Death to Death

I can be cynical. I am cynical. I tell people why. I tell them, look, if I assume the worst, it's only because I want to leave myself as much scope for being pleasantly surprised as possible. Or even elated.

But it also means that I have to be right sometimes.

I was sort of ready for that cop out in Ferguson to be exonerated, but, you know, after a lengthy trial. Not now. Actually, I totally expected this shit. I just hated myself for doing so.

I've always felt very uneasy about what unfolded in Ferguson. 

Of course, the primary cause of the unease is obvious. Just in case you are confused, I'll say it. Racism, institutional racism, the legacies of slavery and segregation (voluntary and in-), the overuse of force on the part of police, the distrust of young black men, who are incarcerated at an alarming rate because they are not needed, because they are not wanted, because racism, yes, but gentrification and capitalism too. There's probably more I'm forgetting right now, though not forever. There's too much wrong to forget it all.

But from here I'm going to be a bit more, I don't know.

I guess there's too things I want to talk about, without eloquence.

First off, I've been thinking a lot about white male privilege (mostly in the context of feminism, which is something I rarely write about, due to feeling unequipped to do so, but think about often). I think sometimes that those who don't have the benefit of privilege don't seem to understand its nature. It's not power. It's indifference. Yeah, white guys still run the world, but most of us aren't those guys. For most of us, our successes and, mostly, really, failures, are judged as being our own, instead of conditioned by or symbolic of larger social forces. That's the "freedom". 

Maybe I am not explaining myself well. Let's just say I get beat up in a bar tomorrow night. All I'm saying is that, assuming it's another white guy who did it, there will be no larger symbolic meaning to it. Even "better", I got harassed walking down the street today. I didn't do anything but bum a smoke to this person and found myself in a very uncomfortable situation. Ultimately, nothing happened. And it didn't mean anything. There's no recourse or complaint to be made unless I actually want to hate on poor people. Which I don't and I don't.

I guess what I am saying is that I don't know how to fix racism, but I know what the lack of it feels like. I've been told, and it has always made me sad, that I will never understand what it is to be black. Sad because I care. Because racism makes me sick. It's a waste of time and life. Which seems like a pretty underwhelming way of expressing anger until you actually really consider what those words mean. There are guys who are just going to be in jail and that's that. All the people before them. Parents and grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents ad infinitum. All that effort, the suffering, not just the suffering borne of racism, but the suffering of life shared by all, endured only towards the hope of a better tomorrow, all ending in a guy maybe jumping a turnstile in New York and then maybe just "resisting arrest", which, in many cases, is just the body saying "ow, you are hurting me", and maybe a scuffle in a prison yard and suddenly it could be years instead of months and it's basically all over given the likelihood of recidivism 'cause what jobs are there for a convicted felon anyways.

I digressed there a bit. If I can never understand what it feels like to be black, then the converse is true. As I said, I know what the lack of racism feels like, and it is indifference. We're all, all of us caught in a trap. A sad one. The fact of the matter is, I think innocent people will die far into the future. Sometimes even by accident. The end of racism will be when racism isn't actually considered to be a factor.

Consider Ferguson in a "post-racial" society. No riots, everyone would wait patiently for the verdict. The biggest issue would be - why is that cop riding alone in his car? This would all go so much smoother with another witness (post-racism we might even actually trust two cops to tell the truth at the same time!). Should anyone really have been shot? Gee!

That the kid was black and the cop was white would mean just as much as much as eye color.

I bet there are actually some people out there who are genuinely not racist who genuinely wish that it could be this way right now (I understand, but that means asking a lot more of black people than white people. Are you really prepared to ask? Do you really think you can never mind should?).

But how? Seriously. How could one not assume race was a factor? Both the depressing legacy of racism, the way it conditions the minds of those against just as much as those for, but also, you know, a reasonable fucking inference. More than that.

