A big ocean

Life got in the way and I haven’t posted the writings I’d intended, but fortunately there’s some continuity in my existence, other than the fact that I’m still breathing, and that continuity is provided by music.

Those of you who’ve been here a while will remember my quasi-religious experience when I saw Godspeed You! Black Emperor live a few years back (in fact I realise now it was seven years ago – even deducting the Two Lost Years, that’s still about twice as long as I thought).

Tonight I saw them again. Everything was as before, with the exception that, because I was seeing them in France instead of Sweden, the bearded men were each slightly less bearded and about a foot shorter.

They began with the Hope Drone, and I now have a Hope Hammer to go with it.

Hope Hammer pin badge
A Hope hammer

They played a number of things over a certain period of time (my watch says it was an hour and forty minutes. My brain tells me that several eons have elapsed).

I’m not even certain exactly what they played. I only know it was wonderful, scary, heartbreaking and exhilarating.

It occurred to me toward the end of the show, as my body dissolved into the crashing noise all around it, that the difference between listening to Godspeed’s albums and Godspeed’s live performance is like the difference between swimming laps in a nice clean heated pool under a clear blue sky and being dropped from a height into the middle of the North Sea in a Force 8 gale. In the winter. At night. You can tell it’s water, but everything beyond that is chaos.

If you like GY!BE and you haven’t seen them live yet, do so. Just make sure you take a lifejacket.

You have to crawl before you can fly

What can I say about IDLES? At the most fundamental, of course, they’re just a band like many others. To me, personally, they produce the music that’s kept me going through the coronapocalypse. I’ve started carrying them in my pocket when I go into a supermarket, ready to block out the inevitable hideous muzak (why is it so loud and so screechy?) . And any time I feel like humanity is a lost cause, I just have to go into the AF Gang group on Facebook to see people supporting each other as they talk about the toughest of subjects and feelings. Above all, I see a band that’s developing, thinking, both about their own personal situation and the wider state of the world. And I like that. We need more thinkers, desperately.

What I didn’t like, on first listen, was IDLES’ latest album, Crawler. It was announced out of the blue six weeks ago with a single, Beachland Ballroom, that was also – to me – not at all typical of IDLES. It sounds like something Amy Winehouse might have sung. And I absolutely hated Amy Winehouse’s music. But it took about 30 seconds to realise how not all soul songs are equal. How the very fact that Joe Talbot is an unlikely soul singer, and Bowen, Lee, Dev and Jon are an unlikely soul band, makes it work. And that break… breaks me. Every time. I began – like many other fans – finding myself singing the words “Damage. Damage. Damage” to myself everywhere I went.

So I was looking forward to the album. Then two weeks ago another single, Car Crash, was released. And this one gave me such a visceral reaction that I only listened to it once. Partly that’s because of the video, which consists of clips of car crashes from old films, and is frankly unwatchable if you happen to have a severe headache, which I had, and which continued to haunt me for the next ten days. But it seemed aggressive yet without the grace-in-violence combination I’ve come to expect from IDLES.

By now I was getting worried. I’ve never before been aware of the arrival of an album to this extent. I’ve never been this invested in a band, this eager yet terrified for the new release.

So when the album dropped, I waited a whole ten hours before listening to it (and not just because I was asleep for eight of those hours). And, as I’ve already said, I didn’t like it. I couldn’t see IDLES in there. It felt like another band. A band I didn’t know. I couldn’t see myself watching this live, I couldn’t imagine listening to it over and over.

And yet, even then, there were things I liked. Really liked. MTT 420 RR, a spooky, pulsing number with Joe’s voice drawling over it, feels like it’s pulling you into an alternate universe. The rousing lyrics of Crawl. The fantastically eerie Progress, with a complex, rambling bass and apparently random electronic chimes wandering across the soundstage. The brief, John Peel-esque shoutiness of Wizz. The triumphant, dumbfounded, beautiful conclusion of The End.

Actually, come to think of it, maybe I did like it after all?

