Monday, 6 October 2014

TWIN PEAKS

There's no real way of saying this in a way that doesn't make me sound like history's worst man, but Twin Peaks' first, eight episode series is imho etc the greatest piece of screen art ever made, a lush waking dream somewhere between dreamy rapture and screaming, bottomless horror, the total safety of nostalgia and the total certainty of obliteration.

The second series had nine equally good episodes at the start and probably five or six at the end. Unfortunately it was 22 episodes long, and in the middle was a directionless – if definitely not meritless – eight episodes that basically did for the show.

Its cancellation always nagged at me as a minor American tragedy... it felt like it was doomed by the way US network television was made – as a result of the success of a short first series, it was over commissioned. Much as improvisation was a factor in S1, it seemed obvious that it wasn't suited to being left to fill for time and ramble on over 22 episodes; if David Lynch did have a masterplan for the 'who killed Laura Palmer?' story that the network scuppered by demanding he reveal the killer early (and I doubt he did) then he should have asked for a break as a trade off (I'm sure TV doesn't work like that or whatever). Still, if the second series had been as short as the first I can well imagine there would have been a strong third series and whether or not any more were made, it would probably have ended under less of a cloud.



Twin Peaks always meant a strange kind of semi-nostalgia for me – I first saw S1 as Channel 5 repeats in 1997 (when I was 16), but they didn't repeat S2 and so the rest of it seemed to almost be this semi-mythical thing from a near past that seemed much further away to me then than six years ago would seem to me now. I think in a weird and clearly EXTREMELY NARCISSISTIC way I elided the nostalgia Twin Peaks held for 50s small-town America with the nostalgia that in 1997 I already felt for aspects of my own childhood; my sense of my own past became unreasonably touched with Lynch's sense of America's past. Which is clearly a bit preposterous and a lot self-absorbed, but I suppose on a fundamental level Twin Peaks had a 'childish', wondering view of the world.

Anyway, over the next two years I painstakingly pieced together S2 in hilariously retro fashion, by finding the videotapes of three episodes a time (I guess one much have been four) in various Birmingham music stores... it was all so sporadic and hard won that I'm not sure the mid-S2 hump was very obvious to me the first time, though second time out (I've only managed the whole thing twice) it certainly was. But when I finally finished S2 in 1999-ish I just felt sad that there were no more. So I did the next best thing and in 2000, while Greyhounding around North America, I went to Snoqualmie Falls in Washington State and it was kind of amazing, kind of... I'm not sure if sad is the right word, but the lack of palpable enthusiasm for Twin Peaks in the area felt like a shame, nobody seemed to care... as I recall all we could find to officially mark the show beyond the scenery was a few very old postcards and what looked like an unofficial, hand-knitted, very ugly jumper in a shop somewhere.

Obviously I'm delighted that the show's stock has risen so much in subsequent years, to the point that Lynch and Mark Frost have announced an S3 to run in 2016. The serendipity of this being 25 years after S2 ended with a declaration that Agent Cooper would be trapped in the Black Lodge for 25 years – meaning that on some level Lynch and Frost can sort of semi act as if this is what they'd always intended to do – is, frankly, glorious.

Still, I can't help but feel a little bit of trepidation... the chance to do an S3 in the style of the first two has long passed, I don't think Twin Peaks 2016 would be this isolated place where everyone dresses badly and nobody swears or contacts the outside world... I'm not sure Twin Peaks would evoke nostalgia half so well if it was in fact nostalgic for itself, it'd seem like an in joke or a concession to fans. I think what I'd like to happen would be a drastic stylistic shift, a damaged Cooper emerging into a colder, techier, less interesting world, a show that served as an elegy to the 50s, not an evocation of them.

I've not actually read Boneland by Alan Garner, but I loved The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath when I was child, and I think IN THEORY it's wonderful that Garner would wait 48 years to write a dark, oblique, radically generically different final part to the trilogy that annoyed loads of people, and I guess I'd love it if Lynch did something like that.

