Last week’s deconstruction of Brian Eno met with fairly mixed reactions; some were against my points while some were actively for them. Whether right or wrong, the fact remains that a reaction was caused and debates were had. The blog, in my eyes, was a success. Surely that’s the point of culture after all, to confront norms and debate merits with the aim of pushing our collective thought forward. Not herd unwitting participants into an easily labeled box where the homogeneity becomes stifling. We’ve been stuck in this box for so long we’ve forgotten what it means to break out of it, we’ve forgotten what it means to think freely. Yes, I know, this is generalising on an epic scale; but the worry is that with the ever expanding rise of social media, generalisations will increasingly become fact. People are already scared of sticking out and doing something different for fear of the trolls and the ignorant. So what can we do? As I mentioned before, I have no answers. But that said, there may be a path we can navigate which, if anything, could increase our options and provide a safer footing. I’m talking about Punk.
Not tartan punk. Not the Camden attractions. Not this belief that it’s merely a music genre and nihilistic lifestyle. Those punks are nothing more than extensions of our millennial tendency to look back and embrace the safety of the past instead of braving the future. The punk I know and hold close is that of a philosophy. A rejection of fear of what others may think of you. A freedom of choice and ideas. Stuff that is right at the root of what started the whole movement off. You say: “but if that’s what punk is, you’re stating the obvious and proving all your points moot”. Well yes, obviously the Camden punks say they’ve rejected the fear of what society thinks of them; but I would counter that it’s not that they reject us, more that we accept them. Punk like that has been normalised. It is sold by the bucket and is no more counter-culture than roller derby. My punk is found in those who make little differences to existing norms against their better judgement. My punk is often subtle, experimental and strange. It answers to no-one. John Lydon is a true punk. He genuinely doesn’t care what you think (especially about butter) and has created phenomenal work as a result. But as you likely have preconceived ideas of him, let’s pick another, better subject to explain what I mean. Let’s talk Tim Smith.
He's the one in the middle.
Smith is the force behind Cardiacs; a psychedelic pop band active from the 70s up to 2008. Not Punk, not Prog; psychedelic pop. At least that’s what they say; when you have the spirit of something imbuing your work so fully you can call it what you like. I fell pretty hard for Cardiacs this latter half of 2015, it all started a little by accident (as you can read by clicking here) but increasingly they have become a pillar with which to judge others by. What I love and respect the most about Tim Smiths writing style isn’t that it is random, it’s that all these disparate ideas are there in the first place. All chucked together on a Blumenthal plate in combinations you might otherwise fear. Smith doesn’t care what you think, his reward is in doing it in the first place. He made a music that stood away from the expected purely because he wanted to. Not because he needed to be particularly weird for the sake of it, or to be some kind of artistic vanguard, or to be seen. But because it was just how he wrote and he held no fear for what you think about it. Nursery rhyme melodies existing happily with punk choruses and modernist guitar lines. Jarring tempo changes and harmonic patterns dragging us out of ourselves. It may not always work (or at all for some people) but at least it’s there; existing to goad a reaction, to make us feel and to make us think.
We need to think more. Just look at us now in our highly commodified society that, honestly, is doing pretty alright for itself. It feels like it doesn’t need punk anymore to wake it from it’s slumber. We have things. We have our social media. We have history at our fingertips weighting our opinions and desires. But it feels so boring. We miss the excitement of a past that we never experienced, so cling to the Enos of the world in order to connect to it. We read that they were important so go along with it willingly. Yet still we moan and wring hands at the lack of originality in it all, needing lectures from dated figures about culture instead of making them ourselves. Our eyes have slipped from the ball as we’re too comfortable to doing anything about it, sentenced instead to slowly feel the blandness take hold. Cultural confrontation is lacking. Shock tactics don’t work anymore. We’ve broken everything ahead of us in our consumerist pursuit of the ‘new’ but in doing so have missed so much. In moving forward we ignore the space at the sides. A space filled with Cardiacs and Hanne Kolstøs and Kashmirs. That collaborative space where ideas from history merge to form interesting offshoots. Each begging for a reaction. A reaction is reward enough. At least that’s how I feel about it all. Ignore your heroes; ignore everything around you; ignore desired successes and ignore anyone who tells you otherwise. The age is ripe for the subtle punk. Small ideas moving mountains. Tim Smith is my new idol. I’d best ignore him too.