Crawling to Crawler

I listened to it again, while laying carpet. And on the second time around, it all suddenly fell into place. The reason why it felt like another band is because it is another band. This isn’t just IDLES shouting about the injustice of it all, or being the self-conscious caricature of themselves we saw in Ultra Mono. (Although we still get that version of them in tracks like The New Sensation, probably my least favourite song, largely because I just don’t believe Rishi Sunak’s inhumanity deserves a whole 4 minutes of anyone’s time.)

No, here, in Crawler, the theme of the album in some way replicates the journey of the band, not just Joe’s personal journey – being at the bottom, being ashamed of it and wanting to do more, and finally realising that they’ve come out of it, and that the terrible journey to redemption was, in fact, also beautiful.

I still don’t like all of it, but I don’t have to. Neither does anyone else. If there’s any band working today that means a million different things to different people, where a group of fans will all have different favourites on different days of the week, and depending whether they’ve just seen a snowflake fall or a Rottweiler or a headline about immigrants, or a daisy, it’s IDLES. To have injected warmth and magic into so many mundane references for so many ordinary people is admirable in itself.

But this, Crawler, this album that sounds like it’s another band – this is IDLES in full, majestic flight. The butterfly from the chrysalis, the flower from the seed. This is a band that’s gone through the searching to find itself, the re-inventions it needed to get where it needed to be. From here, they can do anything, go anywhere. Because they know who they are – and they know they deserve this now. It’s brave, it’s complex, it’s got layers of meaning and reference, both musical and spiritual. It’s just wonderful.

And it occurred to me in the middle of the night, with such clarity that the thought woke me up:

That moment at Glastonbury where Joe starts crying on stage, at the end of Danny Nedelko, when he realises how far they’ve come, and what a beautiful, powerful thing they’ve achieved?

That’s the moment Crawler was conceived.

What helped me survive 2020

I started writing this a couple of weeks ago, but thought I’d better wait until I actually had survived before publishing it. These are the things/people/influences that have helped me get through what’s definitely been the toughest year of my life so far, not necessarily for what I’ve had to go through (as I’ve said before, I’m very lucky to still have an income and so on), but because of what it may mean for the future.

If you’re on this list, I can’t thank you enough. Words are insufficient to express my gratitude, but I’m going to try anyway.


I could pretty much stop there, really. In any year music is incredibly important to me. This year? There have been a few times where I really thought I was going to flip. And I’ve realised exactly what I want to do when (if?) the pandemic ends.

Tweet describing how, if the pandemic ever ends, I'm going to devote my life to live music.
My post-pandemic lifestyle in one Tweet

Sources of music that have been essential:

  • Deezer – my streaming service, which trundles away in the background suggesting new tracks to me and is always there to play a soundtrack to my other activities.
  • A couple of podcast radio programmes that I enjoy cross-pollinating with recommendations that I think the other show’s DJs will enjoy (they usually do).
    • The In Memory of John Peel Show, with Zaph Mann, who’s brought me some belting tracks from his soup caves.
    • UPRadio, normally hosted by the lovely Sir Real and Grindi, but this year largely falling on Sir Real’s shoulders.
  • D.A.V.E. the drummer and his wife Justine and their weekly live techno sessions on Sundays. Silly costumes, rather disturbing visuals (especially if you like badgers) and always worth dancing to.
  • Bandcamp – their Bandcamp Fridays, where they waive their fee so all the money goes directly to the artists, have been hugely popular. Of course I keep missing these particular days, but I’ve bought a lot more music through Bandcamp this year than ever before.
  • About a million recommendations from friends, to the point where I’m starting to panic a bit about ever being able to listen to them all.

