Sunday, 16 June 2013



Live @ The Village Underground (10/06/13)

One day I will get a camera good enough to take 
photos at gigs. For now, a Mykki Blanco video. Enjoy!

So there’s much talk in the alternative press about a surge in queer rappers coming out of NYC at the moment, artists such as Mykki Blanco, Le1f, Cakes da Killa, Zebra Katz and Azealia Banks to name but a few, but maybe it’s just that the predominantly white hipster (social) media has recently caught on and started fawning over such artists bringing them to the attention of those who don’t know much about hip hop, like me. Whilst representation is undoubtedly important in a white hetero dominated world, most of the above-named artists have stated they don’t want to all be lumped together and put in a box, some eschewing the ‘queer hip hop’ label. Mykki Blanco repeatedly says in interviews that her musical lineage is influenced as much by glam rock as by hip hop. Whatever the case I’m glad I get to see Mykki Blanco in London for a second time, particularly as perhaps owing to the venue, perhaps owing to who she brought along on tour with her this show is way more enjoyable than when I went to see her at Birthdays earlier this year. Unlike at Birthdays, there is room to dance at The Village Underground and the sound is better. In fact the sound is so good it’s deafening. If you go to this venue wear earplugs people. Fortunately they had some at the bar, along with the FOUR POUND mini cans of beer. OK, old man rant over.
I enter the venue and my ears are blasted with the beats of London-based DJ/Producer The Visionist. Grime-y genre-blurring and all round super fun. You can’t help but dance or shuffle-bounce very occasionally in time.
Another local artist Blue Daisy is up next, he’s all about the balaclava (which he comes on wearing but very sensibly removes later – I mean he must be so hot!) His show is a slightly mixed bag, but overall an energetic, enjoyable performance from the rapper, complete with a good old jump into the crowd at the end, something that’s a staple of tonight’s performers.
Next up is another DJ who I sadly can’t find the name of, he accompanies Mykki and friends’ set but first plays one of his own which is hella awesome, blending hip hop, pop, r n b, electronica and other genres. Spliced up snatches of Rihanna’s ‘Diamonds’, Shanks and Bigfoot’s ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’ and Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ can be heard and it’s all awesomely danceable.
Mykki Blanco comes out and everyone goes nuts which you can tell she is fully anticipating. She’s wearing bright red lipstick, some very flammable-looking long silver stretchy hot pants and a wig, she looks predictably wonderful. She makes a thinly veiled statement about how London can fuck you over which she mentions later in the show too so I deduce she may have fallen out with a promoter/venue person…She tells us she still has to do her hair and introduces Psycho Egyptian, another arch hottie and pretty great performer from NYC. He comes on repeating the refrain ‘Black guys in leather jackets’ getting louder as the track builds and goes on to do songs about welfare and personal demons. He’s uber bouncy which is a plus. Generally I’m anti-flag but the tight Italian-flag hot pants with a big cock drawing adorning the front which he tells us he bought in Rome last night do look pretty fetching on him.
Next up is Boy Child, a performance artist who stands before us shaven-headed, face and body painted ghostly white. She comes on in a white sheet which she then rips off to stand topless. She resembles a twisted gothic one of those ‘moving statue’ people you get on the Southbank/Monte Martre/Las Ramblas but unlike them I could watch her for hours. I don’t know how she does it but as she twists to the sound of Rihanna’s ‘Rude Boy’ electrical lights flash from her mouth and hands like she’s on fire and the effect is entrancing. Whoa.
So Mykki B swans on for proper now, glass of wine in hand. ‘Y’all got me feeling like Beyonce!’ she announces quite a few times, alright Mykki, on with the show. Her set is a mixture of more conventional –for her- singles like Kingpinning and the infinitely addictive Wavvy and lyrical poetry/spoken word, sometimes without any musical/beat accompaniment. The set is pretty short, but I'm often a fan of short sets. I do wish she’d play ‘Join My Militia’ because it’s so messy and dark and distorted and raw, a bit acid rap Marilyn Manson but better. Sadly she doesn’t, or she plays what sounds like the start of it. Still this is a small loss in a great show. For the finale she invites the audience onstage which is glorious and leaves health and safety scratching their heads.

A pretty spectacular night of sweat and underwear and trash and style and bragging and explicit twisted rap and explicit everything else, if this is the hell Mykki is talking about in Wavvy then I'm glad I'm such a dirty sinner.

