Friday, 31 December 2010

Capital, Workers & Democracy

"We’re All In It Together…"

How often have we heard this phrase, presented as a statement of fact by political leaders? It seems to have become the ‘must have’ phrase, to be repeated ad nauseam every time some new round of ‘austerity’ is to be inflicted on the majority of citizens. Certainly it’s the phrase of the moment for the likes David Cameron and George Osbourne.

But are we?

We all know how badly most people have been affected – and are about to be affected – by the largest global financial ‘crash’ since the Great Depression following 1929. Unemployment, falling wages, reduced benefits and welfare across the board – with much more on the way.

But what about the rich? How are they doing, and what are their prospects? Don’t know about you but I’ve found that any facts and figures for this minority, who hold the vast majority of society’s wealth, seem to be so far under the Politics and Media radar as to be deeply subterranean.

However, Daniel Raventos of US Political Newsletter ‘Counterpunch’ has come to the rescue. He cites a report by Merrill Lynch, a bank owned by Bank of America, whose target clients are the 9 million or so persons, worldwide, who are either rich (HNWI – High Net Worth Individuals with assets of $1M+) or super rich (‘Ultra’ HNWI - assets of $30M +) [‘Assets’ here exclude primary residence, ‘consumer durables’ or ‘collectibles’]. So, that would include, oh, David Cameron, certainly Tony Blair with his reported £20m ‘consultancy’ for JP Morgan (bank), most, if not all, political leaders and a great many politicians anywhere in Europe or the US. Probably a lot of the senior TV media ‘journalists’ and presenters too.

So how are they all doing in our ‘we’re all in it together’ financial crisis?

Yep, you guessed it! Not badly at all. Aside from a sharp, temporary, dip when global shares fell at the onset of the crisis in 2008, their aggregate wealth is back pretty close to where it was before the crash – back up to $39 Trillion by 2009. Sure, they lost a couple of years of ‘growth’, but not to worry, things are looking good. Merrill Lynch are confident in their projections for the next 3 or 4 years that they can help them along to an average 5% year on year growth in ‘net worth’. That’s ‘net worth’ of course after, you know, life’s mundane essential consumables and consumer durables have been deducted – restaurant bills, a few designer rags to knock about in, the his‘n’hers Ferraris, toilet paper, that kind of thing.

So maybe we’re not all in it together then? If you’re wondering why, read on…

Surely it's time we looked at the fundamental driving forces deep underneath all the propaganda and BS? Simply put, there are two utterly opposing interests at work. On the one hand, Owners of Capital, who primarily live off renting (or investing) money or other assets and the Workers whose primary income is derived solely from their Labour.

Yes, it really is that basic. The fewer Workers can be paid for their Labour, the more wealth the Capital Owners gain and vice versa.

But here's the rub with Democracy. Intrinsically the Workers are in the majority – always. So a democratic system that actually represents their interests is fundamentally at odds with the interests of Capital Owners whose main desire is to own ever-increasing, limitless Capital. Which is without a shadow of a doubt where the evidence leads. How many Owners of Capital have we heard say that they have 'enough'? Virtually none. Over the last few decades the wealth of the rich has risen dramatically whilst the wealth of Workers has stagnated or decreased, with real costs in health and peoples' lives, to say nothing of unrealised potential. And the divide is increasing.

Of course, both sides need each other. Entrepreneurial drive is very often a good thing and works to the benefit of all. Crucially, such worth to all is the very thing that ultimately guarantees the consent of Workers for Owners of Capital to operate and even be highly rewarded. But if the system of democracy worked properly, the welfare of the majority would place limits on the accumulation of wealth. It clearly doesn't. The 'banking' system has been shown to be a casino, run by Owners of Capital, where they retain the profits but vast losses must be paid off by Workers nearly exclusively.

Most of us recognise the need for both 'sides'. This is entirely consistent with what, in a single phrase, might best describe the route for all of us to our maximum fulfilment and happiness – “ each according to their needs, from each according to their abilities...”

Furthermore, most us know what psychological and sociological studies have confirmed. ‘Needs’ are different from 'wants'. Needs make us happy, wants really don't. And the freedom and opportunity to pursue our abilities is also vitally important.

