FINAL WAR: It was mid June, a week or so before a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. Suddenly everyone was an economic analyst, a border guard, a factional spokesperson. The media circus, narrated so gleefully, as though the country were in the throes of a friendly football team, complete with hashtags, colours and personalities on buses with fake ‘facts’ about marauding migrants and unelected bureaucrats emblazoned on their sides. I was sat at a desk scrolling through opinions. Word started to come through that a politician had been shot at in the street. Jo Cox MP was campaigning for Britain to remain part of the EU.
Guns are a dark abstraction for most in the UK. I felt what must be the regular pang of white hot fear for many in America as I read how Jo had been accosted in a normal street in broad daylight, left bleeding between two cars, shot and stabbed at by a man who spat the words ‘Britain First’ into the still air before he attacked her. Here was this rare thing, a campaigning politician, and she had been murdered by a man who would later, when asked for his name in court, respond with the words “Death to Traitors Freedom for Britain.” The media adopted a crazy white man narrative and ignored the truth of his motives: the fascist hate they had so readily enabled. I staggered down the steps to buy a drink and looked into peoples faces on street. Did they know yet? This is the end of it all, I thought. They will not, they cannot proceed with this ridiculous referendum now that its rhetoric had killed someone. The hushed tones of respect followed, of course, there was talk of ‘sitting back’ to ‘consider’ the ‘tone’ of the campaigns in the wake of tragedy and how they ‘might’ have ‘contributed’ to this ‘atmosphere.’ A contrite media? A political class capable of quiet reflection? It lasted all of three days. Then came polling day.
In the mania of the post-result reality, the curtain was suddenly pulled back. Reports focussed not on the craven campaign lies that Europe was controlling the UK’s spending on hospitals and school, forcing its borders open and filling it with parasites, but the cold, clear reality of what had just been voted away. Scientists explained that all their cancer research had been funded by European money. Northern Irish people, roundly ignored in the weeks preceding the vote, were suddenly given airtime to explain that the ‘Leave’ vote, which they had, along with only London and Scotland, roundly rejected, could, with its de-facto requirement for a militarised land border with Ireland, undo the entire peace process. Fear, terror, and suspicion had won over subsidy, support, cooperation. Vox-pop interviews with the people of post-industrial towns scarred by poverty for decades proclaimed with glee how they had ‘got their country back’, then slowly the same voices said with fear and confusion they didn’t know what they had voted for. The media had deliberately stirred up a toxic cesspit jingoism that had begun to give off fumes, a slow asphyxiation as reality dawned. Then, as headlines hit that our prime minister had resigned, the circus returned again as a small army of lizard cunts jostled to replace him, the same outlets published cartoons and lead with headlines about ‘assassination’ and ‘backstabbers,’ the dust from Jo Cox’s brutalised body still hanging in the air. The long line of aristocratic replicants snaking their way through public office will always have the last laugh, of course, and so the soap opera resumes. The masks slip easily around their faces, greased and laughing, Shakespearean metaphors of the chattering classes. An unseen hand guides this sham-democratic process, peddling lies upon lies. A country laid out to dry. The people, it is said, have “spoken,” made to garble an un-language of gagged fear, pushed into a spotlight to stumble through the redacted script to a fake play. You painted a target on the broken back of a drowned refugee and called them the EU.
NO ONE RULES
This will be the last column I write from London for a couple years. I am all too sure that the drawbridge will pull up behind me, so for the purposes of keeping you in the loop on the persistently on-fire London punk output for a bit, I wanted to talk about some sounds that have kept me buoyed in the last few months.
