Posted by: martinworster | May 9, 2021

We invented it. No we did. Who invented punk?

Jimmy Page – blues from the Mississippi Delta via Surrey, UK

I was having a conversation with an American friend about music and he came up with the comment; ‘But yeah, we invented rock and roll’. I replied: ‘Yes, but we perfected it.’ Which I think is a fairly accurate statement. Rock and roll did emerge in the US in the 1950s with artists like Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Elvis (to name a very few), all of whom had huge influences in the UK. But I’d say most people’s modern perception of rock and roll will come from the blues based version which emerged in the late 1960s via bands like the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Cream who dug a little deeper into the American musical cannon and studied the blues artists (Robert Johnson, T Bone Walker, Bo Diddley) and slightly sped it up whilst giving it the rock and roll edge and attitude (hedonism, excess and debauchery). Indeed – according to BB King – the blues lineage can be traced from the Missipi Delta, via Chicago to the same village in Surrey where Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page all came from.

I’ve always found the musical interplay between the US and the UK fascinating and you can study most music genres and trace it back to some cultural dialogue between the two countries. Sometimes the conversation can turn competitive as each country tries to lay claim to have inventing a sound or genre. A sort of flag planting colonialism where we – or they – claim to have come up with whatever is being talked about first. In some respects it’s a pointless conversation. Who cares where it came from, as long as it’s good music? On the flip side, tracing the genesis of a musical form is interesting and tells us things about history and culture.

‘Hey, Ho…Let’s go’

Perhaps the most fervent grounds for ‘who invented it’ conversations is in the punk world. My personal take is the US had a head start with bands like the New York Dolls (influential, particularly in the fashion sense), The Stooges and The Ramones all setting a very important part of the template.  The Ramones particularly had a massive influence in the UK after one famous gig at the Round House in London where every punk band after that claimed to have been in the audience. The Ramones sound and attitude was very influential and I imagine at the time a heralded a new paradigm; short songs, musically unsophisticated but passionate and energetic, lots of guitar feedback and a certain understated nonchalance in performance. But then the UK audiences would have seen these acts and taken it one step further. As ever with youth cultural movements in the UK a big advantage to their growth and success is the fact that the UK is a lot smaller physically – hence scenes, music, fashion and all the other trappings can spread quicker via word of mouth and the music press. Things can blow up very quickly as they did with punk. I’d say a major part of the fashion sense and culture would have been from the British input; safety pins, ripped jeans, colored hair, mohicans, t shirts with hand scrawled slogans, Doctor Martins, spitting and pogoing at gigs. They say the hot summer of 1976 was really the ground zero for punk in the UK with bands like the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, Siouxsie and the Banshees, X Ray Specs and The Slits all coming through. Just as quickly as it blew up, by 1979 things started to wane – the punk star shone brightly and burnt out quickly – as things moved into post-punk (or New Wave as coined by our American cousins) and New Romanticism. 

Anarchy in the UK

Another fascinating musical dialogue between the nations took place with the Northern Soul scene – and another great example of UK music obsessives picking over the bones of the carcus of forgotten and overlooked American music and reformatting it into something new.  The Northern Soul scene emerged in 1970s in the North of England and set the template – drug fueled, all nighters, dance crazes, DJ worship, record trainspotting – for future youth culture movements like acid house. Northern Soul DJs would hunt out black music productions from the 1960s that never quite saw the big time – B sides from labels like Motown, Atlantic and Stax which never made the charts. DJs would fly over to the States and crate dig for rare and exclusive records in dusty flea markets and warehouses and then break the acts on the dance floor at the Wigan Casino or the Twisted Wheel in Manchester. A whole cottage industry of record dealers sprung up around the scene with ultra rare records – with perhaps only a couple of copies in known existence – might set you back five figures. DJs would be associated with one song that might be an exclusive to them so fans would travel to hear it specifically played. It was a musically obsessive scene. DJs would guard their music sources and cover labels to avoid the competition finding out what they were playing. It was another case of going to America and finding discarded black music and re-introducing it to a new crowd. A similar thing happened with the Rare Groove scene in the 1980s which was more London-centric and focused on the funkier side of black American music predominantly from the 1970s.

An all nighter to the soundtrack of overlooked 1960s US soul b-sides. Northern Soul

Flash forward to the late 1980s and UK DJs and audiences started first getting their taste of house music from Chicago and techno from Detroit. Mix in the drug ecstasy and the stage was set for the perhaps the biggest – in terms of social impact and numbers of participants – post war UK youth cultural movement in the form of acid house and rave culture. Again house and techno in the US were originally made by predominantly black artists for a small local black audience. As word started to spread of the popularity of this music in the UK, techno producers and DJs such as Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson would travel to the UK and be blown away by the scale of the acid house scene as the music and crowds blew up. It was like nothing back home. May – via his act Rhythm is Rhythm would see how the scene had taken his ‘Strings of Life’ song to be its anthem and parties with 30,000 ravers would salivate in unison at its musical genius. Acid house was birthed – to morph almost thirty years later via an infinite number of sub genres into the commercial monster that is EDM in the US.  

