Never Once Reflect

If you’re alright, then say something. Something.

Commodification now means not the appearance of a world of things but the appearance of a world of information about things, including information about every possible future state of those things […] – @mckenziewark

Algorithms and data aggregation refined brand’s control over their supply and demand chains in spite of the real world human aspects of a labor and capital-based marketplace while also acting as an agent or representative for music and creatives. Media brands through platform capitalism have repurposed the use-value of music to fit the lifestyle and productivity of young millennial white collar or freelance workers in an increasingly tech industry influenced work/life environment. – @dfnbrown1

Meanwhile, deindustrialization of industry and the financialization of the economy has led to the massing of young people in urban centers as jobs dry up elsewhere. Dance music’s rise in popularity has mirrored that post-recession population inflow, becoming the soundtrack for a gentrified nightlife in the process. – @gabeastralplane


You are not a gadget. But you need a gadget. Somewhere, a gadget needs you. It is a nightmare from which we can only awaken, I believe, by holding on to one another more, and gadgets less, in real life.

Like the Australian bird mimicking the squawk of an air raid siren, or Colin Stetson playing acoustic music that sounds electronic, we now interact socially as if we were algorithms, emulating post-capitalist currency and circulation, gathering information about one another not out of genuine interest, but rather, in an effort to premediate — mediate every possible future state of — our professional and personal relationships. The outcomes, however, are not capital but cultural. We no longer make love or even desire love. We cannot stand to face one another. Instead, we process each other in the midst of an all-pervasive melancholic longing. (See High Maintenance, Season 4 ep 2.)

The devil cares not if you believe in him. Your limited credence or understanding is irrelevant. Your personal perception of late-capitalism — whether to view it as a wonderful, liberating force, or Marx’s worst nightmare mutated, or a compromise of the modern world that you and I are more or less willing to make — is itself regulated by the social, media, and technology bubbles that late-capitalism produces and propagates. Frictionless, we can see a person on Twitter recommend a book about political philosophy, a book that aligns with our own views on political philosophy, which in due course shapes our perception of that particular Twitter user, and of Twitter in general, and so forth. Others’ activities spur us to action, and our respective actions in the virtual-public sphere in turn stimulate others’ productive impulses — producing and reproducing capital and information, and if not, then arranging, rearranging, and parsing capital and information. And this post is part of the problem masked as part of the solution.

There is something worse than capitalism: Control.

Here, we must posit (remember) something else, a force beyond and more powerful, more pervasive, eviler, for lack of a more elegant term, than capital. (But fuck elegance!) We must acknowledge and confront Control as Burroughs and Deleuze and Galloway understood it. Control is Control. There is nothing in- nor outside of it. Remembering Control — i.e. noting it, recording it — is the perpetual project of reawakening. Relinquishing Control — i.e. sharing it, making it more equitable, smashing capital’s control over Control — is the communist project.

Yet, I might submit that there has never-not been capital. (Never-not as distinct from always-already in that it precedes the conception as well as perception of phenomena.) We have never-not placed value upon things. Those things include material thing-things like laptops and bicycles and lawn furniture, but also immaterial things like time, labour, ideas, and information. Necessarily, those values fluctuate, have proven uneven, artificial, contested. Exceptionally though, capitalism equates value with capital and capital alone.

Communism did not “lose” the 20th century’s ideological battle, because communism has yet to exist. Communism is not a system of economic organisation or governance or evaluation or vector that stands in opposition to value itself. It is meant as an ethical system that redistributes value and capital along moral rather than capitalist vectors. We do not need to redefine communism to conform to hyper-capitalism. Nor must we invent new jobs for ourselves pinpointing and sub-partitioning capitalist energies — jobs that we’ll have inevitably lost anyway, to someone else in a fundamentally privileged position. We need only reiterate and oppose over and over the capitalist impetus to quantify and wring out and even invent all forms of value within any given economic system, rendered as surplus value for the elite few. A common misperception is that we ever even had communism — in the early part of the 20th century, in the Soviet Union. Or national socialism in Nazi Germany, for that matter. Rather, what we still have, what we have always had, is global capitalism, full stop.

“The evil genius of the postbroadcast-era media is that it not only holds our attention, it also records it. A lot more information can be extracted as to who we are, what we like, and which punk rock goddess we want to be.” (Wark) Information technology and data collection is not a new category of commoditising. And cultural criticism is indeed just as much a part of the political economy — often just as subject to similar legitimising institutional forces. That value’s maximum extraction is automated and honed on information and data in the 21st century is the logical if not natural progression of Control. We might prefer Patti Smith or Kim Gordon. Or Viv Albertine. But we all need to be some punk goddess now.

Control seeks to eradicate the rare. This is why the binary, on-off, either-or logic of the digital world is the best metaphor we have for it, and why Galloway chose to write about Control’s existence (persistence) into the virtual. At the time of Galloway’s writing, it still seemed as though the virtual-online world could prove to be a portal of liberation, a means of transcending the old, institutional disciplinary forms: family, school, church, prison. Other Control-affiliated institutions and infrastructures arose meantime: the shopping mall, the movie theatre, the food court; the trade conference, the festival, the rave; NASCAR, Oprah Winfrey, Late Night With David Letterman. Donald Trump. What we now see in hindsight (it is 2020, after all) is that, after broadcast media, the decentralised internet was precisely the “stack” that Control was looking for. Like any good needle. It could sink into the hay, recede into the interface, beneath the screen’s glossy veneer, behind the breezy urban lifestyles of mobile devices, the seamlessness of apps, the natural authenticity of streams, the weightlessness of clouds, the internet’s interconnectedness.

How do we fight a force that resists representation, defies definition, eludes identification, subsumes its own opposition? Dissent is among Control’s in-built design features. Even the most disruptive form of protest — i.e. terrorism — is part of the architecture, the 21st century’s general ambience. Ideological death is the opposite of exceptional. Revolution at its most banal.

