Category Archives: Mild Mania

Writing Praxis – From Passion to Practice


It’s my birthday, so I’ve given myself permission to write something self obsessed to try and dig myself out of a frustrating hole.

I think of myself as a writer. I spent two years tricking myself into actually being one through the creative practice/experiment/collaboration of awesome that was Unstruck. By working with other people and setting myself arbitrary deadlines, targets, and systems of expectation, I wrote over 250,000 words about everything under the sun.

It was quite fun.

For that period, I felt creatively engaged, challenged and entertained. The way that I was working with different people meant that even if I didn’t feel happy with my own work, I could see other people being interested, and look at these stunning illustrations that had indirectly had my input. It was quite incredible. Last September(ish) I decided that as it approached 500 posts (of 500 words a piece) I should stop, have a break, and do something new.

Guess what happened.

I’m still broken, it seems. In the intervening period I’ve probably written about four pieces. I did about 10,000 words of a novel for nanowrimo, but realised that I was killing a good idea for a story, and so stopped before it sucked all the joy out of it (that story is still pootling around the back of my head, so I think this may have been the right thing). I’ve written a few politically inspired pieces on here that I’m faintly happy with, and one gig review that was probably a bit too self indulgent.

I do think Unstruck is ‘finished’ and so I want to do something new, but I appear to have forgotten how. Let me explain a few of the ideas I’ve had to get me back on track, and see what you think. Please tell me if you’d like to see these actually happen, as that might help.

  • Unconsequence – A sequel to Unstruck, getting rid of the questions, but chaining all the pieces together. An illustration is written about, and then the writing is illustrated, and then that illustration is written about (hopefully differently), and then that writing is illustrated and so on for eternity (or until there’s a natural end). I think this could me much harder work for me and the illustrators, and has more potential than Unstruck to go horribly, horribly wrong, but…well, it’s appealing, as I know this sort of system could motivate me, and it could lead to more ‘fiction-like’ pieces than Unstruck allowed. I would need more illustrators to get on board though, and I think it would need more commitment than Unstruck.
  • Sharing Needles – I hate writing about music, but perhaps if I explored individual records in a deeply personal way (without being allowed to use the adjective ‘visceral’ unless talking about actual viscera, for example), I could challenge this. This all leapt out of realising that the moment I put the needle on certain disco records, I feel like I’ve made a decision to self medicate my bouts of depressiveness. And it works. Records as medication, hence the needles, writing about it, hence the sharing. One of the things I like here is that Emma could do illustrations, based on distortions and manipulations of the album covers I was discussing. She seemed ‘up for this’.
  • Thingsnowball – Another blog, this time based on ‘things’ and the cascades of thought that can build up around them. Basically, an excuse to write what I wanted, with the caveat that it had to be based on a particular thing encased at the top of the article, be it a quote, a picture, a sculpture, a piece of music, a sculpture or whatever. I would encourge people to send me things to write about, as the audience participation element of Unstruck really kept me on my toes.
  • The Land of Cows and Bees (working title) – Stepping away from blogs (unless I decide to write it as a fake blog), this is my failed nanowrimo, reimagined some. Basically, a not hugely successful journalist, writing about fortean hoaxes in a cynical way, gets invited to the heart of a secretive cult (on a Scientology scale) to interview the nameless and massively private leader. The leader proceeds to be a complete money grubbing dick, but also performs genuine, impossible miracles. Journo has to work out what this means for the universe. I’ve got a good climactic scene in my head for this, but I’ve still not nailed how to write proper fiction without strangling myself in overindulgence. I like this idea enough that I don’t want to do it too soon.
  • ‘The Vampire Jesus project’ (a nonfunctional placeholder)- This resurfaced today, after reading about Pope Innocent VIII drinking the blood of three young boys, to try and save himself from dying. His anti-science stance had led him to ban the translation of a document about blood circulation into latin, so he wasn’t aware this wasn’t how you did blood transfusions. He died, so did the boys. I’ve been intrigued for years about the vampiric symbolism of the catholic mass, and would quite like to write something about the intensely blasphemous notion that Jesus was the Ur-Vampire, and that the ‘true’ christianity is only practiced by vampires. The council of Nicea tried to eradicate this and turn catholicism into something a bit more humanic. Vampires are massively overdone, so I’m not sure about this one, but it does intrigue me just because I think it would make a good comic. Would need a pretty dedicated collaborator to make this work in the long run though. I’d also be shocked if nobody has already thought of this idea and ran with it.

You get the idea. Possibly. I do still have ideas, but I’m not executing them. Fear and paranoia and not wanting to leave a further string of failed projects littering the internet hold me back. The heartfelt conviction that I am a writer, can’t bear writing too much more dreadful prose. Unstruck practiced a certain type of writing, and I think made me a thousand times better, so part of me knows that all I need is to get writing, and keep writing until terrible becomes good.

But ideas. Ideas. They are slippery.

Sometimes I realise that I am just not creative. I don’t have a million ideas, and I’m terrified of running out. Unstruck didn’t exercise that muscle, because the people asking the questions had to do all the heavy lifting. Those two story ideas upstairs? One is the only really workable one I’ve had in the last year. The other is about five years old. I’m not churning these out daily.

So I have a few options. I can jump into another blog project (I am addicted to starting new blogs, but never writing them), with a big system and a programme of thought and all those things that help me focus. I can start writing ‘novels’ and try and get some of the big stories out. Or I can spend time properly formulating. Planning, Trying to force myself into being more creative by pushing my brain into new places. I’ve been reading semi-random sections from Scarlet Thomas’ creative writing book recently, and it’s really firing me up to spend some time actually exploring ‘devices’ for goading me into creativity. Judging from how much inspiration I’ve had from just thinking about it, this seems worthwhile.

But it’s all so easy to put aside.

I get excited by things (if you’ve met me or read me for a while, you probably know this). I’m a jack-of-all-interests, master of nothing. I find myself constantly diving from one interest to another. I want to make a boardgame, at the moment. And don’t know if I should let myself be distracted from writing by this. My bones don’t tell me who I am, they just tell me that I have this passion. These passions.

But how to I put passion into practice, when I’m such a flittering, ranting, rambling, moody, lost and vortexed mess.

The truth is, I just need to do it.

I know this, and I’ve spent a good chunk of the last year throwing my life into turmoil so that I have the mental-space and time-space in which to do it. Now I have to do it.

