When is a gig not a gig? When it’s a multimedia performance art display…

Viewer / Bastard Structures / Beaumont Hannant – Bar Lane Studios Basement, York, 13th May 2011

The walk through town was hell as I cut my way through drunken weaving tossers in shiny suits and smashed bimbos who’d fled the races in search of more booze, food and amusement. The races might be good for the local economy, but that’s about it. As I headed up Mickelgate through the teaming hoards of plastered fuckwits, I encounter a familiar face. it’s the bearded eccentric techno wizard Tim Wright, one half of York techno should-be legends Viewer.

‘You’re going the wrong way,’ I tell him.

He explains that he needs food and is on a mission, so I wish him luck in his quest and continue onward to the venue. The Bar Lane Studios was, once upon a time, York’s Sony Centre, and I purchased my current stereo, including turntable, from there, back in 1998 or thereabouts. It’s now an art gallery and studio setup, beneath which there’s a basement that’s home to live music, theatre and more. At the door, there’s a cluster of people smoking and chatting, and there emerges a skinny guy with some wicked chops and a bad shirt. it’s AB Johnson, the other half of Viewer. He greets me, but can’t stop: he’s looking a bit vexed, and not without reason. He needs to find Tim to sort an issue with the projectors. Sometimes, there are things even a hundred yards of gaffer tape can’t handle.

I make my way down into the basement, a brilliant space for such an event. It’s a plain and solid rectangle, with bare-brick walls, flagstone floors and not a lot else besides a PA and a temporary bar with four different varieties of Roosters beer on pump. This definitely gets my vote, and by the time I’m halfway down a pint of the Mocha Stout at 4.7% ABV, I’m less concerned about the prospect of one of the projectors stuck to the ceiling falling on my head. There are a fair few people I’m acquainted with present, so I mingle and talk bollocks at them while superstar DJ Beaumont Hannant creates a pleasant ambience.

It’s around 9pm when Tim Wright and his collaborator Theo Burt take up their stations behind their laptops stage right and the venue is plunged into darkness for their Bastard Structures show. It’s not ambient, and nor is it entirely pleasant, and that’s a good thing. Put simply, this is multimedia art at its most absolute: the visuals drive the music, with the shifting shapes actually triggering the sounds, and it’s neatly arranged to alternate between pieces by each artist, interspersed with truly collaborative crossover pieces. Wright’s works are stark and brutal, Merzbow-like walls of noise and dark, penetrative frequencies assailing the aural receptors while harsh strobe effects and black and white images flicker scorch the retinas in the most abrasive, unforgiving fashion. Burt’s pieces contrast well, being lighter, playful even, easier on both eye and ear and more clearly designed for amusement, and the crossover pieces bring the two styles together to dizzying effect. A chap I know later remarked that he enjoyed ‘the fun ones’. Needless to say, I preferred the ones that inflicted pain on my senses and fucked with my head.

Bastard Structures


Time for another pint as I’m working my way down the bar and around the people I’m familiar with, and then Viewer are up. The projections – more brain-bending optical shapes that hypnotise in no time and completely suck you in – provide the perfect backdrop to the duo’s sassy, savvy brand of pulsating techno indie pop.




When I say that Viewer are cynical, I don’t mean calculated or contrived: the lyrics, penned by AB, to songs such as ‘Dumb it Down’, ‘White Noise’ and ‘Sunrise’ are sneering swipes at society, at conformity, at, well, take your pic. Johnson’s vocal style – which falls between Mark E. Smith, and, as another reviewer has suggested, Lou Reed – seems as much at odds with the music as his image and lyrics, and it’s precisely because of these contradictions that Viewer are such an interesting proposition. AB is also a great front man who looks entirely at home on stage – again, in complete contrast to Wright, who lurks in the shadows, hunched over his laptop and remains seated. He knows exactly what he’s doing, of course: namely controlling the thumping beats and solid basslines that provide the foil for Johnson’s quirky delivery and showmanship.




All the while the geometric patterns roll endlessly, searing their shapes into the retinas of the onlookers. It’s a groove alright, and by the time they closed the set with a reprise of ‘Suicide Girl’, my senses were tripping in overdrive.


