Writing by Neil Kulkarni

Tuesday, 25 November 2014



   I worry about my friend Ian. Going through some tough times. Aren’t we all? Yeah, but not all of us have created one of the albums of the year and seen their work utterly unheralded. I thought that ‘The Vertical Axis’, Crause’s masterpiece from late 2013 was something it would take a while  for the ex D.I frontman to move on from, so stunning an inversion of all musical rules and habits was it, so total was its blazing of a trail, scorching the earth behind it, making forward motion the only option. He’s found a way though. By pushing ‘Songs Of Phaethon’ back out there, three songs from his recent past, a call, a zenith and a fall. Three songs that utterly reconfigure your expectations of what listening to music can be.  It’s music that, as you listen, scares you because it’s rubbing so much music out, erasing so much of the timewasting retrograde cowardice of contemporary pop, not ‘introducing’ you to a new kind of music but plunging you into it headfirst, dazzling and disturbing you sonically, intriguing and immolating you lyrically. That’s perhaps, beyond the substance & sound of these songs, beyond the allusions and suggestiveness of the lyrics, the most headwrecking thing about ‘Songs Of Phaethon’. It does that thing that you’d almost forgotten music can do. Bullies your head away from all distraction. Takes you on, takes you somewhere. Insists that only honesty can get us out of our present stasis, only fearlessness can destroy our fear. For all Crause’s isolation, his is some of the most giving, the most generous music being made on the planet right now this side of Juana Molina. Impossibly, irresistably, it believes in its marrow that new things can be made.

   New and ancient. I thought I was too dumb to unpick the wider metaphors and allegories behind Crause’s choice of Phaethon as the protagonist and arc of this record – but I’d heard the word before. I remember Richard II in Shakespeare’s play camply submitting to his pursuers with the line ‘Down, down I come; like glistering Phaethon/ Wanting the manage of unruly jades in the base court’. Reading the incredible lyrics Crause has written for ‘Songs Of Phaethon’ I’m wary of accepting what I’ve been told about him using the Phaethon motif  as a direct allegory for the primary political fracture of our recent history, our entry into the Iraq war. I can see it, I can let it work, but it’s not the limit of this art.  For me, the songs here are about the unpicking of both god and man’s arrogance, the destruction of grace and the scattering of will to the shifting sands of time, change, the incessant brutalisation of commerce, the collosal hubris that comes from a holy war. And its message is genuinely timeless, always timely, will still hold as this planet creeps towards solar death. These are songs in which aeons pass, civilizations grow and fester and die, songs where temporally you’re continually moved between modernity and the ancient and classical world by the imagery but simultaneously skewered right here right now by the sheer rush of the sound, the suggestiveness of the samples and textures, by the splicing and dicing and playfulness with source that can only be from now or the future.

 As with all Crause’s solo work, this is a riot for the ears, a palpitating ebbing living sound you can touch and taste and feel, a sound that doesn’t happen in the room you’re in but actually becomes the world you are in. Not quite a conjuring because Crause always walks that essential tightrope between total control and prone vulnerability to his own music, like he’s set something in motion he can’t commandeer, can only join, cling on to, try and be heard within. Like Public Enemy and Young Gods, still to me his clearest influences, he upends the reverent rules of sampladelia, exerts infinite finesse to create something that sounds both feral and mystical, documentary and magical. Opener ‘Phaethon’s Call’ seems structurally to flow from no kind of music any of us have ever heard, an imagining of ancient form, a white griot, a futurist plainsong. Reading lyrics like “Every day their shadows ran / down Asia like a lyre, strumming / past his village, swinging down at perihelion / to touch upon his mother’s house / then over dark and quiet woods – / their distant hawks and watching deer / oblivious in bending shade – / descending into seacloud mist, / and down towards the gull-cloud cliffs / to pour their jewels and precious metals / out along the sea” I’m reminded of Fairport at their most timelessly dream-like but what truly makes the song work is Crause’s infinite attention to the details of the sound that bleeds over and swells under his words, his total refusal to secure what he does in habit or the familiar.
   ‘Phaethon’s Zenith’ reveals that Crause’s sounds are familiar but not musically, they’re familiar sounds of life, of the body and the street and the temple and the warzone marshalled, twisted, opened up and splayed open in a way that pulls you close up, sends you to a satellites-eye view, sends you through undersea tunnels, scorched desert trails. I don’t know how to listen to this music, I just know that while it plays it possesses me completely. This might not be what music’s meant to do anymore. Might be considered rude, inappropriate for music to refuse to slot along lifestyle and actually engulf you in this fashion. Crause’s music is a constant reminder of the kind of possibilities of sound and word that his aforementioned heroes and others (I also hear Kristin Hersh, William Blake and Jimi Hendrix) have always pushed towards. And hearing it now, in 2014, is like stumbling across a new colour, something that hasn’t been commodified and could not be. So rare. So precious.

