Marc has already posted some of this here on DM, but for those who would like to see more, here is the entire Question Time show featuring John Lydon (among others) which went out on BBC1 last Thursday.
We all gathered round the computer monitor to watch this broadcast last week, and I have to admit it felt like real event television. Having someone with the wit and stature (not to mention televisual infamy) of John Lydon sitting as part of a panel on a mainstream political show simply does not happen very often.
It was a mixed blessing. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the pro-drug decriminalisation discussion, which Marc linked to before, and I thought he could have handled that part better. I also found some of his showboating grating, but hey, the guy is a rock legend, so I guess a bit of attention grabbing narcissism is to be expected.
But where Lydon really shone was in the opening few minutes of the show, when the panel were asked about the current banking crisis, and how the UK government intends to investigate the LIBOR scandal. Perfectly cutting through the blame-throwing merry-go-round the politicians were spinning in an attempt to avoid giving any real answers, Lydon was loud and direct, and did what he does best - namely, a physical representation of righteous fury. Below is the entire episode, but the beginning of Question Time is worth watching just to see Lydon put Louise Mensch and her ilk firmly in their place, by reminding them that this is not some abstract argument or phiopsphical discussion. People’s lives and livelihoods are at stake:
More Occupy-themed free music, and a big tIp of the hat to DM commenter Frank W for alerting us to this. The words “Immortal Technique”, “new mixtape” and “free download” should be enough to catch the more discerning listener’s ear, but if you’re new to this excellent MC let’s just say he’s the real deal. If you want to know more, his full, extraordinary biography can be found on the Viper Records website (as can his essay The Legacy of Bin Laden which is well worth reading.)
The Martyr features guest spots from Dead Prez, Joell Ortiz, Diabolic and more on the mic, and production from J Dilla, Southpaw and the man himself. On the track “Rich Man’s World (1%)” he puts himself in the mind of a genuine one-percenter and shows just how much he doesn’t give a shit what the other 99% of us think (“I hope you got good credit bitch/If not better get a new job with benefits”) - all over that naggingly familiar riff from “Money Money Money” by Abba.
There was a time when Nation of Ulysses was the most influential underground rock band in the world. It may not have been for a very long time, and it may have been 20 years ago, before Nirvana took punk aesthetics into the heart of the mainstream, but for a while it seemed like everyone who heard or saw this band just couldn’t shut up about them. It’s not hard to see why Nation of Ulysses drew such cultish adulation - they were always about much more than being a simple band. They had a defined visual aesthetic that drew more from jazz and Soviet art than hardcore. They spoke politics. They worse suits. They described themselves in statements that by today’s standards would spell career suicide for a rock band:
We’re not only a political party, but also a terrorist group. The imperative started with the recognition of the colonialization of youth culture by youth imperialists and the establishment. It was initially formed as a response to that, but now we’ve broadened our breadth to encompass a complete destruction of the American legacy. We understand the workings of oppressions big and small.
At the time [they formed] was Ulysses Speaks your primary medium?
Yeah, we were mostly just proliferating literature and bombing buildings, and then we realized the medium of noise not only creates a perfect cover for our organization but it also creates a camouflage for maniacal riotous behavior and provides a context for acting like an idiot and going beyond the structures of everyday behavioral codes. When you see a show, everybody is jumping up and down screaming—if it’s good—and that’s because they’ve been allowed to step outside the boundaries of regular behavior. We want to go one step further. It’s absurd behavior—dancing is incredibly absurd—and we want to take that one step beyond, and that’s why we have so much violence on stage; we’re trying to bring it to the next level. We’re fighting a war there in the room…the room that we took over.
Since you began this mission, have you become more optimistic that you can effectively utilize the facade of populist entertainment to convey the party message?
Yeah…our message is visual, it’s aural, and it’s olfactory. Our message couldn’t be progenitated properly just with sound. We see the whole idea of music as a sound phenomena as really bogus and an idea which has only taken root since the proliferation version of recorded medium, like records. Before then, nobody would have ever thought, “this is only attacking my ears”, because there’s always a visual side to that whole phenomenon. We’re into the true experience, and that’s why the whole idea of music has really aligned us. What we’re wearing on stage and the way we move on stage has just as much to do with the idea that we’re getting across as the sound that we’re putting forth.
