Extreme Romanticism and Baroque Sunbursts: Notes from ASSEMBLY at Somerset House

The ASSEMBLY programme at Somerset House last weekend was pretty incredible. Unfortunately, I found out about it all far too late. I scrambled to get a couple of tickets for events but, in the end, only went to see two talks.

(I was very excited to see Gazelle Twin perform on Friday night but illness meant her show had to be cancelled last minute.)

The two talks I went to see were “Extreme Romanticism” and “Baroque Sunbursts” — the former a panel about a new mutant goth revival, also meant to feature Gazelle Twin (the panel was changed up in her absence), and the latter a k-punk book launch event (and a sort of public iteration of our wonderful Monday night reading group).

Extreme Romanticism

“Extreme Romanticism” turned out to be an odd one but I found it complementing the k-punk talk in strange and unexpected ways. It was advertised as follows:

Terror, power, awe, hitherto darkness brought into the light. A gothic revival or a new ‘Romanticism’ for Modern Britain? Agnes GryczkowskaSeb Gainborough and John Bence discuss emotion and extremity and their ASSEMBLY performances with writer Chal Ravens.

With Xenogothic being heavily invested in the revitalisation of our otherwise captured gothic tendencies, the idea of a panel discussion on a new gothic extreme romanticism seemed right up my street.

Whilst it was a fun talk with some brilliant people, unfortunately I couldn’t help but feel frustrated with the way the discussion went. It revolved, primarily, around ideas of a new communality in extreme music, a new sense of compassion, but I was left unconvinced it was anything new… It felt instead like watching a group of people rediscover a forgotten element of goth’s DNA, and an unfortunate example of a music scene demonstrating the internalisation of its own bad press. 

Amongst discussions of the politics of BDSM and John Bence’s barely repressed murderous impulses, what struck me most was a discussion around the failure of atheism. Ravens noted how, as a teenager, she was an adamant atheist, as were most kids, refusing to entertain any form of irrationality. Atheism was synonymous with a (proto-)neo-rationalism but this is, apparently, in 2018, no longer cool.

Goths today, it was suggested, are less defined by a cosmic pessimism and more by an occulted spirituality. The things that many people would previously not have been caught dead near are now all the rage: horoscopes, tarot, crystals… The oddities of our spiritual pasts have now reemerged to constitute a more broadly populist spiritualism, with goth dragged into the milieu and given a new superficial foundation in the 21st century. There’s nothing wrong with those things exactly, in and of themselves, and I know many people who dabble with them under the light of a lucid materialism, but I refuse to swallow the argument that these things are indicative of gothic innovation or a new form of romantic extremity. Surely, it’s well-trodden ground, with this “new” form being nothing more than a symptom of goth’s continued capitalist capture?

The pervasiveness of capitalism means that, of course, it has become an integral (albeit contradictory) component of our innumerable contemporary subjectivities and ideologies — even those that profess to stand in opposition to it. To miss this and direct the blame at our countercultures in themselves is very symbolic of our current melancholic mindsets.

For the panel, regardless, the verdict was damning and framed in a way that I really did not expect to hear: these elements have been revitalised within goth culture because atheism has failed. It’s too cold. Too cold even for goths… 

I couldn’t help but think that this was a false characterisation of a nihilistic atheism informed by its own critics; by the inherent religiosity of a moralising contemporary Left, its problematic outcries caught in their own echo chamber, only strengthening the inner Catholic whip, caught between an attempt to heretically invert Judeo-Christian rituals whilst nonetheless being immediately captured within their normalised parameters.

This was something that the panel themselves were nonetheless humorously aware of. The abject tension of John Bence introducing his Kill EP as an opportunity for him to channel his very real murderous impulses felt like a case in point — until somehow laughed and crossed the impasse of British politeness. Bence then continued to poke fun at this by feigning(?) a sensitivity to the anti-Christian. But it was hard to know to what extent everyone was in on the joke or how far down the joke went, and, as a result, much of the conversation seemed to continue with a bizarre sincerity…

This was most evident when music itself was held up as central to this new communality — the panel was made up of musicians after all — and it is true: music does resonate with the outside most effortlessly. However, for this panel, music’s affective nature was limited to its associations with an organised religiosity. No one thought to make the point that the “sacred” in music is an expression of something that is “religious” by association only, incapable of being limited to religion in and of itself. I kept wanting to jump in, stick my hand up, and champion the Bataillean “sacred” — that atheological but nonetheless sublime experience of “communion”; of “communication”.