   Perhaps the most incredible half-hour of music you’ll hear all year (and certainly by light-years the most absorbing and disruptive music with guitars on it you’ll hear all year) closes out with ‘Phaethon’s Fall’, an immolation, a total war. Sirens, horses hooves that become helicopter blades, carnage, star-glimmers that turn into firestorms. Startling and yet so immediately and instinctively understandable, clear. And all the way through, Crause keeps his voice in a unique place in modern music, not quite obliterated, not quite foregrounded, central and dangerously exposed like a looped magnetophone abandoned on a battlefield. “The deserts melt, the northern woods that kiss the sun are cinderised, the very earth is carbonised, jets of fire plume the earth’. And we, the listener, where are we? Not hearing this from a safe remove. In the thick of it, as alarmed, as tense and calm as our interlocutor, joining the death march. “Who’ll pick at this and chew on their dusthole graves . . . all will be just words by then, chewed nutrient in lawyers mouths and bank accounts”. And, once you have a chance to catch your breath, you realise how silent music has been about the world of late. In taking the world on, in refusing to hide, in finding such a poetic way of rendering the political, Crause knows he’s isolated. But he, and us, shouldn’t accept this music’s current obscurity as an expression of a natural artistic order. Go to bandcamp, buy this thing. In that act you are defending music, you are standing up for its possibilities.  Ovid had Phaethon’s epitaph as ‘Here Phaethon lies who in the sun-god's chariot fared/And though greatly he failed, more greatly he dared’. It’s only us who could let Crause fail. His continued unsigned status isn’t the inevitability we’ve been tutored to think intense art experiences have to emerge from, it’s a shameful stain on the supposed health of our music culture, could be if allowed to persist a dark despairing stop to any hope one can conjure about the future of music. Hope, vision, wonder however are things that Crause’s music, even in its bleakest traumas,  gives you in a ceaseless rolling tide, again and again, every time you hear it or let it in. Don’t let this year pass without hearing one of its most mind-melting, heart-stirring, soul-swallowing transmissions.  For the ages.


Monday, 17 November 2014

Band Aid 30: Love Can Kill You

15:41 Posted by neil kulkarni , , , 13 comments

Hey, they're not making it easy for me to get behind this. I think part of the problem with Band Aid, both in its original 1984 incarnation and its new re-tooled 2014 version, is the utter fucking horribleness of everyone involved. If we're being forensic then we could blame Michael Buerk for starters. Michael Buerk's currently making 150 grand for appearing on a I'm A Celebrity, and could last week be heard on the open turd-strewn sewer that is The Moral Maze defaming a victim of rape. It was Michael Buerk who helped break the Ethiopia Famine story in 1984 and at that time, he had a choice as a journalist, to represent the famine and suffering as an act of nature or an act of politics. Fatally, as he continues to do, Buerk chose to treat us like idiots, giving out a totally simplistic and false portrayal of the situation that inevitably led to simplistic solutions, a headlock of simplicity that's endured ever since in most reactions to 'third world crises'. A 'famine caused by drought'. A 'biblical famine'.

