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Mon, Sep. 15th, 2008 12:17 pm
Imagining East Kilbride as Chandigarh

So, I've reached the point in my Book of Scotlands where East Kilbride becomes Chandigarh. East Kilbride was designated, in 1947, the first of a series of New Towns which would later include Glenrothes (1948), Cumbernauld (1956), Livingston (1962) and Irvine (1964).



Built from scratch with Modernist-utopian town planning principles in mind (for instance, houses were staggered on the street so that each one sat in its own landscape, and schools were placed on hills so that they elevated views and minds alike), East Kilbride was the setting for the early 80s comedy Gregory's Girl. Oh, no, wait, that was Cumbernauld. But, frankly, they all look pretty much the same.



It was also the hometown of Alan McGee, Primal Scream, and other Creation Records bands, who revived forms of pop music as quintessentially 1960s as the architecture of their graph-paper new town. As the Canadian artist Sylvia Grace Borda points out in her project on the town, a lot of the original buildings in East Kilbride are now threatened with demolition. When that happens, a certain Keynesian-utopian vision (no matter how milquetoast) of post-war socialist bliss will vanish off the map of Scotland.



Much as I like the idea of post-war socialist Scottish new towns, though, I can't say I'm too enthusiastic about the drab results (Basil Spence's Duncanrig High School is okay, I guess). So in my parallel Scotland, Le Corbusier -- the master of Utopian degree zero town planning -- is called in to do the job right, as he did for the Indian province of Punjab when, between 1951 and 1965, he helped them construct a monumental and, I think, gorgeous Modernist utopia called Chandigarh.



Nehru, who commissioned the project, said he wanted Chandigarh to be "unfettered by the traditions of the past, a symbol of the nation's faith in the future". And so the greatest symbol of uncompromising Modernism got built in a poor third world country, not in Europe, America or Japan. (Parallels there with Brasilia, of course.)



My task is to imagine what kind of music Creation Records releases in the parallel world in which East Kilbride is a place like Chandigarh. And I suppose the answer is that their catalogue is like a better version of Mute! But wait, weren't Depeche Mode from Basildon, designated a New Town in 1948? So why aren't the Mute and Creation sounds identical? Why don't they both have the graph paper feel Mute bands tended to embrace? I guess I'm going to have to stop being so culturally-determinist about this and admit that genes play a part. In particular, Alan McGee's ginger genes.

47CommentReplyFlag

count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Mon, Sep. 15th, 2008 11:29 am (UTC)

Gregory's Girl was in HEAVY rotation on HBO when I was a teen. Other than Robert Louis Stevenson and the Bay City Rollers, it probably was my main exposure to Scotland growing up.

Have you seen My Architect ? Louis Kahn did some amazing work in India too.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Sep. 15th, 2008 12:06 pm (UTC)

Yes, I've seen My Architect. It's great -- but the Khan building you're probably thinking of is Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban in Dhaka, the national parliament of Bangladesh. I love that sequence of the film.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Sep. 15th, 2008 11:30 am (UTC)

Momus, what do you think of Robert Hughes, Damien Hirst, and Hughes's damning of Hirst?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Sep. 15th, 2008 12:05 pm (UTC)

I read what Hughes said and I couldn't agree more. And I think the financial crisis we're seeing today -- major meltdown of world banks -- spells the end for speculator-artists like Hirst.


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rhodri
rhodri
Rhodri Marsden
Mon, Sep. 15th, 2008 11:53 am (UTC)

I'm enjoying this self-imposed blogging hiatus of yours, cutting it right back from posting daily to merely posting every day.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Sep. 15th, 2008 12:07 pm (UTC)

Well, as you probably noticed, today's entry is a sneaky way to research my day's book-writing.


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thenipper
thenipper
Jerry the Nipper
Mon, Sep. 15th, 2008 12:30 pm (UTC)

Other tomorrow-is-ours modernist-graph-paper new-town bands: the Cure (Crawley), erm, Newtown Neurotics (Harlow) and, erm, Fields of the Nephilim (Stevenage).


