A conversation/email rant, between Ruaridh Law and Max Bacharach, 02.2021
Max Bacharach: Plagues, techno, Mr Blobby and Jacques Lacan. . . where do we begin? Lacan said “nothing exists except insofar as it does not exist” – maybe we should begin there?
Ruaridh Law: Well, we’re in a world where existence is a sliding scale. Micro-art, tiny labels and thousands of fake filler tracks on Beatport with zero listens mean that the existence of art objects are in the eye or ear of the perceiver, aren’t they? If your Bandcamp has no followers and 70 one-minute silent tracks, does it exist? Is naming something enough to make it extant?
Running a micro-niche label tangentially-related to various other, also tiny, art endeavours is more like magick than commerce – willing something into existence for people to later discover but with moments of direct unobservability, like light in the double-slit experiment. Your techno is both wave and particle, banging and static, breathing and a corpse, until someone collapses the wave function.
But in Plague Season, everyone is creating their own reality and subjectively filling it with carefully selected monads. We are all becoming solipsists, really. How do we wriggle out of that ever-narrowing tunnel, like the poor souls going into the tunnels at Amigara Fault?
MB: Quite. I mean, in a Lacanian sense, that’s the point: the signifier both guarantees and negates the existence of the signified, of ‘things’. Language creates and castrates – it’s cruel and kind, good cop and bad cop, all at once (a kind of compulsory, corporeal magick). How that relates to the present (and vice versa) is interesting, insofar as language, as a symbolic structure capable of mediating the world and, is it were, painting itself over it, appears to be increasingly relegated and displaced under networked capitalism, a form of content ‘beyond’ communication – digital psychoblabber, cognitive landfill, whatever – or what Baudrillard (another French irritant) quite aptly referred to as ‘the ecstasy of communication’.
In these conditions, those of us who have the time (and gall) to attempt ‘art’ are faced with some challenges. The audience wants ecstacy, not communication! Why so serious! And who is the audience, anyway? COVID has made it an almost entirely digital one, endlessly cycling through sites, spaces and seas, oceans, of content. What are people looking for? Does anyone even know? Beauty, some might say (Oasis would). But what the fuck is beauty in 2021? Soon enough we’ll be in the hyperreal Instagram utopia Mr Blobby foresaw, digitally shopping for new faces while the world outside crumbles. We’re there, in many ways, tunnelling thru the wreckage. And ‘we’ (compulsive consumers of the Global North) are the lucky ones.
The spectacle is the infantilisation of the world and the relegation of all sociality to exchange. Welcome to 2021. This is where LOTS, our ‘archival experiment slash label’, sits – silently or noisily, depending on your angle.
What about t*chno then?
RL: Well the point of t*chno is it’s whatever you want it to be, really. Space for interpretation, gaps in between meaning and archetypes you can map one way or the other. Or, conversely, just a load of loud rattle echoing in an empty room, sound and fury signifying nothing, innit. Transcendence is easy when the foci are narrow – it’s easier to meditate on Vainio than it is the Beach Boys, despite both arguably being as lysergic as each other. Are we really just two damned navel-gazing magicians fixating on a pulse, or is there more to it than that?
How does Mr B fit into this then? Is he the everyman? Or is he a Kafka-esque doomed narrator, continually just out of step with what’s going on around him?
MB: We’re all fixated, doomed navel-gazers these days, no? Not just we pretentious bedroom electronix types. Everyone’s a techno DJ in the age of the smartphone. Solipsism has a kick. Of course, like everything that claims ‘neutrality’, techno has a history, as we both know – one of struggle and, increasingly, plunder. Suddenly, Resident Advisor, that parasitic agent of cultural gentrification (of the spectacle), is looking in the mirror. But it’s too late; techno now soundtracks the lives of the parasites and the plunderers (‘the neobourgeoisie of Hackney Central’, to quote our DJ BLOBBY side-project), here, there and everywhere. The beat goes on and on and on, relentlessly. It’s what Freud called death drive. Endless circulation, the jouissance of repetition. We just can’t get enough.
And so back to Blobby. Back to the future. Blobby is the radical outsider who is also the radical insider. Joseph K in a flammable, yet ironically cool, lard suit. The big pink gammon who ate all the pies, did all the drugs, played all the hits and accidentally deleted all the files. 24-hour party pooper – the friend who never leaves. If he’s not on the Boiler Room rinsing speed-garage to trillions of disengaged viewers by the time the clubs reopen, I’m giving up.
