I recently listened to the BBC’s audio documentary The Rise and Fall of Britpop. It told a familiar story – Britpop’s post-grunge rise, Cool Britannia, then the slide into drugs and depression. There were some good interviews, reappraising the events with modern sensibilities, but this felt like a very familiar story.
At the time Britpop started, I obsessively read the music press. I lived in an appalling new town, so NME and Melody Maker were my doorway to culture. Every week I read about new bands and records, and there was something exciting happening. Rightly or wrongly, after grunge, the British music press wanted to write more about British bands. At the time there was a boom in music, with hip-hop and dance music breaking into the indie mainstream. The small scale of the UK as compared with the US meant these scenes overlapped in interesting ways. Britpop was also tied into changes at Radio 1 and in music distribution that allowed indie music to compete against major labels.
These first stages of Britpop drew in some exciting music. Tricky released his first album Maxinquaye, and veered away from ‘trip-hop’ towards indie through his collaborations. Yes, Britpop was entered around guitar bands copying earlier music, often to a legally actionable extent (Elastica paid off Wire, and Oasis settled a number of suits). But there were other bands gaining attention. Black Grape’s fusion of rap with indie was fun and influential. The Prodigy were a huge festival band, headlining the Other Stage at Glastonbury while Oasis played the main one. The excitement in music was about more than a few guitar bands.
If you look at the end-of-year Best Albums lists in the music papers for 1995 – the year of the Battle of Britpop – they tell a very different story to the one the historians pick. In the Maker/NME best albums list for 1995, Tricky gets 1st and 2nd places respectively, with Black Grape 4th and 3rd. Blur might have won their competition with Oasis, but neither of their 1995 albums were well-regarded.
There are interesting stories to be written about 90s music. The nostalgic mass-media version of Britpop is well-recorded, and it’s a shame to see that repeated, rather than making space for some of the other bands and people who were around at the time. In its early phases, Britpop’s triumph was seeing a range of different independent bands hit the mainstream together. It was only later that mass-media simplified the story to just a few very similar bands. There are other stories to be told about Britpop.
July saw the release of tenth anniversary edition of John Higgs’ book on the KLF, Chaos, Magic and the Band who Burned a Million Pounds. I’ve read this several times now, and used it as the reading for a couple of university seminars that I’ve run. It tells the story of the KLF from their early 90s imperial phase through to the strange aftermath. But it’s not just a band biography, and some chapters barely feature the KLF. Instead, Cauty and Drummond’s work is the starting point for a far stranger journey, taking in Robert Anton Wilson, discordianism, Doctor Who, Alan Moore’s ideaspace and more. While there were bits of the book I knew well, a few of the digressions took me by surprise. I’d forgotten about the discussion of the Wicker Man, and a delightful section about rabbit gods.
As John has pointed out, the KLF book has had its life in reverse. It started as a self-published e-book, was then picked up as a paperback by a larger publisher, and is now published in hardback. I first heard of the book on twitter, where it was promoted via b3ta readers. The book continues to be loved, and John’s recent interview on the We Can Be Weirdos podcast shows how deep this love goes.
The footnotes are mostly about the text, but there is some good commentary on how Higgs approached this book. There are also tantalising hints of a coming book about “an elegy for the twilight of the analogue world”. The countercultures which inspired many of the book’s subjects – independent music, magic, comic books, science fictions – functioned in a very different way before the Internet. Bookshops provided portals to other worlds, with their limited space trying to appeal to as many people as possible. This also meant a strange cross-contamination of undrground interests. The Internet is incredible, but we have also sacrificed some of the joys of physical culture.
In 2017, a few year after the book’s publication, the KLF returned – not as musicians, but as undertakers. The new edition does not talk about the strange things that have happened since then. One reason for this might be that this book itself is so tangled in those events, helping to inspire a new wave of British discordianism and related strangeness. In the 90s, there were certain books that could provide a portal to a whole new life. These are rarer nowadays, but The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band who burned a million pounds is one of those books that could change lives.
On the 1,275th day of March 2020, I watched Tamil time loop movie, Maanaadu. Released in 2021, the film follows Abdul Khaliq, as he visits Ooty for a wedding and finds himself reliving the same day, trying to save the life of Chief Minister Arivazhagan.