Because there's something else that made me uneasy. The media. The anger of those in Ferguson, and those people all around the country, and, indeed, the world, who suffer or sympathize with their plight, was real, is real, is borne of direct, unmediated experience.

But I feel tempted. I can't quite, because I can't. But.

What tempts me? Well, nobody on the Left liked the Gulf War, so it's easy to get all excited about how daring Baudrillard was in saying that it never happened. But can we stand that kind of distance in this case?

Because sometimes it has felt to me that Ferguson didn't happen. I mean, of course it did. A young man is dead, and I don't believe it should be so.  And I am angry, just like you.

But here's that symbolism thing again. A black kid getting shot by the cops can never be just that. Which is all well and good, but look up towards the beginning and see that I listed racism and structural racism as two distinct phenomena. Why?

Racism in and of itself would speak to motive in regards to the specifics of the Ferguson killing. Whether the officer himself held any assumptions, beliefs, prejudices, etc., certainly has a bearing on his  actions and his guilt.

But this shit happens all the time. Black kids getting shot by the cops. Even if none of the participants involved themselves are racist in any way shape or form, they somehow end up placed in the roles they play, somehow manifest a deep societal desire (almost) inadvertently. I guess that's how I understand structural racism. I mean most people say they aren't racist and maybe they aren't and yet it keeps happening, doesn't it?

So where am I going with this? I'll know when you do.

I guess where my bother comes in is that each of these individual cases are meant to bear the symbolic weight of the whole, and so the whole comes to rest on the part.

A bad thing happens, and the op-eds come, and the pundits and the interviews and the concerned and agitated faces and the national and international exposure and everything is stirred up until it all becomes a referendum and identity and self-definition and the opinions and the opinions about the preceding opinions and suddenly the whole future of race relations is resting on the behavior and perception of this one 18 year old guy who is dead.

And that is when it starts to feel fake to me. It's not even really about the kid anymore, is it? When I see those clips of random protestors cities away with white skin holding up their hands and shouting "stop don't shoot", playing their roles, knowing that they know nothing and I know nothing and that everyone has their own facts and witnesses recant and which time were they lying and there are deadlines involved and the old media hates to be scooped by the new media and it's easy to make things appear and disappear and nobody reads the corrections anyways and people make careers and money and everyone has to have an opinion and jesus.

I mean, why this kid, anyways (not that it shouldn't be - who cares if he stole a fucking blunt)? Weren't there like three or four other guys who got shot that week? During the day? With more witnesses? Hell, even a video on Youtube that I can't even bring myself to link to because it's so painful to consider watching it again. I just feel the media cycle, the churn, taking over, taking the issue away from its context as one of many, which is where the deeper travesty lies (the many, the unbearable history of History), and into this realm whereby all possible defeat and victory, all possible solution and stagnation, rested in the hands of some random jury impanelled months ago who heard evidence we haven't.

It shouldn't take anyone getting shot for anyone to give a shit. And, honestly, a guilty verdict would have only satisfied an emotional need at the expense of the social (not that I didn't want it). The whole can't rest on the part. There is no movie, no credits to role after the bad guy is put in jail and we can all leave the theater thinking justice has been done. The killing of Michael Brown is a symptom, not a cause. He's dead. He can't be fixed. But what can be? And how?

Because what scares me? Who's next? And by then, which I'm sure has already happened, has happened many, many times, even if "nobody" has noticed, will it still be the same, the shaky evidence and the media churn and the us and them that never got us anywhere and never will?

What need does racism satisfy? What role does it play? Why is it necessary? Because, after all these years, certainly it is. Just as much to those against as those for. So easy to just say cracker and walk away or not but if everyone is racist and nobody is who are we protesting?

How do we get rid of ourselves?


Meekly Entering The Arca Fray

About Arca…
In order...
Energy Flash (including important quotes from The Wire's review, otherwise unavailable online)

And now ME. ! ?

As always, I don't know where to start so I will.

