Monday, 15 November 2010

Friday, 12 November 2010

Sick Of Hearing Otherwise :: SOHO

“Pound a bowl, pound a bowl”, they snarl. All nicey nicey on the face of it, until you drop a pear or query the price or you don’t cough up for the doctor’s orders.

Berwick street market, its bullies armed only with a Cockney accent to scare off the prevailing gentrification. Not that this is to be unexpected.

Overhead willowy women sag their hair and limbs from the windows and holla down for some mackeral.

The traders hurl one up along with that peach which has been dropped on the floor. Romance isn’t dead, as we’re told, it’s just a little less appealing to the desperados who write the script.

Hailing requests gives the girls something more fun to do than wait for the group of Asian boys cajole a member of their clan to jump up to jannah.
Onlookers think they’re getting a glimpse of an underbelly with scenes like this but it’s literally only the tits of the fuck. Titilations to underpin soho’s reputation.
Soho. Where cash is king. An island of idiocy. With its various industries and its pissed-on’s firing us on all cylinders into a soggyfuture. Soho. A vestige of unscrupulous selfishness.

‘Pound a bowl, pound a bowl of 12 avocados that anywhere else in the world cost 50p each, we can sell you 12 for a pound.’ What’s that? ‘Sample Our Hass Oranges.’ That shit doesn’t even exist, but they might as well since the business you see in front of you is just a set of smoke screens as well.

But what’s there instead? Contrabanding. It first became clear to me when I asked one trader how he was doing on the market, since I was looking to set up a stall of my own. ‘Oh I’m losing 4 grand a week since them road works have been going on.’ He said, pointing down the street to the builders.

4 grand a week? I thought this couldn’t be possible. That’s about 48 thousand less avocados being sold each week. How is he still living let alone having the time to chat to me speculatively? Speculate all he might but them avos wont sell themselves.

Westminster Council have been promising to develop Berwick street – home to London’s oldest market - for a decade now. As we chat I sense Tracey the woman at the council whose job it is to develop markets in the borough peering down from her paper tower. Maybe she’s heard us chatting and is as alarmed as I am.

But no, she’s just checking to see that noones upsetting da piss. She sits atop her mountain of adminitration and sips tea all day long. That’s when she’s not holidaying in Jamaica. Large as life and formal as ever she’ll talk to you in a language of professionalism and distanced promise. She’s also developed a knack for leafing through the application forms that her very existence is built on in a way that allows her to stay as far removed as possible from the realities of life on the ground.

Lest us not forget, that if she were to do any of said paper admin she’d have less of a tower to perch on. Hell, to do that she might as well set fire to it at the bottom.

So she sips her tea and chews buttered toast. And when she gets that weird butt ache resultant of sitting down for too long she gets up and takes a champagne shower.

She stands there, transixed and admiring her feet. The champagne is being spilt from the jowls of the major above her. He and his business buddies float in a cloud of hot air above their admin towers and admire the view.

What if he knew about all the under the counter crap that goes on in Soho? Who we kidding, he already does, and sleeps at night chanting the Tory mantra of “No intervention, no intervention”, a populist gambit that might as well be illustrated with a sketch of 100 big businessmen huddled over him playing soggy biscuit where he plays the hobnob himself. (As opposed to the realities of its misdirection and malfunction.)

The irony of it all is that the Berwick street traders –who aren’t to blame and actually serve a great product on all fronts – are likely the richest members of the Soho society. And it’s beautiful. They’re working-their bollocks off in the cold street-class and serve the working class people who enhabit the towers blocks dotted about the place.

Meanwhile, this satisfies the middle-class adgame sweetcorn children and the old sunbed prunes who like a ‘bit of rough’.

But to make us believe they’re skint whilst sitting on heaps of cash would be a lie. Their toothless ugliness is deceiving.

Nope, Soho is a weird one. The real poor sods of soho are those very sweetcorns themselves. Working for a green giant maybe but he doesn’t pass the peas onto them.

Wander up onto Broadwick street and be placed in the epicentre of this giant superficiality. It looks busy for sure, and Christ there must be about 231 vans pumps padding around the place (the extra 1 accounts for that guy whose wearing it as a necklace).