The road to misery is paved with good intentions. Oh they all meant well, didn't they? But the Band Aid trust, set up to distribute the relief the record and gig generated, in dealing with Mengistu and his murderous government in the first place, immediately invalidated any good intentions behind their work. It was Mengistu who caused the famine through his resettlement and depopulation plans, Mengistu who used the aid and relief from Live Aid and Band Aid to continue his plans to brutalise and starve his people, using the advice and the conventional and chemical weaponry the Russians were more than willing to send his way. As a reaction to an in-itself misleading news-broadcast, Geldof's spasm of self-righteousness did more harm than good, politically as well as in terms of pure human suffering, aiding resettlements that killed people faster than any famine. This is what happens when you say something is beyond politics. You raise a shitload of money, expiate guilt from government, seemingly 'forget' about September 84, a few months previous, a month before Buerk's famous news reports, when Mengistu diverted 200 million dollars of foreign aid and spent it on a party celebrating Haile Selassie's overthrow, the first time Western journalists got to see the starving masses of Ethiopia, wandering into the swinging capital from the ravaged countryside. Irrelevant by Christmas. These powerful scum become people you 'need to work with'. You fund their killing, torturing, raping, imprisonment of their people. In refusing, like Buerk to acknowledge that famine is a POLITICAL problem, putting it down to bad luck, climate, you let the tyrants and murderers off the hook. You let the money raised to feed people to be used in 'counter-insurgency'. You balance what little help you give with the fact that without a doubt you are extending the life of an insane, destructive regime. Propping up despots is never a price worth paying. Live Aid, and Band Aid were COLLUSION in Mengistu's regime, collaboration when nothing but outright denunciation should've been our standpoint.

Yeah, check out the new logo. Cos Ebola of course, is affecting the WHOLE OF AFRICA (shhh, doesn't matter that it isn't, after all, how are Africans gonna complain about such misportrayal?) It's a good story, the old gang back and swinging and just this morning we have the unedifying spectacle of pal-of-Blair Bob Geldof singling out Adele as someone who hasn’t answered his calls. Just fuck off you bullying ego-trip addicted wanker. Let’s get this straight – the kind of ‘celebrity humanitarianism’ Geldof engages in has nothing to do with ‘changing’ things. Band Aid, just as it did in 84, legitimises and promotes neoliberal capitalism and the global inequality that is the inevitable result. The whole project is immediately contaminated by its corporate endorsement, self-serving to its coordinators and participants and designed to self-aggrandize celebrities’ brand identities, nothing else. The idea that a wodge of cash (thanks George for the V.A.T waiver you evil fucking lizard) can sort out the endemic and long-running infrastructure and health-provision fuck-ups that have enabled the latest outbreak to gain a foothold is a joke. 'Feed The World' is nothing anyone in the west should be proud of. It's a song whose central conceit is that we can bring a new thing, Christmas, to the huddled African masses (ignoring of course the fact that Ethiopia has a longer tradition of Christianity than anywhere in the West). It's a song that perpetuated a picture of Africa that still dangerously endures today, that allowed rich white pop stars to appoint themselves spokespeople for 'voiceless' Africans, rich white hypocritical pop stars like Geldof and Boneo who use tax-avoidance tactics to sate their own greed while exhorting governments to spend more of other people's money on their own pet causes. It's a song that is still perfectly emblematic of all that's wrong, arrogant, dumbly oblivious to complexity, about celebrities 'raising awareness' of 'third world issues'. The same conceit that thinks a concert can end poverty or a twitter-campaign can bring kidnapped girls back to a school. It raises awareness of nothing, only salves the conscience of the wealthy, was always a fucking horrible song that seeks to reduce Africa to a monolithic helpless place that can only be understood in terms of its desperation and desolation, a basket-case in need of our salvation, a place without rivers, without hope, without snow a place waiting for OUR benevolence again (faint hint that we should never have left). And yeah, lets thank god it’s those Africans suffering and not us. Hold the phone though. They've had a rewrite. FUCKING HELL, check this bullshit.

