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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Monday, February 25, 2013

Positively punk- the eighties cowered before us...

Thirty years ago this month the New Musical Express ran a cover story by Richard North (Cabut) on what the NME decided to call 'Positive Punk'. To celebrate the event, Bob Short of Blood and Roses (one of the groups featured) has posted a video on Youtube. To go with the video, I have dug out a transcript of the original NME article- which I found 8 years ago on a history of goth website.

As an interesting aside, the Guardian recently ran a feature on the University of Sussex's Mass Observation archives for the 1980s.  The Guardian quoted Tracey Thorn :

pop musician Tracey Thorn bristles at how the decade in which she first became famous is lazily remembered. "Scenes which I never witnessed in my life – yuppies chugging champagne in City wine bars, toffs dancing in puffball skirts to Duran Duran – have now become the universal TV shorthand used to locate and define the era," she complains. 

So here is an alternative version of the 1980s...

THE BOY sits before the staring mirror and ponders his clean-shaven reflection. Smiling, he selects a carefully complied tape and slots it into his machine. 'Fatman' is the first track: Southern Death Cult excite him and he dances in his seat while unscrewing a tube of foundation cream
He's got to look good tonight - and it's becoming every night - because he's off out to a gig. He's going to see one of his bands, one of the groups he regularly sees. Brigandage, Southern Death Cult, Danse Society, Ritual, Rubella Ballet, Virgin Prunes, Specimen, The Mob... they're the only ones who mean anything to him anymore.

Tonight it's Blood And Roses at London's Moonlight Club and all his friends will be there. One of their tracks, 'Your Sin Is Your Salvation', comes up on the tape and the boy remembers the last time he saw them.
The blur of colour, the heady atmosphere, the fun, the collective feeling of motion - forward! - it made him feel alive, positive, and then he formed a group the next week.

Finishing his make-up the boy turns his attention to his dyed blue hair, carefully back-combing it into disarray. Last week he'd been beaten up by some skinheads because they didn't like the look of him. He remembers their fury but shrugs: he enjoys his appearance and is proud to look different. In a way he's almost glad that his clothes and attitude had provoked the attack - their mindlessness wrapped in a dull, grey, lazy uniform of bitterness gives him a reason to be their opposite.

{PIC: Scott - bass player with Brigandage}

He feels bright and optimistic about the future, slipping into a pair of leather trousers, noticing he's only got few quid left in his pocket. It doesn't matter though, the dole gives him time to do things, like his group.
A Brigandage number blares out: 'Hope', it seems to sum things up for him. With its message on his lips the boy half-dances across the room, through the door and out.

"I don't like the word movement, but there's now a large collection of bands and people with the same positive feeling."- Andi, singer with Sex Gang Children, speaking on the opening night of Son of Batcave.
HAIL ERIS, Goddess of Discord, and pass the ammunition: as the heavy drumbeat rolls and the harsh chords crash and sometimes even tingle, it's then that the boys and girls come out to play. Play power!
With wild-coloured spiked hair freezing the eye, and even more vivid clothes to spice the imagination -faces, thoughts and actions - the atmosphere's infused with a charge of excitement, an air of abandon underlined with a sense of purpose.

Something stirs again in this land of fetid, directionless sludgery, this land of pretend optimism and grim reality. Theory and practice are being synthesised under the golden umbrella of a two-hour long ideal.
Welcome to the new positive punk.

Although it's not the purpose of this article to create any kind of movement or cult, any easy or accessible bandwagon to be tumbled onto, it is indisputable that a large number of bands and people involved in the culture called rock, have sprung up at approximately the same time, facing their lifestyles in the same direction. Maybe unconsciously so, It's a huge collective force that we can call the new positive punk- a re-evaluation and rejuvenation of the ideals that made the original outburst so great, an intensification of and expansion of that ethos of individuality, creativity and rebellion. The same buzz that burned our streets in '76/'77 is happening again.

The Industrial Revolution is over, a new movement has begun, and the current mood is an affirmation of that point. The natural energy that for over 200 years has been poured into the physical, the rational and the materialistic, has now all grown crooked.

{PIC: Lisa and Sean}

The mental/magical power has been lost: It was simply not needed - steam engines, radios, electricity were so much easier and they worked. But now the glamour is wearing off. We can see the string and wires, the clockwork squeaks ... the radiation is beginning to corrode the pretty box. 