The first loop went on for over half an hour and I wondered whether I had the wrong film. There was a song-and-dance sequence, a car-chase, and some romance, but the plot seemed to be only moving forward. Then Khaliq died and he found himself back on the plane to Coimbatore, gasping in shock.
The film continued with Khaliq attempting to save the Chief Minister. He quickly works out how to quickly persuade his friends to help. In one iteration they discussed time-loop films including a Korean film that I’d not heard of. Halfway through the movie came a lovely twist, which was openly inspired by Tom Cruise time-loop Edge of Tomorrow.
While Maanaadu is entertaining, it has a political background, being based around a plot to cause religious riots with an assassination. Khaliq’s neighbour on the plane, Seethalakshmi, figures out how the time loop has happened. Khaliq is a muslim, but was born during some earlier riots, while his mother sheltered in Ujain’s Kaal-Bhairav temple, which celebrates a god linked with time travel. The gods of both religions are working through Khaliq to prevent the film’s villains from causing religious tensions.
I had a great time watching this film. I particularly enjoyed the making-of montage during the credits. It looks like a sequel is in the works, and I’m looking forward to that.
Length of first iteration (in film): 32 minutes (by far the longest)
Length of second iteration: 10 minutes
Reset point: death
Fidelity of loop: the day sets up the same way each time
Erin Kissane jokingly suggested that ChatGPT’s writing style (“Suuuuuper heavy on the adjectives, dialogue especially wooden, lots of overtly charming touches.“) comes from being trained on fanfic. There is an important point here, that we are judging AI’s specific abilities based on ChatGPT’s massive, general purpose dataset.
Naomi Klein wrote about how all AI responses are hallucinations, not just the ones that are nonsense. While I diagree with some of the points, she’s absolutely right about how the term ‘hallucination’ frames the debate.
Stephen Marche has spoken about how he approached writing with ChatGPT, asking for “a murder scene in the style of Chinese nature poetry” and applying some transformations to get something a little like Chandler – rather than asking for Chandler’s style directly.
“You are already an AI-assisted author,” Joanna Penn tells her students on the first day of her workshop. Do you use Amazon to shop? Do you use Google for research? “The question now is how can you be more AI-assisted, AI-enhanced, AI-extended.” (Link)
It’s a bold idea but I wonder if he actually did this, or whether the thought experiment is enough. The project raises the same sort of questions as Tom Friedman’s artwork 1000 Hour Stare. How do we know he did it? Exactly what is meant by ‘watched’ here? Did Daniel watch the credits each time? Did he give the film his full attention? (No double-screening!) What happened if he fell asleep during the course of the movie?
The article describes Daniel’s different levels of engagement as the year went on – with the plot initially, then looking for obscure details, realising how the extras in the background of some scenes were pivotal in others. Like any endurance event, there were the periods when it became a slog. There was a phase of creating wild theories about Punxsutawney’s townspeople. Adam talks about how he developed a relationship with the film as something like a companion.
Like with Friedman’s thousand hour stare, I find Daniel’s investment of time horrifying. I also find the feat compelling, even while I can’t imagine finding 101 minutes every day, even during the pandemic. And then there’s the total time spent, 614 hours out of our meagre 4000 weeks. Adam Daniel’s feat is incredible, but it’s one I could never imagine doing myself. My life has its own repetitions and wasted time, but they’re less intentional.
July has mostly been about two things: poor sleep and dog-sitting. As far as sleep goes, I’ve been getting by on about seven hours a night. Normally, anything less than eight makes me worn out and headachy, but I’ve avoided losing any days of work. Some of this lack of sleep has been due to travelling, but the main contributor has been Rosie the dog (who is a different person to Rosy my best friend, but the confusion is often hilarious).
The month started with cat-sitting in Blackpool and catching up with some of my relatives there. I also watched the new Indiana Jones film, which was very OK. The following weekend was Sentry 23, a gathering of some friends at the sentry stone circle. On the way to that was a three hour traffic jam which was… intense. I also got to spend a morning with Tom, who was visiting from San Francisco. On the way back from that I picked up Rosie the dog. I’ve also been hanging out with Rosy and Olive, who came to stay after watching Pulp.
Despite having the dog, long walks were prevented by work and rainy days, so I managed a total of 347,087 steps, with a daily average of 11,196, the highest being 27,942 walking around Blackpool at the start of the month, visiting relatives. Still no progress on my weight, but I’ve been reasonably compliant with my physio exercises and will hopefully be running again soon.