The “sacred”, for Bataille, is a world distinct from work; a world of “festival, intensified delight, joy, and abandonment.” And Bataille was, of course, the OG Goth of the 20th century, viscerally informed by Nietzsche’s thinking. The intensive compassion of his communism seems totally in line with this “new” gothic that the panel had gathered to discuss, albeit ejected into some new beyond through a templexed association with a moral antiquity. (But when they was familiar territory even for Bataille.)

Here I was reminded of my Wednesday night out with @thejaymo, at one point discussing our shared interest in Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, with its aim towards “updating and de-mystifying religious thought [through] magick, technology, poetry, musick, whatever!” I still like TOPY’s self-aware appeals to magick. They’re clear in their intentions. For example, their “statement ov intent” is downright Deleuzean. It reads:

As first steps towards change, we attempt to cultivate an awareness ov thee consequences ov our thoughts and actions, and to direct our energies in constructive directions. All this is done on thee understanding that our thoughts and behaviour form thee interface between our lives and thee lives ov others, and their repercussions are therefore endlessly returning.

Awareness is consequently a requirement for our personal and collective survival and evolution. Still, we recognise that awareness itself is dependent on information, communication, and personal commitment. Our work is subsequently practical, exchanging models and methods we have found useful to ourselves. Thus we do not dictate, but rather focus on expanding thee available possibilities through thee cross-fertilisation ov suggestions, successes, and failures. And for us this is a full-time commitment, a continual process ov being, an endless myriad ov becomings.

I mention this here only because I feel like so many post-80s (cyber)goth cultures have been rooted in some form of these same beliefs. It was a 21st century anethics presented via a language and aesthetics that was wholly other to the prevailing interests and discourses of the time but nonetheless centred around the power of collective rituals, whatever they may be. It likewise echoes the delirious mythos of the Ccru: the irrational rationalism of technomagick explored in tandem with the rational irrationalism of stock market hype. (What is hyperstition if not a magick that de-mystifies the religious pathologies of financial speculation in cyberspace, amongst other things?)

Here, the suspicion remains: perhaps I’m not in on the joke. Perhaps everyone knows this. Each of their works traverse these lines with skill and with ease, containing and dramatising all of these elements, traveling far beyond them. (Gazelle Twin, most specifically, even in her absence, epitomises this new gothic.) None of their bodies of work can be reduced to a wayward panel discussion, but I was nonetheless left bemused by it. If all of the above is familiar to them, they’re doing an awful job of articulating it…

Then I hear Gainsborough’s suggestion that we are, in fact, all to blame for goth’s subcultural failings, saying something along the lines of: “When God died, we threw the baby out with the bathwater” — conjuring up a wonderfully and inadvertently grotesque image. His argument seemed to be that the death of God also killed our communality and a renewed pop cultural interest in the materiality of the occult and the esoteric is a reaction against the normalised nihilism of our mandatory individualisms, emboldened by a societal fear of the collective ritual. But we might note that TOPY’s statement ov intent reads like a rave sensibility made goth and there are many other subcultures like it. So where is this sensibility now? It seems long gone, and most certainly neutered, but by what? By our own lack of faith? I don’t think so. All this new pop irrationalism signals, for me, is the project’s failure to ward off capitalist capture. I’d even go so far as to argue that the death of God has nothing to do with it — at least not explicitly

I have always felt like the image of Nietzsche’s madman in the marketplace was particularly prescient in being situated in a space of commerce, as if capitalism had long been primed to infiltrate that space reserved for God’s slowly decomposing corpse. The point of the parable of the death of God is surely that the world is indifferent to its announcement, preoccupied by the market. It is he who mourns the death of God — a death that can only of interest to the philosopher — who momentary ruptures the new everyday in his hysteria. But nothing happens. The shock to the madman is the world’s indifference to indifference.

