Achtung, health alert! Readers of a fragile disposition, or those with delicate, finely honed sensibilities and rarefied ideas of art, be warned: embedded in Demdike Stare’s Invisible Jukebox, ordinarily a club for civilised exchanges of views on music – good conversation guaranteed – is a lurid image from 1980 Italian exploitation flick Zombie Holocaust; over the page, attempting to explain the enduring appeal of sea shanties, Clive Bell confesses with lip-smacking relish to adding his voice to the hooligan roar of “Shit Barcelona, you’re just a shit Barcelona”, sung to the tune of “Guantanamera” by Tottenham fans during a football cup-tie with Real Madrid (evidently Clive and his hooligan kind are not strong on geography). Meanwhile, in Soundcheck, Nina Power crash-tackles Whitehouse’s use of the word ‘cunt’ in her review of William Bennett’s new project Cut Hands; and in Print Run, Britney Spears shares face space with an archive picture of John Stevens and Evan Parker in Spontaneous Music Ensemble.
What’s happening? Well, the fundamental matter of The Wire, like any other print magazine, is derived from pulp, and some of us here believe that pulp culture is a far more democratic medium for artists than those provided by state or privately funded institutions. For sure, pulp is an earthy, robust culture rife with greed, crude sexism, violence and so on. But pulp collapses hierarchies; here you can imagine fresh and fruity dialogues between Bennett, Parker and Spears; or the frisson created when their seemingly irreconcilable musics rub up against each other. Marinated in blood, sweat and salt, the shanties Clive discusses were the pulp fictions of their day. As to zombie movies, they may not be high art, but pulp movies like them are often the training ground for new artists, who soon learn how to simultaneously satisfy and subvert genre conventions to get across their own future visions. The final scene of George Romero’s Night
Of The Living Dead, where the black hero is cynically dispatched and dumped onto a funeral pyre by a bullnecked white posse on a zombie roundup, administers a shock that is far more revealing of deeply ingrained racism than the civil rights protest songs of an earlier generation of Greenwich Village folk-boomers.
Is it just coincidence that the recent zombie resurgence marched in step with the massive cultural swing towards retro-activity? This issue, in a sequel to his new book Retromania, Simon Reynolds digs through the sand and ashes piled up behind a decade’s digital pulverisation of music in the hope of finding buried paths to the future. The way he stacks them up, the odds are against him. The digitization of music making and distribution and the ease with which recordings can be copied and disseminated across the internet by fans, proselytizers, pimps and pirates, is paralleled by the rump entertainment industry’s rearguard bid to hold its market share through the endless recycling of its back catalogues. These twin forces have shaped a retro culture with tunnel vision facing backwards. And the coalition’s line is, the fan has never had it so good: strip-mining history has produced a superabundance of music, much of it free to all. Responding to UbuWeb founder Kenneth Goldsmith’s celebration of filesharing in last month’s Epiphanies, Chris Cutler weighs up the collateral damage to independent musicians and labels when third parties give away their work for free. The superabundance feeding retromania’s feelgood factor won’t last. Simon argues that retromania might have already run its course. Chris’s piece directs attention to a few of the millions of small stories growing beneath retromania’s grand narrative arc. Many will continue to write their own futures. Demoralised by the zero value ascribed to their music, others will eventually lose heart and cease activities. In place of superabundance, the cupboard will be bare. Chris Bohn
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Issue 328 June 2011 £4 ISSN 0952-0680
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Words Steve Barker, Mike Barnes, Clive Bell, Marcus Boon, Michael Bracewell, Nick Cain, Philip Clark, Byron Coley, Julian Cowley, Alan Cummings, Sam Davies, Brian Dillon, Phil England, Kodwo Eshun, Mark Fisher, Phil Freeman, Louise Gray, Andy Hamilton, Adam Harper, Jim Haynes, Richard Henderson, Ken Hollings, Hua Hsu, David Keenan, Rahma Khazam, Biba Kopf, Alan Licht, Dave Mandl, Marc Masters, Bill Meyer, Keith Moliné, Will Montgomery, Brian Morton, Joe Muggs, Alex Neilson, Andrew Nosnitsky, Ian Penman, Richard Pinnell, Edwin Pouncey, Nina Power, Simon Reynolds, Nick Richardson, Tom Ridge, Bruce Russell, Peter Shapiro, Chris Sharp, Philip Sherburne, Nick Southgate, Daniel Spicer, Joseph Stannard, David Stubbs, Dave Tompkins, David Toop, Dan Warburton, Val Wilmer, Barry Witherden, Matthew Wuethrich
Images Thomas Adank, Jon Baker, Florian Braun, Leon Chew, Perienne Christian, Tara Darby, Jonathan de Villiers, Glen Erler, Estelle Hanania, Jessica Haye & Clark Hsiao, Brad Harris, Pieter Hugo, Drew Jarrett, Jak Kilby, Seba Kurtis, Armin Linke, Mark Mahaney, Donald Milne, Chris Mottalini, Manfred Naescher, Niall O’Brien, Fergus Padel, Leonie Purchas, Shawn Records, Beth Rooney, Savage Pencil, Michael Schmelling, Mathew Scott, Bryan Sheﬃeld, Will Sweeney, Viktor Timofeev, Daniëlle van Ark, Eva Vermandel, Muir Vidler, Kai von Rabenau, Jake Walters, Jeremy & Claire Weiss, Henk Wildschut