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The anxious interval - click opera
February 2010
 
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Tue, Feb. 10th, 2009 02:56 am
The anxious interval

This is a little speculation about cultural cycles of revival and neglect. This is about how the present feels about particular parts of the culture of the past. Have a look at the diagram below:



That's a model of how I see cultural attention being paid. Let's work backwards down the timeline. We start with the present.

The present: Not difficult to define. The present is now. It's this year and last year and a couple of years before that. If you can look at a photo of yourself and not think "God, what a strange haircut I had, and what strange sunglasses I was wearing!" then that photo was probably taken in the present. If you read an old email and find you were talking about Friendster in a way you'd now be talking about Facebook -- and catch yourself struggling to remember what Friendster even was -- then that email was probably not written in what we're calling "the present". It was probably written in the next timezone on my diagram, and the most important one in this essay, the anxious interval.

The anxious interval: The anxious interval is the recent past. It's long enough ago to feel not-contemporary, but not long enough ago to feel utterly removed. It's at an uncomfortable distance, which is why I call it "anxious". You could think of the anxious interval as the temporal equivalent of the uncanny valley, that place where robots are similar enough to us to give us an uncomfortable shudder. You could also say the anxious interval is a place, a style, a set of references we avoid, repress, sublimate, have selective amnesia about, stow away, throw out, deliberately forget.



If there's a stock exchange of reputations, the people who made their names in the current "anxious interval" are on the skids. If they're artists, they're dropping on Artfacts.net and if they're pop musicians they're not charting as high as they once did. They're the kind of people who make you say "Oh, I'd forgotten about him." Oddly enough, the more these people were hyped during the anxious interval, the more you tend to have forgotten about them.

An example: Devendra Banhart and the scene that was called Freak Folk or New Weird America. The Wire magazine cover feature on New Weird America dates from August 2003. By April 2005 the San Francisco Chronicle is telling us that Freak Folk Flies High. By June 2006 the New York Times is telling its readers that "a music scene called freak folk is bursting up from underground" but adding that "it looked like a trend of the moment a couple of years ago". By 2009, it's safe to say that a reference to Freak Folk would be more likely to puncture your credibility than bolster it. Freak Folk is in "the anxious interval". That doesn't mean there's anything wrong with it, just that we're currently asleep to its charms. That particular pixie field is lying fallow right now. When the trump sounds and its time comes again, Freak Folk will return, stronger for the rest.

Let's keep working back.

The battlefront: The battlefront is a terribly interesting micro-zone, but to talk about it we need to talk about the zone behind it too. The goldmine is the cultural era the present is currently reviving. I've put a picture of Buggles, because in general we're reviving the 80s at the moment. You know, the guy from Hot Chip wears Buggles-like glasses, and so on. The goldmine is a goldmine for people who run secondhand clothes stores and have lots of stock from the requisite era, or people who are selling synths from that era, or people who've got a bunch of cheap Chinese Ray Ban copy frames. The smartest people in the present are remembering the goldmine and sifting through its waters like a crowd of panhandlers.



The battlefront is the area right at the edge of the goldmine -- the place where the acceptable and lucrative revival era meets a time which is currently repressed, neglected, and a-slumber. What's so interesting about the battlefront is that the process of reassessment is so visible here, and the revaluation is so daringly and consciously done. An elite of taste-leaders and taste-formers unafraid of ridicule are hard at work here, foraging for bargains, bringing an unacceptable era into fresh acceptability. There's a kind of shuddering repulsion for long-neglected, long-repressed artifacts, and yet something compellingly taboo about them. Their hiddenness makes them fascinating -- it's as if their very sublimation has given these cultural objects some kind of big power over our unconscious. The best curators and fashionistas are to be found at the battlefront, battling for the fascinating-repellant things they find in that twilit zone between acceptability and unacceptability.



I'd say the battlefront is currently the early- to mid-90s. I've noticed Facebook friends posting old photos from this era and tagging their friends, partly to embarrass them by showing how uncool they looked in high school, partly to initiate hipster-style reassessments of this era's styles, and confirm themselves as advance-party warriors in the vanguard of style.

Before the battlefront, before the goldmine, there's the anxious echo. The anxious echo is simply an era that has been revived by a more recent era which has itself been forgotten and repressed. In the mid-to-late 90s, for instance, the 70s were being revived. This means that if we're forgetting the mid-to-late 90s, we must also forget the 70s, which become an "anxious echo" of a time we wish to forget.