Some of us need to live life on a ‘bigger stage’, some don't, and all can be equally rewarding. What we need is society that reflects this truth whilst ensuring equality of opportunity.

So a balance must be struck between Capital Owners and Workers. In a democracy, this is the job of Politics and equally importantly those who should enable us to be accurately and fully informed, primarily the Print and TV Media, but also Science and Academic research. It should be obvious that these institutions need to be as independent as possible from both competing primary driving forces. But by our own foolish consent, corruption, both legal and illegal is endemic in Politics and Media and, partially so, but increasingly, in Academia.

Demonstrably, Capital Owners have become so wealthy and powerful that both Politics and Media are effectively owned by them. Greed is something that can and does infect us all and it is certainly at the core of the most powerful Capital Owners we have today. The speed with which humanity is degrading the very planet and ecology that gives us life is the absolute evidence of this. The best, untainted and overwhelming evidence we have from Science is that the wipe-out of 95% of all species, including our own, is a serious possibility that may become irreversible within less than a few decades; a result of climate change. And that is far from the only resource or pollution catastrophe that awaits us imminently.

The only way out of the impending demise is for the key institutions of democracy to be removed from the hands of the Owners of Capital. By definition, those representing the majority (Workers) cannot also be members of the minority (Owners) club. This does NOT need to be, nor should be, state, beaurocratic control or ownership of everything, but simply a system where 'rules' – rule of law – applies fairly to all. We are told no such system can exist. Don't believe it. A system that removes corruption by State, Private or other 'concentrated' interests is perfectly possible. It is absurd to believe otherwise of a species that has developed such immensely more complex systems in science and technology. We simply need to devise appropriate employment rules and terms in the same way we have for other 'special' categories of employment, such as police or military.

Remember, none of the basic welfare provisions that have been won (and are now being rapidly eroded) have ever been voluntarily 'gifted' by the Owners of Capital (now owners of Politics and Media) – nor can we expect them to be. Since the Owners now own Politics and Media virtually entirely, any attempt to work within the present system is no more than rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic. The system must change.

To the younger generation of Workers (or the unemployed or underemployed): good luck – you'll need it. Sad as it is to have seen the mere fledgling attempts at democracy so badly undermined, your lives, either way, will be nothing like mine.

Words: Mike Hall
Images: Tabz O'Brien-Butcher

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Matthew Dear @ Deaf Institute, Monday 6th December

There’s a fine line between neat progressive layers and melody-less dirge. It may seem an odd opening statement when the musician in question is Matthew Dear; author of 2003’s melodious minimal tech masterclass, Leave Luck To Heaven, and an attentive scholar of Detroit techno. But tonight’s performance shows a desire to take the development towards Brooklyn's brooding electronic pop cool in his subsequent albums, 2007’s Asa Breed and this year’s Black City, and rest it atop ear-shattering strata of miasmic noise.

The start is delayed due to the weather that you can’t fail to have noticed of late, but thankfully the Deaf Institute curfew is flexible enough to allow full sets from both tri-synth Hyperdub signees Darkstar and the headlining Matthew Dear’s live band.

Darkstar bring with them an earthy gloom in the form of thick, smoggy soundscapes, which are permeated only by glistening clean piano tones. They preach an urgency through atmospheric electronica as if soundtracking impending doom in all its stark desolation. Aside from downtempo treats such as the Moby’s ‘My Weakness' sound-alike, ‘Deadness’, with its Mount Kimbie-esque sampled shakes, there’s a variety of possible reference points. There’s a vocal likeness to Secret Machines' Brandon Curtis on the atmospheric ‘When It’s Gone’, while Portishead’s ‘Machine Gun’ is recalled as the following track winds up with a tinny monotony, like a toy drummer marching into an organ-fuelled warzone. And their remix of Radiohead’s ‘Videotape’ is an ample set-closer; in limbo between halfbeat Eurythmics whimpers and echoes of the sound it makes when you run your finger round the rim of a slightly filled glass.