Perhaps it’ll be hubristic, but I’m thinking of this piece not as a blog, but a line in the sand. Not a barrier, but a line stretching out in front of me, clearly delineating that something must be done.

If I don’t start doing it now, and have come a long way when I look at this again in a years orbit. I will be filled with shame and self loathing. My brain is fragile enough that I can’t afford to do this.

So it’s write or die. Apparently.

Wish me luck. Feed me encouragement. Goad me, challenge me and shake me until I’m writing. If you like, tell me what to write. I promise that if anyone asks me to write something, I will write it. I won’t necessarily let you publish it on your money making website, but I will write it.

And I’m going to work, and it’s going to work.

I hope.


Illustration by Emma, not specifically for this piece, but for a birthday card, which freaked me the hell out.


Mounting Darkness and Creative Destruction on the Dark Mountain – Uncivilisation 2012

Uncertain Ground

To civilise is to build.

To uncivilise is to destroy?

I may just be tired, but I actually feel very lost. Last year’s Dark Mountain Uncivilisation Festival made me grounded and full hearted, my mind swirling with ideas. This year, the thoughts are still torrential, but my physical form feels adrift.

It’s a scary place to be. But I think that might be part of the point.

There are some things we need to look in the eye, and they are going to be terrifying. The future is real, and it’s not far away.

Someone this weekend bought together a number of statements under the heading ‘why am I here?’ I was reminded of my fear and dread of why questions, and the leaps they ask you to make. It remains my conviction that no ‘why’ question has an answer that isn’t guesswork or an act of faith. Reasons aren’t available, no matter how hard we reason. A why asks a fundamentally different kind of question. We don’t tell people why the sky is blue, we tell people how air bends light. Or we just lie and make up an answer.

Dark Mountain is looking for new whys. Rightly so. Our civilisation is based on a series of misleading myths that are causing us to eat ourselves. The world is falling part, and we are just digging deeper into it. This weekend’s recurring motif was mythology. Stories that can accompany the logos of understanding. Stories that can tell us ‘why’.

Myth is everything that we think we know, anyway. Our memories of our lives are as distorted as our understandings of history. A well told story is what builds our past. That’s how we remember things.

I am intensely conscious that as I write about this weekend, I am going to create my vision of it. Make it again, after the fact. Ignoring the grumpiness and tiredness. Probably unable to go into why I repeatedly lost my voice and felt afraid to speak. I am here to build my own Dark Mountain myth.

But I am tired, and I am worried it will be the wrong one.

It’s the problem with trying to build our own whys. A new myth is untested in the waters of people, open to interpretation and destruction, a story has as many sides as it has listeners. There is no way to know the impact of a new myth. The inventors of the myths of capitalism probably never saw its natural result as the greed of today. Adam Smith’s invisible hand was supposed to stop this kind of thing, not claw into the world, desperately tearing its livelihood to destruction.

We either need to get this right, or we need to work out a new way of myth making, something that allows us to adapt, something that returns us to the now, allows us to be more present in the moment, more aware of the now.

Steve Wheeler, dazzled me a little, drawing links between the slow disease of ‘progress’, the notion of apocalypse, and utopian, teleological world-views. It’s seems so simple to remember that some of our oldest revelations are not simply about the world ending, but about something new and perfect beginning. The book of John of Patmos does not mourn the destruction of the world, but beckons in the kingdom of god. Even Ragnarok ends with two survivors building a new world. Marx pushes towards another utopia, the apparently inevitable conclusion of wave after wave of revolution.

Our apocalypses are our idealisms.

Steve tried to draw us into the now. To stop wanting stuff for the future. To live in a now that would not rely on desires and fears, that could be content with what is.

It’s that thought from last year. To be happy in the future, we’re going to want to be happy with less. There’s a lot of internal work you can do for that.

Tom Hirons pulled me into the woods, and tried to offer a brief taste of extreme wilderness. The taste and feel of the earth on your face, screaming into the ground, whilst hearing a chorus of others doing the same. It is something I will never forget, perhaps the wildest moment of the weekend (apart form my wriggling terror as I forced myself into the dark night’s woods, jumping at every noise). I admire Tom even more after his talk, in which he talked of trying to create  a rite of passage without appropriating the culture of other peoples. He is one of many people there this weekend, who I am simply incredibly glad exist, and feel blessed to have even passing contact with.

Speaking of passing contacts, I only spoke to Vinay for about two minutes, and still got an intense snippet of knowhow that I think I need to build on.

Stories are better with a little added noise. That was taught by Tom and Rima on the first night, and Martin Shaw the next day.

And an intense debate about I vs We, sent me into tumults of worry about the nature of consensus, and the ability of people to assume its presence. No community is uniform. Be wary of your words when you speak for others. I am not enough, but I cannot know enough of others to speak for them. That is dangerous personal mythmaking.

But then, there is this desire for community, and I suspect that’s what draws the Dark Mountaineers together. The people that really want to leave civilisation can do it. There is still wildness, and it can be escaped to.

There’s more than that, somewhere. There’s a desire to make change. I hope that’s what it is, anyway. Because this isn’t just about personal reinvention, this is about finding a way to make our society stop killing people, and stop killing the planet. I really hope so. Because beyond that goal, I don’t really see what’s worth it.

I feel like we’re sometimes too far up the pyramid of needs of the world. We haven’t found a way to feed everyone, we haven’t found a way to stop burning and poisoning the actual ground and water and air that gives us everything we have, have ever had, and will ever have. We’re obsessing about self actualisation when there are people dying.

But then, as individuals, we need to focus on our own changes and our own world in order to exemplify, promote and build a new way of thinking. Without doing that thinking (and the acres of self destruction and re-creation that accompany it) we can’t make new things, escape old traps or be new people.

So we must be in the now, whilst remembering the past, and building a future that might be able to work for everyone.

The weekend sometimes feels like time travel, or perhaps, stepping out of time long enough to get the overview, seeing how things once were, are still, and always will be. Changed, different, but built from the same stuff.

That earth, that water, that sky.

When I was there, I thought I saw a common theme. I thought the answer was in building mythologies. Finding old stories that can show us new ways. Finding new stories that can reconnect our future to our past. Building worlds within worlds to teach our world new dances.

Now I return, and old fears come back with me. How do we build a right future, built on uncertain ground. How can we decide to teach myths as truths, when we know their truths, and ours, are so malleable, so frangible.


