You may have noticed recently that Mille Plateaux and Force Inc seem to have been strangely reanimated from the grave, after over 15 years of near-silence. If you’re not familiar with these labels, they were (are?) run by Achim Szepanski, who took inspiration from the likes of Deleuze and other impenetrable cultural theorists. I did try to read Mille Plateaux, several times, honestly. But it was just far too abstract for me to ever get a handle on what the fuck they were saying exactly. I’d find myself confused and had to go back to the start of the paragraph to have any idea of the concept they were trying to convey. But it was nice that somehow there was an enthusiast out there who was linking up the dots between this sort of dense academic prose and techno bangers. You may be familiar with some of the “greatest hits” of the label or sublabels that Szepanski ran, my favourite of which was the house-leaning Force Tracks. The likes of Luomo, MRI, Crane AK, Hakan Lidbo and Safety Scissors appeared on Hypercity, mixed by veteran Andy Weatherall, was probably the high point of the umbrella’s output for me. The other peak, which I must have heard out on proper sound systems several times, was Ian Pooley’s “Chord Memory” STILL produces an endorphin shiver down the back of my neck every time those high hats kick in around the one minute mark, all those years later.
Mille Plateaux have a new book coming out in March, called the Ultra Black of Music, promising the same sort of dense prose that their lines notes communicated throughout the 90s and early 00s. Will I buy it? Most likely. Will I understand it? That’s another matter. But like any good art, even in the text form, it should challenge me and rouse me from my increasing lethargy. Here’s a snippet from one of the contributed pieces, called “Don`t Forget to Change The Beat from Time to Time – About Counter-Raving” by Shintaro Miyazaki: “Counter-Raving is a way to disentangle oneself from the unwanted, discriminating, unfair ways of technologies’ capture and which does not lure us into withdrawal, but into re-pair, re-entanglement and reformation. As an idea yet to be put into practice, counter-raving is inspired by many predecessors, projects and movements such as R3 Soundsystem, Acid Communism, Algo-Raving, Disobedient Electronics, etoy, Electronic Disturbance Theater, Critical Engineering1 and blended with the vibes of early Techno music as an emancipatory political movement. It is a group and community-oriented gesture, and builds strongly on dynamics of collective joy and its mobilisation.”
It’s good to see the R3 soundsystem get a nod in there. Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery, or is it just because I couldn’t think of a decent idea myself? Maybe it’s both! I have been saving some of my monthly salary since Rebirth, with the intention of replacing the piece of shit mixer that I got from a Walworth Road pawn shop for 60 quid, with something with lots of bells and whistles. After an unpleasant experience trying to DJ in a late bar in Peckham, where the crowd just Would. Not. Dance. , and my submissions for a radio show were met with tumbleweed from Balamii, I went through a brief period of self-reflection and analysis. Was it likely that I would ever want to do the late bar gigs on a regular basis? Coming home dehydrated and demoralised, late enough so half the next day was a write off, I guess I realised that spending the savings on a mixer would be a waste.
But – the reinvigoration of the R3 events got me thinking. Look at all these people, having a great time, coming together in the street in “a group and community-oriented gesture” and “collective joy” that Miyazaki is talking about. Isn’t that the sort of thing that is bringing a smile to my face, rather than trying to find the right record to coax drunken thirty year olds off their seats at 1am off Rye Lane? Yes, yes it is. It was time to be realistic about my aspirations to be playing deep, introspective house music, with scores of head-nodding aficionados crowded around the decks. No new mixer is going to do that for you. And as I get older, I value my alcohol-free sleep and reasonably regular timetable of running. Time to shift focus.
So I’ve “gone large”. Sold off a bike, a perfectly functioning but old third direct-drive deck (I can barely manage to mix with two, never mind a third), sold off some valuable records that I wasn’t listening to any more, which was a hard call, and with this and the savings decided to invest in a small but punchy sound system. (Disclaimer: it is not the one pictured above!)
I was thinking about what to call it. The name “E4 soundsystem” came to mind. Empathy, Earth, Everyone, Ecstasy. Empathy for other beings, including animals. Earth because it’s the last refuge we have and need to care for it. Everyone because surely some of the lyrics / samples of every house tune have embedded themselves in my brain, if we share experiences together then maybe there is still a chance of redemption for even the most far gone scumbags. And Ecstasy because of the ecstasy of music and communal experience, but also – fuck it – the experience of the drug Ecstasy, which still has the potential to change people’s lives for the better. But then I thought that is just going to end up labelling me as an aging hippy (partly guilty). And I don’t necessarily want to be hammering people over the head with my politics. I just want them to enjoy some liberatory deep house and UK garage (pitched down between minus 3 and 8 in most cases!) in a communal setting, and then they can take what messages they want from that. I also don’t have the mental capacity of the Mille Plateaux theorists to intellectualise it on that abstract level.
So I guess it’s just the Bermondsey Lido Sound System then. I’ll have it mounted on a cargo bike and I’m going to bring it along to this month’s Critical Mass bike ride – WEATHER PERMITTING, leaving from the BFI on Friday at around 7pm. I’ve put together a mix which has some melancholic moments, which I thought was appropriate given that all sorts of pro-Brexit clowns will be hanging around town for their 11pm send off. But you have to take the rough with the smooth, and feel the lows to value the highs, and I hope that the music cranked up is the silver lining to your cloud.