It’s a lesson in simple-sounding complexity, and vice versa, until Matthew Dear takes the stage, dressed in a half-buttoned white shirt with a black jacket and met by a strip light shining upwards onto him like an expansion of torch-lit tales of terror. The scene befits his full-band swagger (he operates under different pseudonyms, with the others swerving closer to the tech/house groundings of the Ghostly International and Spectral Sound labels). Once there, he enforces a beefed-up scuzz, largely masking the trumpet that occasionally enhances recorded structures. This isn’t always a bad thing, by any means. The krautrocky constancy is intoxicatingly groovy as stubborn basslines infiltrate heads’ ability to stay still, nodding instinctively as they do. But vocals are lost, perhaps deliberately, in the vapid layers of echo and feedback.

When the density relents you’re left with highlights, such as the swirling haze of ‘Shortwave’, and when you can make out the intricacies within the constructions then even the musically polluted are palatable. Thunderous processed beats welcome in ‘You Put a Smell on Me’ before Dear redirects the dazzlingly bright strip light towards an entranced audience. There’s a brief rest from rib-shaking beats for the ‘Little People (Black City)’ intro, which is short-lived as soon the latest record’s lead single builds to ear-bending proportions. En route the bass slides and deep monotonic vocal delivery cannot be faulted, but the tendency for every crescendo to reach the apocalyptic is a little grating.

The encore begins with a melancholic solo performance of ‘Innh Dahh’, but the house-addled version of Asa Breed’s ‘Don and Sherri’ only serves in the end to drill home the target of concrete walls of sound, until the walls subside and crumble as Dear’s band depart, leaving prepared loops rolling through the void of a personnel-less stage; ending the set how it began.

Words: Ian Pennington
Images: Simon Bray

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

HldTght Interview

HldTght are a new curation collective in Manchester. Now Then hung out with one half of the founding duo ahead of their debut exhibition at Soup Kitchen this week. Until the beans were spilled last week they kept their identity hidden – even from their best friends. You might say that sounds hella pretentious when combined with their vowel-less name, but it stems from a certain necessity. Which all makes it seem really serious, especially when you have to write it down in an interview.

"It's not serious. The exhibition is fun, but generally the part of the art world in Manchester we work in is really constrictive. As you would get working in such a social community, everyone knows everyone. And the same people are being put in exhibitions together time after time. Then it can go two ways – either everyone starts feeding off each other in a progressive way, or people just start seeing the same influences and don't push themselves in the positive directions their talent deserves. You get disillusioned and uninspired and obviously it takes the fun out of making art. HldTght is about encouraging artists to work outside of their normal practice, with no pressure attached to selling their work or for the work to fit in with their 'aesthetic'.”

What’s gone wrong in Manchester particularly?

“There is a lot of talent in Manchester, but there are very few venues or organizations that will put on shows of artists’ work if they don’t feel any of it will sell, and they don’t have funding to cover their costs. Free For Arts Festival is starting to go some of the way towards making things happen - motivating artists to get up and find unusual venues for events, but it only goes on for one week in October, and everyone who takes part is supported under the welcoming arm of the Free For Arts press machine. Sketch City and Upper Space have both faded into the dust and soon Mooch N4 Street Art Gallery will be gone. All these projects prove that there is a lot of interest [in the city], but unless there is someone there to drive the talent and push things to happen, nothing will. HldTght is starting something new, completely funded out of our own pockets. We want to prove to ourselves and to Manchester that you can put on big shows, with big names for little to no money if you have the drive.”

“HldTght is about immediacy, it’s about not waiting for a gallery or bar to call you up and ask you to hang some work. We saw a space we liked and decided to put a show on. Six weeks later I am surrounded by people spray painting on the walls and hammering structures together. There needn’t be red tape and proposals and funding applications, there just needs to be the desire to give the city something it is missing out on, and something to talk about.”

So why the secrecy over who you are?

“We knew if we'd said it was us from the start some people would have doubted how ambitious it is, seeing as we're friends with many of the artists. Creating a name and theme was what we needed to do first, then by keeping our personalities hidden it allowed us to be anyone, someone ‘important’ even, and see what great ideas the artists had in return because they really felt they'd need to step up because they had been contacted by a 'curation collective', not by 'their mate they saw last night'.”

