his essay with the warning that “A world with uncriticised art gets the art it deserves.” Another way of putting the situation would be you get what you pay for. And there’s only so much free labour that music lovers can perform in a world dependent on market logic.

A Billion Balconies Facing the Sun – Manic Street Preachers

Over the Border – Saint Etienne

Kill Yr Idols – Sonic Youth

Mere Pseud Mag. Ed. – The Fall

Desperate Journalist – The Cure

There Is Nothing Wrong With Hating Rock Critics – of Montreal

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Myxomatosis #9 – Like a Monkey With a Miniature Cymbal

Last summer I presented a paper called “MP3 as Contentious Message: When Infinite Repetition Fuses with the Acoustic Sphere” as part of a symposium on repetition, series, and narrative for young people. Yes, I scratched my head about how my paper fit in with narrative, too. However, I was thankful to be invited to participate, and it prompted me to put together some thoughts I had been mulling over for the past four years or so since my thesis on MP3 blogs. And now the hope is that it will be published as part of an essay collection, which is why I’ve been working for a couple of months on the second revision.

My argument uses Marshall McLuhan’s theories about typographic/mechanical media and aural/electronic media to explore the problem of monetary value for MP3s (and other lossy compression audio files for that matter). I contend that the possibility of infinite, exact repetition of MP3s is a hyperextension of the mechanical medium, which McLuhan associates with industrial, linear logic and with abstraction. At the same time, the MP3 is an aural/electronic medium that functions in a non-linear, simultaneous way. This hybridization makes it an object of the postindustrial, postmodern moment of late capitalism, where the increase of immaterial, affective labour challenges a system based on private property. To attempt to assign monetary value to the MP3 often means fetishization of analogue technology and its materials, the replacement of material commodities with access and social experience, and the insertion of human agency, including fans and artists, as content of the medium. In the case of material fetishization, MP3s can precipitate further repetition in the form of parody and nostalgia in their analogue, material counterparts. I specifically look at the examples of Pledge Music, Corporate Records, and Spotify. Along the way, there are references to Walter Benjamin, Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Attali, Frederic Jameson, Jonathan Sterne, Mark Poster, Marcus Boon, Michael Hardt, and Antonio Negri. The essay also features of Montreal, Radiohead, Gang of Four, The Indelicates, Nine Inch Nails, Imogen Heap, Einstürzende Neubauten, Momus, Amanda Palmer, and perhaps the most eccentric rockstar of them all, McLuhan himself.

What better way to take a step back from all of this theory and repetition fatigue than to make a mix about repetition?

Download Myxomatosis #9 here.

Repeat – Manic Street Preachers

Dot Dash – Wire

Don’t Copy Me – Robots in Disguise

Repetition – The Fall

Infinity Guitars – Sleigh Bells

Repeater Beater – Mew

Repetition – David Bowie

Repetition – TV on the Radio

Nothing New Under the Sun – Thomas Dolby

Repetition Kills You – The Black Ghosts

I’m in Love With My Clone – Hyperbubble

Strange Nostalgia For the Future – Cut Copy

Over and Over – Hot Chip

On Repeat – LCD Soundsystem

On ‘n On – Justice

Repetition – The Soft Moon

Repeater (How Does It Feel?) (live) – Spacemen 3

Replicas – Tubeway Army

Repetition – Information Society

Joy in Repetition – Prince

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Myxomatosis #5 – Independence Days

Late, late, for an important date…I know, this mix is late.

As a belated tribute to Record Store Day a couple of weeks ago, I want to feature some independence for this mix. Instead of independent record shops, which are hugely important to the indie music fan ecosystem, I will be putting a spotlight on some fantastic independent record labels. During the 70s and 80s there was a boom in independent labels, birthing such legends as Rough Trade, Postcard, Stiff, Sub Pop, Cherry Red, Dischord, Sarah, Mute, Heavenly, Slumberland, and 4AD. Alex Ogg documents the British side of this story in Independence Days: The Story of UK Independent Record Labels (not the most fluidly written book, but a useful resource nonetheless). The freedom and immediacy of DIY allowed for releases that likely would not have been available otherwise. A lack of resources and knowledge can often be the catalyst for intense creativity. Providing an alternative to major label acts was an exhilarating development fraught with the conflict between idealistic art and realistic finances. Sometimes it meant “selling out” more than cashing in. As one Audio Antihero tagline proclaims, independent labels are often “Specialists in Commercial Suicide,” but the key word is “specialists.” Like independent record shops, these small, specific labels, founded by fans and musicians, are carefully created and curated, serving the consummate music lovers who can’t find what they need in the mainstream and who long for a bit of serendipity in their musical experiences.

