Thursday, 13 October 2011

Years Zero

The turn of this century was a strange, vague period; especially in the harsh light of how its first decade has shaped up. The noughties, distinguished (?) by the most perverse of cultural enthusiasms, was heralded with a sense of weary anxiety and trepidation. But of course that was just my experience of it. It's uncanny to reflect on - to invest with meaning - a time that felt like a waiting room; a meandering interlude between one way of life and another promising to arrive. Discussing the past with those who were present, we can take fragile comfort by conceptualizing ourselves as a distinct generation defined by shared moments; accepting with a faint smile that our time has passed (open regret being as taboo as ever). In more pretentious moments, it can be rationalised as some (sub)cultural epoch; a world marketed and internalised as our own rite of passage, our cultural currency. I could assert that it was a bewildering time to be of a certain age, but I have to concede that for me it was bewildering. To be honest, it felt like I was surrounded by a lot of mystifying certainties back then.

The ideological assumptions that shuffled the U.K. from one millennium to the next is still open to debate. Most of 'us' had known nothing but a Conservative government, but the direction which Labour would take us was to some degree uncertain. The signs were there, but 'we' were still youthful enough to naively maintain some glimmer of hope. CGI, the mobile phone and the internet still retained elements of magical novelty. For most of the 90s, they were generally regarded as reserved for certain types of people. We were told in preceding years that we should aspire to be whatever types of people they were, but many of us assumed it was only those types of people who were paying much attention. It was as difficult to identify who was right then as much as it is now. We were probably too busy diverting our confusion into entertainment products, the tastes we often mistook for needs. Lurking somewhere inside that common mistake, a vague sense of generational identity was found. Listening to 'You Don't Know Me' today, I hear one world making an exit; weary and unsure of the one about to enter. I doubt that was the intention of the song, and the years that followed demonstrate how we can't tidily pinpoint our anxieties according to the calendar. Society is experiencing a far more overwhelming transition in 2011 than we could imagine in 1999. We didn't realise how limited our perspective actually was back then, but history teaches us that's nothing new. 

Van Helden's track was pretty retro for 1999, but it hardly sounds dated in the context of today's pop music. The context of how we hear it may have changed, but even that can defy easy categorisation. My most vivid memory of hearing it was passing through an unlikely (?) location, while the historical and emotional significance of the site was explained to me. Ghosts were mentioned; but we punctuated the old sad story by turning up the volume to bounce our tired and emotional heads, until another subject of conversation came up. The party we were returning from didn't conform to standard 90s cliches either. Not the discofied set of the video, that's for sure. A less contained space for hedonism than the above mise en scene presented as the norm. It may be tasteless to suggest that location's history gained resonance as the above song hitched along for the ride, but for me it accenuated historical reverberations in the (then) present. It may be more arrogant to separate a very deep historical wound from the indulgent, transient context that brings these wounds to one's attention in the first place. When, where, and how we learn things matters to what is being learned. After all, atrocity and disco exist in the same world as my thoughts do. The histories of both continue to effect the direction they take, even unconsciously. At certain times, the most unlikely of partners can join in on the neuron dance. And the bigger the crowd gets, the harder the outcome is to predict.

I never actually saw the above video until I just cut and pasted it. There's been enough water under the bridge for the song to survive somewhere outside its visual packaging. It was an anthem of something. Twelve years ago, I may have believed it spoke 'for' me. A few years later, it was more likely to be speaking to me; on behalf of those within immediate orbit, or those mediated at a further distance. And now? Perhaps it's lyrics are more applicable to an ephemeral space hovering somewhere in between: 'Here'. That virtual world of known unknowns: demanding our responses are as immediate as possible, be they strident or passive. Where the structure of the exchange decides the final result, far more than any strength of argument or solid confirmation of fact. A world that doesn't really exist; but is nevertheless capable of moving our attention towards unexpected places. Leading our thought processes to novelty, amusement, offense, events, argument, atrocity; occasionally realising that our bodies are lagging further behind the further we seek. Every easy click limiting our time and movement, a few more minutes and hours that will never return. The electronic caricature of a cyclical time and personal immediacy long lost to us. Yet another disease of language we couldn't vaccinate. Diagnosis alone cures nothing.

So what am I talking about 'here'? Am I making any sense? That depends on who it's written for, which I thought would be obvious: You of course, dear reader. The other side of the interface. If you're uncertain whether I actually am speaking to you, then we can revert to the oldest of computer games to establish a connection. They once excitedly called it 'interactive', a word used a lot less with regards to the internet in 2011. Movements diagonal, horizontal, vertical, triangular, back and forth; eventually receding back into the darkness, once the screen bids farewell. Any interaction in these spaces is the laziest kind of performance. If you opt out of playing you for the time being, we'll accept that as a statement of indifference or ignorance. For the time being, you may not have even arrived 'here' yet. At some point over the next few weeks (months, years) you could be finding yourself 'here' for the first time. Then you can grace your silence with a minor judgement; as swift as it is forgettable. You've 'been' somewhere, and so on to the next visit, and so on to the next, and so on.

If the memories dicussed at the beginning of the post elude any wider significance, then this platform denies their significance outright. The internet has proven to be a poor replacement for the pop song, the car journey, the party, or indeed history passed on via the spoken word. We can fool ourselves that it goes some way to satisfying our communal longings, but in 2023 its features and talking points will be a far dimmer memory than a disposable song heard from the back of a car. No pop song released today will evoke much in the way of a shared memory. No one will convince anyone that ghost victims of recent atrocities haunt these networks, much less those of three centuries ago. This post, and its source, will be of no consequence to anyone within days. The memories I allude to are unreliable enough to those who can remember them. Opinions or autobiographical details expressed before or after are quite useless. My intentions won't matter, if they ever did. To enquire why I wrote any of the above would be more futile than friendly. You could ask me five minutes after I click 'publish', tomorrow, next week, or five years from now. Where it all came from, and where it wanted to go, would remain a cold case. You'd be none the wiser. How could you be? You don't even know me.