That makes it sound like it’s the same group of people you said were being put in exhibitions together all the time...

“Of course it's not just about putting on people we know, we've got 30 great artists in different disciplines, really big names like Agent and Penfold [who curated July 2009's edition of our big bro magazine Now Then Sheffield]. We've got elements no-one should expect like performance artists as well.”

How do the pieces come together then? Should we expect something totally unrecognisable from the artists we know well?

“We just told people the basic concept and invited them to come up with fresh suggestions and new work that would fit. From the start the emphasis of the exhibition has always been on trying new things, pushing yourself and working outside of your normal discipline. I’m not asking an illustrator to make a sculpture or performance artists to paint, but I am asking maybe a spray paint artist to work more with brushes, painters to try Poscas rather than acrylics, or to try painting different subjects and ideas within their work that wouldn't normally fit into their practice's portfolio.”

Joyride Playground – we don’t want to come up with some ridiculous thesis that probably ends up using the rubbish word ‘juxtaposition’, can you tell us about the concept?

“Joyride Playground is about playing with something too much until you reach a good or bad point. If you joyride a car, chances are you’re bound to have fun, but you have stolen something that is not yours with the intention of pushing it until you crash or burn it out. Most joyriders are underage and do not have a license, just like all the artists choosing to use new mediums for the show aren't practiced or professionals; they are joyriding on the back of an entire movement created by graffiti and aerosol art when picking up a spray can. We basically want people to stick two fingers up and say ‘fuck you, I don’t know how to use it but I’m going to give it a go and I’m going to have fun doing it.’”

Talking about having fun doing it, it’s fairly rare to get an open studio – is that just because it’s all actually being created on site?

“Having an open studio is really important for us to allow people to come and see the process. I’m always amazed by time-lapse videos of exhibitions, but why watch a video, come down to the open studio and meet the artists, ask them questions and find out how they do things, getting stuck in; it's all about everyone being on the same level. By taking away artists’ safety nets of working under their usual practice, everyone becomes slightly vulnerable. Artists you may have been following on flickr or through blogs become just the same as you and everyone starts to work together, pooling advice and skills.”

nd th nm?

"We liked the idea of 'hold tight' because of the association with playgrounds and fun fairs. The abbreviation [HldTght] makes it sound a little less like something your dad would say to you when he pushes you on a swing in the park, because, let’s face it, we only hang out in parks to drink and smoke these days.”

Joyride Playground exhibition @ Soup Kitchen
30 illustrators, artists, sculptors, performance artists and graffiti writers
Open studio // 13-16th Dec // 12-8pm
Launch party // 17th Dec // 7-10pm // after party babies 10-2am
Runs from Sat 18th Dec ‘til mid-February. Open Mon-Sat 12-5pm

Interviewer: Sam Bass
Images: HldTght

Monday, 13 December 2010

Arts, Music & Events Preview, December 2010 (Part Two)

No doubt about it now – the year is fast dwindling away. The events keep on rolling though, and here’s our pick of the remaining bunch for a final preview of 2010.

First of all there’s a week’s worth of live art down in the Soup Kitchen’s basement. Hld Tght is the moniker, and it'll showcase a long list of artists, including one-time Now Then magazine featured artist, Mr Penfold. From Monday 13th ‘til Thursday 16th there’s a chance to see work in progress before the week culminates with music and performance art at their launch event on the evening of Friday 17th.

While on the subject of art, one69a have filled the old Babycakes clothes shop’s disused space on Edge Street (NQ) with a pop-up-artists vibe. Grotto, as it's known, will only be there in the run-up to Xmas, so Yule (sorry...) have to be quick to browse what’s on offer.

There are a few live shows worth your time this week before the inevitable slumber as the sun reaches its lowest point in the sky between 22nd and 25th. Celebrate that one how you will, but warm up with 1960s folk messiahs Pentangle’s guitarist on Thursday 16th as John Renbourn shares the Band on The Wall-promoted stage at greenroom with steel string blues strummer Johnny Dickinson.