I think my slight problem with the renaissance in Twin Peaks' popularity is that something so other and ultimately abrasive has kind of become colonised by its fans, the show living on in fancy dress Twin Peaks marathons and received wisdom about S2. On some level, Lynch and Frost making S3 because Twin Peaks has become sufficiently popular again is a pandering of sorts. But it's a very different pandering to the compromises of S2, and I hope whatever he chooses to do for S3 will be hysterically single-minded and conspire to annoy lots of Twin Peaks fans (probably including me). In the 23 years since its cancellation, Twin Peaks has become our property – I hope with S3 its creator will rip it back from us.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

BONO

I'm kind of writing this post to be linked to as footnote to a DiS review of the new U2 album, and perhaps also as a deliberate piece of outrageous contrarianism to get me noticed after my previous blog post BASICALLY WENT VIRAL, but yeah - let's talk about Bono.

Because of my innate, some may say moronic optimism about human nature, I've never really subscribed to the Bono-is-a-monster-all-his-charity-work-is-an-egotistical-sham school of thought - I understand that there are legitimate concerns about the efficacy of stuff like Product Red, and I understand that a lot of people feel that attempting to extract money from ethically dubious rich people by being nice to them is a bit icky, but ultimately I naively can't bring myself to believe that Bono's net contribution towards wiping out third world debt etcetera has been on balance negative rather than positive.

But what of U2/Bono's tax avoidance, the stick used to beat him the most? (Latterly, anyway - it's worth noting they've only been doing in since 2006, nine years after their last good album) Ultimately, I do not think tax avoidance is a good thing, and I find it faintly baffling that somebody who must rake in as much money as he does can even be arsed to worry about it. However, I find his rationale interesting, and I wonder if people who kneejerk scream 'hypocrite!' have really thought through and engaged with it.

In a nutshell, it's this: 'U2 is in total harmony with our government's philosophy.'

Now as I live in England, most people I know who get angry about Bono's tax evasion are British. I'm sure Irish people get annoyed about Bono's tax evasion. But do I feel that for starters, British people do semi-forget - or at least fail to duly engage with - the fact that the tax is being evaded in a country that is different to our country, both literally and philosophically.

Since the fifties, the Irish government has pursued a deliberate low corporation tax policy, something that got a turn in the spotlight recently when the Public Accounts Committee grilled representatives from Google over their tax arrangements, and when it came to light earlier this year that Apple's Irish operation pays a stunningly low amount of tax - both effectively have their European operations officially based in Ireland, and in both situations it's kind of dodgy because the physical scale of their UK operations is such that their non-payment of significant UK corporation tax looks a bit hmm. A wantonly un-nuanced and simplistic argument might be that the Irish government has effectively taken millions of pounds away from the British taxpayer by enthusiastically facilitating arrangements like this.

I think this could easily spiral off into an incomprehensible and confused ramble about the morality of tax and government.

But I think agree with Bono that his actions would generally appear to be morally in line with those of his government.

It is an unanswerable hypothetical as to whether he would act any differently if he weren't Irish. But I bet he wouldn't.

I think it is also fairly clear that whatever personal rationale he has come to, then he is clearly a man aware of the amplifying effects of this celebrity, of the succour it lends to evaders the world over that he finds this morally acceptable. I doubt U2 renouncing their tax scheme would send much of a message to corrupt third world politicians. But it probably would send a message through the West that would probably have a ripple effect beyond four blokes in Ireland (three of whom nobody really seems to be that arsed about). Mostly for that reason, I feel he should probably take one for the team*. But when push comes to shove, I think his excuse is at least an interesting one, that deserves a bit more due consideration than 'OMG YOU'VE STOPPED FIVE IRISH HOSPITALS BEING BUILT.'

I don't think Bono is 'right'. But I do think there's a weird lack of outrage about low-tax regimes that perhaps pondering Bono's morality might lead you back to. Who is the real enemy? The lead singer of a successful 80s new wave band? OR THE GRAND DUCHY OF LUXEMBOURG? EH?

*though ironically the team is perhaps the problem - U2's profits are on an equal split and I think the scheme they use is a 'one for all' type affair - would the three that nobody blames be entirely happy to lose millions for the sake of improving their frontman's image?