I touched the earth, the ground, and told it I was grateful. I acknowledged that it had built me, fed me, made everything I have ever known. I screamed, giving it my voice. I didn’t feel like I was pouring out. Maybe I was feeding, as it always fed me. It was a connection, nonetheless.

So I did connect. And despite my voicelessness, I found connection to people as well. I am not as good at this as I imagine, or perhaps I have just forgotten some of my people skills, or perhaps I’d thought I was going for my self, and not to connect with people. This is probably the wrong way to go into most things.

Or not.

I honestly don’t know. I feel more questioned and challenged than solidified.

But this is good.

Controversial example.

After the festival ended, many people stayed behind to finish off the beer and have one last fire and gathering. A great atmosphere was suddenly interrupted by a story. Someone had ventured into town and stumbled upon a symbol of civilisation, he suggested we burned it. Another chimed in saying we should tear it apart and burn it piece by piece. Properly excoriate.

Before it got far, some raised a complaint. The ritual interrupted, atmosphere shifting as people try to search for something.

The symbol, you see, was a book. The burning of books is a deep symbol, easily misread and misinterpreted. A reminder of savagery, organised violence. Impromptu rituals, a joke to celebrate the destruction of civilisation, worry of what that destruction is, or means.

The story needs to be told in bits and pieces, with weird disjunctures, because it was a hundred stories.

I for one, felt my mind tumble through them.

The book burned, but not by consensus; the owner took charge. A line was drawn between burning ‘civilisation’ and burning ‘Civilisation, by Kenneth Clarke’. The knowledge inside it was given respect by some, the author disdain by others. The iconography was terrifying. Reminders of oppression. Oppression is still everywhere. This is not safely ironically distant territory.

As I watched the book slowly explode and burst outwards, I wondered. Were we ready to destroy civilisation?

The noise of thought processes around that fire. The arguments and emotions. The fear and the anger and the humour. A real, deep sacred happening. Sacred and scared.

If we are truly to become uncivilised, this is not the only taboo that will need to be put to the flames.

But do we want to build our world on destruction? Is there even a choice?

How to we destroy destruction? How do we consume consumption?

Dangerous symbols make for dangerous ceremonies. It was the first time the festival had felt dangerous. And something was created from that destruction. Every mind focussed and intensified. Not necessarily for the best, but it’s good to shake things up.

A simple act. A simple fire.

It was a terrible and beautiful moment.

I felt like it shouldn’t have happened, but I felt it was needed.

Written down, it probably doesn’t have the power. But in the moment, my gut was wrenched.

What would it really mean to undermine and challenge the very fundaments of our civilisation. To not just nibble at the edges, but cut to the centre.

To burn something up.

Last year, I was reminded of what it was I wanted to protect and connect too. This year, Uncivilisation felt like it was more about facing up to how challenging it will be to change the world, and the self. The things we need to destroy are dear and dangerous. The arguments we need to have are heartfelt and hurtful. There will be pain, if we are to wrench our world into something new. There will be a risk, that we will turn into things we despise even more than our current state.

Dark Mountain remains a very civilised festival, full of very civilised people. It’s hard not to see it as having a taste of that kind of middle class avoidance of privilege that is so common. This was expressed eloquently and emotionally by someone who noted that they wanted to scream, from knowing that in their day to day life, they did not always live what they believe. Trying to connect, from behind a wall of socialisation and comfort, to something more primal, honest and pure than the myths of progress and futurity is painful and difficult. I am aware of how lightly and slowly I am treading that world, kept wrapped and safe in my comfort and my privilege.

Eventually, there are parts of our selves we will have to burn up and cast aside. We need to do it inwards, and then outwards. Our black iron prison will need to be burnt. Watching that happen may feel a lot like tearing hearts out. It is not safe, it will be misunderstood, it could lead us closer to destruction.

We have to be wary of the myths we create. They can make us destroy, they can convince others to destroy. I don’t know how to do this right. I feel paralysed, knowing that the destruction I am living in now is killing, but that any step forward could do the same.

I want to run away and cry tears into the ground. Let it know that I don’t know what to do and how to live any more.

I am cut adrift, my anchors burned off.

Actually, somehow, I feel like something in me has been uncivilised. More than before, I am adrift from my assumptions. I do not feel like I went to the same Dark Mountain as most. Even though I had plenty of (wonderful) company, and was shown some beautiful things, I feel like a scaled a height, was torn apart, and will now fight to put myself together.

This is probably only a first step, still. I think I need to work on this more. Work out where it should take me. Work out where I should take it.

My heart is opened up.

I come back down the mountain, and the world swirls around me as it always has. Will this be enough to make a difference. Will I be able to leave my heart open in this other world, that will not care for me as the community of the fire would? I am worried I will become overexposed again.

It’s scary, but I think that’s the point.

The work to be done, on self, on the world, is scary.

I feel I have walked into a fire. Sunk into the earth. Drowned under the water. Dissolved into the air.

And yet I am still here. In the now.

I do not have a replacement for self, for civilisation.

I do not know what to do next.

Illustration by the incredible Helen. Apologies this is being posted so late. I had a crisis of faith in it.

The Unbearable Darkness of Mountains – Uncivilisation 2011

Last night, as the sun set, I wandered into the woods. Dosed up with Valerian and on barely any sleep (third hangover of the year, too soon after the second) I was already hazy, and I became totally and utterly conscious of how terrible my eyes were.

In the dark of the evening, as everything turns into greys and blues, everything seems to dance. When I stopped walking to take stock, the sound wrapped around me. Tiny titters of birds, bleating lambs far away, owls some closer. But closer, there were the snaps of twigs, the rustle of leaves, the shifting undergrowth and mulch. Footsteps not mine. Movement all around.

And me in the middle, vaguely terrified, and unable to tell what movement was my eyes playing tricks, and what was the forest itself.

It was incredible. Not least when I understood, as my sense reached their limits, that this was all playing around me, but I was nowhere near the centre. All around me was life that cared not for me. I was barely a part of it, even as I felt connected to it. This swirl of noise, the clatter of life, slowly going it’s own way.

I was not in the middle. The world was. I was just a tiny thought, drifting across the surface.

This was the evening after Uncivilisation 2011, the second ‘festival’ of the Dark Mountain Project. It was the first time it started to feel really uncivilised, and was an incredibly intense experience. Not quite has scary as returning to the city, and feeling some of those sensations again, only related to the thing I’m supposed to be used to. The swirl of noise and the clatter of life, amplified and drowned out all at once, but I’ll get to that. Maybe.