If we are to nonetheless stay with Vessel’s analogy for a moment, it seems to me that, with God out of the bathtub, Goth subcultures have long been drinking deep, ingesting this soiled bathwater so that they might spread a gnostic dyssentry throughout the popular imagination. The intention being to cultivate an active nihilism, and act in the face of indifference, affirming it.

I’m reminded of that brilliant and blood-drunk post from Southern Nights on the cosmologies of Nietzsche, Bataille and Land, echoing the rantings of Nietzsche’s madman with an atheological prose that entangles the triumphs and humiliations of rationalism:

What if all we see around us in this visible universe of dust and light is nothing but the byproduct of endless expenditure, an excess expunged by the engorgements of a darker world of forces that the ancient dreamers, shamans, and Gnostics could only hint at in their negative theologies, and our scientists can only mathematize in their theoretical alchemy of this universal degradation and catastrophic trauma? What if we are mere shit in the drift of things unseen? Dead waste in a floating sea of black impenetrability? The Big Bang nothing more than a burp in the body of some great blind entity roiling in its own excess? Is this madness a metaphoric marshalling of strange tales from heresies of dead worlds?

Modern cosmology stripped of its ancient lineage of myth forces the cosmos into the procrustean bed of a bare and minimal system of holographs, strings, and vibrating systems of chaos and order. Has this given us anything better than the older myths? Is this universe bled of its fabrications, emptied of our desires, become a mere artifact of our insanity — an indifferent and essentially blind machine without purpose or telic motion? And, even if we revitalized a gnosis stripped of its redemptive qualities, its soteriological thrust how will we move those dark forces to reveal themselves? How unconceal their potential by way of math and technology? And, to what ends? Utilitarian ends for some human destitution? A bid to enslave the elements, develop even greater destructive power than our atomic weaponry? Are we nothing more than sorcerers nibbling at the table of existence, seeking ways to tap into its secret machinations, control and master its dark blessing?

This Baroque nihilism is the epitome of the Gothic stylings I was drawn towards in my formative years. The Gothic, specifically in its traditionally Frankensteinian mode of new myth grown out of new science, has always been about the paradoxical attempts to de-mystify that which we can still never hope to know. (It’s why Kant and Lovecraft work so well together.)

In this way, we can understand the Gothic itself as inherently tied to the Enlightenment, in much the same way that Gryczkowska acknowledged the entanglement of Somerset House’s neo-classical architecture and status as high-flying London arts institution and subterranean location of her band’s performance earlier that week in the Deadhouse, a crypt-turned-venue-for-hire… Such a relationship can be seen as a critical positioning that nonetheless depends on the Enlightenment for contrast so that it might define its own structures in negative. Goth, too, in hindsight, feels like an 80s subculture gilded in a similar forge, negatively echoing the new moralities and immoralities of a Thatcherite neoliberalism. Lest we forget how omnipresent vampires were to that time, as both figure of a timeless bourgeois decadence and the youthful abandon of a generation lost to politics.

This feedback loop, viewed cynically, demonstrates just some of the ways that capitalism’s greatest trick has been to sell back to us those things that we have always already had in our possession. It affirms itself and sells its homogenised worldview back to us, offsetting our alienation with the superficial salve of data-mined connections. Vampires remain poignant figures for both state and subject, depending on how you choose to look at things. However, the death of God never resulted in societal collapse because capitalism swooped in to sell our spirit back to us, at new and competitive prices. Capitalism has effectively upcycled human nature, reducing that which was always ours to little more than a novel Christmas gift. (I am left wondering how a new Light Gothic may truly be emerging but, instead of being Sad Christianity Lite, it may function as a movement of conscious and critical complicity with the developments of the Dark Enlightenment, so infamously explored by Nick Land. (Something to explore another time.)

As such, if there is to be a new Gothic, it is doomed to the same impotent fate of past subcultures if it cannot account for this inherent positioning, parallel to, if nonetheless framed negatively against, the new complicities and complexities of our age. What is this new popular magick if not a response to the post-truth of a ruling capitalist class, echoing the market itself in its indifference to the quality and content of a message, just so long as there is something to circulate? It is the epistemological slippage of contemporary politics reflected in the contingencies-for-sale on the counter of your gentrified neighbourhood crystal shop. To assign this socio-subcultural development to a latent Christianity seems, to me, like an utter waste of time.

