Writing by Neil Kulkarni

Thursday, 26 May 2016

TOO OLD FOR THIS SHIT - FALLING OUT AND BACK IN LOVE WITH RAP MUSIC IN 2016

Westside Gunn's superb 'FlyGod' LP

Yeah, I'm 44 and I'm going to be writing about hip hop. Film it, it'll last longer. Yes it's like an embarrassing uncle dancing at a wedding. And like him, I CAN'T BE STOPPED. The perma-fear of any critic is being out of touch, behind the times, lagging behind, especially in the internet age where such lollygagging can be earmarked, exposed and bitched about instantaneously. As you get older this fear becomes stronger - you no longer have that 'fuck it, I'M into it so this IS what's going on' bravado, and your general slowing-down of stimulus and response (coupled with the fact you have less and less time every day to do the shit you really like doing) means you're more likely to focus on just a few things, frequently old things, to sustain you musically. If I was just a music listener this wouldn't necessarily be a problem - every now and then I might lash myself for my stuck-in-the-mud reversion to the same old personal-classics but in the main I'd be happy listening to Miles Davis boxsets forever. As a writer though, you do feel a compulsion to stay in touch with the here and now - nothing is more fucking annoying than some hipster cunt popping up in a comments section calling you an old bastard and pointing out the dozen things you SHOULD be writing about. You lose that confidence you had as a kid, where the isolated niche nature of your listening could be worn like a badge of identity - you start telling yourself the prevailing trulieth that if you're not plugged into the present, ALL of the present,  you have no right to critique ANY of it.
   Last year I spent my Easter holiday writing The Periodic Table Of Hip Hop. I noticed that the latter stages of the book, when I'd moved into rap's diaspora inwards from the coasts, was getting increasingly angry. Seeing thoughts collated in a wordcount beyond the hundreds and thousands allowed me to see myself and I was somewhat repulsed by what I saw - another old bastard moaning about the current state of rap. Rap of course, just like reggae carries extra fears for the critic - that if you reject the present you're also rejecting black music and turning your nose up at  black artists' futurist impulse in preference for those curators of golden ages (backpackers), developing an unpleasantly snooty disregard for the vast majority of the music actually being made in preference of those avatars most palatable to rockcrit (Kendrick). It's a tightrope that's been increasingly difficult to walk in recent years. Reason? Well, for this fan, the death of the music critic at the precise moment where everyone can make hip hop hasn't exactly been . . . .helpful.



Of course the 'pro' critic gives a fuck that critique is 'dead' but who else gives a fuck eh? Get a proper job and just comment on youtube vids like everyone else. Crucially - as a listener I find it next-to-impossible to fucking trust ANYONE around the dissemination and appraisal of hip hop right now. The main sources I use are brilliant in sending the glut of music your way, absolutely fucking useless in allowing you to discriminate. Sites like HotNewHipHop and Datpiff give you ten trillion things a day to download, all of which, no matter how fuckawful they are, get dozens of comments about GOING IN HARD (trans. 'beats as weak as thrice-diluted piss') and THIS SHIT FIRE (trans. 'I'm not sure what wavy means and haven't been able to ask a real black person so I'll keep saying this forever') and G.O.A.T (trans."I have listened to hip hop for about 5 years and my opinion is utterly worthless'). It makes you feel like you should stop being scared of ignoring what hip hop fans are listening to because they've been tutored in joy-through-coprophagia for so long, consume music in a moebius strip of titillation that renders the music substantially indistinguishable from the gossip and bullshit that surrounds it, the music merely the audio-component of the campaign for visibility which is now the sole purpose of the artists. You pan for gold in this endless deluge of ordure and you waste a fuckload of time listening to utter trash. Dazzled by the choice, sure. Enshittened by the actual listening


In such a scenario I've found being a bigot helps. So right now, if I hear autotune, even if it's only in the first twenty seconds, I turn that shit off.  I have enough trap shit fanx, I have enough GOOD autotune hip hop from the last five years fanx to not need any more fanx. I realise that sounds like your dad/mum ('You've got loads of records, why do you need any more?') but fuckit, time's short, these mixtapes are all WAYTOOLONG and I have to say on a pure sensual level- I really really fucking hate the sound of that fucking autotune shit right now. When T-Pain/ AceHood/ Kanye/ Wayne/ Jeezy used autotune there was something uniquely stylised, careful about it - right now it's automatically and indiscriminately sprayed onto every single fucking tape out there, precisely BECAUSE it's on every single fkn tape out there. A self-perpetuating dead-end that I'm utterly pissbored with. Too old, too tired, to pretend anymore. It's a fucking NEEDY sound. It's a totally UNPLEASANT sound and not in a good way, in a way that suggests rap just wants to fit in with other horrible pop music. Don't get me wrong of course it can still be used well (Future, Chief Keef, Belly, Lil Yachty). Yes, it's just another instrument. But go to Datpiff/HotNewHipHop/2DopeBoyz right now and randomly dl the first ten tapes you see. I guarantee nigh-on 90% of them will be slathered with autotune from start to finish. It's ubiquitous to the point where hip hop producers, and the future producers they're teaching and nurturing, are starting to see it as a NECESSITY, as something that has to be in place before hip hop can happen. FUCK THAT SHIT. Cher shouldn't really be the most pervasive influence on hip hop right now. If that makes me out of touch so be it. Fuckin' autotune rap is 90% DOGSHIT, FACT.