Otherwise, in what seem to be predominantly folk-themed options for Thursday, Dan Haywood’s New Hawks embark on the third stop of an album launch mini-tour. Salford’s Sacred Trinity Church is the location and my hunch is that the band / venue combo will be a perfect match. The raconteur – signed to the ever-reliable local Timbreland Recordings – has the storytelling edge of The Decemberists along with occasional hints of homage to Neil Young in sonic structuring.

A third choice is a tongue-in-cheek belter named Swamp Planet Christmas at the Anthony Burgess Foundation. The tagline of Seasonal Stories From Outer Space gives you a clue as to what to expect; literary readings bridging Yoda with Yuletide, tinsel with tangent universes and aliens with angels, such as William Gibson’s Cyber-Claus and Arthur C. Clarke’s The Star.

Next a change of genre for Friday 17th Ruby Lounge where the pop pickers at No Future Club have organised the presence of funky swing rehashers The Correspondents, then on Saturday 18th This City Is Ours kick off their fresh residency at An Outlet with a collection of electronic music slanted tune-selectors and the 2/3rds of From The Kites of San Quentin offshoot, Ord Mantell. The latter is free of charge.

If you can make it over to Wigan without too much hassle (or if you happen to be there in the first place!) then make sure you drop by The Tudor House Hotel on Sunday 19th, where briefly Manchester-based promoters Imploding Acoustic Inevitable have lined up the enviable ensemble of Paddy Steer, Liz Green and John Stammers for the bargain entry price of zero pennies.

As mentioned, there’s a lull for s few days, but Mind On Fire rear their hip-hop heads the soonest as they infiltrate The Nook’s airspace with reggae and ska oriented Sunday Sessions on 26th. They’ve also teamed up with Herbal Sessions, Drum Music and Dub Smugglers for a mammoth NYE party at Dry Bar.

And finally, on a related note, MOF’s brand new label compilation, Great Minds Vol.1, will be available to buy from both those events, as well as Eastern Bloc and Piccadilly Records before being released further afield in the new year. Perfect if you’re after an amalgamation of Arabian flavoured dubstep, uptempo tech-tonics, chilled ambient compositions or classical-flute-meets-hip-hop. Quite a mixture across eight producers.

Words: Ian Pennington

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Arts, Music & Events Preview, December 2010 (Part One)

Your teeth are iced together, you can see your exhalation condensing, your gas bill is going to be astronomical, but the length of this city’s independent what’s-on list is showing no signs of diminishing in the same vein as the height of mercury in your thermometer. If you’ve been taking part then a Movember ‘tache will help mask some of the cold, but otherwise I’d recommend braving the outdoors for the following.

Welcoming in the final month of 2010 will be Trof Fallowfield’s regular Cool Runnings activism and dub reggae clubnight. Arrive early on Wednesday 1st and you’ll learn about the intentions of Manchester Social Centre and autonomous social centres in general.

Still on the political activism slant, there are a couple more educational evenings soon after on Thursday 2nd. University of Manchester-based group, Open Media, are screening Crude: The Real Price of Oil in University Place Theatre A; open for students and non-students alike. On the same night Salford’s Working Class Movement Library open their Object Lessons Part Two exhibition, in collaboration with the curators at Islington Mill, which sees the results of artists digging through the WCML archives and interpreting their findings for display. There’s no rush though since it’ll adorn those walls until the end of January.

Also on Thursday 2nd, Format invites you to its dubstep infused 2nd birthday. Billed as live and in 140bpm are Pinch and Distance, while local favourite Illum Sphere is set to fill your ears in support.

Shifting tempo and pitch a little along the dance music spectrum for Saturday 4th, Wigflex host a tech-flecked discotheque at Sound Control with Shed and Al Tourettes mixing their beats and pieces. In the arts, Kraak Gallery house a weekend arranged by local artists collective Lead Pencil under the cosmically themed Pluto & Uranus Are Missing heading.