The panel ended somewhat abruptly, unsatisfactorily, having started late and being cut down promptly, as is the usual struggle of festival scheduling.

But then, an hour later still, the work of Mark Fisher was invoked to set things straight for us…

Baroque Sunbursts

The k-punk session revolved around Mark’s little-known 2016 text, “Baroque Sunbursts”, from the book, Rave: Rave and Its Influence on Art and Culture. With Laura Grace Ford also being sick — London is a viral piece of shit this time of year — we were left in the very capable hands of Dan Taylor and Repeater Books’ Tamar Shlaim to guide us into Mark’s later work and their newly-published k-punk collection.

It must be said that “Baroque Sunbursts” is one of Mark’s best texts from recent years and, as Dan and Laura have highlighted time and again, it would no doubt be a cornerstone of what was to come in his Acid Communism

The essay takes its name from a passage from Jameson (emphasis added to those parts most relevant to us here):

We may argue that Utopia is no longer in time just as with the end of voyages of discovery and the exploration of the globe it disappeared from geographical space as such. Utopia as the absolute negation of the fully realized Absolute which our own system has attained cannot now be imagined as lying ahead of us in historical time as an evolutionary or even revolutionary possibility. Indeed, it cannot be imagined at all; and one needs the languages and figurations of physics — the conception of closed worlds and a multiplicity of unconnected yet simultaneous universes — in order to convey what might be the ontology of this now so seemingly empty and abstract idea. Yet it is not to be grapsed in this logic of religious transcendence either, as some other world after or before this one, or beyond it. It would be best, perhaps, to think of an alternate world — better to say the alternate world, our alternate world — as one contiguous with ours but without any connection or access to it. Then, from time to time, like a diseased eyeball in which disturbing flashes of light are perceived or like those baroque sunbursts in which rays from another world suddenly break into this one, we are reminded that Utopia exists and that other systems, other spaces, are still possible.

What is this Jameson text if not a wonderfully expressive instantiation of what our subcultures can make possible, setting the gothic grotesque and the baroque across from each other in a way that rings as true with Fisher’s The Weird and the Eerie as it does with the psychedelia to come.

The diffuse frustration of the previous session aside, the k-punk talk, in light of this text, would go on to address — and not just address, but demonstrate — the sociopolitical problems that any modern goth subculture (and other subcultures besides) must inevitably contend with — which is to say, whilst “Baroque Sunbursts” may only address the halted legacy of rave, in very general terms, it also describes a fate that has met many a subcultural music current, seen through the homogenising gaze of capitalist control.

For example, Mark describes the programme of capitalist neutralisation as being pursued in three steps:

The campaign against rave might have been draconian, but it was not absurd or arbitrary. Very much to the contrary, the attack on rave was part of a systematic process — a process that had begun with the birth of capitalism itself. The aims of this process were essentially threefold: cultural exorcism, commercial purification and mandatory individualism.

He goes on to note that the radical communality of rave was precisely a core threat to the newly established neoliberal status quo, but that is not to say that it was, in itself, new. 

Rave’s ecstatic festivals revived the use of time and land which the bourgeoisie had [long] forbidden and sought to bury. Yet, for all that it recalled those older festive rhythms, rave was evidently not some archaic revival. It was a spectre of post-capitalism more than of pre-capitalism. Rave culture grew out of the synthesis of new drugs, technology and music culture. MDMA and Akai-based electronic psychedelia generated a consciousness which saw no reason to accept that boring work was inevitable. The same technology that facilitated the waste and futility of capitalist domination could be used to eliminate drudgery, to give people a standard of living much greater than that of pre-capitalist peasantry, while freeing up even more time for leisure than those peasants could enjoy. As such rave culture was in tune with those unconscious drives, which as Marcuse put it, could not accept the ‘temporal dismemberment of pleasure… its distribution in small separate doses’. Why should rave ever end? Why should there be any miserable Monday mornings for anyone?

