Letter #91

19.07.19
Hello hello hello,

Hi, how are you 🐸?I hope you’ve had a glorious couple of weeks. After a pretty non-stop six months, things have let up a little this past few weeks – so much so that I managed to find some time this weekend to play some records! I’ve also had a bit more time to think about this week’s letter – so it’s a bumper edition, and (very) loosely themed around reinventions. More on that below in the notes…

This week we’ve had a flurry of new people sign up (100+!), so if you’re new here, this is how this works, and this is what you’ve missed so far.

As I mentioned, last weekend I spent about five hours playing records. It was glorious, and I’d almost forgotten how meditative it is. A few things struck me in the following few days; the first was that that weird state of flow / in the moment feeling is really powerful, and I think there are only a few other times I find myself in that space (when I’m with Shiv and Effie and we’re at the beach, when I’m out running, big projects with scary deadlines, and when I take Effie swimming – if you were interested). The second was what a primal feeling funk and soul can generate. And the third? That I need to practice the technical craft of DJing much, much more!! 😂

So, along with reinventions, the second strand to this week’s mixtape is funk and soul (both old and new) that tries to pull you into that state of flow. Stuff that you’d put on in the kitchen or garden in the afternoon and before you know it you’ve lost two hours and your legs ache. Tall order, but there’s some great music to get you there.

Anyway, on with the show ❤️

PRESS ME TO PLAY
🌪 TL;DR Section 🌪
(Now, I did warn you it was a bumper edition…)
  1. Feeling unexplainably tired at the moment? You might have what the Guardianis calling the dreaded mid-year burnout’
  2. I’m sure you’ll have seen this already, but in case you haven’t there’s a brilliant exhibition celebrating rave culture on at the Saatchi Gallery – if you’d like a little teaser, then the Guardian has some exclusive photos from the exhibition
  3. A friend at Facebook has shared an exclusive invitation to our Love Will Save The Day crew to join them for Hard Rain, a presentation and discussion with environmental photographer and climate activist Mark Edwards
  4. UK house music legend Graeme Park selects his favourite radio shows for Dummy, with some surprises and a link to a brilliant John Peel show from 1980
  5. In his last film (Hereditary) Ari Aster asked Colin Stetson to provide the film score (I haven’t seen the film, but have heard the score – it’s excellent, as you’d expect). For Midsommar, he asked The Haxan Cloak to produce the soundtrack. I’m expecting big (and terrifying) things.
  6. This deconstruction of Sir Duke (Stevie’s classic ode to Duke Ellington) shines an even brighter light on the utter genius of Stevie Wonder
  7. Some brilliant archivist has unearthed some colour video footage of the Velvet Underground from 1969
  8. Yvonne Turner was one of, if not the, most influential producers of the early days of house music. Never heard of her? Here’s why
  9. Google has a new experiment that lets you visualise music in texture and patterns – it’s mesmerising (thanks to the always excellent Matt Muir for sharing)
  10. Colin Steven, the founder of 90s drum’n’bass bible KMag, is publishing a new bookthat explores the history of d’n’b over the course of the two decades Kmagwas in print
  11. If you’re mildly obsessed with weird coffee table-style books, look away now
  12. While not strictly on topic, Apple has infiltrated culture (and undeniably altered how the music industry works), so this Wired feature on Jony Ive is really interesting. I’ve previously mentioned Raymond Loewy and how his ‘MAYA’ principle shows us how ideas can be primed for culture – and I think in years to come, we’ll see Ive in the same light as Loewy
  13. The late brilliant astronomer and poet, Rebecca Elson, used poetry to explain one of science’s most difficult concepts – relativity – here’s a clip of Stephon Alexander (another cosmologist and artist) bringing the poem to life
  14. I’m going to admit, I’d never thought of Duchamp or Jeff Koons’ work as of a sexual nature (maybe showing my naivety), but this interview with the curator of a Duchamp / Koons exhibition in Mexico City has changed my mind
  15. If you’re interested in Eno, ambient, or composition, then this deconstruction of Eno’s Music For Airports will be of interest
  16. After going to a few of their parties years ago, I still treat everything I see released on Fade to Mind and Night Slugs as buy-on-sight records. Over the years the style of music on those two labels has come to be known as ‘deconstructed club music’ (I know, I know), Bandcamp has put together a good introduction to the modern tracks that define it
  17. The jazz scene in Melbourne is exploding – and Melbourne native, Prequel, has just put his latest Worldwide.FM show live
  18. Speaking of Worldwide.FMyou can now invest in it’s future – which is weird, because I thought it was wholly funded by WeTransfer…
  19. I LOVED this story of the genesis of Laurent Garnier’s The Man With The Red Face, and the exploration of jazz and saxophone in dance music more generally from Ruth Saxelby. There’s a line that’s really stuck with me too; “be it John Coltrane or Derrick May, their obsessions are the same: space, time, groove and unfathomable melancholia.”
  20. Off the back of their brilliant new album, one of our crew and all-round-good-egg Kate Hutchinson, has written about Kokoko! in the Guardian 
  21. This story of Nico’s brief time living in Manchester (no, I had no idea either) manages to shine a light on a very distressing period of her life, while also demonstrating why we shouldn’t idolise Nico as a ‘femme fatale’, but instead as an incredibly important artist and figure in modern music
  22. I follow Now Again founder, Egon Alapatt, on Instagram, and I find the whole hip-hop / fine wine thing weirdly fascinating. His trip to Champagne with Madlib is a great example of those two worlds colliding…
  23. While I’m on the subject, apparently Madlib made a lot of the beats for Bandana (his latest album with Freddie Gibbs) on an iPad
  24. This tribute to Donny Hathaway from LDLDN on NTS is an absolute belter
  25. I really enjoyed this interview (well, kind of interview) between Call Super and Parris – specifically when Call Super talks about wanting people to realise that while the foundations of disco can be found in jazz and soul, the Cuban and Puerto Rican jazz explosion happening around the same time in NYC was just as influential on how disco evolved
  26. The Vinyl Factory’s excellent Crate Diggers series recently featured celebrated digger John Gomez. While the whole feature is worth reading, I was really struck by Gomez and his caution about perceptions of being a ‘white saviour’ when digging for music in other countries and continents
  27. When I was at university, I was mildly obsessed with Toni Morrison (I studied English literature, it was a perfectly suitable obsession), and so this interview with the producer of a new documentary on Morrison took me straight back to Tuesday morning lectures
  28. Nike is launching a new Air Max 90, inspired by vinyl
  29. On a magazine tip, the latest edition of Record is brilliant – the interview with Heidi Lawden is a real highlight. Also, the latest HuckiD and Dazed are all worth picking up too – lots of great interviews around at the moment
  30. I’ve also, very weirdly, watched some films too. Interstellar (I think I’m the last person on Earth to see it – but loved it most for the OST), and Wonder. Which was epic, and I cried from start to finish. Also, now I’ve read this I want to see Easy Rider too
  31. And finally, I’ve just started reading Dan Sicko’s Techno Rebels (which has pulled me into a Ken Collier-shaped rabbit hole)
✏️ The notes ✏️