The music is ok. I do find the textures fairly entrancing but, like some others above, feel that there is no end towards which they reach.

I agree with Sherburne that it sounds as if we could be possibly theoretically on the cusp of something new, maybe. I wonder how many more qualifiers I could fit into the preceding sentence.

But I am not optimistic. I want to be. I figure at the very least that the lo-fi, gritty sound that has been popular for a few years now has gotten a bit boring and am glad others feel this way too (it was always a bit reactionary, wasn't it, though I'll keep my overdrive pedals just in case). Arca, along with some productions on Pinch's Cold label, certain DJ Mustard instrumentals, and the last Egyptrixx album, have had a certain "clean darkness" to their sound that I have generally found to be, well, laden with a potential, but a potential, that hasn't quite arrived. I don't think it will.

Here's why.

But not yet.

Almost a year ago I went to the then-new Rough Trade shop in Brooklyn and I had a fairly negative reaction. You don't need to bother (re-)reading what I had to say. The gist of it all: alternative culture is dead. Yup. A pretty big statement. Possibly wrong, though, you know, I'd love to be wrong. I'd love to go to a show or hear a record and start to believe that the world can change, or, more importantly, that people really, really want it to. Because I want that feeling again, and am sure that I am capable of feeling it. I want to believe. Because, otherwise, it's just this, and this sucks. 

Anyways, why dead? Well.

The alternative culture, in the broadest sense, gained much of its energy and tension from the competition between the desire to democratize the construction of social meaning and the desire to do away with social meaning altogether. The intrinsic desire of consumer capitalism is to do away with social meaning altogether. "Alternative" culture is over because that tension no longer exists. One side has already won. Guess which.

If I were really a great essayist, I would talk more about the following, but I'm not, so you'll have to infer more, and better, paragraphs than actually exist.

A quick note on architecture.

It's always been funny to me that architecture always seems to be a few steps ahead than other realms of culture. Or maybe I'm wrong. I just figure post-modernity happened there a long, long time ago. Robert Venturi built that house for his mother in the early 1960s, after all. That's like a decade before Autobahn-era Kraftwerk (who were, I guess Modernists and post-Moderns with a semi-ironic love for Modernism at the same time). Why funny? Well, building buildings, especially when public money and public oversight is taken into account, is harder than making a record or painting a painting, so you would figure…

Regardless, at least on an aesthetic level, we've been out of that phase for a long time. Gehry, Hadid, etc., seem a lot more Modern to me. The sanctity of the object, the use of technologically-advanced materials, etc. No corinthian columns deployed ironically, or any of that crap. But, putting aside the difference in rigor, for a lack of a better word (though maybe it's a perfect word) of their buildings (i.e. no boxes, rigid symmetries, etc.), there is another difference. 

There's this book I read a few years ago, From a Cause to a Style. A collection of essays. From what I can remember, not bad, but sort of predictable. Suburbs ruined cities. Ugly Modernist buildings did, too. OK true, somewhat, but sort of instantly dated. Because people have been moving back from the suburbs into the cities for a while now and sometimes I just wished they had all stayed there because that is where the problems come from now. Nobody is building tower blocks anymore, are they?

Anyways, that title, From a Cause to a Style, sums up the descent of Modernism from something political to something aesthetic. It's actually always been something that has depressed me a bit. What happened? Before WWII and after? That's beyond the scope of this increasingly-meandering discussion.

Let's look at the last part. Style. What distinguishes the old Modernism from the new Modernism in architecture, to me at least, is the lack of the desire to "reproduce". Modernism in the past wanted to take over (and many preceding historical styles actually did, for a time). Sure there was Lever House and the Seagram Building and all but there was an expectation that all buildings should be built like that, that everything should look like those. The style was meant to have an impact, to affect change, to change context. 

Even post-modernity, too. Amusingly enough. Yeah there was the AT&T building, but also your local mall.