Our rarity is deleted in the performance of commoditised interconnection. In aspiring amongst ourselves, in public, toward unique cultural experiences, or nuanced political opinions, or marketplace tastes — performing those things that not long ago signified the modern, educated, cultured, western, enlightened, liberal, broadminded, individual, free (white) subject — we at once divide and subdivide our subjectivities and social relations and risk our diverse (racial, cultural, economic, linguistic, &c.) multiplicity by submitting ourselves to privatised repositories of information. The archive as weapon. Anyone who’s seen Schindler’s List knows that we test our ethical limits when human beings become raw data. We are susceptible to the awfullest abstraction and vulnerable to violence’s ultimate manifestations.

First as conspiracy theory, then as Black Mirror episode, then as bare-naked reality. First as tragedy, then as farce, then as documentary series.

Totalitarian states, law enforcement and paranoiac fantasies once fueled the fear of surveillance. We were worried that our phones were being tapped, our rooms bugged, our movements recorded, to catch us revealing something incriminating during a domestic moment of intimacy and honesty. Corporations have far more information than any government ever dreamed of collecting, and most of it we have given up willingly, gleefully — on Facebook, Twitter, Google. Left and Right-wing media have all widely reported Edward Snowden’s revelations, the Cambridge Analytica leak, the Panama Papers. It’s not like we didn’t know.

For a long time, we have known and done nothing. We have lived with ambient violence since 9/11 but have mounted no revolution. The momentum of the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and various uprisings around the world (including the Maple Spring-student protests of 2012 across Quebec) has all but entirely dissipated. It is not enough to indict and convict ourselves for this. It is not entirely our fault. Dissipating momentum is part of the contingency budget that Control accounts for in advance. It is possible that these movements were, in addition to legitimate and spontaneous insurrections, highly informative data collection exercises to monitor and map the spread and circulation of potentially radical action. (How many of us confirmed our coordinates via an app, or posted social media updates from inside the protest?)

Most of us are not going to do terrorism, or infrastructural sabotage, or symbolically self-immolate, or anything remotely close. Nor are those viable strategies. (See Control’s contingency plan for dissipating momentum.) Most of us are not going to join blockades along Indigenous lands to halt trainloads of oil. Most of us might not vote or even sign a petition.

We-must-this! and We-must-that! is to 2020s critical theory as Did-you-ever-notice-this? and Did-you-ever-notice-that? was to 1990s stand-up comedy. A book like Capital Is Dead fits neatly inside its own tautological narrative — a book for its times, the time for this book. It needs to be published via a press like Verso with a cover in that font, with that kind of au courant design, for it to fill the necessary number of orders. (How many of us routinely purchase our hauls of anti-capitalist books from Amazon dot com, let’s be honest?) These signifiers validate the story both for us and the status quo, whom are implicated. The damned enemy certainly does not want to be immortalised within the back pages of some obscure blog post. Bestsellers or bust!

The difference between ordering your pile of radical literature on Amazon or directly from the Verso webstore is insignificant. It serves the same productive model. Your order will still pass through the “stacks”, that connective web — through your ISP, the cable plugged into the wall, the fibre optic line that runs to the end of your street, maybe underground, maybe over radio waves from then on. The order still gets filled in some warehouse, packed into a box and taped shut with a purchase order inside. It still ships and gets delivered to your doorstep by a driver earning a low wage for some delivery company or another. In all likelihood, taking this stand against The Man will cost you more capital than dealing with Amazon. The upshot is that Amazon’s finely oiled machine is never-not the ideal to which the independent bookseller must but never will measure up. UberEats and Skip The Dishes are rapidly replacing traditional urban food delivery models for similar reasons. (How can each restaurant be expected to have their own city-wide fleet of delivery drivers?) The choice between an independent bookseller and Amazon, or the local restaurant delivery versus UberEats, or Airbnb versus a hotel, or the buffet rather than the daily special, is made inherently political. But capitalism under Control shapes the fields of play and makes (and breaks) the rules of the politics game. Whichever choice you make, the game remains the same. It’s the old Coca-Cola-or-Pepsi routine for the 21st century.

It is not a case of identifying what iteration of the game we are forced to play at any given moment, but rather of remembering and re-remembering that it is a game, and the game is fundamentally the same rigged capitalist shell game it has always been. That is what Control does. Control controls. It seems so stupid to write down, to say aloud, and yet it could not be more profound! Whether we say, “this is not capitalism, this is something worse!” or “this is still capitalism and it’s gotten worse”, it is still much fucking worse, and there are few things Control would rather have us do than argue amongst ourselves whilst things worsen further.

Narratives like Capital is Dead or High Maintenance instruct us on how to navigate the playing field. They update us to the new rules of the same old game — the new terms and conditions, the new license — as would Apple with a new operating system or Microsoft with a piece of software. (This is the latest 2020 version.) Our attention is trained on deciphering the meaning, reading, critiquing, interpreting, getting to the heart of this inviting and familiar narrative. Familiar enough yet never-not strange, this seductive, instructive narrative. But deciphering Control’s terms is a misdirection of our potent critical energies. Assume terms! And assume that the terms are against you at all times, because they either are now or will soon be.

There are no alternatives to making things better. Dropping out is not an option. Escape is impossible. But trying is. The only thing within our control is what might be described as temperament, or timbre: our distinctive resonant vibrational colour — however harmonious or discordant — with Control. This is the opposite of a binary with-us-or-against-us relation. Upon this spectrum, there are infinite frequencies, infinite rhythms. And so, we always must dance.

Never Once Reflect

Ten loosely connected thoughts on Tiny Mix Tapes and FACT’s demise, being an inquiry into the premediated shock of the Real

2020 has so far been the bearer of bad tidings for experimental music coverage: Tiny Mix Tapes and FACT have both announced that they will no longer publish editorial content.

