Doing stuff ‘before it was cool’ is – generally speaking – a sound principle. Being that it might include such coups as seeing Blondie at CBGBs, or, I dunno, buying that JK Galbraith book before everyone knew it was JK Rowling, that sort of thing. But living in East London ten years ago? Please. This is not something to be proud of. It was flippin’ awful.
There was nothing trendy about living amongst dirty chicken emporiums, crackpot evangelical churches, unlit streets of bleak empty warehousing, derelict bombed-out wasteground (and some council estates you wished the Luftwaffe would return for), Pat Butcher lookalikes, Eels, liqour sauce, stabby pubs, handy shops where you could buy wigs and transfer money abroad all in one place, prozzies, squatters with rotweillers, Mitchell Brothers lookalikes and an overground train service that ran every other Tuesday, weather permitting.
Those were the days. The good old days before the overground when you had to spend three hours getting to Clissold Park only to find you were 10 years too early and were then unceremoniously lynched by 13 year-olds in Kappa.
“Oh, but what about gentrification? I was a ‘real’ person who had no money and had to live here. I’m not gamourising it. I’m legit”. Oh, congratulations. Here – have a medal. It’s from the people of Glasgow congratulating you on your working class credentials. I hear there’s a plaque with your name on it in the Miner’s Welfare in Merthyr Tydfil now, too.
Let’s not forget: You weren’t born East. If you’d have been born there, you’d be now residing in Chingford, topping up your perma-tan, glad to be finally rid of the life-sucking hell-hole once and for all instead of cycling round Stokey complaining about peak beard.
On a recent trip to the Peak District, I stopped by Hadfield, the location for Royston Vasey in the TV series The League of Gentlemen. I didn’t see Tubbs and Edward, unfortunately, but I did see a Daily Mail branded newsagents wishing us Merry Christmas and a surprisingly sexy pie advert. Also good to know British Rail still run there, as I could have sworn it was privatised in 1993.
In March this year, my husband and I drove down to Italy in our camper van (the van is affectionately known as The Red Pig). We saw bits of France and Belgium on the way there and back. As you can see, the weather was pleasant most of the time, and lots of places were completely deserted.
Going out of season was great, as it cut out queues at nearly all the museums. It also allowed us to pull up and snooze in the van more or less wherever we liked. Below are some iPhone snaps I took en route.
In the early 70s, perhaps catalyzed by LSD or Marxism (or possibly both), academics in the humanities very briefly experienced a mini enlightenment. Social Science articles from the 70s are mostly awesome and way more fun that all the neoliberal crap we are force-fed these days in my humble opinion. One of the most enlightening articles from this era, which I would recommend anyone read – if only the first couple of paragraphs – is Marshal Sahlin’s The Original Affluent Society.
In The Original Affluent Society, Sahlins explains that contemporary (ie-1966) hunter-gatherers like the Kalahari Bushmen or Inuits spend on average three hours a day working. Yet they live in some of the most inhospitable places on earth. Imagine how easy it must have been for stone-age hunter-gatherers living in temperate parts of Europe or America to survive. Their surroundings were so abundant they could procure everything completely for free from nature’s larder within minutes of their doorsteps – if they indeed had doors. They also had the knowledge to just go out and make anything they wanted – again completely free and gratis, using their extensive knowledge of the environment. This is why it’s a good idea to remain skeptical about the development agenda. If a person is “surviving on $1 a day in Africa”, it might actually mean they are actually rather well-off. Introducing waged labour and that economists’ pet obsession, property rights, to these communities turns them from being the most affluent people on earth into the poorest overnight. Way to go economists.
So, what does this have to do with us? Well, if you’re like me, you’ll have noticed: hold on a minute – three hours a day? In the arctic? WTF are we doing here in the West? We have the mechanisation of agriculture, digitisation of just about everything and roboticisation. Yet we humans are working more and more hours. We work 40 hours a week – probably around 4 times the amount of our paleolithic forebears. Something, somewhere has gone horribly wrong. We should be living in some kind of utopia where everybody is drinking drinks with umbrellas while robot slaves do our housework. What happened? Why do we live in such an inefficient society? Especially when capitalism claims to be so big on efficiency?