Viewer – All the Pretty Young Things

Back up on street level, the world had gone mad, with the racegoing revellers wreaking drunken carnage in a shiny-suited remake of one of Hogarth’s scenes. Somehow, as I weaved through the inebriated shouts and squawks, the men standing in shop doorways pissing over their own snakeskin shoes, and the flashing blue lights of approaching police vans and ambulances, the unsettling juxtaposition of two very different sides of life on the same street seemed perfectly apt.


And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk

It’s good to talk…

With a new book forthcoming, a little bit of promotion goes a long way. Stuart, who runs Clinicality Press, suggested we have a chat about From Destinations Set. With the prospect of a couple of free drinks and some free promotional coverage, I wasn’t going to turn the offer down.

The resulting piece, which covers the writing process and the aims of the book, as well as a whole heap of other literary topics and writers who have inspired and influenced Destinations, is an edited, expanded and manipulated historical record of the event. Don’t believe everything you read here.


And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk.

Anti-Everything: A Blogger’s Dilemma

I greatly admire Kathy Acker’s writing, and I greatly admire the attitudes she espoused. I admire her writing because it’s exciting and unconventional and bursting with ideas. I admire her attitudes because she was antagonistic, awkward, challenging and non-conformist. Acceptance for Acker was extremely hard-won. I recently revisited an interview with her, in which she explained her early motivation:

“I took a lot of writing courses when I was in college… They were just torture… I reacted in this kind of this radical anti-authority stance, anti-right rules of writing. I started off by saying ‘no’ to everything. My whole identity as a writer was in saying ‘no’, in reacting. So in my first books I refused to rewrite. I wrote as fast as possible. I refused to have any consideration for proper grammar or proper syntax.”

It’s possible to react without being ‘reactionary,’ and Acker’s opposition to all things ‘establishment’, all things ‘conventional’ is something I’ve long been able to identify with. The establishment and the conventional frustrates me. The world frustrates me. I abhor the herd mentality, the misguided and broadly accepted notion that something must be good because it’s popular, the fact that so much ‘culture’ and so many ‘norms’ are simply accepted because that’s what the masses get fed by the various agents of dissemination. Our education system is flawed because it teaches people what to think, rather than how to think for themselves. Or, as Acker contended, “universities have peculiar transmission problems: they transmit stupidity.” It’s a pretty radical view, but it’s not difficult to see what she was driving at. 

As I’ve grown older, my views haven’t softened: I’ve simply found more evidence to substantiate them, and more cogent ways to articulate them. I’m frustrated at every turn, and as such, my writing, in all its forms, is writing of protest, it’s anti-something, if not absolutely anti-everything. Am I a nihilist? No, because I think that such negativity can be channelled for positive ends.

To return to a favourite analogy of mine, that of literature being the new rock ‘n’ roll, I find it irritating (you’ll probably be seeing the pattern by now) when bands plead with the audience to buy their CD at the merch stall between every song. Sure, plug it by all means, but ramming it down people’s throats is bad form. It’s overkill. It stops the set being about the music, and becomes a sales pitch. The set is an advertisement for the CD in itself. Do writers give readings and break after every page to ask the audience to please please please buy their book so they can get the bus home? Well, perhaps, but it’s rare in the extreme.

Writers do tend to be a lot less shameless by nature, to the extent that many come across as being quite apologetic. This can be similarly frustrating for audiences and people who meet them, for they seem shy, nervous or aloof. In the main, I’m no exception to this rule although I do try to speak confidently when reading in public.

This isn’t something I’ve done a great deal of. I have, so far, based a career on upping the anti, so to speak (yes, that’s wordplay, creative misprision, not a sign of limited literacy). I’ve refrained from using any mugshots on any social networking sites, and divulge very few personal details. I guard my privacy fiercely. I like to think it adds to the mystique, but it’s also a deliberate strategy. On one hand, it means my personal life remains just that, and on the other, it means I’m able to create a persona based around the invisible author. I’m the anti-author, if you like. I’ve done the anti-novel, in the form of THE PLAGIARIST, which is also a statement against originality, authorship and copyright. While producing music reviews ahead of release date, I’ve also written articles against music reviewing, and promoted the concept of retrospective reviewing as a means of combating the popular hyping processes. I’m against organised religion, I’m against CCTV and the countless infringements on personal freedoms. I’m against large corporations taking over the world and I’m against idiots cycling on the pavement. Yes, I’m pretty much anti-everything, to the extent that I’m quite averse to endlessly plugging my writing. Being anti-everything, I’m operating a strategy of anti-promotion.

