First suggestion: haunting is historical, to be sure, but it is not dated, it is never docilely given a date in the chain of presents, day after day, according to the instituted order or a calendar. Untimely, it does not come to, it does not happen to, it does not befall, one day …
— Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx 1
Delving back into the twee punk of our youth may seem counterintuitive during these times, yet at its most utilitarian, the music employs the blind optimism and mistruths of pop culture to burrow into the cracks. Inside the degraded adhesive of its pastel pink wallpaper, this sardonic exposé jangling out of a near-past body politic warrants revisiting. As illness metaphorises 2 across broken system after broken system; lo-fi outsider punk, C86, jangle, the paisley underground and related scenes from Glasgow to Auckland in the 1980s and 1990s portray a ruinous background, fattened into an omnipresent blob: not only from the onset of neoliberalism, but across its hideous maturation.
In our psychosomatic archives, it’s an act of play to connect the dots of what we were exposed to as tweens – in my case Flying Nun Records and the likes of the Dead C in New Zealand, Sarah Records and Glaswegian groups like The Pastels – to an increasing crop of likeminded bands we’re only hearing now due to reissues and browsing internet hall-of-mirror hellholes; Entlang, Toyland Tapes, The Kiwi Animal, Peter Wright’s Aotearoa lathe cuts, Peter Jeffries’ solo records, et al. My therapist advocates to get back in touch with our inner-child, and well, it feels wunderbar.
Tracing back to scenes we never encountered alongside those we may have participated in through online marketplaces masquerading as archives (Discogs, YouTube, Spotify, etc.) – whether in a wallow of nostalgia or otherwise – secludes us in a full-scale consumption-utopia predicted in The Society of the Spectacle 2. This isolation, as further flirted with in a lockdown, deflates our ontological sensations in its projection of spectral remnants of media and experiences onto Retina Displays displaying the eradication of our collective convening-energy. While marginal spaces are displaced, erased and reassembled into immaterial liminal coordinates in a server farm, the noise continues, but without the transpiration of gloaming escape or the peeling back of the hegemony’s scales. The master may have disrobed, but now he wears our clothes.
In Glasgow, as with a few other fortunate slabs scattered across the wastelands, we at least have spaces that very crucially and articulately counter the novel and distinct realms of separation and disembodiment we currently find ourselves in; providing outlets to climb out from the heap of streamable detritus. The Grass is Green in the Fields for You (TGIGITFFY), a small press/music publisher and its Subcity Radio offshoot Flowers in the Sky (FinS) occupy and share such spaces.
Printmaker, designer and Vital Idles drummer Matthew Walkerdine runs TGIGITFFY, while also organising Good Press alongside bandmates Jessica Higgins, Nick Lynch and a community of volunteers. Discussing Good Press is better left aside for another post – their role in providing space, materials and resources to local artists and eccentrics deserves more than a line or two. But for quick context, the nonprofit storefront not only carries artist-made ephemera from zines, chapbooks, prints, cassettes and other objects; it also houses Sunday’s Print Service for public risograph printing, the ‘Occupancy’ residence programme and events. Pertinent to this column was The History Of installation in 2013, which featured cassette compilations and writings from a group of artists and record labels.
As for FinS, the Subcity radio show started transmitting last year, and yet after only a dozen episodes Matthew kindly duplicated in mono and assembled the No One Will Ever Know mixtape, releasing it for a magnanimous £3 (the price of postage, or a jar of peanut butter). I mention the price as retort to the scabs on Discogs who sell rare punk tapes at extortionate prices. To put the gesture of the mixtape in context, I’ve broadcast nearly 40 instalments of There Is No There There (also on Subcity), I run a cassette label, and although I regularly make mixtapes, I have never made a gift for the show’s listeners. The mix’s accompanying letter echoes the same care directed into the show, reminding me of a time when independent and pirate radio wasn’t merely to promote club nights, for the sake of so-called selection/curation or as cultural capital dangling from social media feeds, but rather to reinforce the medium as conveyer of a message of community solidarity, however naively utopian – something to break through the desolation inside the advances of communication capitalism 3.
As I’m nudging into nostalgic territory – a deplorable place to land, though it often can’t be helped, merely diagnosed – FinS and No One Will Ever Know transmit an effectual/affectual balance between underground ‘classics’ and contemporary lineations and detours; traversing shoegaze, the ever fertile and peculiar kiwi scene & its plump neighbouring island, post-punk, outsider CDr folk, dream pop, the more punk tinges of British art rock, et al. This inter-generational geology of outsider sounds isn’t banally compartmentalised as a timeline; but ricochets, so that the timelessness of a song written last week informs/deforms a song from decades ago and vice versa. The phenomenological temporality of the cover’s handless clock evokes a double entendre eliciting that the slow cancellation of the future 4 not only regurgitates the past, it understands full well, these partials and traces from the 20th Century, the dust continuing to accumulate, are here to loiter across the chain of presents.
1 Derrida, Jacques. “Injunctions of Marx.” Specters of Marx, Routledge, 1994, pp. 3.
2 Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle. Black and Red, 1977.
3 Dean, Jodi. Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies: Communicative Capitalism and Left Politics. Duke University Press, 2009.
4 Fisher, Mark. Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures. Zero Books, 2014.