Sellout! Notes Reflecting on Retail Island

I’m at a stage where promoting my writing feels beyond me, and I certainly don’t expect there to be a plethora of reviews and interview requests surrounding the publication of my new book, my first proper work of fiction and first output of any sustained length in a full five years. This explanation, apology, dissective reflection, whatever it may be, is likely to be as close to getting under the skin of a book that developed in two distinct but equally difficult phases as will happen.

Not so long ago in real terms – two years ago, maybe – I was working on three projects simultaneously: a concise but monograph-length academic work on postmodernism, a long, long exploratory novel, and a story that was partly inspired by JG Ballard’s later works, but primarily by the bleak landscape surrounding the office space my job had recently located to. Within a few months of the relocation, the inspiration for the latter work proved to the cause for all three projects to ultimately halt.

The venue depicted in Retail Island as The Orchard Carvery was the place where a number of sections, particularly in the early stages, were written, and the mind-numbing dialogue I found myself transcribing in the name of making art that was credible and close to life proved to be a major contributor to my creativity – such as it was – drying up. Having transferred from a town-centre office close to my home, to an out-of-town office in a location almost identical to that in which the book is set, a full hour’s journey away, I found my mornings starting earlier and my evenings starting later, but, worst of all, whereas I had once had access to pubs and coffee shops where I could write, there was only the carvery as an option for lunchtime writing. Increasingly, I found myself either walking to Asda or WHS Smith or Sainsbury’s for something to do over the course of a 20-minute lunch break, or otherwise failing to leave my desk or taking any kind of break at all.

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At what point does enlisting a friend to help cross the boundary into an abuse of power? This was a question I began asking myself after I received a promotion. Finding myself managing a team, I charged one of my staff with the task of making sure I took a lunch break. Was it wrong? This question would ultimately resurface in the writing, which, in hindsight, only became possible once enforced lunch breaks came into effect. I’m aware that assigning ‘tasks’ is in a different league from parading one’s cock, but in a climate whereby I’ve been subjected to the opinion that performing a piece about suicidal self-loathing without a trigger warning is more or less the same as committing rape, I’ve found myself questioning even my most basic assumptions. Given the graphic nature of some scenes – and again, given events over the course of the last few months – I even began to doubt whether it was right to publish. But the function of art is to challenge. Art that does not challenge is merely entertainment. As such, I make no apologies.

Retail Island is in no way autobiographical. I cannot stress this enough. As with many of my works, it’s an exercise, and an idea taken to its (il)logical conclusion. A serious, Ballard-influenced dystopia set in a parallel present on the one hand, it’s also rich in irony and parody, and is not a work designed to be taken as seriously as its surface suggests. The ‘love interest’ strand is simply my exploiting convention, and the apparent lack of irony in its execution is, in fact, a double irony.

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Initially, my new job made writing impossible. I was exhausted, anxietised, immersed in the job. The new role brought with it a lot more stress and anxiety for minimal financial reward. With lunch breaks resumed, I ultimately returned to writing, both lunchtimes and evenings, and the project which had stalled at around the 3,600 word-mark began to flow, and I chiselled out the remaining 27,000 words in under three months. During this time, I found myself again, at least to an extent. I stepped back from the precipice of being a corporate machine, and reclaimed my mantle of being a writing machine. But the elation of production was tinged with the guilt of advantage.

On resuming writing, I remembered that I tend to work best when I have an audience, someone – or some people – I can sling chunks of text to by email, as they emerge. It’s less about feedback (and certainly not about validation) than about targets in some vague way. Most of the books I’ve written have been produced to tight, self-imposed, constraints. THE PLAGIARIST had to contain 200 pages of text and be completed inside three months. Because. A number of other works evolved because I promised – half-joking – to send various people either a page of text or 500 words a day. Perhaps it ties in with my other jobs, as a corporate whore and a music reviewer: give me a deadline and I’ll work to it. And I’ll deliver. So, on finding a willing recipient for regular instalments of my work-in-progress, Retail Island grew quickly. I spent less time thinking, and more time writing. And more time writing meant less time focusing on the causes and symptoms of my stress and anxiety – something else which fed into the book as the protagonist finds himself increasingly tormented by anxiety.

