Thursday, 25 August 2011

Coming home

Uncivilisation festival this year was held in the countryside just outside of Petersfield in Hampshire. Taking the train down from London with my band mates, gave me a sense of nostalgia for where I grew up. This was the same route I would take to visit Portsmouth, when I still had family living there. From the station, the band and I bundled into a taxi and sped off to the festival site to make our soundcheck.

As we passed through the fields and woods of the Meon Valley, I let out a "well I'll be damned" grunt to myself. It was really quite pretty round these parts, and it brought back all the memories of the walks my parents used to take me on. I hated being taken along on the walking group we were a part of. All I wanted to do at ten years of age was to play on my GameBoy or watch television all day long.

The greatest pleasure I could take whilst on those walks was to find a walking stick, then promptly try to trip up my poor mother with it. That memory still makes me chuckle even now. To think though, that I had no interest in any of the natural world as a kid. I would stretch out in meadows as we had lunch somewhere, like some impish druid, mud splattered, grass stains up my trousers, a streak of dirt across my forehead. But I was not revelling in it like I would now. Now I would be like some overzealous student of DH Lawrence, thrusting my hands into the slime of the earth with purpose, to gain pagan credentials, or some such nonsense. As a kid, I was just making the best out of a bad situation. I guess that's just what kids do.

As we pulled in to The Sustainability Centre, the sun was low, and the site was calm except for the Feral Choir singing their lungs out somewhere off in the woods. I was very excited to be there. Having followed the Dark Mountain from its beginning, it had been a firm friend to me in my own personal journey, influencing and reaffirming over these few years. I had written a number of protest songs, which was my own way of contributing to a counter narrative. These included "If This Is Civilisation", "Give Me Detumescence", and my most recent "Infinite Squalor" that was to be debuted at this festival.

Primed with a healthy dose of sloe vodka and some local ale, we got to it, rattling them off to what was essentially a crowd of anarchists. I've no idea how we went down, it was just a pleasure to be there and a part of it all. There was a firm feeling of jubilation around the campfires that night, as if we were all there for a debriefing on a very important mission.

Saturday morning, that debriefing began, with talks on collapse, talks on the relevance of the Luddites today, a lesson on how to make alcohol from just about anything, entitled “Prison Booze”, and much more. However, much of that was eclipsed for me by a deeply humbling moment during the talk on the Luddites.

An old man that was sat at the side of the room got up and told the whole room: that he had been in the war, had read the American newspapers, which had excited him, had inspired him to follow the dream that they preached. Said "I worked for an American company for 40 years. I'm retired now, been so for 15 years. I just want to say, that it really hurts. To know that you've wasted your life for nothing."

He sat back down, without a hint of emotion on his face, just matter of fact. I was completely floored, my eyes were streaming, and I couldn't hear anybody else for the rest of the session. For someone nearing the end of their life to make an admission like that, let alone in front of a few hundred people, takes a humility rarely seen. What made it worse was that he was inconsolable, because he was probably right. There was nothing anyone could say to him to make him see it in a different light, and to attempt to do so would be to try to get him to believe in a lie. Utterly heart wrenching.

Arranging the evening Power Down in the woodland hut with that great harbinger looming over me was no easy feat. We laid out the candles, I made the relevant introductions, and promptly sat down on a pew. I paid barely any attention to what was going on in front of me, apologies to my friends that performed that evening. All I could think about was the old man’s words going over and over in my head, “It really hurts”.

Thankfully, I was soon awoken from the broody spell, and post Power Down we were all ushered back to the centre of the festival. Darkness had fallen and everyone was converging around a camp fire at the edge of the woods waiting for something to happen. Soon enough a small group of individuals became distinct from the crowd, wearing robes and with faces painted. This was all part of a performance piece called Liminal.

We were asked not to bother with taking photographs, to switch off our telephones, and to “watch out for the stag”. The group then disappeared into the woods and they beckoned us to follow. A flute began playing at the head of the party, and in single file this crowd of hundreds entered the motley English taiga in complete silence.