Basically, it was a weekend for creative types interested in the manifesto of the Dark Mountain, to get together and talk. There was a lot of great talk. There was a lot of fascinating stories and people. There was so much going on in a very small space, often seemingly rushing towards you like the ground as you fall.

My brain is genuinely aching. Though my heart is swollen.

I didn’t really expect it to be like this. I was expecting to hear politics and get fired up. I was hoping to learn and grow and solidify.

Instead, I just feel like I have been put in contact with a part of me that has been missing.

This is also good.

I’m not going to talk too much about the speakers and the talks, or even the bands. I’m sure other people will post much more eloquent responses and critiques of what was said. I don’t remember many huge bombshells in the actual programme. Nobody has many answers about what to do next apart from look after yourself, pay attention, listen to stories, tell your stories, and learn how to live with less.

Possibly the simplest and most obviously true statement of the weekend was something along the lines of  ‘get better at enjoying non-material things, because if you want to be happy, those are going to be the only things you can rely on’.

In shorter, if everything runs out, make sure you’ve got something that can’t run out to make your heart sing.

That wasn’t actually shorter, was it.

I’m not good at brevity right now, maybe. I’ve got a lot of listening to try and take in and and process. At some point I think a lot of things in my brain are going to pop, in various different ways.

The weekend clicked for me about five times, after initially seeming like something utterly contradictory and so somewhat failed. When people who are talking about the end of the world get angry and self righteous about a cafe only having jacket potatoes left, it makes you wonder. Dougald, one of the organisers, noted that someone on twitter had described the festival as ‘luddites with iPhones’, he was aware of the irony. Smari pointed out earlier (quite probably joking, but still quite probably right), the people who were prepared were probably somewhere else, being prepared. This was not a place to learn how to prepare for the apocalypse. This was a place to talk.

Which seemed kind of pointless.

Until. Well. Until it started to feel right. Until I realised that this wasn’t necessarily about building bunkers, it was about building soul, heart, spirit or something like it. There are many sorts of preparedness.

The ‘What next’ talk helped, particularly when Paul Kingsnorth (the other founder) noted that the festival had kind of started out as a place to get writers together.

Once you start thinking of it as a writer’s workshop at the end of the universe, it kind of made sense.

But before that, it really clicked, as I got in touch with exactly the sort of hippy I am.

People call me a hippy all the time, and sometimes I get annoyed, but mostly because I don’t know what it means. I acknowledge that I don’t help myself by wearing skirts and long hair and liking flowers, but, well, it still seems like a derogatory term. Something ineffectual. I guess this could be historiographical. During one conversation, Vinay noted that the cultural revolution died because all the clever people died in the first years of battle, leaving nobody to lead that side in the war.

So; failed and idealistic revolutionary? Possibly not that far off. But there are other trappings.

This weekend, for me, was actually a deeply spiritual experience. Despite me not having any clear definition of what that is. The biggest learnings were not about people (though the campfire was one of the most supportive singsongs I’ve ever taken part in. I’ve never sung solo acappella in front of strangers before, and I felt happy to do it and to fail. Thanks to that fire. If you’re reading this, you know who you are.)

Really, the awesome ritualistic theatre of Liminal, was what bought my heart into action. A small prologue, a procession through a series of unneverving dreamlike vignettes, and a  final ritual, of noise and movement in the depths of a candlelit forest. Through that, I felt centred and connected to all of life, all of the world. Like had taken part in some kind of bonding ceremony. My centre suddenly felt further away from me than usual, but in the right way.

I celebrated by getting drunk, which was almost as stupid as some of the decisions on my cycle out from Petersfield to the campsite, which took five hours instead of one, and almost as fun. (Though it was the cycle that nearly killed me, if it hadn’t been for a spanner and a nice old lady called Anne, I’d probably be dead. Or at least very, very ill.)

The next day I was less engaged, but still picking up fragments, and maybe the odd braingrenade from Vinay. My mind was struggling to keep up with some of the learnings of the night before. Not least a weighty discussion in the almost sacredly intimate space of the hexayurt (which I stumbled drunkenly into at four in the morning).

I think spaces need to be small for real weight to be talked about. A conference or lecture is not a supportive or communal environment, it is a space for hierarchy and showing off. There were problems with some of the spaces, that bought out some odd things in people, and made me shut up and feel alienated. But when things worked, they worked.

And actually, shutting up and listening was what I needed. It wasn’t until everyone one faded back to their real lives and I was left in a quite countryside that I really appreciated that. And that I finally got to listen to what I really needed.

I made a new friend, who fed and nourished me in a number of ways, not least with actual physical real food. I need to get the micro infrastructure for cookery into my camping bike loadout pretty sharpish.

After absorbing some silence sunshine and beauty, we talked about sheep, unicorns and ancestors. Myths and futures and spirits.

The thing is, when you have the space to look at the noisiness of the quieter, less verbal world, you realise that these spirits, while metaphors, are utterly, utterly real.

Our myths and stories are wrapped up together, and they can still be shared around a campfire, and nothing will make you new friends like laughing and sharing them.

We are going to be ancestors. Even if we don’t have children, those around us will. We will tell them stories, and they will tell stories about us. Eventually, that is all we will be. Stories.

After my final commune with nature, the final fire of the weekend was shared with total but beautiful strangers. The chance to bounce around some chatter, to hear our thoughts and stories of the weekend shared and stretched and played with. Repeated and explained from different angles.

With the owls for company.

We were not the centre, we were just part of a stream through eternity. We looked backwards, and we looked forwards, and we saw everything stretching out beyond us.

I think we are tiny. I think we make tiny marks. As a civilisation, we have wreaked huge damage, but still, where it is, life persists. We will, eventually, wash away (barring the definitely real possibility of biotech, nanotech or nuclear catastrophe), and leave a world that will move on without us.

But civilisation is not actually us. Not the deep us, at our core.

Politically, we must make sure we demand the world the world deserves. We must learn how to change our civilisation so it does not destroy everything. This will probably not happen until it’s all gone horribly wrong. This is a tragedy for us.

The world will pick itself up and carry on without us.

We need to do something about this. This weekend was not about finding out what. It was about finding out why.

It was about seeing alternatives and feeling them.