Unfortunately, the answer to this has been known for over ages. Herbert Marcuse predicted in 1956:
“the closer the real possibility of liberating the individual from the constraints once justified by scarcity and immaturity, the greater the need for maintaining and streamlining these constraints lest the established order of domination dissolve. Civilisation has to defend itself against the specter of a world which could be free. If society cannot use its growing productivity for reducing repression (because such usage would upset the hierarchy of the status quo), productivity must be turned against the individuals, it becomes itself an instrument of universal control.”
Marcuse, Eros and Civilization
Which, in a nutshell means: Capitalism wants to keep people busy. People must keep working to live and living to work, otherwise society will start – gulp – thinking for itself.
Those of you long enough in the tooth to remember the 70s might remember that Marcuse’s predictions about productivity had started to become a reality. Human labour capacity was outstripping demand and a “leisure society” was inevitable. There was talk of a three day working week and the question was posed: what are we going to do with all our free time? Freed from the shackles of employment, humanity would reach a new era of unprecedented creativity. People could live in tipis in Wales while robots and computers did all the human work. It was going to be like Woodstock every day. But with robots. Of course, all western governments realised this was terrible news for them. How can a Labour party survive with no workers? And how can right-wingers and Liberals survive with no consumers? Luckily for them, they had a solution: Bureaucracy.
Keep people busy at all costs. Introduce audits and targets and league tables and managers at all levels in the nationalised industries. Make them feel indispensable. Devise outreach schemes and health and safety drives and equal opportunity commissions; make sure that these new jobs are promoting equality and diversity, then any left-leaning person will be unable to question them. Make the public sector one huge, teetering bureaucracy where everybody feels they are helping society. Even though all society really needs is a few nurses, teachers and possibly policemen. If this bureaucracy idea is implemented, we can ensure that all people will be kept:
a. Too busy to change the status quo
b. Dependent on the state
Which is what happened. Ask any teacher, nurse, doctor, policeman, lecturer or social worker about their job and they will all, without exception, tell you that is blighted by inordinate amounts of pointless paperwork. The drop-out rate of new teachers is approaching 50%. A large proportion of them cite overwork as the cause. They are even talking of scrapping the long summer holidays, so it must be bad. Tenured university lecturers in the UK have to spend over half their working week on paperwork instead of doing new research or teaching students. Nurses and doctors spend as much time reporting on what they have just done as doing it.
The Protestant work ethic is so embedded in Anglo-American society that everyone from the unemployed demanding the “right to work” to the super-rich who do internships instead of just whatever the fuck they like all day are all in it together. The drudgery of wage slavery is the only way to feel fulfilled in our society. The long-term unemployed become suicidal. We are urged to detest those on Benefits Street because they are refusing to play along with the game.
The fact of the matter is that our society only really needs a two or three day working week. The other two and a half days create the surplus value which feeds capitalism by creating the consumer society. If people had those extra two and a half days, they might start their own businesses and compete with large scale capitalism by owning the means of production. ‘Owning the means of production’… of course, all this Marxist language sounds hideously old-fashioned to us now. It may be outdated, boring, passé, but let’s face it: It’s bang on the money, right?
September and May have always been my favourite time to visit the Mediterranean, as scrambling over Roman ruins, drinking red wine, sunbathing – all the good stuff – are clearly best done without fear of heatstroke. It’s also well-known that August is the worst time to visit Europe, as many cities such as Paris and Madrid effectively close down. On top of that, you have the school summer holidays calendar which means just about everywhere with a patch of grass from St Petersburg to Dublin will be mobbed by screaming kids. Don’t even think about visiting an open-air swimming pool in late July.
Of course, the ski season lasts from mid-December to Late March, but the winter is otherwise a pretty miserable time to visit Europe, where winter means either -40 in the North or grey skies and inadequate central heating in the South.
I’ve just got back from an epic three-week trip down to southern Italy and back in the camper van and I have to say that mid-March is in some ways an ideal time to ‘do Europe’ if you are interested in culture rather than beaches. There were no queues for museums, no reservations necessary at restaurants, easy parking and sleeping wherever we liked in the van. The coast roads were traffic-free, which is also a huge bonus in places like the French Riviera and the Italy’s Amalfi coast, where there is enough local traffic to cause headaches at the best of times.
