Let's dance together to a tune for a different future...
Hello, hi, how r u?
I hope you’re well. Thanks for all the lovely feedback to the last letter and mixtape - seems like some sunshine disco was the right way to start the year!
Right, on to this week.
I’m late, I know I am. By exactly one week. But let me explain…
I have sat on this letter in many ways for more than four months now. It was ready to send last week, but I wasn’t ready to send it. Both the mixtape and The Notes (yes, The Notes are back this week) have taken months to compile, and it has been an incredibly ambitious effort on my part. The Notes and the mixtape are entirely entwined, one telling the story of the other, and vice versa.
In August last year I started to hear something new in the music that I was listening to - so I followed it all the way to the bottom of the rabbit hole, listening to, watching, and buying everything that struck me as part of this new thing I could hear, and using it as a guide rope to the next part of the rock face. I built a specific reading list for this letter to ensure that what I wrote had some gravity to it, rather than just a few lightweight throwaway thoughts. I’ve been writing down ideas on what, and how I wanted to talk about since October. It’s been a ride.
Then two weeks ago everything came flooding into place, and everything I’d put into my brain came pouring out of my fingers, and onto the keyboard.
What you’ll hear today is a story told through music, in more ways that one. It’s a story of rebellion, resistance, and revolution. There are hardly any lyrics at all, instead the story is told through the sonics of the music. What you’ll read today is The Notes giving the music a historical context, and a future context. Hopefully what I’ve written provides a foundation for why this music is so important. I hope the words have captured the sheer kinetics of the music.
This set of notes also marks what I think is the beginning of a new chapter in how I’m starting to think about the world, the past, and the future. I don’t have the answers to what I’ve outlined, but at least I know where the beginning is now.
It all begins a century ago…
In the 1920’s Robert Johnson was given a special type of technology; the blues. The blues carried in it both a transformational power that could restore unity through a ritual ecstasy from the past, and a sonic message that was concerned with how to build a better future.
If you listen to the music carefully today, you'll hear this technology, stretched across a continuum of jazz, disco, and techno. Built to restore ritual ecstasy, and point us in a new direction.
Let's dance together to a tune for a different future.
TL;DR Section 🌪
This week’s TL;DR Section is a bit different, as it’s mainly made up of the books I’ve been reading in order to put together the The Notes. As such, it’s primarily books and a few films, but I’ve chucked in a few bonus bits below in case The Notes are of little interest to you (fair enough).
Source for the notes
Post Capitalist Desire, Mark Fisher.
Futures & Fictions, Henriette Gunkel, Ayesha Hameed, Simon O'Sullivan.
Dancing In The Streets, Barbara Ehrenreich.
A Little Devil In America, Hanif Abdurraqib.
Ghosts Of My Life, Mark Fisher.
Teklife/Ghettoville/Eski, Dhanveer Singh Brar.
Abolish DJ Idolatry, by Dr. Mathys Rennela (essay).
Capitalist Realism, Mark Fisher.
Lipstick Traces, Greil Marcus.
This Is Our Music, Iain Anderson.
The Last Angel Of History, Kodwo Eshun (film).
High Tech Soul, by Gary Bredow (film).
Tell a friend about Love Will Save The Day ❤️
The notes 📝
There is an increasing global narrative that we're heading towards (it not already in) a phase of late capitalism, and, according to a number of economists, heading towards a new phase. One of post-capitalism.
While we might not use those phrases ourselves on a regular basis, we can see evidence that the model of capitalism is changing; there's rising inequality (of virtually every kind), a rapidly advancing climate crisis, increasing unrest and political crises on a global scale, and societies increasingly more divided than united.
While it could be argued that the pandemic has either accelerated or decelerated these changes, it has undoubtedly magnified the precarity of the global economy, and of divisions within our societies. Without doubt (and by any measure), it has accelerated inequality.
For many, it has also provided a shock-awakening to the reality of capitalism. In the pandemic, we gave up virtually everything in our lives, except work. Governments around the world had to make very public decisions about the health of their citizens, and the health of their economies. For many, this bought into view the mechanics of capitalism; if we stop working and stop buying things, the economy slows down. But when the alternative we faced was the risk of ill health or death, what mattered more? And why should the economy matter as much (or more) than our health?
This is where Mark Fisher points to the concept of Capitalist Realism. This concept is (broadly) that "it's easier to imagine the end of the world, than it is to imagine the end of capitalism". We don't know what happens outside of capitalism, because capitalism is built in a way that makes it impossible to see an alternative.