(NB: the uniform varies, if it aint Vans it's Nike hightops or white tees for real Gs. Thug life it aint. Tug life or even mug life maybe and all the Big L you listen to wont change it.)

The only synonymous fact about Soho and hiphop is that the average tourist could be forgiven for thinking these guys are doing well for themselves. In reality, this tawdry glitter allows the world here to subsist how it does - unchanged and merciless.

Ha, little do these onlookers know that it’s actually mummy and daddy sweetcorn keeping the wolf from the door. In actual fact the working class of today are now the only earning class around. To be middle class and cutesy with a pair of skinny jeans and a bellend to show through them means working unpaid and for less dignity.

But then again they can afford to do it and even better they don’t have to really lift a finger to earn a notch on their cv either (just stuff envelopes and buy the bigger bastards pump polish and canalin).

These guys have been sold a con by the very conartists they slave for. You’ll catch a glimpse of this tribe whilst they’re taking a break from their Shit Office Hanging Out to buy a latte frap-pot from the Kiwi’s who set up coffee shop on every corner of london.

(In fact there’s so many of said cafes now it’s a wonder why people still need to queue for 20 minutes to labour over one espresso. It’s all part of the LIEstyle.)

And afterwards they totter back through the streets of hallowed old soho, it’s skin tattooed by the pricks who walk across the surface.

Carving canyons in the concrete, or so they believe, is another lifeform here. The couriers. Bike messengers are in abundance and add another layer of - mainly mindlessness – but also attraction to Soho’s arena.

I once worked as one and did as long as stint on the ‘circuit’ – as they call it – as financially possible. Or perhaps it was my frame of mind that made me quit?

This frantic clan have their own uniform. Usually dressed in black, for practical reason’s we’d have led you to believe, with a giant shoulder bag to carry a even bigger chip in it.

The chip gets heavier the longer you’re in the job but whilst it remains bareable will afford couriers a greater access to the inner sanctum of soho than any other job.

Swooping in and out of offices all day on a bamboo shoot of deluded grandeur, messengers enact childish fantasies as tarzan, spinderman, batman or some sort of street pirate, delivering their goods with maverick intent.

But the dream is short lived since most of the day will be spent waiting for the next job – especially these days since unpaid work experience people in offices deliver any W1 W1 drop offs. You’ll be able to admire this flock of messengers in their aviary towers at number of local locatrions:

The corner of poland st and broadwick
Opposite the end of carnaby street on great marlborough
The gardens on whitfield st

And sometimes soho square (but these will usually be new guys)
Here they perch sanctimoniouly, discussing a variety of revolution-urgh(?)-ry stuff: From houses to squat, the news, the results of some courier sporting event the weekend before and most likely their state of impoverishment and why it’s the fault of the bourgeouisie.

As much as they love to hate the environment they work in the job of the courier is pretty much the same as that of any company they deliver for. Passing on messages that are packaged in a way that makes gthe recipient feel they’re important.
Still it’s worth adding that the work was hard and rewarding. The educated portion of courier litter quite enjoy the drudgery for its Orwellian nature and it makes them feel quite working class in what’s the only class-less profession I’ve ever experienced. A good graft.

Another thing about the couriers that’s worth mentioning is they add a few more species into the overwhelming race of rat that dominates soho.

Given London is one of the most multiculutural cities in the world you’d be pushed to find a whiter enclave than soho.
In fact, any black presence in soho is lauded over by the blank canvas, who feel reasured by its company since it puts them in touch with the urban culture they so desperately seek to appropriate.
You turn the corner onto Beak street. One cant help wonder if all the Chlamydia and shit spilling out from the minds and mounds of the workers is airborne. Does it mix with other STDs (Soho transmitted diseases) that already exist in the atmosphere and flow through the street like a contagion on contemporary culture.
Maybe, or more likely this is just culture itself – burning like a never-ending cigarette being pulled on by the very cancer it creates.