Standout bands:

  • 65daysofstatic, because never has their mixture of noise and melody seemed so appropriate – though ironically it was in 2019 that they produced A Year of Wreckage.
65daysofstatic – KMF
  • IDLES. I don’t even know where to start with these guys. They’ve been popping up in my consciousness for about 18 months now, but it wasn’t until about a year back that they really landed in my brain. And now… to paraphrase, “All is IDLES”. Angry, sweet, political, authentic, danceable, meaningful music. And their fans are without a doubt the maddest, most caring, loveliest people on the planet.
IDLES – Model Village. Brexiteers in a nutshell


I didn’t really play any new games in 2020, primarily because

a) I’ve still not finished Witcher 3 (and I doubt I ever will, it’s so gorgeous), and in any case

b) No Man’s Sky is still getting amazing new updates – I even joined in a multiplayer event this year, which was moderately scary but would totally have been worth it if I’d ended up in the same instance as all my NMS mates, one of whom posted such great dialogue from

c) Red Dead Redemption 2 that I bought it, even though a) and b) above keep me more than busy enough during the odd moment I get to play games when I’m not playing

d) 7 Days to Die. I started playing this zombie game with a friend late in 2019 and it terrified me to begin with, but in fact it’s helped me get less scared of the dark in real life, because chased by a ravening horde of zombies/very cross pumas when you’ve lost your only light source and you’re out of ammo makes “Oh, it’s dark and I’ve got to pop out with a torch and fetch something from the car” a piece of cake. There are also a couple of guys (Capp00 and Glock9) doing really fun gameplay videos of the game (this is, I think, the only game where I’m nearly as happy watching someone play as actually playing it).

Translation colleagues

  • The Group Translation Chats video chat group founded by Nikki Graham two years ago now (two years! How is that even possible?) has gone from strength to strength and become more regular during the pandemic. I’ve been so busy recently that I haven’t been able to attend the chats, but it’s still been an invaluable way of keeping in touch with other people and simply feeling like I exist.
  • Some of the same people are also in an accountability group, primarily to help us complete a copywriting course we all bought… ahem…years ago and which we still haven’t finished – or in some cases started, before this!
  • Associations such as the ITI have provided fantastic opportunities for networking and CPD with regular Zoom events.


I find exercise, and particularly walking or cycling outdoors, to be very helpful to my mental health. So when I was in strict lockdown in France and we weren’t allowed more than 1 km from home on our single hour’s daily exercise, I struggled. (Fortunately we don’t have a bakery very nearby, and of course someone has to go and fetch the bread every day, so me and my bike did a lot of bread shopping.)

But even on days when that didn’t happen, I knew I could get a workout so tough that I’d be flooded with feel-good endorphins – yet so much fun that I’d keep coming back over and over again.

Because at the start of the lockdown, my favourite fitness gurus Keris and Matt from Fitter Food began doing live workout sessions. These took place quite early in the morning (fortunately they’re in the UK so I got an extra hour’s sleep!), allowing me to get my workout done even before I was completely awake.

It’s now… I don’t know how many months later, and they’re still doing live workouts almost every day!

A perfect example of how seriously Keris and Matt (don’t) take themselves.

I’ve always loved these guys for their blend of total scientific knowledge, enthusiasm, tough (but always regressable) workouts, disarming honesty and sheer joy in what they do. (They also have a lovely dog.) But in 2020 they’ve surpassed themselves to the extent that there are simply no superlatives that will do them justice. And because you get back what you put in, they’ve ended up with a fantastic community of supportive people too.

If you’ve just gone back into lockdown and you’re feeling unfit (or even if you just need a good helping of joy in your life), they’re currently running a 21 day challenge that I guarantee will help you feel better (it’s got me up three days in a row at 7 am, and we all know how unlikely that is).

Well it amused me anyway…

I just got a – not entirely unexpected – on air mention from my favourite podcast DJ, for having sent him a gift of the only Swedish chocolate worth buying.

Note that it’s not worth eating – Swedish chocolate is disgustingly sweet and full of palm oil – but no English speaker can resist being amused by the name of this one (particularly this special version with added pun).