The trend continued into the 90s. US – predominantly New York – house and garage morphed into UK garage which then spawned dub step and grime. The 90s musical family tree branched out in many directions – progressive house, hard house, drum and bass, jungle, breaks, Big Beat, UK funky, deep house, ambient, tech house etc – all sprouting from the same seed of Chicago house and Detroit techno. We love taking elements of American music and twisting it into different directions and sounds in a fascinating and highly creative dialogue. As ever the source is predominantly black American music; jazz, the blues, RnB, soul, house and techno. Long may it continue. 

Posted by: martinworster | March 7, 2021

Banksy Signature – First Manager Stephen Earl

I was just going through the archives and I remember I had this stencil of a Banksy signature. I acquired it through his first manager Stephen Earl (RIP) who I met in Barcelona circa 2003 and we became good friends. When I met Stephen he had departed from Banksy although just previously they had spent a bit of time working in Barcelona on some pieces and campaigns. I believe they had some fall out over money – at this time Banksy wasn’t really that well known. He definitely had a following and had very recently done the artwork for the Blur ‘Think Tank’ album but he was no where close to being the phenomena he was today. 

I stayed in touch with Stephen after I left Barcelona and moved to Los Angeles – he actually came out to visit me one time here in California as he was managing a Finnish house producer and DJ called Luomo and he played a show up in Hollywood and they all stayed with me. A short while later when in Barcelona Stephen had a brain hemorrhage and tragically died – RIP.

I remember Stephen had an amazing Banksy collection which would be worth a fortune now. I particularly recollect in his Barcelona flat he had a large oil painting of a group of rioting grandmothers outside a burning Tesco store. It was a big piece and I always wondered where it ended up – it would be worth millions now. I have often done images searches in the internet to see if I can find it but to no avail. The missing Banksy? It probably would have ended up in some private sale and is now proudly displayed on the wall of a hedge fund managers penthouse suite in Mayfair. 

I have been interviewed quite a few times by various people over my friendship with Stephen as it seems not many other people knew him and he figures in the early years of Banksy’s biography. I am cited in ‘Banksy: The Man Behind the Wall’ written by William Ellsworth-Jones which is probably the best of the many Banksy biographies. I have also been asked if I had a photo of Stephen Earl which to now I never did – till now. I always had a hunch that I had a photo somewhere and spent hours searching through old photos on harddrives and I found it. I don’t know what to do with it, it might even have some value hence I am holding off on publishing it for now. Also what to do with this signature. It probably has some value but would be hard for Pictures on Walls to authenticate it. Looking at the style of it and of course relating to the provenance of how I acquired it, it is an early signature, prob circa 2001.

Posted by: martinworster | March 7, 2021

Urban Shakedown – Some Justice (A Memory Portal To 1991)

Just spent half a day cataloging my records and stumbled across this classic from 1991 – Urban Shakedown’s ‘Some Justice’. I love how music is the best conduit to memories and for me this piece of vinyl carries many. Back in the day, I first heard it on the Friday PM Colin Faver (RIP) show on London’s ‘Kiss FM’ and was blown away by it as it brought together a lot of disparate elements – breakbeats, drum and bass, euphoric hardcore and all with a reggae twinge as a nod to the imminent jungle explosion. It felt like a musical paradigm shift. The track was produced by Mickey Finn – an absolute legend of a DJ who had also previously produced Bitin’ Back’s ‘She’s Breaking Up another genre defining tune – and the drum programming was way ahead of it’s time with chopped up breaks all nodding to the jungle explosion to come. After hearing It on the Friday I rushed to Black Market Records in Soho on the Monday morning to snap up a copy. I got one of the last remaining copies.

I was served by Nicky Blackmarket – a prominent DJ on the then emerging drum and bass scene. Ashley Beedle – part of X Press 2 and disco and edit don – also worked there back in the day. This was of course in the pre-internet / MP3 days – when it took time and work to procure your music and records like this would have initially been pressed in limited numbers and hence would sell out quickly. Sourcing your music wasn’t easy – it took time and effort – which was all part of the experience and perhaps gave it an extra value and significance. You had to earn your tunes. It also allows memories to be formed – I certainly wouldn’t be talking about this story if I had clicked twice and downloaded it off the internet.  