Some of the smoke plombs out of places like the Gaucho or other members clubs where the inherited editors and artheritic critics share allergic acerbic attitudes. Some Old Helpless Oaf talks about the good old days. Maybe it’s the ghost of Karl Marx returing to his Dean Street haunts. But minus the groupies this lot have packed pockets. They have nothing to do with the ins and outs of life here instead drawn here like it’s a magnet to malignant melanomas.
Follow the wafts of hot carcenogen passed the popular as ever Pulpo where there’s more people ordering to queue, then passed the bottom of Carnaby street.

Ahead there’s a gap in the fog and just when you’re about to pass out you gasp for air and all of a sudden Regents St catches you.

Safe Out Here One might think…

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Label Of Love

Published on Guardian Online
25 Years Into The Future: Happy Birthday Techno

Detroit based record label Metroplex is celebrated its 25th anniversary this month at the city’s annual electronic music festival Movement. Over 60,000 fans paid tribute to the label’s founder Juan Atkins - along with techno godfathers Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson – at their special birthday stage.

“I never intended it to be as big as it turned out to be,” admits Juan. “I just started it to release my own music as Model 500 after Cybotron had ended. I’d sent my first release - No UFOs - to some major record companies but they all turned it down. I had a real belief in this new sound and setting up Metroplex was the only way to get it out there.”

By 1985, Juan had been conducting electronic experiments for five years. He moved to Belleville, a leafy suburban town on the outskirts of Detorit, at the age of 11 and having played bass guitar in garage bands whilst living in the city began toying around with a Korg MS10 synthesiser that his grandma had bought him. His new isolated surroundings made it more convenient for him to make music alone and Juan spent endless days in his bedroom experimenting with its capabilities - rudimentary tests and trials that laid the foundations for techno.

At around the same time Atkins met Rik Davis, a Vietnam veteran who’d developed an interest in electronic music whilst serving in the army. They shared sounds with each other and soon became bandmates in the group Cybotron. “There was definitely something that made us click together,” believes Juan. “We talked lots about Toffler’s idea of the Third Wave and developed what you might call a techno speak dictionary. In this dictionary were a lot of words like metroplex and cybotron. That’s where these names came from.

“Metroplex is short for Metrocomplex which was a future word that Alvin Toffler spoke about. It referred to his scenarios in Future Shock and Third Wave about how cities over the world would grow so big that they would all become one. This was a Metrocomplex.”

For Juan, soundtracking the future was where his own destiny lay. Cybotron split when Rik’s interest in guitars and rock music and Juan’s commitment to technology pulled the pair apart. Metroplex dedicated itself more to an electro sound. Akins released his next two tracks as Model 500 - Night Drive (Thru Babylon) and Technicolor – which gave way to a 4x4 beat count. Clearly Atkins' future meant dance music.

By this stage Atkins had recruited childhood friend Derrick May to help distribute Metroplex releases, but before the pair could get to work they first of all they had to iron out one disagreement: A compilation that would introduce the UK to this new Detroit sound was due for release. Derrick wanted to call it ‘high-tech soul’ but Juan was insistent that it should be called ‘techno’. Forget Motown, Techno City – the name of a 1984 Cybotron track - was Detroit’s new identity.

According to Atkins the label has gone through various metamorphoses over the last 25 years. “Changes started to happen when a west-coast company Macola took over our catalogue. They pushed the music to an American market. When Derrick and I were working on the distribution our focus was very much on a European market, as well as Detroit. I was very influenced by Kraftwerk and electro had already hit that part of the world.”

Juan moved out of Belleville and back to Detroit city after graduating high school. He doesn’t deny that the city has influenced his music. “It’s not just the artists or the music here but the whole atmosphere. There’s just something about this city that affects you in a certain way. It has a specific flavour."

Detroit city has changed a lot over the years and many people define it these days as a place in decay. “But that’s the beauty of it,” believes Atkins. “It’s not like a major metropolitan city; it’s not shiny and new. It’s decaying like an ancient city in Europe. In the ruins you can see the oldness, mixed with the new. Detroit is an industrial city. It was one of the cities the forefront of the industrial revolution. In front of your eyes is end of the industrial revolution mixing with the start of the technological revolution. It’s a very unique flavour.”