If, like me, you were a devotee of the John Peel show, Zaph Mann’s “In memory of John Peel show” is well worth listening to. Unlike some of the other tribute shows it doesn’t play the same music as our lost hero – instead Zaph aims to present independent new music* of the type that JP would be playing were he still with us.

Particular gems from this edition of the show include a really beautiful guitar piece called “Chellow Dean Top“, by Andrew Abbott; “Esus“, a nicely swirly thing by the wonderfully named Bonnacons of Doom, and a short, noisy track aptly entitled “Migraine” by Here Are The Young Men & Uncle Peanut.

I’m pretty sure Mr Peel would approve.

*With the exception of the odd track by the Fall, which is, of course, perfectly OK by me.

Desert countryside discs

As many of you know, the powers-that-be in rural Sweden have decreed that, even though the fibre internet connection I ordered nearly two years ago still hasn’t actually been connected to my house, my landline is going to be removed tomorrow. Don’t ask. Just don’t.

Given that my entire livelihood is based on the work that comes through said line – and that I live in a mobile black spot where I don’t even get text messages without going out into the next door field – this has made me more than slightly cross.

I will, undoubtedly, write more about this at some later point.

But in the meantime, today has been spent frantically downloading a load of media so that we can survive the unknown length of time before we have another reliable internet connection at home.

So here’s my question to you. If you knew your internet connection was going to be removed tomorrow, what would you download today?

For me, given that I’ve already got a huge shelf of DVDs that I’ll be happy to watch again, it’s been umpteen audiobooks, some Manx lessons and about a million hours’ worth of music.

Image: Best Deezer random playlist ever #2, part 1…

Acid Techno and the Trousers of Time

If I’m lucky (?) enough to make it to extreme old age, I’m pretty sure that one of my last memories to fade will be the one perfect moment in my life. Not a sunset, not the birth of my (non-existent) firstborn, not even entering Sagrada Familia for the first time. Although that was pretty close.

No, my perfect moment took place in an arts centre in Cheltenham, on an ordinary weekend evening in the late 1990s.

It’s near the end of the night, and the dance floor is full, and the music is thundering out all around me, and someone’s gone absolutely mad with the dry ice machine so all I can see is white. The lights are flashing away, and I’m right in the middle of the floor, surrounded by a bunch of people I don’t know. The couple of guys I can see through the haze are very straight looking “blokes”, not a dreadlock or brightly coloured piece of clothing between them. Normally we’d not get on. They’d say something sexist or stupid or drunk, or I’d say something sarcastic or patronising or rash. But in the stuttering vision of the strobe, I can see them moved by the music as though controlled by strings, faces stretched in the same broad grin I can feel on my own.

And time…. stops. Imprints everything on my brain.


I feel it all. The sweet smoke enters my lungs. My eyes accept the light. My booted feet are rooted to the worn wooden floor. My hands are frozen white flowers, my hair like strands of twisted driftwood. I can feel the stage in front of me, the DJ booth behind, the bar in the corner. The people sitting along the edge of the room (Sitting? How can they be sitting to this music?). Outside in the courtyard and in the main bar people are talking, laughing, flirting, telling drunken anecdotes. Beyond that, the street is damp with rain, and the tyres hiss as cars move away from the traffic lights at the corner. And further, further… people everywhere, and we are all people. We are all just people. We are all just part of one big sphere of life and love. And if you could give this feeling, right now, that we’re all experiencing here on this dance floor, to everyone in the world, everything would be fixed.

And then, of course, time starts again and it’s just a really really great night. Which later turns out to be a shit night because we discover that the DJs are leaving and going travelling around Europe, and so this was one of the last times they’ll play here.

But that’s OK, because the music continues, right? Techno is here to stay, particularly this intense dirty in your face energizing obnoxious style of techno. Acid techno.


But no, it doesn’t continue. Somewhere in the next couple of years it slips away. The venues that play it in my area close down or change hands or – in the case of this particular one – are sabotaged out of existence by the local Liberal Democrat council. Sad, sanitised dance music appears in its place – some of it even calling itself “acid”.