Record shopping at the specialist shops back in the day was a whole experience in itself. As a young then aspiring DJ, I would be low down the pecking order as my tune budget for each shopping trip was probably 20 quid if I was lucky – which didn’t go far, US imports were the most expensive and even in the early 90s would run at 7.99, quite a chunk of change for a teenager in 1991.  I couldn’t compete with the big dons who did it for a living and would have relationships with the guys in the stores who would save them tunes they knew would work for their respective dance floors. Special releases – one offs, test presses from record labels, new mixes etc – would often come in white label or acetate formate denoting their limited numbers and hence making them more sought after. The mechanisms of the then buzzing music scene meant that record labels Club Promotions departments would feed the right tunes to the big DJs, months, even years in advance of their full releases in order to generate a buzz on the dance floor, possible radio play and the holy grail of getting a spot in the charts. At the top of the pile was Pete Tong who could single handedly break a tune if he made it his Essential Tune of the week. Then all the big DJs in their respective genres – Fabio and Grooverider (drum and bass), Judge Jules (upfront house), Paul Oakenfold (trance) Danny Rampling (soulful house), to name a very few – would also be sent tunes by labels and producers in the hope it would break in their respective scenes. For releases record labels would often commission multiple mixes from remixers in different styles across a double pack of vinyl. You might have a US house mix, a tribal mix, a dub mix, a drum and bass mix, a downbeat mix, a soulful house treatment and a techno version all across two slabs of vinyl, in the hope one would eventually gain traction with an audience. This was of course the time when people were still buying physical music and a number one record would require hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of a single record to be sold. There was money in the game. The good old days.

Fabio and Grooverider – Original Dons

 In Soho there was a specialist record shop circuit including Black Market, Quaff, Flying Records, Phonica, Reckless Records to name few. I spent most of my time in Black Market and it was always quite an intimidating experience with all the big name DJs looking mean and moody getting first pick on the best releases whilst down the hierarchy would be the young kooks such as myself scampering around for the scraps off the vinyl table. In the wonderful, halcyon pre-internet days their was a big kudos to having a one off or rare tune – an exclusive – that you and only another handful of DJs might own. People might even travel to the dances to hear the DJ drop a certain tune that would become his trademark, much like with the reggae soundclash and Northern Soul scenes. It really was all about the music and the more exclusive the better. When playing, DJs would even go so far as to cover over the label to stop trainspotters and competing DJs figuring out what they were playing. 

AWOL – At the Paradise in Islington – all the jungliest

I have slightly gone off on a relevant tangent when originally talking about Urban Shakedown’s ‘Rough Justice’ but looking at it and hearing it again sparked some good memories. I would regularly see Mickey Finn DJ at the legendary AWOL night at the Paradise Club in Islington, a place now synonymous with the rise and evolution of the jungle sound in London. Mickey Finn would slay the dance floor. The DJ box was really high above the dance floor in the corner, a little pirates nest above the crowd from which Finn – alongside other AWOL DJs Kenny Ken, Randall, DJ Hype and MC GQ – would rinse the dance. I have a distinctive memory of Finn’s silhouette – with long hair and framed by the dry ice and lasers – as he stood motionless mixing from one dub plate to the next, his tune selection electrifying the crowd. It was quite a menacing vibe as the music had turned a bit darker and it was definitely a rough urban crowd but it all made for an intense and unforgettable experience. Here I am now, all these years later still reminiscing and talking about it. Looking back on it now and with the benefit of hindsight – as I didn’t really get it at the time –  history really was being made. 

Posted by: martinworster | February 24, 2021

Classical Rave: It’s All Gone Pete Tong

I’ve noticed with interest the growing trend in the last 5-10 years for reconfiguring acid house classics with a full orchestra. Brands like Pete Tong’s Heritage Orchestra – belting out Ibiza classics – and Hacienda Classical give a classical twist to all your favorite late 80s and 90s house and techno stompers. Too old and creaky to stand in a field at 4am next to a 4 K turbo sound system shaking your internal organs whilst you work out the pill you bought off a toothless traveller was moody? Instead, sip Prosecco and eat organic olives at the Hollywood Bowl – Pete Tong was there recently conducting his wind and horn sections – whilst the orchestra does a version of A Guy Called Gerald’s ‘Voodoo Ray’ in G Major. It’s Glyndebourne on Acid House.

I haven’t been to one of these events so who am I to sneer down my nose at it condescendingly? I do admire the cleverness of it all – it’s good marketing in how it offers a practical solution to repackage music in a new format for older ravers who like the music but don’t want to be the oldest swinger in town at an illegal Hackney rave. Plus by offering classical interpretations of Derrick May’s ’Strings of Life’, 808 State’s ‘Pacific State’ and Alison Limericks’s ‘Where Love Lives’ etc, the punter feels they are more sophisticated and mature, suitable to their advancing years and expanding waistline. Wave your hands in the air to Joe Smooth’s ‘Promised Land’ AND be home in time to kiss Henry and Imogen good night before they go to bed. And no comedown. Result!

Nostalgia is a huge industry. Pete Tong – a great businessman –  looked at all the big money generated by the traditional nostalgia circuit as punters splash out to see all their favorite acts from their youth. Adam and the Ants, Duran Duran, The Cure, Depeche Mode, The Police, Culture Club – the list is endless of acts who now sell out bigger stadiums than in their heyday to their older and cash rich fanbase who will think nothing of spending 500 and upwards for a VIP experience and front house seats. Whilst buying the T-Shirt and two expensive bottles of wine. Maybe a meet and greet with the band thrown in. Ka-ching. Tong looked at this, then thought demographically speaking: ’how can I replicate this for all the millions of middle aged ravers who want to cling on to their youth but don’t want to stand in a muddy field and get tinnitus’? We can swap back ache for Bach ache in C Flat Minor.