Ten thoughts on that, below:


1: algorithmic engines and AI have replaced humans in media search and recommendation

Industry, not the state, is the engine of capitalist production. And industry, not the state, is the seat of power. So, corporations, not the state, are the sites of capital and power. As such, they lead the pursuit for data collection, not necessarily (or primarily) for social control, but for the ignorant pursuit and growth of wealth. The largest media and technology corporations have been watching and listening to us, the watchers, the listeners. And they have noticed certain patterns in our behaviours. Patterns that can be repeated and turned into capital — “if you like this”; “listeners also bought”. For better or worse, we have built and trained algorithmic recommendation through our consumption habits. Apple and Spotify, Amazon and Google silently survey us. Social networks encourage us to “share” everything. We have allowed and even participated in a serious erosion of privacy, and the potential privatisation of everything we make public.


2: streaming has replaced MP3s in the second great digital switcheroo

Remember when iTunes first opened, and artists complained that they only received nine cents for every 99-cent download? Those numbers, which significantly undercut CD royalties at the time, now seem lavish. On average, one would have to stream a song on Spotify between 20 and 30 times in order to equal the value of one iTunes-circa-2010 download. Where did the money go? The value of music has seemingly evaporated, but it is the tech companies and platforms that are rapidly reconstituting all that melts into air back into solid capital. Just as CDs artificially inflated the recorded music marketplace in the 1980s and ‘90s, streaming is artificially solving the problem of digital reproduction in the 2010s and ‘20s. Tech companies are like the mafia: they create a problem (“it would be a shame if someone ruined your nice business”), and then they offer up their own proprietary solutions, for a price (“You’re with us now, but we may call upon you for a favour…”)


3: streaming is still artificially buoyed by the major labels and their back-catalogues

The most-streamed artists and genres are not the obscure artists or genres. They are still label creations like Drake and Adele, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift. After that, it is the Fleetwood Macs and Pink Floyds, the Madonnas and Princes, the legacy artists that we listen to. The legacy is the leverage. The more we mythologise, the greater the legacy’s value to capital and power. It is possible for independent artists to upload their music directly to streaming services, and also to trade their wares through platforms like Bandcamp. But hyper-specific currents and trends are more easily ignored on the major streaming platforms, and just as often absorbed — scaled up incrementally — by the corporate colossi.


4: increasingly more individualised self-identification and taste has destroyed consensus, and further subdivided communal affinities

Postmodernism and the omnilegent critical regard have levelled all cultural manifestations. There is no high nor low art now, neither hot nor cool medium. Everything is of equal importance: film, TV, music, fashion, visual art, text, talk, even politics and commerce. (Especially politics and commerce have come to replace art.) It is in the corporate interest to make us believe that if we don’t attend to everything, we haven’t heard anything. Through curation of cultural production, we cultivate the idea of ourselves. Yet the Left is divided further against itself by the very technologies and platforms (Twitter) that seem to unite and solidify the Right. The cost of our plurality is a lack of unity. The hope is that this is only temporary.


5: increasingly fragmentary temporality online has de-historicised the narrative(s)

In his 2010 book Retromania, Simon Reynolds was already documenting the effects of YouTube and the long historical tail on cultural production, arguing that the ability to plumb media’s historical depths made it easier to ignore the present, much less to orient toward an unwritten future. His was a voice in a growing chorus including Nicholas Carr (The Shallows), Sherry Turkle (Alone Together), Jaron Lanier (You Are Not A Gadget) and others attempting to conceive of the future and warn us of it at once. The sheer volume of simultaneous historical media disorients a sense of context and causality. In Reynolds’ end-of-the-2010s round-up for The Guardian, he writes: “While the clock and the calendar continue to plod forward in their steadfast and remorseless way, what you could call ‘culture-time’ feels like it’s become unmoored and meandering.” Writing for The Wire in 2012, Terre Thamlitz observed: “today’s widely embraced model of the ‘internet as context’ is a sign of new heights of refinement in selling the Western humanist model of a ‘shared human experience’ to a diversely destitute world — albeit only at the expense of denying every material circumstance facilitating one’s entry into cyberspace, ranging from the realities of our crap little rooms in which we sit with our personal computers to the massive social and ecological destruction caused by server facilities and power plants…” To date, I’ve never heard it said better.


6: the internet’s pliability and ephemerality distort history

The ability to write, rewrite, amend, redact, and delete things on the internet weakens its textual authenticity and authority. Note the rise in prominence of Twitter “watchdogs”, like the accounts that track and document edits made to Wikipedia and The New York Times. The restless revision of history — reissues, reboots, lists, commemorations — has become the most reliably profitable productive form. (See #1) An artist no one had ever heard of becomes the forgotten pioneer. The contested terrain of history becomes the archeological site for ever-new discoveries. And these exist beyond criticism’s reach. The lack of consensus means that evaluative critical distinctions like “good” or “bad” are rendered meaningless. Truth no longer requires permission.


7: affect rather than (or in addition to) the subconscious-subliminal is how capital-power constructs and enforces the Real

In Adam Curtis’s BBC documentary series Century of the Self, he argued that Freud and the subconscious characterised the 20th century’s cultural zeitgeist. Advertising appealed subliminally to our hopes and fears. And we felt mediated interactions as if they were real. Power and capital deploy arcane, resonant symbolism to communicate with us and amongst themselves through a sprawling and increasingly dreamlike media constellation. Jung more than Freud gives meaning and shape to media in the early 21st century. The sensorial immediacy and illusion of media’s endless availability guide — and misguide — us online. Every stimulus is effectively an interrupt request.


