Now I realize that I’m only for me

(portishead – machine gun)

The other night I went to a release party for a queer zine (with the translated title of “fags and disaster”) at a squat in Athens. One reason that I’m not looking forward to going back to the USA: the anarchists in europe listen to good music. I’m well known for my disinterest in the current fad of US anarchists listening to mainstream pop and hiphop. Nothing against pop or hiphop… I’m quite fond of both. I’m disgusted that we set up countercultural spaces, occupying warehouses or at least finding a modicum of liberty in rented spaces, and then infuse those spaces with what mainstream culture would prefer us to listen to. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there is a higher instance of youth radicalism in Europe, where countercultural tendencies exist in more or less every music genre.

I got into this whole “anarchy” thing looking for a beautiful way to live my life and to question the fundamental assumptions put forth by our society. I didn’t get into it so I could dance with hipsters to songs with misogynist lyrics.

Anyhow, at this wonderful party in a giant abandoned apartment building in Athens, they played such good music: lots of dark wave, danceable noise, a bit of techno, a bit of gothic. Actually the above song was almost the mainstream thing I heard. I had never heard it before, though I listened to an awful lot of Portishead in the 90s. It’s so good. Industrial as hell but mixed with the kind of current dark pop sensibility one might find in The Knife or iamamiwhoami.

6 thoughts on “Now I realize that I’m only for me”

  1. Oh, come on. I’m so sick of people talking about the homogenous “european anarchist” and “american anarchist” and their differences, romanticizing the anarchists in other places and slandering what is more familiar. I’ve been to those parties in Athens and guess what–the anarchists there DO listen to pop music, too. In fact I came back from Athens with all kinds of pop songs stuck in my head that my friends here were surprised I had never heard before in the US, because my circles of friends here are in fact more embedded in counter culture–Lady Gaga, La Roux, etc. In case it’s not clear, I’m not arguing the inverse of what you stated, but saying that you can’t generalize like that.

    Furthermore, it’s so problematic that you just lump the general “hip hop” into your statement–as if hip hop doesn’t contain political messages about black struggle and class war, even including (gasp!) mainstream hip hop.

    As for assumptions, maybe what you describe as a “current fad” of anarchists getting into pop music and hip hop actually reflects that more people are getting into anarchy than just the subcultural corner you came from.

    Finally, who are you to say whose tastes are more infected by capital? As if it were so black and white that what’s “mainstream” is oppressive and what’s DIY is liberatory. How moralizing. Anarchsits: Thou shalt not like Lil Jon.

    I don’t read your blog frequently, but I do pop by every now and then and from what I’ve seen before I expect better than this.

    1. First of all, I intend to slight mainstream hip-hop, not hip-hop in a broader sense (the same as I malign mainstream pop while not opposing pop in general).

      Second of all, I am generalizing, and I’m doing so in a broader sense than just Athens. To be honest, I don’t know Athens or its scenes very well. There’s a reason why I said “europe” and not “greece.” I do genuinely believe that there is a much broader countercultural tradition to be found among the youth of europe when compared to America, and whether you agree with me or not, I will make the assertion that immersing ourselves in mainstream shit will not help us develop.

      I’m not just referring the subcultural corner that I come from, I’m referring to the subculture and counterculture in a much broader sense. I’m pretty vocal about my support for radical subcultures of all kinds. One particularly enlightening Reclaim the City demo I was at in Germany, which attracted what appeared to me to be a wide spectrum of participants, had three different soundtrucks with rotating DJs spinning more or less every type of contemporary music, from hip hop to punk to trance to drum&bass, all of it radical.

      So yes, I’m generalizing, but I’ve been to demos and parties across more or less the entire continental US and a good portion of europe. There are differences in the rough character of the US and EU anarchist scenes.

      So hip hop. Most of the hip hop I listen to is from artists who routinely take swipes at the mainstream radio bullshit that has destroyed the sense of radicalism in hip hop. There’s no reason why I have to blindly support the mainstream of a subculture just because it’s not my culture: I will happily find my radical allies and stand with them. I’ve no interest in misogynist hip hop, no. I don’t know who lil jon is, but if he’s a misogynist rapper, then yeah, I’ll be pretty fucking frustrated if people play his music at our parties all the time.

      The mainstream is horrific. There’s a reason I am the enemy of the order of today. Homophobia, sexism, racism, heteronormativity, the concept that the earth exists simply as “resources” for extraction, assumptions of hierarchy and authoritarianism, concepts of nationalism… these are what the mainstream culture offers us and reinforces in us. Why would I be happy about that? Why should I blindly support this?