If, and it must, 'Feed The World' can be seen as one of the most singularly objectionable songs ever, the fact that in the new version those 'controversial' lines have been changed matters not a jot. BandAid30, just as it was in 84, is fundamentally depoliticizing despite its pretentions to activism, says the only power we can exert is as consumers, sucks up to any corporation or government willing to ‘lend a hand’ (including a chancellor busy in a government absolutely committed to destroying the health structures of this country and the lives of many of the people who depend upon them), allows politicians to posture and pose their supposed altruism, rationalising the very global inequality it seeks to redress. It’s akin to ‘corporate responsibility’ i.e BULLSHIT, like a fast food company fucking up forests and running sweatshops while blathering about ethical/green policies. Decaf capitalism, a sustaining narrative that’s useful to elites as issues of social justice get transformed into technocratic matters to be resolved by managers, experts, NGOs and, increasingly, celebs. Just as in 84, Geldof’s self-sanctimony, as with all celebs who ‘speak for’ the ‘third world’ on issues of debt/poverty reduces ‘victims’ into passive idiot bystanders, focuses attention on the spectacle of disaster or relief, diverting attention away from longer-term structural causes behind inequality and poverty and the recurrent health disasters that result. 
We the audience have a chance to not be complicit in this. Hope folk reject these twats (made easy cos it’s a terrible song performed by terrible people once again) and their hypocritical moralising and if they want to help investigate the mess of politics behind things rather than the crayon-sketch reductivism of Geldof and his ilk. How dare a song insist that a whole section of a massive continent have 'no hope' bar survival, have no 'peace and joy'. They're PEOPLE you fuckers, not cartoons. Don't give this Geldof cunt any fucking more of your fucking money. Hoping for an X-factor number 1 more than any year previous.

Friday, 14 November 2014

The Same Grim Boat: some more thoughts about my 'proper' job


 An emotionally perceptive student said to me late this week. 'You hate us, don't you?' I was flustered. Nailed me. I need a weekend to recharge, prepare. Teaching, to a large extent is about confidence and preparation creates confidence. Preparation impossible with teachers workloads at the moment. Gone from a time when you'd look forward to the holidays to looking forward to the weekend to looking forward to the end of the goddamned day. I'm worried that my frustration with the job is filtering through to students. Who deserve that ire the least. Thinking, with the morning sickness, the pit of fear the stomach hasn't experienced since games/P.E days at school, why I'm still doing this. A feeling amped up massively when I get home (tearing off the lanyard that annoints me with dread every time I put it on) and read the latest comments from our education secretary.

Here's what Nicky Morgan said, as reported in The Stage.