And this disappearance is something I’ve always wondered about. For me, the late 1990s was a time of hope. Things were going in the right direction. In the UK we had a Labour government with a huge majority. Organic food was on the rise. Pointless packaging was being reduced. Public services were getting the investment they needed. And – on a very personal level – music and music culture was suddenly all about a sense of community, about being part of something, about something that made you feel oneness. Because techno – real techno – was about anger. About making things happen. About finding alternative ways of doing everything – barter, green energy, minimalism, tiny houses, low impact living, permaculture, protest. Everything. Remember New Age travellers? You can’t get a home that’s much tinier or less permanent than a bus. And despite the shaved/dreadlocked/dyed hair and tattoos and piercings, you couldn’t find a nicer, more thoughtfully intelligent group of people as a whole.

Now here’s something weird. I was trying to explain the New Age traveller movement to a friend in the US the other day, and I could find precisely no photos online that show it. (Yeah, there are one or two, but they’re individual people, or individual events, not images that present the reality as I remember it.) This is probably partly a function of a lack of cameras among that particular social group, but really…? None?

So here’s a question. Have you ever felt like somehow you’ve ended up in a parallel world? Where the past is shared with your own world and yet somehow the future – even the present – is completely wrong?

This is something I’ve felt on and off throughout my life; perhaps you can’t grow up with any kind of awareness of the historical relics around you and not feel this. The weird Victorian remains of my childhood island frequently conjured up visions of worlds that were not quite this one. Steampunk hadn’t been invented in the early 1980s, but if it had perhaps I’d have  recognised these strange combinations of rusted metal and impressive feats of engineering.

I know it’s not just me that feels it – I once read an SF short story in which someone pondered on where the 1950s futurist movement was going, and discovered that the destination was in fact a parallel universe.


Then while I was studying for my Master’s degree, I discovered Gaudi. Now there was a man who was well ahead of his time. Or alternatively had been dragged through a vortex into a world that wasn’t his own.

The late, great Terry Pratchett describes this separation of two strands of a timeline as the Trousers of Time. So you can be separated from the timeline you expected to be on – were perhaps intended to be on – only by the thinnest of fabrics, and yet be completely unable to get back there, and moving further away all the time.

This chap has an interesting theory that the demise of acid techno was brought about by the influence of ketamine. Perhaps he’s right – certainly anyone I ever met who was on it was awfully dreary. He’s certainly got the description of the music absolutely spot on, describing it as “guttersnipe” and “joyously insane”. (I’m also enormously amused at his definition of the acid techno audience as “a new generation of activists, a collection of dissatisfied wasters, slumming rich kids, genuine revolutionaries, new age travellers, shameless drug buckets and total nutters”. Given that this is the music genre I most strongly identify with, and I’ve never been rich, I wonder which one I am?)

My own feeling is that the death knell of proper acid techno was sounded by 9/11 and the excuse it gave governments all around the world to hype the terrorist threat and restrict our personal freedom as a result. So now we’re liable to be searched when we go to IKEA to buy a new bookcase, and expected to put up with it, because if you don’t then you must by definition be some kind of terrorist, right?

You’d almost think that it was a deliberate attempt to put a lid on what was perceived as a dangerous social movement that was leading far too many people to appreciate the value of self-determination on an individual level and try to simply make the world a better place for us all to live in. Or is that just me?













The broad black low-ceilinged room is pretty full by the time I get there; pairs and groups of bearded men, mostly, talking in a variety of languages. It’s already quite warm so I shed my outer layers of clothing in the cloakroom and drink my wine – from a glass! A real glass! I can tell I’m in Sweden and not the UK.

Then I wait. There’s a tension in the room. People are talking, but you can tell that they’re also listening for something.

And finally it comes. A rhythmic drone emanates from the soundsystem, and the lights go down. There’s some movement among the spectators – I make my way to the centre, near the back of the crowd – and then we stand there, in the dark, silently with the exception of the various Danes behind me, who tell each other loudly that nothing’s happening. My opinion of that particular race immediately plummets.

