I’m sat in our chalet on the first night of Bang Face. Earlier, we dished out the 2C-B. Two friends take a half each, they say, and when the high doesn’t come, we take the rest. I make the comic error of assuming my friends had taken a full half, like I had. Instead, they had shared a full pill together. They had taken half of a half.
Having taken my full pill, bouncing from room to room, pummelled by jungle and gabber and hardcore, my heart feels like it is about to burst out of my chest. Others head back to the chalet and I join them. After a joint is shared to balance things out, they return to the dance and I decide to lie down for an hour, not feeling unwell but grasping for some serenity as I realise I have had a little too much.
Once settled and alone, I start writing in my notebook — not because I’m thinking about anything in particular, but because the spidery scrawl of my handwriting looks like the worms that have come alive dancing on the Artex ceiling. Everything undulates. But rather than simply witness the world in its writhing paroxysm, I try to master it, producing lines that wander at my command.
This is my first psychedelic experience. It feels somewhat overdue. To describe it, the experience may sound disconcerting, as stories of trips often do, but when I look at the ceiling I laugh uncontrollably. I am overjoyed that the mind is creating something that I know is not there, but which is felt as intensely as if it were.
It is the affirmation of what is not that makes it real. An aesthetic experience is automatically produced from within, coupled with an awareness of the fact that it would be imperceptible outside of my present state of mind. But the demarcation becomes less clear when the worms are spilling out from the point of my own pen. The illusion is compounded and made even more pleasurable by the secondary illusion that I am birthing word-worms.
Why start to write in such a state? Because ultimately, I know I cannot photograph the ceiling.
I leave the chalet as I start to sober up, ready to head back to the dance, at least now that the high has started to subside and feel more manageable. On my way back, I bump into Aya, Evan, Rebecca and Pat. We head back to their chalet instead, soon joined by others, and play silly tunes whilst drinking Buckfast and doing lines of ketamine. A drum’n’bass bootleg of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” has everyone waving finger-guns and laughing hysterically.
I go outside for a cigarette and Evan and I end up talking about an all too familiar creative paradox: an enthusiasm for a craft that drives you to learn its formal mechanisms inside out, producing a sense of mastery, whilst being all too aware that the things made casually and without too much thought, the things that emerge immediately from a spark of inspiration or as a distraction from a more conscious mode of working, often turn out to be the best things you can make.
Evan talks about albums that retain that quality even for the listener. He says there are albums that, as a producer, he can deconstruct and reconstruct at home, easy to pastiche, as he figures out what tools were used and how, so that you can eventually produce a perfect imitation. But there are other albums that, irrespective of any technical enquiry into their make-up, remain elusive. Andy Stott’s Never the Right Time and Actress’s RIP are two that never get old for Evan. (He shows me a tattoo on his forearm of the symbol that adorns RIP’s cover.)
I’m too inarticulate and tired and high to add much to the conversation. But the serendipity of falling from a private reflection to a conversation between two, each on the same topic, makes my ears feel warm regardless.
At Kitty’s top surgery fundraiser in London, around a hundred people descended on the Avalon Café for a night of performances and dancing. Many people were familiar: Goldsmiths alumni, or people otherwise affiliated with a broader social network; people I haven’t seen in the same room together since before the pandemic. We all gather to celebrate someone so loved.
Others are there just for a good time, but it only adds to the jubilant atmosphere. Affections run deep and everyone falls into it. A group of people thrown together, through circumstance, through university degree, through shared interests, through love, through trauma. You can’t construct a group of friends like that. You can’t produce that kind of kinship as you would a family. It’s not so much “social reproduction” as “social invention”, at once conscious and unconscious.
Something else Evan said that stuck in my head, amusingly highlighting the incongruity of love and its rupture: “Not to be a dick, yeah, but I love hanging out with my friends.”
It’s more or less the same group, with some additions and absences, that gather for Bang Face. We all arrive at different times, on different days, but congeal again in a pool of sweat, front and centre for Aya’s set. Another friend celebrated, just as everyone celebrates each other when they arrive at the dance. Jenn arrives and I pick her up in a smothering embrace. Joy in the act of joy.
It’s hard to keep from gushing about this gathering, but writing it down seems useless. The feeling is elusive, ambient, ethereal, and the writing cannot touch it. Articulated thought does nothing more than threaten its purity, but there is something precious felt in the habit of acknowledging it regardless – that thing that cannot be bottled or given a sufficient image, but which cannot be allowed to pass by. It is a revolution. It is sublime.
I’m proofreading one of Fredric Jameson’s soon-to-be-published seminars from the mid-2000s. It’s a mammoth task and I have only two weeks to do it; I later end up getting an extension. In the downtime between the night before and the night to come, I chip away at the reading in our Bang Face chalet, no longer hallucinating a new sort of life in the words on the page.