8: the internet is about appearance and experience — about media and its mediation, not about objects

As vast as it is, and as obvious as this sounds, the internet only houses an extremely limited number of things — obviously, it cannot transmit “things”. Thus, it masks its own materiality. The “thing”, the object of capital and power online, is attention. The ability to command and scatter it at will is currency. Michael Tausig, in a recent Critical Inquiry essay entitled “Unpacking My Library: An Experiment in the Technique of Awakening”, describes what he terms “Erlebnis”, a new “genre” of understanding: “a rapid-fire mode of experiencing in which an experience, so long as it is not extreme, burns out as soon as it is born. And it is scattered — [a] perfect reflection of our neoliberal age of tweet consciousness …” It is therefore understood and expected to regard and disregard in near simultaneity.


9: premediation (not remediation [the transubstantiation of old into new media] nor premeditation [the accurate prediction of future events]) is the cultural logic that governs our relationships between what could be and what is, the virtual and the actual

In his 2010 book of the same name, Richard Grusin defines premediation as “proliferating multiple remediations of the future both to maintain a low level of fear in the present and to prevent a recurrence of the kind of tremendous media shock that the United States and much of the networked world experienced on 9/11.” I would extend the logic of premediation to the cultural sphere: we are constantly braced for the next publication to cease operations, for the next cynical branding exercise, for the untimely deaths of artists and thinkers, for the planet’s general devastation. Cultural premediation is born of the critic’s impossible desire to stay one step ahead of the imminent future, while existing in the present, of observing without altering. (See #5)


10: shock is the ambient texture of experience

Control, as Burroughs or Deleuze or Galloway knew it, exists after decentralisation precisely because of the premediated shock-doctrine; rather than imagine ways out, we are too busy reacting, like cornered soldiers, firing off in all directions. For evidence, see the rise in prominence of the phrase “the new normal”. The New Normal implicitly means the shock, the lack of an anchor on bumpy seas, that we are now expected to simply live with. Is it possible to shock ourselves out of this? Through Acid Communism? Communist Surrealism? The thinkers I keep returning to — Water Benjamin, Gilles Deleuze, Mark Fisher — all took their own lives. Self-sacrifice certainly suits power and capital just fine. Another job they don’t have to do. But it’s clearly not the answer. Is there somewhere a shock that is not yet death, the useful shock of a new kind of consciousness?

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Notes on being suspended from Twitter because of my name

When I was born, my parents named me Ryan Alexander. Both children of Ukrainian immigrants living in Western Canada, they did this because they didn’t want me to be discriminated against — they didn’t want me to have a Ukrainian-sounding name. (They apparently never considered that the Irish were also victims of serious discrimination, an honest mistake.) There was nothing we could do about our last name — Diduck — for which there was really no English spelling, but the idea was that if I was named Ryan (which meant “little king”) and Alexander (the great), nobody would look down on me.

My father was named Taras, after the famous Ukrainian poet, and my mother is called Oryssia (or Iris, as she prefers). When they were growing up in Canada in the 1950s and 1960s, British and French Canadians generally considered Ukrainians second- if not third-class citizens, along with First Nations, Slavs, Russians, Jews, Italians, Asian, Brown and Blacks. My dad’s sister, my aunt, had changed her name in the 70s from Marcia Holowaychuk to Marcie Holloway. She was one of Edmonton’s most successful real-estate agents and she swore that having an Anglicised name helped; no one was going to buy a million-dollar property from someone called Holowaychuk.

Because of my name, I grew up acutely aware that I was not a member of the upper class; we were dominated, not the dominators. And even though I was called Ryan Alexander, which nobody had any trouble with, I was constantly correcting peoples’ pronunciation of my last name. It looks like it should be “Dye Duck”, or perhaps “Dee Duck”. But it’s pronounced “Dee Duke”, or more accurately “Dee Dookh”, with a soft kh at the end. You have to use the phlegmy part of your throat to say it right. It’s not a sound that exists in English. The only way to spell it is in the Cyrillic alphabet: Дідух.

For years, I was embarrassed of my name. I thought of getting rid of it altogether and just being Ryan Alexander. I thought of changing it to something completely different. I considered Alexander Duke, which I still think sounds pretty cool. But more recently, after doing extensive research about the Ukrainian famine-genocide, the Soviet invasion of Ukraine, and my family’s place in all of it, I’ve come to understand that Дідух is not only my name, it’s also my identity. It’s who and what I am. If I deny that, who am I?

A few months ago, in a small act of reclamation, I decided to change my Twitter name to its Cyrillic spelling. Immediately after doing this, my account was suspended. I had to go through Twitter support to verify my identity and unblock my account. It struck me as odd that using a non-English alphabet would be in some way suspicious and I noted it at the time. I wondered if anyone named Smith had ever encountered this problem.

I got my answer last night. Since it’s October, I thought that I might change my handle to something Halloween-themed, as the kids do these days. So, I changed it to “Duck Soup” and then to my standard “Dead Duck”. Without incident, I changed it a few more times, to varying stupid Halloween-y puns, before deciding that no, I wasn’t going to do Halloween this year. My name is my name. I changed it back to Дідух, and once again, Twitter suspended my account.

This time, it was more complicated getting it reinstated. Twitter support wanted my mobile phone number, to which they would send a code via text message. If I entered the code they sent, my account would be reactivated, they said. But the problem is that I don’t have a mobile phone. (At this point, I think it’s just me and Jack White, although I suspect he’s lying.) At any rate, I didn’t feel it was necessary for me to provide a phone number to Twitter; they had only weeks ago disclosed that users’ email addresses and phone numbers were used surreptitiously and without consent to more effectively target ads.

I sent a somewhat terse email to Twitter support accusing them of blatant discrimination, and this morning, I received a reply proclaiming: “We had a look at your account, and it appears that everything is now resolved!” Well, it is, and it isn’t. It is obvious that Twitter’s algorithms for spotting suspicious behaviour are culturally biased. Doubtless, Twitter is currently under pressure to fight Russian and Ukrainian interference in America’s politics. And clearly, a name change to something spelled in Cyrillic is a trigger. Assuming that everyone with a Cyrillic name is a Russian troll sounds a lot like assuming that everyone with a Muslim name is a terrorist.