As I mentioned above, I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few weeks thinking about reinvention. It started with an awards submission for our agency, and slowly I became more and more fascinated with the idea of what it means, how reinventions work, and why reinvention is important. On a basic level, the alternative to reinvention is a slow decline into irrelevance and, eventually, oblivion. So there’s an underlying imperative that would apply to an artist, a culture, an agency, or an individual. No one wants to lose their way, and the result (and in some cases the process) of a reinvention can be a really powerful elixir.

There are countless examples of reinventions in culture – the most obvious reference is Madonna. Over the course of nearly four decades, Madonna has tirelessly reinvented herself. There’s been disco, latin, r’n’b, rock, hip-hop, trance, ‘EDM’ – with every new album, there’s been a reinvention. Usually those reinventions have been tied to a different emerging subculture – she’s spotted something interesting happening, found someone to work with that has equity in that emerging culture (either producer or artist), and ‘borrowed’ that equity to remain relevant. It has undoubtedly worked for her, and she has played an instrumental role in modern culture as a result, but I do think that Madonna lacks a sense of authenticity. Like a magpie, she’s found something from the edges of culture and turned it into something palatable for the mainstream. In many ways, Madonna is a gateway from the edges to the mainstream, but the lack of investment in the cultures she borrows from means that it’s an asymmetrical relationship. Shetakes from the subculture, and gives to the mainstream.

These types of reinvention exist on a spectrum – at one end you have someone like Madonna, Calvin Harris, or Ed Sheeran (who’s new album features ‘collaborations’ with so many different types of artists, it’s difficult to justify the album being anything other than stealing equity to appear relevant), and at the other end, you have artists like Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Bowie, and Damon Albarn.

I would argue that Miles, Herbie, and Bowie all worked with different producers to create something new – and in many cases, the new stuff they created / create demonstrates the idea of ‘Most Advanced Yet Acceptable’ really well. They took their own equity, and lent it to new artists, rather than the other way around. Albarn is probably a weird one to mention, but one that immediately leapt to mind. For me, each Blur album felt like a mini-reinvention, and his subsequent solo work, work with Jamie Hewlett as Gorillaz, The Good The Bad and The Queen, and work with Africa Express took him deeper and deeper into interesting subcultures. He chose to work with people where their partnership created something greater than the sum of the parts – and rather than take all those disparate collaborations and put them into a single ‘solo’ album, he chose to keep them separate and gave them time to grow. This, for me, has created a much deeper and more authentic sense of reinvention.