Friday, 14 June 2013

On fire

This is the sort of thing I youtube on a friday night after several beers. The cello strings at the end kill me as does Kristin's gravelly voice. And the plucking goddamnit.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Margate Rapture

Totally gonna win the Turner Prize for this.

So this weekend I did something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time and went to Margate. For someone who is fetishistically obsessed with depressing seaside towns and has lived in London for about five years it’s strange I’ve never been there before (although maybe not seeing as it’s usually £30 on the train!). All I really knew about it was that Tracey Emin’s from there, they have the Turner Contemporary Gallery and the shell grotto and that my colleagues at Evil Art Empire™ are always going. For these reasons I assumed it would be full of tourists and bougie arty types.  Although there is that side to it, and I must admit I probably sometimes fall into the arty, bougie, touristy categorical triptych, it’s not exactly the first thing you think when you come off the train.

My friends and I got there when it was grey and overcast and looking at the grey buildings gave a pretty melancholic feel, then we saw the amusement arcades on the seafront, one of which was called Dreamland and had its name written vertically on the side of a faded brown building in extinguished neon letters, it was dwarfed by a huge 1960s tower block behind which dominates the Margate skyline, the combination had a pretty amazing Soviet-style architectural effect.  
Like anywhere there are the more bougie bits of Margate –mainly the old town which is aimed at us tourists- but it’s mostly a working class town and I am guessing from the high street which is dead (yes there was that Mary Portas documentary but we won't go in to that) it’s been hit hard by cuts, etc. You pass the odd teenager wandering the streets necking beers which you could attribute to there being not much to do. This might be correct but then what’s wrong with walking the streets with a beer? It’s the type of thing I did as a teenager in a big city and still often do today. 

I love the old-skool arcades and the bleakness of the Margate seafront, something always drives me to want to be by the sea. Any water is good, even when I cross some bridge in London over the Thames I feel instantly better about living there. If I don’t get my sea-fix for too long I feel suffocated. I grew up in Birmingham which isn’t by the sea at all so I don’t know where the drive comes from, or perhaps it’s an urge you just have for no apparent reason like wanting to find someone or several people to have sex with. Inland there is always a sense of suffocation. The sea is such an instantly pleasing thing, I mean what’s not to like, but perhaps there’s also something about seeing the edge of things that makes me feel less trapped, though realistically what am I gonna do? Swim to another country? I remember being at the Danube Delta in Romania and this fisherman who was there described it as being ‘like the end of the earth or maybe the beginning’. I know that sounds like a contrived line from an American film but it wasn’t and I think he had a point. I mean about the sea generally, even in Margate.

Mrs Booth the shell lady of Margate keeps a silent watch on 
the town, biding her time until she hatches her evil plans.

The light by the sea is amazing which is why, as a friend pointed out the other week, so many artists live by the sea, 90% of whom are terrible generic watercolour artists who paint generic paintings they sell to tourists desperate to buy things and after a couple of ciders I start to delude myself that I’m JMW Turner with my crappy camera phone taking inadequate pictures of the sea and the sky. This got even worse when it came to evening and it actually started getting sunny so the light became this really bright evening sun amongst big shadows and then it got dark and I got hooked looking at the stars and the neon lights by the sea reflected in the water/sand. There’s something about electric lights at night in harbours and places where there’s not a lot going on that I’m really drawn to. I’ve always had it, I can’t explain it. Something alive but synthetic in darkness, or it points to where people are or where people have been when it’s surrounded by no people. A lot of the bars in Margate were empty or partially empty even on a Saturday night in June but we found a cosy one that was busyish by the lighthouse and the terrifying statue of the shell woman. The bar also had a pretty awesome barman with loads of tattoos and great facial hair.  We spotted many gays at that bar too. Score. Then we went to Sundowners which I think is Margate’s only official gay bar. It was great. The website, which might need an update, makes it look like it would have a very cis man-only exclusionary vibe but there was a good mix of genders and ages there and everyone we met was super sweet and friendly. I think London is such an unfriendly, impersonal city sometimes, especially when you go to bars and people are scared to enjoy themselves in case it makes them look bad. But then you get that in other places I've lived like Brighton too... Anyway in Sundowners no one was ashamed to dance and everyone was loving the karaoke. We hid in the corner but the landlady found us and bought us all enormous shots of tequila imploring us to come back. It’s one of those places up several stairs where they have to buzz you in which I kind of like, but if it’s because of homophobia then that’s not so great.