Older people trying to recreate their youth is big business. It’s so ripe for exploitation as it’s very emotional and music – and all it’s surrounding culture and fashion – is perhaps the best conduit to powerful memories. I only have to hear the opening chords to ’Strings of Life’ (which incidentally renders really well to the classical treatment) to be instantly teleported back, including the hairs on the back of my neck erecting. It’s very typical for emerging young adults – 16-22 – who have their first intense musical experiences at a time when they are very open and impressionable and then go on to spend the rest of their lives trying to replicate it. The Two-Tone ska fan who still dresses in the black and white suit. The 55 year old punk with tattoos and colored hair. The Cure fan who still dresses like Robert Smith and still knows all the words. You only have to look – as I frequently do – at the comments sections on YouTube videos of footage of classic raves and acid house anthems to see the emotional pull and resonance the golden age of 1988-1992 still has. ’So glad to be alive in those times…its not the same these days…the best years of my life…’ etc etc. A look back through rose tinted glasses at a time when they were young, the world was more innocent, there was no internet or smart phones and the drugs and music were better. I should know – I was there. It really was a golden age and we were really having the times of our lives as part of a movement and youth culture that felt life changing and important. How do I go back? Mr Tong?

I’m not sure whether I’d be up for one of the new classical rave events though – it does seem too obviously a reformatting of a culture for an older demographic. I’m not sure how authentic I would feel waving my hands in the air to the crescendo of Cafe Del Mar’s ‘Energy 52’, although who am I too judge without actually doing it. It does feel right that a man like the Pete Tong seems to have cornered the market. Driving up the M1 in the 90s to a northern house night wouldn’t be the same without Tong’s Essential Mix in the background – ‘and we continue’ (one of his catchphrases)  – so it only seems right he’s now playlisting  and reformatting the soundtrack for the older raving crew. It’s all gone Pete Tong? Not if you took a look at his bank account, I imagine.

Posted by: martinworster | February 15, 2021

So Cal Punk – As Dated As It Was In 1981

Having lived in Orange County for over fifteen years – gulp – it’s always been interesting to me how much influence punk had and still has here. After exploding in 1977 in the UK and New York, punk – the music, lifestyle and the aesthetic – spread around the world and has since never really seemed to lose it’s grip here in Orange County. Throughout the 1980s the OC version of punk was hardcore – fast, thrashy music sung by angry tattooed males.  Prominent bands from the OC include Agent Orange, The Adolescents, Social Distortion, Offspring and of course some of the LA bands from up the road – including X, Germs and Bad Religion – would have all had an influence and are still revered.

If I’m honest it’s not my scene. I admire the punk spirit and, although I was too young to be part of it at the time in the late 1970s, I appreciate the radical paradigm shift it initiated both musically and culturally. I like the whole DIY aesthetic and the philosophy of anyone being able to play music – just pick up an instrument and form a band (or write a zine, design clothes, start a night, create a scene). Let’s reject all that happened before – hippies, staid prog rock, rock and roll, the Beatles (‘phony Beatlmania has bitten the dust’) etc – and start afresh, ripping up the rule book. The beginning is now.  Fuck what came before. I like the Clash, The Damned and see how the Sex Pistols were very influential (although they only released one album).  But most of the rest of it? Hmm, I could take it or leave it. And some of it? I find abhorrent and annoying. Which makes me think if the central point of the punk ethos is not being set in your ways and clinging on to the past – how come you still see so many middle aged men here with lots of tattoos wearing the de rigger OC punk look of Vans shoes, white socks pulled up to their knees and long Dickies shorts, of course topped off with their favorite band t shirt and a splattering of tattoos. How punk is it to be still rocking the same look from thirty years ago?

If I see three older dudes with tattoos shouting angrily over heavily distorted two chord guitar riffs on a stage anywhere I run a mile whilst putting my fingers in my ears. Trust, me I’ve been to various venues with this going on, the clientele looking like they’d stepped out of the Roxy in London circa 1977 whilst stopping off at a hair metal gig at the Whisky A Go Go on Sunset circa 1987 on the way home. Come on people, move on! I also find a lot of it musically unsophisticated with poor songwriting and an overall production aesthetic and lack of quality that means it doesn’t age well. I get it, I’m missing the point. It’s all about the ‘bad ass’ attitude – perhaps if I’d been here in the late 70s / early 80s at one of the gigs as I slammed in the mosh pit, it would have been a life changing moment for me and I would have clung onto it ever since. That’s how youth culture works – in that very influential young adult period of 16 to 22 when you first really get into music and a scene that can define you perhaps for the rest of your life.  At that age you are young, bristling and open, an impressionable blank canvas waiting to be painted on, every experience is new and intense. You only have to go to a Bauhaus, The Cure, The Specials or Adam Ant show here – as I have – to see the fans totally dedicated to the acts they first saw forty years ago.  Dressing like them, singing along word for word, looking to the stage in worship and adoration. The nostalgia circuit is a huge industry (at least it was pre-pandemic) exploiting vulnerable middle aged adults desperate to re-live their youth. It’s like with some readings of drug addiction where the first hit is always the best and every subsequent snort, injection or inhale is trying to replicate that first high.

