A Note on Ed Fornieles and Unconsciousness Raising

Last night, as part of the new day job, I was at a talk given by Ed Fornieles at London’s Anise Gallery.

Giving an impressively cogent overview of his “post-internet” art works to date, I found an intriguing thread connecting two works in particular that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about overnight.

The first work was a “performance” — or “Facebook LARP” — called Dorm Daze for which Fornieles scraped the Facebook data of American college students to construct a community of fictitious characters before documenting their interactions together over a period of time and constructing a twisted coming-of-age drama out of the results.

The second, much more recent work, was Cel — a similarly intensive performance work that lasted 72 hours in which participants were invited to adopted hyper-aggressive patriarchal characters and archetypes drawn from personality profiles scraped from the likes of 4chan and Reddit. The participants would embody these personas completely for the duration of their time enclosed in a cell constructed in Fornieles’ studio.

With a rigorous system of subtle communication for the giving and acknowledging of consent, Fornieles described Cel as a sort of inversion of “second-wave feminist discourses”.

With this in mind, it seemed like each work took on the form of a kind of Artaudian consciousness raising session through which oppressions and violences were acknowledged and considered not through their open and collective discussion but through the open and collective performance of their affects. (You can read more about the project here.)

I asked Ed a question after the talk about the implications of what appears to be a form of unconsciousness raising — something I explored here previously in my posts on Westworld.

With the talk being organised as part of the School of Speculation‘s summer school public lecture programme and orbiting the school’s dedication to “critical design”, there was a sense in which the typical use of these social media platforms — or, indeed, real life spaces — were being used to explore the sorts of “defacialisation” that Mark Fisher would write about.

I wondered to what extend he saw these experiments and explorations of contemporary cruelty and community having an impact on not only how we think about the spaces we inhabit online but also how we might design new ones.

Fornieles has already explored these implications in other art works — particularly Babble and Truth Table for which he has designed such alternative systems of communication — but did not have an immediate answer to what was, admittedly, an enormous question.

So, those questions remains — what are the broader implications of using social media in this way and, even, designing social media platforms that actively undermine the performative Self-consolidation of the likes of Facebook? What is it to actively use technologically to deconstruct and perforate your own sense of self?

Fornieles’ work is, I think, the best attempt I’ve seen at answering these questions, and it gets terrifyingly close with providing us with answers that we might not yet be entirely ready for…

AUDINT at Tate Modern

Great evening at Tate Modern on Friday for the AUDINT Unsound:Undead book launch. Two hours of lectures, exorcisms, speculations, rituals, evocations and lamentations.

Shout out to that lad who showed up in a bootlegged Fanged Noumena t-shirt — a brave sartorial decision (and that’s saying something for a Tate Modern doo).

I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker

Kathy Acker is someone I’ve been meaning to read for a while. I have long known of her work, her reputation, but I’ve only ever read short pieces or heard about her by proxy.

If I’m honest, I’ve always associated her with a certain American intellectual tradition of writing that wanted to ride the transgression wave over the Atlantic from France but in a way that felt largely performative and ineffectual…

The Semiotext(e) crowd. Enamoured by the French but too American to immerse themselves fully in that otherness — that internal otherness.

And yet, here, today, wandering around the retrospective of Acker’s work at London’s ICA, I am fascinated to discover I could not have been more wrong and more right.

Upstairs, in the final room of the exhibition, there is a vitrine which shows off an interview with Acker in On Our Backs, a magazine for the “Adventurous Lesbian”, in which Acker recalls her first foray into trying to get her work published.

Working as a stripper, travelling from club to club with a car full of girls, she writes down all their stories, retelling each one in the first person so as to appear less like “a sociologist”. Sending them to a prose magazine editor on the recommendation of some friends, she eventually receives a response that declares she “should be in an insane asylum!”

It was this, says Acker, that began her fascination with schizophrenia and the literary power of “I”.

This interview is the last thing read in the exhibition, buried in the last room, but I already felt that fascination. Not just in reading Acker’s “I” but feeling it resonate with the dreams I’ve long had for my own.

In the first room of the exhibition, she tells the story of her life. Dates chronicle a beginning of teenage angst cut up with diary entries from 1777 recalling her imprisonment in Vincennes. A Sadeian woman indeed. Not that this biographical fragment is cited with any reference made to its source. No, because she is de Sade.

And I’m shocked. Here I am reading Kathy Acker for what feels like the first time on the walls of a gallery space but I already know her. She’s the embodiment of my own bookshelf. Every which way I look I see cuttings from Bataille, Deleuze, Iriguray, Blanchot, Burroughs, Kristeva, Quin.