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thenipper
thenipper
Jerry the Nipper
Mon, Sep. 15th, 2008 12:46 pm (UTC)

(Though actually, what a truly modernist scottish label would sound like is the Associates' Sulk! Or the Blue Nile's A Walk Across the Rooftops...)


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Magazine - (Anonymous) Expand





(Anonymous)
Mon, Sep. 15th, 2008 01:51 pm (UTC)

Mr. Currie,

Max Schiffermiller here from Taschen publishing. We are prepared to offer you an £80,000 commission to write "1000 nights with 1000 Japanese women". We will cover all the costs for you to live in Tokyo for 3 years while you do your research. All we request is that you bank wire our Nigerian office a £10,000 check to hold until the deal can be finalized. Thanks, Mr. Currie for your time.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Sep. 15th, 2008 02:11 pm (UTC)

I've been expecting you, Max!

My bank account is:

Lehman Brothers / Merrill Lynch
A/C 666131313

The cheque's in the past.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Sep. 15th, 2008 03:32 pm (UTC)

it's funny to hear such a positive discussion of Chandigarh, as most of what i've read in the past has been criticism of the city, here's an example for you: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m3575/is_1224_205/ai_54172203


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Sep. 15th, 2008 04:22 pm (UTC)

Frankly, architectural conservatives and anti-Modernists are so busy looking for the flaws in Chandigarh that they can't see the concrete wood for the concrete trees!

A follow-up study of Chandigarh in the 1980s found that, yes, the roofs were a bit leaky. But that people, asked if they liked living there, said yes, absolutely. They felt part of something big and futuristic and glamourous.


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robinsonner
robinsonner
the maven
Mon, Sep. 15th, 2008 05:35 pm (UTC)

The ultimate East Kilbride band were the Jesus and Mary Chain surely?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Sep. 15th, 2008 06:04 pm (UTC)

Surely, yes. I've been in the Reids' bedrooms, but not in East Kilbride, at a party at Primrose Hill. I seem to remember stupid underground American movies being shown with guys burning on crosses and suchlike. It did have that feeling of people in a New Town discovering "subversive" nasty-culty-culture in a spirit of teen nihilism. They weren't actually sniffing glue, though.


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dogsolitude_v2
dogsolitude_v2
dogsolitude_v2
Mon, Sep. 15th, 2008 06:11 pm (UTC)

I don't know who the head of Creation was, Daniel Miller is/was head of Mute IIRC. Perhaps their catalogues reflected their differing tastes in music?

Years ago, when I was young I dreamed of making harsh, uncompromising electronic music similar to that of Nitzer Ebb and getting signed to Mute... I'd shout into the microphone minimalistic lyrics about powerstations and metal things and do my best to scare people.

*sigh* Sadly the demands of parents and the 9-5 meant that my (limited) musical ability got stifled and shoved into the shoebox of spare time, and I ended up in a crappy job at a 'Leading Insurance Company'...

Not that I'm bitter or anything, but it speaks volumes about the repression of my regrets in this deprtment that the first time I ever publicly acknowledge it is on the blog of a guy I've never met whose music I used to listen to in sixth form.

I'm going to be unemployed soon, so I may see if I can conjure something wicked up, but don't hold your breath.

Hm. Feel better for that. Catharsis. Or something.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Sep. 15th, 2008 07:36 pm (UTC)

Are you a victim of the crunch/crisis we're reading so much about? It would be interesting if a resurgence of industrial electronica were one offspin of that!


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

robincarmody
robincarmody
Mon, Sep. 15th, 2008 09:48 pm (UTC)

Basildon, in common with most of the other London overspill new towns, has a huge political importance in Britain as the epicentre of Thatcherism, the rootless swing seats on which the Thatcher and Blair landslides were built (and on which a Cameron landslide, which will I think lead directly to Scotland's departure from the UK, will in all likelihood be built), the places which - in other words - were at the heart of the political abandonment of the values on which East Kilbride was built (and which were never as widely held in southern England as in Scotland). New town against new town! I am not the first person to point out the irony inherent in the very name "Milton Keynes": born in the latter's high summer, just months before the offshore radio clampdown which began his slow death, reaching its apotheosis as the former ascended to heights he has still not fallen from (check Nick Clegg, if you can bear it), sold by Cliff Richard on roller skates. Today, the distortions of the first-past-the-post system lead both Labour and Tory to aim almost exclusively at Basildonian-Thatcherite voters: neither care about anyone else anymore, least of all their own heartland supporters, whether in South Yorkshire or Wiltshire.