We encountered illuminated black and white artworks depicting historic scenes. They almost resembled cave paintings, albeit suspended in mid air amongst low branches. A faun like character, I’m guessing the “stag”, was huffing away somewhere out of sight and charged at the line of pilgrims from time to time. A naked man was lying at the base of a tree in the foetal position cradling a large pelvic bone in his arms.

We eventually stopped in a clearing in the woods where the flautist was still playing accompanied occasionally by a lady singing beautifully with no words. We waited there for all the other pilgrims to arrive in the clearing, to find a space for themselves. Of course, everyone’s interpretation is subjective, but to me it appeared that once the crowd was settled into the clearing, that we began to reflect, en masse. It was an undefined period of reverence, an appreciation of our immediate surroundings and the moment. A few candles dotted around lit up the canopy above us, just enough to give contrast to the clear starry night behind it. I for one was besotted.

I forget how we disbanded, but soon found myself around the campfire singing Dylan and Bowie songs. Naturally. The campfire being the most purest of democracies, no intimidation present, just about everyone offered a song, a poem, or a fragment of something. It didn’t seem to matter what, just that it was a little piece of themselves, almost as a sacrifice. It was a welcome equalisation of the distress from earlier in the day, and with a full heart and a big smile I laid my bones down to sleep.

This was the emotional terrain of the uncivilised weekend for me. Old questions answered, new ones quickly sprung up in their place. And with Portsmouth, the place where I was born and raised, looming on the horizon, visible from the festival site, there was a sense for me of coming home. Coming home to something familiar, but not actually experienced. Something burning in the bones, something inexplicable through science and reason. Perhaps a figment of my imagination, but I don’t see why that should matter in the slightest. What is becoming increasingly clear, thanks to the weekend at Uncivilisation and the Dark Mountain Project in general, is that there is a way through the tough times ahead. That navigation, I think it will be more meaningful than if none were needed. Rather collapse and all that entails, than the promise of infinity.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Virgin to the flame

This post may roll some eyes, I'm sure. To some it was inevitable given the amount of virtual banging-on I've been doing in the last month or so. However, I must share with you my excitement for this set of recordings, 'The House of Balloons' by The Weeknd.

What do I know of it all? Not a great deal. Young chap from Toronto, 21 years old, made it all in his bedroom. Oh that old chestnut eh? Only later do we find out that 2011's answer to Trevor Horn was producing. I know, I know, we've heard it all before.

Regardless...smooth androgynous vocals, heavily treated with a vocoder on many of the tracks, as he sings, stroke, raps his way through them, all to a backing track of electronic beats and wait for it...sped-up looped samples of...only my favourite band of last year...yes that's right...Beach House. What an incredibly heady concoction: dreamy choruses from Victoria Legrand punctuating this urban style croon of obscenities. And thank god it's not just one track, but multiple.

'The Morning' is certainly the standout track on 'House of Balloons', sounding in vibe but not content, like a number 1 hit record from the 1990s. However, this on repeat lasts just a few weeks. After you've lived with these glorious productions for a while, it's like looking into a magic eye painting, suddenly all the context leaps out at you in 3 dimensions. The motive behind the name becomes so ridiculously axiomatic, you feel silly you ever wondered about it.

What becomes clear is that the whole 9 tracks are the charting of a very long weekend indeed. One that is full to the brim with copious amounts of drugs, booze, lust, sex that doesn't happen, sex that does happen, what-is-she-doing-with-him, blow jobs, youthful arrogance, dancers, the list can go on, and does. In short, the ruminations of a teenage boy. Or the graffiti on the path to hell.

But my god, how the loins can stir when put so eloquently. Every party you ever went to, you wish they turned into this. For your mediocre memories, you'd take the mightiest come-down the world could conspire for just that one long evening of a hedonism only imagined in songs like these.