The weather was extremely varied, ranging from bright sunshine in Lyon to freezing hail in Naples, to snow in the Alps and April Showers in Belgium. It really felt like we got a unique insight into a side of Europe we hadn’t seen before.
Most importantly, of course, there were none of those insufferable other tourists ruining our tourism by doing touristy things and being all touristy. Which was great!
Someone on teh internet once said that ‘Dubstep sounds like robots having sex’. There was a time when that would have been a great thing. We could have worn a tinfoil space outfit from Cyberdog and been all over that robot sex vibe. How times have changed. Nowadays, the idea of ‘quality’ in Dance music has shifted to the warm, classic-sounding stuff: Deep House, New York Disco, Ska, Rock n Roll, Golden Era Hip Hop, anything with analog synths, anything with 909s… All that EDM and Brostep rubbish sounds, well, rubbish. What happened?
Up until a couple of years ago, Dance music only ever looked forward. The rate of progression from Rap to House to Rave to Hardcore to Jungle to DnB took place over the course of just 10 short years (roughly speaking, 1986-1996). Top DJs were expected to play all the latest releases and a track would be jettisoned from your record bag after 18 months, regardless of how good it was. White labels, dubplates and pirate radio all contributed in their own way to the vertiginous turnover of sonic palates, pushing music faster, harder, further. Dance music was the sound of the future and it left most Rock music light years behind in terms of innovation and originality. I remember DJing in the early 2000s and listening to old House and Hardcore records with their ‘primitive’ 909 beats and thinking how dated and badly produced they sounded. Those same records are now the ones we eulogize about with misty-eyed nostalgia. The futuristic robot music of Skrillex or Knife Party just sounds like some kind of aural discharge. The future is over.
The reason we hate EDM is that we are now living in the end times. We are coming to the end of Western civilization. Although the current economic recession appears to be lifting – through such ugly and desperate measures as fracking and selling off the NHS – we are surely witnessing the last death throws of the Anglo-saxon empire. As Russia comes knocking at Europe’s door once again and Latin Americans catch tantalizing glimpses of life beyond America’s stranglehold, it’s fair to say we are entering a new age. It is no surprise, then, that we are also caught up in a collective cultural nostalgia trip.
The warm, cosy world of the 20th Century is a far safer place for us to abide than a 21st Century where China holds the cards and hoverboards are conspicuous only by their absence. It is also no surprise, that the only music ‘we’ judge to be worthy is the good old classic-sounding stuff. The new breed of American Dubstep with its hyper-wobble distorted basslines or glitzy EDM with its catchy choruses and hands-in-the-air Euphoria are deemed to be beyond the pale.
We have fallen out of love with the future, because we know deep down that we do not own the future any more. Is this something to be pessimistic about? Hell no! Just as in 1453, as Constantinople fell and Christendom lay in tatters, Italy looked inwards and backwards and came up with the Renaissance, it might be that we need a deep and long recession to remind us of what’s important in life. It’s probably time for the West to take a rest. Once the fracked oil has been bled dry and the locusts have moved on to India or China, maybe we will finally be left in peace to build a sustainable future where we don’t have to keep running blindly forwards in the name of progress. If Skrillex is the future, isn’t it better to stand still? I for one would rather stick on a shellac, pour myself a martini with an olive in it, and get back to the sewing. As long as I can keep my iphone.
LIKED THIS? NOW READ: WHY ROCK MUSIC CAN’T CHANGE THE WORLD
In spite of not knowing how to spell Obama, or that the UK doesn’t have a president, Gemma Worrall knows that Russia is bad. The western media can give itself a collective back pat for that one. The endless anti-Putin propaganda, starting with the Olympics and ending in the whole Ukraine thing has been so effective that even those who know absolutely nothing about anything at all have been wholeheartedly convinced that RUSSIA IS EVIL.
Thank God our great leader Barraco Barner is here to save us all from these foreign evil dictators who do evil things like not selling us their gas as cheaply as we’d like or invading places they used to own.