It’s not all been bad…
It’s undoubtedly been a difficult year. A horrible year even. But… there are some things that weren’t shit for me in 2020. Here’s some stuff (in no particular order and with no particular theme) that have made me smile in the weird year of the pandemic. Some of it is stuff I’ve been involved in, some of it is stuff other people have created or done that I’ve enjoyed, some of it is just stuff that happened…
Trump didn’t win
Crikey. I was on edge. For however many days it went on for, I was checking the latest results every hour, sometimes more frequently. I was expecting the worst.
The world has been a strange place these past five years. Of course, there has never been global stability, but for the Western world, the relative calm of the pre-Trump, pre-Brexit era has been replaced by something sinister.
As a teenager, I got into reading a lot from the 1930s. I found the era fascinating. Christopher Isherwood’s descriptions of the rise of the Nazis in a decadent Berlin and George Orwell’s account of the fight against fascism in Spain were interesting and entertaining. What I found disturbing, years later, was to be able to draw comparisons between the events of the present world around me and the brewing horror all those years ago.
The normalisation of the far right in recent times has been appalling. A few years ago I would have associated the Conservatives with the economic right, but not with what was basically the manifesto of the BNP. Previously marginalised views had become mainstream and, to many people, acceptable. An even weirder phenomenon was the merging of extreme views on both left and right. I witnessed people sharing socialist ideas whilst simultaneously expressing support for Trump. Apparently, he is fighting for the working man against the Illuminati. Whoever they are. The world, I felt, had lost the plot completely. I thought Trump would probably win.
I don’t know a great deal about Biden, but what I do know is that he is a democrat, and he is not Trump. He is not, for one thing, a climate change denier, a science denier. And the bizarre narcissism of Trump truly ushered in the Age of Satire. It was often hilarious. The only trouble was, it was actually happening.
I can’t quite explain my feelings when Biden won. It seemed like the first thing that had happened in politics for such a long time that wasn’t shit. And towards the end of such a year, it was a very uplifting thing to happen. I don’t expect Biden to do amazing things, I don’t know if he is a ‘good’ guy, but he is not Trump. That makes all the difference. Trump was dangerous and his departure from the White House is a small turn in the tide, and one that was much needed.
Shelter Me Live Stream
Remember Fatima? The dancer from the badly thought out, insensitive ad campaign who didn’t know that her next job would be in ‘Cyber’? Well, these past few months I’ve been a bit like Fatima.
Unlike Fatima, I didn’t undergo a complete career change, but I did suddenly find myself working in just one area, and for much longer hours than I had done previously. And because of Covid, there were no gigs to play, no clubs to go to, etc. And I needed to earn money and the job I had taken proved to be a bit larger than I’d been briefed for so I found myself working pretty much every weekend and long hours on week days. By December, I felt like somebody had removed me entirely from my shell and there was nothing left. And I actually like coding.
I, personally, need to do creative things. I have never endured such a long stretch of time (it was about three months) where I have done almost nothing creative, and to live that way has been extremely bad for my mental health. It wasn’t intentional, it was just the way things panned out. Between September and Christmas I made one painting, spent half a day tinkering with a tune and recorded one hour long mix (my NARR radio show). That was it. Previously, I have spent several hours every day doing at least one of these things. I knew anyway, but realise even more so now, how important music, art, and writing are to me.
I wasn’t originally on the line up for the Shelter Me live stream. One of the DJs was unable to play, and I was called in. I said yes immediately. For one thing, it was for a great cause – the stream was a fundraiser for homeless charity, Shelter – and for another, I have missed playing events. Playing to an empty Sheaf Street during the Tier 3 restrictions wouldn’t be quite the same as during pre-pandemic times, but it would definitely be most welcome.
Thankfully, my housemate and fellow DJ, Alex Kelsall suggested we have a mix on the Friday night. I definitely needed this. Mixing records is not like riding a bike. If you don’t do it for a while, you might be a little shaky at the start.
Things went well the next day. I enjoyed playing and I was told people enjoyed my set. The entire event was top notch. It went to the number one stream on Mixcloud and £7702 has been raised for Shelter. The Just Giving page is still open for donations: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Shelter-Me-Festival
And not to preach. I know it’s a hard time for a lot of people now and not everyone can afford to make a donation, but if you can, please think about doing so. There is never an easy time to be homeless, but now, with the pandemic, less footfall on the streets, less cash being circulated, the cold winter weather, it must be exceptionally hard.