Twitter is a platform upon which frustrated men can bully and harass women. No problem there. Twitter is a platform upon which people can hurl insults and verbal abuse at anyone they so choose, with total impunity and anonymity, simply for a difference of opinion. That’s okay. Twitter is a platform upon which Donald Trump can amass millions of followers, rise to the highest office of the world’s wealthiest nation, and inflame hatred toward groups of people he considers expendable. This is fine. But you can’t change your name to honour your ancestors without raising algorithmic eyebrows. That’s the truth about this platform.

If only my last name were something like Dorsey.

Never Once Reflect

The Sinking of the Titanic: 7 final thoughts on RBMA’s demise

1: This was not investment. It was an advertising budget. These are similar but not the same. An investment requires a direct return. An advertising budget also requires a return, but less direct, more diffuse. Just as any company would, after finding that their advertising campaign wasn’t reaching its market, or that that market had already been tapped out, they reallocate it elsewhere. It’s very 20th century thinking, actually. If a company figured out that their radio ads weren’t reaching enough of an audience, they’d put more money into print ads. An easy way to think about RBMA is to replace the word “Academy” — or “event” or “lecture” or “radio broadcast” or “historical essay” — with “ad”: Red Bull Music Ad.

2: Although it employed and advanced the livelihoods of many people who were passionate about music, and excellent at their craft, Red Bull was not a benevolent patron of the arts. (See #1.)

3: It was not about building local communities. Otherwise, they would have used local venues with local employees, hired local PR companies, grips, riggers, sound engineers, and ultimately respected grassroots local scenes. They did none of these.

4: The vast archive of RMBA materials is historically significant for at least two reasons: A: superficially, it is a repository of often interesting, often important, and often informative talks, essays, and the like. B: subcutaneously, it is a repository of what a corporate brand regarded as interesting, important, and informative, as well as how those narratives were subtly curated and sculpted to reflect and represent Red Bull’s brand identity. Examples of this include their history of Montreal’s Post-rock scene, Montreal’s Torn Curtain history, &c. Here, they de- and re-historicise to suit their own narrative, aligning their product with things that had nothing to do with Red Bull — scenes that were in direct ideological opposition to everything Red Bull stands for. In this respect, an archive is all the more necessary, as a cautionary tale, if nothing else, against anything like it in the future.

5: There is a question about whether or not the loss of RBMA will be a loss for culture at large. Some of the music RBMA rubbed up against existed already (Iggy Pop, Bjork). Some of it was concurrently emergent (Flying Lotus). Some of it was produced from the ground up, and/or immediately co-opted into the Red Bull brand ecosystem. This goes for their journalistic arm, too. Some people who wrote RBMA materials (Will Straw) had other careers, and didn’t really need the gig. Others (talented freelancers like Chal Ravens or Harley Brown) are likely more dependent upon an RBMA pay cheque. So there is a continuum — from co-opting and infiltrating already-existing cultures, to producing an artificial bubble — upon which everything they touched can be placed. Of course, Iggy Pop and Bjork won’t really suffer from RBMA’s demise. What Red Bull “made from scratch” is most at risk of disappearing, and most in need of immediate attention.

6: Here is a sinister thought: what if RBMA was really an assassination attempt of an entire scene on the part of a corporate conglomerate? I would argue that electronic/experimental/dance music communities are among the most progressive, most radical, and ultimately most dangerous cultural waves to come along since the illegal rave culture of the early 1990s. Did the corporate brands figure out how to nip these movements in the bud by sponsoring them from the get-go, and then pulling the plug just as they were gaining momentum? How calculated this nefariousness was, or if it even existed at all, is up for debate. But it’s possible. And if you consider the scale of wealth and power at play, it almost seems plausible.

7: This is a time for sympathy. If you’re in an abusive relationship and your partner dumps you, it’s you who has won, even though it might not seem that way for a long time. Unfortunately, in many instances of abuse, the victim continues long afterward to make excuses and apologies for their abuser. Hostages eventually feel pity for and even solidarity with their captors. A drowning victim will often fight and sometimes take down with them a would-be rescuer. Love, empathy, and healing are what we need now. We’re on dry land. We’re safe. Where we go from here is entirely up to us.

999 Words

Dead Bull: reflections on RBMA’s failed experiment in murketing

The comedian Dave Chappelle has a smart and riotous routine about being right in an argument. He describes the veracious person as “the most uncomfortable motherfucker in the room.” It’s a position for which there are no prizes, Chappelle believes: “I was right at an orgy once. Nobody fucked me.”

Reading the announcement this morning that Red Bull Music Academy and Red Bull Radio will cease operations as of October 31st, 2019, I acutely feel Chappelle’s pain. I have been banging on about this for years. And I get no pleasure in saying I told you so. But I did tell you so. I tried my best to warn that what Red Bull was doing amounted to little other than gentrification of an entire scene, that it was an artificial bubble created by a careless corporation, that RBMA was nothing more or less than a 21st century advertising campaign to perpetuate an 18th century economic model, that Red Bull had terrible business practices, that it is an unhealthy product to consume, that despite its ostensible commitment to culture, its founders have questionable politics and hold outright racist beliefs. When nobody would commission my research, I published it on my own — here, here, and here.

I don’t want an ovation. But the bulls have come home to roost, as it were. This was going to happen sooner or later. Maybe it’s a good thing that it’s happening now.

My goal with this writing on Red Bull was never to finger-wag or moralise. It was, rather, to shed light on Red Bull’s shady process, which I believed was holding us back more than pushing us forward, deflating rather than expanding consciousness, stifling not empowering music and art. The first step toward transcending oppression is to understand how oppression works.