It was restorative to something in my heart. Like a tree was growing there that hasn’t been watered in forever. Finally it is growing again, maybe even bearing fruit.

I still don’t know what to do about civilisation. But I do know I need to distance myself from it. My path seems clearer. Move, slowly and safely away from the horror of it all. Find somewhere I can live a simpler life.

The route will not be simple. I don’t have the wisdom and skills and power of my ancestors. I don’t know how to live off land, and I don’t have land to live off.

But. Well. I need to be out there.

Where the real world is. Living and bustling in it’s own way. I must visit it more regularly and learn how to work with it.

These are musts now, not just idle dreams.

I’m not going to stop talking about the problems. I’m going to continue to try and make the world change. But I am also going to make a tent on a darker mountain.

My spirit belongs with the others. In the darkness.

It’s not easy to see in the dark. This weekend, I practiced opening my eyes wider.

With time. I will work on my eyes.

And my heart.

And my soul.

So I can see deeper into the darkness, and maybe even live there.

This is a first response. It is tired and slightly crazy, for that is where I’m at right this moment.I’m going to use Unstruck this week to explore a few questions that came up over the weekend. This is technically breaking the rules, but that’s what they’re for, right?

Intense (No Tents) – Loop Festival 2009 and my body dichotomy (Somewhat)

So, it’s been a while. But lets not linger any longer, for there is business to attend to and I am stealing someone’s wires to send this out.

When I sat down, I wanted to write a review two acts that got me most wrapped up at the Loop Festival, held in the centre of Brighton this weekend. I’m doing that, but that’s not all.

Because I want to talk about my body.

Nothing new here then. Let’s start with the bands shall we.

Chronologically, we begin with Fever Ray, who headlined the second stage on the first night. They had lasers.

Fever Ray at the Corn Exchange, by EdwardFilm reproduced under a creative commons license.

I’ve never been enthralled by lasers before (though as a bit of a geek, I probably should have been at some point). But these had a magic in them. Well, that’s an exaggeration, there was just lots of incesnse pouring out of the stage and running through the lasers into the smoke, creating a slice of intricate chaotic patterns above us all as the band took to the stage.

Lets flip back a little. I hadn’t heard any Fever Ray before this evening, but it is essentially the solo project of one half of the Knife, famous for doing the filthy electro original of that wanky Jose Gonzales song that played in every trendy shop about two years ago…on loop…all the fucking time.

The original‘s better (and is forever wrapped up for me with Anders Loves Maria, where a particular sex scene takes place with the music in the background. I found a copy just so I could understand what Eggstorm was on about, and it was worth it).

Big fat anyway.

The point is that the band were shrouded in darkness, and the titular Ray of Fever, had the most terrifying mask on (well, I thought so), it was dark that you just got the silhouette of a huge mass of dreadlocks pouring out of the top of a ragged cape.

Back to the lasers.

Basically, the lasers were dangling just over the top of our heads, so near the front (where we were) the slice of smoke became a ceiling, and I suddenly felt as if I was in the living room of that terrifying ogre that lives around the back of the diner in Mullholland Drive.

It was somewhat intimidating. And it (possibly along with the heroic/foolish quantities of alcohol consumed) entirely overwhelmed me. I was wrapped up in the pulsing thick simplicity of the bass and drum being torn and lashed into by shrill piercing vocals.

It was quite good.

My companions for the evening seemed genuinely worried for me though.

And this is because of the effect to my body. I was rooted to the floor, unable to talk or communicate through anything apart from desparate, pained eyes, and subhuman grunts.

I’m not actually exagerating. I couldn’t control my movements apart from a kind of throbbing pulsing sensation, rhythmically tied to the music.

Now, dancing is a strange thing. I can’t get my head round it sometimes, but I love it. But why do we do it? Am I performing something? Or expressing something? Does my mind try to transfer the emotional intensity of the music into some kind of physical gesture, or do I just like moving in a vaguely out of control (but rhythmic) fashion?

Why do we do it, where does this need to express through movement come from?

For me, at the msot extreme times, it is rooted in the perineum and the pubis mons, and it feels like it surges outwards. The only way to exorcise this almost cramping building of tension is to flex and stretch and move.

I often bite.

Now, this is still married to when I hear something and I whoop and holler and then fling my arms and legs in time to the beat, but it is more. It seems more personal, because I am bursting, but I can’t express the feeling. I always try and I often fail (probably much like this here writing business, which again seems useless, almost more so because it attempts to in such a less subtle way, at least dancing keeps the abstract and immaterial from becoming too concrete and so trite…but that’s probably another story).

Anyway. That’s how I felt. Overwhelmed and ripped apart.

It was good. Though I suspect without being wrapped up in it and at the front then the music itself wasn’t strong enough. It was more about the phsyical and emotional experience that was built around you.

The next day, I got the same overwhelmed, but it was the exact opposite.

Múm were an utter joy to witness.

Múm at the Corn Exchange, by Prusakolep reproduced under a creati ve commons license

Here was a band with an utter lack of pretension, without even a sense that they were putting on a performance, so much as simply enjoying sharing their music.

The thing that stood out was the band looked at each other with genuine affection. They bounced and sang and laughed and chatted with each other, and infected the audience with a similar charm.

And that intensity overcame me again. The band did not play the sort of music I expected, instead of dark electronic atmospherics (with an uplifiting and inspiring edge) you had raucous, playful delightful romps. You had bird song recorders and childlike singing and roars of excitement. The vocal performances were outstanding, with a full range put to great use and intriguing use of harmonies. All wrapped with perfect drum and bass breaks and keyboard trills and everything else you can imagine. Instruments were thrown around stage so that everybody could join in, and, without that much inter song banter, the band seemed to welcome the audience into what genuinely felt like a family like environment. This band appear to genuinely love playing together, and love each other as close friends do.

If that’s all an act, then it’s an impressive one.

They topped off the set by singing the title track of an upcoming album ‘Sing along to songs you don’t know’, and encouraged the audience to do exactly that.

The song turned out to be about how much they loved the audience and wanted to take them home with them.

It was a sentiment exactly paralelled by something said by one of my companions.

And the affect on me?

Screaming and yelling and howling and bouncing and flinging and swinging and everything else imagine. I couldn’t stop moving. This positive energy oozed outwards and filled me with childlike glee. A regression back to simply loving being alive and the wonder.

To put it simply, it was the exact opposite of the rooted and internalised emotion I felt the night before during Fever Ray.