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

ATP

So there's this girl, right? (there isn't, this is me breaking out a well-worn American-style allegory)

So there's this girl, right? (not to be sexist or whatever, I'm presenting this as A Personal Story. Although looking back/forward, the whole thing is in second person. Maybe it just services the cornball allegory?)

So there's this girl, right? (I mean no, I'm married, it's definitely an allegory, there's no girl)

SO THERE'S THIS GIRL, RITE? And when you first see her you're totally intimidated by how worldly and exotic and sensual and assured she is, and you conclude that while you'd really like to be friends with her – maybe even in course to squire her – it's not going to happen and you probably shouldn't try. And then about five years later you do give it a shot and ohmygod guess what? You get on famously and it seems absurd you didn't make friends before, and sure, she's a bit more sophisticated than you still, but you have a top laugh and after a while her worldly wise ways rub off on you and you yourself become a bit cooler and you even begin to enjoy the odd card game with her super-intimidating best friend Steve. Do you become lovers? For the purposes of this allegory I'm not sure that you do. But you probably still fancy her quite a lot. Anyway, it goes really brilliantly for about four or five years, and while part of you is worried you're spending a bit too much time together (and you are beginning to get a tiny bit bored of Steve), it's still bloody good. And then one day she becomes a massive unreliable heroin addict and nicks all your stuff or whatever and you still hang around with her a bit but you definitely don't fancy her and kind of hope she fucks off.

No? Of course not… but get this – what I've just written isn't me being all ragey about an unfortunate real life woman, but using the power of words to condemn All Tomorrow's Parties music festival, which I will now talk about using non-allegorical words.

At the age of 18 I was so indie that I wanted to go to ATP before it was even ATP, insofar as I read about its predecessor the Bowlie Weekender in NME while I was a sixth former and thought "that sounds completely amazing but I have no money, it is school term time, and my school friends all lack the epic sophistication to be into Belle & Sebastian".

At uni I almost certainly could have gone, but you know, I was busy, and in Yorkshire, and perhaps moreover the more leftfield, less indie schmindie music that was programmed when Bowlie became ATP put me off a bit because back in them days it was bloody hard to listen to the bands on the line up without paying £££.

Five years on, a sufficiently schmindie line up came round (Dinosaur Jr/Sleater Kinney/The Shins) that me and my best friend went anyway. And not only did we have a great time, but we realised we'd probably have a great time at most ATPs, that discovering new music was integral to the experience, and even if it wasn't you could still just get pished and have a hoot.

There then followed a number of years where ATP put on so many festivals that I think conceivably, despite my late start, I still managed to go to over half of the UK ones ever staged. In retrospect, it was pretty fucking nuts that they were staging four a year plus varying foreign excursions that never really seemed to go that well, but kind of 2006-2009-ish was clearly pretty successful for ATP on some level, selling out the huge Butlins Minehead numerous times at a time that I suppose coincided with the last great peak in indie popularity.

Around 2010 the four festivals a year stopped selling out, and though the demented chutzpah of continuing to stage doomed foreign events suggested the UK must be profitable, it now seems pretty apparent it wasn't. A 2011 festival was pushed back to 2012, the next 2012 festivals shifted venue under weird circumstances that seemed to also involve the dissolution of ATP as a trading company, there were more foreign disasters, a cancelled London festival, and they announced the UK residential festival weekends would be coming to an end with 2013's events.

Which would have been fair enough, but they still kept doing STUFF, most notably an Icelandic event that seemed to kind of just be a UK-type residential festival, BUT IN FUCKING ICELAND. And then they announced Jabberwocky, a cheap two day London festival with a good line-up that came with all sorts of warning bells – an abrupt shift in venue to the Excel Centre, briefings against them from their own disgruntled ex-PR company – but was in some sort of partnership with the reliable Pitchfork and Primavera, and again, there was that sense 'after 15 years, numerous failures and an apparent latterday awareness of when to beat a tactical retreat, would these guys actually book a massive festival that seemed economically unlikely to succeed?' Clearly the answer was 'yes', though I wonder if we'll ever know why - ATP had recently claimed there were only 200 tickets left, which was either untrue or suggestive of the fact they'd fucked up so royally that it was never even possible for the event to break even.