At this time of global hyper-acceleration, independent bands and their labels can be particularly ephemeral, and ultimately, I suppose quite collectible. They can pop up online for a couple of years only to disappear in a cloud of cache. These days, a music blog can often lead to a sideline in the DIY record industry (17 Seconds and Song, by Toad spring to mind). New business models abound. Swedish indie label Labrador functions as a labour of love whose owners hold day jobs, and The Indelicates-founded Corporate Records is the ultimate DIY model, where the non-profit label is really a facilitator rather than a company. In this age of digital distribution, Soundcloud, and Bandcamp, independent labels have become more available than ever, but have also often become even more innovative about how they present the physical versions of their music. Many twee labels have opted for the cute, crafty, and diminutive aesthetic, selling 3” compact discs or wrapping their discs in soft fabrics and glitter glue. From plush toy ghosts sold by Sways Records in Salford, to werewolf brooches and wooly socks from Antique Beat in London, music has found a home in an ever-expanding universe of tangible contexts. In the case of Fika Recordings, the label plays off its name, the Swedish word for “coffee break,” and includes a tea bag and cake recipe with each purchase. Gerry Loves Records, a Scottish label which releases vinyl and cassettes, pays such close attention to aesthetic detail I’m often afraid to open the handmade record sleeves. These are not so much cynical marketing ploys (with these kinds of negligible profit margins, would you really bother hand-stitching toys and knitting socks if not for other, more creative, purposes?), but instead, as accents to the worlds these labels create. These small, fan-led aesthetics become unique, self-contained ways of being that co-habit with the styles of music being released. Web designers, graphic artists, writers, club promoters, crafters, flash game designers, and filmmakers can all join forces with musicians (or be musicians themselves) to create cultural enclaves where music is just one of their many dimensions. The Indelicates are an outstanding case study. They strike me as highly talented people who cannot stop being creative; whether designing necklaces, making fudge, or writing picture books, they act on ventures as the ideas occur to them: adventure capitalism, perhaps.

Incidentally, Gerry Loves Records also demonstrates another aspect of independent labels that I enjoy so much: the personal interaction. I received a hand-written thank-you letter from Andy Lobban, who co-runs the tiny Edinburgh-based label and who also happens to have been born in my hometown Winnipeg. This genial kind of gesture has become common practice among indie labels; whether a handwritten postcard from Matthew Young at Song, By Toad Records, or a personal message scrawled by Keith TOTP across the outside of the padded envelope, they are gracious acts that make you smile.

Independent labels featured in this mix:

Audio Antihero
Bleeding Gold Records
But is it Art?
Cloudberry Records
Corporate Records
Filthy Little Angels
Fortuna Pop
Gerry Loves Records
Hello Thor Records
Labrador Records
Odd Box Records
Riot Factory
Stroboscopic Records
Song, By Toad Records

If you like what you hear, support these labels, and reach out to those as-yet-undiscovered, strange, little cul-de-sacs of cyberspace to keep discovering the intriguing stuff. Welcome to the impractical, wonderful domain of split-singles, vinyl EPs, fanzines, and cassette-only releases.

Download Myxomatosis #5 here.