Something Happened Somewhere Once
I was immensely busy before the first lockdown. Busy with good stuff, but still way too busy. I had a lot of ideas that I’d made a note of to return to when I had more time.
‘Something happened somewhere once’ is an extremely short story and a joke I made fairly thoughtlessly. ‘It’s the shortest story ever told’ I said to my friend, Joe Haze, who must have made a mental note of it, because early this year, pre-pandemic, I was having a drink in Outlaws, and he rang me and asked if I’d made it up or quoted it from somewhere.
“No, it’s mine” I replied. “Just some nonsense I said.”
“Can I use it?” he asked me. “For something you’ll be involved in as well?”
I asked him to tell me more about the idea…
So – SHSO (or Something Happened Somewhere Once) is actually the brainchild of our friend Lee Mascall [insta link]. Not long after I moved to Leeds, I started a collective, Schwein & Bad Ornament, with Chris Kitchen, Joe Haze and a few others. Bad Ornament was actually a similar project from even longer ago – something I started back in my schooldays – the idea being to put on all ages music events and promote artwork created by us and our friends.
People didn’t really quite get Schwein & Bad Ornament. It was actually frustrating in that way that you can’t help but laugh at. I thought it was a brilliant idea to have a collective that promoted everything under the same umbrella – music, art, writing – because I love all these things, and I think they all complement each other. We did so much. We even published two graphic novels. But people were confused by it. I was told by several people at the time we were still going that they didn’t really know what it was. ‘Is it an art thing? DJs, I don’t get it!’ Frustratingly (and this is the bit that does make me laugh), after I’d given up on it all, two of the people who’d expressed this view mentioned to me that they’d been browsing the Schwein & Bad ornament website and thought it was wonderful. ‘All that stuff all in one place! It’s everything you want. And the site is so easy to navigate.’ Yes guys, yes, it is. Cheers for that.
I’d pondered over various ideas for a new art-based project. My time was quite consumed with our studio space, though, and I didn’t do much more than ponder. SHSO was presented to me, as a nearly whole idea, by Joe Haze, after Lee came up with the concept. It is a more refined, post-based version of what we were trying to do with Bad Ornament, but never quite achieved. Basically, we share regular posts on our site and all the main social media platforms and each of these is a piece of artwork or writing from one of our contributors. Sometimes it is a collaboration or juxtaposition (for example a painting paired with a short story).
The most wonderful thing about SHSO is the connections we’ve made through it with talented and sound people all over the world. At the start, all our contributors were people one of us knew, either through previous projects, university or just because they were a friend. A couple of months in, we were posting work by people such as Ruth Stoltenburg, a fine art photographer from Hamburg; and David Hewler AKA The Guy in the Library, based in the US.
If it hadn’t been for the lockdown, I am unsure if we would even have managed to launch this project by now. The first lockdown, apart from its obvious purpose, did have a positive side. Suddenly, for many of us, there was a lot of time. For some people this meant they could paint the house or tile the bathroom, for me, amongst other things, it meant I could build the site for SHSO and for us as a collective, we could properly plan the project and get it off the ground.
Below are some of the contributions, by (in descending order) Ruth Stoltenburg, The Guy in the Library and Odious Illustration
Launched last month in Leeds, with a roster of DJs from various places worldwide, NARR Radio has added a bit of cheer to our gloomy, locked down winter, for me.
The amazing shows, across a variety of genres, have provided an excellent soundtrack to several days.
NARR have taken on the space previously occupied by KMAH (who are sadly no longer broadcasting) in the excellent Released Records in Leeds Corn Exchange, and they occupy this space on the internet – https://narr.co.uk
They are also currently accepting applications for shows. If you’re interested, you can find more information on their website and facebook page
The Complexa Mix Series
The last gig I played before lockdown was at Sotano in York with my mate Jon AKA Upside Your Mind. I don’t think I thought that things would still be as they are now. Even the lockdown itself still seemed quite an unimaginable prospect. So with a cautious optimism, we discussed future events.
Jon was planning a new venture – Complexa – with another York-based DJ, Synthia. Spacey house and techno was the vibe. The events haven’t been able to happen yet, but the mix series has. I was honoured to be asked to contribute and have enjoyed the mixes immensely. You can listen to them here
Oh, such a long fucking time ago now, I decided to start a record label called Hideous Things. Well, just over a year ago, anyway. It feels like a lifetime.