   "Many young people are making choices aged 15 which will hold them back for the rest of their lives". Lovely. I have yet to be told a single fucking reason why this shithead is our education secretary, just as I was never aware of a single fucking reason why the previous shithead (Gove) was our education secretary. The thinking seems to be purely about antagonising teachers. Almost immediately anyone who's ever worked in a creative field was apoplectic. In making these comments during an event intended to promote the teaching and learning of core subjects like maths and science Morgan might be forgiven for thinking she was playing to the crowd she was talking to, rather than thinking about everyone who'd hear about it, a little bit of 'carelessness'. I don't think it's carelessness at all. It's the only thing someone like her could say. Anything else would be true hypocrisy. Her statements are entirely revealing of what the Tories would reduce education to. A purely vocationally-minded career-preparing exercise with no inherent value in itself, and with arts/humanities subjects preserved purely as things the middle and upper classes can engage in while the rest of the riff-raff learn something immediately employable. Perpetuates the idea not only that the arts don't pay, but that the arts are something you have to pay to be involved in, a hobby to indulge, never a way to make a living. Know your place. And stay there. And don't you dare investigate any knowledge that might suggest the 'harsh realities of the marketplace' might be a lie. By the time I'd finished reading, I was interrupted by my eldest daughter coming home. In a mood. What's new, she's a teenager. But a parent can tell when a kid's holding something in.
   Went upstairs, asked some questions. Floods of tears. Sobbing. Because of school, because of the pressure she's under, because this is her GCSE year and her teachers are doing nothing but getting on the kids backs about achieving. These incessant mind-games are nothing new, they're the natural result of what happens when a teacher sees their job as delivering statistics, good figures, making sure percentage achievement rates don't slip, ever mindful that the stats, not the student's experience, is ultimately what matters to their managers. A target-related pressure kids are being absolutely brutalised under at the moment. Don't know a parent of a teenager who hasn't been astonished at the levels of stress kids are suffering about exams. And all that's being blared at them is career career career career, from their teachers all the way up to the education secretary. I gave her a hug, tried to give her a sense of perspective, the 'all you can do is try your best' platitudes all parents have to say when they see their kids put in pain by the panic in education, the twitchy paranoia of the Ofsteded and surveilled and threatened. The panic that's going on across the board in social and public services in the UK because public good has been forgotten in the name of increased efficiency and customer service. Pile the kids in, teach them cheap, education is now purely the creation of a trail of evidence, spooked by those eyes over the shoulder, the indoctrination of corporate truth (i.e corporate lies) that are all that management knows (because in the main now, they only come from the private sector) percolating down to the consciousness of people who previously thought that caring about kids, and trying your best, was enough. It's not enough now. As a teacher, your sole job is to prepare kids for employment, anything else is time wasting and will get you a disciplinary. A joy in learning of itself? How is that going to increase your ability to become a mortgage-slave? Knowledge that isn't 'useful to business'? That's not knowledge, that's pointless frippery. It's not the 70s anymore hippy. You are here to train children to work. Absolutely nothing else matters.

   The most common thing I've heard from teachers in the past year is dreams - of leaving, of walking away and oh how sweet that that flipped finger to the boss would be. And jokes - of being replaced by robots, of jacking it in and stacking shelves and being happy and not taking so much anguish home every night. These reveries punctuate the drudge, the horror. Teaching itself is the most enjoyable part of the day. It's a blessed relief from all the other shit you have to do to be allowed into that classroom, to keep the endless hovering boxtickers and number-crunchers off your back. But that classroom's not really yours. Don't con yourself. Observations will have knocked that idealism out of you. It's your job to knock the idealism out of kids and make them face up to reality. They must work, and work hard and focus on becoming appealing to business, a willing plaything of industry, as happy and fulfilled and tied to a role as all adults are in modern Britain. And from 12 onwards they must choose options about their future. They must decide how they're going to fit in, earn, settle into the pattern of anxiety and tranquilisation that is modern life. So my daughter's crying because of 'pressure'? Man up. Or starve to death. These are the options.

   People like Morgan shouldn't be allowed to despoil youth like this. The next day we have a Union meeting. College proposes we take a cut in holidays, no remission for planning/organising, make sick pay way more 'discretionary' and forfeit most of our pay progression. We all of course voted yay in rejecting it, but even in the notably increased militancy there was a trace of doom, a sense not of securing our futures in teaching but of ensuring we battle them every step of the way until we find a way out, or they find a way to force us out. Morgan's comments are indicative of alot, but perhaps scarier than that they're prophetic. The Tories are waiting for the greenlight of re-election to basically destroy whole swathes of British education, farm it out to private enterprise (whose management class have already colonised state institutions at management level). In five years 50% of FE courses will be delivered online and kids will be so scared they'll want nothing but apprenticeships. The only non-apprenticeship courses left in twenty years will be recruiting arms of the political and media class - i.e PPE at Oxbridge, that's yr lot. I was encouraged, cos I was ok at English, to try and get into Oxford. I failed massively, mind too full and disordered. No-one made me think it was the end. No-one made me worry about it before or afterwards. When I tell my students that they have their whole lives to get on the gravy-train, to be saddled with responsibilities of providing for a family and that when they're young they should explore their own imaginations they hear it with increasing surprise. No-one in their lives is asking them - do they want to look back at their twenties and be able to point at a balance sheet and say 'look how much debt I paid off'? I, like many people who've worked in the 'creative sector' (i.e dicking around doing what you want) am in that blissful state of being able to look back at my twenties and not really remember much of it because I was having too good a time. Lots of misery as well but at least it was on my own terms and I can look back and think, I gave what I love and care about my best shot. Kids need to have their perspectives on the world and their possibilities in it WIDENED, not narrowed down at a heartbreakingly early age to how they're going to survive, get ahead, be 'competetive'. For fucking shame Mrs Morgan, for fucking shame.