‘The economy’ is a key pillar of this concept; we're taught to fear a decline in the economy, because it would be bad for us as individuals. We'd have less money to spend on things; and that would further slow the economy. So the economy (and capitalism) relies on us spending our money. As this process of consumption continues, wealth becomes concentrated with ‘the few’. While ‘the many’ see some of that money redistributed back through jobs (where they’re employed by ‘the few’), the majority is held back by ‘the few’ that own the corporations that make the things we buy. This 'profit' is then reinvested in ways to make us spend more of our money. And the cycle continues. We're told that if we work harder making the things that other people buy, we can have a greater share of the money ('The American Dream', 'trickle down economics' etc), but in reality that often means we just spend our increased share of money on more expensive things.
So a decline in the economy would be bad for ‘the many’, but it would be disproportionately bad for ‘the few’. ‘The few’ often have greater influence over governmental decision making than ‘the many’. All of this points to why for ‘the few’, the economy matters as much (or more) than the health of ‘the many’.
This is the same system that also leads to greater inequality (as outlined above), environmental disaster (while reducing an organisations environmental burden should be a moral priority, it's often not a financial one), political unrest and division (corporations lobby hard to retain a free-market, capitalist system in place), and societal division (while ever we're fighting with each other, we're distracted from who started the fight in the first place).
This is what Dubord calls ‘the spectacle’. We no longer look at the system or the gatekeepers of the system, because it's built to keep us distracted. 'The American Dream' keeps us working harder and longer hours, and mass media and the news keeps us over-stimulated (or 'entertained'). Who has the energy to challenge a system so big that many don't even know it exists? A hyper-object, if ever there was one.
This was what drove the Dadaists to try and subvert the everyday in order to highlight the absurdity of what we believe is reality. The Lettrists and Situationists tried to do the same. As did the ‘hippies’ of the late 60s, and the punks of the late 70s. The acid house second summer of love attempted the same thing too. These collectives all believed that there must be an alternative, because for us to all be truly happy, equal, and for our world to survive, there had to be. These counter-cultural movements were designed to show the world that what we believe as reality is an illusion constructed by the gatekeepers of capitalism. An illusion created to stop us from challenging the system.
To understand this further, we have to go back to the birth of capitalism as we know it now - and while the date is heavily debated, I believe that the roots of capitalism began in the 15th century.
While discriminatory (and often extreme) social systems date back far beyond our modern civilisation, relatively speaking prior to the 15th century there was often more unity in how we lived. Community was cherished, 'nobles' would mix with 'peasants', and carnivals bought everyone together.
In Dancing In The Streets, Barbara Ehrenreich writes about how these carnivals dated back to Dionysus, and how these dances would hold quasi-religious meaning. The dance often took place over a number of days, bringing people in from all walks of life to dance together, drink wine and imbibe substances, all in order to get closer to the heavens and the gods.
Over centuries these ecstatic rituals became increasingly common place, starting in pockets, but eventually taking place all over the world. Without the modern concept of ‘the working week’, they would often run on and on. As well as bringing people to a celestial state, the carnival created stronger community bonds. No one - not even the musicians - were the stars, instead the focus was on each other and the dance. The heavenly state could only be achieved through synchronicity and connection - and for that, you had to be with a group of people who were looking for the same response. Over time, groups would begin to realise that this response was not only one of celestial happiness, but also one of great energy. Unity and celebration could generate power.
The church didn't just lightly sanction these carnivals, they actively encouraged them, believing that they were a core part of practicing religion. The dance was a way of feeling 'the hand of god'.
These festivals carried on all around the world until just before the 15th century, when a group of religious leaders (who would go on to form the Calvinist Protestant church) started to fear the power and energy that was being harnessed by people at the festivals. Through a reinterpretation of the bible, they built a case against the carnivals and festivals, and started to embed the idea that the way to get closer to god was to work hard and focus on your immediate family. Thatcher was stealing from the Calvinists when she declared the death of society
They created a fear that spread through the European aristocracy. ‘The few’ began to believe that ‘the many’ people experiencing ritual ecstasy could - if they decided to - revolt, and replace them.
This became a self-fulfilling prophecy, and as the church and aristocracy started to ban festivals and carnivals (either through imposing religious laws, or banning carnivals from taking place on their land), revolts started to happen.
Alongside this attempt at prohibition, the upper classes separated themselves from the dances. They started to create codes and procedures that marked them out as different - they invented 'decorum', and used thee new codes to discredit and disassociate from 'the unwashed masses'. Many of these codes still exist today, and many are still used to create a separation between the 'upper' and 'lower' classes.
As the ecstatic rituals were being forced underground, the aristocracy began to hold their own parties. Except they were markedly different. They began to hire entertainers to play while they ate, and rather than being involved in the carnival, they merely witnessed the spectacle.
According to Dubord, this moment marked a "degradation of being into having - human fulfilment was no longer equated with what one was, but with what one possessed".
Coincidentally, many believe that this global distancing (both chosen and enforced) from ecstasy marked the beginning of mental health issues as we know them today. Stark rises in authors mentioning sadness, darkness, and depression in literature sky-rocketed from this moment onwards.