I still haven’t got the first EP pressed. The unexpected extra costs of developing a studio space and the Covid pandemic have meant it’s had to be continually pushed back, which has been a cause of frustration to me.
It’s not been a total non-starter, though.
Originally, I’d wanted to start a label with Schwein, the night I ran with a group of friends in Leeds. Sadly, though, it seemed like the buzz had gone from this project. It hasn’t ‘officially’ ended, and I think I’d maybe like to do some Schwein events again, if the others are up for this, but also it was time for something new.
I’d discussed this with a friend, on a weird night out in York when all of the group I was out with seemed to be on a mission to offer me advice about my future (all very welcome and not in any way patronising, which I think the previous sentence may have made it sound). Anyway, one of these friends said that I should pursue the label as a brand new project and also said that I should use my [link]space artwork[link] for the sleeves. He’s a person who’s advice I trust implicitly and I decided to go with it.
I’d not decided on a name for my project yet, but a few months before, inspired by a passing comment made by someone I barely knew, I ended up playing a gig back to back with my friend Chris Kitchen (Kitchens Inc.) as Hideous Things. I had instantly thought ‘Hideous Things’ would be a great band name, and decided to use it as a comedy moniker when me and Chris played alongside ‘Talcum Powder’ (Rory Flynn and Jonathan Waring). Talcum Powder are ‘the band who only play records’, a sort of jokey guise under which the duo play house and techno. So we made some 70s DIY-looking flyers and Talcum Powder and Hideous Things played at 212. This was back in 2019, when such things could occur. One of my mates actually came down to the event expecting a punk gig and was quite taken aback when he found me and Kitchen on the decks, playing techno. This did result in us going back to his and having a ten hour mix, though, which was nice.
Anyway, I’ve made a short story long. Aside of my use of the name Hideous Things, none of that has much to do with what I began to say. Ultimately, I felt that ‘Hideous Things’ was too good a name to use merely for a joke and decided that I wanted it as the name for the label.
I also had decided that I wanted Hideous Things to be a mix series and a blog as well, and I set about putting it all together.
It was launched in February 2020, with an excellent mix from LXK, and since, through the doldrums of the pandemic, more mixes have been contributed, from Pete Melba, Perseus Traxx and Chris Kitchen. Another is upcoming, and – finally – the first EP. Watch this _____…
Our wonderful Imaginarium! This has been the love and bane of my life. The past year has been incredibly frustrating, because to start putting together a project like this and then to be stopped so close to completing it is not easy. (The Imaginarium was imagined as a shared workspace, studio space for artists, a place that includes a recording studio and green room, and a space for events.) Thankfully, we were not stopped entirely. Somehow, in spite of everyone having lost a large portion of their income, and in spite of not being set up to the extent that allowed us to apply for funding, we have, so far, still got our space.
The bane part comes only from the worry I’ve had about losing the space and the various things I’ve had to endure in order to ensure that we don’t. The love part is everything else about it. The space, as it has taken shape, is wonderful, and all the projects we have planned for it enthuse me immensely. I am, tentatively, excited for 2021. Even if restrictions continue for a while, we will do good things…
We brought in the year in style
Just over a year ago, I decided to have a little party for me and my friends. The previous New Year, we’d brought 2019 in at Wire, playing a Schwein event, followed by an afterparty at 212. As that year drew to a close, and work on our space drew near to completion, it seemed a logical conclusion to host a party at The Imaginarium.
As we were still a building site and not a licensed venue, this party would need to be a BYO, invite only event. I don’t really know how to describe it except to say that I am massively disappointed that we can’t have another one this year. The music was amazing, everyone was sound as fuck, and ‘everyone’ ended up being a lot of people. One friend has a theory that we are all still in an acid trip at that party, and that very soon, we will come to and be like ‘Fuck! That was weird!’ Oh I wish.
The weirdly good parts of the first lockdown
The second lockdown was not an easy time for me. The first one, though, had its moments. Generally, I feel on a fairly even keel, but in the early part of the first lockdown I experienced what it must be like to be an up and down kind of person. I’d go between feeling inspired, being happy to have some time to work on various ideas I’d had, rejoicing in the kindness and company of good friends and suddenly feeling a huge sense of doom faced with the utter confusion the events brought about, the sudden end to everything that was normal to me, the horrifying thought that things might be like this forever – or at least for a very long time. The good parts were really good, though…
I ended up living on my friend’s sofa from the 24th of March until we moved into our new house in July. This sounds like it should have been difficult, but it was actually the happiest I’d been in ages. It was a really chilled environment to be in, we all got on really well in the house, and did cool stuff like taking it in turns to cook elaborate meals every night and going for walks in the nature reserve. And the weather was gorgeous. That was a real saving grace. Although I would not want to be in that situation infinitely, in spite of the unsettling aspects, I look back on that time fondly.
