Monday, December 31, 2007

Funk Done Good

I'll finish 2007 with a quick summary of statistics for 2007 - by the end of today, it looks like I will have had over 4.5m hits, including 323,800 visits from 210,277 unique visitors. So, simple mathematics tells me that 113,523 are my returning visitors = my regular readership. Blimey! It doesn't show on the comments which are regular but scarce. But then, I practically never reply in comments to comments, as I prefer to email direct or visit the commenter's site where applicable, so I hardly encourage them. But I do appreciate them - so many thanks to all those who bothered to say something back.

This page is the most visited - beginning with, "Save The Planet? Hit Them In The Wallet" it's not bad, actually, some decent writing and relevant topics, even if I do say so myself.

Here's a present for all the people who like funk so much they keep coming back - one and a half hours of music to end the year and begin the new one.

Track listing on the website, as is my email address...

Happy New Year everyone!

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

In the face of persistently evaluating music, how is it possible to truly enjoy that which measures up?

This question was posed as a comment from Indigo Business a writer (both vertically and laterally) of blogs.

In the face of persistently evaluating music,
how is it possible to truly enjoy that which measures up?

Good question, Indi. And let me extend that question to other things - why stop at music? In the face of persistently evaluating anything, how is it possible to truly enjoy it?

There is an implicit assumption here that analysis - aka persistent evaluation - removes pleasure, conjuring the spectre of unsmiling white-coated laboratory technicians holding clipboards, observing the mechanical processes of love, sex and death, yet unmoved by the passion, fucking and dying which they witness as they measure minute electrical responses and exact quantities of bodily fluid.

Detachment doesn't mean not caring. Analysis brings its own shiny set of pleasures to the table, which are not necessarily stainless steel cool. May I refer your honour to the glorious practice of looking at images? Exhibit A: my own image, Holloway Road handcuffs retrieved, M'Lud, from his very own blog.

First, our visual evaluation engages in the straightforward reading of the image. We derive no particular pleasure per se at this point, merely decoding the two-dimensional representation, shapes, lines, colours. As we make sense of the image - achieved on a submliminal level, far too rapidly for consciousness to be self-aware - we decode the elements into constituent parts: a road, railings, a white van, buildings; blurs in the top right are taken to be oncoming cars in the distance, the perspective trick of the vanishing point taken for granted; and finally, obscure although central to the image, the dominating element, a railing in close-up, to which is attached a pair of silver-coloured handcuffs.

The pavement, the road and railing fill the frame, with the handcuffs centre. The close-up of the railing in the picture against the steep perpective of the road gives the image dynamism, with the railings on the left and the road on the right arrowing the focal point towards the single body in the image, a dark, hooded figure, who seems to be crossing the road in front of the white van. The traffic lights are red, as are the rear lights of the van, and the contrast between red, white and black give the only notes of chromatic drama to the image, drawing attention to this otherwise small human detail.

Generally the colours consist of urban greys, pinks and browns; this is not an expressionist image. The image is slightly washed out, as if produced by a cheap camera phone - so, it has a casualness about it, the authenticity of a snap. This is no set up.

The daylight seems to be the kind of unremarkable, overcast weather which occurs frequently in coastal districts or estuaries; and the traffic furniture, and the left-driving vehicles show that unmistakably this is England. Clues as to exact location are given by the only clearly visible architecture. Top left of the picture, a brown-ish corner building, with some first story pillars, and top centre-right of the picture, a distant tower block with a distinctive shape. Examination of urban records shows that this is indeed, as the title implies, the Holloway Road, Islington, London, looking south towards the London Metropolitan University, with Waitrose supermarket (part of the John Lewis group) on the left.

Returning to the central image, the handcuffs and the railing: the railing itself is painted black, but with paint chipped and worn. One senses the passing of many hands upon this unobserved object in the middle of a busy urban road. There is a thin trickle of silver paint which has flowed downwards across the black, passing underneath the handcuff, and so there is ambiguity here; was the railing first black, then silver? Is this silver paint bad workmanship, or an unofficial addition to the local authority maintenance?

The liquid movement which the dripping paint implies is in fact crucial to our reading and interpretation of the image. This railing has a history, which pre-dates the recent history, during which time someone has attached the handcuffs. Handcuffs are intimately connected with human activity, authority, constriction, pain, pleasure, mischief, and the ancient wetness reminds us of human liquidity, blood, sweat, semen.