Travis Scott, docile fucknuckle and typical shit overrated autotune-rapper

Of course, as a music you got into as a kid, the older you get the more problems you're going to have with hip hop. Have to say, the ceaseless women-hate is getting very very very fucking tiresome. Not because it's a 'bad influence' or any such hypodermic-displacement folderall. Hip hop fans have always been far more able to read and decode the bigotry of hip hop better than anyone else. [I have never in my life seen Shakespeare/Verdi - rape, disembowellment, murder - complained about, only hip hop and metal and horror i.e those artforms loved by young/poor/black/geeky people in 'danger' of copycatting what they hear/read/see]. Growing up listening to Geto Boys, Ice Cube and other purveyors of misogyny and violence it was always clear to me as a teenager that their most 'offensive' tracks could and should always be listened to as lethally scalpel-sharp diagnoses of macho paranoia, latent queerness, poverty and disenfranchisement. You'd be fucking stupid to hear them as triumphalist because they didn't SOUND triumphalist, they sounded like squalid transmissions from cock-blocked little boys. The unceasing, across-the-board nature of current hip hop sexism, the way it's become a habit new rappers feel they have to fall in line with  (and this is perhaps again down to the SHEER GLUT us fans are confronted with on a daily basis) absolutely DOES sound triumphalist, sounds not like a flipped finger to the liberal status-quo but a salute to the patriarchal status quo that fucks over women of all colour on a daily basis, again a fitting in, a fulfillment of withered expectations.
   That triumphalism is key to my distaste - analogous to the queasy tightrope characters like Alf Garnett walk. Speight's finest moments with that character are when Alf's  railing against forces that have already won the battles he wants to fight, when there's a poignancy to his rants because he's revealing a mindset (and by dint of that uncovering, tearing it apart),  rather than just enabling the audience to revel in that mindset. The sexism I used to hear in rap was mainly fairly cartoonish, sporadic, a detail rather than the drive, the snarling of the disempowered (for a current equivalent listen to Cult Mountain - horrifically sexist but so wasted within and without none of their sexism sounds like anything but monomanical drugged-up mindrot) - that sense of pathetic revenge doesn't excuse it remotely but it made listening to it not feel like a process where you had to sign up to those prejudices, rather a process of unpicking the sorry tangled nest of precepts and poverty that went into the American male. The sexism I now hear in rap is so omnipresent, so casual and ceaseless,  it comes across as something both you, and the women targeted, simply have to accept whether the rapper is an up-and-comer or a superstar. And so of course Chris Brown is welcomed back with open arms but I'm 44 ferchrissakes, I can't justify listening to that shit anymore. At no point in 30 years of hip hop listening did I feel like I hated women or that I would want to hyuk-hyuk along with the(se) guys. But where previously those guys were willing to make themselves the target, expose their own weaknesses to make that music,  right now I fucking hate those guys, those entourages, those packs-of-twats so bereft of self-awareness, drowning in self-pity and self-love. Because they sound sickeningly comfortable. I don't want voices that sound comfortable right now, that sound like they just want to make it, want to be here. I want voices that sound like they need to be here. Voices that sound like they don't want to be here.

You have choices as an older hip hop listener, you can move on, harp-on about the narrowing diversity in rap, settle into a safe dotage of endless sepia-tinged retrospect. There's enough great 'old-fashioned' hip hop on labels like Mello Music Group, TDE, Babygrande, Ill Adrenaline to keep you busy (and if you listen to UK rap, High Focus and YNR will take care of all your boombap needs). Veterans like The Game, Royce Da 5'9 (both the 'Trust The Shooter' mixtape + the official album 'Layers' are MONSTERS), and producers like Alchemist will keep feeding you the essentially retrograde noise that will keep you hooked to the form, if not the current style, of rap music. And one has to also acknowledge that rap's problem is that it is always hopelessly reflective of our (un)reality, doesn't have recourse or the inclination to the habits of hiding so prevalent in the way rock represents itself lyrically to its liberal fanbase. Where rock music seeks to hide its politics, rap can't help but lay out its attitudes and innermost thoughts. Where pop can airbrush and sanitise its sexuality, rap shouts from within its macho walls. These aren't problems per se for hip hop, but they're a problem for fans like me because they're inevitable results of the form of hip hop, and the form hip hop takes in the current era. If hip hop is appallingly, relentlessly sexist at the moment it's because we live in an appallingly, relentlessly sexist culture, a culture the rest of music buttresses but pretends doesn't exist (occassional exception - female-fronted r'n'b). But there are still places in rap where you can hear new things, new voices, new ideas, coming directly from those places that aren't triumphant, aren't able to kid themselves they're winning a war or taking over. Places where the illiberality still sounds like a last-resort rather than a default setting. Places like Stone Mountain, GA. Responsible this year for some of the most unsung yet utterly compelling music and rhymes in all rap.






NEDLOG ERA's 'SGLP' tape has only picked up a measly 10K views on HotNewHipHop in late January this year. Like many other mixtapes that aren't 'feature'-heavy (i.e laden with guest producers and MCs that people have heard of) it's now kinda dissappeared into obscurity, dl'd by just over a thousand people, picking up only 5 comments and a mediocre 75% rating. This is what occurs when hip hop is purely evaluated by the herd(-who-need-thinning I didn't say that don't know how that slipped in there), many of whom have grown up with hip hop as little more than another branch of sports entertainment, many of whom won't even bother listening to something in 2016 unless it features several rappers whose first names are Yo/Yung/Lil' and unless it gives them the chance to let the world know that THEY know Sonny Digital/Future/MetroBoomin' went in hard. Consequently, Nedlog must be feeling a little unsupported and a hell of a long way away from the mainstream rap industry. It would be criminal if they were overlooked because SGLP is a masterpiece. Here it is. Listen.