The Same Rules Always Apply – Captain Polaroid
Dinosaur – Sarandon
Pearshaped – Milky Wimpshake
Agnostic Nightmare – Slottet
I Hate Your Band – Keith TOTP
The End of the Affair – Friday Bridge
UR Road – Sameblod
Emitter – Miaoux Miaoux
Wojtek the Bear – Fighting Kites
Like a Bird Pulling Up at a Worm – We Show Up on Radar
Intercity Baby – The Kensingtons
Optimism is Disappointing – Hehfu
Walking on Eggshells – King Post Kitsch
This World – stanleylucasrevolution
What You Don’t Have – Meursault
12 000 Sentinels – Benjamin Shaw
French Magazines – Rock Stone
Towerblock – Trapped in Kansas
Why Do Today What You Can Put Off Until Tomorrow? – Pelle Carlberg
Nothing Much to Say – The Librarians
Feral Fanzine Frenzy – Falling & Laughing

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Stillborn Renaissance Man: Ramblings on the Return of Lawrence and Felt: The Book

Felt Book

This year’s Record Store Day at Into the Music turned out to be a rather notable one. Though I harboured some absurd hope that I may find a copy of the RSD 7” release of Go-Kart Mozart’s “New World in the Morning,” I soon discovered that the best I was going to do in the middle of the RSD melee was a vinyl copy of McLusky’s McLusky Do Dallas and a 7” copy of “Kick Out the Jams” on vinyl the colour of raspberry cheesecake. However, in a twist of fate perhaps even more absurd than my wish for “New World in the Morning,” the find that made me weak in the knees was a used vinyl copy of The Strange Idols Pattern and Other Short Stories. So weak, in fact, I managed to miss the second Felt album in the bin, which Laura duly purchased. These are the first signs of Lawrence that I’ve ever seen in this record shop in the ten years I’ve been a customer. It was a happy and strange coincidence considering the resurgence of interest in Lawrence in the past couple of years. It used to be difficult just to track down copies of Felt CDs – at least where I live. Nine years ago, Cherry Red Records decided to reissue the Felt albums on CD; they were a rather Spartan affair without nostalgic liner notes and without much beyond the cardboard sleeve designed by Paul Kelly. I began to collect them several years back. Then last year, Californian duo Girls released a limited edition heart-shaped piece of vinyl entitled “Lawrence,” an aptly woozy instrumental tribute to the reclusive frontman of Felt, Denim, and Go-Kart Mozart. Then came Kelly’s documentary film, Lawrence of Belgravia, which originally screened at the British Film Institute last year and is currently making its way across select UK cinemas. Having heard Lawrence talk about it on radio shows and having read numerous articles about it, I’m desperate to see the film; however, I suppose I have to wait just as I seemingly have to wait to purchase even a digital version of “New World in the Morning” (the odd limitations of copyright and distribution in the international iTunes system). Lawrence began giving more interviews on radio and online, and even hosted his own Domino Radio show. Even Tim Burgess expressed his love for Lawrence—something I found a bit odd until I noticed Burgess’s Lawrence-inflected intonation on part of the chorus in The Charlatans’ “North Country Boy” when it came on the radio a couple of weeks ago. Another more recent development concerning Lawrence, perhaps to build on the recent interest, was the limited edition of 1000 books of Felt photographs, quite simply entitled Felt: The Book.

This book, published by Fabrice Couillerot, Lora Findlay, and Paul Kelly with First Third Books, and signed by Lawrence, is a fitting tribute to the band, somehow exclusive and luxurious whilst plain, clean, and unassuming. The greyish covers complement the many black-and-white images inside; the simple word “felt,” in elegant, light sans-serif, is engraved in the front cover, a shadow melting into the general greyness, a half-impression, an indentation begging to be discovered. In fact, the few colour photographs that do appear in the book seem exceptionally lurid and startling, as though they’re encroaching on the soft, monochromatic world of Felt’s vintage timelessness. Bob Stanley writes the foreword, and is suitably enthusiastic in the way music fanatics often are, assigning life-changing properties to purchasing Let the Snakes Crinkle Their Heads to Death. He highlights Felt’s gauziness, mystery, and lack of commercial success, the latter being the most common narrative when discussing Lawrence generally. It is a narrative that Lawrence perpetuates himself – the first photo in the collection, which is of three-year-old Lawrence looking on in distress as his older sister holds the toy she’s taken from him, is accompanied by his text: “A portentous snap – so prescient. The prize has been swiped and he stands alone – miserable.” Stanley ends his foreword with his first meeting of Lawrence in 1989, a meeting he is glad took place at the end of the Felt run because it preserved the romantic enigma of the band for him yet allowed him access to the Denim years. The Saint Etienne, Kevin Pearce, Heavenly, and Lawrence connection forms one big, blurry, beautiful mess. Paul Kelly, who used to play with Saint Etienne, directed Finisterre, a fascinating psychogeographic journey through London. It featured a Saint Etienne soundtrack, which, in turn, owed a debt to the likes of Felt’s Let the Snakes Crinkle Their Heads to Death. And of course, Finisterre also featured voiceovers from Lawrence. And a script largely written by Kevin Pearce. Theirs is a world of fanzines, cult successes, indie mythology, fervent fandom, modish style, and beauty in urban mundanity. It is a world that was brilliantly rendered in the series of stills in Finisterre, and also in the stills of Felt: The Book.