My writing has gone better. I spent more time on writing new things, and also sent out the first two issues of a monthly substack (please subscribe!). The two stories I’ve sent out so far were The Lost Village and The Money Burner. My upcoming publications are all moving along. Krill Magazine, which features my A4-page short story collection Fishscale, is now funded and available for sale on Etsy. Memetic Infection Hazards has a cover ready to go, and I just need to proof it and print it. I also wrote a bizarre horror story about swedish pizza, which went out to LouIce.
It’s been another month of disordered reading, but I did re-read John Higgs’ classic about the KLF. I also read Keiron Gillen’s Immortal X-Men, which felt like it was collected in trade rather than written for it. The X-men books are now an ongoing crossover, so much of the action happens in different books, making it hard to follow. Still, taken as raw spectacle, it was exciting and intense. Katharine and I tried to read London Fields for our 90s book club and both gave up. It was well-written, but just did nothing for me. I posted a book of computer-generated novel All the Minutes and some links from my AI workshop in June.
I’ve started watching time loop films again, this month watching Meet Cute and Tamil drama Maanaadu (review to come). I also reviewed Edge of Tomorrow. With Rosy and Olive I watched The Virgin Suicides, which is an iconic movie, and I liked it more than the book. I tried and failed to get into Marvel TV show Secret Invasion. At the end of the month, Liz and Jude came over to watch the first two episodes of From season 2, which were tense and strange; but the show feels like Lost, in that it could be writing itself cheques it can’t cash.
I listened to the BBC’s new podcast, The Banksy Story, featuring John Higgs, which was interesting, although it continued the kayfabe around Banksy being unknown. The discussion of how Banksy works are authenticated was interesting but should have been earlier and more detailed. John Higgs also turned up on the We Can Be Weirdos podcast with some fascinating ideas (my favourite: Chaos Magic is Thatcherite). Whiley and Lamacq’s The Rise and Fall of Britpop had some interesting moments, but my recollection of Britpop is very different to the official histories. This Podcast in a Ritual has been a joy, with Devin doing interviews in preparation for his trip to Sweden.
Social media has been weird. The collapse of Twitter continued as it rebranded as X. Some of the most worrying issues haven’t had the media attention they deserve. Threads drowns out any authentic conversation with brandshit. I’m enjoying a small community on BeReal, although I mourn the global feed’s replacement with “RealPeople” influencers. My most joyful places online are a band discord and watching films alongside letterboxd – do link up with me there.
I completed the first section of The Last of Us Part 2 on grounded difficulty, but I have no idea how I’m going to get past the school.
I’ve also finally put up some new curtains, with the help of my sister and brother-in-law. I also started work on clearing my patch of back garden.
There are deer in the wood behind the house. It’s always magical to catch sight of them.
You know what’s weird? When a random taxi driver has a picture of you on his phone that he took the night before. This happened in Blackpool at the start of the month – the driver had snapped my group climbing the Big One.
My brother-in-law dropped off a stack of logs. It’s the middle of (a damp) summer, but it’s reassuring to have wood ready for the start of winter.
The problem with computer-generated books is that they are almost never as interesting as human-written books. Most examples so far have been remarkable more for being made with software than because they are compelling works of literature. However, there is one computer-generated novel that I’ve read cover-to-cover and loved, and that is All the Minutes (which only appears to be available via the Internet Archive).
This book is built up from 1,440 tweets, one for each hour of the day. The makers looked for tweets that began with the time, and printed them in sequence. We’re not following a single person and skip between timezones, but the text still flows. It begins:
It’s 6:00AM and I’m wide awake. Good friday morning peeps. Its 6:01am and im sleepy… It’s 6:02am and I’m still up. I have no life. It’s 6:03am and I can’t sleep I think I might have insomnia and if I don’t than I messed up my sleep track.
Seeing the tweets in aggregate means certain patterns become obvious. Sleep is a particular obsession. One voice recurs, repeating how ‘Michigan still sucks’. There is mourning: It’s 1.28am and now officially the year anniversary of my friend Daniel Degale’s death. RIP hun xx. There’s a lot of booze and a lot of shaming people about the things they drink, alcoholic or not: It’s 1.30pm and I’m craving bubbles. Christmas has officially broken me :-S. Its 1:31pm and I just woke up lmfao. It’s 1.32pm and I’ve just seen two girls walk past me with a can of lager! Classy Plymouth.