   Crucially, it's that whole deeper idea here that Morgan perpetuates that's dangerous -  that art and science can't learn from each other, aren't already massively enmeshed, aren't BOTH creative acts. Suggests just how little Morgan, and her cohorts, understand about both. Tremendously irresponsible and insensitive for an education secretary to basically be saying to tons of kids - hey, you're not good at maths/science? You're fucked. Appalling thing to say, to science kids and arts kids.  I wonder also if she's actually spoken to any maths/science graduates recently? If she thinks they're all doing jobs closely related to what they studied or specialised in she's fucking deluded, they're in the same grim boat as most school-leavers and graduates alike. Working slave labour for slave wages. Suits the Tories to divide us all. Much as they have made the working poor hate the workless poor, the native hate the auslander, they want to place science at odds with art, force upon all of us categories of acceptability whereby arts disciplines can be portrayed as mickey-mouse undisciplined navel-gazing wasteful passes to a life of unemployability, whereas maths/science pursuits can ONLY be engaged in in order to improve your future income prospects. Utterly ignores the way that the creative arts work. I worked for 20 odd years in a creative role and was never asked my qualifications. Was about confidence and ability, not bits of paper. Also utterly denigrates and ignores the wide complexity of reasons why people study maths and science. Never met a mathematician whose aesthetic sense wasn't just as important in what they did as anything else, never met a scientist or mathematician who didn't have deep utterly unfinancial reasons of curiosity and wonder and enjoyment behind what they decided to study. The likes of Morgan, Cameron, could never understand that. And we should all make it plain that their attempts to divide us between the can-dos and the cant-be-arsed isn't fooling anyone. They would seek to reduce every single mental endeavour in life down to that which can be proved fiscally productive and profitable. That's as dangerous to science as it is to art, and reveals a thickheaded obliviousness to the purpose and possibilities of life that's staggering. Only a cabinet composed of corporate lawyers, business bullies and PR men could endorse such an attitude. Unfortunately that's exactly what we've got.


   I'm sure Morgan worked hard at her five-grand a term private school and in her pre-MP job in corporate law that so entitles and enables her to commandeer the education of our nation, be the frontperson of its ongoing discharge into the hands of business. But any parent knows, and any teacher knows, what kids need is balance. Yes they should be encouraged to do well at school. They also need to know that failure is not the end. They also need to know that life is long, they are young, and all kinds of odd things can happen. They need to know that life is not as simple as feeding qualifications into a machine that will then pay you. We haven't got credit-scored chips and pins in our necks yet. In Morgan's comments, in this government's inability to see the point in anything beyond the ceaseless accumulation of wealth for a privileged elite you hear a vision of life that's horrific, inaccurate, no kind of life any of us would want to be part of. It's the Tory vision of the future and I suspect in my most pessimistic days and nights it will all become true. But if my job as a teacher is dependent on my ability to present that mercenary future as the only option then I want out. If I'm meant to tell kids that the future will be a vital'n'vibrant meritocracy that kids should want to be part of, that kids should work until they sob with the stress to be part of, then I'd rather leave that game to the cowed and desperate, and once they're fired the glassy-eyed Academy/Freeschool evangelists the Torys would like to be dealing with. Morgan's suggestion that kids should strictly limit their ambitions and dreams down to that which will enable them to become another ground out gear in the machine is an evil lie no teacher wants to be part of. Until I am forced out of my job I will make it my business to tell every kid I teach that the government are lying to them but crucially,  that life is too wonderful to plan for. You should believe that when you're young. One day you'll grow up and realise it.