Last year, Dan Sumption and I collaborated on a Discordian Parish magazine, which listed all the counter-cultural things that had happened in our network over the past year. We printed up 100 copies which were sent out or sold on etsy. I love posting copies of a physical zine. There’s something more real about information when you can hold it. I particularly loved sending copies out to readers in the US.
Now that the physical copies are all gone, we have released an electronic version. It’s an amazing list of books, mailing lists, podcasts and more, and a lovely collection of a certain corner of UK counter-culture. You can download it from the Internet Archive.
We’re still in the depths of summer, but I’m starting work on the next instalment, and we’re about to send out emails to collect material (copy deadline is Thursday 23rd November, 2023). There are a lot of things we missed the last time round through incompetence and poor memory, and hopefully this year’s zine will contain more (although we’re going to work to make sure it is light enough to be posted as a standard UK letter!)
August has mostly been about work, but this month it’s been a friendly toad squatting on my life. I’m on a project with decent, smart people, and basically being paid to do my hobby. As we’re close to a deadline, we’ve been asked to work two days a week in the office, which has felt burdensome, and it’s questionable how useful in-person work is, when half my team is in India and staying there. Otherwise, I’m enjoying it. I take a lot of meaning from my work – I like being part of a huge organisation, as well as the joy of collaborating with large groups of people to make complicated systems. This job is a little like looking after a puppy – it improves my life, but it takes a lot of effort. Overall, I’m feeling very happy. I wish my life could stay like this forever.
It’s been a rainy August, so it’s not been too bad being indoors. While I’d expected to spend August with my head down working, I’ve seen a fair few friends. nwv, Dan and Edith came by on their way back from the lake district. I also had an impromptu Saturday night dinner with James and Alex. Jay stayed for a weekend, my first time seeing him since the pandemic, which he spent in Italy. I also headed down to Bristol to see Libby and Vicky, where I was very well looked after, eating fresh food from the garden.
The bank holiday was spent on retreat in Wales, which was lovely. Good food and friends helped me relax after the crazy times at work. I came back early on the Monday to see a friend who had been staying in my house. She had a lovely time in Yorkshire but, after dinner on the Monday, fell over and broke her shoulder. She is recovering now, but we were in A&E until 4am. I’m very grateful to the passers-by who helped, waiting with us for over two hours until the ambulance arrived. Being a good samaritan is time-consuming in modern Britiain! It’s frightening how stretched our emergency services are after years of austerity.
I did very little walking in August, with a total of 315,484, an average of a mere 10,176 steps a day. I’ve been continuing my physio, and hopefully will soon be able to start running again.
I’ve been feeling much happier with my writing as I’ve been sending out a weekly short-story email (sign up here). I’ve now sent out 7 pieces from The South Downs Way and should be able to sustain this pace for some time. It’s a good way of working, although I need to figure out how to grow the audience. Memetic infection Hazards is still waiting on me completing the proof-reading. I think I am going to just have to book out an evening to do that. I’m not sure what’s blocking me there. Krill magazine was published with my micro-short story collection Fishscale and sold out quickly.
My reading has been a little better this month. I’ve been commuting to Manchester and bought a couple of physical books for this. Christopher Priest’s Airside was peculiar and interesting. Hannah Silver’s My Child, the Algorithm was an impressive and moving auto-fiction. I also read Ben Myer’s The Offing, a birthday gift from Jude, which was a lovely comfort read. Tom King’s Strange Adventures graphic novel was interesting, but the trick of having an innocent character facing adult problems starts to face diminishing returns. I also published a review of John Higg’s re-released KLF book.
I read more books than I’ve watched movies, managing 3 movies in August against 5 books. Knock at the Cabin continued Shyamalan’s run of ruining a good film with the ending. I had to buy Lost Highway as a Polish DVD, but it was good to return to after many years. It’s still confusing but undoubtedly a masterpiece. The Menu was fantastic, with great performances from Ralph Fiennes and Anna Taylor Joy. The set-up felt hackneyed, but the cast sold the concepts, and the story rose to a satisfying ending. I finished the series From, which mostly continues to be a Lost-style puzzle box, even down to the cliff-hanger echoing the other show. I’ll be in for the third season but I’m expecting little.
The social media diaspora feels strange. I’m enjoying bluesky a lot more than most other sites. Threads continues to be a disaster – there are just too many brands and content farmers. I managed 3 minute on Artefact – opening a site about curated reading by flinging a Daily Mail article at me was a very particular introduction. Instagram is OK, but low engagement. Despite my attempts to love it, I’m not feeling Mastodon. Probably the best social media site is an indie band discord with a small number of interesting and engaged posters, which turns out to be all I want. I did wonder whether I should rejoin Facebook for the local events and marketplace, but no.
I recently passed the first anniversary of moving into this house, and celebrated by unpacking the last box.
I’ve also finally put up some proper curtains in the bedroom and it’s transformative. I need to pay attention to other things that would make my life more comfortable.
I realised with a shock that I don’t actually like vegan cheddar. It’s no good on its own, and I need to stop buying it.
When AI images started appearing on social media, I was impressed but didn’t find it particularly interesting. What changed my mind is the work of Rob Sheridan. His Spectagoria project involves spooky images produced with AI, which claim to be from the 1970s, originating in “a renowned underground fashion photography magazine surrounded by rumor and mystery”.
I love these images and their feeling of faked authenticity. Something like this could have been produced via photoshop, but only at the cost of much more work. I know these images are AI, and Sheridan is open about it, and there’s a hauntological feeling that comes from knowing that they are not real.
I found out about Sheridan through Ryan Broderick’s Garbage Day, where Ryan put forward his personal rule for AI art: “Is it trying to do something interesting and not hiding the fact it’s AI generated? Cool. Give it a whirl! See what happens. Is it a bad, automated replacement for human-made content? No thanks.”
Another AI project I keep thinking back to is 2022’s Summer Island comic by ‘Steve Coulson and Midjourney’. This uses the AI illustrations as the background for a story about folk horror and kaiju. The images here served the story and I enjoyed the writing. This one could have been produced using an illustrator, but the Coulson would likely not have been able to pay an illustrator to tell his story.
I’ve been inspired to begin playing with AI art, just to see what sort of thing I can produce. There’s an interesting aesthetic here, as can be seen with this image at the top of the page – which Stable Diffusion based upon a photo of me.
There’s something here worth playing with. Interestingly, my friend Dan prefers Stable Diffusion version 3 rather than 5, as the earlier version has a more interesting aesthetic.
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 review 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