But Bataille more than anyone. He reverberates out of the walls and yet is also so buried. Because everything is Acker. Pointing to the men and women that lie in her literary wake says nothing of their obliteration at the hands of her “I”.

I think about Nick Land’s Thirst for Annihilation:

For it is remarkable how degraded a discourse can become when it is marked by the obsessive reiteration of the abstract ego, mixing arrogance with pallid humility. The chronic whine that results — something akin to a degenerated reverberation from Dostoyevsky’s underground man — is the insistence of a humanity that has become an unbearable indignity. ‘I’ am (alone), as the tasteless exhibition of an engogenous torment, as the betrayal of communication, as a festering wound, in which the monadic knitting of the flesh loses itself in a mess of pus and scabs, etc. etc. … (You yawn of course, but I continue.)

There is a video upstairs which shows Acker along with a host of other women discussing a new trend for tattoos, branding and scarification amongst women. Women who seem, on the surface, to be “respectable” and “normal”, hiding histories of abuse and mistreatment and malignment. Perhaps they have already learned to self-harm in order to cope. And yet here, ritualised communal exercises in pain and healing demonstrate a powerful reclaiming of their narratives. It is the epitome of a Freudian expedition beyond the pleasure principle through communication with your fellow woman.

Acker herself appears strung up in the white cube, literary barbs piercing her flesh, her bookshelf ripping her apart. Jesus wept. But we are nonetheless present for the writing of her disaster.

I think this is the subconscious reason why I have avoided her for so long. Now that we have met, I feel like I have always known her. I’m left wondering what else there is to add? She embodies — fully, wholly, entirely — a spirit that has long been the engine for my own writing.

Acker’s form of schizophrenia is at once hers and all of ours. Or, at least, most specifically, every American’s. It’s what has fascinated me about American history so much over the last year. It is a mentality that feels wedded to the American penchant for culturally absorbing the world.

It is this that Acker embodies, for better and for worse. The American. And now it crashes on the shore of her utter encapsulation.

And where can you possibly go from there? Where can I go? After Kathy Acker?

Apparently, I need to ask Chris Kraus. Perhaps then I’ll reevaluate by default cynicism regarding the Semiotext(e) set.

Most Dismal Swamp

There’s something really exciting happening in London at the moment. Seemingly disparate threads are entangling. Something is coalescing.

Two years ago, when I first moved down to this city, the best nights in town always took place in a squat in Elephant & Castle. Squeezing through a heavily padlocked door and into the basement of a makeshift venue, I felt like I saw so many of the best DJs this city has to offer and who are now defining a new energy within it.

This isn’t a “scene” as such and those parties are not where it all began but the spreading of connections on- and offline has been palpable ever since. These nights were just one part of that. Now, everyone seemingly knows everyone else and some incredible things are emerging from these energetic collisions in the night around London’s unofficial underground.

From this underground, various groups have emerged into the light. DJ collective SIREN have been the most present, a video installation shown at Somerset House late last year shining a light on various individuals who had previously appeared in these dank spaces. Since then, it seems the spotlight has shifted and brought wider attention to other incredibly talented people.

At the end of last month, I was talking about this sense of momentum with Jennifer Walton whilst sat outside Dream Bags & Jaguar Shoes in Shoreditch before the launch party for new occultural hub Most Dismal Swamp. Her new EP, out on the label very soon, is incredible.

Although I missed the opening of Swamp Protocal at Arebyte Gallery, the label launch party in the Shoreditch basement — featuring sets from Anni Nöps, Astrid Gnosis, Exploited Body, Iceboy Violet, Jennifer Walton, and Mang — was an amazing night.

Beyond this, Most Dismal Swamp, even prior to its official launch, has already caught the attention of a lot of people as being a new node drawing in the energies of so many talented people.

If you’re not already, keep an eye on them. They are a powerful node which, for me, has given an appropriate name to something very special emerging from a city on the edge: a most dismal swamp-thing indeed.

The Outsideness of George Michael

There’s nothing here but flesh and bone
There’s nothing more, nothing more
There’s nothing more
Let’s go outside
Dancing on the d-train baby

“Let’s go outside” was the call that echoed across the office on Wednesday, midmorning. Spring sunshine was coming through the windows of the oppressively air-conditioned office and winter germs were still lingering in clouds around nonetheless professionally decontaminated desks. You didn’t need to ask twice.

My manager, running late, had passed The George Michael Collection at Christie’s the other morning and suggested our department all go, for no reason other than it might be interesting. I said, halfway through an important email, perhaps a little too loudly, “Fuck it!”, and grabbed my coat, happy to have an excuse to leave the stifling office.