What's new is that this is no longer the case. Gerhy's buildings. Well, they are only his, and nobody else's and there seems to be little desire to spin it out, to design neighborhoods, cities, anything, really, larger than the distinct and separate and distinct and separate building along his lines (or anyone else's). These buildings are not meant to accomplish anything besides standing alone being themselves and not affecting or being affected by anything. Man I wish I was eloquent today.

Here's a case.

Aesthetically speaking, I love some work by Herzog and de Meuron. Can't help it. I'm a Modern at heart. Brownstone Brooklyn is beautiful but I'm pissed we either haven't done better or don't believe we have. It's all a matter of faith. Save the Port Authority.

Two pictures. Both Herzog and De Meuron buildings.

The top one is nice. A bit gaudy, but definitely "future". Whether you like it or not, here's the thing. You are judging it all by itself. The site, the intrinsic attitude of the building and it's design: it all stands alone and is meant to. There is no context. The second building is on Bond Street in New York. Sort cool-looking, tech-forward, etc. But also, it stands alone, and this time, this matters. Because it doesn't stand alone. There's a building on the left and a building on the right and more buildings across the street and, you know, the rest of New York. And what is this building's attitude? Fuck you. And fuck context. Look at how the window lines don't match. Look at how squat it is. Taller than the buildings next to it, it still feels shorter. Had they kept the window lines going, had they broken up the facade to try and accentuate the vertical, well, it would look like the building gave a shit, and that the designers did.

But they don't. Action speaking louder than carefully-composed theoretical disquisitions and all of that.

As always, I write until I don't remember what it was I was trying to say.

Oh yeah.

I think what all of this leads to is let's call it anti-social Modernism. There's no desire to create or replace of replicate or push or prod or destroy. It's just indifferent. Self-expression. A building that looks cool (though honestly, I don't like it that much just in terms of my own taste). As if there was anything else for it to do. As if.

Back to Arca, then, before I embarrass myself on purpose as opposed to inadvertantly.

So yeah, I like the sound, but am not optimistic about the possibility. I think when Sherburne says this could be the beginning of something, well, I think the thing is is that that something is not desired. The "rock-ist" desire for "Meaning" being projected onto something or someone that don't want it.

But not quite.

Let's travel a bit more.

Simon quotes at length from Britt Brown. And let's get one thing straight. Mr. Brown is the husband of Amanda Brown with whom he runs the label Not Not Fun (and associated sub-labels). From what I can recall from Simon's profile of this label and its creators is that they are happy releasing music that consists mostly of sort of post-ironic pastiche and seem to revel in the fact that there are "no more Fugazis", i.e. bands all caught up in that Meaning shit. So it's funny, in that context, that Mr. Brown, in his review, seems to be taking Arca to task for not meaning anything, ultimately. And yeah, he's sort of right, but, you know, gee, there's not really a side to pick here.

(So I've gotten word that, actually, the whole "no Fugazis" thing was a bit more ambivalent than celebratory so you'll just have to read the above paragraph again with new knowledge. Still, pastiche.)

(As an aside, yes, Simon, there's lots of dance music that seems to revel in it's own wizardry but then again so many of those records [thinking specifically of UK hardcore, darkcore, early jungle, etc.] seemed to, I don't know, deploy those tricks towards some sort of end - the excitement of that trickery seemed to engender social cohesion amongst those that had just had their minds blown on the floor. Maybe that's more about the people who were listening though and why they were there.)

This all brings us to AdHoc's Mike Sugarman. The article that really frustrates. 

Remember I said alternative was dead because the desire to destroy meaning has won over the desire to create it. And that that desire to destroy was redolent of capitalism. Well it is. How to turn anything into something that people can buy? The process of commodification. Do I have to explain it all? I think if you are hear you've read what needs to be read. And this is obviously not a formal essay. No shit, huh?