If Trap is Southern Ambient, Nedlog are Southern Gothic Ambient,  and I might be bullshitting but dammit Nedlog make such fanciful formulations real (just listen to SGLP's 42 second opener 'Burn' that manages to sound like Linda Sharrock & Nina Simone all at once)  flesh it out in sound and vision and word. They come from Stone Mountain, an area of Atlanta with a history that would force pressure on anyone living within its confines, let alone Nedlog Era (a neat flip of golden-age rhetoric), young kids, smart kids, confronted with a place where memories of the KKK, of the confederacy, of the auld whip hand and the injured-pride of un-deposed yet nostalgic cultural imperialists still holds strong, bubbles into their everday from the collosal rock that towers over them. After the original Klan (founded in the 1860s, internally weak, disorganised and overpopulated with sadists and criminals) had fizzled out, emboldened by 'Birth Of A Nation' the second-coming of the KKK found the lynching of Leo Frank in 1915 the perfect flashpoint around which to regroup and relaunch itself .  On November 25 of the same year, a small group, including fifteen robed and hooded "charter members" of the new organization, met at Stone Mountain to create a new iteration of the Klan. This rebirthed Klan based its growth on a new anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, anti-semitic and prohibitionist agenda, reflective of the social tensions and prejudices of the new era and it was Stone Mountain that attained in Klan mythology the status of a new Bethlehem or Mecca, the confederate ground that seeded a new wave of poison. A century later, in 2015, when other states made moves to remove signs of the confederate battle-flag, Georgia stood firm by state law prohibiting anyone even touching Confederate figures carved in stone, calling such removal 'destruction of art history' due to part of the carving being done by Gutzon Borglum, who later went on to carve Mount Rushmore. In October 2015 the state-park denied a proposal for a 'freedom bell' commemorating MLK (including  the line "Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia" from King's I Have A Dream speech of 1963). In such crosscurrents of history, in such a hurricane of bigotry and auld enmity, inevitable that Nedlog come out sounding young, confused, dazed, both by themselves and their surroundings. They're walking dead and they know it, but they sound so alive. They're akin to an Odd-Future-style crew of fiercely smart kids, but with no hipster hope, no way out. They've made for me one of the most endlessly fascinating releases of the year.




'Cataracts' starts with a yawn, a stretch, and then it rolls out into your life with its life. Lines leap out from the humming bass and winking loops (throughout SGLP Nedlog cook up a brew as addictive as that last Jay Rock LP, seriously). 'We're moving out white like albinos/Step in sideways sideways sideways/ I'm old enough to feed myself but I can't cook/ I need clarity in action/make my moves and make them slow . . . .'  Nedlog smoke but it doesn't help, only feeds their paranoia. They love, or try to love, but it doesn't help, only adds to their sense of self-derailment. The crepuscular funereal ooze of  'Establishment' walks that beautiful line smart teenagers walk when they see through the institutions they're being pushed towards, when they see through the opportunities and apprehend the doom their race and class condemn them to in a world ruled by elites - what's wonderful in a hip hop world fixated on visibility is that Nedlog reflect teenagers true impulse to hide, to observe from a distance and attempt survival, their words and sounds less an extroverted attempt to boy howdy the world, but an introverted alternate-universe they can bring their problems to, and bring their problems out in. 

 "I try to enjoy this freedom, yeah this fake freedom/ you don't know what I done seen/ you couldn't see, I told you about my dreams and you just couldn't believe that a nigga from the 'Mount could amount to greatness/ emerging from a city that is known for racist white folks/ hanging my folks, amazing almost, blatant when it comes to this/niggas turning they back, rather talk about the flashy bullshit in they raps/ misleading the youths, for the cause we will all turn up like Nat / you fall short, the only problem is removing the corpse/ sorry but I couldn't care less about a show and showing niggas how I look/ cos really round my way that's how you get your life took/ and their aint no coming back from that". 