Oh, and by the way, Omar S got his album title (slightly) wrong: RA is a car crash, yes, but FUCK THE BOILER ROOM, obvs.
RL: And while we’re at it, fuck the breakaway pseudo-underground children of the Room and the Bull too, with their ‘ground level’ entryist cycle-perpetuating bollocks; looking just aghast enough at Renaat, Tulum, Sulta and Eames-gate, whilst also riding the wave of mediocre ‘discourse’ off the back of it and allowing the slugs the warmth of daylight. Let’s talk about something else, anything else – money, racial politics in the dance, good and bad drugs, Hegel, psychogeography, classism in music creation and performance, the futility of culture wars (even subtle ones), plagues modern and ancient, teshno, tesco, teflon, totalitarianism and, yeah, I guess grudgingly, fucking Lacan. . .
MB: Fucking Lacan. . . there’s a thought. Probably better than fucking Baudrillard. But yeah, agreed. What marks out the signifier ‘cancel’, ironically, is nothing if not its impotence. Cancelling is a really crap form of negation: ‘your transaction has been cancelled, now carry on’. Irate Twitter militia, with no real power (or desire, in many cases) to materially change the world, are the new Trotskyists, much to the benefit of the dominant form/s of power. I mean, pretty much the most, outright a priori disgusting/cancellable figure in modern cultural history was the last US president, in no small part because of this. Another one, Brexit Plague-Master-In-Chief, runs the state apparatus here. What does this say? It says that ‘cancelling’, when it comes to questions of real power, does nada.
What actually gets ‘cancelled’ (‘foreclosed’, to use Jodi Dean’s term) by atomised identity combat and the digital moralism that underpins it – ultimately just another form of profit-generating ‘discourse’, welcomed by the corporates – is class, and class organisation. Class is the elephant in the room – the Blobby of the political. So blatant it has to be ignored, or laughed out of town. Like Blobby, no-one can be arsed with it; but it can’t be deleted. Like Blobby – id of Tesco Express – it’s structurally permanent. We avoid this problem, quite effectively, by shouting at each other all day on the internet. But we don’t resolve it.
People have been saying and doing stupid shit since forever. It’s the oldest game in town. Digital technology and the absence of a serious, universalising social project to get on with, has just made stupid shit more perceptible, and into a new, intense preoccupation of alienated network users, fuelled by old medias and evolving hatreds. Remove the network, and people would be demonstrably less irate. This is the rather paradoxical outcome of the tech dream. Rage, hatred and powerlessness. Keyboard warfare. It’s actually the opposite of what was intended, or what was sold.
There are, of course, things worth calling out (shitty teshno influencers streaming shitty teshno from Nietzschean mountain getaways, for one. . . and racism in all its c/overt forms) but if being woke means anything (and obviously it does), it means smelling the bacon and doing something about it. The real problem is the latter: not wokeness as a subject position (to be celebrated, in all its cultural and racial dimensions), but the fact it’s passive – just as consciousness-raising, that old Marxian tenet, without conscious action, is also ultimately passive. ‘Objectiveless subjectivity’, to go a bit Hegelian, is basically the phenomenology of the consumer. And do woke consumers (us included) change the world? Existence might be a sliding scale – never more so than now – but what exists is hard to shift.
While we’re on it, shall we cancel Hegel? He was pretty racist, according to some. If we cancel Hegel, tho, does that mean we have to cancel Marx, Engels, Luxemburg, Fanon? Will any of this ever end? I’m off to do some petty-bourgeois-street-rambling, otherwise known as dériving, which I might make into a LOTS release. Might go Tesco on the way back.
RL: I feel like I’m the circus ringmaster here, eternally cursed to pull you out of the mire of discourse and shove you, blinking, into the big top of techn*, ready to smell the greasepaint and feel the heat of the lights. GET OUT OF YOUR BOOKS AND INTO THE DANCE, BACHARACH.
Fanon – he did this one, right? Not just a learned brain. More Fanon and less white Europeans, I guess (I don’t think there’s many of them left without colonial or eugenic skeletons). Big up Kalamazoo, while we’re at it.
You enjoy your situationist antics, I’m off to work at the coalface for a while to earn a crust. I won’t make any releases out of it though, as someone got there before us. Coffee and a microdose of mescaline for the road, then onwards and upwards.
MB: What about Betfred, chap? And, like, what dance? The big online one in the sky (/cloud) everyone’s been going to for a year, at home? Yeah, I’ll see you there next week mate (big pink blob, front left, bottle o’ Bollie foaming all over the place). Debord would be proud.