Just as Motown defined Detroit during an industrial era, Techno redefined it once more. According to Atkins, it’s set to do so again. “We’re now in the Third Wave. I strongly believe that Detroit will be seen as one of the most technologically advanced cities in the world in the near future. Something big is about to happen that will affect everyone, not just artists.”

Luckily for Metroplex’s stock-in-trade, there’s a future still waiting to happen and Aktin's wants to soundtrack it. “I’m about to give some stuff that’ll reflect what I’ve always done and that’s make things that’ll last 25 more years.”

Whilst Detroit’s status as a shrinking city might be the antithesis to the future predicted by Toffler and his followers techno’s global success has proven that some kind of world unity was waiting to happen.

Techno’s five track trajectory

Kraftwerk – Tanzmusik (1973)
Detroit absorbed the sound of German electronic music. Derrick May famously set this connection in stone: “The music [techno] is like George Clinton and Kraftwerk stuck in an elevator.”

Parliament-Funkadelic – One Nation Under A Groove (1978)
George Clinton’s Midwestern electronic funk group influenced a great shift in dance music in the early 1980s and spawned a genre that became known as “electro”.

Cybotron – Clear (1983)
Cybotron’s biggest hit, a real fusion of electronic experimentation and funky dance music that proved electronic music soul had soul.

Model 500 – Play It Cool (1986)
After Cybotron left the game, Atkins brought back the 4x4 beat in a series of electro tracks released by Metroplex.

Eddie ‘Flashin’ Fowlkes – Goodbye Kiss (1987)
Known as Metroplex’s first proper “techno” success.

Ben Ferguson has contributed to a book of interviews with DJs who have shaped the history of music. The Record Players is available to buy at

Sunday, 30 May 2010

On the brink of the brain, ideas that never made it out of the mouth

Today I remembered an idea that came to mind whilst i stayed in Paris last year. It was mustered up whilst lying on the floor of my one bedroom apartment near Belleville. Crippled with the agony of a kidney infection, homebound thanks to the ceaseless sense that i had to piss every two minutes.

Anyway, like everyone else in this world (apart from the doers in life) there's probably a whole heap of grandiose ideas hidden somewhere in my head. This was the only one that's made it further than my mind (though still nowhere close to becoming an reality)

Motor City and Martha Reeves

Guardian Feature

Thursday, 1 April 2010

A force for good

Been writing about UK defence policy all week. It seems each party has a different view of what 'a force for good' is. Here's mine...

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Steve Reich

Steve Reich gave a lecture today at the Red Bull Music Academy. His well-rehearsed tales had were punctuated by a set of musical morsels which left the audience entranced. Acting as the luddite, the 74 year old explained how resistant he was to technical innovation - abandoning phasing for live composition. "I wanted to be the second tape," he exclaimed.

His staunch rejection of computer composing was remarkably well received by a room filled with laptop producers who've spent their lives beating off in their own bedrooms. As a tribute here's Enfant (Chants) by Ricardo Villalobos.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Noah Davis

Featured in Dazed and Confused

Artist Noah Davis is in good company where he lives and paints in LA. Skate art hero Ed Templeton, who Noah admits has been influential to his style, is represented by the same gallery – Roberts & Tilton. Hot summers hang off Noah’s canvases – they could just as easily be set in Louisiana as LA, the 1950s or today. But, the absence of time and place makes room for colour in his works.

The 26 year old from Seattle attended the Cooper School of Art in New York. After graduating he stayed in NYC to hang out with graffiti kids. This style never truly appealed to him and Davis soon became disillusioned with the wider forms of art making. In response to this he moved to the West Coast to begin an administrative job in public arts.

Many ’83 babies claim they’re a special bunch and Davis is no different. Exposed to a set of new cultures whilst growing up, feeding off the referential trends in music and art that defined the nineties Davis’ curiosity for culture opened doors upon various different histories. Whilst working in the famous LA art bookstore – Moca – Noah fed off the access to art history the job gave him and whilst working as a colourist for Stones Throw Records designer Parra it wasn’t long before he found himself in a position where he wanted to paint again. This time he was equipped with a knowledge of the past and a nudge from new friends like Dash Snow and Ed Templeton.

