Monthly Archives: August 2011

Modern gothic/Has pop eaten itself?

I have been trying to put up the following post for a couple of weeks. I apologise  for the delay, but since I am a Hackney-dweller, I have, unfortunately, been a bit distracted by a little local difficulty.

Rioting on my street in Hackney, a block away from my house

I am no sociologist, psychologist nor have any expertise in political theory so I can’t offer up any wise or measured analysis, just to say, that in my opinion the causes of the recent riots are complex and myriad and any knee-jerk reactions will only make things much worse. And I think they will – get worse, that is.

Aftermath. The morning after the rioting on Clarence Road. Welcome to Hackney

But now for some literature. My esteemed friend Lolo Wood (of the Nuns and the Nanny Maze) invited me to an evening of readings and conversation at the Social, Little Portland Street, central London back in June.

It was the inaugural night of Faber’s Social (the last time I had been to this venue was to see St Etienne, and with Lolo) and was in honour of the recent publication of Simon Reynolds’ book Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to its own Past.

St Etienne at the Social, October 2009

In my experience, literary readings, or discussions, outside of a lecture or academic environment have the worryingly great potential to bore an audience, or the attendees becoming distracted or disengaged. And are usually dismal occasions. If Writing About Music is Like Dancing About Architecture, then what chance a literary evening in nightclub?

However, I am happy to report that on this evening this was most decidedly not the case. The downstairs bar was packed  (notables such as author Rupert Thomson, the noir writer Cathi Unsworth and artist Laura Oldfield Ford being also present).

First up were the novelists David Peace and Richard T Kelly in conversation who gave powerful readings of their work and discussed their very particular contemporary takes on the Gothic and occult histories.

David Peace expounded on “the occult history of Britain – a hidden history – the history that’s not been written” and suggested that Marx was both political and gothic,”the gothic description of structural evil”. He suggested that  “lucifer was over Yorkshire”  at least during the 1970s and ’80s in regard to his Red Riding quartet and that capitalism was the evil that possesses us and that “misogyny” in particular as manifested by the Yorkshire Ripper “is an evil” too.

Continuing the theme of possession and evil, Richard Kelly talked about R L Stephenson, “the mysteries of London”  and “the mysteries of Paris” and  the “dark world that lends itself to creativity “and said that while “I don’t believe in God but I am convinced of the devil” he noted that “good doesn’t have a good press”.

David Peace (left) in conversation with Richard T Kelly at the Faber Social

There is a short break during which writer and journalist Simon Reynolds djs, “a musical interlude”,  before discussing Retromania with Bob Stanley of St Etienne.

Since reading the brilliant, provocative The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion and Rock n Roll (well, what more do you want?) by Reynolds and his wife Joy Press, I’ve been a huge fan of his clever insightful writing. He also writes more than a couple of energetic blogs, such as Blissblog which are well-worth checking out.

Reynolds (looking improbably young) went on to discuss with Stanley pop’s nostalgia for itself arguing that it while this can be “positive, it’s just got a bit out of hand”.

Simon Reynolds and Bob Stanley (right) take the floor at the Social

Pointing out that “the riff of retro, the way rock falls in on itself, goes all the way back to Trad Jazz”, Reynolds talked more about the past, memory and ghosts – and some of this terrain informing the tracks he plays in his dj set tonight. While Stanley says he can still regularly discover great tracks from the sixties, Reynolds posits that music’s lust for the past is something, in his view, to do with musicians looking back to the ’60s and ’70s as this was when “music was more dynamically connected to politics”.

Again, the discussion inspires some intelligent and lively questioning from the audience. My friend asks why it takes white people at least a decade to appreciate good black music. Someone else inquire whether the computer gaming industry is siphoning off the energy and talent that would previously been channeled into creating music.

The Faber Social is a most welcome addition to London’s literary landscape.

(All pictures by Caroline Simpson.)

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