This is so on the mark of the moment it is quite unbelievable. And you may wonder, what this, *clears throat*, curmudgeonly old luddite who's apparently always harking back to days never endured, is doing listening to something so unashamedly decadent and on the pulse.

I tell you, when there is no hope, there is only oblivion. With the choice of jumping or being pushed, The Weeknd compels me to jump head first, like a virgin to the flame.

Download 'The House of Balloons' legally and for free from The Weeknd's site.

Listen to 'The Morning' below.

Friday, 5 August 2011

The Merits of Travel

Like an indefatigable leviathan, the issue of travel keeps coming up in conversations at the moment. Everyone I talk to is vehement that we must be doing it, like some blinkered religion no one stops to question. But the relevance of it, I can't get over the question of whether there is any or not.

We're taught in Britain that it's our birthright. To be able to move freely through the world, to seek employment, adventure, or relaxation, all just as equally essential. We are all middle class now and the world is our playground. We have overcome our capitalist oppressors, *chortle*, and we can now enjoy such luxuries as the experiences that only other countries can offer. Just like the rich once had exclusive access to. Our health, wealth, and life expectancy in comparison with our ancestors and the current slaving masses in the "developing" world, are testament to this.

But does anyone stop to question its relevance? Sure, we can argue that the experience one gains from travelling the world gives us perspective, which helps us make better decisions, enriches us as individuals and in turn our families and communities. That is hard to dismiss.

But to what degree must we travel in order to gain perspective? Must we see every golden cupola the world has to offer? Witness every "primitive" tribe in all the darkest deepest rainforests? Must we all drink from fish bowls of hallucinogenic drugs with bronzed Swedes on Thai beaches? Eat Argentinean steaks on the Pampas they came from?

Surely the benefit of literature is that we do not have to experience these things first hand. That we can be enlightened via proxy. This must be good enough for most of our experiences, our thinking, and the concoction of our world view.

Perhaps it is the same kind of misguided individualism that inspires half the world to be indelibly inked with "unique" tattoos. Is it the effect of the awareness of feeling so insignificant in the world that we must strike out in some way, to be appear original, at all costs? I'm sure these confused ramblings are something along those lines too.

I don't like to bring the environment into this, as horrific an effect our cumulative attempts at individuality are, these quests for a questionably richer fabric of personal history. But surely the same question would, and should arise. If there were no environmental degradation from millions of people taking pointless journeys, surely we must still question the point of those journeys.

Of course, many of them are not pointless. There is little we can do when the globalised world encourages us to fall in love with people from far flung reaches, or retire to overseas "paradises". All of which require us to travel to keep alive those essential connections with our loved ones. I would not begrudge anyone who feels that need, I have felt it myself, of course. The perpetuation of those close relationships is essential, possibly one of the very few rational reasons for journey.

But for all others, I can't get it. Surely our efforts should be devoted to our immediate surroundings. To enrich them, to make them beautiful and pleasant places that we would want to live, relax, love, and retire in, not an infinite squalor we continually want to escape from. Then we would have no need for the greener grass over yonder.

As the late poet Glyn Hughes said in a recent interview for the Dark Mountain II anthology, "We are sold aspiration...Earn enough money to get on a plane and fly somewhere else to lie on a beach. Why? You don't need it. Go round the corner and lie in a field instead."

Footage from The Lexington

Some footage of my solo show at The Lexington a few weeks ago below. It’s a playlist, so should load one video after the next, seamlessly. If you don’t want to listen to all though, links to individual songs are below it. New songs debuted, such as “We’ll Go Dancing” and “Old Friend”…Enjoy!

We’ll Go Dancing by Marmaduke Dando

Old Friend by Marmaduke Dando

If You Go Away sung by Marmaduke Dando

The Art of Decay by Marmaduke Dando

We Fucked It Up by Marmaduke Dando

And thanks to Andrew Clarke for filming and putting these together, much appreciated.