Recently Noah’s work was shown at Art Basel in Miami ’09. His paintings featured amongst the Rubell Family Collection exhibition, Black Artists but this is not how Davis would like to be defined. Whilst being black clearly influences his work he insists it’s not about race, tempting the question, is he the first artist of an Obama era America?

ND Race plays a role in as far as my figures are black. The paintings aren’t political at all though. If I’m making any statement it’s to just show black people in normal scenarios, where drugs and guns are nothing to do with it. You rarely see black people represented independent of the civil rights issues or social problems that go on in the States. I’m looking to move on from that stage, we can’t keep tying our culture to a movement that happened two generations ago.

BF Has America reached a post-racial stage – one that everyone billed Obama would herald?
ND I know I’m going to live to regret saying this but yes. I know there are neighbourhoods in LA and surely in London where these scenarios are an everyday thing. But luckily for me that’s not the case so I don’t think my pictures have the right to discuss this. Their responsibility is to represent the people around me. They’re my reference point but they’re not the point I’m trying to make.

BF Many people expect artists to represent big moral issues. This is sometimes an unfortunate responsibility.
ND My paintings just have a very personal relationship with the figures in them. They’re about the people around me. I want people to read them like this whilst taking a meaning of their own from each work. What’s around me is all I’ve got, we have to look to our experiences as tools of education. My first paintings were dealt with political issues but they were silly and out of my depth.

BF So when was the turning point?
ND I did a work called American Sterile. It was really influenced by things Ed Templeton had done. On the one hand it’s a rejection against the nude but the reality of it was that the work came more from my own static creativity. I wasn’t even going to show it, and then someone from the gallery where I had my first show came over and saw it. He loved it, which was funny because I was actually really close to painting over it. I would have but I’d got to the point where I’d run out of shit to paint.
The Mountain School in downtown LA helped me out massively when I came to LA. Eric Wesley and Piero run it from a little room in the back of a bar. Students were taken on tours of artists’ studios during the two classes a week and I found it to be a really inspiring place, it’s uniquely LA. Then I guess it was Dash Snow who really encouraged me by making me quit me job.

BF So you knew the late anartist?
ND Yes. He was on fire. I kept telling him how good he was but he was so humble. Although he had lots of people around him who tried to tag along for the ride, they probably contributed to his death as much as he did. I don’t think he had any idea of his talent and although he received heavy criticism I think everyone was jealous of him.

BF American Sterile is quite like a Larry Clark photo.
ND Ha, that’s an honour. I love him. I think all of our childhoods were slightly based around Kids. Even though I wasn’t a skater that movie set the scene for what you thought life should be about.

BF Minus the AIDS Telly was our hero and Kids was a guiding light. Perhaps it would have been better without the big issues though.
ND Right, I still hang out with some of the guys who were in the film. Their careers took off after that movie but unfortunately the not so nice aspects to Clark’s films were a reality for some of them and are they’re gone now. I guess Dash falls into that bracket too.

BF What influences you now?
ND I think a lot about German painters, Neil Rausch and Daniel Richter, and those guys from the Leipzig School. From Britain Peter Doig, Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud created their own language for their work. Henry Taylor too. He couldn’t give away a painting for a while, even though now he sells for Saatchi. Race wasn’t an issue for him, black people were just around. He’s a real painter; he stuck with it even during those times. I always ask myself if I’d have that kind of commitment. I think the dream for any artist is to create a world in which you can express your own ideas. Dash managed to achieve this language too.

BF I agree, his work is automatic, it boasts the raw talent that defined Beautiful Losers.
ND Right, there’s a voyeurism in his work that makes you want to be there. Like in Francis Bacon’s work. He wasn’t technically the best painter but his talent lay in the use of colour. His strokes created worlds of his own.

BF Do you collect images like he did?
ND Whilst I worked in an art bookstore Moca I felt like I had every image ever made at my fingertips. I studied them, looked images upon images and thought, “What do I need to do to stand out.” If you don’t study the trends, and I don’t mean trends in a bad way, trends are always a thing to study because they’re always trying to get ahead of you.