Monday 6th at Deaf Institute is safely the gig of the month as Now Wave team up with HearHere to pair a couple of electronic forerunners in the shape of melodic minimal-tech maestro Matthew Dear and Darkstar, a trio often lumped in the post-dubstep, future-beats niche alongside Mount Kimbie (but just as often recognised as inhabiters of that music journo nightmare; a current genre void). Dear is due to DJ at the Simian Mobile Disco Warehouse Project, but Monday's live show has that extra appeal on a rare tour.

Back at Kraak, a quick turnaround is scheduled to pave the way for an exhibition whose accompanying acronym is one of the more fulfilling you’ll find. Super Awesome Fun Exhibition, aka SAFE, features the idiosyncrasies of Florian Fusco, amongst others, from Wednesday 8th. The 8th is one of those busy days with plenty to choose from, so perhaps save this one for another time before it ends on Wednesday 22nd.

Elsewhere on the 8th there’s a forum going by the poser of ‘How can the third sector help shape transport in Manchester?’ If you have the answer, then bob along to The Mechanics Institute in the early afternoon. For those who like their rave tinged with funky electro-house, Prostitutes & Policeman have pencilled in Fake Blood to paint the town red (or Sankeys at least). There’s also the first instalment of Sounds From The Other City’s winter incarnation, Sounds Like Another Christmas. Aside from being a less impressive acronym than Kraak’s (see above), SLAC is a sort of watered-down, spaced out (as in time-wise, as opposed to ‘whoa man, this is some spaced out psychedelica’) version of SFTOC. The premise is one of partnership promotions with some local music selectors, with fanzine Pull Yourself Together getting the ball rolling at Salford’s Kings Arms pub by asking Liz Green and Dinosaur Planet along to perform.

Second on the SLAC front is Bad Uncle’s planned staging of epic jammers Rangda, Howlin’ Rain and Easter. Don’t miss that.

If you thought I meant ‘spaced out’ in the psychedelic sense then you won’t be disappointed by the Now Wave/SLAC collab that brings both of Ripley Johnson’s soundwalling projects, Wooden Shjips (@ St Philip’s Church) and Moon Duo (@ Islington Mill), to the Chapel Street vicinity, separated by mere minutes. That one’s on Friday 10th; another busy slot for listings.

Another option is Chorlton recycle artists Rubbish Revamped, who take over Beech Road’s new cafĂ© On The Corner, 6-9pm. Or if you’re out in town, then head to the intriguing, seasonally focussed fare at Briton’s Protection. Folk Threads have set up an open mic night a cut above many others by inviting musicians and poets to try their hand at writing original material on the subject of ‘winter’. To get involved contact the linked email, or just turn up to see the results.

Finally on that Friday, crack out the baubles and tinsel for a pair of nights loosely riffing around the proximity of Western civilisation’s favourite consumer-fest. There’s a couple of stars on top of the Dry Live tree, co-headlined as it is by both The Rook and the Ravens and Ten Bears, who’re then followed up by Revolver and Good Vibrations DJs. And not forgetting the partridge in a pear tree. Over in Withington, Red Deer Club and Cloud Sounds are generating more early festive cheer. There won’t quite be twelve drummers drumming, but with Fuel’s two floors both in action between 5pm and 2am, they’re not far off that tally; Y Niwl and Jane Weaver topping the lists upstairs and downstairs, respectively.

The closing two SLAC nights feature Helmets For Men (Saturday 11th) and Comfortable On A Tightrope (Sunday 12th) showcases. Alternatively on the 11th, Warehouse Project have another mammoth array of floor-fillers, this time curated by Modeselektor and featuring Moderat, Hudson Mohawke and a bunch of others intent on soundtracking your all-nighter.

Everything Everything move swiftly on from debut album critical plaudits by drafting in an orchestra for a one-off at the RNCM on Monday 13th. That one’s on Now Wave’s clock as well.

And last but not least: two records from local musicians worth banging against your eardrums this month. Sheffield psyche label Blackest Rainbow have matched up Mancunian noiseniks Gnod and A Middle Sex for a split 7”, while My First Moth have packaged up Neko Neko’s ‘Pesticide’ on the same format.

Words: Ian Pennington