Come to the Acid House party – I’ve seen the future

My youthful life changing experiences were all on dance floors as I lived through the emergence of acid house and rave culture in the UK from the late 1980s through the 90s.  Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive. Much like with punk, I wasn’t interested in what came before. I didn’t want to listen to guys with guitar’s whining about just being dumped – I worshipped the DJ who was skillfully soundtracking my ecstasy induced religious experience to a futuristic Detroit techno soundtrack. I was hugging strangers and feeling an abundance of love in a room full of sweaty strangers. I was dancing all night in fields, looking at the stars, then seeing the sun rise through a chemically tinged filter that offered the promise of a future of infinite possibilities. Okay, I am getting carried away a bit as I relive the memories – all of it true and valid. I am tingling as I think about it. So that was my experience, I am sure the punk guy would also look down on it dismissively, perhaps criticizing the music for it’s repetitive simplicity. In all cases and all scenes – as with pretty much most experiences in life, you had to be there to fully get it. 

Anyone else feel like they are suffering PTSD from the Trump administration? What happened in the last four years? I scratch my head, incredulous as to how many people didn’t see through his lies and to call him out for what he blatantly is and always has been: a con man. We thought the Presidency would be bad, but not quite this bad, leading to his crowning moment; inciting a mob to storm the Capital fueled by lies that the election was stolen. It really was shameful. His last days in the White House and his historical legacy is an insurrection in which five people died trying to hijack the democratic process fueled by the delusions of an ego maniac (with sociopathic and narcissistic tendencies. 

There is so much to unpack – it’s difficult to know where to start. Throughout the Trump Presidency I always found it very hard to grasp how seemingly reasonable and educated people – even some of my friends – were unable to call him out for some of his atrocious behaviors. Even before he was elected, whilst on the campaign trail, he stood on stage and mocked a disabled person – this for me was always a lasting image and a absolute low in a whole cacophony of lows. My own children would know it’s not acceptable to mock disabled people and if they did it at school they would probably be expelled.  Yet here was the future President of the United States doing it on the world stage for his loyal fan base and supporters, many of whom cheered him on in the process. If anyone else did this it would probably have been the end of their careers, but in the cultish world of Trump each new low seemed to fortify both his ego and his followers. It’s a very strange phenomena. I would often look at Trump supporters and scratch my head at the cognitive dissonance occurring. ‘You’re a woman’ I thought, ‘why would you vote for him when he boasts about grabbing females by the pussy’, a blatant act of misogynistic sexual assault? He tried to brush this off as ‘locker room’ talk but it’s more serious than that and totally unacceptable.  Again, for most normal mortals, a career ending moment. Not for the Don.

I would also get the same perplexed head scratching feeling when I would see Latino or black supporters in his fan base despite his blatant racism. ‘Hang on, he referred to African countries as shit holes?’ ‘When talking about Mexican immigration – a problem he tried to fix by caging children at the border – he said the immigrants are bringing crime. They’re rapists.’ Don’t these sort of comments – and many other’s there isn’t room to quote here – illustrate a racist xenophobe? Why would you not see through this and vote for him, it’s weird? It’s only really understood by seeing it as a cultish situation where normal judgement is sidelined in favor of idolization of personality. Sane critical faculty is overwritten. And with the Donald, it really was a very overwhelming and brutish personality. There’s little interest in what he can achieve in terms of his policies but just a cultish and totemic repository for his followers emotions and frustrations. I am angry and frustrated in my life – I will transfer these feelings into my support of Trump.

For me this was the main alarming phenomena whereby society became totally polarized between pro and anti-Trump with absolutely no middle ground. Fueled by social media and the highly toxic manner in which Trump dealt with people; permanently-conflict and drama, name calling, a constant ‘you’re fired’, not listening, tantrums, governing via Twitter and dismissing anything that didn’t chime with his version of events as fake news. The worst his behaviors got the more fervent his fan base became whilst the rest of us looked on and scratched our heads, perplexed and confused. ‘Just listen the guy speak, he’s making it up as he goes along, he’s clearly a fraud.’

I always stand by my theory at the beginning which was Trump never actually wanted to be President. He thought he would initially put his name in the hat for increased exposure and to further his reality TV star career whilst growing his personal brand. Then at early campaign rallies as he stood on stage he found the more outrageous things he said the louder the cheer from the audience. His ego fueled by the crowd and the crowd hyped up by his raging ego in a dark symbiotic interplay, each feeding the other to create a cartoonish grotesque. This is where I see the valid Hitler comparisons; a rabid fan base fueling various out of control maniacal personality disorders. Then in the dying days of his Presidency getting gullible and stupid people to do stupid things based on lies. ‘Hey fanbase, let’s form an angry mob and storm the Capital as the election was stolen from you.’

He was and is a dangerous person. He deserves to be punished for his criminal actions. Thankfully democracy came through and for now – touch wood – the Trump Presidency is history, hopefully to never be repeated. Truth, democracy and sanity prevailed – just.

