A huge thank you to everyone that came through for “Consciousness Razing”, our second For K-Punk event back on June 9th at SET, Dalston.
I wrote a bit about it here in the run-up but, now it’s over, I find myself wanting to try to process and articulate what exactly was exchanged over the course of our 12-hour marathon of workshops, talks and music.
I’m not sure that’s possible…
What is to follow is an account of the day mixed into a heap of stray thoughts, sounds, visions and readings.
On the whole, the day was amazing and that is largely down to the generosity of the people around us. We have some incredible friends and their willingness to get involved and help, in whatever way they could, was hugely appreciated.
There were even those we didn’t know, selflessly offering support with technical hiccups or whatever else, being on hand for no other reason than they recognised the DIY nature of the night and wanted to assist, making the night as good as possible for everyone present.
Even the venue staff were struck by how unusually lovely the crowd was.
Walking home, as is now starting to feel customary following a For K-Punk night, with the sun starting to rise, I felt so proud of everyone who came along and stepped into our orgone accumulator for good vibes and communality.
(I could keep gushing and going on about it but I’ll just end up embarrassing myself.)
This sort of collective joy, we hoped (and still hope), is the best way forwards from so much that has happened over the past 18 months and it is a move that Mark himself advocated on numerous occasions.
Laura Grace Ford, who played a fantastic set for us, said later that she thought Mark himself would have loved the night.
We can only hope…
Lēves and Alice Andrews began the day with a discursive and general workshop session, setting the tone for the day, discussing what “consciousness raising” is, how it relates to Mark’s thought and how it is so necessary — especially right now — to give space and understanding to alternative articulations of experience and situated knowledge.
Unfortunately, Jun Hong Lim — who had flown over from Singapore to be with us and talk about his own experiences — got sick on his arrival in the UK and couldn’t open the day as planned. Get well soon, Jun!
In Jun’s absence, Plan C’s blogpost on forming consciousness-raising groups was instead used, becoming central to the general framing of the session, and I was immediately taken aback by just how receptive and discursive everyone in that room was.
Prior to doors opening, we had spoken about the challenges of a day like this: asking people to be present for such an extended period of time, talking frankly about difficult issues and being weighed down by the pressure of the day — not forgetting the weight of Mark’s work itself and our desire to do it justice.
The latter was particularly hard. We all shared this feeling of not being good enough, struggling to make our performance anxiety productive, trying to reassure ourselves recursively with Mark’s own words.
In Good for Nothing he wrote of the ways that depression
is partly constituted by a sneering ‘inner’ voice which accuses you of self-indulgence — you aren’t depressed, you’re just feeling sorry for yourself, pull yourself together — and this voice is liable to be triggered by going public about the condition. Of course, this voice isn’t an ‘inner’ voice at all — it is the internalised expression of actual social forces, some of which have a vested interest in denying any connection between depression and politics.
This was a sensation that underpinned much of the day.
Many of our speakers and performers confessed their anxieties. We were bags of nerves too. All of us were questioning whether we had the right or the expertise to talk about certain issues, seeking a sense of solidarity beyond our own atomised selves.
What we were asking of ourselves and each other, throughout the day, was to weather and contend with a whole smorgasbord of social paradoxes and tensions, many of them having the potential to lacerate and fragment egos.
We anticipated things would get difficult — but that was okay. Plan C were deployed, in spirit, to assist us. In the blogpost repurposed for the workshop, they write about how consciousness-raising groups
were the backbone of second-wave feminism. They provided it with a wide and thoughtful base of supporters and militants who examined their lives, took hold of their experiences, politicised them, developed theory based on them, and took action relevant to them. We hope it is clear that we are not just talking about consciousness-raising as a pedagogical method — of disseminating already-constructed theory, in the hope of marshalling people towards readymade action — but consciousness-raising as a radical tool for collectively creating theory and collectively devising praxis. There is a lot we need to learn that we can — and should — read in books (and archives). But there’s a lot that we need to learn which can only come from a collective and sustained examination of our own lives and experiences.