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This again is something that’s played into my daily life. I’ve suffered from stress and anxiety. I still do. It’s become apparent that a number of people I now manage do, too. I’m increasingly aware of everyday mental health issues, and I’m also one of the worst at dealing with my own. But, moving on…

Retail Island is in no way autobiographical, but the characters and locations are real. Or versions of people and places which are real. I find it easier to write people and places I can visualise.

A large portion of my posts on various websites, including my own, as well as on social media and the sites of lit zines who interviewed or published me in the past have disappeared without trace over the last decade, but those that remain will likely attest that I’ve long advocated the practise of ‘write what you know’. This isn’t a stance against imagination: it’s just that personally, I find it easier to acquire details of a dismal office location while working in a dismal office, and to decorate a low-budget, lowest-common-denominator carvery with detail while frequenting a low-budget, lowest-common-denominator carvery.

For me, life will inevitably inform my art, and it was ever thus. So, for better or worse, a number of characters – a couple in particular – resemble people I know or otherwise work alongside. Their physical characteristics and various quirks, not to mention other details only they will recognise, have been woven into the fabric of their fictional counterparts. This is something I have done throughout my writing career, and no, the subjects aren’t always aware, often for reasons apparent. But Retail Island is a sci-fi novel, at least in the Ballardian sense. As such, the characters are largely ciphers and cardboard cut-outs: they are vehicles and tropes, and not designed to carry emotional resonance. As such, even those based on people I know and like are subject to a distancing, a detachment. These are not the people I know: these are characters, and delineated, two-dimensional ones at that.

To return to the question of power and its abuse: this has long been a topic of interest: having never had any tangible power previously, I’ve always been at the receiving end of any abuse – not ‘bad’ abuse, but the kind of abuse which keeps a person down. I now have a small degree of power. I’m mindful not to abuse it, but there’s always a risk – especially in the current climate – that an off-the-cuff comment could lead to trouble. What do you do?

For the record, I do not work at a pharmaceutical company. But I do work in an office, and like any office, it’s riven with sexual tension. This, paired with the power debate, prompted one of the narrative threads before the whole Harvey Weinstein thing broke. I don’t know if it now looks like I’m trying to cash in on the zeitgeist here, or simply being exploitative. But some of the interactions I have witnessed – none nearly as extreme as the majority of scenes depicted in Retail Island – have made me scrutinise what goes on in workplace environments, and what people accept despite feeling uncomfortable.

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I have a broad guideline for writing: observe everything, then leave 85% out. I adhered to this while composing Retail Island. The omissions provided space for the fiction. And beneath a more serious, genre-sculpted work than my previous efforts, all of the elements which featured previously are still present, just in a different form.

The use of repetition is much more subtle than in several of my previous works: instead of replicating phrases and scenes wholesale, a la Stewart Home (in turn appropriating Richard Allen) the repetitions are more narrative-based, with scenes and ideas seemingly looping, with a view to creating a sense of temporal dislocation. Think Alain Robbe-Grillet, perhaps. In keeping with the way the central character, Robert Ashton, feels he is constantly stonewalled and making no progress, so the narrative continually returns the reader to appoint of stasis and frustration.

As with all of my works, despite possessing a linear narrative and adhering broadly to many literary conventions, genre trappings and all (I’ve completely avoided any form of cut-up here), the ultimate aim of Retail Island is frustration (to a greater or lesser extent). But hopefully, the brutal violence, gratuitously detailed sex scenes (which are actually integral to the plot as it happens), and explosions will provide enough entertainment to counter the frustration.

Retail Island is published by Clinicality Press on 1 January 2018. It’s available to order now via THIS LINK.

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Primitive Race – Soul Pretender

3 November 2017

Christiopher Nisnibor – Chistopher Nosnibor

Primitive Race emerged through a collaborative release with Raymond Watts’ cult techno / industrial vehicle PIG in 2015, which was swiftly followed by an eponymous debut album. Conceived by Lords Of Acid manager / executive producer Chris Kniker, the band’s first iteration featured Graham Crabb (Pop Will Eat Itself), Erie Loch (LUXT, Blownload, Exageist), and Mark Thwaite (Peter Murphy, Tricky, Gary Numan), with a vast roll-call of guest contributors including Tommy Victor (Prong, Ministry, Danzig), Dave “Rave” Ogilvie (Skinny Puppy, Jackalope), Kourtney Klein (Combichrist, Nitzer Ebb), Mark “3KSK” Brooks (Warlock Pinchers, Foreskin 500, Night Club), Josh Bradford (RevCo, Stayte, Simple Shelter), and Andi Sex Gang. As such, they set out their stall as not so much a supergroup, but an industrial uber-collective, and Primitive Race captured that essence perfectly.