Rather than pay for billboards along highways, or full-page ads in magazines, Red Bull pioneered what the journalist Rob Walker in his 2008 book Buying In called “murketing”: the blurring of the lines between what we buy and who we are. Red Bull also saw an opportunity in the dance music community, of reaching potential customers who were otherwise beyond the grasp of traditional advertising: the “unreachables”. Nevertheless, the experimental electronic music population was never going to be profitable enough for Red Bull to justify pouring millions of dollars into the scene. F1 auto racing. Football. That’s where the real money is. Despite the company’s best efforts, ravers apparently didn’t buy enough Red Bull.

What really upsets me is that Red Bull fundamentally saw RBMA as an experiment. Because it was just another form of advertising, front-to-back, plain and simple, Red Bull always knew that they could abandon whatever community they had helped to cultivate. When the petri dish got dirty, or didn’t produce the results they’d anticipated, they could toss it into the trash and start another advertising experiment afresh in some other burgeoning community. There was never a sense of responsibility on the part of Red Bull to the real people who increasingly relied upon their infrastructures for their livelihoods. I know of at least a dozen people who did excellent work for Red Bull, who brought tireless enthusiasm and energy to an employer that ultimately couldn’t have cared less about them.

The most immediate issue is jobs, a question to which the company has so far refused to provide a clear answer. Red Bull had a knack for attracting some of the best and brightest musicians, journalists, broadcasters, event coordinators, and the like. Some of these people will be out of work. This is a sad consequence of an artificial ecosystem’s collapse. Yet, I was denied freelance jobs because of my anti-RBMA stance. Publications would not run my research because they feared it would upset their advertisers, none more than RBMA. So, the employment question is not a clear-cut or straightforward one.

Another big question: what’s going to happen to all those lectures, all those interviews, the radio broadcasts, the essays and articles that RBMA produced? I hope that someone who is tech-savvy enough preserves them, because regardless of whether or not they were bankrolled with corporate funding, these are all important historical documents. They should in some sense be “nationalised” and archived for the public good.

Perhaps — and I hope this is the case — we are witnessing the dawn of a new era for music and media, an era which will be less dependent upon ad-driven revenue, and that will be more open to championing and amplifying critical voices rather than those who simply sing the company jingle. I hope that we are witnessing the end to our corporate-sponsored slumbers. Even the most hardcore proponent of Red Bull’s economic model cannot today come to its defence with any sense of dignity. Red Bull was never an altruistic, philanthropic entity. They were always-already after one consistent goal: to sell more Red Bull.

What we have before us is an enormous opportunity: the spectre of a scene which could be free — free from corporate tyranny; free of commodification; free from cynicism and unquestioning compliance. “Instead of seeking to overcome capital,” Mark Fisher wrote in the introduction to his unfinished book Acid Communism, “we should focus on what capital must always obstruct: the collective capacity to produce, care and enjoy.” We now have those capacities immediately in our midst.

Ultimately, art cannot be used in the service of capital, because art is necessarily a refusal of what Terence McKenna called “the dominator culture.” We cannot look back to a time that seemed better or more comfortable — the swinging sixties; 1990s rave culture — purely because we are here, now. Yes, we can recycle the language and templates of movements gone by. Still, anything we create from this moment forward must be in the service of constructing new narratives, and the unwavering confidence that those narratives will prevail. What needs to happen is no less than revolutionary. Capitalism has never been inevitable. A world beyond it, however, is not only possible. It’s necessary.

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Music for Films: An alternate list to Pitchfork’s 50 best film scores

Pitchfork’s 50-best film scores list was published this week, in advance of the 91st Academy Awards, airing tonight on ABC. The list isn’t bad. Bernard Herrmann figures in, as does Henry Mancini. But Blade Runner’s Vangelis score can’t possibly be the best film music of all time. Of all time, really? Here are some things, both obvious and obscure, that Pitchfork missed:


The Conversation (1974)

David Shire’s melancholic score for Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation creates the perfect atmosphere for loner Harry Caul’s adventures in eavesdropping. The editor Walter Murch also contributed electronic processing and technical assistance, creating those wonderful audio sequences zeroing in on Caul’s surveillance recordings. I believe this was the first film ever to give a “sound designer” credit.


Fletch (1985)

Of his cohort including Jan Hammer and Hans Zimmer, Harold Faltermeyer might be the most accomplished electronic score composer of all time. His 1985 theme for Fletch was musically, rhythmically, and technically complex, and lent a sonically innovative quality to Chevy Chase’s Philip-Marlowe-for-the-1980s character. Call it “neon-noir.”


The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

I am surprised that Pitchfork would forget the cinema heavyweight Miklós Rózsa. The Hungarian-born composer wrote scores for nearly 100 motion pictures, and served on the music department, often uncredited, for over 100 more. He was among the most prolific and respected composers in Hollywood during the Classical era, providing music for Ben Hur, Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound, and many other cinematic masterpieces.


The Godfather (1972)

Nino Rota, who composed the scores for over 150 films and is perhaps best known for his collaborations with Federico Fellini, was one of the best-loved film composers of all time. The Godfather features at number 5 on AFI’s list of film scores, but is nowhere to be found on Pitchfork’s list — a glaring omission.


One Night of Love (1934)

The oldest film on Pitchfork’s list is The Third Man, from 1949. But music had been appearing in movies since sync sound was standardized in 1927. The widespread introduction of sound in cinema created an entirely new industry for Hollywood composers like Louis Silvers, who won the first-ever Oscar for Best Original Score for One Night of Love at the Academy Awards in 1935.


Black Caesar (1973)

The Hardest Working Man in Show Business, James Brown’s soundtrack for Larry Cohen’s Blaxploitation film Black Caesar provides the funky soundscape to this urban mob revenge story. Under bandleader Fred Wesley’s astute tutelage, this was Brown’s first foray into writing music for the cinema. Many of the instruments are slightly out of tune, bestowing a gritty sense of live spontaneity onto the film’s soulful soundtrack.