Have you been able to stir up as much antagonism as you might have hoped for?
Yeah, you know - the old order; people who sense the dissolution and the proliferatrion of new ideas. There’s a Kill Ulysses conspiracy - It’s called the Kill Ulysses National Workers Socialist Party; they’re just trying to destroy us. Rock and Roll is trying to destroy us.
From The New Puritan ReView, 1991 - read the whole interview here.
Still, for all the word-of-mouth hype that surrounded Nation of Ulysses in their brief but dazzling career, for kids like me who lived in the sticks their music was harder to come across than hen’s teeth - another situation that seems impossible by today’s standards. Back in the days when you had to travel to a big city and visit a specialist record shop in the hope of picking up an import 7”, it was easier to find releases by Ulysses’ UK adherents like Huggy Bear than it was the band’s own originals. Thankfully, the hardcore NoU fan base still exists and has been doing a pretty good job of disseminating footage and material on the internet, ensuring the band’s legacy will live on and attract more fans. Sure, Nation of Ulysses weren’t the first punk act to adhere to hardcore left-wing politics, or to have a well defined look and outlook, but no-one did it with this much goddam style:
Nation of Ulysses “Introduction/Spectra Sonic Sound” live 1991
OK, so the audio quality in that clip was pretty poor, but it gives you an idea of what their shows were like. Plus, I do love that washed out, third-generation VHS-copy look. Here’s another clip of NoU live from 1991 (minus suits):
Nation of Ulysses “A Comment on Ritual” live 9:30 Club, 1991
You can now buy the Nation of Ulysses back catalog direct from Dischord.
After the jump, even better quality footage of NoU live in DC circa 1991, including a further 30 minutes of that 9:30 Club show above (in color)…
While England tries to come to terms with the rioting of the last seven days, politicians and pundits, of both the right and left persuasion, are still using the looting as a means of point-scoring against their traditional enemies on the other side of the fence. ‘Twas ever thus, etc. But at what point are both sides going to be honest, put their hands up and admit that they have both made mistakes?
Call names all you want, pick holes in opposing ideologies all you want, but it’s fair to say that the pontifications of the left and the knee-jerk reactions of the right are neither going to satisfactorily explain what has been happening, or prevent it from happening again. More useful, I think, is to look beyond the cyclical, circular arguments of politics. This piece from the blog potlatch has a fair stab at detaching the riots from dead end political dialogs, and has valid criticisms of both the left and the right:
The dilemma for the Left, and for sociologists, is the following: whether or not to trust people’s own understanding of what they’re doing. And if a young looter says nothing about politics or inequality, and displays no class consciousness, to what extent can a culturally sensitive democratic socialist disagree with them? For sure, the Old Left would have no problem re-framing the behaviour of an egomaniac teenager burning down his neighbour’s shop in terms of class. That’s what crude Marxist ‘critical realism’ meant. But the New Left, along with the ‘cultural turn’ in sociology, was meant to be slightly more capable of listening.
Strangely, other than the repeated mantra that there is “no excuse” for looting, I’ve been surprised by how guarded the political classes have been on this occasion. I assumed that moralistic rhetoric would be raining down by now, focused on absent fathers, bringing back the birch, national service and banning computer games. But no. Could it be that the absence of politics, of sociological rationale, and of socialist ambition in these events means that they are, from a Rightwing perspective, comparatively safe?
Right now it feels like the same old arguments are getting trotted out again and again, people are not willing to budge from their positions and open up to new ideas, and no real, genuine progress is being made to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Either it’s time for a new kind of politics, or it’s time to accept that politics is not going to solve the problems we face - surely I can’t be the only to feel that the ENTIRE political system, both left AND right, have failed us?
Before anyone gets carried away getting all biblical on the asses of the UK looters, it’s best to remember that the people in positions of power have been getting away with much worse crimes for years now. This brilliant open letter to the parents of the UK’s Prime Minister by the writer Nathaniel Tappley makes that abundantly clear with facts, figures and more than a pinch of humor. And yes, before anyone mentions, he does know that Mr Cameron’s father died last year, his point being that he is reflecting assumptions about parenting that Cameron regularly makes.