I’m not gonna up sticks and move to Margate shockingly enough, I had a great time there but the town has its problems and its very white and very small and there's not loads to do, for all the foibles of London I prefer living there. But Margate did fulfil my delusional romantic tourist notions and my seaside town fetish, I also met a lot of super friendly people and my friends and I enjoyed making up fantasy lives for random people we passed on the street or saw in bars. I will definitely go back. Triggered by the landscape I had these two songs going round in my head all day:

The lighthouse glows red at night making it look like the evil eye of 
Mordor which is pretty awesome. You can speculate that the red eye is 
really a device which turns people into zombies and that that device is being 
manipulated by the shell lady who in turn is being controlled by the swamp witch 
who hangs out by the harbour, at least if you’re anything like me.

Someone experiences the Margate rapture.

Oral Prozac

I read a pretty good article the other day about anti-depressants and depression/mental illness/creativity. If you can’t be bothered to read it then in a nutshell Alex Preston (brother of Sam from The Ordinary Boys fact fans) wrote about his experience with SSRIs, particularly Prozac, and spoke to other writers, artists, musicians and painters who had taken the drug and talked about how it affected their creativity. Though there were a few who said they had been through periods where they couldn’t get out of bed, much less work creatively, without the help of medication most said that their work was inhibited by antidepressants.  I identified with a lot of what people said and actually found the article pretty comforting for reasons I’ll explain later.              
I must state here that I don’t think there is anything inherently romantic or superior or desireable about being depressed, fucked-up and/or ‘creative’ but chronic mental instability and the drive to write or produce stuff in other creative fields do often seem to go hand-in-hand. At least that’s how it’s been for me and a lot of the people I know. Freud said creativity was a product of neurosis, of course Freud said a lot of stuff that was bollocks but for some people maybe it’s true, so get rid of the neurosis and do you get rid of the creativity too?
When I was about fourteen I got a copy of ‘Prozac Nation’ by Elizabeth Wurzel and read the whole thing in one night staying up until three in the morning, this was no mean feat because I am a slow reader. Around this time I wrote to penpals from the back of Select music magazine, they were usually as lonely and depressed as I was and we all said that ‘Prozac Nation’ was our Bible, I haven’t read it since because I suspect it’s actually not very good but whatever. Although PN didn’t paint an entirely optimistic picture of Prozac it made anti-depressants look romantic to me and the fact that my favourite author at the time took anti-depressants must make them pretty great. I was plagued with insecurities, obsessions, neuroses, anxiety and sadness, not unusual with what the medical establishment calls mental illness. It was and still continues to be to a lesser extent a fucking lonely experience which made me feel cut off from the people around me, though many of them were busy making my life a misery back then so fair dues perhaps, but maybe the feeling of isolation mental illness can bring is the reason why many of the ones thus afflicted want to do something creative, to express themselves and reconnect, though in my case the fears associated with that can often make doing that terrifying and risky because you fear an even greater rejection that could come from exposing yourself creatively and that may cause even greater isolation. At least that's how it feels. So I now understand that romanticising the process is a strange thing to do.  
As a teenager I never quite believed in mental illness (and I still think it’s a problematic phrase which can be used to deny the complexity of human experience) I believed more that the world was a terrifying and dangerous place, which it can be, but the idea of labelling the things that I experienced depression (and/or anxiety and/or the whole host of other diagnoses I’ve received since then) and being able to take a pill which would make it all go away and enable me to be happy and which was taken by the author of my favourite book seemed really appealing. But I didn’t go to the doctor at 16 because of the glamour, I genuinely felt like I couldn’t live with what was in my head anymore, I needed to stop thinking. The year before I’d taken a paracetemol overdose and ended up in hospital, this was a way of trying to communicate the uncommunicatable stuff I felt, like art I suppose. Talking about my thoughts and feelings wasn’t an option because I regarded them as completely unacceptable and also psychotherapy was for ‘proper’ nutcases and I didn’t want to admit to being one of them. So 16 was the first time I started taking anti-depressants and lo-and-behold I felt a lot calmer on them, stuff didn’t bother me as much so job done. But job not done. I didn’t feel like myself, I felt a lot more numb and like I wasn’t experiencing my feelings authentically. I was definitely not a robot but not myself either, I guess what I lost was my sensitivity to things, I didn’t become selfish –though I could have done with being a bit more selfish- but I definitely lost a part of me so I stopped taking them.
