In some ways I lament greatly having been brought up in the mid 1990s. Shocker. I am, and was, a pure product of my time, as we all are. Completely submerged in what seems to have been the approach to the present day apex of celebrity culture, I couldn’t help but become indoctrinated. What was unique about this decade was it involved a celebration of alternative style, of underdogs, of non-mainstream opinions. Or at least that was the appearance of it. Little did I know how contrived it actually was at the time, but it was still heady stuff to a boy who was contrary in nature. You mean I can have the ego mania AND remain on the margins?
And that’s what Brit Pop did for me. It sowed the seeds of my teen fantasy. To be someone was possible, for a kid from the dreary suburbs of Portsmouth. All you need do is look at Jarvis Cocker. Lanky, bespectacled, effeminate (apparently), these were not the attributes of the typical celebrity at the time. And yet there he was, shaking his skinny arse on some pretty big stages.
This was what turned me on to music and set me on the path to becoming a musician. I moved to London in 2000 because it seemed that was what you did if you wanted to be in a rock n roll band. The steps seemed so easy then. Just follow this spurious pattern, and sign your multi-million pound contract with Parlophone next week. Never in those days did I once question what was driving my desire to be a successful musician. I never thought about the brutality of an industry entrenched in Soviet style power structures. The folklore of having A & R men on the off chance wandering into your toilet gig and handing you a contract the moment you walk off stage, persists to this day. Talk to any of the poor young things paying to play at Monto Water Rats, (yes, paying to play, in the year 2012, is still alive and well) and you’ll hear the same insidious myths furiously propagated. Why should the happiness, success, satisfaction of a desire, come down to the whim of one man? Coke fuelled and male they usually are too.
This is a question for all of us everywhere, not just for aspiring musicians. We put our faith and hope into these authoritative figures, silently pleading with them to make our dreams come true. Do we question the dream, do we question the right that figure has to authority? Generally, no. What difference does it make if you’re selected by an A & R scout or by the judges of X Factor? They’re the same thing, only one has a more traditional face.
This is classic bitter resentment for not having been selected, naturally. But the purpose of this admission, is to show my own way through the disappointment of failed dreams that relied heavily on elements completely out of my control. It riles me to hear musicians say things like “If I wasn’t making music, I don’t know what I’d do, I just can’t do anything else”. No, that’s wrong, you’re a capable human being who’s been hammered into one role due to civilisation’s mania for specialisation. You can actually do many different things for yourself. The autonomy of the individual is seriously neglected in the culture we find ourselves in, and there are of course many facets of it that thrive on us believing we’re helpless. It’s this autonomy though that can only really quench the thirst of our true desires. Being able to do things yourself for yourself, is the definition of empowerment. Being at the mercy of anything is a miserable position, as countless incidents in history can testify.
I’m not saying music is not an important part of human existence, only that as it stands now, it’s out of proportion. We are all living breathing human beings with needs to express the emotions we feel. We shouldn’t permit culture to dictate to us that only a select few do the expressing, while the rest of us just meekly consume the ill fitting results. For me it’s no longer about some desperate clawing for respect from the music industry, but simply about singing songs. Maybe that sounds trite, or like a cop out, but I couldn’t give a monkeys. You can prostrate yourself in front of an ungrateful public as much as you like, but there’s no socially permitted form of performance that can generate a feeling akin to that of singing your heart out to Dylan’s “Joey” with a group of long standing friends.
This is where my love for music lies now. Not in any career related form, but in the basic emotive elements of organised sound and related words. And it’s here that I want to tie in my connection with the Dark Mountain project. In my own words, the Dark Mountain project is a cultural movement that aims to recognise and project forms of expression from the margins. That which is unprofitable, that which is not socially permitted, that which has no value in our modern sense, and yet is still an expression none the less, and equally valid, if not more so. After all, history is a narrative based on the works we leave behind. If we are to leave anything behind, it seems to me to be the utmost importance to leave a counter point to the one that dominates. Else it’s blind capitulation, and that’s just not acceptable.
For more on the Dark Mountain Project, visit their website www.dark-mountain.net or come to the Uncivilisation festival, www.uncivilisation.co.uk, on August 17th, 2012, where I’ll be curating a night of uncivilised music in a clearing in the woods under the stars. More details to come on this blog shortly.