Monday, January 21, 2019

Last summer I was provided with some free calling cards courtesy of the lovely Cards For Humanity art project.  To get feedback for the project I recently answered the following questions.  The full results of these surveys will eventually take the form of a book and website.  You can read the promo that I wrote for them in September at this link.
1. Briefly describe your business or gig in ±250 words.

Radical Beat is a writing/journalism project focused on the intersection of underground music and radical politics.  I've been writing about music for about fifteen years, with the idea for Radical Beat coming about in the last few.  Basically, these are the subject areas that interest me, and as my knowledge and writing abilities developed I came to realise there was no reason not to bring the topics together, as there can be a lot of crossover.  I believe that cultural criticism is important for brewing new ideas and promoting creative economies, and equally important is political action, without which all the words in the world have little importance.

2. What impact do you think you have on the community?

I like to think that my writing encourages musicians to work on their craft, to reflect on what might be working for them and to know that some people are paying close attention to their efforts and what they bring to the community.  As for the political and environmental writing, hopefully they help to spread new ideas and connect the dots between various issues.

3. What do you hope to achieve? What are your goals?

I want to contribute meaningfully to scenes that have given a lot to me, and build community to change the cruel systems that we live under.  On a more down to Earth practical level, a paid job writing about music and/or environmentalism would be great!

4. Do you do this for profit? If so, is it your main source of income? If not, how do you finance it?

Radical Beat has been done entirely during so-called free time.  While the occasional bit of money comes in from selling zines, etc, there's so far no way I can see to pay my bills doing this.  Even as a pastime/interest with very little in the way of physical supply needs, it's hard to do around the need to pay the rent.  Projects like Cards For Humanity certainly help.

5. How have the cards benefitted your business/gig or reputation? Have you noticed any financial difference, such as the number of clients, sales, hits, or gigs? 
There hasn't been any noticeable surge in interest since I began using the cards, but more people have continued to follow what I do.  They've been helpful mainly in that I haven't had to worry about making low-quality cards of my own and don't expect to for some time!

6. Do you think well-made cards can inspire other craftsman to improve the quality and originality of the art and design scene in St. Petersburg? Do you feel a similar obligation to uphold quality standards in the St. Pete arts community through your work?

Yeah, absolutely.  A card might seem like a marginal thing, which it is in a sense, but I can see someone looking at a nice one and thinking "they put the thought and effort into this. I should put the effort into my thing, no matter what sort of thing it is."  I do absolutely feel the need to hold my work to a high standard of quality, hard and subjective as that might be in a lot of ways.

7. What differences do you notice between the social interactions you have with people physically versus through online networking sites? Do you think physical calling cards can help facilitate in-person interaction? Do you find in-person interactions to be more effective than online networking methods? How so?

A physical interaction, even a short one, features some of the stuff that I am always wishing for online.  Questions, feedback, compliments, all of which we are generally too distracted to have time to type out, in my experience.  As much as I bash materialism, the tiny dopamine hit of getting a pleasant physical object (with an extremely small environmental impact, to be fair) could help someone stay invested in conversation, assuming they were somewhat interested to begin with.  In my case I am not sure if in-person interactions have led to many actual page views, etc, compared to when someone has the real content to look at, although that may be a fallacy based on the fact that most of the work is online and that which isn't online I cannot track.

8. Has Cards for Humanity affected your outlook on voluntary arts barter? For instance, instead of treating peers as clients, would you now be more open to trading creative services with other local artists/craftsmen in an effort to develop more meaningful, altruistic communities?

I think faith in the concept of any kind of alternative economics like barter needs to be constantly renewed, in light of the fact that traditional economics is shoved in our faces and presented as "normal" every minute of every day!  So academically, no, I was completely on board with this sort of thinking before.  But it's a welcome reminder to question ones own motives in all interactions and up our "don't be a selfish atomised bastard" game.

9. Do you think this project could be replicated and adapted by other artists and designers to increase the camaraderie in the St. Petersburg community? For instance, how do you (or might you) give back? Do you think future unsolicited support for emerging artists should be encouraged? Why does a quality arts community matter to you?

Since much of the criticism I write is generally positive it's already promotional of other artists in a way (and occasionally, they are just full-on promo pieces).  I think one of the challenges here is that there seems to be a general feeling among artists that art is not sufficiently valued and they are underpaid already (which it's difficult to argue with).  On the other hand, if art is about being creative, then being creative in your economic approach should certainly be a topic for discussion, and indeed many artists do work for free or at a loss.  If artists of different persuasions are being underpaid then at least they can help each other.  So yes, this should absolutely be encouraged.  Without a quality arts community we have nothing but gourmet dessert fooderies and horrific retail mazes, at which point we may as well all just wait at home for the impending ecological meltdown.