Whether Lawrence intended it to be or not, the book is a document of his own narcissism and Type A personality. Of course the book is also indicative of the singular vision and divorcement from reality he writes of in his introductory paragraph in the book. Perhaps they are the same thing. They are attributes that made Felt both extraordinary and impossible. Lawrence openly writes about his frustration with his band members, and what he perceived to be a lack of seriousness and passion for the band. At the same time, he chooses band members according to how lustrous their hair is; he chooses guitars according to which one would look the best. He admits to his own paranoia about photographs of himself, asking to keep all negatives, so they wouldn’t end up in the wrong hands. To accompany a series of photographs of the band in his bedroom, Lawrence writes: “From day one I was reluctant to take photographs outdoors because I refused to be at the mercy of the elements. I think that was a particularly wise decision from one so young.” He outlines the importance of the band’s cohesive look, ostensibly one he created himself: the checked shirts to invoke Richard Lloyd on the cover of Marquee Moon and John McKay on the sleeve for Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “The Staircase (Mystery)”; thin Doc Marten soles; 50s-style peg trousers, a look which would later be pillaged by the pretentious S.C.U.M. (alarmingly, lead singer, Thomas Cohen, even seems to have stolen Lawrence’s “Primitive Painters” hat and the moody glare from beneath a dark fringe); and old leather jackets, which had to be different from the types of jackets worn by The Ramones.

In a striking two-page spread following Lawrence’s anecdote about touring Europe with his disinterested bandmates, Lawrence’s head appears in the bottom corner in front of Edvard Munch’s “The Worker on His Way Home”; he is dwarfed by the large nightmarish painting of hollow-eyed workers, who look like they are either dissolving or emanating from within flames. With his eyes downcast, Lawrence takes on a martyr-like pose in front of a strong indictment of industrial labour. He comes to embody both the cultivated apartness of many of the images and the text he provides for a different set of photographs: “Any activity that demanded effort was, in the end, left to me. Even acts of vanity.” A photo of Lawrence’s reflection in an ornate mirror, entitled “Me and my mirror in my room,” speaks to the essence of Lawrence on so many levels, it may as well be a tower block. The text beside the photo makes me more uncomfortable than most of the other pieces about his control issues. Lawrence recounts his time with a girlfriend named Vikki, who he convinced to steal a mirror from a hotel room: “Vikki was a great kid – I could get her to do anything.”

Another fascinating dimension of the book is found in the opening pages of each year/section organizing the groups of images from 1980 to 1989. Each year begins with a page of short lists of cultural texts, ranging from film titles to book titles, from album titles to live performances, from documentaries to music press articles. The implication is that these were important influences on Lawrence’s art and thought during these specific years. Just as meticulously curated as his photo archives, which he had kept organized and labelled and could present to Couillerot when the idea for this book came about, these lists present a highly specific construction of reality to accompany the carefully chosen representation by the photographs. Lawrence’s interests are perhaps both expected and unexpected. The post-punk indie favourites, like Joy Division, Sudden Sway, Echo and the Bunnymen, Win, Fire Engines, The Teardrop Explodes, and Orange Juice, in his lists seem natural as inspirations for his own DIY aesthetic. The Pop Art/Andy Warhol/Factory references and Beat Poets also seem to fit with the romance of the loner, the extreme control over one’s own microcosm and image, and the absorption with self-destructive fame. I can also understand Lawrence’s affinity for documents of deliberate isolation from society, including the two Edies of the Grey Gardens documentary and Marjorie Wallace’s coverage of “The Silent Twins,” June and Jennifer Gibbons (the latter also interestingly taken up by Nicky Wire in the lyrics of “Tsunami,” the Manic Street Preachers being yet another node on the Heavenly, Kevin Pearce, Saint Etienne network). Then there are films like Taxi Driver and Apocalypse Now, which probe the darkness and corruption of humanity in the context of the Vietnam War, and obscure road movies like Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins. Additionally, Lawrence includes films that deal with ostensibly real street narratives about young people, including Pixote and Wir Kinder Vom Bahnhof Zoo. I suppose, in a sense, all of these texts are about being outside of society, whether through escape, rejection, revenge, or gritty voyeurism. These little lists without explanation are what you would imagine to be on Lawrence’s Facebook profile page if he were to have one.