I’ve talked about this a lot in the past, but investing time in the culture or subculture that you’re interested in being part of is incredibly important. A framework that I’ve used a lot at work breaks cultural involvement into three different phases; there’s understanding the language, signs, and symbols (which enables you to signal involvement), there’s understanding the history of the culture (which enables you to be a credible part of it), and finally there’s helping to build the future of the culture (which gives you an authenticity beyond the previous two phases). This framework is really helpful for work, but equally I instinctively use it to think about artists and different cultures too. Madonna is phase one. Albarn is phase three.

On a personal level, I think I’ve always been drawn to underdogs and stories of reinvention, and the more I’ve spent thinking about it over the last few weeks, the more I’ve spotted personal reinventions that I hadn’t really considered before. The best way of me explaining this is through a yellow sweatshirt. In the last three agencies that I’ve worked in, at some point the same picture of me has done the rounds. It’s a terrible (and hilarious) picture. I’m in my early 20s, posing with a laptop, in a boardroom, looking very fresh faced, and wearing a canary-yellow sweatshirt and purple polo top. It. Is. Horrific. There’s a whole backstory to the photo (which I’ll spare you), but what’s interesting is the conversation that this always prompts. Once the initial laughter has died down, people usually say that it looks like a totally different person. Then (usually) they look through old Facebook photoswhich just reinforces the idea that I’ve been about ten different people. I think, inadvertently, I’ve ‘reinvented’ myself more than a handful of times. Part of this is definitely about growing up, but on reflection, I think each reinvention has been driven by a desire to find where I belong. A few weeks ago I read a fairly terrifying article in the Guardian about whether or not anyone is ever the ‘real them’ – the writer talks about how we construct our own personal, internal narratives and how those narratives are informed by our context and culture. For each reinvention, I think we’re driven by a desire to change that internal narrative – who am I, and who do I want to be.Reinventions are incredibly important to our evolution as individuals, and building our sense of self – but the best reinventions are authentic, considered, and build something new.

I’ll leave you with one final shocking revelation; I used to be a big football fan. I grew up obsessed with Manchester United, and at the time it was really the glory years – the Ferguson years, the class of ’92. The team that went on to one of the greatest comebacks of all time; the 1999 Champions League final. This was a team that was built from the youth academy – sure, there were imported players, but the core of the team was a group of six or seven players that played together in the academy. Ferguson created a really tightknit culture. I remember thinking at the time about the comparison between United and Real Madrid. At this point in time, football was on the tip of becoming driven by crazy money, and Real Madrid’s Galactico’s (in my opinion) kick started that trend, but at that point, Real Madrid couldn’t buy a trophy. The team they put together were disparate stars, who couldn’t play together, and that attempt to buy a reinvention, without any commitment to the culture of the team, was the reason seven lads from Manchester could run rings around them. Ferguson built a team that went on to change the way other teams thought about player development, and in the process created a school of footballers that went on to enormous success. Ultimately, you can’t buy cultural impact and authenticity – you have to earn in by investing, and reinvention is the same – you have to mean it, earn it, and only then can you become part of culture and move it forwards.

Anyway, on that sports-related bombshell, I’ll let you get on 🖤

📃 The tracklist  📃
  1. Ann Peebles – I Can’t Stand The Rain
  2. Millie Jackson – I Cry
  3. Sly & The Family Stone – Luv N’ Haight
  4. Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s – Damn Right, I Am Somebody
  5. Stevie Wonder – Higher Ground
  6. The Supremes – Let Yourself Go
  7. Love Unlimited – I Did It For Love
  8. Joubert Singers – Stand On The Word (Larry Levan remix)
  9. France Joli – Gonna Get Over You
  10. Soundstream – Just Around
  11. Loleatta Holloway – Can’t Let You Go (Louie Vega Disco Bass Dub)
  12. Kapote – Delirio Italiano
  13. Arnold Jarvis – Take Some Time Out
  14. A Number of Names – Shari Vari
  15. Kraftwerk – The Robots
  16. Giorgio Moroder – (Theme From) Midnight Express
  17. 808 State – Tokyo Tokyo
  18. Jayda G – Stanley’s Get Down (No Parking on the DF) (Honey Dijon remix)
  19. Lone – Abraxas
  20. Ouri – Ego Extent
  21. Equiknoxx – Corner
  22. Jacques Greene – Silencio
  23. Toddla T – Yard
  24. Joey Purp – Elastic
  25. Fat Freddy’s Drop – Ten Feet Tall (Loyoto remix)
  26. The Band of Enlightenment – Zota Yinne
  27. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – Mustt Mustt (Massive Attack remix)
  28. Jai Paul – He
  29. Ami Dang – Raiments
  30. Enya – Boadicea
💥 If you enjoy this letter, then please take a second to forward this email, or share this link with a recommendation on Facebook or Twitter 💥
See you on the dance floor.
Love Will Save the Day

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