Where Mute and Depeche Mode stand in all this is questionable. You could see DM as *anti*-Basildonian, with their very consciously "Teutonic" sound ("Master and Servant" as a conscious - and to me highly successful - attempt to take Einstuerzende Neubaten and turn it into pop music). And the originators seemed to respect it: although to me there was always still that air of a "foreign" sound as reimagined from a southern English new town - albeit a European one rather than the usual American one - DM became immensely successful in Germany, more so than in Britain in fact, and this spread to Eastern Europe where Glasnost-era tastes were largely dictated by whatever was big in the old West Germany circa 1987.

DM probably had quite a few Tory-voting fans here, but the politics of German influence in England are highly complicated (lager and rottweilers are both hugely popular among Sun-reading Kraut-bashers), and I think you could see Depeche Mode as perhaps trying to recover some of the *original* New Town ideas - social democracy recaptured through sounding like they came from a place that was, even under Kohl, sticking relatively close to it in the midst of the 1980s (I know less about German politics than I should, but Thatcherites always gave the impression that Kohl was, at least in their view, quasi-Heathite and thus Not Really One Of Us). Hmmm, maybe that's too tenuous, especially because Basildon was probably *always* the least social democratic of the New Towns. But I think DM at least tried to answer, in their own confused way, the problems left by the vast gap between original New Town ideas and what they became when the heart of Toryism shifted from the outer shires, in a way the Creation bands never tried to do - but then, coming from a country which may soon have a permanent social democratic government as England has a permanent right-wing one, they didn't have the same need to.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Sep. 15th, 2008 10:51 pm (UTC)

Wow, you sound refreshingly upbeat about Scottish independence, Robin!

It's a prospect rather similar to the secession of the Yankee states from the Confederate ones getting talked about now -- if only jestingly -- in the US: a way for a left-leaning population effectively subordinated to a right-leaning (if financially dependent) one to regain a political voice and autonomy, and develop a distinctive culture. Could "two new Swedens" emerge?


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Tue, Sep. 16th, 2008 06:43 pm (UTC)

Never heard of Donald Judd and I got 100%!! Yay me.


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Tue, Sep. 16th, 2008 07:31 am (UTC)

Wow, how come this was never brought up during "culture and idea history class"? MOdernism in a "poor" country is much more cooler than in a "rich" country.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Sep. 16th, 2008 09:44 am (UTC)

I'm not sure about the "culture and idea history class", but "peripheral Modernisms" has become a commonplace of art curating recently: attention to Tropicalia etc.

When I visited the V&A's Modernism show two years ago I wrote:

"Despite its 1939 cut-off point, the V&A show petered out with an interesting section on the quirky, diversifying regional flavours of late Modernism -- Czech fabrics, Scandinavian furniture, and Brazilian architecture setting the scene for the eccentricites of Post-Modernism. And -- whoosh! -- the Barbican show picked up where Modernism left off, flipping Mies' "Less is more" motto into Venturi's riposte: "Less is a bore!"

So what you see there is late Modernism merging into Postmodernism by exchanging the International Style for a series of national styles, exchanging rationalism for quirk, unity for diversity, and so on. At the same time, a conservatism and an already-finished quality prevented the great Modernists -- like Le Corbusier -- from working in their own countries, so they went and did projects in poor nations like India. Modernism spread outwards from its original hubs (Paris, Berlin, New York), becoming more infected with strangeness and exoticism the further it travelled.


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pay_option07
pay_option07
Tue, Sep. 16th, 2008 02:23 pm (UTC)

Your vid clip brings back mems from Malcolm Madowells "O Lucky Man."


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mattbauman
mattbauman
Matthew j. Bauman
Wed, Sep. 17th, 2008 12:58 am (UTC)
i know how fond you are of fonts & stuff..

so i thought you'd like this video someone made for Moondog's "Fog On The Hudson (425 West 57th Street)."

Just click here!


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