But it was the same. It was the same overwhelming energy passing through my body. The same building feeling reaching out from my sacral and basal chakras (if you want to get all hippy about it, rather than the clinical assessment already mentioned). And throwing my body around. Dominating everything that I feel.

Cackling with glee and squealing with delight, I am overwhelmed again.


It’s incredible to me that two entirely different bands can do this to me. It feels as if these two groups of strangers reached into me and pulled something out, not to hurt or damage me, but to get me to show it to the world. To pour it out. Let it see the light of day.

I love self expression, though I worry that the extent to which I do it is egotistical and self obsessed.

But there’s a magic in the way the strands of performance, emotion, rhythm, environment and body plait together to create a (dare I say it) almost divine experience. A deeper contact with self, and a deeper expression of what you connect to.

Maybe I’m just an old romantic, but it delights me endlessly, even as I’m afraid of it.


Just to wrap up, for those still with us, my other big recommendation from Loop would be Portico Quartet, but we know that already. Judging by the proximity to tears on the second hearing of their forthcoming track LifeMask I’d say the new album is going to split my spirit in twain and glue it together in a more appealing shape.

I was annoyed by the number of only slightly more interesting that the middle of the road guitar bands present, but the pick of that particular crop was Plugs (though they are friends of mine, so I probably would say that), despite some technical problems (I couldn’t hear the drums very clearly, to the extent that I told the rather surly soundman who ignored me).

My favourite new discovery were Win Prizes, who sailed through my hangover with panache despite having a dreadful name.

Oh, and Mira Calix was absolutely incredible if you can handle that kind of abstract weirdness. I could, and I did, and it was incredible.

So it was a good weekend.

It’s all in the Execution – Art with Heart

Manet Vs Lichtenstein

Corner of my bedroom, complete with Manet’s Execution of Emporer Maximillian and a Lichtenstien with a title I can’t find.

First up, apologies for the puns in the title, sometimes (most times) I just can’t help myself.




To me, the most powerful and beautiful art unfolds.

I mean. The pieces that I love. Or rather, one category of pictures (or whatever) that I love, have a factor in common. Multiplicity of meaning.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the potent, filthy erotic monstrousness of Francis Bacon. But I don’t come away thinking, I come away feeling. I love that feeling, and that is the other category of art i love, the stuff that makes me feel baptised in…something. Whatever it is.

But these two paintings, there’s something more ethereal in them that I love. It’s all about meaning and interpretation. It means that they excite me now, in a way that I don’t think many people understand.

I’m going to try and make you understand now. I will probably fail, but let me know what you think.

Let’s get back to unfolding. It’s a recurring feeling. It’s not like turning an origami swan, it’s more like turning an origami swan into a smaller origami swan, like a fractal.

Down the rabbit hole.

I’m going to anchor this with something more solid, like a picture of the piece we’re looking at first.Lichtenstein's Pianist

‘Although he holds his brush and palette in his hands. I know his heart is always with me!’

I discovered this piece upon moving into a house. The poster was on the wall, and it gazed over our kitchen table for the whole year. Everybody wanted to take it down, because it looks (apparently) uncannily like a friend of some of the people that lived there, and it freaked them out (aforementioned someone passed away in tragic circumstances sometime before). I insisted it stayed up, because I thought it was magical. When we moved, I took it with me, and it’s always been on one of my walls.

What is it that strikes me about it?

Well, I’ll tell you what it isn’t.

It’s not the image.

It’s not the whole ‘Pop art’ thing either. No praise of kitsch or low culture. No blowing tiny items up to a level where they become art. No celebration of the infantile or banal. No. It is none of these things.

Not for me anyway. And that’s what everybody says when they talk about Lichtenstein.

I think they miss the depth, or at least, the critics I’ve read miss it. They miss a lot.

For me, it’s the wordplay. The thought bubble, and the way that interacts with the artist, the girl trapped in the image, the viewer and society at large.

Like I say, once I start looking at it and engage my brain, it starts unfolding, until it has engulfed everything.

I still don’t have it all in my head. I still find it challenging to think how the very thing that fascinates me represents a critique or reinforcement of the male gaze. I rarely even try and explore that avenue.

Let’s look at what I’m trying to talk about here. That might help.

She (the flat static image) is pondering her relationship with the Artist, Roy Lichtenstein. She sees him, from the canvas, painting her. He is entirely focussed on his art, the creation of a beautiful meaningul object. But in true pulp style, she is in love. She senses, beneath his art, his love for her. She is in his heart, and he is pouring that heart onto the canvas, which is her.

And then my heart skips a beat, as I wonder if she’s right?

What was Lichtenstein thinking? Who is this woman (eerily like someone I’ve never met, but who has had an impact on my life)? Did he sneak a lover into one of his pictures? Or is she just an object? Is he aware of his objectification? Is she? Why does she decieve herself? Is Lichtenstein an aware tool of the patriarchy? Why does he create this woman for us, society, or me?

What is she playing on the piano?

Is the whole, together, a statement about art? Is it a parody of assumed relationships between artist and model? Is it simply a sad, mournful statement, that some people fall in love with people who could never love them back?

I always settle on melancholy, but maybe that’s just me. THe fact is that I feel like I can always break it down another layer, in ways that I can’t describe.

I do this for hours. And with each new level of discovery, I am more in love with the interplay between everything. It is the meaning that gets me, not in anyway the aesthetic appreciation. Aesthetically, I find it bland and static. Well. It’s striking, in a way, but it doesn’t excite me.

But behind the image, is something far greater.


Manet's Execution

Manet’s Execution of Maximilian – Fragmented , and with earlier (complete) versions.

Édouard Manet’s painting, perhaps requires a brief history lesson. I’d recommend a read of the article I just linked to, it’s fascinating, though I’m making a point of not re-reading it now, as that’s not really what I want to talk about. This one is perhaps more ethereal than the last, but I’ll try my best.

Basically, it’s the fragments.

The history lesson will tell you more about why it is like this. But I don’t really see the magic in the image until it’s broken up like this. Not even because of the politics behind that.

Once again, I think the critics are missing the point, at least the ones I’ve read.

I love the way the different elements are frozen in blankness. Isolated from each other. The focus (perhaps) of the piece, is entirely missing. The Emperor is nowhere to be seen, though someone who holds him is still there. The puff of smoke is all the evidence of the action. We don’t know who or what is being held, but it’s absence is telling. Like the red hatted sergeant, it is distanced, and cut off from everything. Not just his attention, fixing the barrel of his gun, not paying attention to the destruction he is supposed to be leading. He washes his hands. And he is cut off. A fine line breaks him apart from his unit.

