All photos taken between September and December, 2011.
It felt very strange to hear that Leyland Kirby’s Caretaker project has finally come to an end last night. I only heard about the release of the final part of his Everywhere at the End of Time project after seeing Axxon N. Horror’s post. It felt, suitably, like an obituary. It felt like unexpectedly hearing about the passing of a recently forgotten old friend: melancholic, and nostalgically bittersweet.
Many people around these parts have long associated The Caretaker with Mark Fisher’s writings but I’ve never had that immediate association. It always makes me think of Skyrim. I’ve written about this once or twice before: how I spent most of the final months of 2011 — the first semester of my second year at university — in my room in Newport, South Wales, listening to An Empty Bliss Beyond This World and Oneohtrix Point Never’s Replica back-to-back-to-back-to-back as I crept around dungeons silently dispatching skeletons with my longbow, with the crackle and pop of vinyl perforating the Caretaker’s ballroom loops sounding more like the arrhythmic drip-drip of tearful stalactites on mossed stone floors than the spectral physicality of an imagined musical object re-recorded somewhere in Berlin.
All three were brand new releases at that time. There was no thinking about the past, as such. I felt like I had my finger on the pulse. There was nothing hauntological about it — at least in the sense that most people deploy that word. It was listening to the echoes of a contemporary culture echo around its own edges, bleeding into the virtual world I was escaping into — an empty bliss, indeed.
The memories came later.
Many hear every Caretaker album as a soundtrack to the ballroom in Kubrick’s The Shining but, whilst it was an inspired conceptual beginning, this project has not remained there for me. It is a project that feels so painfully present, despite itself. As Mark would write, Kirby’s main contribution to the late 2000s discourse surrounding hauntology has been “his understanding that the nostalgia mode has to do not with memories but with a memory disorder.” It’s not that you were the caretaker, Mr. Torrance. It’s that you always will be — as far as you (and the environment in which you are trapped) are concerned.
This was, Mark would continue, the importance of the vinyl crackle to this music. It “makes the dimension of time audible.”
It is through this scratching of the scanner-lens that we can hear the time-wound, the chronological fracture, the expression of the sense, crucial to hauntology, that time is out of joint. Dyschronia.
This is the final album’s strength — the entire project’s strength, even — its affective nature in the present, revealing the weirdness of a world were ballroom dub can feel contemporaneous in the minds of those too young to ever live in the world these sonic fictions refer to.
Eight years later and I still have an almost Pavlovian response to that album’s ungainly opening rhythm and its crooning violin. It speaks to the strength of the project that I can’t talk about any part of it without wanting to recall this utterly banal and yet (to me) incredibly vivid set of experiences that have so persistently orbited my obsessive listening to this project. If I ever do get dementia — god forbid — put the The Caretaker on for me. I’ll no doubt reanimate and try to pickpocket everyone in my immediate vicinity and start saying words like “lush” and “cwtch” and “fos ro dah“…
I am not stuck in 2011, however. The world is. It was a year defined by the mayhem of student protests, London riots, and everything that followed; everything that continues to unfold. Time stopped there. We just live in its rupture; its wake. As such, this project has always been deeply connected to the spatial in contrast to the temporal, forcing us to navigate the space of time, wherever it may be.
Headphone listening exacerbates this. It feels like putting your head in the cavernous ballroom which was the project’s initial inspiration, expanding your headspace despite the cloistered environs in which you might currently be embedded within. Listening to the first part of Everywhere at the End of Time this morning on my commute to work, passing through the crowds of London Bridge, narrowly avoiding collision as panicked commuters gravitated towards each other in their reckless momentum, like heavenly objects slingshotting around each other, far too close for comfort, I felt like I was somewhere else entirely, or rather, everywhere else. (Note to self: listen to less black metal on a morning, it has the opposite effect.)
But then, what I am doing now? Sitting at my desk, procrastinating as I wait for email responses and large files to load on my laptop, reminiscing about those most vividly empty years. 2010 to 2013. I can smell them. What are these office-dwelling years by contrast? Is this the onset of my own culturally pure anterograde amnesia? As Kirby says, in an interview conducted by Mark Fisher for The Wire in 2009, discussing his 2006 boxset Theoretically Pure Anterograde Amnesia, he was hoping to audibly recreate “a specific form of amnesia where sufferers can remember things from the past but are unable to remember new things.”