Posted by: martinworster | January 10, 2021

Ibiza via PCH (Acid House Bike Rides)

Luckily I live less than a mile from the beach, so a favorite exercise activity is to cycle along the broadwalk as the Pacific Ocean glistens to my side. Typically I take my JBL bluetooth speaker and blast out some tunes for the journey. What’s on the playlist? Recently I’ve been listening to some acid house classics which works well in the warm and sunny environment of Southern California, whilst the music unearths numerous powerful personal memories from the late 1980s through the 1990s. As I listed to Joe Smooth’s ‘Promised Land’ – a classic vocal Chicago house anthem that always got the crowd singing along – the lyrics define the togetherness and sensibility of the acid house movement:

‘Brothers, Sisters

One Day we will be free.

From Fighting, Violence, People Crying in the Streets.

Were the angels from above

Falling down and spread their wings like doves.

As we walk, hand and hand,

Sisters, brothers

We’ll make it to the promised lands’

On the dance floor we are all in this together. No matter what race or where you are from, we are unified. Love is the message. In these increasingly difficult and divided times I nostalgically hark back to these times when we really did believe in the central messages of songs like this. Of course, with the help of various chemical stimulants, love really was in the air, even so far as hugging strangers and having a feeling of total connectedness with everyone on the dance floor. If you are reading this and you never experienced it, I can understand how it might sound like hippy nonsense, a bit of a joke perhaps, maybe even something to be ridiculed. But the things we experienced were real – the impact of the acid house movement changed British society for the better, it opened up the race and class divide as well as being responsible for the decline of football hooliganism. 

Next up, Spotify blasts out A Guy Called Gerald’s ‘Voodoo Ray’ – I can never tire of hearing this song, it still sounds to me like a siren from the future. Along with Derrick May’s ‘Strings of Life’, it’s the Sistine Chapel of acid house. It renders well from my small speaker but really needs to be heard on a phat rig – 40K turbo sound and a wall of bass bins – to give justice to the all enveloping bass line and clean synth lines. Although I never actually went there, it reminds me of Manchester’s Hacienda, perhaps ground zero for acid house in the North. I know, how can you be reminded of somewhere you never went to? There’s a famous clip of clubbers in the Hacienda swaying from side to side to this song, their baggy clothes and floppy hair silhouetted by the smoke and dry ice – perhaps it’s this that makes me feel like I was there. It’s an iconic clip that epitomises the feeling and energy of the movement. Although I never visited this temple in the north, I certainly had similar experiences in London at Sin at the Astoria, the Fitness Centre, Rage at Heaven and the M25 rave Energy, all seminal nights. 

Next, the drums of Neil Howard’s ‘The Gathering’ segue into the mix – another Chicago classic. It’s a genius of production – clever 808 drum programming with heavy kicks and sharp crispy high hats all put together in the classic build and release dynamic of long percussive sections leading to hands in the air synth wash breakdowns. Dark and light. I’d say this cut is slightly under the radar but for those that were there, the opening bars will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, the amazing way music, with lazer sharp accuracy, can hone in on a memory or feeling. It also reminds me of how lucky I was to have come of age in a time before mobile phones with cameras became a thing. Look at any clip from the late 80s and early 90s – everyone is oblivious, absolutely lost in the moment and connected by the music and the shared experience, which at times veered into the religious. Not like today, everyone overwhelmed by narcissism and image obsession, filming everything for the social media validation of strangers rather than being in the moment and connecting with other humans present in the room in real time.

It also reminds me of those end of the night moments. The last song had played but no one wanted to go home. No one wanted the night to end. I’ve seen crowds hang around for hours after the night officially ended, perhaps dancing around the bongo player (always a fixture back in the day) banging out some rhythms. Imploring, begging, the DJ for ‘one more tune’. The lights come on and the whole room grinning like a collective Cheshire Cat. I remember one memorable night at The Zap in Brighton where the DJ – I can’t remember who it was, he wasn’t a big name – had absolutely rinsed it and the lights came on after his last tune with the whole crowd applauding and cheering ecstatically for half an hour, all so thankful for the journey they had been taken on. We want this moment and feeling to last for ever. We didn’t want the night to ever end. Unfortunately it had to – we got older, the music changed, the quality of the drugs declined and sadly, as 2020 hit – the pandemic meant we couldn’t congregate like this at all. 

Posted by: martinworster | January 3, 2021

Gruesome Newsom?

Living through this pandemic – no doubt an event of historical proportions – has allowed time for reflection and offers insight into the ways different countries have dealt with it. The media throws statistics at us – death tolls, infection rates, R numbers, positive cases, demographic stats – as different countries are ranked, like a morbid Covid-19 fueled Top of the Pops.  Typically the Asian countries come out best – Taiwan, Vietnam, parts of China – reflective of more compliant and obedient societies seemingly happy to follow orders, in conjunction with having dealt with virus outbreaks before (SARS) and a culture of mask wearing already in existence. New Zealand was also held up as a beacon, perhaps unfairly as it’s low population and isolation – an island on the bottom of the planet – offered a clear advantage.