This was not something that we could necessarily enact but rather, built on a 12-hour schedule given buoyancy by good will and collectivity, we hoped to present attendees with a toolbox of theoretical and discursive tools, cultural and social examples, practices, performances, lovingly supplied by friends and fellow travellers alike.
As Mark wrote, again in Good for Nothing:
The rebuilding of class consciousness is a formidable task indeed, one that cannot be achieved by calling upon ready-made solutions — but, in spite of what our collective depression tells us, it can be done. Inventing new forms of political involvement, reviving institutions that have become decadent, converting privatised disaffection into politicised anger: all of this can happen, and when it does, who knows what is possible?
Initially, discussions were had on the usefulness of the politics of “privilege”, the tensions between individual and collective consciousnesses, the renewed prevalence of consciousness deflation in contemporary political discourse, and the scourge that is the politics of “meritocracy” seeding little but arrogance, individualism and false hope in the face of structural inequality.
Faced with all this, the implicit fact that a collectivised consciousness can be beneficial to mental health and solidarity was palpable throughout.
What was key for me in this session, a phrase which stuck with me throughout the day and night, was what Lēves described as a sense of “solidarity without similarity”. (The relevance of this phrase to this blog’s broader concerns has already been lopped off and thrown over here.)
The phrase seemed to resonate with Mark’s thought as we carried it with us: his skill for “turning feeling into structured thought and structural analysis”, as Alice put it. To enact this on a large scale is a daunting task and so we necessarily put restrictions on ourselves as a temporary collective, “constructing a shared knowledge with what’s available to us in the room”. Again, as Alice articulated so well, facilitating this alone was half the battle.
The additional anchor we attached to this session, beyond our shared spatiality, was “class”, particularly the raising of class consciousness, which was so important to Mark.
Class, for our purposes, resisted definition. It was thought of as transient and ever-changing. Someone born into a working class family, for instance, can of course become socially mobile, climbing the ladder, particularly those involved in academia or the arts, where class tensions are often so prevalent but barely addressed with any real success. This is despite the fact that, in Britain, as one astute attendee pointed out, more than elsewhere, class is less easily shed. It is more cultural than purely socioeconomic. Accent being so important, the markers of class are less easily lost, and this presents us with many different challenges that are particular to this country.
(You know we’re in a bad way when Grayson Perry is responsible for the best and most well-known cultural analysis of the British class system.)
Despite our locale, we had hoped to think of class together without reducing it to a British sense. We heard stories and experiences from around the world — although broadly Western — with attendees from Central Europe, Eastern Europe, North and South America, and elsewhere. Many people were forthcoming with their own privileges whilst others were cynical about any such acknowledgement.
The diversity of perspectives and opinions, shared openly and with encouragement, created the perfect atmosphere for the rest of the day, with people being wholly receptive to new experiences and ideas.
After the workshop we ate food, expertly prepared by Olga Paczka and Therese Xin Luo. I have never seen so much hummus in my life. It was delicious.
Eating together felt like really important when we were planning the day and Olga and Therese smashed it, making so much food that it lasted well into the night.
Words cannot do it justice. The food bowled over everyone who tried it.
As people finished their first helpings, Mayfly sang for us — a solo performance, lending her voice to stray thoughts, lyrical fragments, feelings — and again many were at a loss for words, albeit for entirely different reasons.
A beautiful and short vocal display, bird-like, with echoes of cotton field blues and gospel prayers, at once collectively enchanting and intimately individual, powerful and fragile, songs of communal protest and lonesome reassurance…
Mayfly reflected so many of the tensions we had tried and failed to discuss in our groups, distilling perfectly just why we had sought to combine music and discussion over the course of the day, highlighting the strengths and shortcomings of each mode of expression.
Kamile Ofoeme followed soon afterwards, giving an art-historical lecture-performance on the aesthetic history of gold, from ancient civilisations to modern hiphop, from art to fashion, from decoration to currency to an entanglement of both. He noted the ways that gold, particularly in early hiphop, was less bling and more a sign of community, making tangible the latter’s value rather than expressing value abstracted in and of itself.