Why did they do something so risky? Because they're total idiots who have learned nothing from a decade-and-a-half of gig promotion? Because they viewed the whole thing as a gamble that MIGHT have paid off if they'd only sold more tickets? Because they're somehow addicted to putting on festivals in the same way that other people are addicted to booze and pills? I do not know.

The weirdest thing, though, is that they justified pulling Jabberwocky at 72 hours notice by saying that it would definitely be the end of ATP if it went ahead, as if that was key at this stage. It's become such a byword for unreliability that it almost seems like going out in a blaze of glory with a festival that actually took place would not be a terrible thing.

For all that, you suspect that if they possibly can come back they definitely will, and probably if I'm totally honest I'd consider going to one of their events again – because of the good times, because the line-up will be good, because I'll think 'well they wouldn't be stupid or crazy enough to book this if it wasn't going to work out', because while ATP is around they've kind of cornered the market for large scale events based on credible non-mainstream bands (though it'll be interesting to see if Jabberwoky has burned any bridges).

Really, though it's definitely, definitely time for them to step aside and let somebody with fresher ideas and a modicum more financial sobriety take their place – this weird, protracted breakup is not doing anyone's fond memories any favours.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

THE TRICYCLE THEATRE

There has been a lot of brouhaha in the last week following the schism that's opened betwixt the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn and the Jewish Film Festival, wherein the Trike demanded the UKJFF not accept Israeli government funding and the UKJFF bailed on the Trike (actually, weirdly, there were a flurry of initial reports on Tuesday, and then the Guardian decided to put up FOUR opinion pieces on Saturday, though the general lunacy of the Fringe may have distorted my sense of time a bit).

I'm not really writing about that as I'm not sure I have anything of brilliant conviction to add – I think there have been valid arguments made by both sides, though I'm quite disappointed by the general tone of the criticism of the Trike; there doesn't seem to be much interest in entering a dialogue with them, or acknowledgement that the large number of people killed in Gaza recently might have added an emotional dimension, and the suggestion that it's in any way anti-Semitic as an institution is basically insane.

But one argument that's been repeatedly trotted out has really got my proverbial goat, which is that if the Tricycle would refuse Israeli government money, it's hypocritical of it to accept a grant from the Arts Council of England, given that the UK government has done bad things too, most specifically in Iraq. 

I feel like in general whattaboutery is a fairly unfortunate phenomenon, the idea a horrendous ongoing situation can be sort of semi brushed under the carpet by saying 'yeah, loads of kids are being blown up in Gaza, but Britain illegally invaded Iraq, sooooo…'. 

But that's not really my point - my point is (and I am copying and pasting most of this from something I wrote under a Guardian article) that while I'm not necessarily saying that the decision to refuse Israeli government money was correct, accepting funding from a domestic arts organisation is completely different to accepting one from a foreign or external body. 

The Arts Council of England is a non departmental public body that essentially redistributes a portion of the money of English taxpayers to English arts institutions based on apolitical criteria. It's not affiliated with any party or government and I feel like the only valid reason for a British institution to actively refuse its funding would be because it wished to deny its Britishness in a way that would probably exclude it from funding anyway (so for instance, if the new AD of a London theatre decided it would like to switch to an all-French repertoire, in French, for London's French community). The Tricycle has emphatically not done this, and it's surely far more responsible to accept public funding and make art that critiques the country that you yourself are of than deny yourself the funding and the ability to make said art.


On the other hand the government-subsidised promotion of your country's art or culture in foreign countries is inescapably propagandist on some level, and isn't usually funded by the same organisations. So while ACE might fund an institution and by extension work that is heavily critical of, say, the UK's foreign policy, it is profoundly unlikely that the British Council (directly financed by the Foreign Office and specifically set up as a propagandist body) would ever finance an international tour of said work. Likewise, the Israeli subsidy of the UKJFF came from its embassy. Again, I'm not saying any of this makes the Tricycle right or wrong to reject a festival sponsored by £1,400 of a controversial government's money (it strikes me that if they were worried about taking sides then maybe a better solution would have been to try and find a Palestinian-affiliated sponsor to take a token sum off as well). But what I am saying is that I think the constant whattaboutery over the Tricycle accepting ACE subsidy is misguided.