Using an API to gather the data allows fragments of meaning from across the whole world to be brought together. It’s a chorus, but there’s also an impulse to see this as a character.
It’s 4:21am and i just got out of a meeting that started at 5:48pm. It’s 4:22 AM and I am up! Ready to leave baltimore. It’s 4:23am and the first “normal” passenger just showed up for the 6:05am flight we’re hoping to get on. It’s 4:24am and I still haven’t slept. I have been so sick all night. This is the most sick I’ve been in years. It’s 4:25am and the birds are already tweeting outside.
I read All The Minutes from start to end, just like any other book. I found it enthralling, and it also reminded me of Peter Manson’s long poem Adjunct. Being made up of social media posts, this book had the same raw energy as Darcie Wilder’s excellent Twitter novel literally show me a healthy person (which I reviewed in May).
All the Minutes captures a particular feeling of reading Twitter, how the site ebbed and flowed as the world turned. It would not have been easy to produce something like All the Minutes without the open APIs that Twitter was built on. These allowed artists and creatives to build interesting bot and works based on the site. Now the APIs are no longer free but costs an astronomical price to access. Works like this cannot happen now. Open systems and the gift of an API are incredibly important
On 1,238th March 2020, I watched Meet Cute. It was actually my second attempt at the film, as I gave up on my first watch. Something about this didn’t work for me. I’m not sure if it was the editing, script, choice of camera angles, or simply lack of chemistry in the leads. Maybe it was how the film seemed strangely empty, even in the outdoor shots of New York. Meet Cute was just missing something.
Sheila picks up Gary at a sports bar, where he is the only person not watching soccer. They have a long date, featuring food, vintage clothes-shopping, and a quirky ice-cream van. The date ends with a dark revelation, and then we find ourselves back in the bar, where Sheila picks up Gary once more.
During the dates, Sheila often explains to Gary that she is a time-traveller, being open about using a Time Machine in a nail salon to go back and repeat the date. I think this is the first film where the time loop is caused by the protagonist’s obsessive repetition. Like a lot of the ideas in the film, this had potential, but didn’t seem to lead anywhere.
The film deals with a lot of heavy themes around trauma and acceptance, but they never quite land. Also, each day, Sheila runs down her past self in her car, stuffing the body in the boot. This is played only as a gag, which is a problem in a film themed around trauma.
I hate being negative about a piece of art that people have worked hard on. The film has some positive reviews, but it never gripped me. It’s problems are underlined by the fact there is a five-minute montage of outtakes at the end, and the cut scenes seem stronger than some of those left in.
The voluntary time loop was an interesting twist – Sheila repeated the day hundreds of times, enough to have a ‘loop birthday’. This film had the elements of something great, and it’s a shame it wasn’t able to do more with its ideas around trauma, perfection and trying again.
Length of first iteration (in film): 18.5 minutes
Length of second iteration: 12.5 seconds
Reset point: time travel
Fidelity of loop: slow degradation as Gary starts to remember other loops
Exit from the loop: the characters stop using the time machine
On 1,171st March 2020, I re-watched Edge of Tomorrow, aka Live, Die, Repeat. I last saw this in August 2020, so didn’t rewatch it as part of my initial time-loop movie project, which started in 2021. My original review was “started interesting but the contrived concept fell apart as it went on“.
Which seems fair. The film sets out a complicated scenario to explain why Tom Cruise finds himself resurrected every time he dies while fighting an alien invasion. The rules of this scenario are very much based around the needs of the plot, but this is an incredibly well-made movie, with some entertaining action and a fun script by (among others) playwright Jez Butterworth. Tom Cruise does some good acting and director Doug Liman apparently enjoyed making a movie where Cruise plays an incompetent hero.
In the film, Tom Cruise is military PR who is sent off to join the huge military push to retake mainland Europe from the alien hoards. These creatures are the usual fast-moving and shiny aliens that work well as CGI. Cruise restarts his day each time he days, making a little more progress each time. The mechanic is obviously similar to video games, but the film doesn’t develop this idea.
It turns out the ability to reset time is the aliens’ secret ability, which Cruise has been infected with. It makes no sense that this time-loop is carried within his blood, other than to allow a plot twist near the end. The film ends with a dramatic boss fight, after which Cruise wakes to an alternate timeline where the world has been saved.