(NB. This post was corrected after spotting several typos, which only added to the general rambling klutziness of the piece.)


Culla said...

there's different 'intensities' in the altered zones of the communal web experience (ie, the mass howl of indignation about the milly dowler hacking). We cant see the others but their voice is everywhere. But online the passive are no-one and nowhere; even back at the rave there was a place for them. I dont go out enough now to be able to judge how this new use of energies is really impacting on the actual club experience, but it was changing even in the early naughties. Au fin/debut de siecle it was still considered bad form to whop your mobile out; now that's taken for granted. is online networking/activism also diluting the intensity of the physical protest?

obv there's little to better the uncanny, fleeting one-ness of an intoxicated clique, but the problem has always been that many don't know what to take from that; indeed feel a bit wierd about doing so (it was just youthful indulgence etc ). that such moments can be partly brought on by 'commercial house' such as this Armand UK number one rather than deeper material will surprise no-one who is actually moved by music. Duane Harden's lyrics are standard soul libero material, but the whole works so well.

Van Helden has a knack of turning up to buoy dance music without evoking true commitment or the spirit of the scene a la NY jocks like Francois K, etc. If You Dont Know Me brought filter house out of its gallic ghetto; he did 'dark garage' with Sneaker Pimps; then there's Bonkers with Dizzee. He also DJ-ed in a boxing ring with Norman Cook, doh.

Culla said...

ps, the tune also lives on in a cover by reggae-lite singer-songwriter Natty

(best link I could find)

Mr. W. Kasper said...

That song sticks in the mind because it was a hit when I realised that all the 'authentic' stuff I was listening to up until then was getting utterly boring. It required more and more intoxicants for a basic 'pop radio' kick. That six year-olds could like that record as much as druggy, jaded twentysomethings is part of its charm.

When I started looking at the internet too much, I was struck by how many thirtysomethings were still excited by all the 'dance scenes' I'd long lost track of. Very few existed outside international metropolises like London, New York, Paris etc. For me, 1999 was a year of various Easy Rider "we blew it" moments at clubs, parties etc. The only thing was no one had any idea what "it" actually was. It was just a rather awkward illusion sustained by magazines, fashion, nightlife marketing etc.

I know what you mean about "intensities". But you can look at the sea of web archives from as recently a few months ago and wonder what all the fuss was about (even one's own statements). There's so many news-based intensities to replace them, that they can cancel out any perspective, not least our own relationship to them. A million plateaus.

Alex Niven said...

"A million plateaus" huh? I guess this is my only slight qualm about this otherwise astonishingly eloquent post. It's a bit Deleuzian innit? This self-effacing valorisation or acceptance of impermanence/ephemerality (and in a classically turn-of-the-millenium academia-style way to boot!). I suppose I would just hope that I (the reader) would remember this post a bit longer than you suggest. Even if we might have to accept/adjust to an accelerated culture, there has to be some counteractive means of approaching permanence of some kind: we have to have some kind of foundation for discussion, debate, reform, solidarity, etc. And hasn't this post just tentatively registered something in a way that might surmount nostalgia and eventually suggest something positive, a hint of a shared history, something to build on, something to suggest a future?

But well done Mr K. You've excelled yourself with this one.

Mr. W. Kasper said...

Your charm precedes you, Mr. N! Drastic weather changes tend to get me all a-haunted, and I've been pondering what the turn of the millennium was all 'about' lately. I'm not sure if we actually have accelerated, so much as got more 'circular' (a cultural brick wall). Or maybe that's just my own personal 'feast or famine' cycle. For good or ill, assumptions of growth or progress have got very unfashionable anyway, as has ephemeral no-strings interaction. Economic crisis put paid to the appeal of all that neoliberal soldier-of-fortune stuff.

It appears political polarisations are becoming more 'grounded' on the internet, as times get more desperate (I say this stubbornly hanging on to my 'trolling' instincts). But that could all scatter again, to what it was like in the interweb's earlier days. Maybe I am getting Deleuzian - or just on a "search me, guv" tip... that Van Helden choon sounds a lot less strident now, but strangely demure in 2011. The multivalent magic of cheezy pop. Dennis Potter would know what I mean...

Culla said...

part of the frustrations of the web may be that the advance of communication technology via our beloved machines/gadgets has come at a time of considerable socio-economic-political counter-reformation, so there is way too much consolidation/trolling/generally dodgy use/ pictures of 'isnt life great' families on Facecock eating up bandwidth

this interacts somewhere with general hipster blithe consumption, where despite political affiliation/anticapitalist tendencies everything is still up for grabs, rendering what can be regarded as more populist activities as in some way more acceptable. the critics became too close to the things they were criticising. the shoreditch twat fanzine was run by an original shoreditch twat who deflected the cold hard truth he was a shoreditch twat by slagging off later-arrival shoreditch twats. ending up in the barleyesque cock/muff/bumhole knots of what was a joke and what wasnt. Now all this is so ingrained people barely mention irony.

and dance music seemed caught up in all this. on the purist side there was always a big fear about when stuff like jungle would be exploited that it actually led to the festering of the scene due to its overprotective standard bearers. now dubstep has gone to 50 people in Plastic People to stadium dance via emo scavenger Skrillex in five years because there are more producers taking what they want and they're less worried about satisfying the margins.