Soul Pretender marks a dramatic shift in every way. This is not an ‘industrial’ album. If anything, it’s a grunge album. That’s no criticism: it’s simply a statement of fact.

And while Primitive Race was by no means light on hooks or choruses, Soul Pretender is overtly commercial in comparison. Again, it’s no criticism, but simply a statement of fact.

It’s a common mistake made by critics to posit a negative critique based on what an album isn’t, without really taking into account the aims and objectives which made the album the album it is. So: ‘technoindustrial supergroup make an album that isn’t technoindustrial therefore it’s shit’ is wrong from the very outset.

Kniker makes no bones about the shift: Primitive Race was always intended to be a collaborative vehicle, and with former Faith No More singer Chuck Mosley on lead vocals and Melvins drummer Dale Crover on board, it was inevitable that Soul Pretender would have a different feel.

There’s a warped, Melvins / Mr Bungle vibe about the verse of the opener, ‘Row House, which is centred around a classic cyclical grunge riff that shift between chorus and overdrive on the guitar, and the 90s vice carries into the melodic ‘Cry Out,’ which is centred around three descending chords in the verse, erupting into a chorus that’s pure Nevermind Nirvana. And that’s no bad thing: it’s a great pop-influenced alt-rock tune with a belting chous.

The excessive guitar posturing on ‘Take It All’ is less impressive as a listening experience than on a technical level, but it’s soon blown away by the sneering ‘Bed Six’, with its chubby riffage and overall thrust.

The title track is perhaps the perfect summary of the album as a whole: uplifting four-chord chugs and a monster chorus are uplifting and exhilarating, and ‘Nothing to Behold’ works the classic grunge dynamic with a sinewy guitar and melodic hook. In fact, ‘classic’ is a key descriptor while assessing the compositional style of Soul Pretender: there isn’t a dud track on it, and the songrwiting is tight. There may not be any immediate standouts, but the consistency is impressive, and in that department, it’s a step up from its predecessor, which packed some crackers, but a handful of more middling tunes. Again, the change in methodology – a static lineup rather than infinite collaborators – is likely a factor here.

The album’s lack track, ‘Dancing on the Sun’, is a slow-burn beast, with hints of ‘Black Hole Sun’ trodden beneath the heft and swagger of Queens of the Stone Age. It’s precisely the track in which an album should end, nodding to the epic and marking an optimal change of pace. And it’s in reflecting on the overall structure and shape of Soul Pretender that it’s possible to reflect on what a great album it is, with its back-to-back riffery and explosive choruses. And did I mention force…

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Great Concepts That Were Never Going to Work

I consider myself to be something of an ideas person. I also like to think that I’m reasonably disciplined, however, and thus able to bring a reasonable percentage of my ideas to fruition, although often this takes a lot longer than I’d like, largely on account of time constraints, but also on account of my own limitations, technical and otherwise. Indeed, some projects I have to shelve simply because I can’t master the technology to do the concept justice and I either don’t know anyone who might be willing or able to collaborate, or I’m simply too stubborn and controlling to relinquish the control necessary to collaborate. C’est la vie.

Anyway, I probably complete around half of the projects I begin, and these in turn represent around a quarter of the ideas I have. As I said, often, there simply isn’t time. However, on other occasions, it’s immediately apparent that the idea’s a non-starter. Take, for example, my idea to assemble a gay tribute to the Bomfunk MCs. It would have been called the Bumfuck MCs. But this was scuppered when I discovered that no-one could remember the band, or their immense pan-European hit, ‘Freestyler.’ Then I realised that I only knew the one song anyway, so dropped the idea before placing any ‘wanted’ ads.

I’ve also had some fantastic never-going-to-happen concepts for television programmes, which I’ve also decided it’s probably best not to pursue. Here are just a few of them.

Bollyoaks: Indian remake of hit UK soap Hollyoaks. Phil Redmond could never have devised this, with his obsession with Scouse-tinged supposed realism! Yes, all-singing, all-dancing, huge budget and mammoth caste as teenagers and twentysomethings go through the trials and tribulations of parental break-ups, gay snogging, pub brawls, dodgy wheeling and dealing, nightclub fires and all the rest.