Even further back, there's the historical past, which is vast, and contains many fainter echoes of the present's revived and reviled periods, all cluttered up as in a junk store or museum. Before the historical past (not shown on my chart) is oblivion. Oblivion is simply what we can't remember, because we've lost records of it. Oblivion is very different from the anxious interval because it's not consciously forgotten. We never had to banish or repress oblivion because we never knew it in the first place.

I'm sure this is all laid out neatly somewhere in Google Zeitgeist. Unfortunately, since Google Zeitgeist was invented in 2001 and peaked in 2005, I've completely forgotten what the service was, or where to find it. No doubt its time will come again some day.

74CommentReply


(no subject) - (Anonymous)
imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Feb. 10th, 2009 02:51 am (UTC)

In Britain there's grinding inevitability about a Britpop revival, which means an Oasis revival -- and they never even fookin' went away! If anyone deserves an "anxious interval" it's the Gallaghers.


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Waysis - (Anonymous) Expand
eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
Tue, Feb. 10th, 2009 02:48 am (UTC)

This phenomenon, (tied closely to retro-necro, as I'm sure you'd agree) has been going on throughout the last century or so, arguably fulled by the rise in accesible recording media, photography and film.
Personally, the earliest I was conscious of the process was in the 70s, where the likes of showaddywady , mud and much of glam rock idolised the 50s, arguably culminating in the film 'Grease'. I seem to recall in the early 80s there was a brief fling with the 60s, when the likes of Tight fit, Marc almond, Paul Young, Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin, UB40 and even stars on 45 re-recorded 60s songs, and so on... and not only that , these movements exploit and highlight certain areas of the decade in question and omit others. This reductive , 'Time-warner version' approach usually ends up with everyone in the 50s being like Elvis, in the 60s a hippy or a moptop, etc.

How do you think the internet has affected the length of time between cycles? I believe most nostalgia is for 'lost' things and the rose-tinted spectacles ensure we imagine them as better than they were. However, this fiction can only be maintained if there are gaps in the memory. Now we won't ever be able to forget or lose anything again (cue mr Figgis, 'too much culture'). Lost your vinyl copy of 'Hoots Mon' by Jack Good? it's on youTube. Lost your photos from the school end of year french trip 1989? no problem, a mate has scanned 'em and theyre on facebook. lost your website? check 'the wayback machine'....and so on. Surely anything post-1990s will be immortal in a way that all else in the pre-widespread 'net age isn't, precisely because we haven't been able to 'lose' it as easily as the culture of the previous ages. And since familiarity breeds contempt, the ever present post '90s stuff may take far longer to come back into desirability, so I reckon we'll see people digging deeper into the pre-net era to find more goldmines. I wouldn't be surprised to see people nostalgic for the time you couldn't find anything on the net, making webpages with no embedded stuff, or downgrading their browsers to netscape v.2 or win 3.1!

Of interest to me is where the impetus comes from for these consumption cycles. They aren't an accident and don't come out of nowhere. if you look at the recent history of it, I think it's generally from industry. Remember that in capitalism, makiing things 'old' is the only way they can sell us the new. When that phase is exhausted, in comes 'retro' and away we go again.

Soon the world will end in nostalgia as the cycles get shorter each time, so people won't be able to make a move without being nostalgic for the step they just took, at which point everything stops! (that's FZ again)


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Feb. 10th, 2009 03:01 am (UTC)

I have said that we've lost the ability to forget -- I mean (to refer to my comment above) can Britpop be revived in 2009 if the Gallaghers were never off magazine covers between 1994 and 2009? Surely that lack of forgetting prohibits the act of remembering?

But I do think that certain things are forgotten ever more quickly and surely. CD-ROMs, Friendster, even CDs look likely to be forgotten and probably never revived. And then there's the McLuhanite argument that what we see on YouTube just looks like old TV -- in fact, it's simply the internet dancing for us. The medium is the message, and if you're not watching it on a cathode ray tube with a tuner and an ariel, it isn't TV.


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eeuuugh
eeuuugh
eeuuugh
Tue, Feb. 10th, 2009 03:12 am (UTC)

The early 90s were already back last year, in Portland and Chicago at least. The immediately pre-Nirvana alt-rock look with long hair and two-week-old beards is everywhere, bands like Deerhunter and No Age are leaning hard on the corresponding musical aesthetic, and I think in Portland there were at least two 90s dance nights a month--one at holocene (where a lot of people tangentially associated with Devendra also play), I don't remember where the other was.