“Are they really surprised that this country’s culture is swamped in greed, in the acquisition of material things, in a lust for consumer goods of the most base kind? Really?
Our politicians are for sale and they do not care who knows it.
Oh yes, and then there’s the expenses thing. Widescale abuse of the very systems they designed, almost all of them grasping what they could while they remained MPs, to build their nest egg for the future at the public’s expense. They even now whine on Twitter about having their expenses claims for getting back to Parliament while much of the country is on fire subject to any examination. True public servants.
The last few days have revealed some truths, and some heartening truths. The fact that the #riotcleanup crews had organised themselves before David Cameron even made time for a public statement is heartening. The fact that local communities came together to keep their neighbourhoods safe when the police failed is heartening. The fact that there were peace vigils being organised (even as the police tried to dissuade people) is heartening.
There is hope for this country. But we must stop looking upwards for it. The politicians are the ones leading the charge into the gutter.”
The first episode in the new series by Adam Curtis, All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace is now available to watch in full on YouTube.
Starting by examining our current era of supposed economic, social and online freedoms, Curtis manages to join the dots between Ayn Rand, Alan Greenspan, the IMF’s involvement in East Asia, radical Islam and Silicon Valley’s economic boom. This episode features some very interesting and candid interviews with Rand confidants Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, Nathaniel having had an affair with Rand that lasted many years. Presented in the typical, excellent Adam Curtis style, using lots of obscure stock footage and a great soundtrack, this is essential viewing.
Episode two of All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace (“How The Idea Of The Ecosystem Was Invented”) is available to watch here.
Curtis yesterday published an article through the Guardian about the death of Osama bin Laden, and what that means for the global political spin-machine. In it Curtis addresses the bogey-man status of Bin Laden and how his death will impact on the ongoing Western cultural narrative of “Goodies” vs “Baddies”:
Journalists, many of whom also yearned for the simplicity of the old days, grabbed at [the Bin Laden story]: from the outset, the reporting of the Islamist terror threat was distorted to reflect this dominant simplified narrative. And Bin Laden grabbed at it too. As the journalists who actually met him report, he was brilliant at publicity. All three – the neoconservatives, the “terror journalists”, and Bin Laden himself – effectively worked together to create a dramatically simple story of looming apocalypse. It wasn’t in any way a conspiracy. Each of them had stumbled in their different ways on a simplified fantasy that fitted with their own needs.
The power of this simple story propelled history forward. It allowed the neocons – and their liberal interventionist allies – to set out to try to remake the world and spread democracy. It allowed revolutionary Islamism, which throughout the 1990s had been failing dramatically to get the Arab people to rise up and follow its vision, to regain its authority. And it helped to sell a lot of newspapers.
But because we, and our leaders, retreated into a Manichean fantasy, we understood the new complexities of the real world even less. Which meant that we completely ignored what was really going on in the Arab world.
Curtis neatly sums up, in one statement, just why there is so much distrust for politics and the media in this day and age, be it from the right or the left, the fringe or the more mainstream:
One of the main functions of politicians – and journalists – is to simplify the world for us. But there comes a point when – however much they try – the bits of reality, the fragments of events, won’t fit into the old frame.
The article is highly recommended reading and you can view the whole thing here. I especially love Curtis’ work on the effect of the media in propagating certain cultural memes, particularly oldstream media, which tries to pretend it has no effect on politics and society even though it has a huge impact on how we think and function. If you’re not aware of Curtis’ work and his sharp insights (or even if you are) here’s a segment he produced for Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe on media and political paranoia:
Really creative stuff here. UK designer and video artist Chris Lince has put together a fantastic video for his fellow Brits in the group Pig With the Face of a Boy, which describes itself as “the world’s best neo-post-post music hall anti-folk band.”
The song, “A Complete History Of The Soviet Union Through The Eyes Of A Humble Worker, Arranged To The Melody Of Tetris” (that melody is actually the 19th-century Russian folk song “Korbeiniki”) is clever enough, packing a 70-year history into seven minutes. But the metaphor of the famously addictive video game truly comes alive in Lince’s atmospheric vid. He captures the grime, the grit, and the blocks beautifully. I’m not a gigantic fan of satirical musical comedy, but I think this is executed really well.