As to the central meaning and drama of the image, the questions which it asks: what narrative do we read here? What fate befell the handcuffed, to be so contrained, held for a time, in the middle of this constantly moving river of metal? Was this a deliberate act, or an accident? Was there a stag night, an impending marriage, did a group of drunken friends play a trick upon a groom-to-be? Was this the result of a dispute, revenge, or a part of some exhibitionist love play?

The railing's hand-sized round knob stands out against the pink tinge of the paving stones, the handcuff neatly fastened around its narrow steel neck. The fit is perfect. The second cuff disappears beneath the horizontal pole. In this image there is something Indian, the unexpected appearance of the lingam, encircled by the female principle, which tends the interpretation towards sex. Rising up from the circle of the railing's dome, the pole of the traffic light behind, with the symbols for no left turn, no U turn, now seeming to imply more than mere instructions for drivers. Is this to be our own fate, handcuffed to the city? Or should we dwell on the release in the image, the safety, humiliation and danger now escaped?

This is an image about human frailty, full of clues, hidden tensions, and sexual frisson.

"In the face of persistently evaluating music, how is it possible to truly enjoy that which measures up?" Simple answer. Dance. Move. Let your body feel the music.

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Be Prepared For Funk

I'm working on the final edition of Pod of Funk for 2007, and below is a brief Seesmic video on that painstaking process. You can find more of these videos on Twitter, where I have established a Seesmic-only feed:

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Deck The Halls

It is the Winter Solstice, or rather more accurately, it is the day of the solstice in the northern hemisphere on the Greenwich meridian. We passed into new year at 6:08 this morning. Today is one of the two days a year I do not work, so do not expect anything from me except a brief note to the effect that the Sun King is born. Evergreens symbolise the eternal nature of life, hence the decking of the halls.

For those of you foolish enough to be tricked by Christian churches and capitalism into worshiping Santa (just move those letters around to see WHO SANTA REALLY IS) I suggest Xmas Resistance a charitable, friendly enterprise which will help to release you from the hegemony of annual compulsory consumption.

Remember: Santa's carbon footprint is massive, and pagans have all the best tunes.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Happy Eid

Now that we've had five years of lumping all Muslims together in with the evil empire which wants to eat your babies, kill your television, and force you to make bad fashion decisions, I'm happy to announce that I have applied for North Korean nationality and that I shall shortly be moving to live there, taking my own supplies of rice, large rabbits and a prayer mat.

Stereotyping has gone on for hundreds of years - it's something at which we in the west are particularly good, but only since the current wave of anti-colonial resistance took on epic and vicious proportions have we been encouraged to collectively vilify Islam. What concerns me is that creating scapegoats is a habit we have diligently maintained in Europe, mostly by practicing pogroms against Jews over the last 2,000 years, and that this tendency towards prejudice and violence, which seemed to be dying away during the relative enlightenment of the 1960s and 1970s, has been steadily increasing ever since, with a marked upturn of late.

Growing up after the Nazi war in a left-leaning household, we were well-educated about bigotry and racism, with South African apartheid the shining example of how not to run a country playing out before our eyes. But nobody adequately explained the middle east to us, and the fact of Israel's imposition upon the Arab population. Nobody explained the reasons for the Arab anger; they were just angry. Nobody said, they are angry because they just had their homes, their gardens, towns and villages destroyed, or stolen from them. They cannot visit their own relatives, they cannot leave the prison which their land has become, or if they manage to leave, they will not be allowed back.

The inherent racism of Israel's violent theocracy has been hushed up in modern Britain, almost as an apology for past crimes, the sin of not preventing the concentration camps, latent guilt about our own ancient role in the Jewish holocaust, as if Slavs, Gypsies, homosexuals, communists did not suffer equally under the same evil.

The British legacy as a nation is peppered with horrific episodes. The British invented concentration camps during the Boer War, incarcerating and killing 27,000 women and children, causing appalling suffering to the Afrikaaners. Sometimes, when I meet people who suffer today as a direct result of past British failure, I feel obliged to point out that my own ancestors were not responsible for this state of affairs, these awful crimes of history. It helps me feel no guilt for being born here, and it keeps me aware of our immense privileges and responsibilities.