'KKK' is just stunning, musically cos it's a devastatingly orchestrated strafe-fire of pulverising kick, necksnapping snare and neon-smeared details, and because initially you're simply unsure of its intent. 'Black nigga repping KKK'? Is that the line? 'Stone Mountain niggas aint the same / see the police getting silent now?/ see the police getting violent now? / Fuck nigga no, we cannot make a truce/ if you aint down for the cause get a burning cross to the temple/ I just might leave a nigga hanging by a noose/ raise your hands to the roof/ Triple K be the salute' - there's a horrific ambiguity here, coupled with the truly terrifying sense that Nedlog see the Klan as the TRUE representation of white-folk's attitudes towards them, opaque, illiberal and honest in contrast to the transluscent gaseous 'tolerance' of mainstream white liberal society. Only a crew with nothing to prove, and nothing to lose, could create a track that walks such a compellingly livid tightrope.
   It's roundabout now that you start noticing just what a startling suite of sonics the Nedlog crew have bought to the boil here.  'Redhouse' hinges on a reverse bassline so fucked up and wobbly it could've been culled straight from a slo-mo grime track or something offa Deep Medi, a spooked comatose sound that suits the hook perfectly, every single vocal echoed into dubspace:  'I was just thinking/ drinking/ same thing I did last weekend/ woke up with a sorry soul and a head full of hurt/ I take a look at my window and my driveway full of leaves . . . '. Throughout SGLP it doesn't sound like Nedlog are arriving at these strange sonic formulations through any kind of agglomeration of things they've heard before, rather it's as if their minds are painting outwards in sound and they're just as thrilled by the strange shapes their imaginations can take when flipped out from the mind and into wave patterns. 'Schizo' is like the most diseased, dead-eyed version of 'Yakkety Yak' you ever heard, the line 'High school graduation only gave me a reputation for burger-preparation' popping off before the parents come in on the hook, slowed to a zombified greek-chorus pitched at that perfect whiney level of the concerned guardian, proposing action that made sense in the last world but makes no sense in this one we're in right now:  'get your mind right nigga / spend your time right nigga/ get your mind right nigga get a job/ you been sitting on your ass going out at midnight / get a life, get out, do something, get a job' before the verse skulks at dawn 'a brother probably shouldn't be driving at all/ it's past curfew like five in the morning / momma's still up what the fuck? / put the keys in with my head down/ searching for the hole like a virgin . . . '.  What's so refreshing is Nedlog's lack of egoism, the way these songs are endlessly generous vignettes from their lives, a million miles away sonically and lyrically from the pushy ambition that is the default setting for so much young rap in 2016. The freakish backtracked devil-summoning  'Dead' takes on precisely that predictability infesting hip hop, proving, as do the Griselda axis I'll talk about later, that frustration with rap's current holding patterns is certainly NOT limited to old farts like myself. Nedlog reject hip hop, reject the old nomenclatures, the old cliches they see as now being rotted from within beyond purpose, beyond the ability to recycle in good conscience - "Yeah I got a mic in my hand but no I'm not a rapper/ Yes I'm from Atlanta doesn't mean that I'm a trapper or a thug kidnapper/ cut the bullshit, how many Migos we gonna have in the game?/ how many niggers just gon' keep rapping the same? / how many motherfuckers gon' play the same styles and wear the same clothes and add 'trap' to their name?/ THAT SHIT DEAD'. The highlight of an astonishing set has to be 'Lack Ler', a warp of psychedelic guitar shimmering over a bass that buzzes your floorboards, weird lines about 'my whole squad looking like Medusa's head' flickering out over the madness. Frighteningly articulate, gloriously unique, don't let the year pass you by without drinking from SGLP's brackish, brilliant depths. For me, one of THEE standout standalone releases of the past year in ANY genre.


[WHILST WE'RE TALKING NON-LABEL HIP HOP THAT DOESN'T MAKE YOU WANT TO PUKE MAKE SURE YOU PICK UP THESE 3 DOOZIES:
(a) SLAYTER & THELONIOUS MARTIN's spanking 'Dirty Game' EP. Does exactly what the title says and does it fantastically well.

(b) SPARK MASTER TAPE's long-awaited return with 'Silhouette Of A Sunken City'. Still an inexplicably strange almost-ambient delight, strangely redolent of Butthole Surfers and Outkast in equal measure]



(c) Someone with skinny jeans will be along in a minute to tell you to ignore old fuckers like me and keep listening to fucking Young Thug as if 'Slime Season 3' is some kind of fucking masterpiece instead of the crock it clearly is. These people are cunts for not telling you to listen to The Underachievers 'It Happened In Flatbush' which is INFINITELY BETTER if you want some lo-slung jeep music for your hot-hatch.










In comparison to all the above, the work of the GRISELDA GANG , in particular its most visible members, biological brothers CONWAY and WESTSIDE GUNN, puts you on more dependable ground. Both MCs are from Buffalo NY and the whole Griselda crew are loosely affiliated with Roc Marciano. They get props off underground hip hop figureheads like Alchemist, Planet Asia and Action Bronson so you can guess that the production they use from a small coterie of beatmakers including Daringer and Big Ghost, is defiantly out-of-step with the current popification of hip hop - gritty, raw, slow, lurid, grainy, dirty, fucked up, addictive. There's something about Gunn and Conway's voices, and their rhymes, that sets them apart from the more comfortable and comforting voices I mentioned earlier in this piece, some residual unshakeable element of angst that makes them not only fit-ill with these times, but fit-ill even amidst those heroes they'd love to be feted by. They were kids in the 90s and grew up on hardcore NYC hip hop but the way they come to those sources and reenergise and reinvigorate them is a million miles away from any reassuringly retro boombap manouevres. Because of their poverty, because of their obscurity, because of their furious refusal of the tactics of crossover, they actually emerge with a sound too searing, too angry, too twisted to be easily digested as a look back at some bullshit golden age. This is street-rap, crime-rap that sounds touched by those 90s antecedents but that walks new streets, with an entirely new sense of wastage, nihilism and doom. Dark as Show & AG. Dark as Kool G Rap. Dark as Mobb Deep. Just as essential.











There's almost too much STUFF  to negotiate with Griselda Gang (and I'm still plumbing the labarynthine depths of their output) but I'd direct you towards the following. Pick up Westside Gunn's 'Hitler Wears Hermes' trilogy of mixtapes. Taken together they're a great introduction to the GG sound and feature some startling cameos from like-mind KEISHA PLUM, one of the finest female lyricists and poets I've heard in a long time.