And so we see the world, as a series of fragments. Like the old cliched story of the blind men and the elephant. The whole picture is absent, we only see tiny elements. We can’t have everything, and (if you want to take it that way) the victim is removed entirely.

Which makes it briefly about news media.

Or is it just about alienation. The way we stand aside and watch things happen. Or the way we may never see our firing squad.

I love it. I can’t explain it. But somehow it’s fragmentary nature speaks more to me than a whole painting like this could. It engages my mind and makes me challenge the very image I am gazing at. Questioning it and everyone in it. They become more relatable, because they are only one piece of the puzzle, like all of us.

I find it incredible.

One last picture, which we’ve already seen, but bears repeating.

Manet Vs Lichtenstein

My corner again.

So the reason I decided I wanted to go in depth into this post, and these pictures, is because of this picture. Whilst scouting around my room for my last post, I was just snapping everything I cared about, and I took this picture of my two pictures.

I saw something I had never seen before.

The way I had arranged them, meant that Manet’s Firing squad was shooting Lichtenstein’s Pianist in the heart.

Another layer started unfolding, entirely unique and other. Entirely accidental.

No authorial involvement whatsoever, and suddenly I had a new meaning created. We have the forces of oppression, fragmentary (not knowing themselves?) and male, shooting an image of femininity, totally unaware of her imminent doom. Somebody please tell her it’s not a palette and brush (false consciousness?), it’s a gun.

The oppression of the patriarchy, and the way people stand by and watch, ignoring it, whilst the oppressed are left unaware and fooled?

It’s a horribly depressing image, and incredibly infantilising to women (many of whom are aware of the bullshit that slowly tries to destroy them) and it lets the men get away with it (what’s this ignorance business all about…they are murderers, surely…all completely guilty and involved).

The stories multiply. The meaning increases, and the whole thing unfolds.

And tomorrow it will tell me a different story entirely.

Which is one thing I love about art.


All images low res photos of reproductions. Copyright definitely not mine, but I feel it’s fair use. If representatives of the copyright holders ask me to remove them, I will, but it will make me sad.

I Could Eat your Heart – Micachu & the Shapes @ the Freebutt

This is one of the most difficult things for me to write that I’ve written in a long time. I’m not sure if it’s better to leave the whole thing to settle before I write, or maybe not write anything at all. I went to the gig with Scatterheart only about 8-9 hours ago, and it kinda left us both speechless. Well. Not speechless, we talked a lot, but it felt useless.

So, is indescribable a terrible way to start a gig review?

Let’s get the basics out of the way. Micachu is girl with messy hair who looks like an eight year old boy and plays a kids guitar. The Shapes are two people, a boy and a girl, one with a very spare drum kit (more cowbells and less toms) and one with a couple of keyboards, a laptop, a few bottles and a few cowbells.

Apparently, the set up is a result of a conscious decision to simplify things back to proper instruments, after spending so long playing around with hoovers and bowed CDs and other homemade shenanigans.

(A quick break to mention that I can hear a cat in pain, or possibly just trying to get back in, out in one of the streets back gardens. Not sure what I can do about it but it’s really upsetting not to.)

Anyway, these three made more noise than I’ve heard in a long time, and it was entirely unique and different, and remember that I go out of my way to find weird music.

The irony of course being that the bare bones of everything they do is pure pop. Bouncy, catchy choruses, simple basic structures, memorable but sometimes meaningless lyrics, catch hooks and riffs.

But each of these elements is unlike anything you’ve heard before. The sheer invention with which Mica Levi (the titular Chu) hits her guitar is incredible. Her use of voice is nothing short of miraculous. She screamed a howl of pure emotion at one point. The impact almost tore me apart.

Then she did it again at the next chorus.

I felt broken afterwards. After saying thanks to the band I got anxious and hot and had to be outside, where I needed to get away from people and stand in the cold agog at the sensation of air on my body.

I can’t explain the music, but I could talk forever about it’s effet on me.

I got the torrents of pure physical emotion that I only get at the very best gigs. The music roaring out of my heart, expanding to fill my chest and then bursting out in the form of biting and pushing and general physical…I don’t want to say aggression, but outwardness isn’t a word.

There was an element of it that was so raw and passionate and sexually charged. Only it wasn’t just an element, it was the whole. And it wasn’t just sexually charged and passionate, it was passion, and it was sex.

Okay, that may sound a bit over the top, but essentially the rhythm and noise had that kind of dirty quality to it. And not even in the way that all music is sexy, because it uniquely captured the weirdness of sex. Or at least the potential for weirdness.

Afterwards I felt almost dead, but like everything was new. I also came home to have the best wank in the universe. My body was made sensitive and renewed, by the sound.


When I played the album to a certain Monsier Ketaminsky, he told me it was a bit much, and he imagined it was what it sounded like in my head when I was going crazy (he knows my history of not being all there all the time). I would disagree, though I’d almost take it as a compliment.

Live though, it was almost like a mental breakdown. Like something being torn down inside of you. Bits of my brain that haven’t been excited for a while got woken up. The noise was incessant, Levi choosing not stop strumming between most songs so she could retune her guitar, which she did instinctively and instantly. The constant thrum of activity, like being in the heart of the city, only it’s music, like the noises are speaking to you.

Which is what my madness felt like at times.


But the best side of madness. In fact, there was rhyme and reason to everything. The noises were carefully planned, intricate and confusingly dissonant, but all perfectly pitched. Also, the band were tighter than anything, the dummer and keyboardist working together on percussion, bouncing individual parts between themselves and sharing instruments with deft co-ordination. When Raisa Khan picked up a guitar and her and Levi faced off to play together it was incredible. Levi redefined the ‘rhythm’ guitar element to just one looped automatic arpeggio, while Khan tore her guitar to shreds.

The guitars were tiny. The band were intimate with each other. There was a naive joy in everything they said. Mica Levi was genuinely self effacing, and obviously really happy that anyone had shown up. The venue was rammed, everyone adored them. Even some of the pretentious indie kids danced.

Because I overanalyse, it’s worth noting that all the songs from the album were entirely different in person. The drums were new and fresh, melodies and rhythms changed as needed. The drums would grab beats from Hip-hop and techno, strip it away to the basics, and then layer as much noisy, sometimes melodic, percussive elements into it as possible.