West Side Story: A gangsta rap remake of the hit musical. There are thuggins and muggins, shootins and knifins innit, and there’s a guy an a gal and she’s got a booty to die for but she’s from the wrong side of the tracks, you know what I’m sayin? The title, of course, should be delivered with arms folded, and pronounced ‘Wesssiiide Story,’ you get me?

Never Mind the Bollocks… Here’s a Pop Quiz: a former yoof TV presenter selected at random from the dole queue hosts a quiz where 2 panels comprised of musicians and comedians answer questions on pop trivia instead of a half-hour of digressions punctuated with abysmal renditions of ‘intros’ of semi-popular songs.

Gash in the Attic: Lorne Spicer and an ‘expert’ go round to people’s houses and hunt around until they find hidden treasure in the form of sex slaves and prostitutes hidden in the loft or garage. They’re then checked out and taken to auction, where they are trafficked to the highest bidding pimp.

X Marks the Spot Factor: Like a talent competition for the talentless, where wannabes perform karaoke to a panel of judges and the viewers get to cast their votes for who goes through to the next round. The winner gets to release a terrible cover version as a single, before being ritually slaughtered and buried in an unmarked grave. The people who voted for them have to then search for them, using a pirate-style map, where X marks the spot. The person who finds the ‘treasure’ then gets to dig up the corpse and resurrect it and the career of the deceased ‘star.’

Come Die With Me: Each week, five suicidal misanthropes take turns to throw a dinner party. The host poisons the food, and they all die. The winning contestant is presented with a grand, in cash, on a silver platter, toward funeral costs.

Mollusc of the Glen: A drama series set in the highlands of Scotland which focuses on a clan of mussels that swim from the Clyde upstream to a fictional castle in a fictional location with an absurd and incredible name. Alex Salmon makes a guest appearance in one episode, in which he attempts to mussel in on leading lady Shelly, while Salmon Rushdie has a cameo in another, despite not being Scottish. But then neither are the majority of the regular actors, who can’t act anyway.

Neighbours at War: Live from the border of Israel and Gaza!

American Idle: Couch Potatoes with a yearning for celebrity status countered by a complete lack of motivation to do anything but gorge themselves, sit around eating chips and burgers and drinking beer. The winner receives a year’s supply of Domino’s Pizza, an extra-large couch and a reinforced bed.

Christopher Nosnibor’s Guide to Being a Music Reviewer – Part Seven: Negative Equity for Working? No Thanks!

I’ve written previously on the economics of the music industry and some of my experiences working as a music reviewer. And yes, I do mean working: just because I enjoy it, doesn’t mean there isn’t a considerable amount of time and effort involved. There are deadlines and word counts and chaser emails from editors and PR people. And there are standards to maintain.

I recall the Musicians’ Union campaigning against venues with ‘pay to play’ policies back in the 90s, and this practice does now appear to be rather less prevalent. There’s also currently a substantial movement campaigning on behalf of workers – writers and artists in particular – with a view to prevent exploitation, and to stop people being pushed into working for free. While zero-hours contracts – and I’d like to think it goes without saying I’m fundamentally opposed to them – have been a hot topic of late, the vast swathes of people working for free, ‘for the exposure’ or to ‘build their portfolio’ as they’re so often told, have been largely overlooked.

I write music reviews. It’s not my day-job, because writing music reviews at the level I operate doesn’t pay. I’m ok with that. I used to spend a lot of money buying albums and going to watch bands play. Now I don’t. But I am still very active in supporting, and, effectively promoting music. I spend long hours typing up reviews. I’ve spent a decade straight doing this now. I’ve seen some incredible shows, conducted some hero-worship interviews and heard more amazing albums than I could have ever imagined. But churning out up to 1,000 words a night and working past midnight seven nights a week on top of a challenging day-job and parenting means it is very much for the love rather than the money. But I view it rather like bartering: I receive an album or entry to show in exchange for writing which may further the artist’s career. I feel no guilt over this, especially if an artist has hired a PR company: their job is to attract media coverage by sending representatives of said media copies of the album or inviting them to shows in the hope that they’ll provide coverage which is positive. A positive review is, ultimately, marketing and promotion. If a PR fails to attract significant media attention, then they’ve arguably failed in their job. But they still get paid. It’s not necessarily their fault if the press don’t bite. But of course, if they do, then the PR has done a good job, justified the expense, and probably helped shift some units.