Mark continues, chiming with our present clawing for collective joy and abandonment:

‘As the bourgeoisie laboured to produce the economic as a separate domain, partitioned off from its intimate and manifold interconnectedness with the festive calendar, so they laboured conceptually to re-form the fair as either a rational, commercial, trading event or as a popular pleasure-ground.’ Such a division was necessary in order that the bourgeoisie could make a clean and definitive distinction between morally improving toil and decadent leisure — the refusal of ‘the temporal dismemberment of pleasure’. Hence, ‘although the bourgeois classes were frequently frightened by the threat of political subversion and moral license, they were perhaps more scandalised by the deep conceptual confusion by the fair’s mixing of work and pleasure, trade and play.’ The fair always carried traces of ‘the spectre of the world which could be free’, threatening to rob commerce of the association with toil and capital accumulation that the bourgeoisie was trying to impose. That is why ‘the carnival, the circus, the gypsy, the lumpenproletariat, play a symbolic role in bourgeois culture out of all proportion to their actual social importance.’

The carnival, the gypsy and the lumpenproletariat evoked forms of life — and forms of commerce — which were incompatible with the solitary labour of the lonely bourgeoise subject and the world it projected. That is why they could not be tolerated. If other forms of life were possible then — contrary to one of Mrs Thatcher’s most famous formulations — there were alternatives, after all.

And then, he concludes:

This psychedelic imagery [of Jameson’s gothic baroque evocation] seems especially apposite for the ‘energy flash’ of rave, which now seems like a memory bleeding through from a mind that is not ours. In fact, the memories come from ourselves as we once were: a group consciousness that waits in the virtual future not only in the actual past. So it is perhaps better to see the other possibilities that these baroque sunbursts illuminate not as some distant Utopia, but as a carnival that is achingly proximate, a spectre haunting even — especially — the most miserably de-socialised spaces.

Mark’s genealogy of the rave as a form of postcapitalist festival fervour chimes with Bataille’s notion of the “sacred”, but here, at Somerset House, in a packed room in the West Wing, these forms were demonstrated, rather than just described, through the musics that Mark loved so much and, also, often wrote about.

Rufige Kru are a case in point. The mundane refrains of “Ghosts of My Life”, from a mournful David Sylvian to the libidinal exorcism of that most famous of First Choice samples, crashing against the rocks of its rolling breaks, dashed in all directions. Ghosts slip into the everyday, just as an illusory mundane begins to haunt the extraordinary weirdness of capitalism itself.  In this way, jungle is Jameson’s diseased eyeball or, rather, an afflicted inner ear. Your libido has been thrown off balance with an acidic labrinthitis. “Do you want what you say you want?” The elusive answer drags you into the downward spiral. Egress is imminent. 

Mark once wrote for The Wire that jungle “was best enjoyed as an anonymous electro-libidinal current that seemed to pass through producers, as a series of affects and FX de-linked from authors.” It was “less like a music and more like an audio unlife form, a ferocious, feral artificial intelligence that has been unwittingly called up in the studio.” It remains the Gothic antithesis and grotesque mirror image of a 90s technoculture. The acceleration of alienation that complemented the accelerated accumulation of capitalism’s Thing-like functionalities. The popular imagination is what suffers.

Next, we would fast-forward to the 1970s with The Temptation’s Psychedelic Shack — the song at the heart of Mark’s Acid Communism introduction.

It’s got a neon sigh outside that says
Come in and take a look at your mind
You’ll be surprised what you might find
Strobe lights flashing from sun up to sun down
People gather there from all parts of town
Right around the corner, you know it’s just across the track
People I’m talking about the psychedelic shack
Psychedelic shack, that’s where it’s at
Psychedelic shack, that’s where it’s at
Psychedelic shack, that’s where it’s at

Mark writes:

A new humanity, a new seeing, a new thinking, a new loving: this is the promise of acid communism, and it was the promise that you could hear in “Psychedelic Shack” and the culture that inspired it. Only five years separated “Psychedelic Shack” from The Temptations’ early signature hit “My Girl”, but how many new worlds had come into being then? In “My Girl”, love remains sentimentalised, confined to the couple, in “Psychedelic Shack”, love is collective, and orientated towards the outside.

Such talk of love is not antithetical to the Gothic — something I think has been made very clear on this blog previously. What is most important, and must continually be emphasised, is this orientation towards the outside. 