Gunn has a delivery that jabs you in the eyes and ears, a sharp snarly style that sits with the frequently mind-blowing oddity of the music with a fractious fury. His latest opus, 'Flygod' (as illustrated at the top of this article) is perhaps his most wrathful wreckage yet. Conway is a more measured presence but he's also created some of the last few years most vital salvos from the war-torn streets of Buffalo. Check out his 'The Devils Reject' mixtape and cop 'Reject 2' as soon as you possibly can.




And make sure you get to hear the WG/Conway/Big Ghost  collabo - the astonishing 'Griseldas Ghost' EP to hear two blood-related MCs trade blows in the best way you've heard since Smoothe Da Hustler & Trigga The Gambla were last rolling out. Namechecking Warhol, Basquiat and as dazzling and tough-minded as both. Superb.




That should be enough for you to be getting along with. Don't believe the hype from both young cretins (about autotune autopilot rap being the only story you should care about if you care about hip hop's future rather than its past) and old arseholes who should know better saying everything was better back in the day (do these grey-haired gormless gits REMEMBER how much utterly shit hip hop has ALWAYS been out there, even pre-internet? - clearly not). Rap, as ever, refutes such unidirectional analysis. Dig a bit deeper than the front page. Try those things that HAVEN't got a million likes and retweets and a comments thread full of idiotic hyperbole from dipshits. Rude ill-health going on in all the above. I'll be back when there's more to tell.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Money's Too Tight To Mention

11:45 Posted by neil kulkarni No comments
If you've enjoyed any of my writing of late, please please please donate at my paypal which is moonbear69@live.co.uk


Not a joke, genuine panic about how my family can be fed, how I'm going to keep the lights on tonight. Utter fear that's paralysing and yes I'm at work today. Any donation, no matter how small would be gratefully received. Thankyou x

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

EASTERN SPRING CHAPTER 5: WORMS IN A FIG


 Sure, keep building and burning, we’re here all night.

 A decade ago, another Thursday night, two days after the twin towers fall I’m walking home from band practice, blissfully sated, crossing a junction, aware of some pointing and jostling of elbows in the boy-racer to my left. Engine revs as I cross, laughter. Older fears than the lads in the car rise up inside. Make it to the kerb, ambler gamblers off down the ave., a half-second of relieved silent self- mocking, then some real loud mocking out the wound-down window. The word shouted from shotgun is loud and greeted by much back-seat guffawing. The word is “bomber”.




Now where should the camera go, whose story warrants chasing? The doddery old twat on the side of the kerb thinking ‘what?’ Nahh, course not, follow the hate, follow the haters, the ‘questions’ they ask. Always deal with the ‘issue’, the ‘problem’ of us being here, the gift of your tolerance our only redemption. Those lads probably forgot about that high-larious moment pretty quick. A decade on I haven’t. You never do, you keep every single moment like that locked in raw, to be returned to and prodded to feel the hit, an endlessly renewable graze on your future. Public moments, riots, cases such as Stephen Lawrence, leave similar raw scars because beyond the pity the press feel, you feel an instant compassion because you’ve been in similarly charged, terrifying situations of standing tall feeling small. I can let the lenses follow those boy racers cos I’ve had cameras swooping around me my whole life, as a way of dealing with routine, and as a way of dealing with moments when you’re young and you see your kind attacked, abused, laughed at, on streets and on the screens you hide in to avoid the streets awhile, and you’re too young, and too scared, to step in and change things. It confuses you, angers you, fucks you up, and at a young age can turn you a bit stroppy and inward, never leaves. And because it happens for my ol’ generation at a young age, it’s important. It’ll keep happening (at the moment, increasingly) and even though at my age now you greet that with a shrug rather than a snarl – the odd street-level bit of outright abuse, the trains and pubs you still avoid. It’s part of you like your astronaut name, a problem unless you can stop thinking of their route here and start breaking down your own pedigree, skewering that tendency when it comes to the ‘Asian’ experience of Asians more than willing to make the whole thing into a gag, a comic series of embarrassments and cultural misunder- standings, white folk willing to be amused by Asian experience so long as it never tries to be any more than a vignette, whilst also indulging a titillated liberal excitement about those moments when white style-culture bleeds into pure out’n’proud racism.

NF March, Bermondsey, 2002 

When I say ‘white style culture’ I mean really, white working class culture as reimagined by middle-class white culture, and for the past 2 decades that seems to be all that I’ve been presented with whether it’s current fears about blackenized white ‘gangs’, or hipper fascinations with white-power politics. The working class, so often characterised by the liberal wittering- classes as those people ‘prone’ to racism, ‘prone’ to the propaganda of the NF or BNP, are actually the pakis of the British class system, talked about as if they’re not there, fair game for whatever blowhard wants to spin their panaceas & restoratives to sick Britain, as if working-class Britain is a simpler-celled Petri-dish wherein the middle-classes can foresee a future to fear. And that cultural smugness equates to both wrong-headed condemnations and mealy-mouthed excuses: so often in discussion of how racism is rearing it’s head again (like it’s ever been away) in the ‘sink-estates’ & the white-ghettos of our cities and coasts there’s the idea perpetuated that by being working-class supporters of crypto-fascist parties people are somehow excused from being called the racist cunts they are (it’s the white working class who live alongside them who have the balls to call them racist cunts, not the fucking politicians). Uncannily mirrors the condescension that ethnic minorities get – secretly suggests that racist Britons have a mainline to a truth, instinctiveness, honesty and ‘soul’ the politician and the journalist and the bureaucrat will never get, that authority always needs to talk to and contain those concerns about immigration, those ‘concerns’ that need to be ‘addressed’ through an ever-harsher treatment of immigrants, rather than confronted in the hearts of the natives.

