by Sam Rees
The city was, at one point, a source of romance. I would cultivate my experience of entering it-get some anthemic electronica pumping in my ears as Finsbury Park swooped past me on the train and I tumbled further into the guts of the town. Knowing, always, that when I saw those crumbling bricks adorned with vines and graffiti, those foxes and pigeons and chicken bones in drains, opportunity awaited. Maybe I was coming to London to get drunk. Or have sex. Or work on a creative project. Always at this point it was possible to compartmentalise that feeling from the country town I was journeying from.
I would on every occasion allow myself to think:
This is what it’s all about. This is going to be a great weekend.
These days, the feeling is gone, more or less. It’s a place of work, and life, and, to an extent, of normalcy. I was happy to be there for the 2019 election. It felt far better to be commiserating on the South Bank than it would have done from the heart of Toryshire. But it’s also a dirty, cold, brutal place.
As the tube carries me from the city, forcing me up its throat and spitting me back out, I find a peace in the ventricular feeling of it all-I am part of a gargantuan system of transport and each person underground right now has their own dreams and hopes and fears. That oneness, I think to myself, is hard to come by these days.
We had a process, didn’t we? We had places that, through the various strands of consumer capitalism, became the locus of all that energy. We called them clubs, I recall, back in the old days. Where a series of commercial contracts and licenses congregated and became something more than the sum of their parts. Frightening places, and I don’t know now whether I will ever feel wholly comfortable in one again.
They were part of why travelling here used to be so thrilling. It’s funny how things change. I used to be a sucker for the worst kind of knuckle-dragging, paint-by-numbers trashy EDM. These days I need something darker, more paranoid. It may be because I moderate my habits better now, and so I never totally give up to the moment. Indeed, from what I remember, my last few experiences in clubs and bars before lockdown were soberer affairs, and I would leave in an irritated fashion, overwhelmed by the meaningless of it all. I need something darker in my experience nowadays, something more melancholy.
Matters are darker, of course.
Something like, I think on that tube, the album I have in my ears right now, the new CamelPhat record. That’s the me I recognise now. That’s the city I recognise. It’s not a place of pyrotechnics, of jumping on the count of one-two-three, of confetti cannons. In the club of my mind’s eye, things are gloomier. The Martian chord patterns that open ‘In Between the Lines’ are not sad, not happy, they just are. They’re danceable. They’re beautiful. The hazy psychedelia of the track is car lights at four in the morning, it’s mournful sirens and rain on night bus windows. It’s comedowns and it’s not being eighteen anymore.
You’re not eighteen anymore. Stop this.
Grow the fuck up.
It’s a track paired beautifully with its immediate follow-up. From the cold reality of a November evening, to the sun of that summer. And don’t think I don’t know exactly what summer you’re all thinking about. ‘Hypercolour’ is that summer. Maybe it’s several moments across several summers. Maybe it wasn’t quite summer or maybe it was slightly after. But it was that time you got everything wrong but nothing stuck. Where you probably hurt somebody but were too clumsy to realise, and where you almost certainly got hurt-but it was a good hurt, you know? It was almost a pleasant feeling. You could roll around in all of that sun-kissed, consciousness-elevating pain which stank of booze and fags and weed, sunburn and cottonmouth and soil and tears. It hurt so good to ask why didn’t they love me.
Endless open wide road running through the sky.
Yannis Philippakis wails over himself for the glory of all that is unholy. And for a moment, you have to squint as the August sunset stings your retina.
But then it’s over, like some hallucination. And the sound of wind and rain fills your ears. And all you can think is:
You’re not eighteen anymore. Grow the fuck up.
Everything hurts more these days, I think to myself, as I change at Stockwell. ‘Spektrum’ is an icy affair and it makes me feel distance all around me. If I could choose to be isolated with anybody throughout this year, it wouldn’t have been me.
Wind runs down the station, caves in my ears, makes me remember where I am.
‘Dance with My Ghost’, a righteous, percussive prayer, builds another world for me. It’s fires on the beach, mountains in the distance, a Pacific, or Antipodean, breeze bringing in the night-time. I push my feet into the cooling sand and I am perhaps happy.
But then ‘Easier’ starts.
Oh, the sun never quite rises in London, As I cross over the bridge, I want to drink and smoke and kiss and be kissed.
What are you trying to do to me here?