I'm sure to anybody from the arts world I'm just stating the bloody obvious at enormous length, again. But it worries me that political commentators are trotting out an un-nuanced, poorly thought through argument that would, taken to one extreme, deem that any artist or institution critical of the British government would be hypocritical to accept funding from ACE, a non-departmental body not affiliated to any government.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

BRITPOP

The notional twentieth anniversary of Britpop seems to have unleashed what I can only describe as a tsunami of rage about Britpop, which is strange (when I say tsunami, a bit of blog grumbling and you know, a few tweets).

It's interesting that something as inauspicious as the twentieth anniversary has led to this, as despite 6music having a special week, it's not exactly apparent what's sparked the grumbling beyond a twentieth anniversary of Blur's Parklife that hasn't officially been marked in any way (in fact weirdly I was looking at the vinyl section on Blur's online shop and guess what the only record was that they didn't have in stock IT WAS PARKLIFE).

I can't help but think distance has led to a sort of mass misremembering of things as worse then they were (there's probably some sort of brilliant name for this sort of thing), because grumbles about Britpop being an abomination that set music back don't really gel with my memory of growing up through the time. Here are some things I remember about Britpop.


  • Nobody ever called it Britpop. I know it was called it in the press, but I genuinely don't remember anybody at school (I was at school)  ever saying they were into 'Britpop'. In fact I distinctly remember we called it 'indie'. because I remember being confused by the term given than none of the bands seemed to be on independent labels and I'd only really just found out what a record label was and now I was all confused.
  • The bands didn't seem very similar. At the most crashingly obvious level this manifested itself as the Blur-Oasis dichotomy, but really there were a pretty diverse array of bands. The mythical Britpop whipping boy act is a sort of monstrous chimera of Blur's attitude, Cast's music and Oasis's fans, but those acts had very little do with each other on any level - if they'd really had anything in common surely everybody would have been into all of them.
  • Indie music was just popular, is all. I saw Pulp, Blur, the Manics and Radiohead play gigs at the NEC within the space of about a year... clearly people were more into 'that sort' of music at that time than five years earlier, but what was 'that sort' of music? Ironically I'm sure grunge had probably done a huge amount to help, insofar as both mainstream media and public were primed to be receptive to rock acts.
  • It wasn't THAT popular. If you look at the Sixties charts, 'guitar music' was almost infinity times more popular than it was in the '90s. I mean, in the really, truly breakthrough sense, how many Britpop songs had the success of your average big pop smash? Wonderwall... maybe Don't Look Back In Anger... Country House... maybe Girl & Boys.... Common People... that's kind of it, really, period associated stuff like A Design for Life and Firestarter... 'proper' pop acts still dominated the charts.
  • Other people were fine. People talk about the time as if it was all beery dickhead lads, and maybe I was too young to see the full horror, but to suggest there was some sort of meaningful link between lairy laddishness and Britpop is absurd. More idiots liked indie then than like indie now because indie then was more popular than indie now.
  • Chris Evans would have happened anyway. I've seen it suggested time and time again that Britpop was somehow reponsible for TFI Friday and the like, but the fact is that radio and telly will just tailor itself to whatever's popular at the time, if nose flute music had been the biggest thing in 1996 then the gibbering Radio 1 idiots would have been into nose fluting.
  • It was just s silly buzzword. Britpop was just a douchebag word the press used to describe indie music for a bit, then got bored. People talk about Oasis's Be Here Now ending Britpop, but what does that even mean? Nothing really changed about their music, and bands like the Stereophonics had mass success afterwards, and if they're not Britpop I don't know what is. Blur's self-titled album came out almost half a year before Be Here Now, and isn't regarded as a Britpop record, but their new sound was no more or less similar to the majority of their peers than The Great Escape had been. 


In conclusion, it was fine, people talking about it like hellfire was raining from the sky should probably have a good rummage through their memories.