In fact, we British peasants were as much victims of the British ruling class as Indians and Africans, Jews and Arabs. Left to our own devices, instead of being forced off the land by the Enclosures Acts and into the slums and the new city factories during the Industrial Revolution (a misnomer if ever there was one), we Brits would still probably be artisans, traders, and smallholders living in a green land, free from pollution and terrorism. We'd maybe own a lot less, but we would almost certainly be happier. We wouldn't have lost four million in World War One.

For what it's worth, I'm quite certain that none of my personal family past is connected to the tiny percentage of this supposedly mighty nation who wrought such damage. During the war, my grandparents took in Jewish refugees, and after it, Germans. My grandfather stood with the Jewish East Londoners against Mosley's British fascists at the battle of Cable Street. Both my grandmother and grandfather fought for votes for women, and prior to that, their Baptist forebears campaigned against slavery. This knowledge of some of my personal family history, along with the way I have lived myself, helps me to counter stereotyping which applies to British people as a result of our country's continuing aggressive militancy.

I love my country too much to be a patriot. Nationalism, stereotyping, colonialism, bigotry and brutality always seem to go hand in hand. My loyalty lies with the people of all nations who, having little, when the shit hits the fan, stand with their communities first, in the knowledge that this boat we are in is the only one we have, and any hole, moral or otherwise, is liable to sink us all.

Instead, I try to live according to the great Jean Genet, the French dramatist imprisoned for his renegade lifestyle, who when released said, on the prison steps, "I return to my home - the world."

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Flat Twat

I am reduced to coining childish phrases of abuse, something I choose to do consciously as a stress-relief. It takes me back to the tourette torrents of yesteryear, when lacking physical strength and having two older, tormenting brothers, I followed vituperation as a way of life. Curse-doh, it would be called in Nipponglish.

The reason for this state of creative cuss-mouth is the hugely annoying lack of respect shown by the person buying my flat, who seems to have chosen bad communication as a way of convenyancing. Warned many times in the past weeks by my solicitor (lawyer), my estate agent (realtor) and myself that there really is a deadline, imposed quite understandably by the people whose flat I am purchasing as they need to plan their move to Germany, where a new life beckons, he and his "team" seem to be adept only at obfuscation, small lies, delays and minor complaints. Having announced himself as a cash buyer, it was then revealed that there would be three weeks between exchange of contracts and completion, owing to his need to assemble the readies. This then evaporated, but we are left with a deafening silence regarding the contracts. They have everything they need, I have signed everything I need to sign, and me, my solicitor, my agent, the couple whose flat I am buying and their agent just want to know that the contracts will be exchanged on Monday. Will they? Hello? Faxes, emails, calls, voice messages. Can we get a peep out of anyone? No.

I feel for the guys who are moving to Germany, as it's a huge move, requiring £6,000 of freight charges, and if we don't hit our deadline, they stand to lose £4,000 of that in deposit money. Therefore, there is a hard cut off. For myself, should the worst come to the worst, I still have options. I can re-sell the flat, I can find somewhere else to live. But I will not be giving up a new life in a new country, and although I will have lost some money - too much - it will not be so much that I will immediately have to remortgage - which will be the case with my unfortunate vendors, should this deal fall through.

Thus I have dubbed my man the Flat Twat, because of the way he disregards the impact of his careless dithering and lack of transparency upon the other people in this fragile chain of trust. It feels satisfying in my mind to call him that; he's not anything more than that, he certainly doesn't warrant the "C" word which would accord him undue stature. Flat Twat neatly relegates him and his arrogance to his rightful place in the world, in my ten-year-old, aggrieved mind.

Funnily enough, as I ran around the park this morning, I passed Mr FT watching his dog shit on the green public grass. As I realised it was him, the fact that he was so far from my thoughts, yet there he was, nose aloft, watching his rare breed dog foul our shared environment seemed so apposite that I burst into loud laughter, I couldn't help myself.

I kept on running up the hill and didn't look back, not knowing or caring whether he noticed. It seems to sum it up nicely.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Moving On

It's been a week of stress and I am praying that I have done enough to keep my move on track.

