Scott Walker + Sunn O))), Soused (listening event) – Church of St John-at-Hackney, London – October 14th, 2014

So far, so transcendent. For long enough the soundsystem, which had been the subject of much self-satisfied, speculation in the queue ahead of the event, had pumped out Scott Walker + Sunn O)))’s visceral, thundering, grim new record, Soused, into the plaster-clad church in Hackney. The album is superlative – much more superlative than you might expect of Scott Walker plus Sunn O))); more superlative than Scott Walker times Sunn O))).

(This was all written, in a rush, in a notebook, during and shortly after the event, and hasn’t been corrected.)

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House of Cards and Game of Thrones: TV for an age of villainous heroes

Our leaders are venal, manipulative, incestuous and murderous. And we can’t get enough. The two biggest TV events of the year – the premiere of the second series of House of Cards, in February, and the finale of the fourth series of Game of Thrones this week – have appealed to our unquenchable and contemporary thirst to see those in power slime around.

But why do we like them so much? It doesn’t seem to be a simply reflective appeal –the world is full of selfish and powerful people and it is not a new or interesting insight for a person or TV show to have. Instead, in a bewildering and new age, these programmes demonstrate important contemporary paradoxes. We like our heroes villainous; we want behind the scenes manipulation to take centre stage. It’s more honest, and more attractive: in TV, as in life, it’s the slimy people that make things happen.

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Beyond the Redshift (and the future of festivals)

It’s a grand claim for a festival, especially one that is more like a constellation of similar artists than the usual fête-y feel of many UK events. But Beyond The Redshift lived up to it:

The cosmological redshift is caused by the expansion of space. The wavelength of light increases as it traverses the expanding universe. Unable to assume that we have a special place within this universe, the redshift suggests to us that everything is moving away from everything else…

We may not be able to go beyond the redshift, but we can certainly think beyond it. We are bringing together artists who expand within their space – artists who create something special within this space.

Beyond the Redshift was held in three venues around Kentish Town on Saturday, May 10. It began at lunchtime and ran till 11pm. It offered a neat rejoinder to death of the festival rhetoric, and a vindication of the heavily abstracted, tightly-defined version of the event-form.

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Blue Ruin: failures and fantasies of revenge

Revenge is the sweetest vice; the possibility of virtuous violence. Violence without revenge is brutality, but with it, violence can become justice. Blue Ruin puts all of those easy abstractions to death.

The film has the making of a plain revenge flick. A man called Dwight has been living in a car at the beach, washing by breaking into other people’s bathrooms and eating discarded sandwiches, apparently unable to join society since his parents were killed. The man locked up for killing them is, at the start of the film, freed. Dwight pledges revenge. It starts, and falls apart, from there.

Dwight, Blue Ruin

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The aliens we deserve: Under The Skin and misanthropology

What would you look like to an alien? Probably an irrational sack of meat. (Certainly you would look that way to Scarlett Johannson.) It’s an often asked question, and that answer is strangely comforting. In part because it’s clearly untrue: we have thoughts, we are people, the obsession with thinking about ourselves as bags of brawn helps us realise that we’re not. But Under The Skin isn’t interested in the vague humanism that characterises so many of our aliens: for once, the extraterrestrials have arrived to show the worst of humanity, and there’s no consolation to be found.

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Review: Her

Her is a film about a man falling in love with an operating system; it looks from outside like a technophobe’s ideal parable.* I began quite worried that Her would be overly preachy: Aren’t we all too obsessed with our phones, real communication is amazing, and that sort of thing.

It puts paid to that pretty quickly: the opening scene shows Theodore at his job, writing apparently heartfelt letters on demand for his customers’ celebrations. One of his customers supposedly misses his girlfriend’s little crooked tooth, another [something]; the results are printed out in artificial handwriting and sent away. (The company is called BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com.) Her might look like the kind of film that would encourage us to write handwritten letters to one another, as a corrective to the wealth of humanity-less digital communication that we are continually exposed to; but Her shows that letters can’t be honest anymore.

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Steve McQueen’s Bodies: 12 Years A Slave, Shame, Hunger

Having a body in the films of Steve McQueen inevitably leads to misfortune, and little else. In Hunger, Shame, and now 12 Years a Slave, the body is a site of suffering, lingered over usually far too long to be comfortable. But the most successful of McQueen’s characters and films manage to make that body and its pain into an instrument, coming to own their unfortunate flesh.

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True Detective and false genius

Film can’t cope with deduction, but it is in love with deductive geniuses. Increasingly, over the last few years, it has found new ways of isolating those geniuses – developmental or mental health difficulties, implicit or explicit, usually – so that their deductions can be isolated, too. Sherlock in both recent adaptations, Hannibal‘s Will Graham, Homeland‘s Carrie Matheson: their genius is their madness, and vice versa.

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Black Sabbath: Symptom of the Universe – Mick Wall – Orion – 2013

Unlike most bands, the story of Black Sabbath is one that has been told too many times, by too many people – and each new attempt to do so usually complicates rather than elucidates the legend. Mick Wall (who has written a number of books on the band’s constituent parts) has written a new book that claims to be “The final word on the only name synonymous with heavy metal,” according to its publishers. A big challenge for what might be the bitchiest band in British music history.

Black Sabbath: Symptom of the Universe

Wall does a brave job in corralling those various stories and personalities into something approaching cohesion. When there are falling outs – and there are lots – he opts to keep both stories and remain on the fence about which is true. But that doesn’t always work – when, exactly, did Ozzy Osbourne leave Black Sabbath for the first time? There’s little agreement, so there’s little discussion. In a story where there are so many interested parties trying to bend the story for their own interests – Sharon Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Bill Ward all being busy PR operators – readers need someone to help guide them through the charming but fragmented stories.

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Penguin Classics doesn’t need anyone’s sanctimony about the Morrissey book

It is a joke. And a good one. Probably Penguin are laughing too. Certainly everyone else should. It’s so odd to see supposedly well-meaning people get hot and bothered on behalf of a publishing imprint. It’s not even a record label. (That would be weird enough.)

Penguin Classics has, by definition, never done anything to support its authors. (At least not until now.) Its value is pure inheritance. Sure it has chosen its mad old aunts well. But they are only aunts. And they are only old.

I’m sure the glitzy shareholders of Penguin Random House are glad of everyone’s vocal support. But it’s an oddly self-important person that thinks that they need it, and a weird line of reasoning that makes that person think that Penguin deserve it.

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