Monday, January 7, 2019


“Any climate politics so closely identified with the global elite in 2018 is dead on arrival.” -- Kate Aranoff, The Intercept

This past Thursday was quite the ride for those of us following climate change policy here in St. Pete, just three days into the new year.  Mayor Rick Kriseman and the Office of Sustainability & Resiliency held a number of events, the first of which had a secret guest and special announcement regarding the city’s Integrated Sustainability Action Plan (or ISAP).  The guest would turn out to be Michael Bloomberg, mega-billionaire financier, former Mayor of New York, and UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Climate Action.  With a current net worth of about $44 billion and at least six homes around the planet, this man is an authority on the low-impact lifestyles that we all need to adopt.

He announced that St. Petersburg was the twentieth winner of the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge.  Having explained their climate change intentions, the contest winners (five more cities remain to be announced) will receive a support package and technical assistance to help implement them, including a Bloomberg Philanthropy team member to facilitate development of plans, training for local leadership and citizen engagement support to help get people on board.  Supposedly this two-year acceleration program to help meet or beat target carbon cuts is valued at over $2 million. It’s not clear how much of that amount will be a flat cash donation to help implement the ISAP, though there is a reference in the documents to “rapid response grants.” Kriseman refused to comment on what exactly that unknown amount of money might be spent on, but the press release from the foundation suggests the city intends to scale up energy efficiency and renewable energy financing models, as well as the residential solar co-op plan.

We might be willing to welcome the injection of resources and funds (especially as it constitutes a crude form of resource transfer from a wealthy source) and the stated goals of accelerating drawdown plans.  But getting this from Bloomberg, the 11th richest person in the world (“I put the money in the foundation and they take it out”) may indicate significant limitations in thinking for participating cities. Bloomberg’s business class is not going to accept a message against the underlying problem of economic growth, or even strongly against unfettered markets, and what he tellingly called “the grassroots” (meaning not regular activists but city governments) will keep that in mind when writing future grant applications and drawing up plans.  Consider the way Bloomberg utterly dodged a question from a Florida Phoenix reporter about whether he supported the idea of a Green New Deal Committee, a current popular demand that would bar politicians who don’t see a problem with accepting fossilised money.  Instead of answering yes or no, Bloomberg fluttered on about not getting this done “overnight” (the Sunrise Movement that is primarily pushing the idea is demanding complete decarbonisation within ten years, but go ahead and conflate those two timelines), about Trump, about the glorious national conversion from coal to fracked gas, as if he's never heard of methane emissions, or just doesn’t give a damn.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that just a few months ago, this “climate philanthropist” accused protesters blockading a pro-corporate Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco of being hypocritical fools working against their own interests.  Never mind that such summits still promote absurd ideas, like that market mechanisms can magically turn the threat of looming death for our planet into a bonanza for shareholders, or that the host Governor took millions of dollars in fossil fuel donations over his career.  How’s Bloomberg Philanthropy going to react when Extinction Rebellion US and other movements begin to forcefully point out that this wishy washy, business-as-usual approach is why we have been failing to solve this problem for decades?  That we need not the generosity of the upper class, but the restructuring of an economic system that serves them at our collective expense?  What are the odds of these arguments making headway in local government with a Bloomberg Philanthropy employee sitting at the table?

Later in the day came the ISAP pubic review & open house at city hall.  While there was no formal presentation or explanation of the action plan, residents were invited to browse documents and vote for priorities in a series of categories.  There appeared to be substantial support among those present for reducing all local emissions 20% by the end of next year, as well as for affordable housing policy and electric vehicle incentives.  The 20% reduction by 2020 (based on a 2016 baseline) is now apparently a firm commitment by city hall, designed presumably to coincide with the duration of the Climate Challenge program, and it is followed by a goal of a 40% reduction by 2025.  The final ISAP is not yet available to the public, but a recent draft and other documents are available at the city sustainability page.

Looking at these goals, we might consider a few things.  This is more than many governments in the US are proposing, to be sure, indicating an understanding of the need to make rapid cuts early in the timeline to lower overall total emissions.  Local government officials act within an environment of complex systems much larger than themselves, that like all of us they must navigate as best they can, with not even the likes of Michael Bloomberg able to have complete control over all outcomes.  But while there can be little doubt that there are people within official channels who genuinely care about climate breakdown, and who doubtless expended significant effort to get these plans put together, the simple, unbiased truth is that these cuts are still simply not deep enough given the need for the emergency measures that are now our only chance at survival.  

They are not in line with the recommendations of the October IPCC report, let alone the position of those commentators who suggest that the IPCC was not honest about the gravity of our situation.  The most recent publicly available version of the city roadmap (published in November) proposes an 80% cut by 2050, which, if it were to remain in the final draft, would indicate a catastrophic slowdown in efforts.  Honest city employees are no doubt aware of this, and would hopefully welcome the political capital to expand the plans drastically. It's up to those of us on the outside to help provide them with that political space, by laying out the stark and unpleasant reality.

