A few weeks ago a friend reminded me of an argument we’d had at university that had sprung from a statement I’d made about human capacity for flight. I’d read something about how at this present evolutionary pit-stop we only use a teeny percentage of our brains. I had reasoned that somewhere else in the grey mush may lay the ability to take to the skies, no plane required. My friend had a field day. Part of me still wants to believe it, a little to ruffle his feathers but mainly because it’s just so much more fun. Imagine! ‘What if…?’s are where the magic lives. The unknowable is richer and the maybes more beautiful that any static certainty.
It’s my last day in New York today. I’ve been here almost a couple of weeks and a little of that fabled American dreaming has got to me but I’m grateful for the reminder. It’s too easy to be cynical sometimes, almost a reflex to sneer, and really difficult to dream when the weight of everyday presses down.
What’s more, believing that anything is possible is simply shit scary: the odds that the evidence will stack against us, let us down, are high. But the opposite is grimmer: a life of mapped out monotony, of never trying to strive for anything because it probably won’t go the way we want it to. Well, yeah, it might not but then, guess what, we might discover a different way that spins us off on a whole new tangent. That feels alive.
So, yeah, while the screen dream skyline of NYC has definitely perked me up, it was the music I went to see (Mount Kimbie, The xx, Warpaint, Teengirl Fantasy, Gatekeeper, Blondes, the Roulette group) and musicians I spoke to (FaltyDL, Meredith Monk and Blondes) that really got me excited again, got me believing again. What they share – what all artists share – is the daring to imagine their own worlds, to build something beautiful out of uncertainty and invite us in. It’s in these maybe-places I want to live.
I don’t believe in balance. It’s a fallacy. A pretty yet damaging ideal. To subscribe to balance would be to iron out the vital, invigorating flux and flow between transcending the everyday and living in the moment. We need both.
I mention this because I went to see Blondes last week. And then I went again on Tuesday. They had a big affect on me because they made me think of – no, feel – a time when transcendence was ingrained into our daily lives. When achieving transcendence through music – and movement to music – held an essential role in connecting, commemorating and celebrating stages in our ever-turning lifecycle. And yes, you could argue that music still holds a transcending role at important life events yet the reverence with which we regard it is greatly diminished.
Modern society at best marginalises, and at worst outcasts and outlaws, transcendence. Callings, careers, vocations, and past-times that focus on feeling over function are discouraged and invalidated. In our limiting capitalist society, freedom is defined through accumulation yet true transcendence don’t cost a thing. Just dance. Mind and body as one. That’s what Blondes made me feel. Dancing to their music felt like giving thanks. It wasn’t just a Tuesday night anymore, it was a celebration of life. Transcendence of the everyday and living in the moment as one.
The internet can sometimes feel suffocating. That is no grand statement, merely a watered down echo of a billion similar utterances before it. While the breadth and depth of this virtual world of ours can tower, it’s the pace that really gets to me. The urgency is seductive for a little while but it’s like trying to chase tornados: sooner or later you’re going to be swept up with the swirling picket fences and braying farm animals.
That’s why Connan Mockasin‘s 10-minute masterpiece ‘Forever Dolphin Love’ is the most vital track of this new decade so far. It doesn’t even really get going until 4 minutes in. 4 minutes! That’s a whole minute longer than the supposedly perfect pop song. This is a song that unravels in its own time. That demands you match your pulse to its. That has a sensory impact far beyond the aural. It manifests like heavily scented smoke rings; sinking, soothing, slowing. It’s a lullaby to the pleasure principal; a Pied Piper-esque call to luxuriate in a physical, rather than virtual, here and now. Tune in, lean back, stretch out. What’s the rush, after all?
Time is a funny old thing. If you ever get the chance, I thoroughly recommend Pip Pip: A Sideways Look At Time by Jay Griffiths. Very good book. Anyway, I mention this because before I get ready for NYE fun I feel compelled to jot down the things that made this decade the one in which I truly fell head over heels for music. I mean, really, tomorrow is just another day. But then on the other hand, today is the end of the era annoyingly dubbed the ‘noughties’. Which is as good as reason as any to get in a reflective kind of mood. And yeah, I just wanted to drop on the list bandwagon too.
These are the music-related moments/events that made my decade:
Back to Basics, Technique & Bugged Out, various nights: 1998-2004
Leeds Student Radio: Summer 2002
Earth Wind & Fire at Hammersmith Apollo: March 2004
Why do we listen to the music that we do? Does that sound like a silly question? Maybe, but it kept running through my head today. The emotional connections we build to songs, albums, bands, and artists are often helped along by the real life relationships that frame them. The records our parents danced around the living room to, the bands our mates dragged us to see, the album you used to listen to together. Personal moments and memories imbue sounds with deeper meaning.
That’s not to say those emotions weren’t already present in the music, it’s just that the personal introduction meant you were standing close enough to hear them.
And then other music comes out of nowhere and smacks you in the guts. Something so new, so fresh, so alien that it makes you see things differently.
Sometimes I want to remember and sometimes I want to wake up. Different sounds help me find different perspectives, change my world.
Skull Juice are freakin’, frickin’, finger lickin’ good DJs. I am still very much addicted to the mix they did for Dummy a couple of weeks back. (You can download the Skull Juice mix here.) It features a remix of Grauzone ‘Eisbar’, which takes me straight back to smoky dance floors at Bugged Out in Liverpool and the Bomb in Nottingham about 10 years ago. Sooooo good. Sooooo young. Sooooo I had to look up the original again, released in 1981. What a song. Eisbar, oooh eisbar…
I first wrote about The xx back in April last year on my (previously) anonymous super-emo blog when I was too much of a scaredycat to have a proper one. I didn’t write much. Just declared my love. So I was more than just a little bit excited to meet them to chat about their bloody beautiful debut album for Dummy Mag (you can read the interview and get a free download here). They were very lovely indeed – not an ounce of ego – and completely up for getting lost in the dense orange smoke of the the flares that photographer Mikael Gregorsky brought along for the shoot.
The album is called xx. Cos they’ll all be 20 when it’s released on August 17th and also because “they’re like kisses” said The xx’s Romy. It’s a very apt name. My favourites – ‘Islands’, ‘Night Time’ and next single ‘Basic Space’ – have all been adding a layer of melancholic romance to the 133 down Brixton Hill. It’s felt like a long time coming but these four young Londoners have made my album of this year.