From Gavin Martin's 'Skins'

The subtle deeper lie here, uncannily like that experienced by the immigrant population, is that the working class experience is one that isn’t actually open to interpretation by the people living it, can only be objectively ‘dealt with’ by those lucky enough to be viewing it from above. The condescension & hypocrisy of talking about racist estates when the BNP have always been more electorally embedded in middle-class neighbourhoods shows how readily that class sublimates it’s own bigotry downward, the creation of a racial war in the desperate attempt to avoid the real war between haves and have-nots. Immigration is always a ‘battle- ground’ for the haves. A frontline manned with those dashed poor tracksuit-wearing blighters who have to live next door to these ululating darkies. Those poor poor blighters, they know the score that’s why they hate jonnyforeigner so much, lets turn our perceptions of that ‘hate’ into every other front page, every other policy document, every other speech at every other rally and remember – john bull can’t ever play roles, switch, be as schizo- phrenic and playful and free as the next patient in this shock corridor called England, he’s too busy belonging to the Great British Public. That self-exonerating condescencion infects deep, from journalism to art in the uk, the columns to the mini-series to the movies to the music - inevitably given that most UK pop right now seems to be made by a pack of chortling Britschool- alumni and kids-with-famous-dads who all shopped at the same fkn vegan-delicatessen through the noughties, a banishment/ vanishment of class from pop that enables the middle-classes who run the industry to choke all other voices out of existence. No-one in pop will admit it but unless you’re listening to the most underground grime, bashment or hip-hop your musical intake is almost entirely middle class, and thus unsurprisingly superficial and retrograde, in the UK now. UK indie-rock for the past 20 years has been owned by the kind of self-avowed lads who think that by calling everything ‘proper’, ‘class’, ‘top’ and ‘quality’ and walking like a monkey they’re somehow closer to the real life as lived ‘on the streets’, seemingly utterly unaware that to really survive on the streets you have to find a way to levitate, rise above, disappear, make your imagination a big enough place to live in. These people have small imaginations cos they‘ve never had to grow a bigger one, never had to save their life and remake it.


For most of Britain’s spotlit creatives and music-makers (because now being those things no longer means being politi- cally aware – i.e. something you can’t fucking learn at stage- school) there’s a self-congratulatory backslap that race, and class, has ‘sorted itself out’ in the UK. It’s the only reason I can think as to why British pop music hasn’t said a fucking single thing of any import in such a long time. If race is mentioned by whitefolk it’s in a flight to the extremes for security – the endless 'shock' at the EDL, the never-ending obsession with Skinhead culture as shown in ‘This Is England’ or Gavin Watson’s ‘Skins’ - the post- hardmod Brit-lad mindset that by engrossing yourself in the extreme-edges of white-solidarity you’re somehow going through the fire, realising what it is to be British. More often than not in these ‘artistic looks’ I find a surreptitious pleasure, a yearning for broken-times long gone. That yearning goes deep into indie rock as I become a pop writer, even if I ended up as a writer at a paper that nurtured & encouraged my fucked-offness. It was a great training which means that I could never belong the way writers belong to the music-scene now, because alternative/independent culture as I grow up, becomes less and less about ‘boring old politics’, less about trying to reinvoke genuinely lost aspects of Englishness to point to a new future, and more and more an exercise in obvious canonical nostalgia, particularly the kind that drapes itself in the union jack and that gets written about by writers who want to be on telly, the kind of nostalgia only interested in the erosion of ambivalence and the shoring up of an essentially imperialist Englishness that seeks to shut me out, fantasises easier times when our migration to your land was less visible, more ‘controlled’, more fearful. ‘Alternative’ culture has got stronger and stronger through this painfully shrunken idea of what it is to be English. My love for it has grown weaker and weaker as a result.


Of course, the cheques, infrequent and impossibly difficult to obtain, were much appreciated, the terminal and fatal retrospect of UK indie-pop has given me plenty of hatchet work over the years but truthfully, I’m more disappointed than angry, more heartbroken by a clear creativity that sought to exclude me. At a young young age, back when I’m naïve enough to think that racism is about skin-colour, I seek out the freaks for friends, the Goths and indie-kids and queers and metal kids whose playlists mirror my own and who’s superficial appearance marks them out for ridicule and loathing from the mainstream. Only later do I realise that whilst some of them understand me as I understand them, those subcultures and societies and sexualities have their own reactionary enclaves. The Smiths are at the root of my queasy relationship with the music that should’ve been my home (I was a speccy wordy spotty little ponce – how could I not have been an indie kid?). I loved them, passionately, for 2 singles. The rot set in that infatuation as I heard and read deeper. By the time I knew that Morrissey hated rap, black pop and “dislikes Pakistanis immensely”, by the time of ‘Asian Rut’ and ‘Bengali In Platforms’ and ‘National Front Disco’, I knew that his dreams didn’t include me, that me and my kind were a problem, an(other) obstacle in his vision of English pop progress/regress. There’s something about The Smiths that still has an unhealthy hold over people you’d love to love, still has an unhealthy hold over me because compared to a modern guitar-pop that simply avoids politics or Englishness apart from in the smug observa- tional agglomeration of clichés, buzzwords & trending-phrases, The Smiths were about what it truly is to be British, about nostalgia, about destroying any black trace in pop, pretty much a rights-for-whites insistence that nothing since punk had mattered. Even beyond the 60s love of Marr’s shimmer and spray, Morrissey seemed to be harking back even further, back to the 50s, back to a time when rock’n’rollers could be counted upon by Moseley to spark mayhem in 58 - Morrissey, though clearly to me a Ted-fixated pre-immigration-fantasising Granny of a man, was perhaps the only British front man to really reveal what being British and white meant, what history is getting re- enacted when a British white front-man steps to the mic and can only look back in horror at the present. Even though he laid the groundwork of morose retrospect that lad-rock would later find its spiritual motivation, I can’t join in convincingly now with the pack that pounces whenever the dumb old queen opens his mouth. For Moz to get dissed for nostalgia and fear by that shitrag the NME would be funny if it weren’t so grisly to watch.– the Peter Pan of Weltschmerz with his rotating monomania & myopia gives me an honesty about his little Englander mindset that I actually come to prefer over the cowardly political silence of his descendants, although I listen to the music of neither.