Monday, 28 April 2014

THE MIDLANDS

I recently read Bang in the Middle, a jovial book about the Midlands by a colleague of mine, Robert Shore. I would like to think I'd have read it anyway, as he's a good writer and it's a subject I'd like to think I'm interested in; in the advent two very clear reasons for my reading it were 1) he gave me a free copy because 2) he interviewed me for it and my name's in the credits and a few things I said about Birmingham are in there, albeit attributed to somebody else (for sound literary reasons, alas).

I enjoyed it, because it was funny, and had lots of facts, and I really like facts. But there was something more to it... it stirred a sense of I don't know... regionalist fervour? I think the book makes case for not only the injustice of received wisdoms about the 'north-south divide', but also the fact there's something quite insidious about it. Essentially I think he makes a pretty good case for saying 'the north' is a sort of oppositional construct, largely propagated by the peoples of Yorkshire and Lancashire, generally used as a badge of pride and means of suggesting that people from elsewhere are inferior. 

The thing is, nobody actually calls themselves 'a southerner', or if they do it's purely a geographical reference, it has nothing to do with cultural identity. They might call themselves a Londoner, which I think is what northern patriots really mean when they're talking about the south, but I do feel like the dichotomy isn't so much based on simplification as a sort of willful dismissal of the rest of the country that's actually quite callous. Talking about a 'north-south' divide implicitly denies the importance of not only the Midlands, but also the South East (it was interesting that the first comment on a Guardian article about Cornwall's recently granted minority status dismissively stated 'Many other places in the UK are far more qualified by the criteria you set out here. Yorkshire just for one' - a statement that, at the very least, blithely dismissed Cornwall's manifestly distinct and rich heritage as an irrelevance); the fens; a lot of places that you don't really mean when you say 'the south', depending upon how much you want to subdivide. I don't necessarily mean this to be a grumble about 'northerners', but I think 'southerners' tend not to think about the other peoples of these isles very much, while 'northerners' think about 'southerners' quite a lot. (I suppose there's an irony to the fact that the things people in Manchester don't like about London are probably the same things people in London don't like about London).

Am I going anywhere with this? Not really: I think having read the book I then got sensitive to a couple of southerner baiting comments made on Facebook and Buzzfeed, because they seemed so inherently crudely dismissive of where I'm from (as well as I guess Bristol). I think where once I accepted the north-south divide as a misunderstanding, now I've come to view it as quite an unpleasant thing and - and you can tell this to the king of the north and the queen of the south - I SHALL NO LONGER BE SUBSCRIBING TO IT.

I realise I've not really made a rousing defense of the Midlands' validity here, partly because you should totally check out Roberts' book, partly because much as the Midlands has many wonderful things going for it (Shakespeare, industrial revolution, landscapes, that red panda) its validity isn't a question of achievements - it should be viewed as valid because people live in it, and because it exists.

Monday, 3 March 2014

ON ARRIVING

Upon arrival at Adelaide airport.

Customs man: have you brought any food into the country?

Me: no.

Customs man: anything off your flight?

Me: oh, I think I might have some jam

Customs man: jam’s not a problem, it’s so processed…

(I rummage around in my pockets, looking for the jam)

Customs man: it’s okay, jam’s not a problem.

Me: (continuing to rummage) it’s okay, I’ve almost found it

Customs man: jam’s not a problem

Me: oh, okay. Sorry. That was a bit weird wasn’t it?

---

Customs woman: you travel very light, don’t you?

Me: really? I’ve got three bags! I’m not even sure what else I’d take. What do people normally take?

---

Customs woman: I find it a bit difficult to believe the Adelaide Festival would pay for you to come here and stay for eight nights when you’re not working for them.

Me: Er. Yeah. I know!

---

Customs woman: and you’re sure you don’t have over $10,000 in cash on you?

Me: (laughs).

Customs woman: so if I were to ask you how much cash you had on you what would you say?

Me: (enthusiastically turns out pockets to reveal about £2.50 and some miscellaneous foreign coins) that’s the lot!

Customs woman: really? You’re saying that’s seriously all you have?

Me: yes. 

Customs women: okay,I believe you.

Me: I was just going to get some money out when I arrived.

Customs woman: it's okay.

Me: I don’t get charged for foreign currency withdrawals, you see!


Customs woman: you can go.