This trend continued, albeit mutated, with a performance from DJ Üli ft. Höffer, ranting and raving on the social paradoxes of cryptocurrencies, the digital goldrush, its image as a tool for countercultural experimentation contrasting with the reality of a fetishised symbol of New New Money, not forgetting its implicit potential for use as a metaphysical hack.
It was hilarious, engaging everyone in a frantic “Bitcoin!” chant, setting us up for the night of fun ahead. (There was also an impromptu bongo accompaniment. I still don’t know where the bongo came from.)
Laura Grace Ford was the first of our DJs, presenting us with a specially-made mix and video work, drawing on her practice as a psychogeographer, roaming around London’s various boroughs. Her hour-long set was haunted throughout by fragments from Rufige Cru’s Ghosts of my Life (and, of course, Japan’s original Ghosts) — Mark’s favourite song(s).
There was a moment, when Ford played Japan’s rendition, from their album Tin Drum, in which many of us fell once again into those frequent moments of gutted release that occurred after Mark’s death, when the song was regularly played at collective gatherings.
No one could forget the moment that Steve ‘Kode9’ Goodman played “Ghosts” on the dancefloor at the first Ø night at Corsica Studios. There were few dry eyes in the house and it was a moment repeated throughout the year.
At the undergraduate degree show that year, for instance, one student performance consisted of her singing along to the band’s Top of the Pops rendition from 1982 in a darkened room, attempting to bottle that most poignant of experiences.
It was a song that always signalled mourning. Ever present, always providing a moment of remembrance.
Laura, however, never quite let the anticipated punch land. Flittering between Rufige breaks and David Sylvian’s dulcet tones, the moment always escaped us into something else, never allowing anyone to dwell on the moment for too long.
I was so aware, during her set, how much reverence had been attached to this song since. The reverence remains, of course, but I was glad to have it interrupted — just this once. No longer isolated, it was allowed to flow succinctly into other sounds, reseeding itself into our unfolding experiences rather than remaining a bubble in time out of joint.
This was a revelation for me. “Ghosts” had once again become ephemeral. It regained its old, other power — the power it had when Mark was still alive.
Sam Kidel took over the decks next, playing, amongst other things, Lee Gamble’s latest power screed, likewise called “Ghosts”, from his latest album Mnestic Pressure.
I was aware that Lee was in St. Petersburg that night, and he was a welcome presence at our first For K-Punk night, along with Kode9. I was glad that he still had some sort of presence.
I also think that my untrustworthy ears heard some Underground Resistance… I have always thought of UR as a kind of Detroit Ccru… A clandestine collective of renegades, whose investigations took on an entirely different but no less cybernetic twist, just as capable of summoning forces from the vast abrupt beyond.
Sam summoned up much in his hour, ephemeral things, lost again now to memory.
His set electrified the venue, transforming the bar into a (literal) boiler room. His selections were more than enough to drag people in from the cool outside, however, and inside is where many people stayed for the rest of the night, hooked on their own senses.
Next: LOFT, who had come down from Manchester for the weekend to be with us. Her set was a highlight for many, picking up Kidel’s energy and taking it to further heights (and depths).
Joeli and I knew each other vaguely when we were both studying in Wales together at the same university, a story I am all too ready to share whenever the opportunity arises.
DJing at degree shows and exhibition parties — as I often did and have still not graduated from — I called on Joeli far too many times to borrow equipment and gear.
She saved my amateurish skin on many occasions and it was great to be reunited with her having gone full pro.
It’s been a treat to follow her rise over the years since this time and it was amazing to watch her play — for the first time in at least five years — and see just how much has changed.
Her recent Boiler Room set is probably the best example of what we were treated to. It was magnificent. (Check out the full video if you can, currently in the unlisted back corridors of Boiler Room YouTube.)
— BOILER ROOM (@boilerroomtv) May 31, 2018
Xin closed out the night, as only they could.