My problems kept coming back so I took them again and again on and off for the next ten years, it’s a weird paradox when you want to escape your authentically fucked-up self but then you can’t cope with the feeling of not being authentically yourself. Also I noticed the effects the SSRIs had on my libido and they were not good, not that many doctors took that concern seriously which is funny as other people go to the doctors for the express purpose of raising their low libido.
Creatively they affected me: they numbed me out and made it harder to write stuff. Many times I find writing quite painful because I’m a perfectionist and perfection is impossible. I have a sadistic inner critic and I’m terrified of rejection which is part of life especially if you write or play in a band. Stuck between these things and the irrepressible urge to 'make stuff' and express things that in day-to-day life I find inexpressible means I write stuff but find it hard to get much of it finished which is frustrating.
The last time I took antidepressants was after I had a breakdown at the age of 27, I was on Seroxat for a year and although I hated it and was planning to come off it before I even started I can’t complain too much because it kept me going. Whenever I come off antidepressants I’m evermore determined not to take them again but you do what you can when you need to I guess. These days I attempt to cope with exercise and meditation and taking wussy herbal stuff like Rhodiola for short amounts of time and talking to friends of course, sometimes these things work better than at other times. 
It’s really hard to convey what one’s mental state feels like, language is certainly inadequate to do it and when I talk to other friends who have been diagnosed with mental illness, or would be diagnosed that way if they went to a doctor, and they tell me what it is they worry about or feel ashamed or scared of I listen and I can appreciate how hard it must be but often find it really hard to understand why those things bother them so much and often when I try to explain myself to people they sympathise too and see that it’s hard but can’t understand why things in my head work the way they do when they can often just use logic to see why I don't need to feel the way I do. I guess the person who got closest to explaining how things feel for me was David Foster Wallace in his not-properly-finished book The Pale King where he talks about there being a ‘deeper type of pain that is always there…which most of us spend nearly all our time and energy trying to distract ourselves from’. There should be something worrying about the fact that a dude who hung himself articulates your feelings best but I guess most people probably feel like that to some extent and we all like to kid ourselves that we’re special and our pain is worse than everyone else’s.
So why did I find reading about all the neurotic or depressed types whose creativity was scuppered by antidepressants comforting? Well, like I said, although I know I’m not special, I identified with the way in which the lessening of the neuroses made many people feel less able to create art and so if Freud had a point in my case and the neuroses is actually what drives me to do stuff then even if I am held back a lot by the inner critic those fears are probably what drives me to do anything in the first place, so much as it hinders me perhaps there wouldn’t be anything without it. Thinking about things this way make me more able to accept feeling shit I guess rather than fighting it all the time. Perhaps the problem, for me at least, with antidepressants as a ‘cure’ is they don’t make me feel very integrated, perhaps they make me feel even more detached from myself because this medication is pretty crude and no one really understands how the mind works, what I know is you can’t just zap serotonin into one bit of the brain without it affecting everything else. When I got over my prejudices about psychotherapy and about being mentally ill (whatever that term really means) I became big on therapy because I  thought that might make a person feel more integrated as a human being somehow and therefore able to do what they always wanted to do (be it creating art or whatever else) and somehow feel ok about themselves at the same time.  In my case I’ve had therapy on and off for about ten years, including some fairly long-term stints and whilst I do feel I have a lot more insight into my ‘condition’ it’s never made me feel as solid as I'd like to. But then who knows what I’d be like if I’d never had it.
With regards to therapy this darkly comic story by David Foster Wallace again also made me feel better because it’s so well-observed and it exposes what is often the futility of spending so much time trying to ‘fix’ yourself/feel better, not that I imagine I will ever totally stop trying. But after all the medication and the therapy and all the other desperate things one does to try and feel better there’s actually a comfort in finally being able to stop making so much effort and accepting that maybe this is just how things are at the moment. And if I make anything at all despite all the mental sadomasochism then that might also be precisely because of the mental sadomasochism so it wasn’t all a total waste. And if one day things improve, though my creative writing tutors would shoot me for using such a cliche, that’s a bonus.