After years of refusing to give public readings, I recently took a slot at an open mic night and read a couple of short stories, in the interests of (self) promotion. Only, I couldn’t bring myself to reiterate my name at the end of my performance, and I didn’t plug any of my books. Needless to say, I didn’t sell any.

Is this strategy of anti-promotion self-defeating? Perhaps. The trouble is, I get fed up of writers who post three blogs a week about their books, but never actually give anything away. Now, I have posted the odd snippet and link to my published works, but work on the premise that my blogs are separate from my fiction and other writing, and live in the hope that the blogs will pique the interest of readers sufficiently that they might feel compelled to investigate further. It works to an extent, but perhaps not as well as I would like. I’m so averse to plugging my work that many occasional readers probably won’t even realise I have books in print.

So, to redress this, for those who don’t know, I have a number of books out. Earlier this year, I edited Clinical, Brutal… An Anthology of Writing with Guts. It’s choc-full of brilliant works by some truly outstanding contemporary authors. A couple of months ago, Clinicality Press published my novella, From Destinations Set and a booklet, The Gimp. The former is conceivably one of the most progressive and innovative works of the last decade, while the latter is pure, unadulterated in your face (anti)literary filth. They’re all available from Clinicality Press at http://clinicalitypress.co.uk. Go buy ‘em.

(And yes, the title is a Mansun reference…)

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk.

Less is More: Judging a Book By Its Cover

From Destinations Set was a bitch to write. I set out to tackle the problem of presenting two separate yet interweaving simultaneous plots. It was something I had touched on before, in ‘Heading South’ and A Call for Submission. You could say that I was obsessed with simultaneity and pushing the limits of the dual narrative technique for a good year or more. I came up with the idea for From Destinations Set in the summer of 2007 as a submission to Bookworks’ Semina series, and knocked out around twenty pages and roughly planned the rest.

It made the 2008 shortlist in the Spring of that year. Realising that to produce anything like a complete working manuscript would take a lot of time and effort, I pushed on with putting some meat on the bones of the remainder. In the end it wasn’t commissioned (I can’t really grumble: the books that did come out are brilliant), but I was committed to seeing the project to completion. It was seriously hard work. Not so much the contents – although some of that was also extremely challenging – but the formatting. Having previously only produced short bursts of simultaneous narrative, inserted within the main body of the text within text boxes, for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to use the columns setting in Word (and I’m still running 97).

Given that the two stories were to run continuously in left and right columns, it meant I had to write both stories at the same time, and any additions / deletions in one narrative meant I had to match them, almost character for character, in the other.

I was explaining the arduous nature of the process to a friend over a few pints the other week, who asked why I’d not just written the stories separately and then pasted them into two columns in Excel. Now why didn’t I think of that?

So, having completed the manuscript, I touted it round a few publishers who looked like they might take such a brain-bendingly unconventional book, but without success. And so the manuscript languished: I had no desire – nor the technical know-how – to reformat it, and assumed that was that, until Stuart at Clinicality, who I’d mailed a copy of the story to, said he’d cracked it and wanted to publish.

The cover design looks unlike anything my earlier work has been wrapped in, but I do rather like it. While I’m less than keen on minimalist art, as a cover design it’s undeniably striking, and also appropriate, not only to the contradictions of the narratives inside (penned in places in a rather minimalist style, while in others more expansively, and not necessarily confining either style to only one of the two stories), but also the challenges the visual aspects of the text present to the reader. The bold rectangles are very literal representations of the twin columns of the text, and serve as a reminder that Destinations is a very visual text. The placement of the words invites alternative readings: from set destinations, for example. How should the reader approach the physical task of reading the text? One story at a time, a page at a time, cross-column to create a real-time cut-up in the mind? Any and all of these are quite viable options. There are more than simply two stories, and more than two readings here.