What's funny to me is that I'm 23, my sister's friends in Chicago are two three years younger than me, and Deerhunter and No Age are in this age range too--we have no first-hand memories of this era. I was 5 years old in 1990. I guess this is similar to the 70s being revived in the 90s. In this way the advancing front of revival is also a fight of the young against the old (or the slightly less young), using their own past against them in a fairly complicated way.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Feb. 10th, 2009 03:19 am (UTC)

In this way the advancing front of revival is also a fight of the young against the old (or the slightly less young), using their own past against them in a fairly complicated way.

Yes, this is a very important point. Young people need their own culture, and that means rummaging in the older people's "anxious interval" period and reaching for something unacceptable to older people. I noticed this while recording with Joe last summer. Joe and his girlfriend Emma are reviving late 80s or early 90s styles (a certain amount of grunge check shirtage going on) which I couldn't really countenance doing myself, despite it having been my own style at their age. What do I mean despite? BECAUSE of it having been my own style.


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desant012
||||||||||
Tue, Feb. 10th, 2009 05:00 am (UTC)

the "slacker" (the 1991 movie) aesthetic's been big in brooklyn the past year or so, so I would say ... the early 90s are back! yeah!


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endoftheseason
endoftheseason
Tue, Feb. 10th, 2009 05:54 am (UTC)
Pacific

I'm sort of in the mood right now for a revival of this:




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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Feb. 10th, 2009 10:48 am (UTC)
Re: Pacific

Weird, I can't hear Pacific now without being reminded of The Books! But when I first heard The Books (circa 2002) I certainly didn't think of Pacific, who were a repressed memory in 2002's "anxious interval".


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endoftheseason
endoftheseason
Tue, Feb. 10th, 2009 06:28 am (UTC)
Spoonfed Hybrid

Or maybe even this.

http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendID=94309463


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skazat
skazat
Alex à Paris
Tue, Feb. 10th, 2009 08:18 am (UTC)

How does the underground and pop culture fit into all this?

If it's on the cover of, "Wire", it's not really very underground - Devendra Banhart seemed to be *everywhere* last year and playing venues of some heft - certainly not the anarcho-art space in the cruddy part of town (he *never* played that, at least in my town)

It seems like Pop culture would move at its own pace - basically, whenever the investment of the current pop culture has run its course - no reason to bring in something brand new if the population is still interested and concerned with what's still going on.

I kind of bring the underground up, since it's going to almost always attempt to be a critique on what's extremely popular and is almost always going to *become* what's extremely popular. I can only find the, "proto" label to anything before the late 70's punk rock stuff - where you can say that style of music eventually broke through - , everything from 60's garage bands to glam. But then again, some people have labeled, "Grunge" as punk rock, finally breaking through to pop culture.

It all seems suspiciously subjective - I mean, look at the 4 examples you gave. The buggles did that Radio killed the star... something song, right? I can't really remember (ok, I don't think I was alive...)

And also, I doubt we're really going to understand in the here and now, like we really don't know what type of art movement is going on - and again, you yourself have labled a faux one, for argument's sake.

Cheers if your heads not spinning, but mine certainly is, maybe most especially, because I can't have been living more than 3 full periods of the periods you're showing, so how can we really know?



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krskrft
krskrft
Tue, Feb. 10th, 2009 01:04 pm (UTC)

I'm not sure the underground is really what becomes popular, though, at least not lately. I'm honestly trying to remember this mapping to any post-grunge moment, at least in the US, and I'm coming up blank. Which isn't to say that the underground gets absolutely no exposure in the mainstream, but if we're talking about top 40 radio, the ideas of the underground right now don't seem to have any currency whatsoever, not even in an extremely watered down sense.

In the 90s, one could have said that The Cranberries were the mainstream representation of Lush, for example, or that the Gin Blossoms were general stand-ins for the contemporary power pop movement. And of course, Nirvana, who came directly from the underground--basically poached from SubPop records by Geffen--represented the entire Seattle grunge scene (even though none of the other bands really sounded like them).

But really, where is the representation of the underground in the Top 40 right now? It's just not there. Not even underground hip-hop is being represented by more streamlined, mainstream offerings. I guess in the last few years, maybe there have been a few. Modest Mouse broke through with a mainstream hit. But I'm really straining to think of many others.


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krskrft
krskrft
Tue, Feb. 10th, 2009 08:25 am (UTC)

Here's the big problem, though.