Xin is a favourite around these parts. Over the last 18 months, they have lent their sounds to squats, Deptford dungeons and galleries, even whilst currently being based in Berlin. They always bring the house down and this night was no exception.
Their new EP, To Shock the Sky and Shake the Earth, is out now on Subtext. Definitely check it out.
The night ended with Leves and I having a nightcap with Roland and Ollie, the boys who ran the venue that day — gin for her, a wee dram of Bell’s for me. Spirits were high, although energy was low. We talked politics and the institutional, vocabularic baggage of a philosophy degree — all whilst listening to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ 2002 album By The Way over the sound system, an album I hadn’t heard in full in at least 10 years but have fond memories of, listening to it on holiday in Cornwall on a CD walkman, not long after it came out.
Chat about nonsense lyrics, Flea’s bass and their desire to be a Cali-funk Beatles peppered our reflections on the last sixteen hours.
Played over that sound system, I was very surprised to discover a renewed appreciation for it… Perhaps only as a palette cleanser for all that had come before it. In that moment, it was quite blissful.
At one point, Roland brought up Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, adding that he asks people about the book regularly, if only because he’s never heard a bad word said against it and he hopes one day to hear a negative reading experience just for the sake of variety.
I read that book three times last year, twice in the same weekend, each in a single sitting. Reluctant to overhype it, I nonetheless feel like, at its most fundamental, it is a book in a league of its own. It describes a singular cross-section of life events, told with a singular acuity. It is safe to say I am also a fan of it, but more importantly, in this context, it beautifully demonstrates the aesthetic power and necessity of solidarity when faced with the impossibility of similarity.
Before we met, I had spent a lifetime devoted to Wittgenstein’s idea that the inexpressible is contained — inexpressibly! — in the expressed. This idea gets less air time than his more reverential Whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent, but it is, I think, the deeper idea. Its paradox is, quite literally, why I write, or how I feel able to keep writing.
This inexpressibility colours everything, not only experiences but also articulations of identity. Love and pronouns fall together in a peculiar entanglement. Poetry and academia wrestle for expressive dominance, each constantly peeling off the other.
In hindsight — despite but also perhaps because of the fact that my 4am, dehydrated, overtired, nicotine-flushed, whiskey-rushed brain was misfiring at every turn — there was something particularly appropriate about invoking that book after the day we had had.
I was also reminded of Julia Bell’s recent essay on techno and Berghain for The White Review — the most beautiful bit of writing on the legendary club that I’ve read. She speaks of an expanded sense of queerness, in light of the club’s history has a queer club and its related temporalities, entangling a music review with a reflection on a sexual encounter, but neither really seems to take precedence over Bell’s both situated and ungrounded experience in general. At one point she writes:
Judith, now Jack Halberstam and others have argued that it is not our sex acts which constitute queerness, but rather what we do with our time. S/he suggests that we ‘try to think about queerness as an outcome of strange temporalities, imaginative life schedules, and eccentric economic practices,’ so that we can ‘detach queerness from sexual identity and come closer to understanding Foucault’s comment in FRIENDSHIP AS A WAY OF LIFE that “homosexuality threatens people as a ‘way of life’ rather than as a way of having sex.”’
This resonated with me deeply, calling up all of my most formative club experiences. I’ve never identified as “queer” but queerness in this sense has long been central to all my experiences of community and clubbing, ever since I was a Hull teenager, hanging out on the gay scene almost exclusively, finding there a sense of belonging and solidarity that alluded me everywhere else, irrespective of my own sexual preferences.
Whereas hanging out with my mostly straight peers at school was often a mess of sexual tension (or, more accurately, aggression) and fragile egos, the house parties, Saturday afternoon beer garden sessions and nights on the town, ricocheting amongst Hull’s gay bars, clubs and spaces, were the perfect embodiment (in hindsight) of friendship as a way of life.
I’ve longed for these experiences ever since but, as politics have become more rigid and defensive, I’ve never found it again — except at our For K-Punk nights.
Long may they continue.