So why would an artist or label undermine this? I recently experienced an unusual and frustrating situation, where a local (sort of) band I like launched their new album, at a venue I like, promoted by a national PR I’ve been in contact with for quite some time. The gig came to me via the editor of a site, and it was he who arranged it with the PR. On arrival at the venue, I was informed that I was on the list, but that it was a ‘cheap rates’ list, rather than an actual guest list.

I accept that things sometimes go wrong, that communication chains break from time to time: the guest list doesn’t get passed to the guy on the door, or your name hasn’t been added to it, or you’re not marked as having a +1. It can be embarrassing. But there’s no point making life hard for the guy on the door: he’s just doing his job (even if often they’re not interested in being shown the email confirming that you’re on the list with a +1, because, well, you could be anyone and besides, there’s a queue of people with actual tickets to deal with).

Music reviewers are often accused of freeloading, of being liggers – an accusation I’ve faced myself. But as a writer, I’m not getting something for nothing: my side of the deal is to actually produce copy in exchange for my free pass. Do other journalists face the same criticism? Can you imagine a news journalist being told ‘you like news, you should write news articles for free’? Or, to offer a slightly different perspective, imagine a producer pitching to Jamie Oliver, ‘well, you enjoy cooking, so why should I pay you for your time to do it on TV? It’s just a hobby, right?’

Let’s look at this in terms of the broader picture. People usually work for an hourly rate, or otherwise on a by-job basis. The minimum wage in England is £7.50 for over 25s. I’m way over 25. So, if I arrive at a gig having been informed by a PR firm hired by a band or label that I’m on the guest list for a show, with a +1, I should be able to reasonably expect that I will be allowed entry to the event as a non-paying guest, with the expectation that I will provide coverage and therefore media exposure for said artist. Because, after all, my review is work.

If it’s only a £6 gig, and it lasts 4 hours and takes me 2 hours to write my review, then I’m working for well below minimum wage. But I accept that, it’s the nature of an industry in which there is no money once you’re below the top 5%. But to arrive at a show to be told that no, I’m on the ‘discount ticket’ list and that I have to pay £4 to get in… well, that’s different. It may sound petty to piss and moan about paying £4 to get into a £6 gig up the road from your house, but it’s not actually about £4. It’s about the fact I’m expected to pay to provide a band or event with exposure.

You wouldn’t hire a web developer and ask them to pay to build you a website, would you? Or tell your builder that you’re going to charge him to build an extension? How many would walk into a restaurant and tell the chef he’s got to pay you to cook a meal? So why would it be different for a music reviewer?

I accept the depressing reality that we live in a culture where everyone wants something for nothing, thanks in no small part to free music streaming sites, YouTube, and crappy internships. But as of now, I’m done paying to work.

2016: A Year in Books

When I’m not writing, raging in public or watching live music while supping beer, I like to read. For those who care, and also those who don’t, and for my own posterity, here’s a list of the books I’ve rad or re-read in the last 12 months.

 