Because something is happening. We’ve responded to the noise like a group of Morlocks, obediently moving into position and facing the front of the room. The drone continues, and we stand immobile, hands by our sides, waiting. Waiting for the touch of the sublime that we know is coming. Waiting for something to fill up the empty space within each of us.

Sporadic applause and cheering greet a movement on the cramped stage, and I rise on tip-toe to see what’s happening. Someone, a woman, is standing in the corner of the stage. I know this must be the violinist, but I can’t really see her or the violin. The problem with Scandinavia is that everyone’s so unfeasibly tall. If I was doing this in France I’d be the tallest woman in the room – possibly even the tallest person of either sex. Here I’m looking at the neck of a guy a metre in front of me. The drone is increased by the sounds wrung from the violin. The woman onstage is joined by a man with a double bass, also squeezed into a corner. The screen behind the stage is showing a moving image of some kind of inchoate, black-and-white mass, like thousands of eye floaters.

Gradually more of the band weave their way among the equipment and into their places, but I can’t see much of anyone. It’s not important. By this time the Hope Drone has built to a frenzied wall of noise and the rapture has truly begun.

For the following period – I’m not sure how long exactly, but close to two hours – I stand, rooted to the spot, swaying slightly from the intensity of the sounds being hurled at me. At times my chest vibrates to the bass. At times I want to throw myself around in convulsive movements. At times the crescendos of pure sound make me smile broadly. I see, occasionally, the images being projected onto the screen; images of moving grasses, of electronic stock exchange ticker-tapes, of glaring suns and blank-eyed empty buildings. But mostly – like many others in the congregation, I think – I have my eyes closed, which makes things difficult for the few non-believers in the audience who want to move through us. Near the end of the set I realise that many of the people behind me are no longer there. Presumably for the Danes nothing ever did happen. But for the rest of us, despite the bleak knowledge that the human race is doomed, the vision of pointless waste and environmental disaster, the incoherent rants of Blaise Bailey Finnegan III in the final track… we know that someone understands. We know that humans aren’t entirely without merit. Because the members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, drifting back off the stage as they arrived, twisting dials and leaving us – bereft yet fulfilled – with a dwindling hypnotic drone, have produced something truly divine.

The musical semi-colon – and a You Must Read This

I’ve just finished reading A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. I picked it up last week in my favourite bookshop, simply because I liked the title. The cover blurb says very little about what’s inside, and I’m not going to describe it either. Because you don’t really understand what it’s all about – or even what genre you’re reading, if that’s important to you – until you get to the very end.

It’s a tough read in some ways, because it’s structured as a set of interlinked episodes told in non-chronological order over several decades and from different points of view. Imagine trying to understand a painting as complicated as a Breughel simply by looking at small, random sections of the canvas, and then finally standing back and seeing the whole thing – you can’t quite see where the individual bits fitted in but you know it worked and you know that it’s great. Like that. I’m going to have to read it again, possibly with a notebook so I can keep track of the different characters and how they relate to each other.

Anyway, there’s one whole chapter written as a series of PowerPoint slides, which sounds a bit naff but is in fact a thing of beauty, describing an entire family and their interactions in very few words and at the same time talking about the power of the pause in music.

wpid-wp-1441451304531.jpg wpid-wp-1441451296929.jpg

I’m not keen on any of the tracks mentioned, but I’ve always been fond of this musical device. It’s used to great effect in many of my favourite techno tracks (such as DJ Mismah & DJ Tim’s Access; there are even better examples in the genre but I can’t remember offhand – or more probably never knew! – any of the titles), and it always works best when what comes afterwards is a kind of a “See?” It’s like a musical semi-colon; my favourite punctuation mark.

Here’s one where the artiste really got that. (Although this version skips shortly after the pause, which comes at around 4.36, so I’d recommend listening to it on a music streaming service if you’ve got one.)