To further the sense of variability, the pages in the printed version are unnumbered. As such, the text is complex enough, without the need for a busy or complex cover. Moreover, ‘modernism’ and ‘futurism’ are now historical, and the cover lends it something of a ‘vintage’ feel (I’m personally reminded of Breakthrough by Konstantin Raudive, published in 1971, a remarkable book in every way: http://www.colinsmythe.co.uk/books/brere.htm). Given that Destinations is in many ways concerned with he ‘future’ of narrative and issues of (dis)location in time / space, a cover that drew inspiration from retro representation of futures now past, seemed particularly appropriate. The book is both retro and of the future, and therefore not of any one time, or of any time other than that of its own making.

And in case you’re wondering, the title is a line from the song ‘Double Dare’ by Bauhaus, which is fitting not only because of the ‘double’ narrative, but because a key element of the stories is the sense of the characters’ actions being ‘steered.’ Ostensibly, someone else is writing – and rewriting – their scripts. As such, the writing process is a part of the story: but who is writing the writer? ‘Don’t back away just yet / From destinations set.’ As if they had any choice in the matter.

From Destinations Set is out on Clinicality Press on Monday 2nd August. Here are the opening pages by way of a taster:



British Surrealism in Context: A Collector’s Eye: Leeds Art Gallery

Surrealist artwork seems to divide people in quite a pronounced fashion, often for quite obvious reasons. Personally, I often find the concepts are more interesting than the executions, although for those who are interested in painting but dismiss Dali I would always recommend viewing some of his paintings first hand. There can be little denying his technical abilities, if nothing else.

Anyway, I was curious to see what this collection of lesser-known works by lesser-known Surrealists had to offer in terms of providing a broader vista beyond the big guns who’ve been absorbed into popular culture (while also being interested to see the Magritte sketches being displayed). The exhibition is, in fact, a private collection being publicly displayed. Having attended an exhibition of Surrealist Art in 1986, Ruth and Jeffrey Sherwin became fascinated by what they saw, and they subsequently accumulated what is said to be the largest private collection of Surrealist art in the country.

So, like any personal collection, this exhibition reflected the owners’ tastes, and as such, it’s reasonable to anticipate a degree of homogeneity even if the individual has eclectic tastes. This is certainly true of the Sherwin’s collection. In itself, this is no bad thing, but many elements of the exhibition left me rather frustrated. For starters, it’s not brilliantly laid out – something which is true of much of Leeds Art gallery in general. It’s not even immediately obvious in which room – or rooms, for there are two, but the lack of signs doesn’t make this readily apparent either – the exhibition is in. The pictures are often cramped together, and the words that accompany them vary wildly in terms of the amount of information given. Worse still, many of the tags are poorly written, and are positioned in such a way as to be unclear as to which picture is which.

The area devoted to the ‘Bruno hat’ hoax was informative and well-executed, while the wall devoted to Conroy Maddox was perhaps the strongest and most interesting area of the exhibition in visual terms. However, the labelling system really didn’t correspond, with the number of pictures on the wall not even matching the number of labels. A small detail in many respects, but frustrating nevertheless.

Perhaps if I’d done more research in advance, I’d have been more aware of just how much Surrealist work has been produced in the last 30 years or so, but then, it’s nice to learn something new. Unfortunately, much of the later work is largely derivative, and is either too self-consciously ‘Surreal’ in its use of the juxtaposed and the incongruous, or veers into abstraction. Indeed, taken as a whole, the collection seems to illustrate precisely why the big names of Surrealism eclipse the rest so dramatically, and I’d include Desmond Morris in the list of those eclipsed. Henry Moore, meanwhile, was well-represented, but isn’t primarily associated with Surrealism, and, besides, his work isn’t exactly hard to come by in the North of England.

Still, another problem caused by the organisation was that some of the more significant pieces – such as Kurt Schwitters’ collage piece, which measures approximately 12” x 8” – were easily missed. Situated at the very end and by the door out, it’s both the archetype of Surrealism and remarkably contemporary-looking. However, beneath it is another small collage, very similar in execution, which happens to be an early work by Damien Hirst. It’s strange to think that one of these pieces is likely to have a value vastly greater than the other, particularly when considering that it’s the less original and significantly later piece that would command the higher price.

Pondering this on my departure, I was left feeling not so much disappointed, but mildly bemused by the exhibition as a whole. Which was perhaps only fitting.

The exhibition ends 1st November… but there’s always plenty going on at Christophernosnibor.co.uk!