Derek Raymond – The Devil’s Home on Leave

Chuck Palahniuk – Beautiful You

William S. Burroughs – The Electronic Revolution

Nicholson Baker – The Anthologist

Mickey Spillane – The Long Wait

William Gibson – Neuromancer

Ed McBain – Axe

Joseph O’Neill – The Dog

Paul Scott-Bates – Hitting the Black Wall

Edward Bunker – Stark

Douglas Coupland – Girlfriend in a Coma

Richard Stark – Parker

Peter York Dictators’ Homes

JG Ballard – Kingdom Come

Derek Raymond – How the Dead Live

Chuck Palahniuk – Make Something Up

John Niven – The Sunshine Cruise Company

AD Hitchin – Consensual

Colin Wilson – The Mind Parasites

Charles Bukwoski – Ham on Rye

J S Gordon – Life Pervert

HP Lovecraft – Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre

Dennis Lewis – The Fevered Hive

Ellis Johnson – Peep Book

David Peace – Nineteen Seventy Seven

Michel Houellebecq – Submission

Derek Raymond – A State of Denmark

David Peace – Nineteen Eighty

Dashiel Hammett – The Maltese Falcon

Ed McBain – Give the Boys a Great Big Hand

Laura A Munteanu – Street Dog Music

Harry Harrison – Wheelworld

Brett Easton Ellis – The Informers

Ed McBain – Cut Me In

Glen Taylor (ed.) – More Exhibitionism

David Peace – Nineteen Eighty Three

2016: A Year of Nights Off with Beer and Live Music

I’ve spent a fair few nights watching live music in the last 12 months. Many have been outstanding. I’ve seen acts I had spent half my life waiting to see, I’ve seen some of my favourite acts in unexpectedly small venues, I’ve seen over a hundred acts for the first time, and found new favourites. I haven’t attended quite a gig a week, but it’s not been far off. It’s been fun, and it’s involved the consumption of a lot of beer, and a of time in particular in The Brudenell Social Club and The Fulford Arms. However bad things have been in 2016 socially and politically, there has, at least, always been great live music in abundance.

There is a heap of people – PR, bands, venue personages – I’d like to thank, and I’ve chatted to some ace folks while out and about. Mosly I’d like to thank all the acts I’ve seen for making it a fun year. Those acts are listed, alphabetically, below. I’ve had a blast, and suffice it to say I’m looking forward to more of the same in 2017.

 

…And the Hangnails x 3

99 Watts

999

Asylums

Avalanche Party

Bearfoot Beware

Baroness

Beige Palace

Big Love

The Black Lagoons

Brix & the Extricated

Broken Skull

Buen Chico x 2

Bull x 3

By Any Means

Cannibal Animal

Charlie Padfield

Chris Catalyst

Circuit Breaker

Climbing Alice

Colour of Spring

Consumer Electronics

The Contortionist

Corinth

Cowtown

Deathmace

Death Valley High

DVNE

Dragged Into Sunlight

The Duke Spirit

Eagulls

Elsa Hewitt

Eugene Gorgeous x 2

Face

The Fall

False Flags

Famine

Fat Spatula

Fawn Spots x 2

FEWS

Fighting Caravans x3

Fizzy Blood x2

Flora Greysteel x 2

The Franceens

Future of the Left x 2

Game Program

Gang of Four

Ghold

Gnaw Their Tongues

Gloomweaver

Groak

Hands Off Gretel

Heads.

Helen Money

Hinges

Holy Esque

Hoogerland

The Homesteads

Hora Douse

Horsebastard

The Howl & The Hum

Human Certainty

Irk x 2

Jaded Eyes

Jakoby

Joanne

Kagoule

Kid Canaveral

Killing Joke

Kleine Schweine

Knifedoutofexistence

Legion of Swine

Living Body

Low Key Catastrophe

The Lucid Dream

Mannequin Death Squad

Man of Moon x 2

Max Raptor

Maybeshewill

Mayshe-Mayshe x 2

Meabh McDonnell

The Membranes x 2

Milk Crimes

Mishkin Fitzgerald

Mouses

Mums

NARCS

Near Meth Experience

Nick Hall

Moloch

Mountains Crave

Naked Six

Neuschlaufen

Nordic Giants

No Spill Blood

Ona Snap

One Way Street

Oozing Wound

Orlando Ferguson

Palehorse

Party Hardly x 2

Percy x 2

Pijn

Post War Glamour Girls

Protomartyr

Push

Raging Speedhorn

RM Hubbert

RSJ

Sand Creature

Sarah Carey

Seep Away

Shellac

Shield Patterns x 2

Shrykull

Silver Apples

Simon Bolley

Soma Crew x 5

Stereoscope x 3

Stoneghost

Suburban Toys

Super Luxury

Sweet Deals on Surgery

TesseracT

Thank

Tooth x 2

They Might Be Giants

Three Trapped Tigers

Treeboy & Arc

Unwave

Vesper Walk

Washing Machine Repair Man

Wharf Street Galaxy Band

Wolf Solent

Worriedaboutsatan

Yard Wars

You Slut!

ZoZo

Everything that was wrong about 2016 on a plate… or not

There’s a broad consensus, that 2016 has not been a great year. Perhaps it’s not been so bad for those who consider themselves ‘winners’ having voted for the UK to leave the EU or for Donald Trump to be Barack Obama’s successor, but the seemingly endless roll-call of celebrity deaths – many far short of average life expectancy – has put a bit of a dampener on things.