The ruling classes became detached from moments of ritual ecstasy, and instead, thanks to the influence of the Calvinist Protestants, they began to promote individualism. ‘Every man's home became his castle’, and the goal was to reinforce wealth and protect property. Elitism, power, and money became aspirational, at the cost of community, carnival, and ecstasy.
The peasants and serfs became labour to be deployed to drive greater power, and generate more money. People became a tool to be deployed. The working week was introduced, and carnivals were banned all over across Europe.
Then, in search of greater wealth, free labour, resources, and power, the European elite and ruling classes started to colonise other countries - they began invading countries, starting wars, and building empires.
Over time, they industrialised the slave trade, eventually leading to the violent mass-enforced transit of millions of African people through the Middle Passage.
Despite all this power, still the ruling classes feared the potential energy of the masses and their ecstatic rituals. In the 1800s and 1900s authors and philosophers started to build the concept of the ‘madness of the crowd’, creating a fear of what could happen if a group reached that state of communal ecstasy. So they began cultural cleansing, banning native languages, religions, symbols, clothing, instruments, and song.
This destroyed any semblance of competing or alternative culture, and forcefully embedded individualism as the dominant mode of existence.
Then in the 1920s, something changed.
A guitarist called Robert Johnson made a deal with the devil, and in return he was given what Kodwo Eshun calls an 'advanced technology'. This technology was a tool with which Johnson could start to subvert the dominant mode of existence. According to Robert Johnson, he was given the blues - a powerful new tool with which he could convey stories that would carry around the world - by Satan. I don’t believe he met the devil, I believe he met Dionysus.
As per Clyde Woods; "the blues is not a lament but a clear-eyed way of knowing and revealing the world that recognises the tragedy and humour in everyday life, as well as the capacity of people to survive, think, and resist in the face of adversity.
The blues birthed a technology (jazz, disco, techno) that intentionally operates on two levels; on a physical level it brings it together and shows us the power of dancing as one - and shows us how this can create a celestial, ecstatic feeling that connects us into the divine, and into the universe. However it also has another level; one that - as Kodwo Eshun would argue - carriers stories and information through time (both from the past and from the future), back and forth through the Middle Passage. It carries counter-culture, rebellion, resistance, and revolution.
This technology has evolved over the last century, and now we can see a continuum that has blues at its heart, and stretches from jazz, to disco, to techno. All of these carrying different parts of the message that the blues carried when Dionysus handed it over to Robert Johnson.
Jazz is protest music. Jazz was the reawakening phase of the technology.
Disco (incorporating soul, funk, and house music too) is music that connects us to each other and shows us the power of our connection. Disco was the reconnection phase of the technology.
Techno (incorporating footwork, and jungle) is music that shows us a future. Techno is the final stage of the technology; revolution.
Underlining this, is the fact that each of them bring us together in a carnival environment, where we dance in unity until we reach a state of ritual ecstasy.
I believe that in the 1960s we had the drive for change but not the tools, in the 10s we had the tools, but not the drive, now I think we’re heading to a time when we have both.
While alternatives to capitalism have been discussed at length, it’s always been easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. It’s a spectacle that we all exist in, that’s designed to keep us separate, unhappy, tired, and over-stimulated.
I don't know what the answer is, or even where to find it, but I know the only way we're going to find it is through the process of coming together, letting music guide us, and finding those moments of ascendance to ritual ecstasy.
As Herbie Hancock said in Reaching Beyond; "Music is a metaphor for what could be described as the grand orchestra of life in which human begins are the players".
Let's dance together to a tune for a different future.
Old notes home 📚
…on mental health
The tracklist 🎶
Death Is Not The End - Too Radical
Lee Gamble - Inta Centre
Actress - Corner
Andy Stott - Sleepless
Zeitgeber - Double Down
Joaquin “Joe” Claussell - The Blame Game
Anthony Naples - Uni Vibe
Ben Hauke - Just A Dinger
Donato Dozzy - messy kafka world
Batu - Go Deeper
Blawan - Blika
FaltyDL - Stereo Zaddy
Rrose & Lucy - Inverted Limb
Laurel Halo & Hodge - Tru
Cassius Select - Fish Tek
Perko - Songbirds
Peder Mannerfelt - Squarewave to Heaven
Tom Place - in2me
Lone - Mouth Of God
DJ Stingray 313 - Construction Materials
Detroit’s Filthiest - Get The Strap
Slick Shoota - SEE ME FLEX
DJ Rashad & Spinn - Brighter Dayz
DJ Paypal - Why
Francisco Mora Catlett - Jazzy Jit
Jason Nazary - Weird Little Gopher
Jean-Luc Ponty - In The Fast Lane
Petwo Evans - Lock 10
Holy Ghost! - Mad Monks On Zinc
Parko - Sky Host