None of this makes much sense, and the time loop is more of a dramatic device than a philosophical question, but this is a fun film. I’m not sure it belongs in quite the same category as Groundhog Day. Maybe there’s a difference between time-loop-as-existential-nightmare and time-loop-as-videogame.
Length of first iteration (in film): 16.5 minutes
Length of second iteration: 5.5 seconds
Reset point: death
Fidelity of loop: perfect repetitions
Exit from the loop: the boss alien is killed or the main character has a transfusion of the magic blood.
I started June feeling rough from a combination of caffeine, poor sleep, doomscrolling, bad food and illness. That slump lasted about a week, after which June rallied to become pretty good. I sailed on the Thames with Rosy, celebrated my birthday, spent some time in Wales, and ended the month in Blackpool. The week in Wales was particularly energising, spending time with friends old and new.
After a couple of high step-count months, June was calmer, with a total of 333,904 steps and a daily average of 11,130, the highest being on my birthday when I went hiking with Katharine and Helen. I’ve continued to put weight on, and am failing to muster any motivation to reverse that. I have, however, started seeing a local physio about fixing my hip problems so that I can start running again. I also wrote up the final stage of the Coast-to-Coast.
My writing was fairly scatty, but I have a number of projects moving. True Clown Stories, originally known as Clown Stories Volume 1, has been in progress for 12 years, but is set to come out in 2024 in association with Peakrill Press. I’ve also produced a short story collection for Peakrill, cramming 12 stories onto an A5 page (I’m particularly proud of a new six-word horror story). On top of all that, I’ve been working on Memetic Infection Hazards, a collection of horror stories which I’m, publishing and will likely be out in August. I’m enjoying working with self/small publishing, which is much more satisfying than submitting to online journals. I’ve just had a piece rejected after 13 months and, really, what is the fucking point? I’d rather sell my writing through etsy.
I finished a lot of half-complete books last month:
Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky was an interesting space opera, but was at its best when dealing with the intelligent spiders. The human characters just felt like they were in a science fiction novel.
I also read Tchaikovsky’s novella One Day This Will All Be Yours which was stuffed with clever ideas.
Death of An Author was produced using ChatGPT. While the novel itself left me unmoved, the afterword was exciting and provocative.
All The Minutes was a conceptual novel produced for NaNoGenMo, which was incredibly engaging.
The writing in Johnson at 10 was annoying, not least for censoring the swearing. It did a good job of describing Boris Johnson’s essential failure in winning an 80-seat majority and wasting it.
After a few failed attempts I finished watching Yellowjackets Season 2, although this involved a fair amount of double-screening. It’s tonally all over the place, with the lightly comic tone interrupted by some genuinely disturbing moments towards the end of the season. Black Mirror was, as ever a mixed bag, the highlight being Joan is Awful. The BBC’s documentary The Trouble with KanYe was a grim look at the West’s career since 2016. Such a waste of talent.
I watched a few movies but the highlight was Martyrs. It’s difficult to recommend such an unpleasant movie, and one that is based around women being tortured. It would be easy dismiss the film as ‘torture porn’, but I’ve been thinking about it for a month now. My strongest reaction has been a lingering sadness. This may be one of the best horror films I’ve seen.
Towards the end of the month I ran a workshop on AI and Creative Writing (details and links here). Running a two-hour online event on a weeknight was a bit much, but it was fun I’m still cynical about LLMs, but there is something important happening. At a neighbourhood barbecue someone was telling me about how his company is seeing impressive results through using AI to make unit tests and documentation.
I am totally going to win at Spotify Unwrapped this year – although no-one really loses, do they? My playlist of interesting songs for 2023 has now reached 104 items, mostly new music. Andrew O’Neill’s death metal recommendations have also added some interesting tracks. But it looks like the most-played song will be My Neighbourhood, a minimalist song from the Martyrs soundtrack that I can’t stop playing.
I ended the month in Blackpool, cat-sitting for Muffy’s cat Sashimi. On the last night in June, I went on the walk to the top of the Big One roller coaster. It was an amazing experience.
The month ended with an awful spell of insomnia. I function very poorly on low sleep, the nadir of which was managing to throw my Fitbit out with my lunch at the office.
I started playing the video game Alan Wake, but got bored when I reached the firsat boss fight. All of the combat elements made the story feel banal.
I’m still settling into the house, but I did finally get a couple of pictures framed. I’m still making no progress on putting up new curtains.