While social media has been awash with outpourings of public grief, many have been calling for some perspective, and for more consideration to be given to the refuges of Syria. It’ hard to argue that such a bewilderingly vast humanitarian crisis warrants more compassion than a few dead pop stars and whatnot, but I also understand the way losing a childhood hero or figure one deeply admires and whose work has had a significant cultural impact and has touched the lives of many has a sad resonance. It’s easier to feel something for someone with whom you’ve connected in some way through their music or moves than for large numbers of people of whom you know nothing. I’m not defending it. But by the same token, mourning the loss of an icon does not necessarily mean one feels nothing for the plight of those whose lives have been devastated by war. It’s not a binary question.

But while everyone has their own perspective on what’s made 2016 stand out as one of the (supposedly) worst years in living memory, what the equations of dead celebrities vs the suffering of millions of real people, leave vs remain, Trump vs Clinton (all of which tipped to the wrong side) reveal is a social division which is binary in the absolute.

Things have been heading this way for a fair while now: a vast mainstream culture is countered by an equally vast buy infinitely fragmented array of non-mainstream cultures. Big business is now the dominant force in politics: the role of ‘the people’ and the value placed on them by government has diminished to the point of being negligible. The idea that Brexit was in some way a ‘people-powered’ two-fingered salute to the establishment elite was a myth perpetuated by a bunch of establishment elite looking to con the malcontent in order to achieve their own ends. And while the numbers dependent on food banks continues to soar, so ‘the other half’ are comfortable with iPads for all the family and trips to Disneyland at half term.

Amidst all the shit, daily life goes on, and it’s also shit on a microcosmic scale. My experience today seemed to somehow encapsulate all that was wrong about 2016. Having been to Durham to visit the in-laws, we decided to treat ourselves with a detour toward Whitby to catch the sunset by the coast. The smoke rising from a fire on the moors partially obscured the setting sun, and so we stopped at a pub for food. It was 3:45pm. The doors were open, the lights on but in fact they were closed: the barman, sitting by the bar, was simply waiting for some of the residents to arrive. That’s rural pubs on a bank holiday in 2016, though. They simply can’t sustain opening all hours in the face of rising costs and big-business competition in more ‘key’ locations.

And so we found ourselves at Cross Butts Stables Restaurant. It looked homely enough, boasting locally-sourced produce and ‘proper’ food, cooked to order. It is, as I would later learn from their website, the place ‘Where town really does meet country’. Agh, shit.

We took our seats – well, a seat and a bench with an array of well-stuffed cushions, with squirrels, pheasants, a larger-than-life fox and various other wildlife carved into the towering uprights at the back – at the table hewn from an entire oak tree, not far from the roaring wood-burner and watched twilight’s last gleamings through the windows of the barn-sized conservatory building. Being vegetarian, I wasn’t too concerned by the lack of steak pies, but it might have helped if they’d mentioned that they’d run out before Mrs N ordered one rather than five minutes later.

The Great Yorkshire Brewing Company Lager I ordered had to be substituted too, as it ‘wasn’t pouring properly’. I went for a GYBC Cider instead: on arrival, it was the most lagery cider I’ve ever tasted, to the extent I was suspicious the contents of my glass corresponded with the Coors Light glass it arrived in. To be fair, my brie wellington was great, but the fact the meals were served on chopping boards was not. But 2016 in a single sentence: a portion of chips served in a plant-pot on top of a chopping board.

The game is over. The wheel has been reinvented. And a burger andchips on a rough-hewn chopping board with 3” terracotta pot on top costs £14.

Why does this infuriate me so? Because it’s pointless. It’s beyond frivolous. It’s hyping and pimping stuff and charging over the odds in the name of – what, exactly? It says ‘we’re doing this because we’re so cool’. It’s like Pulp’s ‘Common People’ has been put in the blender and rendered a compote by hipsters who think that charging double for the experience of being poor is the apogee of entrepreneurialism. It’s the celebration of the idea of quality produce, the dignity of labour, saving the planet by cutting air-miles, recreating the spirit of a golden age of simpler times in the cuntiest way imaginable.

2017 will see Trump step into his new role and, in all likelihood, the Tories will invoke article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and lead the UK out of the EU. 2016 was not Armageddon, but merely the beginning of the end. Might as well enjoy the artisanal, thrice-cooked chips now before things get really bad….

 

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Image from TripAdvisor