This was what was missed in “Extreme Romanticism”. The compassion and libidinal fervour is not akin to the dewy-eyed and godly “love” of your Sunday school service, though they may inevitably share a language. Goth love is necrophilic and spectral. It is not a love for what has passed, but the libidinal energy flows of unlife and undeath, skirting along the edge of a doorway to somewhere new. A cock in the glory hole of an unknown politics. A grotesque image, no doubt, but one with a form that capitalism understands. Get ready for the bait and switch…

Dan then picked a song by The Jam, the subject of a blistering k-punk post on the political function of pop music.

If we communicate for two minutes only
It will be enough
For knowing that someone in this world
Feels as desperate as me —
And what you give is what you get

Mark writes — and the whole post is absolutely worth reading in full:

The Jam thrived in public space, on public service broadcasting. It mattered that they were popular; the records gained in intensity when you knew that they were number one, when you saw them on Top of the Pops — because it wasn’t only you and fellow initiates who heard the music; the (big) Other heard it too. This effect was maximised in The Jam’s case because their best work happened in the three minute single. At that point, singles staked a place in the mainstream, directly affecting the conditions of possibilities for popular culture. What we witnessed with punk and postpunk — or more broadly, with the whole efflorescence of popular modernism since the 50s — was an ‘affective contagion’, to use a term discussed in Frederic Jameson’s enthralling new book The Antinomies of Realism. One of the problems with many of the horizontalist models of political action is that they assume that we already know what we think and feel, and we are simply prevented from expressing ourselves by oppressive power structures. Yet mass mediated art could name and focus feelings that were not only suppressed — by ‘internal’ as well as external censoring agencies — but which were inchoate, unformed, virtual. Mass mediation transformed, not merely ‘represented’ these affects; after they were named and brought into focus, the feelings ‘themselves’ were experienced differently. And you could say that all of this was self-consciously worked through by Weller, with his Mod(ernist) affiliation, and its hunger for new sensations. 

As Marcello Carlin put it in a post that is as moving an account of a fan going back to a former obsession as you’ll ever see, it’s now unbelievable that something like ‘Start’ — a record ‘which goes so far as to debate with its listener what a pop single might be for, and that it might actually be a stepping stone in helping people get along and bond better’ — could ever have been a number one record. I’m pretty sure that this song about a fugitive encounter in enemy territory — which contained the line, ‘knowing someone in this life/ who feels as desperate as me’ — was another one of the Jam records I first heard when it was played on Top of the Pops.

I took The Jam for granted, but the thirty odd years since they ruled the charts have been a painful process of watching what we once took for granted being taken away from us. Seeing — and working with — John Akomfrah’s The Unfinished Conversation and The Stuart Hall Project has prompted many thoughts, one of which concerns confronting just this process of watching the taken for granted become the (retrospectively) impossible. The way to avoid nostalgia is to look for the lost possibilities in any era, and Hall’s work — from his earliest writings on Cool jazz and Colin MaccInes in the late 50s, through to his New Times essays at the tail end of the 80s — alerts us to a persistent failure to make connections between left-wing politics and the popular culture, even when both were much stronger than they are today. Parliamentary socialism could never come to terms with, still less hegemonise, the new energies that had come out of jazz, the Sixties counterculture, or punk. By the time that explicit attempts were made to link the parliamentary left and rock/pop — in the earnest hamfistedness of Red Wedge — it was already too late. Blair’s Britpop flirtations, meanwhile, were like a double death, (the end of) history laughing at us: the corpse of white lad rock summoned to serenade socialism succumbing to capitalist realism.

The relevance of this is obvious here, I hope. That which was once taken for granted, the inherent communality of extreme musics and the gothic, has now become something to be rediscovered, made speculative and impossible. Extreme musics and pop music are not dissimilar in this respect, conjoined in Mark’s thought by the thread of a “popular modernism”. Again, outsiderness remains the orientation in the best examples of both. Extreme musics must understand that their form alone is not enough to escape the gravitational pull.

The tone of the first panel was frustrating in that it seemed to miss this (admittedly subtle and elusive) point, placing an extreme romanticism beyond our immediate capabilities, as a new striving, and whilst it is a post capitalist spectre, as Mark himself wrote on rave, we must likewise account for the ways it has been purposefully exorcised from our ways of being.

K-Punk rectified this, emphasising the immediate malleability of cultural production. 