As that gut-punch beat rises to slaughter all in its path, I think of how freely I used to move, how freely we all used to move. It gave us a mastery, to have a friend, for instance, sad and in heartache, and say to him: ‘let’s walk to Waterloo, we can cross the bridge’. And in that crossing, something would happen. Nothing had changed. Nobody was happier. But we had crossed the river. We had walked. It was night-time, and perhaps we would go and get drunker. And almost certainly I was delighted to have an excuse to do so. But again, this would mean moving. Nothing was pinned-down. Nothing was a commitment. Don’t like this place? Then let’s leave. Let’s run straight over there, to where it’s darkest, and see where we come out the other side. What’s that light over there? We probably haven’t got the time or money to check, yet we would still find ourselves there. We held places lightly in our palms, we picked them up and put them down.
I thought it would be easier.
‘Panic Room’. I know this track. We all did when it first dropped. But now we’re all in a panic room and Covid is greedy. It swallows everything up in its massive ugly fucking mouth. So that music so purpose-built, so specific, loses all context and becomes yet another desperate, shamanic evocation of this time, the circumstances. Jamie Lou Stenzel welcomes us to the panic room and I wish I had known that was what we were calling this year. It’s almost too fitting to be believe, isn’t it? Monsters, wolves, skin-crawling, fears.
‘Keep Movin’’ is one of those one-size-fits-all disco-by-way-of-heartache sashays on to the dancefloor that deserves a few pissed tears, hugging a friend in act of vague defiance to all those things you feel are dividing us. It lasts as long as its supposed to. All I think is how beautifully empty it feels and how I want to drag 80 people together in a room and pump it loud, without that context it’s a tree falling in a forest with no one around to hear it. I think this as some announcer tells me about what to do if I see something that doesn’t look right and I wish I could point out that I don’t see a single thing that looks right around me at the moment. Who do I text that to? I’ve seen it, I’ve said it, so can someone fucking sort it?
Got back before the night in
She’s sitting for the lights
She sees the vision going
Cutting light after light
See how she looks for trouble
See how she dances and
She sips the coca cola
She can’t tell the difference yet
There’s nowhere dark left in the world. Not for me. Stratford station screams into view cast in late Autumn sun. Where are those special places to hide away? To misbehave? I want to cut the lights on this whole affair. The national/global/existential/political crisis has done a number on my body. I care about my health again for the first time in years, and this has put me back in the healthy eating, exercise, vanity, frustration cycle. My mind won’t allow low standards, yet at the same time I fear when this is all over I will only react with an explosion the likes of which my vital organs have never seen. I can’t escape that though, come what may.
I just want to fucking dance.
There are many parts of me that want Noel Gallagher to fuck off and close the door behind him, the baggy clout-chasing boomer. But ‘Not Over Yet’ is, unfortunately, exactly what is required in this moment. Its defiance, its utopianism, its rousing build, what’s life without a cheap thrill every now and then? And what’s more, I want that figure of obnoxious Saturday-night middle-finger-in-the-air excess to tell me it’ll all be okay, that there are more terrible pizzas to be eaten at sunrise. The song chunders along and leaves me better for having heard it.
I’m getting picked up here, at Redbridge. I’m leaving. Not forever, but for long enough. And it’ll probably be harder this time because it’s colder and darker.
Dear reader, if you’ve come this far with me on this sordid and self-indulgent journey, then do one more thing. Stick on the closing track of the record, ‘Breathe’. I’m listening to it as I write this, so we can listen to it together. And whoever you are, I hope one day we can hear it in a room together. I don’t know about you, but I need to breathe again. I really, really hope these next few months are less than awful for you, and, if like me, you’re starved of culture, you can find some metaphorical stones to hit together and make a spark, so to speak. I would suggest a collection of absolute club bangers that will one day soundtrack our silliest, happiest moments like this is not a bad place to start. I hope you find somewhere to breathe deep, to put down whatever you’re holding on to. I hope, really sincerely, that you are happy. And that you feel loved. And I suppose I’m throwing this as a talisman across the void, and if you are indeed gently nodding your head to this track (which is fucking great isn’t it?) as I asked, then you can feel like that is a common link between us. It hasn’t been the soundtrack to very much yet, but I hope it can be the soundtrack to this little moment between us. I hope in some wretched smoking area where neither of us belong, we can find each other one day. I wonder what it is we will have been chasing, or running away from, that night? I hope to bump alongside you as you ask me for a lighter. And I know we will never see each other again and the five minute chat we have will most likely be forgotten by the morning, and I will pretend that it was really annoying to my friends because I’m so aloof, but really it will have meant the world.
I hope we can part, and say, over our shoulders:
It was nice to meet you.