In this country, exchange of contracts means a 10% deposit, at which point it's unusual and financially punitive to withdraw from the conveyancing process. Then, there is completion which effectively means, leaving the place empty and handing over the keys.

Yesterday I awoke at 5am with the crystal clear realisation that I was being squeezed - on the one hand, the people I am buying from are pushing for a move before the holiday, and on the other, my purchaser is talking about speed but actually delaying because he can't get the money together that quickly.

So I was looking at three days between exchange and completion, and moving out December 18th and my 5am mind told me to take control of this situation as I was the only one here who this didn't suit. A series of emails and phone calls to lawyer and estate agent and removals company seems to have rectified the situation and I THINK we'll now exchange in the next few days and I'll move on January 4th 2008.

Since I am fairly knackered, this is good, as now I actually have time to plan.

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

My Funky Story Continues

Once upon a time there was a middle-aged British man who refused to pack his bright dreams of creativity neatly into a pension fund, and instead, took up the tools of technology in order to run wild and free like his hairy heroes. Three days a week, for three and half years he wrote whatever came to mind, took photographs, made audio and video recordings, and generally wasted his time in the belief that somehow, the process would become meaningful for him and who knows, other people he had yet to meet.

As a result he became hugely rich and a global celebrity deeply immersed in the brave new world of citizen media, and played his small but occasionally significant part in the revolution which swept across civilisation shortly before its cataclysmic demise sometime early in the period which the locals called the 21st Century, and which the Mayans referred to as the 14th great age.

That man, of course, was yours truly, Deek Deekster.

Just looking at the statistics for during 2007 (not yet finished, obviously) this morning - by the end of this month, I will have had over 5 million hits this year. Not bad for a humble blogger who stopped for a month and quite deliberately shook off a clammy bunch of expectations. I've felt freedom return since then, steadily and unstoppably.

I'm also enjoying quite a few downloads of the music and video podcasts I've been making - I've even begun using my YouTube account, just to make it easy on folks.

For no reason other than I just looked, here are my top five web pages for December 2007:

I love the fact that the incumbent holiday season means I'm being found for "Free Christmas Pictures" and "Gherkin". I'll do some more rooting around and analyse the activity some more once my ISP enables "Year View". Meanwhile, I've some editing to do on Flat 34 #6 and #7 video podcast.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Bear A Grudge This Christmas

This is the season of goodwill. Towards whom? I found myself asking, as I wondered recently just why I was making significant efforts to show friendliness to someone who whenever I meet them, either shows me significant cold shoulder, or is blatantly rude - refusing to shake hands, turning away mid-sentence, talking over my conversation with someone else, that kind of thing - or otherwise sulks and skulks and glowers in my general direction.

I discussed it with somebody who knows this person better than I do, and he said, maybe you made a personal comment. I once did, and I had to beg for forgiveness, he's very sensitive you know.

I thought carefully about this. Had I humiliated this person with a thoughtless couple of words? It wouldn't be the first time I had done that in this life, but, in general, I respect people's differences and especially those which they can do little or nothing about - skin tone, height, accent, that kind of thing - in fact, I'm likely to intervene if I detect that kind of bullying. But, I can be sharp, especially when I feel aggrieved, so had I made some kind of personal comment?

Half a day later, this still preying on my mind - yes, came the answer. You did make a comment. After he had been several times significantly rude to you. Not that it's any excuse.

Still, why did this person have some kind of attitude towards me in the first place? Did I actually do anything to deserve it, or is that they are just made to measure anti-Deek? Why am I bothered? Should I be bothered?

I am bothered, because I don't like accumulating enemies for no reason, and I get the impression that I have been randomly selected for this particular person's ire. They might be full of all kinds of insecurity - envy, two people suggested to me, which I find hard to fathom - but, why pick me as the terrible bane of their lives? Don't they have a real enemy to go to?

I don't like having pointless enemies. I accept the need for worthy opponents - it's a Castaneda thing - but the waste of energy that comes from either studiously avoiding or else having to deal with ridiculous petty battles with someone who doesn't care to explain what is the problem, I can surely live without.

All of which got me thinking - this is a precious moment, a chance to evolve, to move into an elevated state of forgiveness for the stupidity of other people's negativity. This is an opportunity for giving, in keeping with the season of goodwill.