Metropolis (1927)

Although this music was not original to Fritz Lang’s film, of course, The Alloy Orchestra’s Metropolis score might be the best film music ever written. The ensemble has retroactively scored a number of other notable silent cinema classics such as The Lost World, and Dziga Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera. If you ever get a chance to see them accompany a film live, take it.


The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Along with Paul Simon, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and Enya, Peter Gabriel is World Music’s fifth pillar. His electroacoustic soundtrack for Martin Scorsese’s controversial The Last Temptation of Christ was honored with a nomination for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score. The recording also won the 1990 Grammy award for Best New Age Album.


Illtown (1996)

Nick Gomez’s over-the-top tale of heroin dealers in a coastal Floridian town benefits from the ethereal weirdness of Brian Keane’s ambient score. Keane’s work could be described as a combination of Brian Eno and Danny Elfman. Illtown’s music makes this otherwise pretentious movie soar. (Sidebar: this film was expertly cast by Sheila Jaffe and Georgianne Walken — Christopher Walken’s wife — who also cast Basquiat, Trees Lounge, and The Sopranos.)


Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

Leonard Rosenman’s avant-garde score for Beneath the Planet of the Apes is by far the best thing about this picture. Tom Oberheim, founder of the Oberheim synthesizer brand, provided technical assistance and even brought Rosenman one of his custom-made ring modulators to experiment with. These electronic gadgets contributed to one of the most futuristic-sounding scores of the 1970s.


Summer of ’42 (1971)

Aside from The Godfather, Michel Legrand’s unforgettable theme for Robert Mulligan’s coming-of-age romance, entitled “The Summer Knows,” might be the most recognizable film music of the 20th century. Giants like Barbara Streisand and Frank Sinatra have recorded versions of it, and the film itself was subsequently adapted into an off-Broadway musical. Legrand, who only recently passed on 26 January 2019, composed music for more than 200 films and television series. Expect to see him in the “people-we’ve-lost” Oscar’s montage tonight.



Listening back: a response to Chal Ravens

Because I delight in this sort of dorkery, I’ve been thinking a lot about Chal Ravens’ tweet with regard to identifying the musical equivalent of a philosophy student’s relationship to Hegel — that Hegel is something one “revisits”. The assumption Ravens reckons with is that every salt-worthy philosophy student should already have a working knowledge of Hegel. Undisputedly, Hegel’s significance is paramount to the discipline of philosophy. So one does not read Hegel; one rereads Hegel. There is a professional embarrassment implicit here, too. Nobody is willing to admit that they’re reading Hegel for the first time. Hegel isn’t something that you simply stumble upon.

What is the musical equivalent of this? Who could be contemporary music’s Hegel? My first response was Dennis Wilson’s solo material, which got a laugh. This is certainly something that no seasoned music snob would want to cop to never having heard before. Sure, it’s rife with debaucherous, even murderous, lore. But after careful deliberation, I concluded that it’s not quite right for this exercise. Wilson is the sort of guy that rock snobs enjoy educating other snobs about. And his solo output was too meteoric — legendary, but not prolific enough to be canonical.

I gave it some more thought and decided that things like The Beatles or Bob Dylan were automatically out. Few of us can honestly remember a time of not knowing who they were. Even a Pink Floyd or a Velvet Underground was too obvious. And people like Wilson were too obscure for consideration. One could legitimately “discover” Pacific Ocean Blue without losing face (although the proper term in this instance would be to “rediscover” Pacific Ocean Blue).

The perfect analog to retreading Hegelian ground for the haute-musique crowd would be something along the lines of Robert Wyatt, or Kate Bush, or Harry Nilsson, or King Crimson. These artists hit that sweet spot of rock snobbery. Nerds universally consider them to be foundational cornerstones of great music — legends with lifelong oeuvres that influenced subsequent generations, across myriad genres. Yet they are also esoteric enough to be something senior rock snobs could strategically drop into a sentence to raise some eyebrows.

Thus, one does not “listen to” Robert Wyatt, or Kate Bush, or Harry Nilsson, or King Crimson; one “revisits” them. Bonus marks for citing a certain period or record: ergo, “I’ve been reconsidering Peter Sinfield-era King Crimson”, or “I’ve been listening back to Nilsson’s Pussy Cats, and wow, Lennon destroyed that poor bastard!”

As a post-script, I have never read Hegel, and I’m a goddamned doctor of philosophy. But I have read Žižek. So I feel like I’ve at least read a lot of someone else who hasn’t really read Hegel either.

Update: The American philosophy prof Robin James has argued in this tweet that The Beatles is indeed the correct analog to Hegel. But I’d like to stake my claim a little more clearly. (I’ve obviously already spent far too much time thinking about this, thanks Chal, but what’s a little more?)

It’s not just about assigning a musician or band to a philosopher of equivalent popularity or influence. It’s also about how we approach their works, or more importantly, how we say we approach them. Like Plato or Aristotle for philosophy, The Beatles are ever-present in pop music, so there is no need to “revisit” them. One could simply say, “I was listening to Sgt. Pepper’s the other day” and that would be a perfectly plausible and acceptable thing for a music snob to announce. Moreover, just as a philosophy student, when asked how they spent their summer might reply: “I read The Republic for the first time”, it would not be verboten to admit to never having listened to, say, With The Beatles, yet still be well aware of the Beatles’ discography.

Hegel, on the other hand, is foundational but not ubiquitous. So there is a need to go back to it every now and then. Of course, every philosophy student encounters Hegel for the first time (or in my case, never encounters Hegel), but it’s not about the admission of encounter. It’s about the reluctance of that admission. Therefor, as Chal points out, even when reading Hegel for the first time, one always “rereads” Hegel.