SARCASM is arch and high-functioning, referential without ever being reverential. Marcus, on guitar, started from the point of trying to make a punk band with as little distortion of possible after surfing the high seas of noize in SEMI. He’s succeeded with a warbling solos that never feel wanky. Alex from EFIALTIS and Oli from SNOB… is not how they would ever describe themselves. It’s cold and pasty post-punk in a suitably spare and unwelcoming vein. Singer Luke knows about conveying hate without shouting and doesn’t let his love of Morrissey anywhere near this band, but huddles over the mic like he wants to be your personable intellectual Joey Ramone. Their demo tape is out and can be listened to here: farsofar.bandcamp.com/album/total-institution
I made a festival called First Timers where every band plays their first show, usually with at least one member who is new to their instrument. Amongst many other great bands, one formed this year called SCRAP BRAIN, which caught my eye and ear. The band is made from Ben, who scratches intensely at a left-handed guitar that keeps falling apart, Tamsin’s fluttering concrete-block fills which she insists are ‘super simple’ and Joe, whose usually more comfortable writing about bands than playing in them, shredding away on bass. There’s a natural punk force to their sound thats elevated to something sublime by what’s being said by Camille, up front. Watching them record, it strikes me as it has before that punk’s most vital possibility is this: where we have rough edges, parts that feel serrated, not quite fixed, it allows us to jigsaw into each other. Two months after their debut at First Timers, I’m in a room full of power tools and sawdust, our half-built practice room, stood with my back to Camille, the singer of the band, who is both ten years younger and ten times stronger than me. Her voice feels like its hitting my in the back as I record it, laughing at myself for even bothering with a pop shield as it peaks and sucks the air out of the the whole room. The song is called ‘Bored of this Personality Disorder.’ There is little room for poetry here because it’s hardcore, and each word is spat out like a curse. HY P ER VI G IL AN CE / COGNITIVE DISSONANCE / DIS A SSOC IATION. She thunders out her diagnoses not pausing for breath, not asking for anything, just narrating reality. They recorded just a few minutes of music because really, who needs more? Sat there struck dumb, I am momentarily sad that they will likely not be offered shows with bands who capitalise the H in Hardcore like its a private island resort, because the bluster and pose of that island does not always hold the door open for difficult bands that stick in your chest like this. There are groups that have forced their way in to the frame by sheer force of will, though, and SCRAP BRAIN could well be one.
Another new band called ES shares the Tammy T-Beat from SCRAP BRAIN with Katy (aka The Voice) from GLOSS REJECTION and two members of PRIMETIME (another killer First Timers alumnus.) This is guitar-free gloomth that strings and lurches around with synth and Maria’s howled pronouncements, her slight Scandi-inflections mixed with warbly bass so the whole thing comes off a bit Xmal Deutschland, albeit devoid of swing, harrowing and cold. Nothing’s alright. (Nothing is fine…) Ideal soundtracks to having no fun, staring into space, secrets and lives. I believe they have some type of record on La Vida Es Un Mus pretty soon, don’t miss it.
FRIEND OR FOE
Right now I work for a Rape Crisis centre going out to schools across the city delivering sex and relationships workshops. Every young person I have every worked with is many things at once: a wound up ball of possibilities, scared, hurting, wildly real, acting out, holding it in, pushing. Sometimes in a session, we offer them post-it notes to ask questions they maybe can’t speak about. I asked a 13 year old boys’ group today to give me any question they liked. Like never before, this led to a strangely secret degradation as I read what they had chosen to ask me. They chose to ask, variously: Am I a virgin (c’mon) if I enjoyed anal sex (honestly more than some people but also less than a lot of people) what’s my favourite position (compromised.) The world has told them they should take every chance they get, that power can be their currency, so the theory goes that through writing they have an opportunity to be fragile, in a world that demands so much machismo and bluster from them. It takes a big man to give that up.
In the girls’ group, a handwritten post-it note scrawl rages at me: ‘Why should we trust you?’ I don’t have the answer. Another wants to know ‘how many ucks make you a sket?’ My heart burns for you. I stand as usual before a sea of perfect box braids, imperfectly rolled up skirts, incongruous office worker handbags and unblended foundation. The extra hostility matches the stakes. Cynical denial is the hot air balloon that many teen girls scramble onto, float above the world that would visit violence upon them. They deny that anyone but (other) girls are to blame for their suffering. They are safer up at a distance blaming those stuck down below. This mindset helps them to separate, which is fine until they find themselves on the ground, too. I want to parachute each one of them somewhere soft outside of all this. This is called the rescue impulse and I am a bad sucker for it. But Miss, Galdem gotta keep they legs shut, you say. My heart burns for you. It’s a leap too far today, for you to believe me that women do not lie about being raped, but I console myself that maybe you will take these words away and revisit them in secret, or when you need them most. I’m lost in invective, dry mouth, trying to push through the idea that there can be another world where we are free, then you remind me with your scowl that with so much to lose, its work enough just to strategise your way through.
The last few months I’ve been working on the process of becoming obsolete. This is because I’m moving to live in Australia for a while, which will be weird because I know less than ten people there. I like creating life situations that simulate the dread and adrenaline of jumping off a moving train, but am hoping for a soft landing. If you can help – firstname.lastname@example.org