Internal Connections Live Stream
Back in the summer, I took part in another live stream. As well as being a very enjoyable day, it was also the first proper use of our green room at The Imaginarium.
Annie Errez asked if they would be able to use our space for the broadcast, and asked if I’d like to play, as well, which I was buzzed about.
Hosted by Leftback Records, the music all day was excellent and after months of lockdown, it was, great to actually be able to hold an event in the place we’d built to hold events in.
It wasn’t a massively ideal time for me as I’d moved house a few days before and my stuff was still in disarray. I’d played a shabby set from a few things I’d cobbled together on sticks the previous night and wasn’t feeling too confident. On the day, though, it seemed to work out. Also, I opened, which was good, because I was a bit zombied after the house move, and it meant could chill and enjoy everyone else’s sets. This was just a week after the lockdown rules had been relaxed, and it felt good to do something like that, even if it wasn’t a club night.
Campaigns for good achieving positive results
Obviously, it should not take a campaign by Marcus Rashford for the government to be persuaded that kids should be able to receive free school meals in the holidays; neither should it take a 100 year old man raising money to provide funding for the NHS; nor should it take the unlawful shooting of a person by a police officer for people to start speaking out against racism. But unfortunately, that is the world we are currently living in, and it is a great thing that there are people who are willing to instigate a move for good, and that these instigators have achieved positive results. (Rashford is also launching a campaign promoting literacy and access to books for children from low-income backgrounds, something I believe, is hugely important.)
On my friend’s street in Burley, I noticed there were Black Lives Matter signs in almost every window. Apparently, my mate Rory made his, and then, one by one, his neighbours followed suit. A subtle but important part of this to take note of, is that these people are from a wide demographic (I briefly lived at Rory’s, so I know his neighbours), not just students and young professionals. Obviously, signs in windows, like clapping, are all very well, but do not replace real action or change. But, the fact that the issue is being highlighted and brought to peoples’ consciousness, is certainly a good thing. In contrast to the recent disturbing normalisation of far right attitudes, this provides a constant reminder to people that racism is unacceptable.
Black Lives Matter has been in existence for six years, but prior to this summer a lot of people who have got onboard with its campaigns were not aware it existed. Here are some of the changes BLM have brought about
Another force for positive action was the #wemakeevents campaign. The grants that were awarded to businesses in the arts sector I don’t think would have happened had it not been for this. Not that this leaves those who have benefited from it worry free, but it has still made a difference.
A good friend gifted me a subscription to the London Review of Books. I’m not going to now write a review of the publication, but I enjoy reading it and in these dark times over the past few months, it’s been a moment of joy to hear the post and then find a copy of the LRB has arrived for me.
The fast development of the Covid vaccines
This means that, eventually, we can return to normality. Lives will be saved. People will be able to see their families. I will be able to play music and dance in a nightclub again. Back in the spring, nobody thought it would happen so soon. I have ended up in various ‘banging your head against the wall’ type arguments with people, mainly on Facebook, about why this is a good and not a sinister thing, and I have neither the energy nor the time to go into all that right now. But big ups to all the people that have made this happen. Thank you.
People cracking on regardless
I don’t mean ill-advised mass gatherings or the sesh. Not that the sesh isn’t excellent, but I mean the general spirit of people in spite of adversity.
There was a point when I remember some people complaining about the number of live streams being broadcast, but I think to take that attitude, especially at such a time, was extremely mean spirited. I mean, nobody was forcing you to watch them. It is true, that there were a few weeks when your news feed was chock full of them and you’d be like ‘Oh – I see that Barry from the corner shop’s doing a live stream from his kitchen! Didn’t even realise he was a DJ.’ But, you know, so what? At least he’s not sat in his house, lonely and unoccupied, despairing at life. You have to carry on. And it was fun to take part in live streams for the venues we would have been playing in, back in April, when everything seemed so weird and unsettling. Still – here’s to a better one in 2021.