I can see people reviving music from the grunge era. I mean, what are we talking about? Nirvana? Alice in Chains? Soundgarden?

But what would the next Goldmine be? Third Eye Blind? Matchbox 20? We're talking about a chunk of time for which the pop music has no credibility, and no real underground counterpart. Like, even if we want to toss out Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Sound Garden, Pearl Jam, and say, hey, those guys sucked. There were still underground counterparts with heaps of cred, like Mudhoney.

Who are the credible counterparts for Third Eye Blind, Matchbox 20, Live, Blues Traveler, and the like? I just can't see even the most Puck-like hipster coming to the conclusion that there is something of value to mine from late 90s or early 2000's pop music.

I think the problem is that, after grunge, we didn't really see another trend in pop music that echoed anything like what was going on in the underground. At least not in the United States. "Techno" was hot in the U.S. for like 2 seconds around 1997 or so, but never really much beyond that, and I don't think that really qualifies as pop anyway.


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bonsai_human
Bonsai Human
Tue, Feb. 10th, 2009 08:46 am (UTC)
Uncanny valley is where I want to live

I didn't realise there was a theory behind that odd feeling I get when I look at somewhat-but-not-quite-human things. Funnily enough, I really, really love that feeling. It is the same feeling of being repulsed and nauseated, yet extremely moved, that I get from my favourite music and art.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Feb. 10th, 2009 09:46 am (UTC)

Isn't what you're describing essentially an accelerated form of Laver's Law?
http://www.fashion-era.com/lavers_law.htm


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Feb. 10th, 2009 10:07 am (UTC)

Essentially, yes. I didn't know about Lavers Law, but things certainly have speeded up since then!


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ofenheizung
ofenheizung
Tue, Feb. 10th, 2009 09:48 am (UTC)
Re: Uncanny valley is where I want to live

Nicely done. What happens to the category of the historical past is also strange. In musical terms it is expanding backwards as record companies anxious about the declining returns of putting out the millionth version of Beethoven's Fifth seek out new repertoire that isn't scary and modern. This explains a lot about the early music movement.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Feb. 10th, 2009 10:23 am (UTC)

Well something strange has happened with the current 80s revival compared to the seventies one in the mid-late 90s and the 60s one in the late 80s/early 90s (that I just about remember). It seems that previous revivals have taken about five years to revisit a previous decade. For example, the 60s was revisited as clean-cut synthpop and mary chain style garage rock (mid 80s) and then came hippy imagery (the rave era or 88 to 94 or thereabouts). The 70s was revisited with disco inspired house and vague punk/new wave revivals (94 to the end of the decade).

We've been saddled with this 80s nostalgia for ten years now and it seems that they're revisiting the decade year by year, no, forget that, noughties "style years" are even longer than eighties years - we got stuck in 1982 for at least a couple of years in 2002-2004 ! Now we're around 1987 if current fashions are to be believed and I know that the late 80s early 90s has been championed as the forefront of progress by marketers and journalists for the last few years, the kids just ain't having it yet. If your theories are right, maybe the people who originally went to acid house parties and raves have to stop going out before this comes back.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Feb. 10th, 2009 11:06 am (UTC)

Well, things are confused just now. If I can take two small examples, I was puzzled to see Jesper Larrson's design for a tea package, top left in this image. It's a design that could have come straight from 1970, yet, for me, the 70s revival is terribly 90s-looking and I'd have expected someone like Jesper to avoid that reference at all costs. Then there's Cyril Duval's very Nu-Rave outfit in this video, made in 2007. Now, to be reviving Nu-Rave in 2007 seems to be a "correct" gesture, in line with my attempt to define the style of the 00s that same year. (I had tea with Cyril yesterday and he certainly wasn't sporting a Nu-Rave look any more -- he looked more like a Chanel-obsessed eskimo! -- but neither was he making any 1970 references.)

Then again, I'm someone who likes to be confused. I prefer to believe that Jesper was deliberately fucking with the style clock than that he just -- somehow -- didn't think about what a 1970 reference means in 2009, or did it with his 1997 head on. Perhaps this is a sort of "design paranoia", or the intentional fallacy.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Feb. 10th, 2009 10:31 am (UTC)

The Buggles had their sole hit in the seventies, not the eighties.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Feb. 10th, 2009 12:22 pm (UTC)

To be exact, it was very late 1979, and the album was from 1980. The interstices between decades are always interesting!


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eptified
eptified
H. Duck
Tue, Feb. 10th, 2009 10:36 am (UTC)

Neat.


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