I found myself quite pleasantly surprised by the whole thing. It was enthralling. I’ve been to art fairs before and even auction houses but nothing quite like this. As nauseating as the posh hoards can be, the day is often justified by the spectacle of some old duchess gazing into the cosmic arsehole of an abstract expressionist painting and declaring, “Oh I never in my life thought I’d see you again!” What decadent depravities those eyes must have seen…

This was very much the vibe of the George Michael Collection and it might have been one of the most surreal art-viewing experiences I’ve ever had. A survey of ’90s British art, for the most part, largely produced by the YBAs, soundtracked by George Michael’s greatest hits. There were giant images of George Michael himself scattered throughout the “exhibition” with vultures everywhere buying up the dead man’s possessions in this glittering mausoleum. This isn’t a comment made entirely cynically — so much of the artwork collected was about death, it was hard not to come away with that feeling.

Having wandered around for a while, I eventually found myself hypnotised by the mutated cock on the face of a Chapman brothers Bellmer-esque monstrosity, my eyes glazing over to the sounds of “Careless Whisper“. I thought about how differently I imagined my day would unfold when I woke up this morning.


Another archive retrieval.

Back in 2015, I went to this ceramics exhibition at the National Museum in Cardiff called Fragile? 

The last room of the exhibition was home to Keith Harrison’s installation Mute which consisted of a giant wall of speakers attached to two turntables.

Each of the speakers had a ceramic disc attached to its front and the idea was that, over the course of the exhibition, you could watch the deterioration of these ceramics plates through sound.

On the wall behind the turntables there were lots of records you could use to abuse the speakers for yourself. Jazz worked best, apparently. Brass timbres seemed to do a lot of damage.

I wanted to find out for myself so, one Sunday during the unusually hot Welsh summer, I decided to cycle over with a record bag and play some of my noisiest records for a hour. I think its the most fun I had all year.

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.

Picture Wizard

As I have repeatedly mentioned on Xenogothic — perhaps one day to my peril — there have been many blogs in my life prior to this one. The longest running blog I’ve had was a 5-year photoblog which I culled in a deep depression at the start of 2016 and, despite the occasional lacklustre attempt, it never got started again. There were a few abortive attempts at writing-only blogs and some that were more hybridised between text and image but they never really worked out. Then Xenogothic was born and it feels like the best platform I’ve ever built for myself online.

Before that, however, I used to call myself “Picture Wizard”…


The sentiment of this blog, despite appearances, was very much the same as Xenogothic. It was an attempt to document the occasional vibrancy and humour and beauty of our “boring dystopia”. A diary of the few things that would make me happy throughout an otherwise hollow and melancholic existent. I really fucking loved that blog.

More recently, as Xenogothic has settled into its own rhythm, and I have become less paranoid and reluctant to associate my meatself with my cyberself, I’ve started to feel less bitter about the bridges burned with these former selves, and Picture Wizard was such a long-running labour of joy that it would be a shame not to let some of these projects that I’m most proud of slip back in under this moniker.

On this old photoblog, I used to collect up all the best photos from each year and make them into print-on-demand books. I’ve tried to post a few things like this on Xenogothic here and here — but they are few and far between because, much to my own disappointment, I’m out of the habit of taking photos every day.

But I’m still really proud of these books. They encapsulate the love I had for looking at things that I refused to let my undergraduate degree take away from me. Rather than unlearn stuff later on, I decided to double-down on this enthusiasm and let it guide me, unpretentiously, letting photography be a way of processing the world like any other, not wanting it to be infected by a egotistical romanticism that came to define a lot of my peers. (My post-postgrad existence feels driven very much by the same wonderfully aimless energy.)

As a result, I never did make much of a go at being a “professional” photographer — although I had a few fun experiences in that industry, working at music festivals most memorably — but, very much in line with the ethos of this blog, I thought: why should I try and shape what I was doing for the sake of an exhibition when I could just do what I wanted on my blog? I don’t care about impressing people. I just wanna express myself. *hair flip*

The problem with this is that, if people think you’re nonchalant about monetising your work, they won’t hesitate to do so for their own gain. I had my photographic fingers burnt a few times…

These Picture Wizard annuals became a way of addressing this. The blog was added to with fervour and enthusiasm but, at the end of each year, I would take all the images and edit them rigorously into a cohesive sequence over many months, creating a vibrant visual journey that takes you through 12 months’ worth of form and colour.

There are two volumes in this series, documenting 2013 and 2014 respectively, and I remain immensely proud of them. A sequence for the third was completed but the cover art never got finished and then it fell into archive dormancy. Maybe I’ll get it out one day. Whilst my Blurb account is still live, Picture Wizard #01 #02 might as well be allowed to migrate over here as a glimpse into a past life when I took 1000s of pictures a week rather than writing 1000s of words.

You can see flick-through videos of the books and links to their pages on my Blurb shop over on my now-updated Books & Zines page.