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Black Sky Thinking

Playing In The Wreckage: 65daysofstatic On Making Music Under Late Capitalism
The Quietus , November 5th, 2019 11:07

Underground veterans 65daysofstatic are back with a new album diving deep into the state we're now in. Here, Paul Wolinski makes the case for staying inspired and creative under the impecunious trials of late capitalism

This world has already ended. This little one we're in right now. All of the things we have here - these words, my band, your record collection, this website - all of this was built on a broken template. This template was a mirage, an illusion of permanence cultivated by the people who would benefit from it. Those that proclaimed the end of history. Those that believed that through the market we could all consume our way to utopia.

It's over, it's just that some institutions take longer to crumble than others. This particular little subculture we have here just about still functions, still occasionally spits out these artefacts that mean everything to us. That's why it is so hard to let go. This piece of writing was requested by The Quietus, one of the last bastions still standing in the wreckage of this mode of living kept alive by the likes of us: you the listener and lover of music who cares enough to be reading this article in the first place when you could be looking at a trillion other things on the internet; the people who run The Quietus, charged with the task of somehow managing to publish daily hidden gems of music criticism while finding a way to pay for the bandwidth; me, the idiot in the band, providing them with content that is nominally supposed to be about something or other, but is really to raise awareness about my band 65daysofstatic having a new record out you might wanna buy or, more likely, stream. This all still functions through its slow collapse because, unlike the scaffolding (gallows?) we built around it, at its core is music, and the music manages to maintain. What is weird though is that, and bear with me here, THERE ISN'T EVEN SUCH A THING AS MUSIC.

If Mark Fisher taught me anything (and in fact, he taught me many things), it is that popular music is a useful case study from which ideas about society can be extrapolated, and that is because despite the music industry being built in the image of an illusory, frankly stupid, definitely broken world, the music itself tends to be born out of material conditions. It cuts through because music that resonates with people does so by finding a shared frequency, a place in sound that moves the musician and the listener as one. All meaning in music is sparked in that moment. There is no material thing that is music, no inherent emotion, quality or affect. It emerges purely through these social relations. Websites and communities like this one nurse these feelings, articulate them in a language better suited to communicating more tangible ideas, much as clubs and gigs and festivals allow meaning to manifest in a more embodied, physical way. These spaces give the music a life outside of the band, outside of even the actual vibrations in the air the recordings are designed to make. A piece of music is about so much more than its audio components. It's an unquantifiable, endless web of signs and signifiers, of personal and shared experiences. It is an additive form, effortlessly absorbing your most intimate private thoughts and the basest, most visceral, festival-sized spectacles alike. Music persists without even needing sound at all. 'Blue Monday' is in your head right now if you want it to be. Try it.

What makes it complicated is that these material conditions in which music is formed have long since been compromised by capitalism. It's not just bands selling t-shirts on the road or The Quietus sticking banner ads next to their articles. The song is a commodity form. The album is a commodity form. Touring is a commodity form. The b(r)and is a commodity form. Everything we encounter is experienced in and through capitalism, so much so that it is hard to even conceive of a world that operates any other way.

This kind of thinking is of the sort that self-styled Sensible Centrist Grown-Ups dismiss as naive ranting done by students who have read some Marx. These are the kind of people who point out that if it weren't for capitalism 65daysofstatic wouldn't have our laptops or guitars or MIDI controllers to write our music on in the first place. And while I'd contest the fact that it is a necessary driver of technological progress, it is true that capitalism is also responsible for all the music that we love. Not just on the scale of hyper pop stars like Taylor Swift, but all the way down to niche micro genres. From the Bandcamp labels putting out techno found on usb sticks in the Sahara to bedroom-based cassette labels putting out archives of electromagnetic field recordings, or boutique ultra-short-run vinyl services for unsigned bands to be able to make their own records, never before have we been able to get our hands on such a wealth of music no matter how obscure or personal our tastes. These kinds of subcultures can be viewed as 'communal solidarities' because yes, capitalism constrains these things, but also it enables them. And we are lucky to have them.

Because music is great. Bands are great. Going on tour and going to shows is great. Of course it is. And more than that, a piece of music is clearly more important and unique than a pair of socks, or a loaf of bread, or whatever else most immediately springs to mind at the word 'commodity'. But what is built into late capitalism is a canny understanding that you can't fully apply post-Fordism, never mind original Fordism, to art and creative production. They need to be given some amount of autonomy. The nature of capitalism demands organisation, scaling and efficiency but it can't usefully apply those rules to creativity, so instead it creates carefully surveilled autonomous spaces for art to exist in, these communal solidarities we enjoy, and then swoops in once it's figured out how to monetise them.

So what is to be done? Only the dismantling of capitalism can truly bring about a new conception of music. Until then, we're trapped in this crumbling cultural infrastructure and have to find a way to make it work, to antagonise it from within. There's a bunch of people plugging away at this at different scales. Stormzy used his clout to turn "fuck Boris" from a universal, exasperated utterance to a YouTube- storming viral anthem. Holly Herndon is busy collaborating with A.I, imagining better futures through technology - a useful role for artists in this contemporary moment because if nobody can even imagine better futures how are we supposed to build them? Algiers are taking a more direct, militant approach and are essentially sonifying Marxist praxis via punk rock and free jazz at this point.

It's not really for me to critique how 65daysofstatic contribute to this struggle. We don't have the audience of Stormzy, the utopian countenance of Holly or the eloquence of Algiers, so we went our own way, making a record that stares head-on into the abyssal futures of late capitalism and dares itself not to look away. It's the role of websites like The Quietus to speculate on exactly why and how, and how far we are succeeding, and for everybody else to decide if they agree or not. Because it is through this back and forth that together we all constitute the meaning and importance of music. The audio we or any band produces counts for nothing by itself. Taken alone, all we're doing is adding more debris to the wreckage.

65daysofstatic's new album replicr, 2019 is out now

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