Sugarman sees everyone on the Arca-meh to Arca-no side of the spectrum as perhaps nostalgic for the old values of rockism. He seems to enjoy the end of that totalizing desire. See his comments about Wagner vs. Satie. The real pertinent thing I'm gonna quote as opposed to assume you've read. Sugarman sez: my time with abstract music has taught me that music is nothing more than sound, ordered and presented to some end. Well, yes, true, fine (and fuck the rules, for real), barring, of course, the condescending tone of the whole piece. Like we don't get it, man, far out. I mean, is noise really a radical strategy at this point in time? Really?

Because. Right now, "music is nothing more than sound". Not in the rarified world of some noise dude's loft, but, like, in reality. Classical is dress-up for status-conscious adults, jazz caught in endless, repetitive repetitions of non-repetitions, house and techno and descendants emperors with clothes, yes, but no body, and rock and roll, hah! Hip-hop/rap even more fucked. Kanye is like that soccer stadium above. Gaudy or beautiful and alone and impotent, ultimately. For better and worse. Should I even bother mentioning pop?

I guess what I am saying is that noise, or rather the aforementioned attitude towards it, is redolent of the drive towards nihilism that is inherent in the marketization of everything. Can you really side with the mainstream of capitalism and consider yourself a radical (not that Sugarman describes himself as that, but... that attitude, what other word can I use?)? Can you really side with overwhelming tide of history, backed by popular demand, while feeling outnumbered?

I mean, yeah, I guess there is a certain radicalism in trying to demythologize, to undermine and reduce, and clear us all of our sentimental prejudices and predilections, and, if I were to quote Marx here, that whole thing about bourgeoisie (and noise dudes are mostly, you know, that, at least in my personal experience), the stripping of halos, I guess I would come off as the old, whiny, antiquated being that the article presumes I am. 

Fine. But the thing is, this attitude has been winning for decades now. Since when has music meant more than sound? How long as it been since new aesthetic and social formations have cohered towards creating a new way of life? How long has it been since culture has been galvanized and has galvanized? 1995?

How long has it been since we have wanted something different as opposed to merely being something different? How long has it been since anyone has said "no"? How long has it been since that "no" has sounded beyond the minds of those who already say "yes" to "no"? Can you piss anyone off now or only find a different fan club?

It's true, I am someone who wants that meaning thing, more Fugazis. But I could care less about the Sixties, man, or reliving some nostalgic version of a past that, more and more, feels to me as if it never existed, as if it no longer needs to.

I simply find today wanting. And I don't think more of the same will fill me up.

It's been said that power corrupts, but can one really now presume that it has ever been sought for any other reason? Music now seems to be made by the satisfied for the satisfied. Friends, Arca makes some nice music out of some nice textures and maybe he'll beat Satie at the game of melody, but if he wanted what you wanted him to want, you'd never even know he existed. It's because he doesn't want what you want him to want that you can even want him to want what you want.

(what a fucking whimper of an ending sorry - I should brought it back to - Arca architecture or something)

(the thing about atheists is that they are not against religion but belief itself, hiding, disingenuously, their own certainty in nothing by attacking the certainties of something)



I've travelled so far down the road of who I am that who I want to be is just as much a stranger to me now as the day I was born. As for what's next… ? Another 365 days, and me posting another song about regret. That's all I can promise. Peace, love, and the sense that identity is just another word for the mistakes we repeat.

I'll be ok. Unfortunately, that might be all I'll ever be. How are you doing?



Un-cool-est i.e. best-ish Garage classic

If you are here, you might know about the Paradise Garage. If you are like me, you've dug through old Levan playlists looking for gems. And found. Well. Just like everyone else, he played bad records, but he played them better than I could.

That being said, I love this one. I like to picture hearing it at noon on a Sunday after having danced for 10 hours. There are no windows in the club; outside, people are eating brunch and reading the Sunday Times. Inside, Saturday night has just ended; the dancing subsides and I am alone. As I see others walking, hands held, towards the door, I look back towards the booth. Larry understands.