All the darkness and light, all the forces are still there deep underneath, bubbling, steaming, fermenting. The instinct, ritual and ceremony are rising again in everyday life; many people are starting to use the tarot and I-ching. And the new punk groups are a reflection of this feeling; their use of mystical /metaphysical imagery and symbolism is a striking common denominator. Not in the way of dumb-dabbling and superficial posturing of, say, a Black Sabbath with their (gasp) black magic kick.

Nor is it a silly hippy Tolkien fantasy joyride, or even a Killing Joke stench-of-death gloomier-than-thou slice of fanaticism. It is, instead, an intelligent and natural interest in mystery, rather than history, that is a sign of an open mind.

These groups are aware: UK Decay (positive punk forefathers), using the dark to contrast and finally emphasise the light; Sex Gang Children taking us into the sub-world of the Crowleyan abyss; while Blood And Roses are pushing the symbols a whole lot further, their guitarist Bob being a serious student of the Art. The mystical tide we are talking about here refers, if nothing else, to the inner warmth and vital energy that human beings regard as the most favourable state to live in. The new positive punk has tapped into this current.

And if all this sounds a touch heavy, let's consider the humour, style and inherent fun that are essential parts of the movement. Let's look at groups like Specimen, who are more Rocky Horror than Aleister Crowley, preening themselves in glam-soaked traipse among the ruins. Or The Virgin Prunes' cheeky on-stage oral sex send-up. The real humour is intermixed with the sheer sense of joy de vivre present at such gatherings.
Here is a glow of energy and life that overcomes the need for artificial stimulation. Unlike the heroin or barbituate sodden club scene or the glue swamped Oi/punk arena, the emphasis here is not on drugs. Although illicit substances are not unknown, the desperate desire to nullify boredom is not present, and therefore there is no narcotic edge to the scene. Members of several groups (such as Southern Death Cult, Sex Gang Children and UK Decay) do not even drink.

For perhaps the first time, an active and flourishing disenting body will not go down with its hind legs kicking as the drug takes over.

Money and time are tight: so both of them are being spent on something far from enjoyable and important: style. There's a veritable explosion of multi-coloured aestheticism. So different from the blend, stereotyped Oi/boothby/punk fare of jeans, leather jacket and studs, this is an individualist stance even if it tends towards a common identity. A green-haired spike-topped girl wearing a long black pleated skirt, white parachute top and bootlace tie passes a tasselled, black-haired mohawk in creepers, white socks, red pegs and self-made, neatly printed T-shirt. Something clicks. They smile in acknowledgement.
We are fireworks.

PIC: Richard drummer with Blood And Roses, and Steve, a fan.

"I think that our influence comes from the fact that there are so many negative bands around. We're not - so away we go!"- Bob, guitarist with Blood And Roses, Stoke Newlington

If the bands absorb, reflect and present (not necessarily in that order, It's a gave and take thing) the attitude of their fans and the tone of their surroundings-and I think that the important ones do - then we can trace the whole thing back to its roots, travelling through the erotic politics of the influential Doors and the tense dusky danger of The Velvet Underground, then we come to The Sex Pistols, who operated under a vicious amalgam of style and direction.

Projecting a perfect combination of distorted but relevant aesthetics, music and suss, their all-important important effect was the provocation of thought.

Then, veering away from 1002 misdirected cardboard copies, we come to the Banshees and the Ants. These two are important to the new positive punk: the Banshees because of their sheer power of imagination, and the Ants because of their promotion of the sensuous 'black' style.

Both had an adventurous and rebellious air about them that cut through the regressive dross. Their outlook, musically, and in angle of thought, went beyond the proscribed boundaries of behaviour at the time. They explored the edges of light and dark and some of the areas in between. They were a progression and they are the two clearest reference points to this recent outbreak of energy.

PIC: Mick - of Brigandage, and Michelle.

Back at the tail-end of '78 and beyond, punk spun into a tailspin of tuinol-dazed tiredness. A pause. Trends came and went: dead ends such as mod, new romanticism - up to and including funk craze - all took their toll on the vital energy. And those who stuck with the essence of their punk were faced with the development of Oi. Punk, under the guidance of certain lobots, gathered itself around a banner of no brains, no style, no heart and no hope, Heads buried in the glue-bag of dejection and floundering away under a barrage if three-chord rubbish - this is, and was, no way to lead a life.