Then we have the United States. The highest death rate and the noisiest population in resistance to being told what to do in order to stop the spread. Those things are connected. Plus, in Donald Trump, an atrocious leader who categorically failed in dealing with it. A failure of historic proportions. Zero leadership, no unifying speeches or compassion, ridiculing mask wearing, blaming ‘China’, suggesting bleach as a treatment, to name a few slip ups. After losing the election he checked out entirely so the country was left rudderless during critical stages of the pandemic. I have no doubt in my mind that his catastrophic failure will be talked about by historians in very negative terms in the future. This failure is his legacy.

Who would want to be a leader dealing with a Covid-19 response? No one in their right mind. It’s a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Impose strict measures to stop the spread and face the wrath of one sector. Don’t do enough and you piss off the other half. A sensible middle ground impossible to achieve. I look at the case with California’s Governor Gavin Newsom – charmingly referred to as Gruesome Newsom in some parts, or even Gestapo Gavin – as he faces the wrath of much of the population over his shut down mandates. I see both sides of the argument, although I find how personally many people here take his measures a bit baffling. When a leader implements a mandate that includes shutting down of businesses – restaurants, bars, pubs, yoga studios, gyms, hairdressers, nail salons etc – you know it’s a very difficult decision as it puts many livelihoods at risk and will no doubt be the final nail in the coffin for many of them after 8 months of the lockdown see saw. I get the arguments of, ‘how come Walmart, Target, Home Depot and other big corporate brands can stay open and the small family hairdressers has to shut down? I actually don’t know. I did see how in the UK when the Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the latest stricter measures in the UK he looked like he was close to tears knowing full well the negative impact his decision will have on many businesses. What’s more important? Saving lives or the economy?

Saving lives probably, but then it’s hard to quantify when you consider perhaps the negative affects of shut downs – mental health, poverty, suicide, a suffering economy, hunger – might outweigh the actual loss of lives from the virus. All very difficult decisions, often without a winner. So when I hear the negativity round Newsom’s orders, I do think to myself ‘his measures are in place to save lives, he has taken advice from scientists, looked at the data, analyzed where transmission occurs and made a tough call. Ordering a 10 PM curfew? Yes, because data shows a lot of transmission occurs amongst youngsters who after 3 pints in a bar are not inclined to be socially distant or wear a mask. 

American’s historically have always been anti-government and Newsoms orders are seen as socialist informed tools of control. For what agenda I am not entirely sure. Things are further not helped when he issues mandates which the Sheriff of Orange County (and many other counties) say publicly they will not enforce. In the UK if a restaurant opens in a lockdown they will get a fine. Not here. Hence its a lockdown where many things are still open. Lockdown lite. Hence you wonder when will it be ever fixed? With a vaccine hopefully but that also generates a lot of noise and pushback in the population (I don’t trust it, what are the side affects etc). Like many others, I am personally very burnt out by it all. Covid fatigue? Yes, I’ve got it, where can I find a cure?

Posted by: martinworster | January 3, 2021

Jesus – & Trump – Loves You

The town I live in – Huntington Beach – has been making the news a lot recently and frequently for all the wrong reasons. Most recently, after Trump had lost the election but dangerously kept spouting the bizarre ’election was fraudulent, I am the winner’  narrative, many locals – gullible, delusional and easily riled – gathered in support. Right after the election and well into December when Biden had been announced the winner, they thronged along Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) near the pier waving their ‘Trump 2020’ and ‘Make America Great Again’ banners. For me it was a bizarre phenomena – a grotesque losers parade. Didn’t they get the memo?

Yet still Trump continued with his unfounded claims – all rejected legally – that there was widespread voter fraud and that the election was ‘stolen’ from him. All the while simultaneously since November, when he lost the election, the numbers – deaths and cases – from Covid-19 really spiked, he totally checked out of leading through a crisis and instead turned his gaze inwards. It was a grotesque, macabre comedy – if black humor is your thing. Psychologically speaking, he’s the classic narcissist, only concerned with being the centre of the story, devoid of empathy and the ability to think outside of his own selfish needs – I want to win the election again – whilst a country is bought to it’s knees due to a virus. It’s a bizarre situation to see it unfold on such a big stage. The total lack of self-awareness – a gigantic, mega scale of hubris.  I have no doubt in my mind that 2020 and the Trump debacle will be written about in centuries to come – an epic failure of historical proportions – his colossal mishandling of the pandemic will be his epithet and legacy.

Yet still he has his cultish fan base – 70 million people voted for him – who for the most part seem devoid of critical faculty and lacking the brains and insight to call him out for what he is; a failure and a con man. One afternoon I was cycling – a favorite lockdown pastime – down PCH towards to the pier and in the distance I saw a youngish (40 something) dad and his two children riding towards me, Trump flags flying alongside. As they got closer I shook my head at the dad in disdain. ‘Jesus Loves You,’ he said to me.