Extinction Rebellion is calling for the declaration of an immediate state of emergency over the climate crisis from all levels of government, a society-wide mobilisation to bring emissions down to net zero by 2025, and a much more participatory democracy to make sure we all get a say in these defining times.  Extinction Rebellion Tampa Bay will be officially launching during a national day of action on Saturday January 26th.  We invite everyone who supports emergency climate action to join us that day at 10am in Williams Park.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Leftöver Crack
Leftöver Leftöver Crack: The E-Sides and F-Sides
Fat Wreck, 2018

Published at Apathy & Exhaustion

Here's my latent, superficially non-denominational holiday gift to all punks, skins, outsiders, and those who feel in general that humanity is driving itself into the abyss.  The Mariah Carey staple, All I Want For Christmas Is You -- a song so popular that 24 years after its release it just became the new single day streams record holder on Spotify -- is a subversive message of anti-consumerism.  “I don't care about the presents underneath the Christmas tree,” playing in every retail shithole in the West and probably beyond.  You are now allowed to admit that you like it without shame. You're welcome.

If it’s good enough for Mariah, it’s good enough for the Leftöver Cracks of our world.  It’s not necessarily the coolest thing to admit or a major indulgence, but I occasionally enjoy some Crack and company.  With a planet so obviously being fucked from every direction, we need a vast variety of mental medicines. We need deep analysis, daring artistic vision, boring data-driven reporting.  We also need simple messages that are easily understood, gut-based, emotional outbursts, the normal language of proper people. The Crackers fall somewhere along this spectrum, though it’s tough to say exactly where.  Their subject matter and positions are often pretty far outside the mainstream, somewhat radical even for the punk sphere. It’s also quite easy to see a juvenile or shallow aesthetic going on, of the kind that causes critics to refer to them as “music aimed at Garbage Pail Kids,” or “that awful fucking band . . . whose particular din is enjoyed by nobody with good taste in punk rock ever.  EVER.”

Point is, it’s tempting to indulge in what might be considered basic skin deep revolt sometimes.  Take for example the little number Baby-Punchers featured on this rarities collection that I am apparently reviewing.  What could be more satisfying than the opening line “Fuck your flag and fuck your face” when you’ve just had a run in with your dumbass neighbours, complaining that foreigners don’t care about “old glory” in front of you, then trying to imply that you’re somehow less foreign than other immigrants, as happened to me yesterday?  It’s almost as if growing up in England makes me more inclined to stick by my South Asian fellow complex dwellers.  The track (originally released on a 2006 split with Citizen Fish) features Jello Biafra bringing another welcome element to the already varied mix in a shouted word rant, and when it yell-culminates in “QUIT YOUR JOBS!  BURN DOWN THE MALLS!” you goddamn want to!  I will indulge those impulses for these few minutes if only strategically or metaphorically in my wider life (considering that the other thing I intended to do today was apply for some sort of rent-paying toil... that didn’t happen).  And as for the song Banned in P.C, I wish!  They just asked me in for another one-off shift, the merciless bastards.

Leftöver Leftöver Crack has been carefully and meticulously curated with the goal of coming across like an unattractive document of scum living, burned inattentively to stolen CDs by an anonymous compiler in between smack injections and nutting coppers.  You don’t believe it of course, but whatever. This appeal has always been in the actual music anyway, Stzas vocals generally seeming to suffer from some combination of proudly rough recording equipment and gargling too much cider and lean.  You could choose to interpret this all as “slum tourism” or “lifestyle anarchism” I suppose, or an attempt to artistically capture certain elements of life under this soul-sucking regimen; without intimate knowledge of the band members’ lives it’s mere guesswork.

Spanning their career as it does, E-Sides and F-Sides manages to round up a lot of the unusual stuff Leftöver Crack have often inserted into their works.  The number of vocal samples and skits present from the Rock the 40oz EP indicate Stza and co’s respect for hip hop mixtape creativity; I thought E-side might mean East Side until I realised it’s just a reference to the fact that this is a double LP.  (Interestingly, the long running website did a similar mixtape idea last year called Banned From The P.C., that features a BBC live version of Gay Rude Boys Unite.)  There’s the wild west criminality meets Bad Brains of The Good, The Bad and the LöC, while World War 4, originally from an old Fat Wreck Christmas album, has some unexpected pop punk melody and background vocals.  There’s a really quite fun cover of Men At Work’s Land Down Under that I think even haters might enjoy, even if it is largely because it features somebody else's lyrics.

If you’re a serious fan of leftovers, ready to lazily consume them when you get home from another day working for The Man, you’ll find this either a cool single package to have or pretty much a waste of time, since the majority of the material comes straight from the bands’ various splits and EPs.  If you’re more a casual listener like me thirty tracks isn’t bad value for cuts that you may have overlooked. I would suggest checking the bandcamp tracklist to see where it puts you on this spectrum. Right, now that that’s sorted, what to do now? Back to Apple Pie and the Police State I guess.

Leftöver Leftöver Crack: The E-Sides and F-Sides can be heard at the bandcamp link above, and can be purchased (if you’re that unpunk) from Fat Wreck at this link.  It’s available as a digital download, on CD or a double LP.