Stephen "I don't hate Pakistanis, but I dislike them immensely" Morrissey, indie hero
The injured regret, the post-colonial revulsion of Morrissey’s music is closer to white England’s heartbeat than anyone else will admit to being. I’ve got letter bombs to send and trains to derail and the great cleansing to plan so I don’t listen to the Smiths any more but I know they’re there, I know what lines they define for themselves and for me, how their underlying message – that black pop, if it’s to be used, was better back when black folk knew their place (i.e. Jim Crow America in the early 60s) – started prevailing so much with lad-rock’s ascendancy in the 90s, and still prevails. I also know why, say, other retrograde racially fantastical stuff like Gavin Watson’s ‘Skins‘ now gets called ’important’, a ’cult classic’. When reissued in 2006 the vacuous twats over at Vice called it, “One of the best and most important books about youth fashion and culture ever published”. For me that fetishisation of fascism those things like ‘Skins‘ and ‘This Is England‘ engage in reveal the grisly truth of white thinking about black culture. They wish it frozen, they wish it trapped, they wish it had all stopped long before black people got the damn-fool idea that they should be taken seriously, a constant wish that black music would fit into those historical categories that are still palatable and usable by white rock, whether that’s reggae ‘fans’ who won’t listen beyond the late 70s, or soul fans who won’t listen beyond the mid 80s or hip-hop fans who won’t listen beyond the 90s. It suits white narratives that Jamaica lost it’s righteousness when it went electric, that soul music has become ‘soulless’, that hip-hop has ‘lost it’s way’: it allows a lazy white culture not only to bemoan and prescribe black music’s freedom, but also keeps these musics, that might threaten the white-rock hegemony, down to a closely curated cannon of classic texts. This is still a problem right fucking now – if anything it’s getting worse, pop-crits digging the most obscurantist 3rd-world esoterica often merely as a handy way of deflecting any political criticism of their essentially Orientalist mindset before it can be expressed. Always be doubtful when the dominant musical culture repeatedly insists race ‘isn’t an issue’ any more, you can be damn sure that merely means it’s unspoken, it’s seething, and those in charge are simply choosing to ignore it, pretend it doesn’t matter when it matters more than ever.

Music Week cover, March 2016

White bands used to listen to contemporary black music, be inspired and fired by it, had a natural ease in their relationship with black musicians (esp. the Stones, which is partly why they’ve always been my favourite band)– now they’re more likely to pay it lip-service for the purposes of emphasising their own eclecticism, whilst tacitly perpetuating the comforting notion that the really important moves in music are always made by thoughtful polymaths like themselves, not the hardened more unsparing cultures that they thieve from. Notice how only the white underground is worthy of consideration or celebration by the mainstream. The black underground has to scrub itself clean, or plunge into full-blown tittilation (Odd Future) to even be heard by the mainstream anymore. It’s what happens when the middle-classes colonise pop-talk, colonise pop – you get people more able to tart up their ignorance of new black art (alongside a hipster-glee in the most moneyed-up & shackled emanations from the white-owned black cultural mainstream), as merely a matter of taste & aesthetics, rather than the entirely revealing political choice their ignorance implies. And if a culture like indie can’t help but yearn in its clothes and its looks and its sound for a time when black folk were excluded and powerless, when black music only exerted a hold on those ‘cool’ enough to know about it, fantasies of separatism, fantasies of simpler times when lines could be more clearly drawn become potent and persuasive. Critics at the moment are the fucking exemplifiers of this. There’s a compulsion behind rockcrit to make black music step to a monolithic movement, a fixation on the manageable ‘classic’ era that kills the need for further investigation. The collector- mentality likes ticking off genres tokenistically, making sure their racks have the requisite amount of hip-hop, or reggae, or jazz or soul or grime in there to assuage any liberal guilt, but that then leaves it at that before the illiberal compelling heart of modern dancehall or hip-hop can confuse the order or integrity of the cannon. At the moment, as always, there’s plenty of white folk standing round a hole in the ground flinging handfuls of dust over hip-hop’s empty coffin, as ever, hip-hop itself stubbornly refuses to die or disappear so long as DJs keep spinning and MCs keep spitting: the infinite possibilities of the form are too enduring for it to just fizzle out merely cos the mainstream’s being cowardly. But when hip-hop kills it, as it still does across the web across the wires and in the head, when it lashes down the spontaneous combustion that is its forte don’t expect anyone with a word-count and a deadline to be listening, don’t expect their fixations on the past to even allow them to dig hip-hop’s endless parricidal progress into the future. Like the pencil-pushers who decried’n’derided Isaac Hayes as a purveyor of ‘blacMuzakkk’, insistent that r&b must never want more than the three-minute single, the production line, the tin-shack. Like the worst, most retro-fixated anti-mod-mods who think reggae ‘degenerated’ into dancehall, who stop listening to Jamaica as soon as Heart Of The Congos has stopped: those same people who even now haven’t got an ear cocked Jamaica’s way — damn foolish considering how often that tiny island has changed the world of sound. Pronouncing a music dead or washed up or ‘in danger’ is useful in covering up the reasons for that wilfully lazy ignorance, and the deeper racial reasons behind that music’s continued marginalisation. Always the secret yearn for a simpler time, when white music dominated, a yearn that still exerts ultimate power over what we hear and what we get to hear. A nostalgia reflected in the convenient ‘cleansing’ an engrossment in white extremism affords it’s liberal fans. Course we’re not racist. THEY were racist. Back THEN.