I thought it quite a fitting comment. The evangelical / religious section of his fan base is large and there is probably a delusional cross over between believing in an imaginary bearded man in the clouds and blind faith in the real orange man ‘ruling’ from the White House. A clear case of cognitive dissonance. I shook my head at him as he cycled past as I find the whole ‘sore loser’ aspect of Trumps last days very distasteful. Why would you bring your kids out to show support for a racist, misogynist who lacks morals? Its a free country I guess and they have that right, as do I to shake my head in disgust.

Things have continued to get worse behaviourally for Trump in his dying days of power – more of the same Twitter tantrums, fake accusations, shocking pardons, lack of leadership and an ingracious inability to concede defeat. A total sore loser.  All regular and continued motifs from his four years in the White House. I notice on my weekend cycles along the pier the numbers of supporters lining the route has dwindled. His behaviour surely turning many of them off of as I hope it quickly dawned on them that they have been mugged off. Maybe, finally, they realized, everything Trump didn’t like and agree with wasn’t fake news as he called it but the truth? Hopefully experiencing an epiphany – the election wasn’t fraudulent. We live in a democracy where the people spoke and a clear majority of people fairly voted for the other guy. Let’s put the noise of Trump behind us and look forward and treat him for what he is – a car crash now in the rear view mirror. 

Posted by: martinworster | November 24, 2020

Trump Notes From A Divided Neighborhood

Trump wars in suburbia

I sometimes hesitate to add to the general ‘noise’ around Donald Trump as at times it can seem overwhelming. Hopefully he will exit the White House drama free in January and we can look forward and move on from this very bizarre four years. As far as I’m concerned any second more of Trump in the White House is a second too long for what has been a disastrous administration. I have no doubt how history will judge his tenure – with disdain and incredulity as an absolute black mark against many good American values and principles; decency, fairness, integrity, respect and honesty. How did he even get there in the first place?

I wanted to share some of my experiences as a ‘foreigner’ living through these times and hopefully offer some insights. I live in Huntington Beach, Orange County, California, a very Southern Californian beach town just south of Los Angeles. Historically the OC has tended to sway Republican although in the last election it turned blue – like other parts of the US a result of demographics (more Latino votes, younger voters). I am a member of a Facebook group for my neighborhood which occupies a square mile block in South Huntington Beach. In the run up to the election some of the debates got quite heated and in many regards can be seen as a temperature gauge to what is a very polarized country politically.

A lot of the debate heat came from one house in particular which proudly displayed a host of Trump flags in a what was a very OTT display. There were four flags on the roof, numerous placards on the lawn and even a life-size cardboard cut out of Trump in the hall way (door proudly left open for display). The flags were the classic ‘Make America Great Again’, ‘Trump Pence 2020’ and a ‘Q Anon’ flag (an absurd conspiracy theory) from Wikipedia:  a far-rightconspiracy theory[b] alleging that a cabal of Satan-worshippingpedophiles is running a global child sex-trafficking ring and plotting against US PresidentDonald Trump, who is fighting the cabal.

All the flag waving was very aggressive and in your face – much like Trump. There were other supports of Trump (and also Democrats) who showed their support with a few placards on the lawn which seemed less shouty / confrontational and more moderate. I find it weird even to be so public about your political views as this isn’t a thing in the UK. The debate really got ugly when the Trump fan hoisted a flag depicting Trump’s face overlaid on an AK47 wielding Rambo.  Again, very aggressive and frankly weird. I had first seen this flag a few days earlier in the back of a pick up truck as it drove down PCH. At the time I was quite shocked. It seemed to glorify – in an almost ISIS manner – violence and came across as very extreme. I couldn’t imagine the leader of our country superimposed over a gun toting movie star but then – thankfully – we never had a reality show TV star as our leader. 

Some of the local residents – rightly in my opinion – took offense at the flag and said so publicly on the Facebook forum. Arguments ensued – the Rambo flag waver angrily refused to take it down and signed off with ‘…and you can kiss my ass’ so the polarization became even more, er, polarized. This seemed to one of the defining take homes of the Trump effect. Extreme division. You either totally love him – in a weird cultish suspension of critical faculties way. Or totally hate him. There’s nothing in between. As the disrupter in chief Trump liked to fuel this division. The people – like me – who despise him can’t comprehend how others can’t see him for what he is – a con man – and call him out for his dreadful behavior. Of course a lot of this division is amplified by social media as everyone lives in their respective echo chambers in what is best described as parallel universes. In my own case, I like to think I’ve come to the right conclusions about Trump unaffected by the effects of social media. I only think you have to listen to him speak – listen to what he says, with no media filter – to work it out for yourself. His speeches are incoherent, rambling and nonsensical, repeated self aggrandizing and boasts, jumping all over the place, speech patterns which clearly illustrate a very disorganized mind.

This is all – hopefully very soon – history. We have a new President who seems to be already setting the tone for a more reasonable and less divided debate allowing respect for difference. Let’s look forward – the car crash will soon be in the rear view mirror. Plus the aggressive Trump flag waver has taken his flags down – if I see him whilst walking my dog around the neighborhood I will offer my condolences after he has had sufficient time to finish licking his wounds. 

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