Why the seemingly recent flurry of interest in Lawrence? Can it all be due to Lawrence of Belgravia? Or is the time finally right for an artist like him? The Internet nurtures the niche and the cult, and Lawrence has pretty much always been a cult. His mystique and power comes from being a timeless artist perpetually out of his time, and now time has become eternally present. Now everyone has become a solipsist in her/his private, yet public, corner of cyberspace. We can all follow our singular visions and realities, and cultivate and display very particular versions of ourselves, just as Lawrence always has. Lawrence also makes sense within the paradox of extreme intangibility and tangibility in the digital world; this duality of the current digital age both allows for increased disposability, mobility, and immediacy, but encourages an extreme sort of fetishism for the physical, material, and artisan, in ever more limited editions, in response to the immaterial of the digital. Lawrence thrives in the climate of exclusivity, limited editions, and limited engagements. He is a walking exhibit of archive fever, an aspect of culture that has only intensified in recent decades with the possibility of infinite archives and memory trumping history. Not only does Lawrence have an apparently encyclopaedic knowledge of indie culture, but he also owns a well-curated, enviable record collection. After playing Nightingales’ “Idiot Strength” during his Domino Radio stint, Lawrence makes the off-hand comment of “I haven’t heard that record in twenty years because my records have been in storage”; a world of subtext from the man who was living in London hostels for years due to lack of funds, but who managed to retain his extensive, eclectic vinyl collection. He embodies a false sense of mobility and minimalist living, a tension that could be definitive of these latter days of capitalism. Lawrence, the consummate contradiction, highlighting the contradictions inherent in society itself. Alan McGee once wrote that Lawrence “wanted to be renowned in the underground like Andy Warhol, but simultaneously felt he should be writing hits for Cliff Richards,” an artist in a liminal position of high and low, cult and superstardom. In a world where global superstars and major record labels are on their way to becoming obsolete, Lawrence seems to be vindicated, and he fits quite perfectly.

Lawrence the Man Who Was Not With It

In Felt: The Book, Lawrence states, “I’m quite averse to renaissance men and dilettantes.” In quite ornery, contradictory fashion, he has experienced a rebirth of sorts, and in simultaneous projects. By relinquishing control and allowing himself to become the object rather than the subject in the last few years, Lawrence’s unbeaten path has finally converged with the more travelled networks across the wireless globe. The last photograph in the book is one by Donna Ranieri; it is of Lawrence holding Herbert Gold’s The Man Who Was Not With It, an image which, incidentally, was also used as cover art for Veronica Lake’s 7” named after the Gold book. As with many of the Felt photographs, the image works on several levels. There’s a certain mercy in Lawrence’s self-belief; other eccentric, but brilliant artists have been destroyed by self-doubt, cutting their work, and often their lives, short. Instead, Lawrence has bided his time, remaining stubbornly true to his own artistic instincts. His thought processes may be baffling, and sometimes maddening, but they are beguiling, too. And, in the process, he may just have become with it.

After seven years, the next, highly-anticipated Go-Kart Mozart album On the Hot Dogs Street will be released this June. I’ve already ordered my LP copy. Order yours here. On Gideon Coe’s radio show last week, Lawrence also talked about the release of a mini-album of electronic music, so keep a watch for that as well. Copies of Felt: The Book are still available – order here.

Declaration – Felt

Until the Fools Get Wise – Felt

Sunlight Strings – Felt


Myxomatosis #1 – Acceptable in Electric Dreams

This is the first in our bi-weekly mixtape series, Myxomatosis. If everything goes according to plan, Laura and I will alternate mix posts every second Sunday. Factor in the daylight savings time change, and my mix is nearly on time.

