Circling the Drain
Oct 30 2012
My name is John Doran and I write about music. The young bucks who run VICE’s website thought it would be amusing to employ a 41-year-old who remembers when The Bill was good.
In case you were wondering or simply too lazy to use urban dictionary, ‘menk’ is Scouse/ Woollyback slang for a mentally ill or educationally subnormal person, and is a shortened version of mental. As in, “Your Sergio Tacchini trackie is sick la, look at that menk Doran, he can’t even afford a Walker trackie. Let’s hit him with a brick and push him in the canal."
MENK 46: CIRCLING THE DRAIN
I was talking to a lecture hall full of righteous looking students at UCA Epsom recently. While I’m not averse to telling strangers about how much I upset Kanye West, or how I got stabbed by a member of an Icelandic hardcore group, I do try to abandon the senseless self-aggrandisement for at least a few minutes to address the dull stuff regarding the actual process of writing. And when it comes to this point, it really doesn’t get more fundamental or useful than George Orwell’s "Five Rules For Effective Writing", taken from the 1946 essay Politics And The English Language. (This list is so fundamental, in fact, that the number of newspaper and magazine style guides that quote them mean the laws themselves are guilty of breaking rule number one, in a logic-frying meta-loop.) Anyway, in case you’ve never read them, they are:
1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
(If you have a lot of time on your hands, you might want to go through this column applying these rules to it. As luck would have it, there’s a comments section below for you to leave your hilarious findings in.)
Of course, Orwell – not being what you’d call an idiot or a tedious literalist – realised that people should follow the spirit rather than the letter of these commandments, which is why he introduced his sixth rule:
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
These rules mean a lot to me, which is why I got them tattooed onto my body the day I started writing full time 15 years ago. Ironically though, the longer I spend sitting down writing, the bigger my ass gets and the more distended the ink on rule number four has begun to look.
And now, in the middle of Digbeth, in the middle of Birmingham, in the middle of a revelatory* gig, in the middle of the Supersonic festival: I have an epiphany. (*Rule number one doesn’t apply here as I’ve had so many drugs the concert is literally like something out of The Revelation Of St John.)
I realise that I have a list of aesthetic requirements I apply subconsciously to bands before I take them seriously. The list includes ideas such as: the band or singer must not be downwardly mobile or pretend to be working class when actually middle class. Also: the band or singer must not curtail their artistic ambition for fear of alienating their audience. It also contains what I previously thought was a given: the band can’t feature white people with dreadlocks. The epiphany is a realisation that I need to instigate an Orwellian Rule Six.
From this day on, Rule Number Six states that the best bands can break any of my aesthetic requirements in any way, shape or form; and in this instance the best band happens to be a bunch of Irish/Mancunian space rangers called GNOD. As you may have guessed, several of their number are Caucasian with locks.
GNOD - "Genocider"
This revelation is happening during a weekend of happy celebration with friends. (Lisa and Jenny from Capsule have reached the tenth anniversary of their superb extreme music and arts festival Supersonic and it’s a privilege to be asked to help out with a bit of talking and DJing given that I’ve been to nearly all of them and watched it grow into a world class event and certainly the most consistently brilliant and forward-looking festival in the UK, if not the world.) The bar has already been set very high by The Bug, Devilman and Hey Colossus this weekend but GNOD are currently taking it higher…
After last year’s catastrophic misjudgement of the dosage, I decided to keep my powder dry for the first two days while I had work to get on with, but by Sunday breakfast time, I was straining at the leash. Now that GNOD are on stage and it’s mid-afternoon, I’m a psychically degenerate shambles. My head is throbbing like a stained glass window lined grotto of unconventional thought and atavistic proto-religious impulses. GNOD are not cool like The Palma Violets, Alt-J or The Blow Monkeys and you can’t imagine seeing them in Monocle or Horse And Hound Magazine like you could with, say, Peaking Lights, but they are brutally effective and I, for one, would follow them into spiritual combat. Roughly speaking there are two types of psychedelic group round at the moment, those who want you to know that they’ve got a dead obscure and dead expensive collection of rare psych 7-inches collected from Chile, Turkey and Japan, and those who want to sheer your head clean off with a golden scimitar forged in a volcano from unfiltered sunlight. There is no doubt which camp GNOD are in.