Utterly unique.

But I’m still reaching for the impossible when I try to explain it.

It left me feeling raw and nude and unable to deal with the world. Me and my gig partner had a bourbon afterwards and realised we couldn’t manage to do any more. I came home and, as routine dictates turned my computer on. As soon as I saw it, I realised that I couldn’t engage with a screen.

So the lights went out and I was left with my body (don’t worry kids, I’m not gonna go into any more detail about that part of the evening).

I slept better last night than I have all week, and though I’ve woken up early, something about me feels differently refreshed.

If they are playing near you (and if you’re in Europe they should be fairly soon, for given values of the word near) you need to see them. They will scrub your brain and your soul and your heart. They will scour you and turn you into something newer and better.

They will make you dance. They will make you hear new possibilities.

And you can’t really get any better than that now can you.

Where is the left? – One hand can’t find the other as Capitalism Collapses

Okay. A current conversation with the lovely PaulGrahamRaven on twitter is goading me into writing a piece I wanted to write a while back. This is going to get messy. And maybe it should.

Also, first up. A confession/analysis regarding the amount of research actually collected for this article. Basically, it is about the osmosis I’ve received from the mainstream press (which mostly consists of the Guardian, the BBC and a million random and variously significant web sources). I’m not massively diligent in my news scouring, but I grok the hypothetically left leaning dead tree Guardian cover to cover between once and four times a week and flitter around the website daily. Then I’ve got twitter news feeds and all sorts of bits and bobs. The point here being that I may (I hope) be missing a lot of the stuff I’m complaining about not being around, so I hope people can link me to the things I should be reading.

Anyway, the sum total of actual specific research rests on a text exchange with the delightful Sahil ‘I only like economics because it means I get to use tenuous cricketing analogies’ Vaughn from over at that there unlearned.

Basically, I asked him for an explanation of the current financial crisis and how it might represent the fundamental flaws of capitalism. Here’s his response (I haven’t asked his permission, but I’m pretty sure he won’t mind:

Well the millions and millions of consistently poor people suggests it [capitalism] doesn’t work. And in terms of economics, since the 60s there has been a decline in productivity, so in that sense it stopped working a while ago. Finance [as] a system has built in failure (its enabled by speculation). Socialising the finance through co op owned fund which we pay into and secure loans against would be useful.

I asked for clarification of some point (I don’t have the message to give details, sorry) and he responded again:

Finance works faster than production, so downturns become crises, which is what opens space for normative debate. I finish my exams today so chat we shallx

Last bit included despite irrelevancy merely so I can point out that he has not held his promise. The bastard.

Anyway. that is literally the sum total of my research into this piece. I just thought I’d kick off with that so that everyone can help me with the holes in my argument. I also read an issue of the New Internationalist on the subject, which was technically useful and proposed solutions, but it’s so niche and I can’t remember the details.

I am a shit journalist (or rather, I am simply not a journalist).



Financial crisis, as vaguely explained above, means that the world economy is pretty damn fucked. We can all see this, and we are all hearing it.

The most striking part of it for me is that people ahve genuinely described this as the utter failure of capitalism. Proof positive that the system doesn’t work.

Now, as a dyed in the wool (whatever that means) socialist, all this doomsaying kinda got me excited. I know this is rude, as real people are really suffering, but I can’t help it. As Sahil points out, some people have known and seen for years the problems inherent in the system, and the inefficiencies, and immoralities it has a tendency to at best allow, and at worst promote. And it’s been at it’s worst for the last x number of years, where x is somehow proportionate to your propensity for nostalgia.

We’ve seen this coming. To some extent or another. We’ve known that it’s fucked, and now everyone can see it. Banks are being nationalised, governments are trying to salvage the system by giving vast sums of money to the people who fucked this all up in the first place. Jobs are vanishing and businesses are closing.

It’s visible, it’s real, and it’s everywhere.

But what can I not see anywhere?

Lefties. That’s who.

I’m not reading or hearing people talking about changing the system. I’m just hearing people despairing, or hoping it’ll all turn around in a few years and we’ll be on the up and up again. Nobody is calling for revolution or even devolution on the back of this. Nobody is calling on the bankers and bourgeoisie to get their backs to the wall and face the music. Nobody is revolting.

I don’t understand it.

Where’s Marx’s inevitable march towards Communistic utopia when we need it?

There is no antithesis left.


Okay, quickly for those not hot to trot on this. Dialectics states that a thesis (dominant ideology, in this case capitalism) contains or creates, inevitably, and antithesis or opposite. The two struggle, and eventually combine to form a synthesis, which is the new thesis. And so on, marching ever onwards towards perfect, state-free communism (according to Marx). Or just onwards (according to me).

But it’s not here. We’re reaching the crisis/tipping point where things could genuinely change, and as Paul points out. The press is covering the right wing ‘solutions’. Anti immigration policies are on the rise, and the press attacks the government for letting in foreign investors and workers.

And that’s the trade unionists. Ie, the grass roots left (again, hypothetically).

Now, I do appreciate the plight of skilled workers losing out on jobs, but I don’t like the idea of the proletariat mobilising on nationalist grounds, when they could be marching on socialistic ones. Whatever happened to ‘Workers of the world unite.’

We’re getting a step to the right when we need a jump to the left, or whatever the transvestite vampires like doing.

This troubles me, and makes the recession much gloomier. People aren’t taking this open space, to debate new possibilities, they are falling back on old prejudices.

So come on internets. Renege against this all. Start hanging out and discussing and challenging the media institutions that are failing to represent our honest reactions to this. Shout and scream and blog and tweet.

The world is at a point where revolution is possible. And technology has evolved to the point where people can actually connect fully and wholly across the world (ignoring the technological have nots, which happens to coincide with what could possibly be the new proletariat).

We have the forum to discuss this. We have the power to change. Hell, theoretically we’ve got at least one person in power who might be tempted to listen.

Let’s tear open our government to scrutiny, using the technologies of transparency we have before us (I mentioned in a tweet the other day that I’d like to see laws being written on a wiki, okay, probably a closed one that only elected representatives can edit, but where all edits are visible to everyone, so we can track who is being lobbied by who and what they are changing. The technology is with us, we just have to make it happen. Demand it).

Let’s be the left we want to be.

Lets change the world.