Simon Reynolds has been getting quite a bit of mileage out of his book-length theory on “retromania,” a combination of Derridean hauntology and prosthetic memory. Most recently, he’s inspired an entire issue of Spin, which has relaunched as a bi-monthly, and bid us to “raid the past, dream the future.” Realizing that the digital, networked environment has irrevocably shifted and altered the monetary value of the intangible and tangible, Spin has turned back to previous mandates of incorporating cultural analysis into the music magazine format, a recognition which I thought would have/should have happened sooner. You have to capitalize on what defines the medium you’re using, and bite-sized album reviews, superficial short features on uninteresting, but popular artists, and up-to-the-minute news blurbs are much better suited to the online environment. Now if only the NME could remember its own roots…it still probably wouldn’t be as effective as The Quietus.

Nevertheless, I do find it interesting that the only way to relaunch is to rewind. Even Wax Poetics celebrated its 10th Anniversary and redesign, including a new logo, with a special issue on…Prince. Or perhaps I’m only noticing this retroactivity because I’m now of a certain age. Maybe this is how people of my generation begin an unseemly Mojo/Uncut devolution. It could also be the reason the latest meta-Muppets film had both such a sentimental and unsettling effect on me. I felt like it had broken into my brain and used my memories like some insidious soma against me, the predictable marketing demographic that I evidently am. But I almost cried during “Rainbow Connection.” You also end up forgiving everything because of how self-reflexive and self-aware the film is. Using similar logic, Simon Reynolds manages to find something positive about Lana Del Rey rather than about Adele in his article in the relaunched Spin.

While I agree that we’ve entered a hyper-accelerated culture and an infinite present where we turn back to the past faster than it can settle into becoming the past, I don’t know if I feel particularly alarmed about it. Originality is a tricky term to begin with, and the more you learn, the less things seem truly original. There often seems to be as much joy in repetition as there is in puzzling out new things. Time, the companion in all of this retromania-mania, is equally as fraught a term. It may be that the only decade I actually lived through in real time was the 1980s. Everything seems new and present to you when you’re under ten.

I’m a Calvin-Harris-huggable child of the 80s. Courtesy of my older sister, I spent my first seven years hearing the sounds of Cyndi Lauper, Billy Idol, Van Halen, Pat Benatar, and the Footloose soundtrack. I religiously watched Pee-wee’s Playhouse and Muppet Babies. I also absorbed The Neverending Story, The Princess Bride, and The Little Shop of Horrors, and as stated on the About page on this blog, I watched Labyrinth roughly 40 times in the third grade. And perhaps even more strangely, I relived the 80s in the 90s on a diet of syndication and synthesizers, consuming John Hughes films and the Back to the Future trilogy just as readily as New Order, Prince, and Duran Duran. I always did have an overdeveloped sense of nostalgia–even as a child. I had a panic attack at age seven when the year turned into 1990.

I needn’t have worried about missing the 90s the first time around because I not only relived the 90s in the noughties, but I continue to do so in this decade with the Britpop zeitgeist zombie rearing its nationalistic head at this year’s Olympics. It just so happens that the Internet has made it possible for everything to be syndicated.

In this week’s mix, you’ll find a medley of authentic 80s fare and neo-80s revivalists. Make connections where you will.

Download Myxomatosis 01.

Super Popoid Groove – Win

Wild Boys – Jef Barbara

Dirty Mind – Prince

Rocket – Goldfrapp

Don’t You (Forget About Me) – Simple Minds

Reunion – M83

Your Silent Face – New Order

Blink and You’ll Miss a Revolution – Cut Copy

Marble – LoneLady

Nostalgia (7″ Version) – The Chameleons

Changing the Rain – The Horrors

The Romance of the Telescope – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

Nuit – Xeno and Oaklander

Cymophane – Care

Enola – Black Umbrella

Golden Age Saturday – Cleaners From Venus

Beverly Kills – Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

Crush the Flowers – The Wake

Punching in a Dream – The Naked and Famous

We Have Everything – Young Galaxy

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