I read a lecture in which Jameson speaks about the Kantian sublime, wherein Kant writes that “the beautiful presupposes and sustains the mind in restful contemplation,” whereas “the feeling of the sublime carries with it a mental agitation”. Something happens in between the two. The spectator is struck by “the feeling that his imagination is inadequate for exhibiting the idea of a whole, [a feeling] in which imagination reaches its maximum”, but the acknowledgement of the limit is paradoxical – although it goes beyond thought, we are nonetheless able to think the limit. Kant’s “thing-in-itself” thus becomes a signifying phrase that makes the illegible legible. You perceive it, in some restricted way, but the sublime is not so much inaccessible, it only overwhelms the senses and the unconscious that attempts to filter them, and we make of the cascading affects whatever we can.
I am not so familiar with Kant’s aesthetics, but I do wonder how love – particularly a love of community – fits into this. Jameson emphasises that, for Kant (as well as Burke and Lyotard), the French revolution – more so than the Alpine mountaintops of Romanticism or the grand friezes of ancient art – is the sublime moment par excellence. An enthusiasm for a new sense of communality, a certain communism, is the archetypical sublime of our modern era.
No use talking about Kant at Bang Face. That being said, we are here whilst King Charles is being coronated. We curate our own hyper-spectacle as the state produces its own elsewhere. Politics is unavoidably present at Bang Face, but perhaps only as parody, or at least as imagination. It is our silly utopia.
There is no signal here. No phone reception. Only elusive pockets of 4G. No one is following the events happening in London. Bang Face is an enclave from the discourse surrounding Britain’s monarchist realism.
The people of Bang Face are lampooning the royals left and right, wearing clothes for a new rave royalty, hanging banners that celebrate alternative kings.
One chalet, a few doors down from us, has a giant banner of Kim Jung-Un in the window. I get chatting to a guy called Howard, who is staying there. “He’s my king,” he says, tongue firmly in cheek, as he admires this giant meme-image of Kim grinning as a nuclear submarine surfaces behind him, as if all that divine power bestows on despots and monarchs is little more than an infantile dominion over one’s various supersized toys.
We have toys of our own and we are here to play. There is a palpable enthusiasm for another world. Bang Face as maximalist heterotopia.
Still outside the chalet smoking cigarettes into the early hours, Evan lifts up his hoody to reveal a t-shirt made that morning with permanent marker, adorned with the kind of nonsense slogan that is ubiquitous at Bang Face. “MARK FISHER BABABOOEY”, it reads in thick black block capitals. The cleft between silly fun and political enthusiasm is at once made wider and narrower.
What would Mark Fisher do?
Natasha and I used to hear complaints from some For K-Punk attendees when we’d invite different members of the Hard Crew contingent to play at our events. Should happy hardcore have a place at a Mark Fisher event; at an event that hopes to celebrate someone known for their predilection towards the darker side of jungle and UK rave culture? But this darkness is not only present in the more melancholic sounds of Burial and others. It can still be felt in the maximalist high-energy of the hardest hardcore. Fisher did once write for Fact Mag, after all, that one of his favourite jungle tracks was Hyper On Experience’s acceleratively silly track “Lord of the Null Lines”:
A crew with a superbly apposite name and an eye for a great track title too. This one is crudely bolted together out of rave-era piano and hypercharged FX, plus vocal samples from Predator 2 (“fuckin’ voodoo magic man”), and a diva on downtime (“there’s a void where there should be ecstasy” – a line that could serve as a slogan for the whole genre).
At Bang Face, it feels like there is ecstasy where there should be a void. The world beyond is voided, high on monarchy. We’re high on something else. Or perhaps the void is still present, still here with us, but this culture of late capitalism is affirmed to its absolute breaking point, lest we forget the closing sample from “Lord of the Null Lines”, uncommented on by Fisher himself – there may be a void where there should be ecstasy, but it “sure feels good to me”.
Fisher’s own interests, of course, are hardly the be-all-and-end-all, even amongst we friends and devotees. What mattered to us, when putting on the For K-Punk nights, was that the producers and DJs we invited liked him, respected him, saw something in the work that spoke to them as they mainlined an accelerating present into music that can turn on an affective dime. Hardcore will never die – a sense of self-belief shared with capitalist realism, of course – and so it is transformed into an abundantly errant postmodernism. The supposedly lowest forms of sonic culture are broken down into components for a veritable future music. (As Philip K Dick writes in VALIS: “the symbols of the divine initially show up at the trash stratum”.)
Bang Face surprises me. It is intergenerational. You have the most contemporary post-rave maximalists shoulder-to-shoulder with junglist legends. I catch Technical Itch, DJ Trax, 2 Bad Mice, Dom & Roland and Sully at the Over/Shadow takeover.