      I suspect you have me at a disadvantage: I suspect you know me in real life and are posting this attack (well-intentioned or not, you don’t start off polite discourse with “oh come on”) anonymously.

  2. As for assumptions, maybe what you describe as a “current fad” of anarchists getting into pop music and hip hop actually reflects that more people are getting into anarchy than just the subcultural corner you came from.

    Eh, I think it’s more that anarchists and punk type folks feel more free to branch out their musical tastes than they used to. Instead of JUST being into punk (and maybe some hardcore & ska for good measure plus a lil darker stuff) they’re into everything from Conflict to Bauhaus to Lady Gaga to Lil’ Wayne nowadays. Maybe it’s just where I live, but it feels like the punk show has been replaced by the dance party as the primary recreational (music-related) social gathering for radicals. But in their spare time, these folks are still playing in punk bands, still making noise music, still tabling at shows, still goin to goth-nights. Out of all the anarchists I’ve met in my life, I haven’t met a single one who raps, freestyles or does beats.

    Anarchism in the U.S. is still about as white as I remember it being 10 years ago, still as youth-centric, middle-class, etc.

    Personally, I’ve (in spite of myself) followed the trajectory of growing to love mainstream hip hop and pop from working in clubs the past couple of years. I’m still honestly trying to work out in my head why the worst, most misogynistic stuff I hear speaks to me. Maybe it’s one of them “reclaiming” dealies, where I can turn all the negative stuff in the music into affirmations of positive female sexuality, and into a certain comforting aloofness towards emotional pain. Or where I can experience the idea of materialism as fantasy, after growing up poor/not ever having nice stuff and always wondering how it might feel. Or as a place where I myself can experience those feelings of power over others (particularly women) the mainstream rapper expresses. Maybe I internalize lots of negative messages about my sexuality, race, gender, body, profession, blahblah & subconsciously it feels good to feel like I’m calling someone else all those bad, dirty names. Or perhaps I just associate these songs with how good I feel when I dance, how damn good my co-workers look when they dance, or the energy I feel when I’m bankin.

    Most of these reasons prolly sound kinda dumb or fucked-up. But I feel like bein more honest than “d00d I just like the beats ok??” Honest, respectful convo is where it’s at

    1. I think your assessment of the situation is acute, and I think that this is the way that the rise of the dance party has come to be.

      I recognize that when I’m talking shit on the rise of the dance party, I’m talking shit on a decision that is being made by a majority of my friends and peers. Basically, for me, perhaps the main reason I resent this trend is that I feel left out. I don’t “get it.” It frustrates me and takes what was previously a warm, welcoming scene and makes it feel like something I will forever be an outsider of.

      It also, in my opinion, ups the irony and detachment in our scene. It takes one or the other (or reclaiming, as you’d suggested, although I suspect that this is present for a minority of people only?) in order to listen to music that is so blatantly lyrically against ones values on any kind of regular basis in public.

      Basically, I recognize that it will continue, and that I will continue to gripe about it.

      1. Oh, not forever. Just til anarchos collectively move on to the next subcultural trend (remember when anarcho-folk-punk was just getting big? Riot Folk, Plan-It-X Records, etc? I can’t remember the last time I heard a Defiance Ohio or Ghost Mice album played at a party or in a friend’s car or home in the past 2 years. Folks are still making this kinda music but the movement isn’t seeping with it at every turn anymore.)

        Young-ish U.S. anarchists seem to stick with their “first loves” (punk, hardcore, traditional folk, goth, indie) but pass through the mainstream (or not-so-mainstream) musical trends as they come along, enjoying them for a while til they feel burnt-out and bored, and maybe picking up a lil education and appreciation for these other musical genres along the way.

        “(…reclaiming, as you’d suggested, although I suspect that this is present for a minority of people only?)”

        True, won’t argue with that. I try not to make assumptions about individuals’ backgrounds and motivations for their particular tastes if I don’t know em well enough, but I wonder if, for some middle- to upper-class suburban white anarchists the music allows them a space through which to live out a sort of “slumming” fantasy? Like, dancing to music that reflects the experiences, desires, fantasies and frustrations of poor black men makes some of em feel “‘hood” or “ghetto” or “prole” or whatever? Just a thought.

        “Basically, for me, perhaps the main reason I resent this trend is that I feel left out. I don’t “get it.” It frustrates me and takes what was previously a warm, welcoming scene and makes it feel like something I will forever be an outsider of.”

        You’re not alone in this same frustration.

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