From Gavin Watson's 'Skins'


Skins presents itself as documentary but it’s pure fantasy, of better, stronger times for white identity. It presents people at the bottom of the ladder, who seemingly couldn’t deal with change, but uses their obstinacy as both that which makes them heroic and supposedly that which separates them from the lovers of Skins now – tease out that hipster politrickal slickness a little and you usually find a similar obstinacy in readings of black culture and music, a similarly luddite affection for black music’s past and disappointment with black music’s present (and those ‘chavs’ – is there a more pervasively damaging word in Britain right now? – who follow it). First printed in 1994, Skins’ steely- eyed photographs of Watson’s family and friends, tooling around Wycombe with nothing to do and everything to prove in the late Seventies and early Eighties, capture the moment when skin culture became a purely provincial form of resistance at the tail end of the Seventies: a barely coherent (yet talismanic and nostalgic) refusal of changing trends, and a reaffirmation of white working-class solidarity and rabblish resistance in the emerging Thatcher era.

Wannabe hooligans and cultural studies lecturers will be equally tumescent but a couple of problems shoot out as soon as you start leafing through Skins. One – the photographs are, in the main forced, sentimentalised, unrevealing: clichéd portrayals in service to their subject’s self- aggrandisement and self-pity, and seemingly bereft of insight or energy. There is shot after shot of skins looking hard, at odds with the world, facing down the lens with a smug mob-confi- dence that barely hints at the vulnerability beneath the tats and the chrome-domes. Sure, it’s revealing of the political bubble skinhead culture willed itself into inhabiting, but the shots of skins sporting Skrewdriver T-shirts, scrawling NF graffiti and sieg-heiling down their local are too charged (and despite Watson’s foreword protestations about it not being about race – knowingly so) to be presented as apolitical verité. Looking at the shots of this supposedly oppressed minority culture (that included blacks and whites lest we forget) I remember how the mere sight of a skinhead made me feel in the Seventies, how me and my family felt under physical threat whenever a Harrington and a crew cut hoved into view. You could say that it’s the precise insularity of Skins that is revealing, that immerses you so completely in their world – I’d say Skins’ absolute refusal to deal with the wider political realities of the world it depicts is a cop- out, and the nostalgic back-pat it gives to a bunch of racist dicks who made UK-Asian life just that little bit more terrifying in the Seventies is too much for this Paki to stomach. For some, the expanded reissue was a reminder of something sadly lost to our pop culture. For someone who remembers the rise of the NF and the battles of the early Eighties, it was merely a montage of idiocy, aggression and race-hate enjoyable only as a tombstone to a thankfully dead community of cunts and fascist scum who found themselves unable to deal with a changing Britain. Prime thug-porn wanking material for Morrissey, I’m sure. Kindling for the rest of us, but don’t let British art’s use of Skinhead culture as convenient way to put racism in a safe place, now past, fool you, no matter how Skins images are dated by background detail (cars, cans of stout, Woodbine packets), no matter how pristine-perfect is the production-values of Meadows’ film (which I watched with white folk who alternately laughed at the dumb Asians & cried for the poor whites whilst I simply seethed behind my fingers). The suggestion of both mediocre works is that Asian and white culture will always fundamentally be in opposition, that the lie of multiculturalism has simply painted over cracks that are still there. In those moments straight after the latest kid has spat at you, or the latest drunk twat or sober England-fan has hollered some racist vitriol in your direction, you could almost believe that yourself. But once your breathing calms down, and the fear of the situation has subsided, you remember that multicultur- alism isn’t a concept for some of us, for most of us. Politicians, particularly Cameron and his cabal of cunts, talk about multicul- turalism’s ‘failure’ without realising that in effect he’s seeking to erase our history, the true history of this isle. For most of us multiculturalism isn’t just a sociological idea, it is the only way of life we’ve ever known. There is a much stronger history we ALL have in the UK of simply always being surrounded by, and being friends and lovers and playmates with, people from all over the planet. Up to a point, I have to admit racism’s part in making me, that’s how I’ve learned to be more English than you’ll ever be, but here be my pedigree, chum, and it’s a bit more complex than any cultural-theorist I’ve ever read can envisage.