In the main room, I watch Luke Vibert followed by Sherelle. Vibert plays old favourites. Hearing Bizzi B and Ruffkut’s remix of “The Return” by Cutty Ranks is a revelation, another glimmer of the sublime, a baroque sunburst no less. It decimates me. Sherelle opens with a brand-new track by We Rob Rave, who played the day before. It is called “Bodymotion”. No matter the BPM, such sonic assaults feel timeless.
This is music of another time, the present, rather than the music of the Eighties and Nineties. Yes, it is fascinating to think about what Mark Fisher would make of Bang Face, the ultimate post-rave maximalist postmodern spectacle. The critiques are easily imagined. Capitalism is a total system, capable of incorporating everything – even critiques of itself or alternatives to its worldview. It is a system that has a way of acquiescing everything that exists to its contours. Most of the music at Bang Face simply replicates the gesture. But capitalism must nonetheless resist or obscure the inclination to radically transform itself, as the great assemblage becomes more and more unruly. Capitalism steamrolls every bump and blemish into the flatness of its own world-image. The music at Bang Face operates in much the same way, but intensifies and then inverts control’s polarity. Rave sublation nukes the capitalist control-valve from orbit.
The first act we see, at the start of the weekend, is DJ Noeyedear. There are three people on stage – one dressed as a clown, one as a fairy, and another as a Tellytubby. They are blazing through insane mash-ups of songs that do not belong together, smashing Nirvana into Rick Astley and My Chemical Romance and a hundred other instantly recognisable tunes at hilarious speeds. It is the ultimate expression of postmodern formlessness.
I can’t help but wonder if this is what TikTok might well become. The viral fragments of contemporary music marketing, so sought after, are gathered into a new maximalism, which of course has its place in contemporary aesthetic experience, irrespective of its fidelity to or mockery of capitalism’s own accelerating forms of cultural dissemination, just as maximalism had a place in modernism previously.
Jameson reflects on a modernist maximalism in his expansive reading of Adorno. He discusses Malevich’s Black Square as a particularly fascinating example. As a single block of colour, we might call it a minimalist work, but what is black if not the product of every colour combined? There is a radicality in this kind of minimalist maximalism, such that it obliterates everything. In using everything, it breaks everything, and something new and incomprehensible emerges. A black canvas can appear just as sublime as a mountain range, just as a pounding 200bpm cacophony of pop-cultural atoms can become sublime when you immerse yourself in the Bang Face particle accelerator.
It’s what Eisenstein might call a “montage of attractions”. It is the circus of semioblitz. Though it is easy to dismiss for its abject lack of seriousness and “good” taste, it nonetheless feels like a potent reflection of or commentary on the accelerated sonic worlds in which we now live. As Jameson says, “artworks are political because they absorb into themselves historical processes”. The music of the future hurtles along faster than capitalism itself is yet able, accumulating vast swathes of contemporary detritus in its wake and giving us monstrous new idols that loom over and dwarf capitalism’s modus operandi.
I’m reminded of Maya B. Kronic’s amazing essay on Katamari Damasy and the readymades of Yuji Agematsu; his “clump spirit” of dust-bunnied detritus. They write:
A clump is less than a set, in so far as it is subject not to the selectivity of the concept, but to a principle of universal adhesion (fundamental glomtology) combined with a situatedness and a tempo of accumulation which dictate its singular composition. The clump emerges as a kind of abject eidos, a quintessence via processes of material selection and agglomeration rather than conceptual purgation and generalization — something like the piles of moss, litter, and animal bones that fall through a fissure to cluster on the floor of a cave, invisible except to the most intrepid speleologist capable of fathoming such a ‘bottomless pit’.
Hyperpop feels accumulative in much the same monstrous way. It horrifies some, as a conscious assault on the senses, bringing together all cultural ephemera in a way that capitalism itself tries to, but thus humiliating its own processes. Hyperpop rebuilds heaven from the trash stratum of rave ephemera. Bang Face is its kingdom on earth.
None of this comes to mind at the time, as such. As I wait for others to wake up, I write all this down whilst lying on my sofa bed in the living room of our chalet. I keep adding to it on trains and later sit up all night in my new flat, Color Theory on repeat, filling my new domain with clouds of cigarette smoke diffused by the approaching sunrise. There is no temporality here. In the black of night, neon washes of pure immanence, deep immersion in the maximalist heterotopia, joy in contradiction and incongruity, pure energy flow, bodies moving, hallucinogens, psychedelics, breakbeats, friends, colours, bowel-moving bass and its lingering affects. The words could never have been assembled at the time, but the affinities were already drawn, encapsulated in a minimising slogan of psychedelic consciousness and inarticulate rave mindlessness:
MARK FISHER BABABOOEY.
The phrase is itself an ingenious construction, a hyper-specific proper noun conjugated with a nonsense word of uncertain meaning. Between the certainty of the signifier and the formless affect, sense is eclipsed and colours gloam wordlessly at the edges.