So, I am now making you an offer: I hereby offer you the chance to remove your bad feelings about someone or something, a difficult situation, a careless slight, in return for my taking it on.

While I am doing that, I ask only in return that you give the freedom of forgiveness to someone else, by offering to their carry hatred, envy, fear, self-loathing, poverty of generosity, whatever is their personal burden, on their behalf. Give someone the gift of grudge-bearing this Yuletide. It will be easier for you to bear it than they, for it will be a change, and a change is as good as a rest.

What grudge would you most like to be rid of during the holiday season?

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Let's Talk About Sex

There is a bona fide 80s revival happening at last. Michael Jackson's Thriller is 25, padded jackets are in, and I'm just watching for an outbreak of big hair and ra-ra skirts among young women to complete the picture. Soon the miners will be on strike.. oh no, there aren't any miners left, are there? Thatcher had them all put to death.

But let's not dwell on the sordid - let's welcome the return of the Most Misunderstood Decade in Musical History. Beginning in post-punk, witnessing the rebirth of funk and culminating in worldwide rave, the 80s were a miraculous journey for music, resounding with the sudden impact of technology way before any of the other strings which make up our guitar-shaped culture - or as it was, a keyboard-shaped culture - as cheap Japanese drum machines and samplers found their way into bedrooms everywhere.

In 1983, Professor Perry and I constructed an audio sampler in a biscuit tin (Scottish Shortbread, nice and flat) powered by the marvellously rubber-buttoned lo-fi monster, the ZX Spectrum. A full second and a half of 8 bit audio was available in ear-crunching glory. I sampled the Flintstones and recorded a version of "I Wanna Be In America" which I gave on chrome cassette to my black, gay American friend Donald, who was working with me that summer at the Tate Gallery, London.

Donald was the most out of out gay men I had yet met. He was a solidly built, perfectly charming, erudite, politically savy New York Columbia graduate. He wore long dreads, half-moon spectacles, and black Vivienne Westwood dresses. The rather square management of the publications department were quietly proud of him, like a trophy of their liberalism as they hid behind their brown cardigans and corduroy slacks in an otherwise conservative decade.

Donald opened my eyes to the vices and schisms of North America like no other person I had met. He told me about clubs, music, fashion, art, and sex. This was in the days when AIDS was a looming shadow, sex was not a subject for open debate, but I was fresh from art school, where all subjecs were fair game, and Donald's carnal knowledge was wide-ranging. And so, the two of us would charm and entertain our fellow book and ticket-sellers for hours, expounding the techniques of troilism, the benefits of cocoa butter, and the fine art of fisting in measured, reasonable tones at a volume just below public, in order to retain our employment.

Although I learned a lot, I was unshockable, and we both took perverse pleasure in observing various members of staff getting very hot under their collars, eavesdropping on our wide-ranging discussions on carnal behaviour, mores and morality. Donald seemed surprised to have ever shocked anyone, and on the rare occasions when a less bold staff member would request an explanation or a change of subject, he would always apologise politely and attempt to ensure there was no repeat performance of offending someone's more delicate sensibilities. One female staff member later confessed to me that she had been driven to masturbate in the toilets, as a result of the salty conversations we were having.

At a stroke, my life was divided into before and after - my impression of the USA before Donald, and my knowledge afterwards. Sex was a fascination for us both, but more lastingly, he told me of the deep racism that scars the land of the free, and how that freedom does not extend equally to people of colour. He told me about the black man who attempted the simple act of walking across America barefoot, north east to south west, and how many times he was arrested for doing that, and how many times the police beat him up for doing nothing but walking in the wrong place without shoes. Actually, he was telling me about himself. He became sad, honestly recounting tales of oppression and brutality, but, still despite his Europhile nature, maintaining an American's peculiar pride in his own, flawed country.

You know how it is: disposable pop music defines your life without you having any choice in the matter. For all his sophistication, Donald had a uninhibitedly straight taste in music, and loved cheap pop songs as naturally as flowers. This morning when I awoke and considered the ongoing 80s revival, it was Donald and Salt and Pepa who came to mind, rather than any of the musical greats of the 1980s which became my personal touchstones. Let's Talk About Sex will always remind me of Donald. And right now, I can't get the song out of my head.

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