BF It’s interesting that you have this relationship with trends yet you practice an old trade.
ND I just love it. Painting does something to your soul that nothing else can. It’s visceral and immediate and is always readdressed in new ways that keep it relevant. Whilst I was in New York I became jaded and I only wanted to see drawings. Now I think it’s very important that art remains to be about ideas but it shouldn’t be an either or battle between concepts versus painting. They can exist together. I guess when my school forced fed us a conceptual education I reacted against it. I left school because it wasn’t teaching me anything. Art students are missing out on a certain amount of training whilst they obsess about their ideas, but at 18 what are they based on? Someone sold a pair of socks at Frieze this year but soon they’ll find they can’t do this anymore and be stuffed. I don’t care about how much my art sells for. I think people with money dictate the art world too much, at both ends of the spectrum, even the ones who create work as a reaction to that fact.

BF Is that why you just go with what you know?
ND Absolutely


Appeared in the New Statesman

Chris Ofili, Tate Britain

(Featured on
Where the work of Chris Ofili was once all about shit, dicks, pussy and tits now he paints bottoms, bosoms, hips and lips. Come shots have become waterfalls, giant muffs have turned into tree blossom. The mid-career retrospective of one of Britain’s greatest living painters goes on show at Tate Britain today.

If simplistic conclusions like this could be made it’s due to the traditional chronological way that Tate Britain has curated this show. Samples sliced from black culture and 90s current affairs that comprise Ofili’s early painting are less apparent in the layered but laid back stuff of late. In fact the overall effect is rather like listening to the entire Wu Tang discography - whose millennium material marks their retreat from da clan in the front. Messages make way for method; potency is replaced by production.

As any music fan knows, hip-hop had a golden age and Ofili – whose work in rooted in hip-hop culture – did too. For Ofili this was 1998, the year he won the Turner Prize (and incidentally Lewis Parker released Masquerades and Silhouettes). The exhibition’s first three rooms straddle this period. Classics that made him controversial, cutting and current such as 7 Bitches Tossing Their Pussies Before the Divine Dung (1995) and No Woman, No Cry (1997) greet you at the entrance to the gallery but ring in your mind from then on.

Visitors are led into The Upper Room (1999-2002), a walnut womb of 14 paintings built by RCA architect David Adjaye. During a solitary time in Ofili’s career this mid-point in the show mimics the psychological sentiment of an artist who at this stage became sick of fame and attention. And out of this he appears reborn and colour replaces cuttings from now on.

The colours of the Pan-African flag – black, red and green – create his work between 2002 and 2003. They bring to mind album covers like Tribe’s A Low End Theory and Roy Ayer’s Ubiquity. What’s more, they mark the moment when Ofili’s attention shifts away from the UK. Whereas references to Stephen Lawrence’s murder were local, these colours are part of an international culture and his move to Trinidad in 2005 was imminent.

Not long after his relocation Ofili paints only in shades of blue (not the Madlib record). Whether blue was the new black or because in Trinidad his skin colour was no longer in the minority Ofili was a responding to his new surroundings. Again his creativity seems inspired from his senses – accurate works from acute impressions.

Ofili claims that his new work that hangs in the final room represents life in Trinidad. Calm curves, and warm colours create a serene scene at first. But look a little closer and beneath the simple image of yellow blossom that cascades down a black background, The Healer (2008), hides a creature that devours on this colourful juice. The poui flowers, native to Trinidad, last only for one day. In Ofili’s eyes their beauty is stalked by a sinister stranger - perhaps equivilent to an insatiably hungry media from which his sought freedom in Trinidad.

Such subtle references take the place of frenetic cut-outs, jolted jizz marks and snatched-at samples that made his earlier work so urgent. The surfaces of his recent images are fecund and fertile. With less fight Ofili’s work has grown up. That’s not to suggest that he’s retreated into the earthy tones of ‘world music’ or any kind of painterly equivalent - The Healer, with all its resolve, is still exciting and it’s hard to ignore the sex it implies.

But for fans of him, and of hip-hop, it’s good that he’s moved on. The urgency of his earlier work did its job, broke down the same barriers that hip-hop beat against and now Ofili and his contemporaries across the globe can relax, fathers in a field that is still so respected today.