Some drifted with the anarcho scene which at the time (1980/81) was the only worthwhile concern going. But by 1983, when everything is said and done, that angle seems too flat and puritan to be of much inspirational value. Crass, although anti-sexist, were and still are extremely sexless: a stark, bleak Oliver Cromwell new model army, who have sense but no sensuality. [ Key suggestion from within supposed era of Crass dominance of 'punk']

At the opposite end of the scale, inspired by the feeling of the Ants etc, come two groups who are the immediate forerunners to today's flood. They are Bauhaus and, later, Theatre of Hate - both of whom capitalised on the idea of style and, what is more, a 'dangerous' and sensuous style that attracted more and more fans who were sick of the bleak and macho Oi and the shallow cult with no name.

It's these fans, reacting against the devaluation of punk, and fired by the spirit of the above-mentioned mentors, who are acting now. They've created a colourful and thriving nation-wide scene - resplendent in their individuality but still linked by a progressive punk idiom, one that says go instead of stop, expand instead of contract, yes instead of no. A new, positive punk.

"Stimulating thought, bringing people together, entertaining people, creating an atmosphere of sheer exhilaration and enjoyment. These are the main things." - Ian, singer with Southern Death Cult, NME 2/10/82.
Andi Sex-Gang twitches in the spotlight, the beam reflecting his harsh features and closely-cropped hair. He clenches his fists and spits out 'Into The Abyss'.

Ian Southern Death Cult flays his arms and chicken-wardances across the stage, a sharp youthful figure with black be-feathered mohawk. His song 'Moya', the words and power behind the words providing an insight into cultural stagnation. He howls in shrieks and defiance. Mark from The Mob, an anarcho-renegade, with his bleached dread hair stands up straight before the microphone, growling: "Still living in the English fear, waiting for the witch-hunt dear."

All this and more as Michelle Brigandage leaps onto the amp, top hat at a rackish angle "As we walk in the sunlight honesty protects our eyes," is her cry. And Bob Blood and Roses, he just grins, he knows … "Love is the Law" - their tale underlining the truly optimistic undercurrent to this mood.
And the fans. Bedecked in sparkling, inventive garb, they kick, they jump, they scream.
"A night for celebration, a night to unwind," repeats the diminishing echo from the ghost of UK Decay. "For celebration, celebration, celebration…"

"There's nothing else. Everything else has been stripped from us, So now were' just gonna do it. There's no other choice," - Michelle, singer with Brigandage.

So here it is: the new positive punk, with no empty promises of revolution, either in rock 'n' roll sense or the wider political sphere. Here is only a chance of self awareness, of personal revolution, of colourful perception and galvanising of the imagination that startles the slumbering mind and body from their cloth.
Certainly this is revolution in the non-political sense, but at the same time its neither escapist nor defeatist. It is, in fact "political" in the genuine sense of the word.

Individuality? Creativity? Rebellion? The Synthesis comes at the moment when you do the one thing, the only thing when you know you're not just a trivial counter on the social checkerboard. Here are thousands doing that one thing: merging an explosive and cutting style with a sense of positive belief and achievement, and having fun while they're doing it.

The Oi-sters and their ilk have taken punk a few millimetres to the right or a centimetre to the left, but no one took a damn step forward.

This is punk - at last built on rock and not on sand.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Space is Deep- Yird Muin Starn 2 February 2013

Space is infinite.
It is dark.
Space is neutral.
It is cold.

Stars occupy minute areas of space. They are clustered a few billion here. A few billion there. As if seeking consolation in numbers.
Space does not care.

Space does not threaten.
Space does not comfort.
It does not sleep; it does not wake; it does not dream; it does not hope; it does not fear; it does not love; it does not hate; it does not encourage any of these qualities.
Space cannot be measured. It cannot be angered, it cannot be placated. It cannot be summed up. Space is there.
Space is not large and it is not small. It does not live and it does not die. It does not offer truth and neither does it lie.
Space is a remorseless, senseless, impersonal fact.
Space is the absence of time and of matter.
[Michael Moorcock ‘The Black Corridor’ 1969 and Hawkwind ‘Space Ritual’ 1973]

Yird Muin Starn is an art project in the Galloway Dark Skies Park which launches at 1 pm on 2 February  2013 at the Catstrand in New Galloway. [Imbolc/ Candlemas, half way between winter solstice and spring equinox] http://www.yird-muin-starn.com/ and http://www.kaffematthews.net/Yird_Muin_Starn/