The four artists I proposed — Robert Wyatt, Kate Bush, Harry Nilsson, and King Crimson — are similarly “formative” but not necessarily omnipresent. So the music snob would have difficulty divulging to their music snob friends that they had never heard In The Court of King Crimson. The music snob could instead safely say something like, “I’ve been revisiting In The Court of King Crimson.” They might even add a little flourish like “… and I never noticed before how significant Ian McDonald’s contributions were!” just to lend a little extra plausibility.

Take me, for example. I’ve never actually listened to Kate Bush. But I wouldn’t be caught dead admitting it! So I’m going to go “reevaluate” The Sensual World now.

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OK Punk: notes on Mark Fisher’s ghost

Hua Hsu’s New Yorker review of Mark Fisher’s K-Punk compendium notes the “relentless energy” of his writing. What this means, in layman’s terms, is that Fisher wrote like a bandit. He produced an incredible volume of work via his blog, his columns, several books, and even through correspondence and comments sections. Fisher was always writing. And nearly two years after his death, there are still hundreds of pages of his missives to sift through in this new anthology.

Mark Fisher’s ghost has haunted me all year. My own book came out this spring via Repeater Books, a publisher that Fisher co-founded with fellow writer Tariq Goddard, from the ashes of an acrimonious split with Zer0, which they also helped establish. Among the first feedback I received, from multiple readers, was “Mark Fisher would have liked your book.” I took this as a complement, but it also bothered me for some reason. The reason, I understand now, is complicated.

Since Fisher took his own life in 2017, his popularity has blossomed into a sort of immediate mythology. Memorial lectures and events have been dedicated in his honour; his specter has dogged every avenue of critical discourse: everywhere that the words “hauntology” (Derrida’s neologism), or “retro” (Simon Reynolds’ purview) or “capitalist realism” (a phenomenon that Michael Schudson outlined in his 1984 book, Advertising, the uneasy persuasion) appear, so does Fisher’s name. It’s as if his death bestowed upon his work some final authority. In some instances, it’s unwarranted, and since it can’t be contested, it could prove dangerous.

There are clear lines throughout his writing that connect the theory he read, the books and films and music he consumed, his radical, punk politics, and his poor mental health. There is an assumption bobbing just beneath the surface that suicide is the only logical conclusion, knowing what Fisher knew — the only viable solution to the complete refusal of authority. Either we accept the abhorrence/compliance double bind of capitalism, or we face death heroically, as Fisher did.

One of the often-recited Fisher-isms is that it’s easier for us to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism. This idea has been reiterated to the point that it’s become a mantra for the left, and again, a perilous one. It’s perilous because it normalizes an unimaginative resistance. Instead, we are occupied imagining the doom-and-gloom that Control would rather we believe is inevitable. But it isn’t. Instead, we need to start imagining more and better alternatives. And every second is vital. It is not my place to speak for Fisher, but I believe that this was his point: if it’s easier to imagine the end of the world, then do the hard thing and imagine the end of capitalism!

The problem is that Fisher didn’t do that. He didn’t lead by example. He built a road, and led us all down it, and then jumped off the cliff when he reached the edge. Now it’s up to us to build a bridge, or learn to fly, or pray for divine intervention, or all of the above. At this year’s Unsound Festival, where Paul Rekret and I convened a workshop devoted to four of Fisher’s more optimistic posts culled from K-Punk, we discovered a community that’s willing to at least try.

Suicide has surrounded me in 2018. My best friend’s mother killed herself when he was still a child, and obviously this has affected him throughout his life. It’s something that we discuss often. Until recently, I felt stable enough, emotionally, to listen to him without feeling like it was taking a toll on my own outlook. But I’m not so sure now. I was disturbed by the story of Rich, the Alaskan Air worker who apparently stole an airplane and used it to do aerial acrobatics before crashing it, and himself, into a remote island in Puget Sound. The media event-ness of this story led some to postulate that it was fake news, a “false-flag operation”. America is so beyond fucked that either explanation is plausible. But the upshot is that suicide keeps bubbling up into conscious contemplation. And constantly seeing Fisher’s face in my newsfeed isn’t helping.

If Mark Fisher were truly radical, he would have refused to kill himself, just as he refused to believe that capitalism was the only possible version of modernity. He would have fought alongside us. But by taking the early checkout, he sold us out. And all we have is his unfinished roadmap.

I didn’t know Mark Fisher. I doubt that he was aware of me. Some of our writing overlaps in places. And I feel egged on by his absence. But it’s an unattainable challenge to live up to. It’s actually something I would have to die to achieve. Competing with Fisher on the Repeater imprint is what I imagine Dan Lopatin would feel like competing with Autechre on Warp, only if Autechre had killed themselves. The legend is just too great, it’s too overwhelming, there’s too much material, and it’s now enshrined in cyber-gothic lore that will live as long as digital ecosystems do.

I want to start imagining a post-Mark Fisher world, one in which his work slowly loses relevance. I want to envision ways out of capitalism, different modes of social organization, of currency, of value, pleasure and desire — things that can’t be commoditized. I want to think of a future in which we are optimistically, not pessimistically, resigned; one where it will be normal to assume that things are going to be great, not one in which we wake up every day and reload our negative operating systems, and reorient ourselves once again to the consciousness-deflating platforms that profit from the status quo’s infinite prolongation.

I think that’s what Mark Fisher would have wanted us to do, instead of banging on about how prescient he was, long after he could do anything about his purported foresight. Only then will Fisher’s ghost finally be able to rest.

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Forgiveness Rock Record

Karen Gwyer, 19 October 2018, Ausgang Plaza

The night was great; don’t get me wrong. Gwyer, local supporting act Anabasine and opener Musique Nouvelle were excellent. But the security guard at Ausgang Plaza was a little overzealous, to say the least. I was patted down, I was felt up, I was frisked, I was groped, I was manhandled, I was stripped, I was probed. We all know how painful that can be. And when it was over, I got back in line to do it again.

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