GNOD are a Northern Death Cult of debased black hole worshippers with Mancunian Manson vibes, dragging the 6-6-60s into the 21st Century. They are progressive with infected vision, mixing Loop with Tony Allen, mixing The Callico Wall with Killing Joke, annihilating memory and desire. As the hypnotic throb overpowers me, all of my higher functionality starts peeling away like flesh in a crematorium oven; evaporating like a scone in a car wash. I’m an empty headed marionette, jerking spasmodically to the beat, dancing like Shaun Ryder ten minutes before he falls over.
With all thoughts of work, travel and money banished, globules of pure unbidden recall start rising up out of the darkness, like colossal batholiths, burning up through the mantle of my quotidian life. When I was 14 I took a hiding in Liverpool and ended up needing surgery on my eyes for a detached retina. Because of this I had to spend a summer lying down wearing sunglasses taking pain killers. A doctor suggested that I would be less depressed if I kept a diary and I did try for a bit but every day the entry went something like this: “Ate cheese on toast for breakfast. Lay on couch feeling nervous. Listened to Tubeway Army. Watched 15-1."
Realising that one day was pretty much like the next, I started ranking and renaming my favourite black holes instead. The list started out something like this:
DAY ONE: Messier 104 aka The Sombrero aka The Mexican aka El Egujero Negro. Our biggest neighbouring black hole with a mass equivalent to one billion times that of our sun. The death of all things.
DAY TWO: 4C+37.11 aka Jim and William Reid aka Morecombe and Wise. A binary pair of supermassive blackholes in 150,000 year orbit separated by 24 light years, which is fast and close but probably not the fastest or closest. Double jeopardy.
DAY THREE: Sagittarius A* aka Ernie aka The Nougat Void. The supermassive black hole at the centre of The Milky Way…
By the end of the gig I’m having the opposite of a melt-down. I’m having a melt-up. I turn to the person next to me: “I want to join GNOD and do some spoken word about black holes. I think they may worship black holes. I know I do…” But he walks off without saying anything.
I’m still buzzing when I run into one of the band members: “Hey… I’d like to come and visit you in Salford for a few days. Sit in on some of your practices. Do some spoken word stuff about black holes.”
Now out of all the stupid things I’ve said to bands while still buzzing after a gig (“Are those your legs?”; “That was like Peter Sutcliffe and Jimmy Savile’s reunion party in Hell”; “That made me feel very sexy. And very tall”; “I feel like a rapist”) this was up there with the stupidest. But do you know what the dude said to me? “Sure. You’re welcome to come and stay with us, we’ll find some room for you. I’m glad you enjoyed the gig. It’s nice to meet you.” And you can take it from me that this is not what happens when you try talking to The National when you’re on drugs.
So what business is it of mine if this chap sports dreadlocks? Absolutely none.
It pains me to say it but bands should never listen to what music journalists think. If they’re making art, raising hell, vanquishing demons, creating sonic weaponry, harnessing energy from the big bang converting it to different, less destructive waveforms that temporarily say, “Right now, I am here. I am a self-aware ember left over from the accident of creation. I am glitter in the void.” If they are reflecting this sentiment back out into eternity, who cares what some badly dressed cocaine addict with a Blackberry thinks of their music?
When I get home to London and I tell her about the weekend, however, Maria gives me a kindly look that suggests it may be some time before I have a window in my schedule that will allow me to move up to Salford temporarily to join a band as their resident advisor on black holes.
Photo by Luke Turner
Previously: It's Midnight... I'm On the Soul Train!