This was a point emphasised most poignantly, I thought, by David Stubbs. Sat in the audience, he arose for a moment to play a clip from Luigi Nono’s Non consumiamo Marx, a dose of acid communist mystique concrete in which the sounds of revolution become the foundations for a new music, bringing to mind the technomagick of William Burroughs’ tape experiments. Here, the everyday was — literally — sampled and reshaped for a politics to come.

The final track played was a mix, apparently made by Mark and Laura, of tracks by Jam City. Jam City is perhaps the perfect demonstration of the above.

Tamar noted that, for Mark, Jam City was to his “Acid Communism” as Burial was to his “Ghosts of my Life“. The sounds heard are all somewhat familiar, but rather than being haunting, as Burial are, they are evocative. They likewise portray a lost future, albeit positively conceived. 

Whereas Burial, for me, and countless others, evokes the future musics heard by the uninitiated, further twisted and mutated by their environments, out of the windows of passing cars, muffled by the void between your pavement-dwelling self and a lofty tower block flat party, mediated through your body rather than your afflicted and colonised ears alone; Jam City glimmers through the gaps in between. 

The track was illustrated by a photograph by Laura, taken in a graveyard near Canary Wharf, the gothic loomed over by the HSBC building, or rather London’s dead threatening to unground those buildings that seem to sure of themselves. The track appears along the edges, the “jam” in between a patchwork cityscape, where something else bleeds through. 

It’s as gothic as it always was. It’s xenogothic. Disco as a dark weapon against the dayglo irreality of a mundane workday. It is, and always will be, Hull fair to me — a square-mile of neon and bass bins, palm reading and caravans, carny jungle and gabba on the waltzers. Travellers stop, just for one week, coming from all around Europe, to open up a hole in the middle of the city, turning a match-day car park into the zombic heart of autumn. It’s a gigantic and effervescent rupture, brighter and louder than anything you’ve ever seen. It’s sugar-fuelled penny gambling and chip spice and a new community grown in a council-sanctioned Petri dish, transforming the whole city that you might think you know so well. It’s not new. It’s over 100 years old. You can see the lights for miles around — at least 15 miles away by one count one year — and it’s still goth as fuck.


A separate and far more personal highlight of the evening was later being introduced to David Stubbs at the bar. Stubbs’ writing has been just as important to me as Mark’s over the years. When Fear of Music came out, it was a revelation for me. It was a book I read wishing I’d had it a few years earlier, which spoke to me as a young A Level Art edgelord who loved noise music and was Rothko obsessive and had a hard time articulating why they were two sides of the same coin. The rest of his work is masterful in much the same way and this year’s Mars By 1980, a personal and twisted history of electronic music, from the Futurists to Aphex Twin and beyond, was something I demolished in a week. Go check it out.

It was truly an honour to meet David and chat about the history of British comedy, of all things, over a few drinks at the ASSEMBLY bar. Later, after exchanging Facebook profiles, I saw a status update David wrote on the night and Mark’s legacy that encapsulated things perfectly. I’d like to end this post with a part of it:

The scope, audacity, penetration of [Mark’s] writing went way beyond music journalism. I’m convinced that this volume will be a cornerstone for future young thinkers if the world survives; that he will function like a latter-day Nietzsche, a fireball, in that it won’t so much matter what judgments he arrives at as the flamethrowing, impassioned, impossible-demanding eyeballs he casts around our present, seemingly impossible situation to which he demands, outlines reasonable, near-impossible solutions.

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One thought on “Extreme Romanticism and Baroque Sunbursts: Notes from ASSEMBLY at Somerset House

  1. Boojie contempt for atheism is a constant.

    Anne Rice’s early vampires represent a truly materialist gothicism. What Lestat fears is not the prospect of being denied eternal life by the separation of his soul from any possibility of faith but being denied eternal rest from the horror of existence by the binding of his unliving consciousness to matter. Agonized dust awaiting the heat death of the universe, if it’s lucky.

    And then there’s Frankenstein…

    Back In The Day the goths I knew were all ironic. Genuinely, lovingly, supportively ironic. So yes there was a joke to be in on. It’s positive unbelief rather than priest holes. But there are some Very Serious Wiccans as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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