To recreate that in sound was a challenge that I relished, really. I realised the only way was to make a disorientating set with very few references points. Fragments of melody breaking out of this monotonous tone and audio quagmire. Even if you listen over and over to all the songs, you still can’t remember when these melodies will come in. You have no favourite tracks, it’s like a dream you are trying to remember. Certain things are clear but the details are still buried and distant.
That’s what this sensation feels like even now: unnervingly present — a monotonous quagmire with few reference points. Today, all my reference points for the present are grounded in 2017. Things happened then but nothing really changed since. In Britain, in particular, we’re still arguing about an event that happened almost three years ago. Everything has changed and nothing has changed. The details become more and more elusive as time warps around itself. Life itself is a dream you are trying to remember. You feel the ghosts of a culture hanging on for dear life. (Such was Wales, in particular.)
This is the distinct sensation that these records conjure for me: something missed or missing. London isn’t a city propelled by the new, for example — despite what it may think of itself. It is instead a city that rushes to bury its present in the past, and it does this very well, to the detriment of the communities that have to live here. As Mark wrote in the sleeve notes for Theoretically Pure Anterograde Amnesia:
The present — broken, desolated is constantly erasing itself, leaving few traces. Things catch your attention for a while but you do not remember them for very long. But the old memories persist intact… Constantly commemorated…
The Caretaker felt so vivid in Newport because it seemed clear to all that we were living in the shadow of a past incessantly regurgitated — but not negatively so. It was a Twilight Zone where play was possible, albeit against a static backdrop. It was a past that many nonetheless attempted to preserve in the face of the cynically new. Stasis was preferable, in some ways, because at least it was grounded in a kind of truth. It was necessary, even, for fighting off the impending cognitive disorder; the fracture of memory by neoliberalism’s promise.
At the time, we all lived on Grafton Road, a few hundred metres from the old Newport Art College — hallowed birth canal for an entire generation of world-famous British photographers — which was, at the time, in the midst of being transformed into luxury flats; from the corpse of TJs, the legendary nightclub where local legend says Kurt Cobain proposed to Courtney Love whilst on tour with Hole, now soon to be a hotel; from the Chartist Mural, remembering the Newport Rising, an attempt to liberate arrested Welsh comrades from their English oppressors in the fight for a working class vote back in 1839, demolished just as we were leaving the city to build a shopping centre.
We lived in the antebellum, before the forced redevelopment; prior to the tyranny of the superficially new. This town cared about culture and heritage, yes, but — more than anything — it cared about progress. It cared about politics; a new politics; a new brought about on its own terms, not offered cynically by corporate giants who promised to save the high street at the expense of all those things that this city did not want to forget. It was a city that was trying to move, trying to function, trying to build, fighting off a neoliberal dementia.
In the end, it lost.
There was a peace and a tranquility that came from these post-industrial centres of gravity. I liked Newport because it felt just like my home in Hull — a time-warp; a forgotten bubble; a whole city struggling under what I called, at the time, the “slow violence of neglect”. It was dreadful but it was real. We knew what was up. You didn’t have to dig for it. It was plain to see. And it made it easier to make demands. We wanted change, not gloss, but gloss was all we got.
There was a sense that, no matter whether the memories forced upon you were of a heyday or a catastrophe, the point to be emphasised was that it had all already happened. What is there to do about any of it now? Just enjoy — even revel in — the spatial retirement of time. As Mark would write on his blog:
Its like the world has ended.
A world has ended here, in fact. […]
It is not a space that humans live in any more. But it is a space they explore.
Post-jungle. Up river. That is where Leyland Kirby now leaves us. Arriving at the long-anticipated point of singularity on this protracted Kurtz-gradient.
In truth, he already left us there months ago. I struggle to remember it, however. Newport persists in the mind.
Kirby’s advice still echoes like one of his own half-broken melodies, offered up at the Barbican in December, 2017: “Take care, it’s a desert out there…”